Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, November 14 through Friday, November 20, 2020 [Vol.2 No.18]
250,000 COVID-19 Dead
The Week’s Most Notable
This week seemed to be much like the week before: Joe Biden was still President-elect, Trump-GOP-right-wing media still denied the validity of the election, and the coronavirus crisis continued heading towards 200,000 new cases and more than 2,000 deaths a day. In short, it was another bizarre and generally fearsome week. However, this penultimate week of November was at the end of a chain of significant developments.
First, we had to wait for the election results – from Tuesday night (Nov. 3) to Saturday morning (Nov. 7), when Pennsylvania was called for Biden and he was widely recognized as the President-elect. Then began the first phase of Trump-GOP-right-wing media denial – a propaganda blitz that the results were incomplete, inaccurate, illegitimate. Within a week, the second phase of denial began – more than 35 court cases were initiated by the Trump campaign in battleground states (essentially, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia). By the end of this past week (Nov. 20) all but two of these cases had been withdrawn, thrown out of court, or ruled against. That triggered the final phase of denial – appeals to state legislators and boards of election certification to rule against the results and declare a state’s electors as having been won by Trump. By the end of this week, it was apparent these desperate maneuvers were also collapsing. If you had time to pay attention, the curve of Trump election fortunes showed ineluctable decline. This week was different, the show was winding down. Of course, the show is not officially over; that will probably happen around Dec. 15 when by federal law all states must record their certification of the election. Even then, Trump and the GOP will continue to do everything they can to wreck the functioning of the federal government for the new administration. Politically, expect it to be an extremely ugly December and January.
A new baseline reality – 250,000 dead. Whatever the politics, propaganda, and deliberate or self-inflicted confusion, COVID-19 has claimed more than a quarter million lives. Like all such figures, the number is inexact but unless people choose to disbelieve all medical records (and quite a few do) those who have lost wives, husbands, children, parents, friends, and coworkers know the truth of it – COVID-19 has killed a lot of people and continues to do so. The other big reality, and unfortunately the easiest to deny, is that the dreadful statistics did not have to be. The U.S. is not alone in politicizing public health aspects of COVID-19, but we have arguably been the worst. The result, the worst COVID-19 pandemic record in the world; and going forward the worst chances of mitigating the crisis between now and the time when vaccines become generally available in five to eight months.
Saturday, November 14
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 11,542,250; Deaths – 251,220
[Election – 2020] Violent Post-Election Demonstrations in Washington D.C. – Pro- and anti-Trump demonstrators clashed in the streets of Washington, where there were fistfights, a stabbing, and at least 20 arrests. There were other demonstrations in cities around the country, although overall the scale and level of violence, given the circumstances, was minimal.
[DACA] Judge Rules against Stricter DACA Renewals – In the fifth such ruling to strike down changes in the government’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, this one prohibited limited renewal on the basis that the changes were ordered by the acting head of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, who has been ruled to be illegally holding his position.
[Asia Trade Group] 15 Asian Countries Sign Asia-Pacific Free-Trade Agreement – As part of a concerted effort to create an Asian trade zone similar in nature to the European Union, this first step included China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea. Notably, because the U.S. withdrew from the Pacific trade group negotiations, it played no role in this new association.
Sunday, November 15
[Election – 2020] Trump’s Tweet Screams “This was a RIGGED ELECTION!” – The right-wing propaganda machine echoed this assertion all week. Meanwhile, national news outlets projected Biden the winner with 306 electoral votes and about 6 million more popular votes than Trump, making it a decisive victory. While not the hoped-for landslide, Biden’s margin will make it difficult to sustain a plausible case for Trump having won the election. Actually, it’s apparent that Trump’s massive base has its own notion of reality, facts, and evidence. The goal is to create a running meme with which to tag the Biden administration.
[Space Flight] New Era in Space Begins with Manned SpaceX Launch – For the first time a private rocket system is bringing a crew to the International Space Station. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule “Resilience” marks the first time since 2011 that NASA has not used Russian spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the ISS. [Update: The Resilience docked successfully with the ISS on Monday.]
