Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, July 4 through Friday, July 10, 2020 [#51]
The Week’s Most Notable
Something’s gotta give. As the week progressed, the coronavirus statistics grew worse; nowhere more obviously than in the number of new cases, which began the week at around 55,000 a day and finished the week at 70,000. This is well on the way to what Dr. Fauci predicted as 100,000 cases a day. Trump, his administration, and some Republican governors continued in effect to say “not a real problem.” Meanwhile, Trump rolled out his latest political-medical diversion known as “Open the Schools.” [See Coronavirus Notes.] Although the administration’s messaging on wearing masks and social distancing remains at best mixed, Republican governors in red Sun Belt states face dire conditions (Texas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma), driving them to impose mandatory face mask wearing and other measures up to, but still short of, more lockdowns. It seems the key factor will be the number of deaths. Believe it or not, Trump and many in the GOP seem to think there’s a “sweet spot” – say 500 deaths a day – that Americans will accept in return for filling sports stadiums, opening all businesses, and basically ignoring COVID-19. How about 1,000 deaths a day, which is likely to be the average by the end of the coming week? Meanwhile, medical people and health officials point out that “You can’t restore the economy until you control the virus!” Something’s gotta give.
The Supreme Court finished its session on Thursday, having dropped a number of big legal bombs: The president is not above the law (9-0); Trump cannot block disclosure of his financial records to New York prosecutors (7-2); Trump and the House must relitigate subpoenas using the four guidelines spelled out in the decision (7-2); for legal purposes much of eastern Oklahoma is an Indian reservation (5-4); employers are allowed to deny contraception coverage for female workers on religious or moral grounds (7-2); employment discrimination laws do not apply to teachers at religious schools (7-2); states may require electoral college members to vote as they had pledged (9-0); states may not exclude religious schools from scholarship programs (5-4); the Louisiana abortion Law is unconstitutional (5-4); the president may fire the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau without cause (5-4); the Trump administration cannot immediately shut down DACA (5-4); the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination (6-3); unanimous jury verdicts are required for serious crimes (6-3).
Saturday, July 4
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 2,945,147; Deaths – 132,339
[Coronavirus] Florida Matches New York’s Worst Day for New Coronavirus Cases – Indicative of records being set throughout the South, Florida recorded 11,458 new cases, just shy of New York State’s one-day record of 11,571 back in April. The massive surge of new cases is a forerunner of overrunning hospital capacity in at least four states (Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Arizona). The death rate remains relatively low, though probably not for long. Epidemiologists are concerned about a further spike as a result of July 4 celebrations and interstate travel.
[Elections 2020] Trump Continues “Radical Left” Campaign at D.C. Rally – The Independence Day speech continued the divisive tone established at Mount Rushmore. “We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children, or trample on our freedoms.” As for the pandemic, “we’ve learned to put out the flame” and by the way “99% of coronavirus cases are totally harmless.”
Sunday, July 5
[Coronavirus] 99% of Coronavirus Cases Are Not Totally Harmless – Health officials and doctors scrambled to reject Trump’s claim made in his Fourth of July speech. The truth is 10% to 15% of those infected stay home but are seriously debilitated, 2% to 5% need hospitalization, about 1% die. Throughout the week Trump continued to refer to the “kung flu” and otherwise denigrate the potency of the pandemic – when he was not assiduously avoiding coronavirus discussion entirely. The continued mixed messaging: wear a mask – don’t wear a mask, it’s serious – it’s not all that serious, and the like has driven health professionals to despair. They ask how is it possible that medical issues, life-and-death medical issues, have been politicized?
[Racism – Protest] Frederick Douglass Statue Toppled in New York – “They are destroying our history,” said one observer. Douglass is widely considered one of the greatest black spokespersons and abolitionists.
[Environment] Developers Cancel Atlantic Coast Pipeline – The $8 billion natural gas project, a 600-mile pipeline crossing the Appalachians, was announced in 2014 and had well organized opposition from landowners and environmental organizations. However, it was ultimately killed by the freakishly weak market for natural gas. [Update: in a not directly related development, a U.S. District Court ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline shut down and emptied because of a failure by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide an adequate environmental assessment.]
