The World and Everything in It — February 15, 2021

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Good morning!

The City of Baltimore sues energy companies for causing climate change. The Supreme Court considers the appeals aspect of the case.

NICK EICHER, HOST: That’s ahead on Legal Docket.

Also today, the Monday Moneybeat. Rising oil prices—good thing, bad thing?—it does mean one thing, economic recovery. And we’ll talk about the mounting federal debt: a new projection says we’re about to blow past World War II levels.

Plus the WORLD History Book. 20 years ago this week, a scientific milestone.

REICHARD: It’s Monday, February 15th. This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

EICHER: And I’m Nick Eicher. Good morning!

REICHARD: Time now for the news with Kent Covington.

KENT COVINGTON, NEWS ANCHOR: GOP rift remains after Trump acquittal » The second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is finished. Once again the Senate voted to acquit him.

But Democrats and some Republicans maintain that he was responsible for the Jan. 6th siege on the Capitol. And on Sunday, GOP Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana defended his decision to vote “yes” on impeaching Trump. 

CASSIDY: I’m attempting to hold President Trump accountable. And that is the trust that I have from the people who elected me. And I am very confident that as time passes, people will move to that position. 

The state’s Republican party censured Cassidy for the vote, but he said he believes the majority of Louisiana voters stand with him.  

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he did not believe an impeachment trial of a former president was constitutional. But in a scathing criticism of Trump, he said that was the only reason he voted to acquit. 

MCCONNELL: This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.

But Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said McConnell does not speak for most Republicans. 

GRAHAM: I thought the speech was not only unconstitutional. I condemn what happened on January the 6th, but the process they used to impeach this president was an affront to the rule of law.

On Friday, Sen. Graham said he plans to meet with former President Trump to discuss the future of the GOP and his role in the party.

‘Obamacare’ sign-ups reopen » Obamacare’s marketplace reopens today for a special three-month signup window. 

President Biden signed an executive order last month to re-open enrollment amid the pandemic. 

The exchange will accept applications through May 15th, a period about twice as long as the annual open enrollment.

At the same time, House Democrats are pushing for a temporary increase in subsidies for people with insurance plans through Obamacare. 

U.K. coronavirus variant appears to be more deadly » Researchers in the U.K. now say that the coronavirus variant that has forced the country into another large scale lockdown is likely more deadly. 

While the U.K. strain is more contagious, scientists first believed it was no more dangerous than the original coronavirus strain. But President Biden’s top medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC’s This Week

FAUCI: The somewhat comforting news is that the vaccine that we are now currently distributing, the Moderna vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine, clearly work against this variant. 

But the same cannot be said for the South African variant. Fauci called the data on that strain “quite sobering.” 

He said that variant can evade much of the protection that the vaccines provide. 

FAUCI: It doesn’t eliminate it, but it diminishes it by multiple fold. 

And scientists in South Africa report numerous instances of people who have recovered from COVID-19 being reinfected with the newer variant.

That means prior infection with earlier strains does not protect against the newer South African strain.

Positive cases of both variants have been identified in the United States.  

CDC issues guidance for reopening schools » The CDC has issued new guidance for safely reopening schools. 

Officials said there is strong evidence now that schools can reopen, especially at lower grade levels.

Recommended measures include hand washing, disinfection of school facilities, diagnostic testing, and contact tracing. It’s also more emphatic than past guidance on the need to wear masks in school.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Sunday…

WALENSKY: Most disease transmission does not happen in the walls of the school. It comes in from the community. There’s very limited transmission between students, between students and staff. Really mostly between staff to staff when there are breaches in mask wearing. 

The agency’s guidance is just that—guidance. It cannot force schools to reopen, and CDC officials were careful to say they are not calling for a mandate that all schools immediately reopen.

Guinea declares Ebola epidemic » Health officials in Guinea on Sunday confirmed that at least three people have died there from Ebola. And four others are confirmed to be ill with the virus. 

The seven positive cases are the first since Guinea and two other West African nations fought the world’s deadliest Ebola epidemic five years ago.

The government has declared a new Ebola epidemic.

Guinea’s announcement comes one week after eastern Congo confirmed it also had cases, though the cases are not linked.

Health experts in Guinea say these latest cases could be a major setback for the impoverished nation, already battling COVID-19, and still recovering from the previous Ebola outbreak that killed 2,500 in that country.

I’m Kent Covington.

Straight ahead: a question of appeals court jurisdiction at the Supreme Court.

Plus, the official end of the War Relocation Authority.

