Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, September 26 through Friday, October 2, 2020 [Vol.2 No.11]
The Week’s Most Notable
Trump is in Walter Reed Hospital with symptomatic COVID-19. A more stunning, ironic, and potentially fateful piece of news can hardly be imagined. Not that it should have been difficult to imagine, given the publicly cavalier attitude toward the coronavirus demonstrated by the entire White House staff, most Republican officeholders, and a large majority of Trump’s base – not to mention the arch virus-denier himself, Donald Trump. The outcome of Trump’s infection is at this early point medically difficult to assess and ranges all the way from a few days in the hospital to Requiescat in Pace. Politically, the illness pretty much destroys the Trump-GOP coronavirus-denial strategy. This may not change the minds of many Trump-base voters, especially given a monumental right-wing media spin effort. Nevertheless, there is now hope for a reversal of contrarian attitudes toward mask wearing, social distancing, and other forms of coronavirus mitigation.
The presidential debate, otherwise now known in the colloquial as “The Shitshow,” stands in the memory of somewhere between 70 and 90 million people worldwide (not counting maybe 20 million Trump supporters), as the most foul, ugly, and antidemocratic performance in the long line of such performances by Trump. It was clear from the opening that Trump’s only mission was to destroy the debate. He burnished his best bullying skills, pumped himself into a red-faced sweat-streaked rhetorical state, and proceeded to out-shout and out-interrupt Biden and moderator Chris Wallace 128 times. Right-wing media immediately declared it a great victory because, after all, aggression is its own justification, and not a single substantive issue was actually debated. The rest of the world, recognizing the ghastly reality in front of them, pronounced it the most off-putting and worst “debate” in American history. Again, like so many utterly novel and shocking Trump performances, it’s difficult to say whether this changed many votes. It did, however, leave a very bad taste in many people’s recollection. Sometimes that kind of emotional response has powerful last-minute effects in the ballot box.
Trump’s Taxes: so much for fake populism. The reason Trump pays so little in federal taxes is the federal tax code, which he and his supplicant GOP friends continued to stack in favor of the rich with that infamous 2017 tax-giveaway legislation (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act). It was supposed to cut loopholes, instead it created hundreds of new ones and generated $2.2 trillion in additional national debt. So no, Trump’s tax returns are not a populist document, they are a ne’er-do-well rich man’s monument to a rigged tax system. In Trump’s view, people who pay taxes are “suckers.”
Saturday, September 26
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 7,290,867; Deaths – 209,177
[Supreme Court] Amy Coney Barrett Nominated for Supreme Court – Mentored by former Justice Antonin Scalia, Barrett is a putative strict constructionist, ultraconservative, Catholic-visioned, and highly competent jurist. By word and ruling she is the complete antithesis of her predecessor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which seems to be appropriate as a deliberate finger in the eye of liberal justice. The opening of her hearings is scheduled for October 12 with a final vote sometime in the week before the general election on November 3. The Democrats will attempt to block or at least delay her confirmation, probably without success. In any other week her nomination would have dominated the news, but not this week – her White House Rose Garden nomination party became more famous as the potential origin of a calamitous coronavirus outbreak that perhaps started the president on his way to the hospital.
[Coronavirus] Midwest Becomes Focus of Coronavirus Surge – After peaking for a while in the South, the current wave of COVID-19 cases has moved up to Minnesota, Montana, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, which all recorded record one day increases. In fact, Wisconsin will quickly reach saturation of hospital beds and is making plans to open auxiliary treatment centers. Nationwide the number of new cases is back up to around 50,000 a day, with a lagging death rate of about 800 to 900 a day. Without major changes in mitigation behavior, the CDC says the U.S. is on track for around 400,000 deaths by the end of the year.
[Racism – Protest] Portland: Proud Boys Rally Fizzles, Demonstrations End Quietly – Prior billing by right-wing militia groups promised thousands of armed demonstrators would convene on the streets of Portland. According to Fox News propaganda, they would be met by hordes of antifa. Fortunately, only a few hundred militia appeared and antifa or BLM demonstrators were conspicuously low-show. Police reported almost no violence. Other than demonstrations in Louisville for the killing of Breonna Taylor, this was an extremely quiet week for protests. Trump’s “violence in the streets” campaign also seems to be fizzling.
