Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, May 30 through Friday, June 5, 2020 [#46]
The Week’s Most Notable
This week it was a name, George Floyd, that dominated (to use Trump’s word) the narrative. Floyd’s gruesome death at the hands of the police, and the incendiary link to American endemic racism provided the spark for what is now almost two weeks of nationwide protests. The political implications are still in the realm of potential, but events have obviously reduced White House and Republican strategies to painfully lame gestures. Some people sense a great opportunity, perhaps a once in a century chance to make some fundamental changes. Maybe so, but the other two crises, COVID-19 and the economy, a bit overshadowed this week, will have their somewhat unpredictable role to play.
Things happened this week that had a kind of “tip of the iceberg” quality but much was overlooked. For example, at the end of the week videos in Buffalo, NY showed a line of police clearing a street who were confronted by an elderly man who was summarily shoved, fell backwards, and cracked his head on the road – blood running out of his ear within seconds. Bad enough. One officer attempted to check the man but he was pulled away; the police continued down the street. At the least, “bad optics.”
This kind of incident happens in protests with some regularity and might’ve been disregarded, except for two things: The recordings, one made by PBS, are extremely graphic and clear; secondly, all 57 members of the Emergency Response unit resigned in protest over the two officers involved being suspended without pay. The unit’s police union objected to this punishment for “following orders” and because “the old man tripped and fell.” The first statement, which resembles the infamous Nuremberg Defense, belies an entire culture within that unit. The second statement was a flat lie. The incident is now the subject of investigation, and likely a lawsuit. [Update: Both officers have been charged with assault.]
This incident, among dozens of others, is indicative of the militarized tactics adopted by police departments all over the country. Because the mix of the vast protests, the very public demonstration of police violence, and the ongoing grievance by Blacks and other people of color, a sweeping examination of policing in America has started. If the politics (voting) follow, although it has seldom happened before, it could lead to a widespread restructuring of police forces.
Saturday, May 30
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 1,831,305; Deaths – 105,793
[Space Launch] NASA and SpaceX Launch “Crew Dragon” – In the first manned space launch from the United States since 2011, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley successfully reached the International Space Station on Sunday morning. This was the first such flight aboard a commercially designed and built space vehicle.
Sunday, May 31
[Coronavirus] Chinese Manufacturing Slows – It’s worth noting that after a month or more of businesses reopening, Chinese factories began cutting back production in May because of decreased demand, especially from foreign markets. It’s likely that a similar story will be repeated around the globe.
[Racism – Protest] Protest Day 6-7: Mostly Peaceful Daytime, Thousands Arrested During Night – Trump tweeted “MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE!!!” but his supporters did not appear in numbers. Meanwhile an historic D.C. church, St. John’s, across from White House was set on fire in a basement kitchen, and the White House itself went dark for a brief period for security reasons. This produced an iconic “lights out” photograph. Trump, in tweets and statements, vacillated between, “Nobody came close to reaching the fence. If they had, they would’ve been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons I have ever seen.” and “MAGA loves the black people.”
[Racism – Protest] The ANTIFA Canard – Trump and Barr rolled out an orchestrated Fox News/right-wing attack by blaming violence and looting on ANTIFA (a loose coalition of left-wing antifascist activists). Trump announced he would be designating ANTIFA a Terrorist Organization. ANTIFA is not actually an organization and there is no domestic terrorism law for Trump to invoke. [Note: On Tuesday, a leaked FBI report on the violence of Friday, May 31, “[H]as no intelligence indicating ANTIFA involvement/presence.” Label this a predictable distraction from the main issues of the protest, which Fox News continued to flog throughout the week.
[Coronavirus] Warnings Begin about Protests Spreading COVID-19 – Epidemiology specialists, such as Dr. Fauci, and other medical people spent much of the week warning about the, at best, only partially practiced social distancing and mask wearing of the vast crowds in 160 cities throughout the U.S. In some cases, it was painfully obvious they supported the protest action but not the crowding; the virus is implacable and always finds the weakest point.
