Holiday spirit, vaccines, and a censure.

Welcome to a new edition of The Weekender… where Americans are preparing to host Thanksgiving celebrations in record numbers, despite economic uncertainty and high inflation. Multiple Republican representatives have received death threats for voting in favor of the bipartisan infrastructure deal, deepening our political divide. Also, a group of investors in cryptocurrency are looking to purchase a rare original U.S. Constitution. Don’t miss out on the hottest headlines from the week and unique commentary from the team at Strategic Elements. Welcome.  

I.C.Y.M.I Meet our new Vice President of Policy and Business Development, Pete Rimsans. After more than a decade serving as the Executive Director for the Indiana State Building and Construction Trades Council, Pete brings labor, economic development and public affairs expertise to the Strategic Elements team. For more information, check out Pete’s full blog post here.  
 

THE BIG FIVE

Americans are feeling the holiday spirit a bit more this year.

Much like Broadway, Thanksgiving is making a comeback after a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic. While last year’s celebrations were quiet, Americans seem to be making up for lost time this year. According to Lendingtree’s latest survey, a record number of Americans are planning to host this Turkey Day. The report reveals that the average host will spend $392 on the holiday, with 47% of Americans hosting guests—a 41% increase from last year. Several studies have also shown that holiday travel will rebound, with an expected 6.5 million Americans traveling for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Experts told CNBC that traveling around the holidays is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels. Even with gas prices on the rise and overall economic uncertainty, Americans are spending more than anticipated. While it may seem that consumer pessimism appears to be bad news, it has boosted gold and the value of the U.S. dollar. A mix of labor shortages, shipping delays and rising costs for essentials are expected to make for an uneasy holiday season.  Read more in Yahoo News

Blood may be thicker than water, but nothing is stronger than partisanship

The U.S. is known for being a nation built by and made up of a cultural melting pot. Though it’s becoming increasingly apparent- the political polarization is worse than ever. U.S. Representative Fred Upton, a Republican, received death threats after voting in favor of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. This week, U.S. Representative Paul Gosar, who published an animated video of himself killing another colleague, was censured by the House of Representatives. Only two GOP Representatives, Representative Liz Cheney and Representative Adam Kinzinger, voted alongside Democrats to censure Representative Gosar. This is not the first time that either Representative Cheney or Kinzinger has spoken out and voted alongside Democrats on issues that would likely have been viewed as nonpartisan in the past. Both GOP representatives have faced criticisms from other members of the party. Cheney has specifically faced open criticism for her bipartisan relationships and her critiques of the Republican party. She has been censured by the Wyoming Republican Party and has become increasingly disliked by the leaders of her own state party, despite having a consistent, conservative voting record. How did we get here? A recent Pew Research study indicates that Americans are becoming increasingly polarized not only with those on the other side of the aisle but also with those within the same party. Rather than choosing to agree to disagree on traditional political issues such as the size of government or the role of religion, we are posting violent videos and looking at what divides us rather than what unifies us.  Read more in Pew Research Center

COVID-19 vaccines bring more families and friends together for the holidays

Nearly a year ago, we saw the first bunch of Americans receive their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Now, almost 80% of Americans older than 12 have received at least one dose of the vaccine. This holiday season, more Americans are planning unmasked holiday parties compared to 2020. CNBC reports that 51% of hosts would ask partygoers to wear masks, down from 67% last year, and half of the respondents would ask partygoers their vaccination status. One of the collaborators on the survey owes the numbers to increased comfortability among vaccinated Americans. NPR reports that the FDA plans to grant Emergency Use Authorization to American adults over 18 years old who wish to receive a Pfizer booster vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease official, recently said that booster doses of the vaccine are critical for COVID-19 to be reduced to an endemic level. This reduction would be the first step to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for the pandemic. So, what’s the hold-up? Pandemic precautions, such as mask-wearing and vaccinations, have become increasingly political. All 50 Senate Republicans are expected to challenge U.S. President Joe Biden’s vaccination mandate for businesses with more than 100 employees or be subject to weekly testing and mask-wearing. The action is already facing multiple legal challenges. The case has already been suspended by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and will likely face the Supreme Court. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and other notable Republican influencers accused Sesame Street of promoting “government propaganda” and “brainwashing children” after Big Bird tweeted about receiving his own dose of the vaccination. This new chapter of the pandemic has brought increased face-to-face time, a sense of pre-pandemic normalcy, and increased political turmoil. Read more in CNBC

“I am going to purchase the U.S. Constitution” …or something like that.