Sunday, September 27
[Trump – Taxes] The New York Times Exposes Trump Tax Information – Americans woke up on Sunday morning to find that after all these years The New York Times, not the government, had finally broken through and acquired 15 years of Trump tax information, a major journalistic achievement with potential election-altering revelations. In the event, it was a major achievement although much of the information was already “known” albeit without documentation or specific figures. The massive work of research revealed a pattern of tax avoidance (legal) with potential tax evasion (illegal) and the politically hot meme that Trump paid little or no federal taxes most years and in 2017 and 2018 paid about $750 in federal taxes even while he was president. The other major finding: Trump personally owes more than $420 million, due within the next four years. The salient question: Owes to whom? In any other week, The Times’ story would’ve been like opening Pandora’s box for a looksee, but this week all the story did was linger a little more than two days. There will be follow-up, especially by ongoing New York state investigations, and expect more media-based Trump financial revelations between now and the election.
[Election – 2020] Poll: Majority Want Election Winner to Fill Supreme Court – The New York Times/Siena College poll showed what other polls have indicated – the winner of the November presidential election should pick the replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. The margin for this referendum was 56% to 41%. Public sentiment will not affect what Mitch McConnell does in the Senate, nor delay the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, but it sets the stage for anger against Republican senators who participate in this blatant exercise of power and hypocrisy.
Monday, September 28
[Coronavirus] Worldwide Coronavirus Death Toll Now Exceeds 1 Million – Infection rates are now climbing in almost all Western countries, especially in Europe and the United States. The worst record still belongs to the United States, with more than 7 million cases and more than 209,000 deaths. For contrast, Taiwan, with a population of about 25 million, has had 517 cases and 7 deaths; Florida, with a population of about 22 million, has had 715,000 cases and 14,628 deaths.
[Wildfires – California] California Wine Country Hit by Fast Spreading Wildfires – After a brief respite during the week, record heat returned to California, this time causing an outbreak of wildfires in counties such as Sonoma, Napa, and Shasta, the heart of California’s wine country. So far more than 34,000 people have been ordered to evacuate.
Tuesday, September 29
[Election – 2020] The Debacle Debate – It was billed as the presidential debate of the century. Democrats were fearful that Joe Biden might not be up to snuff. Republicans, at least some of them, were concerned that Trump might go too far on attack. By the end, Biden was more than adequate and Trump not only went off the rails but blew the bridges and tore up the track. Most importantly, this seemed to be Trump’s strategy from the outset. The chaotic contretemps was so bad that there were immediate calls to never have another debate like it, and the Commission on Presidential Debates promised to revise the rules (as if that would make any difference). Take away line for the debate: Trump refused to denounce white supremacy, saying about the right-wing militia group Proud Boys, they should “stand back and stand by.” The Proud Boys immediately adopted that line as their motto.
[Election – 2020] U.S. Security Officials Warn of Extremist Threat to Elections – As if on cue for Trump’s threatening peroration at the close of Tuesday’s debate, officials at Homeland Security, the FBI, and other agencies warned of a buildup in political tensions, civil unrest, and foreign disinformation to create a toxic environment that could erupt in violence.
[Wall Street – Corruption] J.P. Morgan Chase to Pay $920 Million for Spoofing the Market – It’s the largest settlement ever imposed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for market manipulation – spoofing – where traders call in massive buys and then almost immediately cancel them in order to affect short-term market statistics. The chaotic Wall Street market, awash in Federal Reserve cash, is a ripe target for scams.
Wednesday, September 30
[Election – 2020] Strong Ripples in Reaction to Raucous Debate – It may not move the partisan percentage of voters very much, but the ugly vituperative tone of Trump’s attacks and interruptions left a very bad impression with the majority of viewers, especially in the international community. One sign of the reaction: by 9:30 AM on Wednesday Democrats had hauled in $25 million in contributions. Most snap polls showed Biden winning by at least 60-40.
