Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, January 16 through Friday, January 22, 2021 [Vol.2 No.27]
The Week’s Most Notable
All inaugurations are for the history books but this week’s ceremony requires not only an asterisk for the pandemic environment, but a couple of exclamation points for presentation. Thanks to the out-of-control pandemic, the absence of a public throng completely changed the atmosphere. In some ways it was better; for many, the most memorable moment of the inaugural ceremonies was the quiet honoring of the 400,000 COVID-19 dead at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. There were no interminable parades, no elite dress-up balls, and not a lot of pomp (although Lady Gaga, J-Lo, and Michelle Obama provided a fair amount of ostentatious accoutrement). Biden’s inaugural address was almost like an FDR fireside speech, unconventionally personal. And then there was the poem and charismatic presence of the astonishing Amanda Gorman, U.S. Youth Poet Laureate. Democrats and liberals got about 36 hours of basking in happy relief, and then on Inauguration Day the Biden administration kicked into gear with 17 executive orders, which caused the Republicans to wail that the Democrats spouting for “unity” were shamelessly governing like Democrats.
The far-right circles the wagons for the Big Lie. A prominent meme developed this week on right-wing media (Fox Network, OAN, MaxNews, et al.), that when they do a cover picture involving Biden, he’s usually in shackles and/or an orange jumpsuit. The logic: His son Biden is a crook, Biden stole the election, Biden is also a crook; therefore, Biden should be in prison, lock him up! In a tightly symbiotic relationship developed over decades, where right-wing media goes, there goes Trump’s base, and consequently the majority of the Republican Party. Both base and media are doubling down on that relationship. To that end, the sacking of the Capitol building is rarely mentioned and usually pushed into the background as being not so important. Several Fox personalities characterized the impeachment process as Democrats seeking vengeance for the Trump years. They never mentioned that the impeachment/trial is only the first step toward the real objective of banning Trump from ever holding public office again because of his incitement of insurrection. All of this is classic spin; a single news broadcast on OAN could be used as a textbook for Soviet-style televised propaganda. Within the web of this narrative literally tens of millions are caught up in the belief that the election was rigged, Biden is a crook, and Democrats are the enemy. As long as these beliefs are fortified, there’s not much chance for Biden’s agenda to move very far beyond Executive Orders or half measures squeezed out of budget reconciliation bills.
Saturday, January 16
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 24,308,840; Deaths: 405,370
[Right-Wing Protests] U.S. Capitol, Statehouse Capitols Warned of Right-Wing Attacks – Throughout the week, state and federal officials summoned extra police, National Guard, and Army Reserve units to guard against right-wing militia groups staging further violent demonstrations at capitol buildings. As the days went by, no significant demonstrations occurred. In fact, enthusiasm for riot was dwindling: the leader, Trump – without his Twitter account and on his way out of power – could not provide motivation. In addition, the militias were aware that many of their members, particularly those who had been at the U.S. Capitol, had been arrested or were in the FBI crosshairs, and that because of heightened awareness the general public was not ready to support a right-wing coup.
[Government – Science] Biden Introduces White House Office of Science and Technology – Eric Lander, a pioneer in the field of genomics, will head the Office, newly elevated to the Cabinet level, and become the chief White House science advisor. Biden said, “In a way . . . this is the most exciting announcement that I’ve gotten to make in the entire Cabinet, raising this to a Cabinet-level position.” This is, of course, a huge distinguishing feature of Biden’s approach to governance compared to Trump’s – he believes in science, facts, and data.
Sunday, January 17
[Coronavirus] Biden’s Team Predicts 500,000 COVID-19 Deaths by End of February – In fact, at the end of the week Biden was saying 600,000 deaths by spring, which puts this pandemic in the same ballpark as the 640,000 deaths from Spanish flu of 1918.. Only of course, it’s a 100 years later, with far more sophisticated medicine and a modern infrastructure, but unfortunately – until Trump left the White House –wholly incompetent and unwilling national leadership.