Monday, July 6
[Supreme Court] Supreme Court Rules on Presidential Electors Votes – The unanimous decision held that a state may require presidential electors to support the winner its popular vote. Eventually this will rule out the possibility of “faithless electors.”
[Coronavirus] Coronavirus Death Toll Reaches 130,000 – Hospitalizations are also rising all along the Sun Belt, in some states indicating more cases than hospitals can handle.
[Racism – Protest] Trump Picks Fight with NASCAR and Driver Bubba Wallace – As part of his new campaign strategy involving the defense of Confederacy flags and statues, Trump attacked NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag and accused Bubba Wallace, its only black driver, of creating a hoax concerning the noose found in his garage at a racetrack. Since Trump has no known affiliation with the South, much less the Confederacy, this is a good example of his contemporary all-in for racism reelection strategy. [Update: The FBI found not only that the noose predated Wallace’s use of the garage, but that he was not the one who reported it.]
Tuesday, July 7
[Coronavirus] Trump White House Officially Notifies WHO of Withdrawal – Although formalizing the withdrawal in the middle of a global pandemic, the withdrawal from the World Health Organization doesn’t become effective until 2021. For the most part, the U.S. v. WHO fracas is grandstanding — unless Trump wins reelection.
[Coronavirus – Schools] Trump Launches “Schools Must Open” Campaign – Flanked by Education Sec. Betsy DeVos, Trump insisted not only that schools must open, but they must have in-person classes, because “Democrats are pushing to keep learning virtual for political reasons, not for health reasons.” That is, he takes this issue personally. [Update: His stance created a brouhaha that continues and involves the failure of the CDC, in his eyes, to appropriately guide school reopening. Of course, mixed messaging ensued and now most schools, higher and lower education, are scrambling to develop their own programs.]
[Election – 2020] Mary Trump’s Book Gets Out – Despite the comings and goings of court cases, personal accusations, and much gossip, copies of the book, a memoir by Trump’s niece, were distributed to the media. Early analysis of the book indicates it won’t have much direct political impact, but it completes some of the picture of Donald Trump’s upbringing, particularly his relationship with his father (his niece is a clinical psychologist). The book also contains many researchable claims, such as that Trump paid somebody to take his SAT for him, allowing him entrance to the Wharton School of Business. Mary Trump’s catchphrase: “Cheating was a way of life.”
Wednesday, July 8
[Supreme Court] Court Allows Employers to Opt Out of No-Cost Birth Control – As a kind of extension to the Hobby Lobby decision of 2014, which allowed religiously inclined employers to opt out of providing birth control, the court affirmed the Trump rule of not providing no-cost birth control under the Affordable Care Act for moral or religious reasons. It also follows a court trend that favors religious rights under the First Amendment over other aspects of the Constitution, such as the separation of church and state.
[Coronavirus] Pence Announces CDC to Revise School Reopening Guidelines – Trump apparently thinks the current guidelines are too tough, meaning they go against his all-out campaign to physically reopen classes. This marks a direct intervention of White House policy in the formulation of CDC medical policy. [Update: The CDC denies that it is revising its guidelines and will be merely adding supplementary information. Call this mixed messaging.]
[House Ukraine Investigation] Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman Announces Retirement – If you didn’t remember Vindman’s riveting House Intelligence Committee testimony, this would seem like a perfectly anodyne retirement. However, it’s a marker to Trump’s vindictive personality. As Vindman’s lawyer put it, “he decided to leave due to a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation spearheaded by the president.”
Thursday, July 9
[Supreme Court] Trump Financials: Two Landmark 7-2 Decisions – Actually, there was a third “decision,” a remarkable concurrence by all nine justices: The president is not above the law. The two official decisions will provide fodder for legal analysis and action for as long as presidents continue to challenge inquiries into their activities. [See Election Notes.] The broadest disappointment is that Trump financials will not be a factor in the upcoming election. Conservatives will bemoan that Trump’s two appointments to the court, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, along with Chief Justice Roberts, joined the liberals as the majority.
