Welcome back to a new edition of The Weekender… Omicron is the latest to blame for pandemic struggles, and the United States will sit out of the next Winter Olympic Games… well, sort of. Plus, the latest tech outage victims had a much more significant impact than those before. Then, some good news for workers and more on the latest attempt to eliminate the Senate filibuster. Finally, inside Biden and Putin’s much-anticipated call about Ukraine. As always, thanks for starting your weekend with us.
THE BIG FIVE
Just when the COVID-19 pandemic was lifting, the newest coronavirus variant, omicron, rushed progress to a halt. While researchers think it is not as deadly as the delta variant, the omicron variant is likely more contagious. This factor has people from across the world second-guessing their holiday travel plans, wondering if the risk of catching the virus outweighs the desire to celebrate the holidays traditionally. Not to mention, the fear of COVID-19 and all its variants adds to a bad flu season, as experts are projecting. Hospitals fear that the combination of the two could lead to a lack of beds and a large influx of patients. Businesses are gearing up to tackle the latest head-on, but many companies doubt they will make it past another economic dip. It is starting to look like the U.S. will face yet another significant battle with COVID-19 in the upcoming months—showing that the pandemic is far from over. Read more in The Hill.
The United States has announced they will be staging a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games. While the athletes will still compete for the gold, the U.S. will not be sending any official representatives to the next winter games. The Biden Administration cited humanitarian abuses from China as the reason for this move, even providing a lengthy list of allegations. The move did not come as a surprise to beltway insiders: One of the only bipartisan movements in Congress right now has been calling to hold China accountable for its human rights violations. While some members call the move a critical first step in standing up for human rights, others say the action is not enough, and the Biden Administration needs to act further. The United States was not the first in making this announcement, as New Zealand pledged not to send officials to the games back in October. However, the United States announcement created a domino effect, with six other countries now pledged to join the United States in this boycott. Read more in NPR.
In what seems to now be a weekly occurrence, another big tech company faces major outages—the latest victim being Amazon Web Services. However, this outage was more than their website going down, as we saw with Facebook’s outage earlier this year. The Amazon outage led to delivery havoc (just in time for the holiday rush) — with drivers unable to see where to deliver the packages, causing idle drivers and massive delays in shipping across the country. Experts say this will likely cause a logjam of deliveries, furthering the huge shipping delays consumers face. The outage also left smart homes not so smart, with Amazon Alexa, Ring services, and other outfitted devices not functioning. This impact begs the question: What is causing these outages among big tech companies? Most companies are staying tight-lipped about the outages; however, Amazon did say they did not believe the cause was nefarious. It seems it is only a matter of time until Congress opens an investigation and demands answers as this becomes an ongoing issue. Read more in The Associated Press.
Raises are coming!
Workers rejoice! Many companies are planning big raises for workers in 2022, even claiming they will be the highest raises since before the Great Recession (which may seem like it was yesterday, but in fact, was nearly 15 years ago). The reason? Inflation and unfilled positions. Many companies face a crossroads: retaining their workers by increasing wages or risk losing workers to other companies. Experts claim that the gap between new hires and tenured employees is narrowing, causing them to seek other employment to raise their wages. The raises have a double edge sword relationship with inflation. Some cite inflation as the reason for increasing wages, while this increase will also push inflation even higher. Regardless, it seems like this move from big companies will have a lasting effect on the U.S. economy. Read more in The Wall Street Journal.
The Great Debate: The Filibuster
The decades-old conversation in the Senate and around the country may see change as the Senate Democrats launch a very last-minute effort to change the chamber’s rules, resulting in the possible end of the filibuster. Contrary to common belief, the filibuster is more than a Senator standing and speaking for hours in efforts to stall a bill as Ted Cruz did in 2013, speaking for over 21 hours to delay a vote on Obamacare (even reading his daughters a bedtime story during the speech). The filibuster is even more common than that: It is an attempt at extending the debate to stop the vote of a bill on the Senate floor. This action happens away from the public’s eye and behind closed doors most of the time. In one stopgap of the filibuster, a cloture vote can be invoked, meaning if 60 senators vote in favor of cloture, the debate stops promptly and forces a vote on the bill. However, getting 60 senators to agree to support cloture is no small feat. The discussion on whether to remove the filibuster has ramped up in recent years, and the Democrats’ bill to remove it is sure to amplify the conversation. Proponents of the filibuster argue that it protects the minority party in the Senate, ensuring that their voices be heard and taken seriously, as well as to drive consensus on policy. On the other hand, opponents claim it gives too much power to the minority party – and even individual senators — and often ties the hands of the majority party from passing meaningful legislation. As frustrating as the filibuster can be, the Senate was intended to be the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” Will this bill be the end of the filibuster? Or will the filibuster end this bill? Only time will tell. Read more in Yahoo! News.
The long-awaited showdown between President Biden and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin finally happened with a two-hour phone call between the two earlier this week. The call was held in private, but White House insiders have given insight into the conversation between the two heads of state and say the call was focused on Russia’s ongoing actions threatening the invasion of Ukraine. Insiders say that President Biden was crystal clear that Russia would receive significant economic sanctions if any further action happened against Ukraine. Biden clearly stated that the United States is ready to act tougher than their last action against Russia in 2014. The president also clarified that U.S. allies are standing alongside the nation and will join any action the U.S. deems fit. Putin countered and said that Ukraine is pushing action onto Russia and that the United States needs to worry about its domestic issues rather than those of countries thousands of miles away. This call was their first public conversation in six months, and it seems that it will not be the last. As always, we will be here with the latest. Read more in CNN.
210,000: The number of new jobs created in the U.S. in November, down from October’s initial reading of 573,000.
98 years old: Bob Dole’s age when he passed away last weekend of stage 4 lung cancer after having “served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years.”
17: The number of days until New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “first-in-the-nation” COVID-19 measures go into effect. Mayor de Blasio announced a new vaccine mandate for private companies on December 27th.
0.083%: The acceptance rate at NASA. The space center announced its newest class of 10th astronaut candidates on Monday, whittled down from 12,000 applications. One of these 10 may be the first person on Mars.
1.8 million: The CDC’s seven-day average for vaccinations in the U.S., up from 1.3 million a month ago. Americans’ interest in vaccines rebounded with the Omicron variant picking up speed.
80 years: The amount of time that has passed since the attacks on Pearl Harbor that launched the U.S. into World War II. About 30 survivors and 100 other war veterans gathered at the site on Tuesday in remembrance.
0.01%: The percentage of individuals who now hold 11% of the world’s wealth, compared to just over 10% in 2020. The increase in billionaires’ share of wealth from 2020 to 2021 was the steepest on record.
$32 billion: The annual amount of venture capital flowing to life sciences companies, doubling since 2019. While office occupancy rates remain deflated across industries, lab workers remain at work under higher demand than ever.
The greatest generation: World War II veterans getting a warm welcome and lei after landing in Hawaii from all over the country to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor this week 🇺🇸 @KITV4 #PearlHarbor #PearlHarbor80 pic.twitter.com/MTLprCTZxY— Tom George (@TheTomGeorge) December 4, 2021
Credit: Tom George on Twitter.