[Government] Twitter Temporary Closes Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA) Account – “Green is being locked out of her account for 12 hours due to multiple violations of our civic integrity policy.” She was re-tweeting conspiracy rumors, especially from QAnon. She and Lauren Boebert (R-CO), both publicly supporting QAnon theories, have taken on a role that could be labeled gadfly but more precisely publicity-seeking right-wing craziness. Green has already introduced articles of impeachment against Biden. Consider what it takes to have federal legislative districts elect QAnon supporters.
[Right-Wing Threat] FBI Screening National Guard for Right-Wing Sympathizers – It is at least symbolically significant that the presence of right-wing militia members in the National Guard, something that has been known for decades in part because so many militia members have military backgrounds, has finally become something of an issue. Before the inauguration 12 guard members were removed from inauguration duty. The whole week teetered on the PR of violent right-wing activity versus an actual effort to deal with it. Check back on this in a month or two.
Monday, January 18
[U.S. Census] Census Bureau Director Resigns – Stephen Dillingham resigned from his position a year early, which is mainly significant because it signals the more or less official end of Trump’s attempts to exclude undocumented immigrants from being counted (probably unconstitutionally).
[Russia – Politics] Putin Opposition Leader Navalny Detained for 30 Days – Following his recovery from a state-sponsored poisoning, Putin’s nemesis Alexei Navalny returned to Moscow and was promptly arrested, arraigned, and adjudged for 30 days detainment. This triggered opposition demonstrations throughout Russia. Unsurprisingly, his status in prison remains “risky.”
Tuesday, January 19
[Coronavirus] U.S. COVID-19 Death Toll Officially Exceeds 400,000 – Is it inevitable that the wealthiest and most technologically advanced country should have the worst coronavirus death toll in the world? Of course not.
[Trump – Exit] Trump Grants 143 Pardons on His Last Night in Office – As expected, Trump pardoned (technically, granted clemency) to a very mixed bag of people including Steve Bannon, Republican mega donor Elliott Broidy, some rappers, some drug dealers, and a few corrupt officials. Somewhat surprisingly, no pardons for Trump himself, his family, or Giuliani. Overall, even for this president a humdrum batch of pardons, although conspicuously short of worthy charitable cases.
[Trump – Exit] Trump Delivers Recorded Farewell Address – It was classic Trump: A remote and self-centered mix of messages running from deploring the trashing of the U.S. Capitol, not mentioning Biden by name, touting his own achievements, and announcing “the movement we started is only just beginning.”
[Election – 2020] McConnell Shocks with Admission Trump “Provoked” Insurrection – In a statement quickly excoriated by right-wing media, McConnell admitted something about the Trump supporters who attacked the Capitol: “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people. And they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like. But we pressed on.”
McConnell knows this will be used in the impeachment trial. How much will this affect the final vote?
[Election – 2020] Georgia Certifies Warnock, Ossof – Democrats Take Control of Senate – Formally, the transition to Democratic control has already happened, but practically much needs to be determined. The two new senators will take their seats when Congress reconvenes after the inauguration. Now that the Senate is split 50-50, there needs to be agreement on how committees, voting, and other Senate business will be conducted.
Wednesday, January 20
[Biden – Government] Inauguration Day: Biden and Harris Take Office – Biden’s inaugural address offered an honest attempt to be inclusive, even for those who didn’t vote for him, and to seek unity. Unfortunately, he didn’t specifically say that unity applied mainly to working on the most difficult problems facing the nation: COVID-19, the economy, social inequality, and climate change. Republicans reject most of that anyway and insisted that he meant unity on all things like some kind of autocratic dictum. And so, the new administration was launched with a flurry of Executive Orders, a memorable inauguration ceremony, a history making black-Indian female vice president, a massive sigh of relief by most of the world, and a deeply divided U.S. polity.
