Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, October 10 through Friday, October 16, 2020 [Vol.2 No.13]
The Week’s Most Notable
It’s hard to call Thursday night’s dueling town halls a highlight. From the moneygrubbing political cynicism of the scheduling to the awkward and sometimes painful juxtaposition of styles and content, the contrast between Trump and Biden could very well be an apotheosis, a crowning moment of a sort. Skillfully and resolutely pushed by moderator Savannah Guthrie, Trump eventually sweated and spluttered his way into conceding a few things like owing $400 million to somebody, and yet again failing to denounce QAnon. Perhaps Trump’s negative impression was not as striking as in the first debate, but he was consistently nerve-wracking. For his part, Biden finally got to finish a sentence and even present an issue accompanied by a précis of a plan. It would’ve been helpful to actually debate some of his ideas, but the 2020 election is based on impressions, not facts and arguments. Biden’s impression was good. He likes talking to people, he really does. For the most part he kept his facts and figures together, he didn’t sound radical, and he didn’t sound like a doddering old man – scratch two big Republican talking points. Overall, between the two events – for those voters who could one way or another catch a glimpse of both – it was a good opportunity to get a measure of the men.
It is truly amazing that for more than six months Trump and the GOP have been essentially representing the idea that the coronavirus is insignificant (sort of doesn’t exist) and that mitigation efforts, such as masks or those that cause economic disruption, are not only unnecessary but authoritarian. In short, they made a political issue out of facing a national medical crisis. This week it became clearer that the U.S. is heading into another wave of COVID-19 as new cases topped the mark of 70,000 per day – with more than 8 million already infected and 215,000 dead. The Trump-GOP-right wing media have created cognitive dissonance on an epic scale or, put more meaningfully – have used lies that have already killed thousands of people. This is not hyperbole.
Saturday, October 10
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 7,681,140; Deaths – 206,135
[Coronavirus] Trump Holds His First Post- COVID-19 Rally at White House – Billed as an official event about the coronavirus and Trump’s recovery, Trump’s opening line from the Blue Room balcony was “we got to vote these people into oblivion.” The 300 to 400 attendees, mostly wearing MAGA caps, not wearing masks, and not socially distanced, applauded. The use of the White House as a campaign prop has become routine and is still illegal.
[Armenia-Azerbaijan – War] Fragile Cease-Fire Not Holding – In normal times, people in the U.S. would know when there’s a war going on somewhere in the world. In this case, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting a very hot war for several weeks with apparently only Russia taking much notice. The dispute is over the Nagorno-Karabakh region – a hotspot in a region of hotspots. It could further destabilize the Middle East, depending on how much Iran gets involved.
[Racism – Protest] Denver Left-Right Face-Off Results in One Death – Protests and violence are still occurring, whether overhyped by right-wing media or underplayed by mainstream media. In this case a protester being maced by a participant in the right-wing “Patriot Rally,” pulled out a handgun, shot, and killed the mace wielding man. Such an event is rare, but it’s still happening.
Sunday, October 11
[Election – 2020] South Carolina Democrat Jamie Harrison Shatters Fundraising Record – Indicative of the money flooding into Democratic races around the country, Harrison recorded raising $57 million in the third quarter, beating the old Senate campaign record of $38 million. The contest between Harrison and Lindsay Graham (R) is rated a tossup.
[Election – 2020] California GOP Caught Faking Ballot Drop Boxes – Let the dirty tricks begin; actually, they’ve been going on quite a while already. In this case, California Republicans fabricated “official” metal ballot drop boxes for several areas such as LA and Fresno. Such fakery is, of course, illegal. This became an issue throughout the week; however, without reaching a conclusion.
Monday, October 12
[Supreme Court] Opening Day of Amy Coney Barrett Confirmation Hearings – Scheduled for four days, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing is understood to be a formality (the Republicans have the votes and will use them), although a potential PR platform for Democrats. According to modern SCOTUS candidate practice, Barrett is expected to use standard circumlocutions such as “that’s a hypothetical I cannot address” to avoid answering all but the most superficial questions. This is a judge’s equivalent of taking the Fifth Amendment.
[Coronavirus] Johnson & Johnson Pauses COVID-19 Vaccine Trial – Such pauses are commonplace for Phase 3 clinical trials, especially for one as large as this with more than 60,000 participants. In this case, one participant came down with an unusual and worrisome illness (not specified by J&J). This is yet another illustration that vaccines and cures cannot be scheduled, regardless of political desires – unless there is cheating and no care who dies because of it. Current word-of-mouth is that it’s possible for a vaccine to be announced somewhere in the world by the end of November, more likely by the end of the year. Without the understandable but artificial political pressure, this would be good news.
[Elections 2020] Long Lines to Cast Ballots Are Common – As early voting, by mail or in person, has begun in various states, it’s obvious that this could be an extraordinary election turnout. In Georgia some voters had to wait as long as 12 hours to cast a ballot. Such delays are sometimes engineered, and sometimes the result of overwhelming numbers – more than 10 million people have already voted.
