Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, December 5 through Friday, December 11, 2020 [Vol.2 No.21]
The Week’s Most Notable
Trump’s attempted coup – theatrical sideshow or existential threat for democracy?
The center of the Trump-GOP argument, which should be distinguished from the emotional appeal, is that the Democrats stole the election through fraud, vote tampering, and results manipulation. When pushed, Trump lawyers and supporters claim to have “evidence” such as rigged voting machines in Georgia, ballot irregularities in Wisconsin, and a raft of procedural anomalies in Pennsylvania. In the known cases brought to court, 54 in all, this kind of evidence was presented, and in all but one procedural case, summarily rejected. ALL of the so-called evidence was either irrelevant, insubstantial, or simply bogus. No court, including the Supreme Court, accepted any of the evidence as a basis for trial. Most courts rejected the cases out of hand, often with prejudice. There is no evidence for widespread election fraud (there are always random isolated events, usually errors) and in fact this was one of the most closely monitored and cleanest elections in American history. The problem is the appeal of the Trump-GOP argument isn’t facts or logic but emotional support for Trump, a complicated psychology.
There’s the rub, as Shakespeare said, the large number of Trump-GOP supporters – including many professionals such as GOP politicians and GOP state attorneys general – who know that the “stolen election” gambit is legally hopeless but are not bothered by the effect of threatening a coup, or consolidating Trump’s power, or squeezing yet more millions out of credulous members of Trump’s base. There are surveys showing large numbers of the base more or less in favor of a “coup,” as in having an authoritarian government. Therein lies the existential threat to democracy, not this time, not with this bulbous orange buffoon, but easily cultivated by a more competent demagogue.
The case for COVID-19 vaccination launched this week on a wave of hype. Using the exuberance over the beginning of vaccination in Great Britain and the FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine, most of the American media glommed onto the undeniably good news. “Light at the end of the tunnel” became the leitmotif of the week. No question, we needed the good news, but. . . . (Yes, the significant news comes after the “but.”) In reality, it will be many months before the vaccines can be distributed and administered to a significant percentage of the population. That presumes a smooth rollout and no complications with the vaccines. Meanwhile, the pandemic in the U.S. is Out. Of. Control. We are literally heading toward 500,000 dead by March, and potentially a significant collapse of hospitalization capacity in many parts of the U.S.
Saturday, December 5
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 15,014,068; Deaths – 287,730
[Election – 2020] Trump Calls Gov. Kemp of Georgia to Demand Special Legislative Session – The call was among a series of contacts Trump made with officials in swing states attempting to cajole or coerce them into overturning presidential election results. Although his actions constitute illegal election tampering, this is a difficult case to make against a U.S. president. [Update: Contacts during the week included officials in the states of Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. Apparently, none of them complied with any requests/demands.]
Sunday, December 6
[Coronavirus] Giuliani Hospitalized with COVID-19 – As nominal head of Trump’s legal team, Giuliani has traveled all over the country and met with scores of people. Out of caution because several members had met with Giuliani, the Arizona state legislature shut down for a week. [Update: in the beginning there wasn’t much information about Giuliani, but he was released from the hospital by the end of the week, having been given the same rare and expensive treatment provided for Trump. He is not expected to resume his activities at the same intensity.]
[Election – 2020] Georgia Senate Runoff Elections Debates – In the debate between Rev. Raphael Warnock [D] and Sen. Kelly Loeffler [R], the highlight seems to have been Loeffler’s unwillingness to admit that Trump lost the November election, and her incessantly calling Warnock a “radical liberal.” For his part, Warnock reminded his audience that Loeffler is the wealthiest member of Congress, who “purchased” her seat. In the debate between Jon Ossof [D] and Sen. David Purdue [R], Purdue once again was a no-show and Ossof answered questions while speaking to an empty podium. Normally, in most states, failure to show up for debate is a fatal error. In one of the previous debates where Purdue did appear, he took such a beating from Ossof that it could explain his reluctance to further debate; however, with the current political tribalism, nobody is certain that his absence will significantly hurt his voter turnout.
[Coronavirus] California Begins Stay-at-Home Restrictions – The ever-worsening pandemic forced travel and movement restrictions for more than 80% of the state’s population. A number of businesses, including restaurants and personal services, have also been highly restricted or shut down. The political fallout, particularly in Southern California, could get out of hand.
