Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, July 18 through Friday, July 24, 2020 [#53]
The Week’s Most Notable
It was a week of assaults on protesters in Portland by “Trump’s Stormtroopers.” The incessant war of words, threats, and nightly chaos in a teargas cloud wound up confusing the media and most of the public. Mission accomplished. Events in Portland can be usefully categorized in three ways: For Trump/Fox News/right-wing media this was a heroic culture-clash between forces of law and order and violent city-destroying anarchists. For many small “d” democrats, it was a massive breach of constitutional law perhaps foreshadowing the onset of an authoritarian state. Or, for some analysts, it was an incident of “performative authoritarianism” – a show (of force) designed for maximum propaganda value, though probably without permanent teeth.
The facts, such as we have, seem relatively clear: the DOJ under William Barr with Trump’s authority, led by Homeland Security, assembled a paramilitary unit from members of the Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Marshals Service, Federal Protection Service, ICE and other agencies. Some were rudimentarily trained near the Mexican border and first transported to Washington D.C. for action on June 1 at Lafayette Square. The deployment to Portland of about 200–250 in battle fatigues was meant to look like regular military but, as in D.C., still without identification. The official government account brings them to Portland for protection of the federal courthouse. Most observers believe their purpose was to agitate protesters toward riot, spectacularly intimidate individuals (e,g., shoving them into unmarked vans), and create scenes of chaos for spectacular media coverage.
As part of a revival of 2016’s “Law and Order” theme, Trump threatened similar deployments in Chicago, Albuquerque, Philadelphia, and any other city that has a Democrat as mayor. Barr made several statements to undercut Trump’s bellicosity, indicating that officers sent to other cities were limited in number, and were asked to work with existing police. Later in the week Trump exploded the ante by saying, “At some point, we have to do something much stronger than being invited in. We go in with 50,000 to 75,000 people, we would be able to solve it like you wouldn’t believe, like, quick.” This was BS, but of a piece to create the atmosphere of chaos in the cities, crime everywhere, and Portland providing the dramatic footage for Fox News.
Ultimately it looks like three things happened: Right-wing media got its “chaos in the cities” theme going; legal experts were justifiably shaken by an apparently blithe assault on the First and Fourth Amendments; and Trump set up his useful authoritarian theater for any time he needs a diversion or a way to seize the narrative.
Saturday, July 18
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 3,833,271; Deaths – 142,877
[Coronavirus] WHO Reports Record One Day Coronavirus Infections – It’s significant to note that the dramatic increase in coronavirus cases is worldwide. The new world record, 259,848 infections in one 24-hour period, accompanied by 7,360 new deaths, is indicative of fast increases in some countries, such as the U.S., India, Brazil, and South Africa. It’s becoming apparent that this particular virus is unusually tenacious, transmittable, and not well understood. While some scientists had been hopeful the summer heat might knock its advance down a peg or two that hasn’t happened. Meanwhile it seems most continuing studies discover more unpleasant COVID-19 effects, such as lingering damage to lungs and other organs weeks after the primary infection.
[Racism – Protest] Oregon AG Files Lawsuit Against DHS Officers – Seeking a temporary restraining order, Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum cited unlawful detention of Oregon citizens. Similarly, the ACLU has filed suit against the DHS and U.S. Marshals Service. Other lawsuits are expected, including civil suits from some of the protesters involved. [Update: on Friday a U.S. District judge denied the request for a temporary restraining order.] The novel paramilitary tactics used by a variety of agencies complicate the legal situation. Beyond thorny constitutional issues, there are numerous laws (kidnapping, for example) that run into definition (how exactly can an officer of the law “kidnap” somebody?) and jurisdictional issues.
Sunday, July 19
[Election – 2020] Trump’s Fox News Interview – For politicians, interviews come and go by the dozens, but Trump’s interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News was one for the record books. Nominally it should have been a “friendly” session but it quickly became combative: Wallace challenged Trump’s assertion that the U.S. had the best mortality rate from coronavirus in the world. Trump’s riposte was “fake news.” Notably, Trump intimated that he might not accept the results of the election, his usual “we’ll have to see.”
[Coronavirus] NIH Director Says COVID-19 Test Processing Too Slow – Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, pinpointed one of the big weaknesses in the U.S. testing program – lab processing. The average turnaround for tests is now six days, and often stretches beyond 10 days, which renders the tests useless, especially for tracing. He recommended a national program and “spending lots of money” to remedy the situation.
