Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, November 28 through Friday, December 4, 2020 [Vol.2 No.20]
200,000 – 100,000 – 3,000
The Week’s Most Notable
237,372 Infected – Friday, single day record – 101,276 Hospitalized – Friday, single day record – 3,157 Dead – Wednesday, single day record. In a country growing perilously blasé about the everyday reality of the coronavirus pandemic, these numbers should – but probably won’t – shake everybody awake. This is the baseline not only for the previous month but for the month ahead. It’s also baseline reality, regardless of the politics, regardless of the good and bad medical outlook, regardless of personal preference – this is what’s really happening. These are the headlines of headlines. They mean that the equivalent of the population of a good-sized city is becoming sick every day. They mean that hospital systems all over the country are being stretched to their limit, especially their people. They mean that the equivalent of a 9/11 event are killed by COVID-19 every day. This shouldn’t have to be constantly highlighted, but it’s necessary in a country where 40% of the population, the second major political party, and a highly influential chunk of the media seek to deny or degrade the reality. Until something changes those beliefs and attitudes, there will be no effective pandemic mitigation and what’s yet to come will only be worse.
Pardon-$-Us. Presidential pardons, especially the prepaid kind, were a hot topic, which was strange because no new pardons were issued; it was all speculative. We should know by now that such coverage is almost always a distraction. Of course, debasing the presidential pardon process is consequential and symbolic, up to a point; but it’s not even close to the most important issues of the day. A kindred distraction-storyline was all the various Trump-GOP court cases, a batch of badly undercooked spaghetti thrown against the wall, none of which stuck. In short, it was court drama for PR, which disgusted judges are beginning to slap down “with prejudice.” One more example of distraction: Trump threatened to veto defense spending if Congress doesn’t repeal the liability shield for social media companies (section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act).
Saturday, November 28
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 13,614,832; Deaths – 272,275
[Economy] Black Friday Marks Record Online Sales – Typical headlines highlight the record $9 billion in online sales, up from $7.4 billion in 2019. Then comes the caveat, worries about COVID-19 kept people at home, shopping online instead of in person. Overall, Black Friday sales were down 10% to 20%.
Sunday, November 29
[Election – 2020] Trump Campaign Pays for Recount that Increases Biden’s Win – A recount in Wisconsin’s two largest counties, Milwaukee and Dane, resulted in an increase of 87 votes for Joe Biden. Under Wisconsin law the Trump campaign had to pay for the recount, in this case $3 million. Occasionally, irony rules.
[GOP – Politics] Creating a GOP Circular Firing Squad in Georgia – Led by Trump’s attack on Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for “doing absolutely nothing” to challenge Biden’s victory in Georgia (which by law the governor cannot influence), state Republican officials, candidates, national commentators joined in a robust melee of accusations and charges about disloyalty, election fraud, Biden’s perfidy, etc. The head-scratcher for most observers is that in about a month Georgians will elect two senators, a decisive margin in the Senate; the infighting might affect the outcome of that election.
Monday, November 30
[Coronavirus] Nationwide Hospitalizations Reach Record Levels – Long considered the most important indicator, reaching the hundred thousand level is highly significant. Hospitalizations presage deaths caused by the pandemic, but also the amount of stress on the hospital systems. When hospitals need to begin performing triage – selecting which patients they will treat – then their capacity has been reached and people who are coming to the hospital for reasons other than the coronavirus will also suffer. Currently, most hospitals in the U.S. are reporting “nearing capacity” that reflects the number of open beds, especially ICU beds. Unfortunately, the statistics don’t show the impact on hospital staff (or care providers in general) whose ability to continue under emergency conditions is already sorely tested. Epidemiologists have been warning since mid-November that the holidays (Thanksgiving – Christmas – New Year’s) will be extremely difficult as they provide all the wrong conditions for mitigating the pandemic.
[Election – 2020] Wisconsin and Arizona Certify Election Results – Biden’s victories in Arizona and Wisconsin join Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada, and Georgia to round out his 306 electoral votes. Trump lawyers continue to make noises, for example, “The certification of Arizona’s FALSE results is unethical.” Of course, unethical (even if true) does not mean illegal, which is why Trump court cases have failed repeatedly.