This is The World and Everything in It.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Monday morning. This is The World and Everything in It. Today is February 15th, 2021. Let’s get to work. Good morning to you!  I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s time for Legal Docket. 

One news item we didn’t have time for last week involves a dispute over vaccines. At the end of last month, Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied an emergency injunction to parents in the state of New York.

These parents want their children exempted from vaccine requirements for school. They say their children are too medically fragile to withstand the vaccinations. But without the shots, the school district won’t allow the children to access education, even remote education.

REICHARD: The parents filed for an emergency order to stop this practice by the school district. They say it violates their right to due process. But Justice Sotomayor said no. She’s the one responsible for emergency appeals from New York. 

She held the childrens’ doctors weren’t specific enough about the medical problems claimed. 

So now the families must go through the normal appeals process in the lower courts.

EICHER: Today, one oral argument left to cover and then we’re all caught up on all oral arguments so far this term.

Today’s case began in 2018 when the city of Baltimore, Maryland filed a lawsuit in state court against 26 oil and gas companies. British Petroleum, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil among them.

Here’s then-city solicitor Andrew Davis announcing the case on WBAL-TV:

DAVIS: These companies must be held accountable. Climate change is a reality. These companies hid knowledge of the harms from elected officials from ordinary citizens and refused to disclose the information.

REICHARD: The city alleges that these producers of fossil fuels caused all sorts of problems. Like rising sea levels that threaten Baltimore’s waterfront.  Deadly heat waves. Citizens made sick. 

The city says this all amounts to a public nuisance. And the city wants the companies to pay up, big time. 

Here’s how Suzanne Sangree from the city solicitor’s office put it at that same press conference:

SANGREE: Part of what we allege is that their campaign of deception and burying the science that they knew… beginning in the late 1950s, it forestalled regulation of the industry, it prevented meaningful regulation of the industry…

The energy companies are defending similar lawsuits around the country. They say these cases are publicity stunts. The products they bring to market and that people use are simply a byproduct of modern life. They fuel all of the things we do: light and heat and cool our homes. 

And they keep Baltimore’s fleet of vehicles moving. 

Nothing illegal about that.

EICHER: As so often happens, by the time a case reaches the highest court in the land, the legal question winnows down to something quite narrow. 

That’s true here as well. The question now isn’t about whether climate change is real or not real or caused by humans. 

It’s not on the merits at all. 

It’s about in which court does the case belong in the first place? State or federal court. But even more narrowly: whether the decision about that is even reviewable?

REICHARD: The energy companies want that federal appeals court order reviewed, the one that moved the case back to state court. They’d rather have the case heard in federal court, partly because they think they’d have better chances in that venue.

But the circuits are split on that. 

Generally, when a case is ordered back to state court by a federal appeals court, that order cannot be reviewed.

But there are exceptions. One is when a federal officer is involved.

The energy companies say federal officer involvement is all over the place here: feds approve off-shore oil leases, approve exploration plans, regulate extraction rates. So the exception would seem to apply. And therefore, the order would seem to be reviewable.

The energy companies cite no less authority than the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to back them up. This is from a decade ago: Listen to her opinion announcement in 2011 on whether municipalities can sue power plants for greenhouse gas emissions.

GINSBURG: The EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act, reaches carbon dioxide emissions from power plants like those the defendants operate….The critical point is that Congress has vested decision making authority in the EPA.

In other words, EPA deals with emissions, not the courts.  That’s a federal agency, so this belongs in federal courts. The whole order that sent the case back to state court should be reviewable, not just bits and pieces of it. 

Besides, just read the statute itself. Here’s lawyer for the energy companies, Kannon Shanmugam:

SHANMUGAM: By its plain terms, the statute permits for review of the entire order, not particular issues. Respondent offers virtually no textual defense of that interpretation…

Efficiency matters in the judicial system, Shanmugam argued. The justices can nip in the bud all these climate change disputes about what court should hear them, right now. 

But Justice Stephen Breyer worried this might invite gamesmanship from the energy companies to put in frivolous reasons to move a case to federal court. That’ll cause delays to sort it all out.

BREYER: You’re a lawyer in your office and you say ah, this isn’t really much, da da da, but we better stick it in in case we want an appeal. You’re not saying it’s nothing.

Shanmugam countered that Congress thought about all this and struck a balance between the risk of delay and bad remands. 

Victor Sher is lawyer for Baltimore who wants the merits case heard in state court. He wanted the justices to focus on what Congress did in 2011 that ratified 50 years of unanimous circuit court rulings.