Tuesday, October 13
[Supreme Court] Supreme Court Allows Census to End Two Weeks Early – The Trump administration has been trying to obstruct and curtail the 2020 Census for a long time. This ruling grew out of a challenge to the White House order to end the census in September. The Supreme Court is also preparing to rule on whether undocumented immigrants can be counted. The approximately 11 million such people, who are from one perspective residents of the United States and are covered by the Constitution for the census, would lose their representation in all levels of government.
[Supreme Court] Supreme Court Rejects “Emoluments” Case against Trump by Democratic Lawmakers – The case was rejected because the 215 Democrats were ruled not to have standing in the case. However, there are two other emoluments cases. Of course, none of the cases continue if Trump loses the election.
[DOJ] Another AG Barr Based Inquiry, “Unmasking,” Comes-a-Cropper – Joining the fading Durham Report and the Russian originated “Biden scandal,” this is another politically motivated inquiry to implicate Obama and other officials with the supposedly illegal origins of the inquiry into the Trump campaign’s Russian relations. Nothing criminal was found and the prosecutor in charge quit his job.
[Space] Eight Countries Sign Space Agreement – The U.S., UK, Australia, Canada, Japan, Luxembourg, the UAE, and Italy agreed to address rules for companies in space, safety zones to avoid conflict, and mediation protocols. It’s a start. (Missing are other space players: the EU – including Germany, India, Brazil, Iran, North Korea, and Russia.)
Wednesday, October 14
[Coronavirus] Europe Begins Reacting to Coronavirus Third Wave – France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and the UK tightened and altered their public restrictions to mitigate the rapidly expanding COVID-19 infections. As ever, the battle is between having enough restrictions to stop the viral spread, while not completely shattering their economies. This continues the politically motivated trend and unwise bifurcation of the problem, instead of acting on the experts’ understanding that control of the pandemic comes first, and then economic recovery is possible.
[Coronavirus] CDC Warns of Small Gathering COVID-19 Threat – The right-wing media immediately labeled this “Anti-family CDC buzzkills holiday celebrations.” What it actually said is that risks rise as celebrations include more people: Immediate family, low risk; multiple families, moderate risk; large mixed groups, especially indoors, high-risk.
Thursday, October 15
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 898,000 – Unemployment is going up. We are now in the fourth quarter: how’s the economy doing? In a phrase, coming off a stimulus high. Back in May-June, there was a $2.2 trillion shot to the public economy by the Cares Act, a $7.4 trillion shot to the stock market by the Fed, and the rehiring of millions on furlough or temporary unemployment. That is all coming to an end. Consumers are not wildly consuming because they are still afraid of the coronavirus. The stock market, though still flush with cash, has bouts of realism, and businesses react to the sluggish economy by laying off workers. The picture is incomplete, but overall, it’s a downer.
[Election – 2020] Synchronous Town-hall Events – The compare and contrast opportunity fascinated more than a few in the media and even some voters. Trump, loud and covered with flop sweat, went mano-a-mano with moderator Savannah Guthrie and occasionally tangled with voters’ questions. Biden, cool, focused, and even dull, answered most of his questions like the skilled politician that he is. He at least had issues accompanied by plans to address them. In an event where switching channels was clearly an option, Biden won the ratings game. Perhaps people are tiring of rant and cant.
[Supreme Court] Final Day of Amy Coney Barrett Testimony – It could have been labeled the final day of no epiphanies. On the other hand, with some simpleminded reading between the lines, a profile of the justice-to-be is clear: From her long-held far right perspective, she is opposed to the ACA, opposed to Roe v. Wade, opposed to birth control, opposed to climate change as an issue, opposed to the idea of institutional racism, and opposed to environmental regulation, among other things. She is in favor of anything that helps corporations. She is generally in favor of the Imperial presidency. In all of this she is content to proceed with the surreptitious and incremental approach adopted by the Roberts court. Her views may be even to the right of her mentor, Antonin Scalia, but her methods are less dramatic.
[Coronavirus] U.S.: Eight Million Coronavirus Cases, 64,000 New Cases Today – Thirty-seven states have rising coronavirus figures (the big three: cases, hospitalizations, deaths). Resistance to effective mitigation, especially masks and lockdowns, is actually growing, much to the despair of the medical community. Looking at any graph, this new wave is much bigger already than either the first wave, or the wave that occurred in summer, but it seems like fewer are paying attention. The post-election period, November through January, looks like it’ll be a doozy on a number of fronts.
[Election – Russian Interference] FBI Gets Involved with Giuliani “Hunter Biden Investigation” – In another of the multiple failed attempts at an “October Surprise,” Rudy Giuliani’s exposé of Hunter Biden’s laptop and other sundries appears to have been orchestrated by Russian intelligence. This has brought the FBI counterintelligence unit into the fray. Of course, the situation is a chaotic mix of charges and denials, but the upshot results in no impact on the election.
