Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, October 24 through Friday, October 30, 2020 [Vol.2 No.15]
Covid…covid, covid, covid
The Week’s Most Notable
In the final week before the election, it comes down to this: 100,000 new coronavirus cases a day versus the good-health fairy. Really, that’s not an exaggeration. Biden says the pandemic is getting worse every day and that the federal government must be part of the solution. Trump insists that thanks to his administration the coronavirus is going away. Cures and vaccines will abound, shortly if not sooner. Trump is counting on people liking the tone of his narrative, even if – or maybe especially because – they know it isn’t quite true. Some people actually like to be in on the BS, wink-wink. Biden prefers to stay on the side of facts and rational response, you know – getting something done, so a lot less storytelling. We’ll know in a few days which approach Americans prefer.
The clouds of chaos hang over this election. It will not be the first time in American electoral politics where violence, legal chaos, and civil unrest lurk transparently behind the impending results. Think of the 1860 election, where Lincoln’s victory became the prime excuse for starting the Civil War. This election is not quite that portentous, but there are echoes in the implicit racism of Trump’s campaign. More essentially, however, the threats in this election have a singular origin – Trump himself. Trump is an authoritarian, almost absentmindedly antidemocratic figure with cult-like support by tens of millions of Americans. How he reacts to the results of the election, especially losing, will not only set the tone but be the trigger for whatever chaos ensues. But make no mistake, if Trump is the trigger, it’s because an explosion of right-wing reaction was already prepared by decades of GOP, right-wing media, and ultraconservative legal preparation. How bad can it be? The threat exists, we’ve already seen examples; but whether this threat is overblown or will actually blow up, we won’t know until November 4 and thereafter.
What we have now is the most conservative Supreme Court in about 100 years. There is a long litany of cases that will be affected by having a 6-3 conservative majority. It takes no crystal ball to make predictions about what happens with the Affordable Care Act, antiabortion cases, LGBTQ cases, pro-corporate cases, regulation cases, voting cases, etc. There Is a developing dialogue between ultraconservative members of the court (especially Thomas, Alito, and Kavanaugh) and legally active conservative groups to frame new cases tailored for this court. The idea is to promote and favorably judge extremely conservative issues without it looking like that’s what’s happening. The conservatives do not want to provoke Democrats into altering the composition of the court. For example, it’s unlikely the court will strike down Roe v. Wade in a single dramatic stroke. It’s more likely to dismantle it case by case, with the likely outcome that without outright banning abortion, it becomes impossible to get an abortion. By all appearances, the newest justice fits right into this approach. She demonstrated at her Senate hearings a willingness and the skill to prevaricate (dodge, avoid, circumlocute) any issue where she’s likely to join an unpopular super-conservative majority. That’s the way it’s going to be; the question is: What are the Democrats going to do about it?
Saturday, October 24
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 8,831,174; Deaths – 230,074
[Coronavirus] Pence People Outbreak: Coronavirus Returns to White House – First it was Trump and a number of top people in his orbit who contracted COVID-19 at the infamous Rose Garden party for Amy Coney Barrett. Now it’s five members of the Vice-Presidential staff. There were some attempts to cover it up, probably because of the obvious question: Why is it the U.S. can’t even protect top government officials from the pandemic? The obvious answer is to look to the top of the government for the reason: its politics-based denial of the pandemic. Fortunately for the White House, this hot-button issue was quickly submerged by other events and the ongoing rush of the last week before elections.
Sunday, October 25
[Coronavirus] Trump, Meadows Signal (Their) Coronavirus Fight Is Over – In Trump’s words “A coronavirus vaccine is going to be delivered fast. That will quickly end the pandemic – it’s ending anyway. We are rounding the turn, but the vaccine will get it down fast, because we want to return to a normal life.” In Meadow’s words, “We’re not going to control the pandemic, we will instead control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics, and other mitigations.” Not quite the same message, but the same inference – this administration will do nothing to deal with the ongoing spread of the disease. Instead it will sit back and wait for medical fixes. Without saying it, this is consistent with the administration’s “herd immunity” policy: Do nothing to control the spread so that more people will become immunized. Unfortunately, the pandemic is not ending, it’s entering a third and worst-yet phase; an effective and fully distributed vaccine will not happen, at best, until the middle of 2021; between now and then 4 – 5 million more people will become infected and roughly 200,000 more people will die, along with the substantial risk that significant portions of the U.S healthcare system may collapse.
