Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, November 21 through Friday, November 27, 2020 [Vol.2 No.19]
The Week’s Most Notable
This was the week that saw the more or less formal beginning of the presidential transition, which culminates January 20, 2021; but it wasn’t the only transition getting underway. One of the biggest transitions will be returning to the environmental regulations of the Obama era. Most corporations involved were aware that the GOP-Trump approach to regulations was not the “make it easier for competition and growth” policy, but the “no regulations are good regulations” policy. In short, the object was to remove as many regulations as possible, whether for the public good or not. In that setting, corporations understood that the result would be a free for all, a time of grab what you can. Now things are going to change again, and predictably companies are signaling their willingness to work within previous environmental regulations; for example, GM dropping out of the Trump-DOJ lawsuit against the state of California over vehicle emissions. Perhaps the biggest transition of all will be in us as we deal with the decline in Trumpian cacophony. How different will our individual lives be without the almost daily “unprecedented thing” that demanded our mental time? With Trump gone, will we transition back to political indifference, even while nation-changing issues are still very much with us? Or will we work to correct the wrongs? The midterm elections of 2022 will tell us the story of how we made the transition.
Happy Holidays! Hello coronavirus! In science a “natural experiment” is frequently a good thing; it means that testing some proposition that no scientist or even scientific institution could set up as a test will yet be carried out by some. In this case the proposition is that if a significant proportion of the population ignores COVID-19 mitigation rules, travels all over the country, and mixes with people in small closed environments then the rate of infection will spike, and of course along with it, significantly increasing hospitalizations and deaths. Scientists should be able to glean a great deal of useful data from our fateful U.S. traditions of Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s. Unfortunately, if the proposition is correct, the measured results will be terrible. It will also be a potentially important measure of how much illness, suffering, and death Americans will tolerate. Right now, we have a very confused populace concerning the approach to COVID-19. A significant percentage is still in some degree of denial. Another percentage, akin to anti-vaxxers, are opposed to mitigation on some kind of philosophical/ideological grounds. Finally, a big percentage are simply tired of dealing with coronavirus and, although they know there is a risk, choose to ignore it. Altogether these people likely equal something north of 50% of the population. If that number doesn’t decrease significantly, post holidays there is little hope that any vaccination program will achieve the roughly 75% coverage of the population necessary for common (herd) immunity.
Saturday, November 21
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 12,453,483; Deaths – 261,683
[Coronavirus] FDA Gives Emergency Approval to Regeneron – The experimental antibody cocktail, famously given to Trump during his bout with COVID-19, has been approved for emergency use in high risk patients (mainly those over 65 with underlying conditions). It is meant for use early in the infection and costs about $1,500 per treatment. Supply will be short until next spring. Keep in mind this is not a vaccine, not a cure, but a limited recovery aid.
[Election – 2020] Federal Judge Trashes Trump Pennsylvania Vote Certification Lawsuit – In a strongly worded decision, the conservative Trump appointed judge noted that in seeking to disenfranchise millions of voters, “plaintiffs seeking such a startling outcome should come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption, but instead the campaign presented strained legal arguments without merit and [with] speculative accusations.” [Update: Later in the week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against the same case “with prejudice.”]
[G20 – Conference] Trump Addresses G20 Conference, Goes Golfing – Remotely speaking to the other delegates, Trump emphasized the U.S. economy, military prowess, and covid vaccine development; he did not mention Biden, of course, and then instead of attending further sessions on COVID-19 management, he went golfing. Trump’s disengagement from all but the most public of governmental duties is obvious.
Sunday, November 22
[Coronavirus] Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine Announced – The third vaccine to join the list with Pfizer and Moderna, this vaccine is in single dose less effective at 70%; but with a double dose is 90% effective. It does not require extreme cold conditions for handling and is also considerably cheaper to manufacture.
[International Treaties] Trump Withdraws U.S. from Open Skies Treaty – In what should be seen as a typical last-minute move by the Trump administration, the U.S. quit the treaty which limits the chances of an accidental war over reconnaissance flights. Add this to the list of policy moves that Biden must reverse.