Tuesday, December 1
[Coronavirus] Trump Medical Advisor Scott Atlas Resigns – Dr. “Let Granny Die” Atlas, the reigning Trump whisperer on matters coronavirus, is out the portico. He managed in a few short months to shift White House policy enough to surreptitiously support “herd immunity” (the “do-nothing plan” to let enough cases spread, creating herd immunity with of course, a very high death rate). He’s notorious for statements he makes, such as “the people of Michigan should rise up against the partial shutdown order,” as well as statements others make about him, such as the head of the CDC: “Everything he says is false.”
[Election – 2020] Trump Post-Election Fundraising Rushing toward $200 Million – “I need you now more than ever,” said one Trump fundraising email. It’s becoming clear that the continuing “They stole my election” campaign has at least one central feature – it rakes in the money. Most of the money is dedicated to Trump’s personal PAC, which is like a big slush fund mainly for his political use.
[Biden – Transition] Biden, Harris Begin President’s Daily Brief – This is a key indicator that the transition is now underway, although the Trump administration has frozen information from the national intelligence agencies. In short, cooperation with the Trump administration has been slowly but unevenly improving.
[Election – 2020] Barr Reveals DOJ Has No Evidence of Significant Election Fraud – In what is sure to provoke the presidential ire, AG Barr’s statement, though couched informally and well protected with language, completely undermines the Trump position on the illegitimacy of the election. In a sense this is a huge political bombshell, but it must be remembered it will be buried or deflected by most of the right-wing media. In short, it will have little effect on Trump supporters.
[Election – 2020] Georgia Election Official Delivers Trump Rebuke for the Ages – Coming from a Republican official, the words of Gabriel Sterling were not only surprising but exceptionally well delivered. For example, “Mr. President, it looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia. Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone is going to get hurt, someone is going to get shot, someone is going to get killed.”
[Presidential Pardons] Trump Considering a Family of Pardons – It’s hard to tell if this is a trial balloon or presentiment, but reporting indicates that Trump is considering pardons for Ivanka, Eric, Don Jr., Jared, Giuliani, and even himself. The rumors caused a great deal of buzz, sound and fury, , , ,
[Coronavirus] Bipartisan Group Presents Coronavirus Relief Package, McConnell Stomps on It – After working through the Thanksgiving holiday, a group of Republican and Democratic senators came up with a $908 billion stimulus proposal. It’s far short of what the Democrats were originally proposing ($2.4 trillion) and does not cover checks for individuals or money for states and local government; nevertheless, it was a genuine bipartisan effort. McConnell ruled it out.
Wednesday, December 2
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Reaches More Than 3,000 – This is a record, surpassing even the death tolls from the beginning of the pandemic. At this rate, with significant lack of mitigation buy-in from so many Trump-Republican followers, most epidemiologists foresee deaths exceeding 300,000 by the end of the year.
[Coronavirus] CDC Shortens Quarantine Recommendation, Discourages Holiday Travel – The CDC now recommends a quarantine of 10 days for people without symptoms and 7 days for those who test negative. However, it still generally recommends a 14-day quarantine. It also issued a warning about holiday travel and recommended that people not travel unless absolutely necessary. It’s doubtful that these toothless recommendations will register with most Americans.
[Environment] UN Report: Planet Is Broken by Climate Change – 2020 is on track to be one of the three hottest years on record, joining the five other previous years of record warm temperatures, the strongest indication yet of global climate change. As the UN Sec. Gen. said in the report, “Dear friends, humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal.”
[Iran – Nuclear Development] Iran Moves to Increase Uranium Enrichment – Largely in response to the assassination of their chief nuclear scientist, as well as Trump’s threats, the Iranian government plans to increase enrichment of weapons grade uranium, disallow inspection by UN monitors, and in general revivify their nuclear development program. Most of this will wait until Biden is inaugurated, presenting him with a thorny international issue in his first weeks.
Thursday, December 3
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 712,000 – The number of claims dropped by about 75,000, but at the same time the economy only created 245,000 jobs, when 440,000 were expected. It’s apparent from various statistics that the “recovery” from the coronavirus recession has definitely slowed.
[Coronavirus] Pfizer Announces First Significant Glitch in Vaccine Delivery – Pfizer had promised a hundred million vaccine doses by the end of the year, but announced they had to cut it to 50 million because of difficulties in the quality of supplies for materials used in the vaccine. Although the UK has already authorized use of the Pfizer vaccine, its allocation was not large and would not be affected by the supply shortage. However, this kind of glitch should be considered representative over the history of a vaccine rollout.