[Coronavirus] European Countries React to New Surge of Pandemic – Spain, France, Italy, and Germany have begun various approaches to “lockdown” including curfews, selective closings of bars and restaurants, and other stepped up mitigation efforts. So far, no country has instituted a nationwide lockdown, although Great Britain is discussing such a move for the following week.
[Election – 2020] More than 60 Million Have Voted Early – As of Sunday morning, the early votes amount to 42% of all votes cast in 2016. [Update: By Friday more than 90 million had voted.] In some states, namely Texas, more people have already voted than in the previous presidential election. What this will do to the results of this election has posed unanswerable questions for the pundits. It’s relatively clear what’s driving the early voting – COVID-19 and Donald Trump. What’s unclear is the breakdown of this massive early vote between Democrats and Republicans. The conventional wisdom is that the early vote will break for the Democrats, and same-day voting (November 3) will break for the Republicans; but this is all new territory, nothing conventional about it.
Monday, October 26
[Supreme Court] Amy Coney Barrett Confirmed by Senate to Supreme Court – As foretold by Senate leader McConnell, “We will break no rules. We are able to do what we do because we have the majority.” In short, a naked power-play.
[Wildfires] Irvine, California Evacuates 60,000 from Wildfire – Lest we forget, while another hurricane threatens the Gulf Coast, wildfires are still burning in California, in this case only 50 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
[Stock Market] Wall Street Skittish about Coronavirus – U.S. stocks began the week with a nosedive, mainly in reaction to the surge of COVID-19. The continuing stalemate over a new coronavirus stimulus didn’t help the markets’ mood. The market reaction complicated Trump’s “robust economy” claim. [Update: markets dipped again on Thursday.]
[Election – 2020] Supreme Court Rejects Wisconsin Mail-In Ballots Extension – This ruling goes back to the kerfuffle during the Wisconsin primary election of whether postmarked ballots can be counted after election day, or not. This time the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that such ballots could not be counted. The ruling may or may not be indicative of how the Supreme Court will handle voting cases – of which Trump threatens many – postelection.
Tuesday, October 27
[Racism – Protest] Philadelphia Police Fatal Shooting Provokes Protests – On Monday, the Philadelphia police answered three separate incidents in which a black man was brandishing a knife. He was not arrested because they learned he was mentally unstable but still responsive to his family. When the police returned on Tuesday, the man was still brandishing a knife and the police shot him dead. The incident quickly triggered protests.
[DOJ] Judge Disallows DOJ Defense of Trump in Defamation Case – The DOJ had requested power of attorney in the case where writer E. Jean Carroll sued Trump for defamation by calling her a liar trying to sell books, because she had accused him of raping her in a department store dressing room. The DOJ claimed Trump was acting in an official capacity and could not be put on trial. The judge ruled that Trump is not an employee of the government, as so defined by Congress, and therefore the DOJ could not represent him.
Wednesday, October 28
[Coronavirus] Kushner Brags Trump Took “Country Back from Doctors” – Senior advisor Jared Kushner has a long history of putting his size 10 Florsheim’s in his mouth. In this case, the shoe leather was applied to revealing the administration’s utterly political ambitions regarding management of the pandemic. In other words, he was admitting that political considerations, Trump’s reelection, took precedence over using the best medical knowledge to help the country. It’s hard not to be cynical about such entirely cynical people.
[Hurricane] Hurricane Zeta Makes Landfall in Louisiana – The Category 2 late-season storm hit Louisiana with 110 miles an hour winds, causing some damage in New Orleans and across a wide swath of Louisiana into Alabama. Within two days, Zeta had killed six and cut power to two million people.
[Environment] Trump Opens Tongass National Forest to Logging – The administration is stripping two decades of protection for the 9.3 million acres of “America’s last climate sanctuary.” Most observers feel this action is indicative of what Trump will do, win or lose, before the end of his term.
[Supreme Court] Two Rulings to Extend Absentee Ballot Deadlines Display Supreme Court’s Mixed Policy – In general the Supreme Court does not have “policy.” However, it’s becoming clear that in regard to decisions about voting, this court has a number of justices more than willing to make decisions that directly affect voting outcomes. They just don’t always agree, especially with Chief Justice John Roberts. In these two cases, involving swing states Pennsylvania and North Carolina, the court allowed ballots to be counted several days after Election Day. Earlier in the week, the court rejected a similar situation in Wisconsin. Newly installed justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate in these decisions.