[Government] U.S. Government Funded until December 11 – Trump signed a temporary bill that keeps the government open through December 11 and avoids a temporary shutdown. On the other hand, it’s temporary and what happens next depends very much on the outcome of the election, although the current membership of Congress and the presidency will be the same on that date. However, political dynamics could be quite different.
[Mueller Investigation] Comey Grilled by Senate Judiciary Committee – As part of Lindsey Graham’s Trump-prompted investigation into the origin of the Mueller investigation, former FBI director James Comey for the third time in as many years testified about the FBI’s decision to open the investigation. Considering all that is going on in American politics at the present time, it’s debatable whether anybody cares about a rehash of a rehash of former investigations.
Thursday, October 1
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 837,000 – No significant change from the previous week (about 36,000 fewer). The indicators continue showing that new employment is hitting a plateau and layoffs are in the offing, particularly for the airline industry. Without further stimulus many small businesses and a few large ones will reach the end of their financial capacity in the next month or two, leading to bankruptcies and increasing unemployment.
[Coronavirus] White House Advisor Hope Hicks Tests Positive – One of the people closest to Trump announced she was tested and has symptomatic COVID-19. In fact, she was placed in quarantine on Wednesday while flying back from the Trump rally in Minnesota aboard Air Force One. (It turns out she was the canary in the coal mine.)
[Coronavirus] House Passes $2.2 Trillion Coronavirus Relief Proposal – Keeping the flame alive against the smothering of Mitch McConnell, House Democrats pared down their earlier offer of $2.4 trillion in the hope that Senate Republicans wanted to go back home with some kind of relief deal. The Trump administration responded with an offer of $1.6 trillion, which was promptly rejected by McConnell. Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin will continue negotiating through the end of the week under less than optimistic circumstances.
Friday, October 2
[Coronavirus] Trump and Melania Test Positive for Coronavirus – Trump made the 1 AM announcement, via Twitter of course, and triggered a day of chaos at the White House – if not the country and the world. Given his record of coronavirus denial, mitigation avoidance, and the campaign strategy of evading the pandemic issue at all costs, his illness changes the already tempestuous course of the election. (It also produces a massive moment of irony if nothing else.) Unfortunately, before the day was out seven more people in or near Trump’s entourage – especially those who participated in the Rose Garden ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett – tested positive, including three senators, Trump’s campaign manager, Chris Christie, and Kellyanne Conway. The scramble was on to trace and track with the White House ill-prepared to follow Trump’s hundreds of contacts from the Saturday at the Rose Garden, through the debate in Cleveland, to the rally in Minnesota, to the donors meeting in New Jersey. As of Friday, Joe Biden and his wife, Mike Pence and his wife, Kamala Harris, and Trump’s immediate family have all tested negative.
[Election – 2020] Trump Flown to Walter Reed Hospital – The sequence of events into the early morning of Saturday are still fuzzy, particularly because the information provided by the White House medical team is a paragon of imprecision, contradictory statements, and obvious rosy-colored obfuscation. As best as we can tell prior to a detailed investigation: Trump was showing symptoms as early as Wednesday during the Duluth rally, was even more symptomatic when he met with 100 people at his Bedminster golf course in New Jersey, and by Friday was in considerable distress, particularly with his breathing – enough so that it was necessary to occasionally administer oxygen. Two things indicate the seriousness of the incident: Trump was given Regeneron monoclonal antibodies, a cocktail that is in the very earliest stages of clinical trials (they needed a “humanitarian emergency approval” from the FDA to use it); he was also given remdesivir, another experimental drug not yet FDA approved. The use of these drugs usually reserved for desperate cases, much less for a president of the United States, could indicate the seriousness of his condition. Whatever his condition, he was airlifted to the hospital as a “precautionary measure.” None of this is indicative of a mild case of coronavirus.