Friday, October 16
[Wildfires] Trump Blocks California Wildfire Relief, Then Reverses It 24 Hours Later – Classic Trumpian flip-flop with no coherent reasons given. Trump wasn’t going to win California anyway, but business pressures will outlive his regime.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 8,007,690; Deaths – 210,217
Coronavirus (Crisis) Notes
Herd immunity, the do-nothing solution. It’s been stealth White House policy for several months to rely on the herd immunity notion that the more people who get sick from COVID-19, the more immunity there will be until eventually people won’t get sick anymore. The logical conclusion of this approach is that the quicker everybody gets sick the better. Here’s the gruesome math, which is not complicated even if you don’t like math. The U.S. population remaining to be infected by COVID-19 is approximately 310 million. Most but by no means all definitions of herd immunity put the average requirement at around 60% of the population that needs to have had COVID-19. For the U.S. that would mean an additional 186 million infected people. The rough worldwide average is that 20% of those infected require hospitalization, or for the U.S., an additional 37.2 million. Of those hospitalized, the calculated infection fatality rate of 1.4% means approximately 520,800 additional dead. Combined with the 210,000 that have already died, the United States would be looking at a total of approximately 800,000 dead, far more than any other pandemic in our history, more dead than the Civil War. What are the moral, social, and economic repercussions? It’s important to note that at this point medical science has not yet determined the extent of immunization from having the coronavirus. Not everybody will be fully immunized and we don’t know how long the immunization lasts. (We do know it is possible to get COVID-19 more than once.) It could be that a significant proportion of people who have had a COVID-19 can get it again. We just don’t know. Does any of this sound like a rational basis for public policy?
Economy (Crisis) Notes
Return of the debt monster, as Republicans read the report: $3.1 trillion additional national debt for 2019-2020. They have decided to gasp about it. Reporting on this fact is suspiciously contradictory. Part of the media says it’s a terrible record, a deep hole, out of which our kids will never climb. Another part of the media says, yeah it doesn’t look great but interest rates are historically low; it’s a good time for debt. Yet another media viewpoint is that this is exactly the time for which we make debt possible, the only way to get out of multiple crises that threaten not only our economy but the American way of life. These points of view do not divide neatly along partisan lines. Some people have knee-jerk reactions to federal debt, but most people are probably just confused – including most politicians. It would be immensely helpful to have an honest discussion about the role of the national debt, now when we have crises and later when presumably we don’t. Unfortunately, that discussion, debate, whatever, is not going to happen. We’re going to be left with two blundering, contradictory choices – use the debt or reduce the debt.
Constitutional, Political, Election (Crisis) Notes
In most things, hairline cracks are nothing to applaud, but for those cracks between the GOP and Trump we could make an exception. Or maybe not. To hear Ben Sasse or Mitt Romney mutter, or even McConnell’s criticism of the White House COVID-19 disaster, gives them no cred. But maybe like canaries in the conservative coal mine they are harbingers, dropping out while Trump drops dead in the polls. With a smile then, the sound of one hand clapping.
Intrepid Democrats are starting to plan ahead, quietly, almost superstitiously. It’s like court packing, a viable option to discuss, but just a whisper of it and right-wing media does sky writing with it. So other than broad generalities like “we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Democrats are not talking in much detail about what the priorities should be post-Trump. (While making the increasingly less risky assumption that Trump will have rigor mortis and the Senate will have flipped like a Sunday pancake.)
SCOTUS candidate Amy Coney Barrett only knows the Constitution up to the 12th amendment. That is to say she knows the “white man’s” part of the Constitution, that is, she applies her originalist interpretation to parts originated by wealthy, white, old men, prior to the Civil War. Those parts of the Constitution adopted after the Civil War (Amendments 13 through 27), which originated in part to address the problems of race, ethnicity, and gender – the “all peoples” (including black people) part of the Constitution, especially Amendments 13, 14, and 15 – she doesn’t even consider available for originalist interpretation. It is a myopia shared by most of her conservative colleagues.
Trump-bits. T: Dept. of Eew: “I feel so powerful, I’ll kiss everyone in that audience. I’ll kiss the guys and the beautiful women. Just give you a big fat kiss.” Savannah Guthrie to T: “You’re not someone’s crazy uncle who can retweet whatever.” T at town hall debate: “I denounce white supremacy. OK? I just don’t know about QAnon.” T on FOX: “I get tested a lot [but] not every day.”
Quote of the Week
[Senate Republicans] are willing to cover for Trump’s unprecedented corruption; they’re apparently unbothered by his fondness for foreign dictators. But spending money to help Americans in distress? That’s where they draw the line.
Paul Krugman, “Mitch McConnell’s Mission of Misery,” The New York Times, 10/13/2020.
When you find hypocrisy in the daylight, look for power in the shadows.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse [D-RI], at Amy Coney Barrett’s Confirmation Hearings, 10/13/2020.
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