Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, December 19 through Friday, December 25, 2020 [Vol.2 No.23]
The Week’s Most Notable
The stimulus smorgasbord, or more appropriately, string of political sausage, seems to cover in its $890 billion and 5,300 pages of legislation just about every ounce of pork, special interest wishes, and policy wrinkle that can be wrung out of the pandemic situation. That is, it would if the bill ever gets out of the White House. By the weekend Trump had still not signed the bill and was loudly harrumphing about its inadequacies, most pointedly the miserable $600 per person stimulus amount, which he suggested should be $2,000. Of course, this 11th hour presidential protest works against everything the GOP was trying to do, and of course the Democrats jumped on it, because this is what they wanted all along. Unfortunately, the lack of Trump’s signature affects not only the coronavirus relief bill but also the funding for the U.S. government, which theoretically might need to begin shutting down next week. Probably not, though nobody is sure what Trump has in mind, really, and the chorus of complaint will grow every day of next week. It’s expected he will sign, but with Congress about to override his veto of the defense spending bill, his mood remains unpredictable. At the least, Trump’s intransigence has screwed up the timing of relief, especially for the millions of people running out of unemployment insurance or facing eviction by the end of the year.
Good news, bad news: We have vaccines and mutation. During the week the Pfizer vaccine rolled out across the U.S. and will be soon joined by the Moderna vaccine. We have the obligatory pictures of politicians and celebrities taking one in the arm for the good of the nation (except Trump of course). A fairly robust pro-COVID-19 vaccine campaign is in the works, although counter campaigns by anti-vaxxers are also on the drawing board. As the reality of the vaccines dawns on people, and with that the growing promise of actually dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, epidemiologists hope that vaccine acceptance will make it possible to achieve common immunity before next year is out. However, meanwhile, a mutation of the virus said to be 70% more infectious has appeared in southern England and in perhaps a related form in South Africa. Although apparently not more virulent, that kind of infection rate could still be catastrophic. That this mutation exists, and that it has spread to other parts of the world, no doubt including the U.S., seems true enough; its properties and significance are still largely a matter of unfinished investigation. In other words, it’s too early to make predictions, much less to panic. The mutation does point out that this is what viruses do; they adapt to become more efficient at surviving. We can hope that COVID-19 mutations stay within the effectiveness of current vaccines.
Saturday, December 19
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 18,094,791; Deaths: 323,953
[Cyberattack] Trump Implicates China, not Russia for Cyberattack on U.S. – Trump has been remarkably consistent in deflecting blame for Russian cyberattacks on the U.S. Every time the U.S. intelligence community agrees that all the evidence points to Russia, Trump demurs that it could have been somebody else like China or a 400-pound guy sitting on a bed with a portable computer. This time even Secretary of State Pompeo agreed that it was probably the Russians. Correspondingly, suspicions about Trump’s defense of Putin rise again, but without concerted investigation we may never know the true backstory of Trump’s fealties.
Sunday, December 20
[Coronavirus] U.K. Reverses Easing of Pandemic Restrictions for Holidays – Caught by deteriorating COVID-19 statistics and reports of a new, more transmittable variant of the virus, PM Boris Johnson ordered an addition to the British lockdown regime (Tier 4), which mandates stay-at-home conditions for London and southeast England, affecting about 16 million people.
[Coronavirus – Stimulus Bill] $900 Billion COVID-19 Relief Package Passes Congress – After seven months of wrangling and handwringing, both houses of Congress more or less agreed upon a stimulus/relief bill featuring $600 stimulus payments to individuals, enhanced unemployment benefits of $300 per week, money for pandemic vaccines, and a ton of special interest giveaways totaling at least $110 billion. In short, a typical omnibus type bill that makes nobody happy, but that is better than nothing. The bill has now gone on to the White House for Trump’s signature.
[Coronavirus] Federal Panel Recommends Next Recipients of COVID-19 Vaccines – As the second wave of vaccination, the recommendations included essential workers (teachers, daycare staff, grocery store employees, etc.), and people over the age of 75 – about 49 million people. The first wave covered healthcare workers and people in long-term care facilities.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Air Traffic High Despite CDC Call for Avoiding Holiday Travel – More than a million people passed through airport security over the weekend, making it probable that more than 5 million people will take public transport before the holiday season is over. Of course, this will make the exploding COVID-19 pandemic even worse. The U.S. is now experiencing more than 200,000 new cases a day and generally more than 3,000 deaths a day.
[Elections 2020] Trump Campaign Files Another Appeal to SCOTUS – In what is likely to be the last (ditch) appeal, Trump is asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court ruling in favor of mail-in balloting. The High Court is unlikely to take the case, much less rule in Trump’s favor.
Monday, December 21
[Election – 2020] AG Barr Eschews Special Counsel on Election Fraud – With two days left in his time on the job (he recently announced his departure), Barr threw a couple of lightning bolts into the heart of Trump’s assertion that the presidential election was stolen. For one thing, he admitted that while fraud existed there was not enough to demonstrate a systematic change to the outcome of the election, and that there was no need for a special counsel to investigate election fraud. As he succinctly put it, “If I thought a special counsel at this stage was the right tool and was appropriate, I would name one, but I haven’t, and I’m not going to.” His comments were not well received at the White House. It remains to be seen what if any pressure will be placed on Barr’s successor.
[Coronavirus – CDC] House Subcommittee to Investigate Trump Officials’ Pressure on CDC – As subcommittee chair Clyburn (D-S C) put it, “Efforts to interfere with scientific work at CDC were far more extensive and dangerous than previously known.” This marks the first official reaction to widespread efforts to suppress scientific evidence and reporting by several federal agencies, not only for the coronavirus pandemic but for a variety of climate and other environmental issues. There is more investigation to come.