[Election – 2020] Trump to Remain in Hospital at Least 6 to 10 Days – Regardless of optimistic statements by Trump and/or his White House staff, doctors say two crucial things: One, many coronavirus cases take a turn for the worst 6 to 10 days after infection, which for Trump extends from this weekend into the middle of next week. Two, he will normally need to stay in the hospital for observation, and probably for recuperation, typically at least 10 days. If he makes a quick recovery, he might be able to go back to the White House sooner than that, but he will likely not be fit for active campaigning for several weeks. In short, his personal campaigning is all but over.
[Election – 2020] Texas Governor Closes Many Mail-Ballot Drop Boxes – Governor Greg Abbott (R) issued a proclamation limiting each county to one drop-off point for mail ballots. Some small counties had only one drop point, but most larger counties like Harrison (Houston) had many drop boxes. This obvious alteration of voting conditions, which will affect mostly Latino and black voters, infuriated Democrats. It should be pointed out that polls have recently shown Texas to be a tossup. The change in drop boxes was immediately challenged in court.
[Coronavirus] Pelosi Says Coronavirus Relief Package Negotiations Regain Momentum – She didn’t put it this way but Trump’s illness creates a whole new environment for negotiations. She has in her hand the newly passed $2.2 trillion House stimulus bill. She has Steve Mnuchin concerned about Trump and the election. She even has GOP senators worried about how the deteriorating state of the economy, combined with the collapse of the GOP coronavirus denial policy, will play with voters back home.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 7,549,323; Deaths – 213,524
Coronavirus (Crisis) Notes
The firestorm over the COVID-19 infection of the U.S. president will go down in medical history. (Regardless of the eventual outcome.) Other than Woodrow Wilson’s dementia and Spanish flu, Trump’s case is the most serious and far-reaching of presidential illnesses. It will take some time to piece together a correct sequence of events, but even now it looks like the parade of contacts and victims is epic. The medical handling of his case already appears to be plagued with contradictions, mystery, and potential malpractice. The implications of his illness on his personal demeanor, not to mention the unquestioning loyalty of his followers, are likely to be unpredictable and significant. The political fallout of this incredible failure by Trump, the GOP, and the White House staff to deal with an immediate personal emergency, so highly representative of the ongoing national emergency of the coronavirus pandemic, will be book, movie, and legal fodder for the ages.
Constitutional, Political, Election (Crisis) Notes
Quo Vadis? Likely fallout of Trump’s illness: Another presidential debate is unlikely; it was unlikely even before Trump’s hospitalization as Trump already said he would not attend any debate if they change the rules. The GOP potentially may have trouble railroading a Supreme Court justice through the Senate before the election. The COVID-19 spread may take out enough GOP senators (three or four) to affect committee or floor votes. Fox News and other Trump-GOP media outlets will need to spend millions generating counter propaganda about Trump’s hospitalization. In a related vein, there will probably be propaganda “distractions” cooked up by AG Barr, Fox News, and other Trump-media outlets and whatnot. Democrats who think about it should want a full recovery by Trump; as Michael Moore put it, “We want to beat Trump fair and square.” Will Trump’s illness depress his base and GOP turnout? Maybe, depends on how it plays out.
Trump-bits. T on NYT tax exposé: “fake news,” turned into “illegally obtained.” From a Trump letter inserted into Farmers to Families Food Boxes (Ivanka’s idea) T: “As part of our response to coronavirus, I prioritized sending nutritious food from our farmers to families in need throughout America.” T: “Why would I allow the Debate Commission to change the rules for the second and third debates when I easily won last time?” Melania T: “Who gives a f***about the Christmas stuff and decorations?”
Quotes of the Week
We published two fact checks [of the debate], for a total of 53 claims. (Biden: 7. Trump: 46.)
“The Fact Checker,” The Washington Post, 10/2/2020.
Reminder: White House physicians are public servants. It is not their job to be politically evasive. Ducking important questions (e.g., supplemental oxygen, last -ve test, location of infection) like a politician is inappropriate.
Saad B. Omer, Director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, 10/3/2020.
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