Monday, November 23
[Elections – 2020] Trump Orders Transition to Begin – Without Conceding – It’s significant that Trump did not wait until the last minute, December 14, when all states must report their electoral certification, bowing instead to pressure that the Biden administration must get moving on transition. At the same time, Trump continues to adamantly maintain that he won the election, or its alt-reality equivalent, that the election was stolen from him. He’s walking a fine line between putting on a “tough show” for his base and going down in history as having a terrible and dangerous transition. Footnote: The notorious GSA apparatchik, Emily Murphy, simultaneously issued a peculiar letter more or less officially announcing GSA support for the Biden transition. This was the “official” notification.
[Biden – Transition] Biden Nominates Yellen as Treasury Secretary – As probably his most significant appointee for the new cabinet, Janet Yellen – former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers and former president of the Federal Reserve – will become the first person to also hold the position of Treasury Secretary. Treasury will be playing an unusually large role in the management of both the economy and crisis response in the coming years. She is a formidable appointment on many levels and it will be interesting to see what opposition arises in the Senate.
[Biden – Transition] Biden Announces Foreign Policy and National Security Choices – Leading the list is Anthony Blinken for Secretary of State, a longtime associate of Biden’s; John Kerry for climate czar; Jake Sullivan for national security advisor; Alejandro Mayorkas for homeland security (first Latino in that position), and Avril Haines as Director of National intelligence. As expected, Biden is going with experience and competence over public profile.
[Climate Crisis] General Motors CEO Drops Support for Trump v. California Auto Emissions Fight – Apparently GM was never particularly enthusiastic about fighting California over selling cars with different emissions standards. Keep in mind that for the most part the standards also apply to other parts of the world, particularly Europe. GM also called upon Toyota and Fiat Chrysler to quit the Trump litigation.
Tuesday, November 24
[Coronavirus] U.S. Suffers 2,100 Coronavirus Deaths, the Worst since May – This “winter wave” of COVID-19 is already as bad or worse than anything that happened during the first wave, and it’s only just beginning.
[U.S. – Economy] Dow Breaks 30,000 on Vaccine, Transition News – Signaling its general pleasure with the trends in vaccines and the Biden transition, the stock market in general posted healthy growth in addition to breaking the 30,000 barrier.
[Election –- 2020] Biden Finally Cleared for Daily Intelligence Briefs – Symbolically, this clearance was important, but more importantly Biden and his team now have clear access to agency information and personnel that will help with planning and executing the transition. This is the nuts and bolts stuff necessary to manage the extremely complicated process.
Wednesday, November 25
[Supreme Court] Supreme Court Blocks New York Religious Gathering Limits – Back in the spring the court narrowly supported limits on in-church attendance in California and Nevada. This ruling with Justice Barrett changed the direction in a 5-4 decision. Although Chief Justice Roberts joined the dissent, the new pro-religious wing of the court prevailed.
[Presidential Pardons] Trump Pardons Michael Flynn – The first in a new line of probable pardons for Trump’s criminal associates, family, and donors. Eventually, Congress will need to revisit the laws and regulations concerning presidential pardons.
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 778,000 – This number has been increasing for the second week in a row. When added to the new 311,000 people applying for jobless benefits under the federal PPP program, the numbers show a dramatic increase in the weakness of the economy, almost certainly due to layoffs from the increasing impact of coronavirus spread and attempts to mitigate through business restrictions and lockdowns.
Thursday, November 26
[Coronavirus] U.S. Hits New Hospitalization, ICU Records – For the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the U.S. surpassed 90,000 hospitalizations, and an all-time high of 17,802 people in intensive care units. Recall that roughly two to three weeks earlier, the U.S. registered new cases at all-time highs of between 190,000 and 200,000 per day. Also for the first time, these cases are widely distributed throughout the country – both rural and metropolitan areas are affected. Consequently, hospital systems across the country are beginning to strain, although not breaking in any specific location (with the notable exceptions of El Paso and parts of Wisconsin).
Friday, November 27
[Middle East] Top Iranian Nuclear Scientist Assassinated – Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the supposed leader of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, was most likely assassinated by Israeli operatives, although Iran has not so far made specific charges. The assassination has both practical and diplomatic effects, in that his leadership was key to the Iranian nuclear program, and it will also affect any plans that Biden may have to negotiate with Iran about its nuclear program.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 13,466,984; Deaths – 271,038 Note that in the U.S. new infections are increasing by more than 1 million a week and deaths by 10,000. These are unprecedented numbers.