SHER: Unanimous circuit court authority that limited review of remand orders to the exception clause’s enumerated grounds and only to those  grounds. And the courts in those cases held that the language was clear…

Sher saying two reasons to review a remand order, and only two reasons to review a remand order. Period. 

Justice Breyer had a bigger worry on his mind, though.

BREYER: I want to focus on a problem that occurred to me. It’s in every legal system. It’s important to have an appeal. It’s unfair not to give people appeals. But, if you give them appeals in the middle of the case, too often you will really muck up the system, take too long. And so we allow some things to go ahead even though there was no appeal and it might be unfair and wrong because we don’t want to muck up the system.

Justice Breyer at his feisty best continued later on:

BREYER: Well, the argument on policy is, look, the case is here anyway, big deal, let’s decide the issues. They take a little, but not a lot of time. That’s the mouse. And the elephant is no longer there. The elephant is it takes a lot of time to appeal, so let’s not give him any.

SHER: Your Honor, this case is a good example of the reason that we should be concerned about this. We’ve been three years in limbo between the federal and state courts.

Three years, he emphasized, proof that incessant appeals on little splinters of a case slows justice down. 

Overall, it sounded as though the justices agreed that the plain reading of the law and prior precedent aligns with what the energy companies are saying. But still they worried about the companies gaming the system by putting in all kinds of reasons to remove a case to federal court, just hoping something will stick. 

Narrow though this case is, any decision will have major repercussions for ongoing climate-change litigation.

Some friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the energy companies warn that ad hoc, unpredictable rulings from 50 different states is a recipe for a big mess. 

Briefs in support of the city of Baltimore suggest that state courts are best suited to handle consumer-protection and corporate malfeasance. 

If the energy companies prevail, the underlying case will likely proceed in federal court. It’s possible that would eventually end in a dismissal without a trial.

If Baltimore wins, the case will likely proceed in state court. That’s where massive document requests could force the energy companies—in order to answer the allegations—to reveal myriad information about marketing practices and more. 

And that’s this week’s Legal Docket.

NICK EICHER, HOST: A denizen of Tennessee identified only as Lulu is $5 million richer after unexpectedly receiving a massive inheritance.

Lulu has no plans for the money and has shown very little interest in it.

That makes sense considering she’s only 8 years old. But then again, she is 56 in dog years.

Lulu is a border collie, and her owner, Bill Dorris, was so fond of her, he made her the beneficiary of his fortune.

He named his human friend, 88-year-old Martha Burton as caretaker. She told WTVF…

BURTON: I don’t really know what to think about it to tell you the truth. He just loved the dog.

That almost goes without saying.

The will permits Burton to be reimbursed for reasonable caretaking expenses.

I’m guessing $5 million will cover it.

It’s The World and Everything in It.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: The Monday Moneybeat.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Financial analyst and advisor David Bahnsen joins us now. 

And this week, David, I’m going to ask you to choose. I’m not sure what was the big economic story of the week—lots of smaller stories—but to you what was the big story?

DAVID BAHNSEN, GUEST: I actually would probably have a surprising answer because I think that the oil price movement is the biggest economic story of the week. Now, most people right now are focused on the direction of the stimulus bill. You had a good week in the stock market. There were a couple of up days, a couple down days. But it’s hanging in there at all-time highs. The focus on impeachment was not at all a story. 

But the oil price story is all at once geopolitical and certainly related to the COVID story, because you have oil prices now that have come back to their pre-pandemic highs. You have global demand expectations were kicked down a couple hundred thousand barrels a day this week. That’s not a lot, but it isn’t like demand expectations are skyrocketing higher. 

You just have supply-demand fundamentals working where most countries with OPEC-plus have down-ticked the supply they’re putting in the global market. And then you have the U.S., working out of economic realities, went from 670 rigs a year ago down to 175 by August. We’re back up to 275, so our production’s coming back a bit, but it’s still less than half of where it was a year ago. 

Why is this a big economic story? Well, oil is related to the dollar. It’s related to economic growth. It’s obviously related to COVID as we look at what we expect from the economy domestically and globally on the other side of the pandemic. So, I think it covers a lot of things and it doesn’t really get a lot of attention. But I’m watching it very closely.

EICHER: And bottom line, it’s good news. Whenever oil recovers, that just means we’re back into economic activity.

BAHNSEN: So, this is what’s interesting, Nick, because you’re right. Oil prices have moved higher in a good-news sense because we now expect, you know, more demand than we did when the world was shut down, OK? So that’s good news. 