Thursday, October 29
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 732,223 – The claims dropped significantly (3.7%) from the previous week, but still remain far above the historical high. Overall, the economy advanced GDP by 7.4% in the third quarter, but similarly the growth did not make up for the enormous drop in the second quarter because of the pandemic. In short, the economy is recovering, but still anemic.
[Environment] Trump Administration Removes Gray Wolf Protection – The move, long expected, shifts responsibility from the federal government to the states for management of the wolf. In other words, in most states involved (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Minnesota, Michigan) there will be no management other than for hunting.
Friday, October 30
[Coronavirus] U.S. Record: 100,000 New COVID-19 Cases in a Day – No other country in the world has topped this record. Sixteen states reported record new cases. At the same time, the U.S. recorded more than 9 million total infections, more than any other country. Leaders in the medical community, e.g., Fauci, say this is not a statistical fluke; we are heading into a “dark winter” where the pandemic will deepen and threaten the viability of the U.S. health care system. Most such statements now assume the absence of national coordination and of sufficient state mitigation.
[Election – 2020] Biden and Trump Continue Swinging through Swing States – Almost like mirror images, they visit the same states (Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Georgia) with their polar-opposite closing campaigns. Strangely, Trump continues to push the coronavirus pandemic to the front of the public mind, all the while denying its significance. Biden is happy to let Trump thump that theme, while he concentrates on solutions (plans) for a variety of national problems, especially healthcare. Polls continue to show Biden ahead by 8-9 points. Of course, Democrats worry about that.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 9,316,297; Deaths – 235,158
During the first wave of the coronavirus in the spring, if we had hit 100,000 new cases per day, it would almost have guaranteed an all-hands-on-deck national emergency. When it happens eight months later and four days before the general election – mild alarm and no mention of it at all by the federal government. Trump is no doubt thinking “all that lovely immunity.”
By superficial appearances, it looks like our economy is beginning to recover from a typical recession. Things, as in unemployment and consumer spending, are not great but contrary to some predictions the economy did not fall off a cliff into deep depression. It’s a “weak” economy because consumer spending is depressed, thanks to the coronavirus crisis, but not a collapsing economy. The stock market continues to tootle along, with a few flat notes here and there, thanks to the Federal Reserve pumping into it $7 trillion of liquidity. As has been studied and noted, the wealthy one per-centers have mostly prospered, adding hundreds of billions to their stockpiles. The middle class continues to decline, and the poor have gone even further into debt. The phrase “borrowed time” comes to mind.
Racism Protest Notes
There was another egregious police shooting of a black citizen, this time in Philadelphia, which caused a strong protest. If it had happened in August or September, it might’ve been a full-scale riot and the top of the news; but less than a week before the general election, it became part of the background noise of media coverage. In fact, there were a number of stories that focused on the idea of how the protests might affect election turnout in Pennsylvania.
Constitutional, Political, Election Notes
VOTE. It looks like a record 150 million people will vote. Election Tip: If Biden wins Pennsylvania, Florida, or North Carolina, it’s over.
Trump-bits. T: “You’ll see, after November 4, they won’t even mention Covid.” T: “Our doctors get more money if someone dies of Covid.” Does this piss off medical people? Firing spree in the offing: Say goodbye, Christopher Wray (FBI), Gina Haspel (CIA), Mark Esper (DOD), Stephen Hahn (FDA). T Jr: “Covid deaths have dwindled to almost nothing.”
T: Thanks to PA governor [D]: “You can’t go to church.” T: re California: “[Y]ou have a special mask. You cannot under any circumstances take it off. You have to eat through the mask.”
Quote of the Week
[We note the nation’s] fraying social safety net, continual erosion of trust in the public sector, the perceived diminished responsibility of the federal government, and political interference with crucial public health apparatus. With so much loss and still more at stake, the 2020 presidential election is the opportune moment for the American electorate to embrace change for the better.
The Lancet, “The US Election 2020,” 10/30/2020 (see also The New England Journal of Medicine, “Dying in a Leadership Vacuum,” 10/08/2020).
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