Monday, November 16
[Coronavirus] COVID-19 Cases Go Exponential Nationwide – The U.S. is now adding 1 million new cases per week. U.S. hospital systems are strained in both metropolitan and rural locations, with breaking points not only possible but likely within the next two or three weeks. With this as a background, multiple states are now instituting mitigation efforts that were once considered politically taboo: Iowa has issued a masking mandate, Chicago has issued stay-at-home orders, California, Washington, Michigan, and Oregon have renewed bans on indoor dining, New York is planning to close schools. Strikes by nurses and doctors, who are at the end of their endurance, may begin as early as next week. Shortages of PPE and related supplies are recurring. Concurrently, the Trump administration has all but officially wound-down the federal response, favoring instead the do-nothing “herd immunity” approach. (Reminder: At the end of his campaign Trump proclaimed “By the way, on November 4, you won’t hear about it anymore.”)
[Hurricane-Iota] Iota Strikes Nicaraguan Coast – Only 15 miles from where hurricane Eta struck just three weeks ago, the Category 5 storm with 155 mph winds is re-devastating a large portion of Nicaragua and Honduras. Iota is the 30th named storm of the season, a new record.
[Post-Election] Trump Makes Moves to Foul New Administration – Make a list: Troop cuts planned for Afghanistan and Iraq, both controversial and risky; rushing to auction off oil and gas drilling contracts for Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; exploring options for attacks on Iranian nuclear site; planning with GOP senators to block Biden agency appointees; quietly rushing to make appointments for Trump loyalists in the federal bureaucracy. This is just a sampling and a presentiment of what’s to come before January 20, 2021.
Tuesday, November 17
[Post-Election] Trump Fires Cybersecurity Chief – Christopher Krebs, highly respected career official and architect of the successful federal election cybersecurity agency, was fired by tweet. The likely cause: Krebs did not support Trump’s claim of voter fraud; in fact, he made highly visible public statements about the fairness of the 2020 election. The firing was opposed by both Democrats and Republicans and may be indicative of developing security risks during the presidential transition.
[Election – 2020] Wayne County Michigan (Detroit) Certifies Election Results – Thus ends uncertainty from last week when the county Board of Canvassers initially tied 2-2 on certification, then unanimously voted to certify, and then sought to rescind their changed votes. The Republican members were heavily lobbied by Trump. [Update: After some obligatory phumphering, the state board certified the Michigan vote.]
[Federal Reserve] Two Republicans Foil Trump Fed Nominee – Susan Collins (R-ME] and Mitt Romney (R-UT) joined with Democrats to reject Judy Shelton for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Shelton is notorious for promoting the abolition of the Federal Reserve or at least making it subservient to political wishes.
Wednesday, November 18
[Coronavirus] COVID-19 Death Toll Officially Reaches 250,000 – Couple this milestone with new records in cases (average of 160,000 cases per day), 77,000 hospitalizations, and rising death tolls in all 50 states.
[Government] Senate Leaves for Holiday Recess – Meanwhile: Government shutdown is possible by December 11; no new bill for coronavirus relief; no new items on the Senate agenda. Congress returns November 30 for a final three-week session.
[Election – 2020] Giuliani Inaugurates New Trump Ploy: Pennsylvania Legislature Should Determine Trump Elected – In a federal trial, Giuliani called upon the judge to declare the Pennsylvania election results “defective” and allow Pennsylvania lawmakers to determine who should get the state’s electoral votes. The day before, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected a very similar argument. Biden won Pennsylvania by about 82,000 votes. [Update: The judge issued a ruling and a scathing rebuke of the case. The courts are becoming increasingly short tempered about being used as PR ploys.]
Thursday, November 19
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 742,000 – Reversing a positive trend for the past four months, the number of new unemployment insurance claims climbed by 31,000 last week, a strong indication that COVID-19 restrictions being added by numerous states and cities are biting into the economic recovery. As most economists predicted, with the coming of the winter flu season and corresponding rise of coronavirus cases, the economy would be noticeably affected, especially at a time when unemployment support was running out. In the probable absence of both COVID-19 relief money and effective mitigation of the virus, December and January could have very bleak economic numbers up to and including the beginning of a recession.