Monday, July 20
[Coronavirus] Congress Reconvenes with Fifth Coronavirus Relief Package on the Line – Before the haggling begins in the Senate, Republicans want to craft their own bill as a counter to the Democrats/House $3.7 trillion “Heroes Bill.” Trump stuck his oar in with a demand for a payroll tax cut. (Very unpopular, won’t happen.) Pressure mounts: unemployment insurance extension, rent eviction, and property forfeiture protection – affecting some 34 million people – ends next weekend. Time is also short; congressional summer break (for conventions) officially begins August 7.
[Coronavirus] EU Agrees to $857 Billion Economic Stimulus – After wrangling about northern countries subsidizing southern countries (the usual), Germany led the way to an overall agreement, partly to demonstrate EU unity in the face of the loss of Great Britain (Brexit).
[Coronavirus] Florida’s Largest Teachers Union Sues Governor over School Reopening – The Florida state constitution mandates that schools be kept “safe and secure.” The suit challenges Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) order to fully reopen all public schools in the face of runaway coronavirus infections.
[Coronavirus] Three COVID-19 Vaccines Show Promising Early Trials – “Promising” is the operative word as the vaccines produced helpful antibodies without harmful side effects, but only in small samples of people. The next step, Phase III, involves tens of thousands, several months, and few drugs survive. Yet, this is hopeful. [Update: U.S. buys $2 billion – a hundred million doses of Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which is also heading for Phase III testing. This is a huge investment/gamble on the part of the U.S. government for a largely German developed vaccine.]
Tuesday, July 21
[Coronavirus] Trump Coronavirus Show Revival – Begun without high expectations, the roughly half-hour presentation on the status of the coronavirus in the U.S. had not one federal health official or medical expert present, as in no Dr. Fauci. When reporters asked Trump where Dr. Birx was, he said “Oh she’s just outside in the hall.”
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Again Reach 1,000 or More a Day – As predicted from the massive increases in the number of cases, which turned into ICU-filling hospitalizations, deaths are now occurring consistently at more than a thousand per day. The U.S. continues to have one of the worst death rates in the world.
[U.S. Census] Trump Memorandum Excludes Undocumented Immigrants from Census Counting – The Constitution requires the seats in Congress be apportioned based on the “whole number of persons” counted in each state during each decennial census. There is no reference to any qualifications or disqualifications for census purposes, and courts have consistently held that all people are included in apportionment. This memorandum amounts to grandstanding for Trump’s base and will lose in court.
[Coronavirus] Federal Study: Coronavirus Cases Likely 6 to 24 Times Higher Than Reported – This is in line with previous statements by the CDC that infection figures are roughly 10 times greater than reported. The U.S. now has 4 million reported cases or, adjusted, somewhere around 40 million people infected by the coronavirus. Of course, we don’t know how many people have, or have had, COVID-19 as U.S. testing remains spotty even for the most pressing cases.
[Corruption] Ohio House Speaker, Larry Householder [R], Charged in Bribery Case – The $60 million racketeering and bribery investigation, called “likely the largest bribery, money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio” involved two northern Ohio nuclear power plants and a cost of $1 billion to Ohio ratepayers.
Wednesday, July 22
[Coronavirus] Survey: Only 8% Back Opening Schools without Restrictions – The Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs poll is consistent with others showing a far greater concern for health and safety than for simply reopening schools. Despite White House insistence on students physically attending classes, most school districts and higher education will map out their own plans (often a mix of on-site and remote learning) to cover the next two months.
[U.S. – China] U.S. Orders Chinese Houston Consulate Closed – This is part of a familiar pattern of diplomatic tit-for-tat that has characterized U.S.-China relations the past several months. While generally this is not significant signaling, there has been an ongoing escalation that can easily arrive at a serious confrontation. (Confrontations are usually correlated to domestic political requirements, rather than foreign relations issues. This is not currently a crisis but bears watching as November 3 approaches.) [Update: On Friday China ordered the U.S. to close its Chengdu Consulate.]
Thursday, July 23
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 1.42 million – For the first time in 15 weeks, jobless claims have gone up, probably indicating that “reopening” employment is coming to an end. It also reflects the impact of the ongoing coronavirus surge on the economy.
[Coronavirus] Trump Cancels GOP Jacksonville Convention – In a stunning announcement, Trump reversed months of rhetoric by saying that, due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Florida, “it’s just not the right time.” By week’s end it remains unclear what the GOP will do for an alternative with only about a month to go. The move was highly symptomatic of the general disarray in the GOP caused by the coronavirus surge.