[Supreme Court] Court Ruling Gives Tribal Legal Autonomy to Half of Oklahoma – In a surprising opinion (5-4), Justice Neil Gorsuch demonstrated what tribes have known for some time: he’s a “Westerner” and an authentic supporter of Native American issues. In this landmark case he eloquently detailed the theft of Indian lands and their loss of legal autonomy. In practice, this will mean that tribal criminal issues will be tried in federal courts rather than in state courts, which historically have been biased against Native Americans.
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 1.3 million – It doesn’t look good for a rapid recovery as another month (the 16th in a row) sees more than a million new unemployment insurance claims. The overall estimate of total unemployment continues to hover around 20 to 30 million. Most analysts say the recent surge in coronavirus cases will not help economic recovery (to put it mildly), especially if it comes to lockdowns again.
[Coronavirus] WHO Revises Guidance on Airborne Coronavirus – Settling a weeks-long dispute among scientists, which went so far as a letter of protest to the WHO, the new guidelines concede that not only is COVID-19 transmitted by “droplets,” large particles of moisture, but also by invisible particles as an aerosol. The difference is significant. It applies especially to the difference between people who are obviously sick and who cough or sneeze, and asymptomatic people who carry the virus but broadcast it by simply talking or even breathing (at close range). This change in understanding about transmission of the virus is a good example of how science learns – and how policy should change with it: COVID-19 is highly airborne, wear the damn masks!
Friday, July 10
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 3,291,386; Deaths – 136,671
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus New Cases Top 70,000 per Day – We are on schedule to achieve Dr. Fauci’s prediction of 100,000 new cases per day by the middle of August, if not sooner. To give this some perspective, fewer than 20 countries have recorded more than 100,000 cases – total. Case numbers are mostly symbolic – hospitalizations and deaths are far more significant – but the raw number of cases does signal the magnitude of disease spread.
[Rule of Law] Trump Commutes Roger Stone Sentence – Though not unexpected, Trump’s use of the wholly self-serving “get-out-of-jail-free” card set off a firestorm, mainly from the legal community. Trump appears not to care about the “optics” of setting another of his buddies free. As should be quite clear by now, using the justice system to protect loyal supporters and to punish perceived opposition – one of the hallmarks of authoritarian government – is baked into Trump’s view of the presidency.
[Election – 2020] Trump’s New Hampshire Rally Suddenly Canceled – The reason given was bad weather caused by tropical storm Fay; however, it was predicted that on Saturday said storm would still be two days out to sea off the coast of New Jersey. The real reason: fear of COVID-19 and probable low attendance. The campaign is absolutely phobic about having a repeat of the Tulsa rally disaster.
Coronavirus (Crisis) Notes
“Open the Schools” has many similarities to Trump’s “Open the States” of last April-May. The presidential exhortation caused many of the states in the South to open “way too early” according to doctors and epidemiologists. These are the states that are now having record surges of COVID-19. For schools (pre-k through college), “too early” means before the schools have workable plans for starting education, usually a mix of classroom and online teaching, without compromising the health of students, teachers, and other staff. Trump and his administration vastly complicated the situation by “demanding” that schools have only in-person classes, or suffer a cut in federal education funds. The administration even went so far as to issue an order threatening foreign students with deportation if they didn’t attend classes in person. With school openings only about a month away, the situation has created an artificial crisis on top of an actual crisis. Since the federal government has yet to provide definitive guidelines for opening schools, it appears that school districts and higher education institutions are simply winging it – doing whatever seems best and ignoring Trump. Given the lack of experience with reopening schools during a pandemic and the effects coronavirus can have not only on the students but those they contact, this invites results similar to those of “Open the States.”