Monday, June 1
[Racism – Protest] The Call to Governors and Rose Garden Speech – Trump set the tone for the day by berating governors over the phone, “You are weak.” “You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate, you are wasting your time, they’re going to run over you. You’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.” Secretary of Defense Mike Esper, added, “We need to dominate the battle space.” In other words, Trump threatened to use federal troops against looters-protesters as if it were some kind of war rather than an attack by a government on its own citizens. Trump also cryptically alluded to Joint Chief of Staff Chair General Mark Milley, “I Just put him in charge.” Later, Trump indicated he had “activated” Attorney General Barr to coordinate the nationwide riot response. In a similarly aggressively-toned speech in the Rose Garden later that afternoon, Trump said, “If a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.” As he spoke, the roar of flash-bangs could be heard in the background.
[Racism – Protest] Trump Stages a Photo Op Using Federal Troops – In one of the defining moments of this point in American history, about a thousand protesters gathered in Lafayette Square in front of the White House were assaulted by waves of flash-bangs, tear gas (or tear-producing-gas, per White House denials), riot police, and a line of mounted federal officers. By all witness accounts (except the White House), the protest was utterly peaceful. They were cleared from the square in about 20 minutes with several suffering injury from rubber bullets and tear gas – including a news crew from Australia. Once cleared, federal officers formed lines creating a “walkway” between the White House and the front of St. John’s Church. Trump, Secretary Esper, General Milley, AG Barr, and Ivanka Trump leading others, strolled over to the church for a “photo op.” Ivanka reached into her $1500 handbag, pulled out a Bible and handed it to her father, who stood in the middle of the lineup (socially distanced) and held the Good Book (upside down) in front of him like a box of detergent. He said no prayer and made few comments. A reporter asked him if it was his Bible; he replied, “It’s a Bible.”
[Racism – Protest] Obama Urges Specific Police Reform – In a widely disseminated blog post, Obama picked up a theme from the Floyd family and other black leaders, “Eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices – and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect the government officials who are responsive to our demands. [T]he elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels. So the bottom line is this: If we want to bring about real change, the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.”
[Economy] CBO Projections Indicate Coronavirus Economic Loss at $7.9 trillion Over 10 Years – Economists generally agree that full recovery of the economy will take several years – that is assuming there will be no resurgence of COVID-19 before we have a vaccine/treatment or any other major crisis (hurricanes, floods, drought, war) that would seriously affect the economy.
Tuesday, June 2
[Racism – Protest] Admiral Mullen Starts the Military Pushback – “It sickened me yesterday to see security personnel – including members of the National Guard – forcibly and violently clear a path through Lafayette Square to accommodate the president’s visit outside St. John’s Church.” So began an article in the Atlantic magazine by the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His protest was among the many religious, civic, and eventually military leaders warning of Trump’s authoritarian-antidemocratic behavior. Later in the day both Biden and President Bush issued their own denunciations of Trump’s actions and called for healing of racial wounds.
[Elections 2020] State Primaries – The biggest upset: Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is out. Another ultraconservative defeated the long-standing member of the House and notorious White Supremacist, not on the grounds of King’s fascist beliefs but because he was no longer effective in Congress.
Wednesday, June 3
[Racism – Protest] George Floyd Case: Minnesota Arrests Other Three Officers – Charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, their arrest also fulfills a vehement demand by the George Floyd family. At the same time, charges against Derek Chauvin, the officer with his knee on George Floyd’s neck, were increased from third to second degree murder. The case is now being handled by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.
[Racism – Protest] Mattis Publishes Statement Against Trump – The former Secretary of Defense joined Admiral Mullen in denouncing Trump, “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people – does not even pretend to try.” The strong and succinct protests by two of the most respected members of the military provided momentum for a growing military pushback against involving active-duty troops in U.S. political events.
[Racism – Protest] Esper Statement Against Using Federal Troops – The Defense Secretary attempted to walk back his involvement with Monday’s photo op, and said, “The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire situations. We are not in one of those situations now.” Gen. Milley tried a similar walk back. Both men have been tainted and are subject to investigation.
Thursday, June 4
[Racism – Protest] The Mystery Police – By about midweek the media began to take note of “officers” at various D.C. protests who wore no badges, no unit patches, no identification of any kind. When asked by the media a few said they were DOJ. There is no “DOJ” police unit, at least until now. It turns out they were pulled from many agencies and from many parts of the country. Heavily represented were men from the Bureau of Prisons. They were apparently assembled under the aegis of AG Barr and had the characteristics of a Secret Service. [This and the debacle at Lafayette Square have been officially challenged by Democrats and are open for investigation by the House.]