[Justice – Cohen] Judge Orders Michael Cohen Re-Released from Prison – Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the Federal District Court of Manhattan ruled that Cohen’s reincarceration was retaliatory and meant to punish “because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment right to publish a book.” In short, extremely sloppy work by the DOJ. Cohen’s very anti-Trump book is likely to resurface by October.
Friday, July 24
[Coronavirus] Senate Republicans Go Home without Relief Bill Agreement – Adjourning for the weekend seems to signal the GOP saw nothing urgent about the 34 million people losing their unemployment insurance extension and protection from forfeiture/eviction by Monday. Unable to come to an agreement between the White House and Senate GOP – before the conversation even gets to the Democrats – indicates that, as McConnell said “We hope to reach an agreement in the next few weeks.” Or as Sen. Ted Cruz said, “What the hell are we doing!”
[Supreme Court] Court Rejects Nevada Church’s Petition against Attendance Limit – In an out of session 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts declined to overrule lower courts and the Nevada government’s decision to limit church attendance – while at the same time allowing casinos, bars, and other gatherings of people to continue.
[Weather – Hurricane] Hurricane Douglas Threatens Hawaii, Hurricane Hannah to Hit Texas – Both storms are early for the season and likely indicative of a very busy and destructive year. (Obviously, not a good year for a bad hurricane season.)
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 4,248,327; Deaths – 148,490 – Four million cases is a grim milestone. During the week, California overtook the COVID-19 records set in New York. Trends are upward in 39 states. The U.S. will pass 150,000 deaths in the coming week.
Coronavirus (Crisis) Notes
Literally panic. Health officials and even the public in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California have hit or are about to hit the actual panic button – probably along with half a dozen other states. The coronavirus figures are that bad. It seems apparent that for political/cultural reasons, even if Trump and the White House try to reverse their positions on masks and other mitigation, enough Americans will ignore medical advice so that the out-of-control spread of COVID-19 will continue in many states. Large-scale lockdowns may be in the future, and we know what that does to the economy.
Economy (Crisis) Notes
The inability of the Senate GOP and White House to come to some kind of agreement about a Republican relief bill increases worries that in the face of worsening coronavirus and economic crises, Congress will be blocked from doing meaningful last-minute legislation. If this happens, many economists and politicians believe the U.S. is flirting with kicking itself into Depression. Of course, conventional wisdom says this kind of Kabuki dancing is expected, but the political dynamics at work (red states are now being hit hardest) will force the GOP’s hand. Probably.
Racism Protest (Crisis) Notes
At least Portland reminds us that Black Lives Matter and similar protests are still happening. Unluckily for Portland, the occasional violence and presence of some professed “anarchists” (what happened to antifa?) attracted Barr’s and then Trump’s attention. Nice peaceful town, mostly white folks; nice place to stage a riot. Wag the Dog 2020.
Trump campaign is playing a weird hand: Cities in chaos, evil China, liberal anarchists, Law & Order, Sleepy Joe – on a rational basis don’t seem to add up to an effective, or even believable, campaign pitch; especially in the face of COVID-19 reality and the tens of millions about to tumble into economic despair. In the next week or two there should be polls that take some measure of whether or not Trump’s approach is working.
Trump-bits: Trump offered good wishes to Ghislaine Maxwell, the accused sex trafficker for pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Good friend of Trump’s apparently. Trump asked the U.S. Ambassador to the UK to facilitate moving the British Open golf tournament to the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland. Trump called Portland “worse than Afghanistan.” “Person, woman, man, camera, TV” – repeat endlessly. Trump has White House portraits of Clinton and GW Bush moved to unused room. Trump has been consulting with John Yoo, a former DOJ lawyer, on how to circumvent Congress. (Yoo developed the DOJ rationale for using torture.)
Take with the usual sanity required grain-of-salt: Aggregate poll results show that the Democrats have a legitimately strong chance to take control of the Senate. Between 8 and 12 Republican seats are now in play with only one for the Democrats. This may be blowback from the ever more obvious coronavirus disaster, coupled with ongoing Trump and GOP fecklessness that appears to be affecting a wide variety of down-ballot races.
Quote of the Week
Let Biden sit through an interview like this. He’ll be on the ground crying for mommy. He’ll say, ‘Mommy, mommy, please take me home. . . . He can’t do an interview. He’s incompetent.
The President of the United States, Fox News Sunday interview with Chris Wallace, 7/19/2020
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