Economy (Crisis) Notes
What is this, a game of chicken? Mitch McConnell has taken the Senate on vacation until July 20. Concerning another massive trillion dollar-plus coronavirus relief package, there is some negotiation with the House taking place, but Congress will have fewer than 20 days to haggle, formulate, and approve a final bill before summer recess. So far, McConnell says he thinks a bill is necessary, but he’s being extremely cagey about the size and content. Trump has also said he supports a bill, but one under $1 trillion. Given that at the end of July a massive pent-up payment of loans and rents comes due, the $600 unemployment insurance bonus ends, and state/local governments must address huge cutbacks/employee layoffs (among other off-the-cliff economic contingencies); what happens if Congress fails to put together an adequate package?
Racism Protest (Crisis) Notes
It seems that the Black Lives Matter movement is simmering down to symbolism (a big yellow Black Lives Matter painted on the street in front of Trump Tower in New York) and the persistent slog-work that must be done to organize turnout for the November election. It may not be a catchy meme, but the BLM people understand that protest must turn into policy and that can only happen by changing politicians. They seem to understand that the problem will be voter inertia combined with Republican voter suppression. This year, voter motivation may not be much of a problem, but voter suppression likely will be.
The Supreme Court decides: Courts and Congress can subpoena presidential information (documents and testimony) BUT in practice not before this election. It breaks out like this: there are two cases, each receiving a 7-2 decision with the majority opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts. The first case involves the Manhattan District Court, which was investigating Trump’s financial involvement with payments to porn stars and tax-related issues of his corporation. The ruling, which noted that Trump’s all-or-nothing defense was wholly inadequate, said that the Manhattan court was fully justified in its subpoenaing information for a grand jury. However, the ruling remanded the case to be re-adjudicated in lower courts on the basis of Trump being an ordinary citizen. This will most likely require months.
The second ruling involved three House committees requesting various information from Trump’s law firm. Again, Trump’s legal position was an all-or-nothing proposition – the president could not be investigated or subpoenaed for any reason. The ruling struck this down in its entirety; however, the House legal position was also very broad – too broad for the court to approve (fishing expedition territory). Therefore, the ruling remanded the cases back to the lower courts along with a four-point guidance that should be followed to determine, according to the Supreme Court, what the scope of the House investigations can be. This four-point guidance will be the source of many years’ worth of litigation, and absolutely means there will be no revelation from the House of Trump financial documents until long after the election.
The upshot: If you like upholding the rule of law and providing guidance for appropriate pathways to investigate the president, this was a win. If you think that the inability of the voting public to see any of Trump’s financial documents before the election is a grave disservice, then this was a win for Trump. Finally, if you’re not convinced the issues involved will move the needle on the election in any significant direction, then the rulings clearly uphold the rule of law in its normal sense for criminal cases (that is, the Manhattan case), but has opened a Pandora’s box of a three-way fight between the branches of government – though putting the judiciary in the catbird seat – unless Congress and the Administration can work out their differences and avoid the judiciary.
Then there is Joe Biden. Most Democrats think Biden’s low-profile strategy is working: let Trump scare off voters by himself. However, Biden has not been totally silent. In fact, looking at his July 4 speech and the first of his speeches about a post-Trump Economic Recovery Plan, Biden has some very good speech writers. “We have a health crisis, an economic crisis, a racial justice crisis, a climate crisis. We need to come together to solve these crises, to solve them as Americans. This is our moment to imagine and to build a new American economy for our families and for our communities.” There is a tone of economic nationalism, stealing the issue from the Republicans, yet it still sounds like the liberal pro-labor Biden.
Quote of the Week
[With visitors] Trump often launches into a monologue placing himself at the center of the nation’s turmoil. The president has cast himself in the starring role of the blameless victim—of a deadly pandemic, of a stalled economy, of deep-seated racial unrest, all of which happened to him rather than the country.
Ashley Parker et al., “Trump the Victim,” The Washington Post, 7/10/2020
Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.
Sen. Mitt Romney (Rep. UT) tweet re 7/10/2020 Stone commutation
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