Taking inspiration from the 2004 film franchise National Treasure, a group of crypto enthusiasts are looking to bid on an original U.S. Constitution. To us, the ideals laid out in the Constitution are priceless. A group of 13 Twitter accounts known as ConstitutionDAO, a decentralized autonomous organization, has raised more than $5 million of cryptocurrency known as Ethereum. Like Dogecoin or Game Stop stunts, the members of ConstitutionDAO are investing and making decisions as a joke or troll. It seems that this is only a meme, but the organization looks to create a more serious point about collective ownership. The ConstitutionDAO organizers say that they will “place the Constitution in the hands of The People” in public view alongside the help of an “esteemed partner.” In recent years, we have seen a spike in “meme” cryptocurrency investment. As campaigns front themselves as a joke, the rise in cryptocurrency usage is taking off more than expected. A recent Pew Research study revealed that 16% of Americans reported investing, trading, or using cryptocurrency, while a vast majority of U.S. adults have at least heard about it. CNBC reports that digital currencies will become increasingly important for the future of the global financial system and even make cross-border transactions easier. On the other hand, cryptocurrency’s regulation has thrown the IRS and U.S. elected officials for a loop. You may remember when we first told you about Congressional Democrats’ plan to regulate the surveillance of small bank accounts and tax Venmo and PayPal transactions. While we don’t see purchasing historical documents in our future, it seems cryptocurrency has a growing acceptance among Americans. Read more in the New York Times.

How conspiracies turn violent

This week, the infamous ‘Qanon Shaman’ has been sentenced to 41 months in prison for his role in the January 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. The man in the horned headdress is not an anomaly but merely an example of misinformation that has led our political system astray. The conspiracy theories and overall distrust have gotten violent. The January 6 insurrection led to four deaths of Capitol police, two by suicide. Last year, the FBI found six men who were conspiring to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Right-wing Infowars host Alex Jones was recently found liable for defamation after conspiring that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax. The shooting killed 20 first-graders and six educators. While the nation is seeing a rise in misinformation, this is not the first time conspiracy theories made their way into our political system. While many people don’t easily believe falsehoods, National Geographic reports that misinformation casually offers an explanation for “otherwise random events.” The report also states that conspiracy theories tend to see a rise during stressful times. The stress of a pandemic and the age of political extremism are breeding grounds for misinformation and conspiracy theories. Read more in NPR

INTERNATIONAL SPOTLIGHT

Space Race Déjà Vu and heightened tensions with the U.S. and Russia

The U.S. has strongly condemned Russia after a rouge “anti-satellite” test. The test created a debris cloud, which the U.S. is warning will create long-term dangers and economic fallout, creating a risk of damage to satellites that people worldwide depend on for GPS services, phone, and broadband services. The Verge reports that the U.S. has identified more than 1,500 pieces of debris from the test and thousands of other, smaller amounts that cannot be tracked. Crew members at the International Space Station (ISS), which included U.S. Russian and other international astronauts, were forced to take to safety in the vessel due to the test. After a day of silence, Russia acknowledged the event. This has only worsened the heightened tension between the U.S. and Russia, highlighting the on-again, off-again relations between the two nations. Read more in The Hill

DATA POINTS

$4.65: The price for a gallon of gas in California, just two cents under the record, set on October 9th, 2012. The average national price is $3.42 per gallon

4.4 million: The number of Americans who quit their jobs in September, or about 3% of the U.S. workforce. Statistics show that for every unemployed American in September, there were 1.4 openings.

50+: The number of surveillance planes the FBI has in their fleet. This new form of police surveillance has come into play heavily during Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial in Wisconsin and other trials surrounding the summer 2020 protests.

$60 billion: The total payment volume processed by Venmo in Q3 of 2021, up from less than $5 billion five years ago. In its earnings report out last Monday, the company announced it has partnered with Amazon to make Venmo a payment option for U.S. Amazon customers in 2022.

$375 million: The amount of money the CGI Merchant Group purchased the Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue to turn it into a Waldorf Astoria – far less than the $500 million former President Trump was reportedly seeking in 2019.

10: The number of attendees to die from injuries sustained during a crowd surge at the Astroworld music festival in Houston on November 5th. On Sunday, 9-year-old Ezra Blount was added to the list.

800: The number of guests who attended President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill signing ceremony on Monday on the White House South Lawn.

8: The number of terms Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) served – the last of the so-called Watergate babies elected after President Nixon’s resignation. Sen. Leahy announced this week that he would not seek re-election.

4%+: The U.S. economy’s expected growth pace over the next few quarters as consumers spend part of their pent-up savings and inventory restocking gets underway. Experts are also predicting the unemployment rate to fall to around 3.7% by mid-2022.

FEATURED TWEET

Credit: Reuters on Twitter. 

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