[Coronavirus] Pandemic Badly Affecting Student Achievement – Several new studies indicate that the prolonged remote learning forced by the coronavirus is having a negative effect on student learning and academic achievement. This includes dropping enrollments, particularly in high school and college, declining grade averages, and students falling behind the normal progress for their grade level by three months for white students and up to five months for students of color.
Monday, December 7
[Coronavirus] Fauci Warns of a “Really Dark Time” by Mid-January – Following on the heels of Thanksgiving, which is already producing a major spike of COVID-19 cases, the Christmas and New Year’s holidays could produce the worst rise in coronavirus victims since the great 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. “Without substantial mitigation” there could be “a surge upon a surge.” No one is predicting the U.S. under Trump will mount an effective mitigation campaign.
[Election – 2020] Georgia Re-certifies Biden Victory – After a third recount, the state of Georgia completed the final certification of the vote awarding the state’s electoral votes to Biden. Trump continued to call it a rigged election.
[Biden – Administration] Biden Nominates Gen. Lloyd Austin as Defense Secretary – The Biden cabinet nominations continued this week with California AG Xavier Becerra to lead the Health and Human Services Department. He will be the first Latino to hold that position. Similarly, General Austin would be the first black as Defense Secretary. This appointment is somewhat controversial because the recently retired general will require a congressional waiver.
Tuesday, December 8
[Coronavirus] Britain Launches its Coronavirus Vaccination Program – Vying to be the first Western country with an active vaccination program, Great Britain rolled out the Pfizer vaccine that will eventually be administered to 50 million people throughout the UK. It was a cause for jubilation and noted with some jealousy in other countries, particularly the U.S. Ironically the vaccine is a German product, produced in Belgium, and will be affected by the logistical problems caused by Brexit on January 1.
[Supreme Court] Supreme Court Declines Pennsylvania Case to Block Biden Win – In an extremely terse one-page document, the court declined to hear the case in an apparently unanimous decision. [Update: In a similar ruling, the Arizona Supreme Court rejected a case attempting to reverse Biden’s win. In a unanimous vote, the court noted that after a day and a half of testimony, the state GOP case failed to prove anything but a few minor errors.]
Wednesday, December 9
[Coronavirus] New Coronavirus Record: More Than 3,000 Deaths in One Day – As the effects of the Thanksgiving holiday begin to show up in the COVID-19 statistics, the milestone – or rather headstone – of 3,160 deaths in a single day surpassed not only the records set this spring but in the total number of dead in 9/11. Epidemiologists expect this rate, or worse, will continue at least into January.
[Antitrust] FTC Opens Huge Antitrust Case against Facebook – Joined by the attorneys general from 46 states, the Federal Trade Commission opened the lawsuit against Facebook for unfairly stifling competition. The suit asks for divestment of Facebook’s WhatsApp and Instagram. This opens a can of squirming legal leeches that will probably take years to work their way through the courts. Nevertheless, it’s the beginning of an attempt to put some reins on the power of social media companies.
[U.S. Politics] Hunter Biden Reveals His “Tax Affairs” Under Investigation – If it weren’t for the history, this would not currently be newsworthy, but under the circumstances it’s further evidence that the tendrils of Trump-GOP politicization of American justice continues, despite what’s coming under Biden’s administration (or perhaps because of it).
Thursday, December 10
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 853,610 – The number of jobless claims has climbed back to September levels, an increase of 137,000, a strong indicator of what most economists believe is a reaction to the worsening coronavirus pandemic. Correspondingly the Labor Department reported that only 245,000 jobs were added in November; most economists had expected around 440,000 new jobs. With a number of unemployment and other support programs ending with the calendar year, plus the ending of most mortgage relief, millions are expected to be added to the rolls of the unemployed and those falling into poverty. It is expected that by mid-February most economists will declare the economy is in recession.
[Coronavirus] More Than 100,000 Hospitalized COVID-19 Cases Force ICU Crisis – Approximately 100 million Americans live in regions where the available ICU capacity of local hospitals is below 15%. This means that as the number of COVID-19 cases increase with the holidays, more people cannot be treated locally – whether for COVID-19 or anything else.
[Election – 2020] Trump, 17 State AG’s, 126 Congresspeople Join in SCOTUS Case – With as much fanfare as possible, Trump and the GOP lined up support for their case before the Supreme Court to nullify the election results in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia – thereby allowing the states to declare Trump the winner. This is without question a nadir of political hypocrisy, setting an extremely dangerous precedent for the future of the American democracy. On the other hand, it’s well-known that the case brought by the AG. of Texas is a legal ploy, largely intended to gain notoriety among the Trump base.