[Political Protest] Anti-Lockdown Protesters Break Doors at Oregon Capitol – About 100 far-right Patriot Prayer members attacked police and broke doors to disrupt the Oregon legislature. There were numerous arrests but no injuries. Although isolated, the incident does illustrate the level of incitement to violence common to far-right militia style groups throughout the country.
Tuesday, December 22
[Coronavirus] Trump Demands $2,000 Stimulus Checks – Along with denouncing the $900 billion coronavirus relief bill as a “disgrace,” Trump threatened to veto it unless stimulus payments were increased from $600 to $2,000 and the pork be rendered out. To which Nancy Pelosi exclaimed, “Let’s do it!” This bizarre turn of political posturing endured throughout the week, much to the mirth of the mainstream media and the chagrin of Mitch McConnell. [Update: House Republicans voted not to increase stimulus checks to $2,000, thus highlighting the chasm between the president and his party.]
[Presidential Pardons] Trump Pardons Crooks, Killers, and Convicted Allies – Unofficially labeled as Trump’s “Pardonpalooza,” he began a new round of clearly political pardons, including convicted campaign allies such as George Papadopoulos, Blackwater mercenaries who killed 14 Iraqi civilians, and a clutch of convicted GOP politicians. This is only the beginning. Keep in mind that the right-wing media routinely defends these pardons as correcting injustices.
[Biden – Administration] Biden Names Miguel Cardona for Education Secretary – Cardona is actually an educator, currently Connecticut Education Commissioner, and a supporter of public schools (in complete contrast to the current secretary, Betsy DeVos).
[Government] Gov. Newsom Appoints Alex Padilla to Fill Harris’ Senate Seat – Padilla will be the first Latino to represent California in the Senate; he is currently California Secretary of State.
[Israel] Israeli Government Collapses – This forces the fourth election in two years as the country grapples with government corruption, the coronavirus pandemic, and the shifting sands of American policy in the Mideast.
Wednesday, December 23
[Government] Trump Vetoes Defense Spending Bill – For the first time in more than 50 years a president is challenging military spending. Just kidding. Trump’s reasons included a demand that military installations continue to be named after traitors from the Confederacy, and that social media- namely Twitter- be prevented from exercising “anti-conservative bias” (which, even if true, has nothing to do with the defense bill). Congress will override the veto next week.
[Presidential Pardons] Pardonpalooza Marches on – Trump added to his list of political pardons with such stellar names as Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Charles Kushner (Jared’s dad).
Thursday, December 24
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 803,000 – Although down from 892,000 the week before, considering the usual seasonal hiring this remains an exceptionally bad number, far above normal unemployment insurance claims of around 300,000 per week. It’s indicative of the weakening “recovery economy” and the further impact of the pandemic. Consumers also cut spending last week for the first time in seven months.
[Brexit] UK and EU Reach Agreement on Trade Deal – Finally, after years of waffling between the UK exiting the EU without a deal (potentially catastrophic) and having some kind of trade deal (probably not good for the UK) the path has been cleared for the end of the withdrawal on December 31, 2020. The negotiations are not over on a multitude of issues, but for the time being both sides can claim “victory” in a situation for which winners and losers will be much more nuanced.
Friday, December 25
[Christmas-RV bomb] Peace on Earth, Except in Nashville – Shattering Christmas morning, a massive bomb delivered in an RV to a street in Nashville remains an enigma. Although many buildings were damaged and a few people were injured, so far there is no explanation. Because warning was given and a countdown made public, it seems obvious that the blast was a demonstration of some kind but for what, and by whom remains a matter for days if not weeks of forensics. The blast will do nothing to settle an already nervous nation.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 19,273,243; Deaths: 338,513
People are tired of coronavirus restrictions. That would be true even if there wasn’t a political spin applied to attitudes for nearly half of the people in the U.S. In the absence of concerted national leadership, it’s unsurprising that far too many people are ignoring stay at home “advice” and other bare minimum COVID-19 mitigation efforts, such as masks. It must be pointed out that this cavalier attitude has been officially encouraged by the Trump-GOP. And.It.Will.Cost.Thousands.of.Lives.
It could be described as anemic, but at a time when normally the economy is humming for the holiday season, the numbers don’t look good. Not only are the statistics deteriorating, such as the decline in consumer spending and household income, but there is a general feeling that the combination of an exploding pandemic and a less than enthusiastic American consumer will lead to an out and out recession early in 2021. Government spending, namely the coronavirus relief package – if Trump signs it – could change that outcome.
Constitutional, Political, Election Notes
Did anyone expect this holiday season to be respectful, serious minded, and quiet? Trump–Republicans continue to converse about the Cheshire cat (or was it the Grinch?) who stole the election. Trump pretends he’s a populist again, forcing Republicans to repudiate his call for $2,000 individual stimulus payments. Everybody eyes the Georgia runoff election for senators, while nobody has a handle on what’s really happening except that it’s probably the dirtiest campaign on record even by Georgia standards – backed by several hundred million dollars in advertising. Meanwhile Trump pardons felons and calls it justice, which is symbolically cockamamie and has long-term antidemocratic implications. Yes, it was a strange opening for the holidays, heralded by a helluva bomb blast on the morning of Christmas Day.
Have a happy new year, really, truly, seriously.
Quote of the Week
[Trump Tweet: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there.”] That’s scary language. Now we have a president who is playing with the notion that we are going to solve conflict with violence. That puts us up there truly with the banana republics.
Meredith McGehee, Director of Issue One, quoted in “Could Trump Declare Martial Law to Try to Steal the Election,” The Washington Post, 12/24/2020.
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