Here’s the problem: The analogy I used this week on a client call is it’s like if you let your swimming pool get freezing and then your kids want to go use it. And so you say, OK, I’m going to turn it on to heat it. That thing is not heating up in time for them to use it, right? It can take a few days. We can’t just turn on our supply again and all of a sudden have it catch up to demand. I do think the bad news is that we risk $80 or $90 oil, simply because our ability to get our production back on has a tremendous lag effect and if supply and demand fundamentals get there, I think we’re going to end up going the other direction. 

So, finding perfect equilibrium is always tough. But I agree with you it’s good news right now, but I expect we’re going to end up getting into like too expensive of oil, which will impact gas prices, home heating bills, and so forth. So, there’s a lot to watch here.

EICHER: Let me jump to this debt report from the Congressional Budget Office—the CBO. Strikes me as bleak. It shows how in very short order we hit 100 percent debt-to-GDP ratio, meaning the United States government has amassed as much debt as the entire economy produces in one year’s time. It’s a very good economic measure because it shows relative strength or weakness and it’s pretty sobering stuff because the CBO is projecting we’ll hit 107 percent debt-to-GDP. 

Now, just quickly, I want to acknowledge what you said last week about Republicans who were very quiet the last four years while piling up debt, all the sudden getting religion on this issue when the Democrats take over.

But looking at the line on the graph, I guess it could be worse, but it’s shocking to look at. As recently as 2008, before the financial crisis, the debt-to-GDP ratio was 40 percent. Now we’re talking about 107 percent.

I’ve received several emails from listeners asking us to address the debt and now we have this CBO report to give us the opportunity.

BAHNSEN: Yeah, I think that the CBO number was intended to be good news, like they were setting the table to try to get ready to justify the new — that 107 does not include the new Biden stimulus bill, OK? And 107 percent is high by American standards, but it’s really low by global standards right now. Many European countries are running at 175 percent, 160 percent. Japan has been running at well over 200 percent for a long time. The U.S. is not back to its post-World War II percentage of GDP, but it will get there. 

So, there’s no good news in it. I don’t consider it good news that the United States debt level is not as bad as a lot of other countries. The global debt level is a problem, too. We do not live in an isolated U.S. economy, and so I think the debt stories need to start with our own. That’s the only one we can really control. But economically you have to really be following it globally as well. 

The issue is that we’re going to be going higher. It’s not where it is right now, and so I’m very much of the mindset that we will spend what we will spend through this pandemic. It will get justified the way it gets justified. I will have no tolerance for the Republicans that will talk about how inefficient it is. And it’s not because the Republicans that supported the CARES Act and other things that were legitimate when we were in the worst part of the pandemic. It’s because of the trillion dollar plus deficits we had before the pandemic. You cannot run your financial situation like you’re in an emergency case when you’re not in an emergency case. And then have the dry powder you need for when you do have an emergency case. 

And so my belief is that those deficits will end up getting to 130-140 percent of GDP and it will be the pretense for them setting up for a tax increase after the midterms if the Democrats are able to hold the House.

EICHER: So let’s talk about this—what it means to live with this level of debt. I remember when we first started talking about the original CARES Act response to the pandemic—many months ago—I raised the question of debt and at the time I made a careless comment—for which you took me to task, big time.  

I think it was something along the lines of “Oh, boy. Venezuela, here we come.” And you warned me, don’t say that. That’s not the case. Living with big debt has different effects. But I think what you said bears repeating and it’s been a while since we talked about it.

BAHNSEN: Yeah, and I’d forgotten that you had said it. I’m glad you reminded me because otherwise I would have been unduly harsh in my treatment of people who say things like that. But since I know it’s you, I’ll be really nice. 

Those analogies really hurt the cause because they’re so untrue. The U.S. is not Venezuela in any way, shape, or form. Our currency is not Zimbabwe in any way, shape, or form. We actually do have real output. We have real productivity. We have real capacity. We have real innovation, educational system. So there is this blessing. Now, we’re squandering it. We’re not stewarding it well. We’re messing it all up. There’s going to be consequences. 

But the analogies to things like Venezuela and Zimbabwe, they turn everybody off to the real threat because everyone intuitively knows we’re not about to become Zimbabwe, so then they figure it sounds almost like a boy who cried wolf thing. 

You asked what it’s like to live with debt. I would suggest that what it’s like to live with debt for a country, a massive country with massive earning capacity but a whole bunch of debt is very similar to a high earning family with a whole bunch of debt. They are making money and they’re servicing the minimum payments and they’re moving things around and they’re refinancing, and they’re not falling into the ocean. But they’re never getting ahead. 

So, debt is future growth brought into the present and the same thing is true of our country. 