[Environment] Trump Wants Arctic Drilling Contracts before Biden Takes Over – Hoping to lock in legal contracts, Trump has instructed the Energy Department to press ahead with an early January date for selling drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This will present a policy and legal challenge for the Biden administration immediately after taking office.
Friday, December 4
[Coronavirus] New Cases, Hospitalizations Break Records – New cases hit more than 230,000 and hospitalizations broke the 100,000 mark. Dr. Fauci warned that the post-Thanksgiving surge has not hit yet. Researchers predict at least 470,000 people will die in the U.S. before March 1, 2021.
[Coronavirus – Economy] A Second Coronavirus Relief Package, It Could Happen – Called dead on Monday, a weak glimmer on Thursday, a relief package suddenly showed signs of life on Friday. A preliminary huddle by Pelosi and McConnell (not really a huddle, but what’s significant is that McConnell hasn’t participated in such discussions in over six months), it appears last week’s bipartisan relief proposal, the worsening coronavirus conditions, and the general weakening of the economy are forcing McConnell to seriously consider a package. Negotiations will be in full swing over the weekend and a tentative deadline has been set for Monday. It’s still tricky, with complicated formulas being worked out, especially for state and local government support, but this is looking real.
[DACA] Judge Orders Full DACA Restoration – The ruling by Judge Nicholas Garaufis not only extended his previous order ending restrictions to the DACA program, but now requires – as of Monday – the program begin to accept new applications for the first time since 2017. It is likely the Trump administration will appeal, but time is running out as the incoming Biden administration is likely to take very different steps.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 14,772,535; Deaths – 285,550
Into the vaccine vortex. Just now, after more than nine months of pandemic, we’re finally coming around to a national conversation about the promises and difficulties of vaccinating more than 300 million people. As it turns out, the Trump administration, whatever’s left of it, had crafted a vaccination plan that was little more than an outline. The incoming Biden administration will need to create an almost entirely new plan, work out the logistical details, find the money to pay for it, and set in motion a vast national state-federal network. Meanwhile new vaccines will appear, there will be glitches, there will be pressure from unrealistic expectations, and a whole lot of gratuitous resistance. Developing the vaccines appears to be a modern medical triumph, but the rest of it? Let us wish really hard.
The warning flags are out. With over 12 million people about to lose their unemployment insurance by the end of the month, flaccid retail sales for Black Friday, new jobs at a level far below predicted, and with the increasing desperation on the pandemic medical situation, there is a general sense the economy is precarious. Nobody is predicting crash, but the statistics are trending toward recession. Given that the pandemic is expected to worsen well into January, it’s likely to have an increased impact on the economy in terms of consumer demand, worker sick-leave, and rising unemployment. If Congress can come up with a coronavirus relief package before the end of the year, that will help.
Constitutional, Political, Election Notes
The Georgia senatorial elections are becoming inscrutable. One lane of analysis is that the Republicans have corrupt candidates and the Democrats, led by Stacey Abrams, will get a better turnout. Another lane reminds people that Georgia has never elected a Democrat in a special election and that many suburban Republicans who voted against Trump will switch back and vote for Republican senators. Whatever the analysis, there is agreement it will be close in both elections. Conventional wisdom: The Republicans will retain both seats.
That 46-minute Trump video rant. Trump called it “the most important speech I’ve ever made.” It’s likely history will have a different take, more along the lines of the most perfervid diatribe of lies and propaganda ever uttered by an American president.
Dialogue of electoral miscommunication. “Nobody likes election fraud.” “Me too, I don’t like election frog.” “Fraud not frog.” “Yeah, that’s what I said, I hate frog.” “That’s fraud, F-R-A-U-D.” “Whatever, election frog makes me feel very amphibious about voting, I get jumpy every time I think about it.”
Quote of the Week
Oh, and many of the most prominent deficit hawks were phonies. They didn’t really care about government debt, they only pretended to care as an excuse for trying to slash social programs. The proof came when President Donald Trump inflated the deficit with tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy — and many of those who pretended to believe that deficits were an existential threat under Obama cheered him on.
Paul Krugman, “Biden’s Bevy of Deficit Doves,” The New York Times, 12/01/2020.
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