Competing immunizations and treatments may become an issue. The U.S. now has three potentially effective vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, and Oxford-AstraZeneca); there are others in the pipeline. We now know that China has a vaccine which they have already administered to more than a million people; many other countries are developing vaccines. These vaccines are not going to be equally effective, equally available for distribution, nor of equal cost. It’s quite likely that some of them will be more or less safe. What happens when a vaccine in some other country turns out to be a lot better? Will there be some kind of food fight among manufacturers, or a political tussle (as is likely in the U.S.)? Who will be responsible and on what basis will selection and distribution be made?
In a country this big, even extremely important issues are often surrounded with mixed signals. For example, the economy: Are we doing all right? Or is the economy going to hell in a hand basket? You can see examples of both. There is already a big difference between the success of the very rich, who have gained billions in 2020, and the vast bulk of the population, which is having an increasingly difficult time making ends meet. So far, despite the coronavirus and the heavy residue of unemployment, most Americans seem to be living with their current condition – although as the current analysis tends to put it, life is precarious. Some analyses of the election show economic factors as being more important for Trump voters than the threat of COVID-19. This demonstrates both the power of propaganda, which buried the impact of the pandemic, and the intrusion of reality, which is the loss of jobs and economic security. Trump voters were given an orchestrated stream of mixed signals; no wonder they felt spooked and gravitated toward an authoritarian figure called Trump. The rest of the voters had to contend with complexity and uncertainty, Biden was reassuring but made no promises of certainty. Thing is, at bottom, the economy is sending mixed signals. Some parts of it are doing well, including manufacturing. Other parts of it are very close to collapse, obviously restaurants, tourism, and much of entertainment. Because the economy is hard to read, there’s opportunity for both the Republican austerity, no money for coronavirus relief, and the Democratic call for fulsome stimulus. However, eventually they can’t both prove right.
Constitutional, Political, Election Notes
How much difference will it make having a Biden presidency and a Democratic administration? In terms of legislation, it’s hard to be optimistic. The Democrats will control the House, just. The Republicans will likely control the Senate, just. The fight to change that in the 2022 midterms will often be more intense than any legislative issues. It will be difficult to pass any significant legislation, and that will be accompanied by excruciating horsetrading. As it was with Trump, and to a certain extent with Obama, Biden will have to settle into the practice of using Executive Orders – many to undo orders by Trump, some to initiate new policies in lieu of actual legislation. Using Executive Orders may be unavoidable, but it’s deeply unsatisfying because they cannot address fundamental issues (usually involving money); they won’t fix what’s “wrong with America.” Unquestionably having governmental departments and agencies returned to actually doing what they’re supposed to do, helping people, will be a good thing but it won’t be easy. Rebuilding is harder than tearing down. Ultimately, changing the head of the propaganda foodchain may be the most significant difference. America is awash in propaganda, disinformation, and just plain informational confusion. Having control of the national narrative, as Trump so amply demonstrated, can be extremely important. The next year or two are likely to be a mishmash of issues, some of them involving crises, fully mixed with a population that is either politically or personally in the process of disengaging. In this environment, the most effective leadership won’t be with legislation, or Executive Orders, or even retrofitting the functionality of the administration; it’s most likely to be the power of the bully pulpit – the power of the presidency to clarify, express, and lead public opinion. Let’s hope that Biden and his White House are up for that.
Trump’s legal assault on the American electoral process: Pathetic, poorly planned, and bad political theater. Even so, something needs to be done so it can never happen again.
Quote of the Week
– All this nonsense about how something [the coronavirus] is dictated by science is nonsense.
– Under the law, all prosecutorial power is invested in the attorney general.
– Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it is no way to run a federal agency.
– [BLM is] not interested in Black lives. They’re interested in props, a small number of Blacks who are killed by police during conflicts with police — usually less than a dozen a year — who they can use as props to achieve a much broader political agenda.
From AG William Barr’s Hillsdale College speech, 11/24/2020.
[Note: Per The Washington Post: 250 Black Americans were killed by police last year and Black people are also killed by police at a higher rate than White people.]
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