[Coronavirus] CDC Urges Stay-At-Home and Family Groups for Thanksgiving Celebrations – Acknowledging the severely deteriorating pandemic condition across the U.S., the CDC issued new recommendations to avoid travel and small group parties where it is impossible to know who does and does not have COVID-19.
[Election – 2020] Giuliani Stages Press Conference Parody for the Ages – Along with the fly on VP Pence’s hair during his debate with Kamala Harris, the visual of brown-stained sweat rivulets running down the side of Rudy Giuliani’s face during his press conference will likely be two of the most enduring images of the Trump era. Other than that, Rudy’s performance was close to the epitome of a conspiratorial rant (Biden won because of a chain of events from Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013, through George Soros, Hillary Clinton, etc.). Keep in mind that at this point Giuliani has been appointed lawyer in charge of Trump’s post-election campaign.
[Election – 2020] Georgia Recount Confirms Biden Win – An exhaustive hand audit of ballots completed by finding 5,800 uncounted votes, which provided an additional 1,400 votes for Trump. This had no significant effect on Biden’s overall margin, although it did give Trump an excuse to cry “proof of fraud.” [Update: the completion of the recount triggered a series of kerfuffles about certification, including an attempt by Lindsay Graham (R-SC) to lobby for discounting votes – potentially a criminal violation of election laws. However, Georgia did certify the election and Biden’s win.]
Friday, November 20
[ Election – 2020] Trump Meets with Michigan GOP Leaders – Nothing happened. They claim he didn’t even talk about the Michigan vote certification or the possibility of the Michigan legislature overruling the vote and installing Trump loyalists for the state’s electors. While skepticism is warranted, the ultimate result was – nothing happened. Michigan certified the vote and the legislature did not intervene.
[Coronavirus] Pfizer Applies for FDA Emergency COVID-19 Vaccine Approval – The approval could be made as early as the second week in December, which would make it possible for a very limited number of vaccinations by the end of the year. Pfizer’s vaccine is claimed to be 95% effective, but if approved will be closely monitored.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 12,277,827; Deaths – 260,330
The coming vaccines are finally claiming head-space for planning. From one perspective this is a high-class problem; we should be thankful we’re in a position to consider multiple effective vaccines that are appearing in record time. From another perspective, it’s astonishing how little planning or even thought has been given to the difficulty of distributing hundreds of millions of vaccine doses and the acceptance of such a massive program by a skeptical public. Given that the Trump administration is in do-nothing mode, and even more negatively is unwilling to coordinate anything with the incoming Biden administration, it becomes increasingly likely that the needed war-time-style effort cannot happen, which translates into delayed vaccinations for millions of Americans, many of whom will then become afflicted with COVID-19 or even die. Vaccination is a complicated issue and is certain to be a prominent feature of next year’s politics.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the economy is deteriorating. Some of the buoyancy – rehiring, uptick in retail sales – that appeared during the summer is beginning to be deflated by having 1 million new coronavirus cases a week, a growing number of layoffs partially due to new lockdowns and mitigation restrictions, and the general sluggishness of consumer spending. The upcoming holiday season will be a test of the resiliency of the economy. If consumer spending plans are curtailed because of the pandemic, then January is likely to see a serious downturn.
Constitutional, Political, Election Notes
As members of the GOP and even Trump more than hint that the denial of Biden’s election is merely political theater, what is to be made of the tens of millions of Trump voters who for the most part (polls show 70% to 80%) believe that the election was stolen/illegitimate? From the perspective of governing the country, this is not only an “inconvenient fact” but also a weighty counterbalance to much of a Biden agenda. For example, to what extent should Biden and the Democrats pursue accountability not only for Trump and his family, but also for the conduct of Republicans during Trump’s administration? Should there be a special commission? What about unleashing a new AG? These are questions that instantly involve the Trump base. Biden has already revealed his sensitivity to prosecuting Trump; but this will be a major ongoing question during the Biden administration.
Quote of the Week
59 election security experts all agree, ‘in every case of which we are aware, these claims [that election systems were manipulated] either have been unsubstantiated or are technically incoherent.’
Christopher Krebs, DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, 11/17/2020 [terminated by Trump tweet, 11/18/2020].
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