So, you play it out for our kids and grandkids, they’re going to be dealing with that dynamic. That’s what it’s like. Now, what I just described is awful. But what I didn’t describe is Zimbabwe, Venezuela, falling in the ocean, all that. And so a lot of people either want to hear this doom and gloom thing, and my message is not sensationalistic enough to get a lot of ears, so then people don’t listen to it and then we just keep going. That’s my assessment of this stuff, Nick.

EICHER: Always helpful. David Bahnsen, financial analyst and advisor. Great to talk with you. We’ll talk again next time. Thanks so much.

BAHNSEN: Thanks, Nick.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD History Book. 

This week, the birth of the black history movement, the ending of a grim chapter for Asian-Americans, and a watershed moment in the field of human genomics. Here’s WORLD senior correspondent Katie Gaultney.

KATIE GAULTNEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: We’re halfway through February: Black History Month. But this month started out as just a week. February 14th, 1926, was the last day of the first Negro History Week, spearheaded by American historian, author, and journalist Carter G. Woodson. 

The Library of Virginia highlighted Woodson’s efforts to combat a sense among black and white Americans at the time that African descendants hadn’t made any contributions to civilization. 

TAMEKA BRADLEY HOBBS: He’s going to point out all of those fallacies and really try to give the black community a rallying point around which to push their efforts…

Woodson chose the second week of February because it coincided with the births of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. By 1970, some institutions observed Black History Month, and in 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized the celebration during the United States Bicentennial.

But honey-voiced actor Morgan Freeman is among a growing contingent who oppose Black History Month. He told 60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace why in 2005. 

FREEMAN: I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history./ How are we going to get rid of racism—/ Stop talking about it! I’m gonna stop calling you “a white man,” and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me “a black man.” 

Turning now to World War II. 

ROOSEVELT: Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy. The United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…

That’s President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his address declaring war on Japan. The bombing of Pearl Harbor flared existing prejudicial attitudes toward Asians in America. Two and a half months after the attack, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. It’s only been 45 years since February 19, 1976, when President Gerald Ford formally repealed that order. 

While the order was in place, it allowed the U.S. Army to designate areas from which “any or all persons may be excluded.” That expanded into the War Relocation Authority, with 10 permanent camps to house over 100,000 people of Japanese descent in the U.S. The government released a film in 1944 in an attempt to justify the wartime decision.

FILM: Their evacuation does not imply individual disloyalty, but was ordered to reduce a military hazard at a time when danger of invasion was great.

Native-born American citizens made up two-thirds of those interned at the camps. The rest were their Japan-born parents and grandparents. George Takei, known as an actor on Star Trek, was a young boy when soldiers removed his family from their Los Angeles home. He remembered his relocation in a PBS documentary: 

TAKEI: We were taken to the horse stables and thinking back now, I can’t imagine how degrading and humiliating it must have been for my parents to take their three children—one a baby—from a two-bedroom home and told to sleep in that narrow, smelly horse stall… 

In December 1944, Roosevelt suspended Executive Order 9066. The government released incarcerates, and shut down the camps entirely by 1946. Thirty years later, in formally repealing the order, Ford wrote, “We now know what we should have known then—not only was that evacuation wrong, but Japanese-Americans were and are loyal Americans.”

We’ll end today on a high note, with what’s sure to be one of the most major scientific breakthroughs of the 21st century. Twenty years ago today, on February 15th, 2001, an international consortium of scientists achieved a major milestone. That’s when they published the first draft of the complete human genome in Nature magazine. The name “Eric Lander” appeared first on the list of authors. He spoke at his research home—the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—in 2001. 

LANDER: The Human Genome Project was an absolutely ludicrous notion proposed in about 1985… that we could determine the entire sequence of the human genome, and that this would provide incredibly useful information for all of biology. 

Useful information like finding the genetic roots of disease and then developing treatments. Scientists called the effort to sequence the human genome “biology’s moonshot.” The draft sequence covered more than 90 percent of the human genome. The Human Genome Project freely and immediately released its findings to the world through public databases online. 


After some research fine-tuning, the effort to sequence the human genome concluded in April 2003. It remains the world’s largest collaborative biological project. 

That’s this week’s History Book. I’m Katie Gaultney.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Tomorrow: Another component of Covid relief. President Biden extended the freeze on evictions. That protects renters, but what about the landlords? We’ll find out how that’s affecting the housing market.

And, release of the internal investigation on the late apologist Ravi Zacharias. We’ll talk about it. 

That and more tomorrow. 

I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

The World and Everything in It comes to you from WORLD Radio.

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