Friday, December 11
[Coronavirus] FDA Authorizes Emergency Use for Pfizer Vaccine – After a week of preliminary independent expert examination, fulminations by the White House, and considerable media attention, the FDA authorization was granted and means that the Pfizer vaccine will be moving to distribution by the end of the weekend. It should be noted that Pfizer offered to provide an additional 100 million doses of the vaccine in July, with the price tag of $1.95 billion – and Trump turned it down. Consequently the U.S. will get the original allotment of 50 million doses which, because this is a double dose vaccine, means inoculation of approximately 25 million people.
[Supreme Court] Supreme Court Declines to Hear Texas Lawsuit Seeking to Overturn Biden’s Win – In a rapid and striking rejection, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas does not have the legal right to sue states because it “has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections.” In other words, for starters, Texas has no standing – it cannot show it was harmed by the electoral practices of other states. The court’s decision was unanimous, although Alito and Thomas noted their general policy that the court should accept all lawsuits from states for preliminary hearing. This ruling was expected; no reputable constitutional lawyer believed the Supreme Court would accept the case – however, given the court’s 6-3 conservative majority and the unorthodox world of Trump legal maneuvering – again it was a case of 99% theatrics and possibly 1% existential threat.
[U.S. Government] House and Senate Approve Military Funding Bill, One-Week Government Funding – Although there is some reconciliation work to be done, an apparently veto-proof military funding bill will soon go to Trump for signing. He has threatened to veto the bill if it didn’t contain regulations for social media, e.g., Twitter. The one-week extension for government funding is expected to be superseded by a full resolution next week. Negotiations still continue on a second coronavirus relief bill in the Senate, but there seems little chance for one to pass before the end of the current session. That means there will be no stimulus or even emergency relief for several million people losing unemployment insurance and other forms of support at the end of the year. Many economists believe this will be a blow to an economy already showing the effects of the spiking coronavirus.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 16,329,068; Deaths – 302,773
Vaccination was touted and celebrated throughout the week; but there are “issues.” The big one is the duration of immunization. No one knows how long that is for any of the current vaccines. If it is less than one year, it means that in a country the size of the U.S. there is little chance of the entire population being immunized in the available time on a regular cycle. Another issue is side effects: All vaccines have side effects; the questions are how many people do they affect, and how severe are they? We already know that the Pfizer vaccine should not be taken by people with severe allergic sensitivity. Finally, there is the constellation of issues involving complexity of handling the vaccine, the need for trained personnel to administrate it, and the overall cost. So far, few people are talking about how much it costs to vaccinate 300 million+ Americans. Eventually, this will be an issue involving competing vaccines.
The question is not will there be a deterioration of the economy, but how quickly and how severely it will happen. The GOP in Congress is playing the odds that a politically significant downturn won’t happen until Biden is in charge and he can be blamed. The Democrats believe that substantial relief is needed immediately to avoid slipping into a recession. The “wildcard” in this political gamesmanship with people’s lives is the impact of the ongoing pandemic. The Republicans pretend to believe there is no linkage between COVID-19 and the economy. Democrats and virtually all medical and economic professionals believe that controlling the pandemic is a prerequisite to a recovering economy. Now we have the rollout of vaccines as a complicating factor. At what point will enough people be immunized to create consumer confidence – in effect send people out shopping again – to allow the economy to grow? Most specialists believe it will be late summer, at the earliest, before a significant percentage of the population will be immunized, assuming no major problems with the vaccination programs. What happens to the economy between now and then?
Constitutional, Political, Election Notes
It’s been a while since Americans have had a serious look at the line between significant political opposition and sedition (the peacetime version of treason). The Friday ruling by the Supreme Court which tossed out the Texas lawsuit that would have disenfranchised millions of voters proved to be a culminating trigger for some in the GOP and Trump’s base. According to the chairman of the Texas GOP, Alan West, “Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a union of states that will abide by the Constitution.” This is called secession, like what the Confederate states did before the Civil War; it’s also called sedition.
Quotes of the Week
Get the dam vaccines out NOW, Dr. Hahn @SteveFDA. Stop playing games and start saving lives!!!
Trump Tweet, 12/11/2020.
The Supreme Court really let us down. No Wisdom, No Courage!
Trump Tweet, 12/11/2020.
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