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 1.9 million – No longer above 2 million a week and declining, with approximately 20 million active claims, the number of new claims is still enormous, about 10 times above “normal.”
Friday, June 5
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 1,965,708; Deaths – 111,390
[Coronavirus] George Floyd Memorial Service Minneapolis – Topping a week of daily protests, Rev. Al Sharpton delivered a stem-winder eulogy: “George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks, because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being is you kept your knee on our neck. We were smarter than the underfunded schools you put us in, but you had your knee on our neck. We could run corporations, and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck. What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country, but now it’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘get your knee off our necks.’”
[Racism – Protest] White House Gets Nearly Two Miles of Fence – The “People’s House” is transforming into “The President’s Fortress.” Trump also acquired a new nickname: Bunker Boy.
[Economy] A Surprise: Monthly Unemployment Rate Drops from 14.7% to 13.9% – Most economists expected the rate to be around 20%, so this was a shock. Simple explanation (and economic explanations are rarely simple): people went back to work faster than jobs were lost. This happened faster than economists expected. (Why?) Most states reopened for business; many businesses brought back laid off or furloughed workers, which was counted as a sudden increase of new jobs. The unemployment rate is still beyond depression level. [UPDATE: Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that it had not been counting a category of temporary unemployment, corrected figure for May, 16.7%.]
Coronavirus (Crisis) Notes
Has the often-premature reopening of states resulted in a second wave of COVID-19 infection? No, but that’s the wrong question. The question is, what has been the effect of reopening so many states? The answer is, it varies. In the absence of any federal guidance, every state is doing its own thing. Many have some kind of staged/phased reopening plan. A few states never actually closed or have reopened entirely. A few others are still at or near full lockdown. Well-managed states will probably hang onto declining COVID-19 rates, other states, not so much. Scattered but explosive growth of infection, say in Texas, Georgia, or Florida could affect the whole nation. Nationally, we are still around 1,000 deaths a day, the highest in the world, which appears to be plateauing.
Economy (Crisis) Notes
Most have yet to feel the economic pain. Some people have suffered: Panic as they run out of savings. Hungry and without money. Losing retirement, maybe forever. However, the majority still have jobs. The majority have had their pain buffered by unemployment insurance, a modest savings account, or at least an irrational but buoyant feeling that things are closer to normal than they really are. At the moment, without thinking too much, people seem optimistic. That could resurrect consumer demand and with it the economy. But consumer confidence is fragile; slip into another serious round of COVID-19, a wave of bankruptcies, or just plain bad news and it could tip the economy the other way. If Congress (read: Republican Senate) does not act with stimulus in a timely way, or at all, then all we have is crossed fingers.
Racism Protest (Crisis) Notes
We are now in the longest daily nationwide protest in American history. Although it started and remains a protest against police violence, the killing of George Floyd provided a focal point for the months of COVID-19 isolation, three plus years of Trumpian chaos, decades of growing inequality, and about four centuries of discrimination against Blacks and other minorities. It feels good to be part of a meaningful worldwide protest, to get out and share the experience (despite the crowding risk). This goes for everybody who has any understanding of what discrimination means. Now comes the hard part. The energy has been given an outlet – young, old, black, white, brown, red, oriental, male, female, the full diversity of America – which doesn’t happen very often (for example, it did not happen in the late 60s peace movement) and it has to be turned into political leverage: voting. Black politicians such as Obama and Sharpton are calling for voting and a change-agenda loud and clear. The question is can protesters get beyond the excitement of the moment and sustain their engagement all the way to voting in November?
Despite the ongoing crises, primaries are still being held and the Democratic process is in motion. There will be a Democratic convention. Joe Biden now has the votes for nomination on the first ballot. The Republican convention, wherever it may be, is likely to be chaos. Events, whatever they are, are mostly going to move very fast over the next five months. The political challenge will be to keep people motivated and focused, starting with ourselves.
Quotes of the Week
“They had five Humvees rolling around the city of Charleston, very peaceful.”
Gov. Henry McMaster (R-SC), during Trump call with governors, 6/1/2020
“[I] gave Alaska ANWR, major highways, and more. Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don’t care, I’m endorsing. If you have a pulse, I’m with you!”
Trump Tweet (re Sen. Murkowski’s support of Gen. Mattis’s statement), 6/4/2020
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are passingly familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search (Google it).]