[Government] Biden Signs Fifteen Executive Orders – Wasting no time, Biden worked through a stack of orders that included ending the Muslim travel ban, rejoining WHO, rejoining the Paris Accords, requiring masks in federal buildings, halting construction on Trump’s border wall, and several others reversing Trump policy on environmental control, including ending certification of the Keystone XL pipeline. Biden promised that at least 25 orders would be signed by the end of the week, most aimed at reversing Trump policies.
[Government] Press Briefings Return – After four years of fully duplicitous or nonexistent press briefings, new Biden press secretary Jen Psaki conducted a full-scale, civil, informative press briefing. We could get used to this.
[Right-Wing – Threat] Proud Boys Leaders Arrested, Charged with Incitement to Insurrection – The arrests and indictments of Joseph Biggs and Enrique Tarrio, chief organizers of the Proud Boys, appears to signal that the FBI is pursuing a general policy of curtailing right-wing militia activities. Both were photographed taking part in the Capitol riot January 6, of which they said “It’s gonna be epic!” Perhaps so, but now likely not in the way they meant it.
Thursday, January 21
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 900,000 – The number is down slightly, about 25,000, from last week but still represents an extremely high number of new claims. Economists continue to look at the figures and proclaim that Biden is inheriting “one of the worst job markets of any president.”
[Coronavirus] Fauci Conducts His First Biden Administration Press Briefing – As the “Walter Cronkite of pandemics,” and official spokesperson for the Biden administration, Dr. Fauci admitted he was feeling “liberated” to speak about the coronavirus pandemic without White House interference.
[Coronavirus] Biden Signs Several Pandemic-Related Executive Orders – Announcing the new Biden National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response, which will be the first comprehensive national plan to address the pandemic, Biden also signed executive orders that include centralizing vaccination distribution, opening more places of vaccination access, mandatory masks on interstate travel, new testing sites around the country, protocols for opening schools and businesses, and organizing COVID-19 data collection (a public dashboard to display real-time coronavirus data). Biden also reiterated his 100 million vaccinations in 100 days.
[Government] Stalemate on Power-Sharing in the Senate – Harkening back to the 2001 Daschle/Lott agreement, which set up protocols for voting and schedule management in the last 50-50 Senate, both Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell admitted they had not reached agreement. McConnell is demanding that Schumer take removal of the filibuster off the table, which Schumer will not do. This seems like esoteric stuff, and it is, but without it, things can’t get done in the Senate, which is true even when it’s not tied.
Friday, January 22
[Government – Economy] Biden Signs Economy-Related Executive Orders – Citing the deteriorating economic conditions, the orders include expanding and extending federal nutrition assistance programs (e.g., Food Stamps), extending rights for workers to refuse unsafe environments, a moratorium on federal collections of overpayments to and debts owed by veterans, and rental assistance for vulnerable tenants and landlords. The total of Executive Orders for the week was about 27; so far, they seem to be well thought out and technically crafted for smooth implementation. This is in stark contrast to the initial EOs of the Trump administration. It appears Biden kept his people busy from the beginning, despite transition foot dragging by the outgoing administration. One has the impression that Biden’s team has quietly “handled” the embedded opposition.
[Impeachment – Trial] Pelosi and Schumer Announce Delivery of Article of Impeachment – With transmission of the Article of Impeachment to the Senate on Monday, January 26, the process of atrial begins within 24 hours. However, in agreement with McConnell, the actual trial will be postponed until February 9 so that the House and Trump’s lawyers can continue assembling evidence and their arguments. This is roughly what all sides wanted. Meanwhile, during the ensuing weeks the Democrats will attempt to confirm as many appointments as possible.
[Impeachment – Trial] New Impeachment Trial Fodder: Trump Tried to Use DOJ to Change Georgia Election Results – In a bizarre scheme to keep himself in power, Trump considered firing the acting AG, installing his own tool, demanding that the tool put pressure on the Georgia legislature to somehow change the results of the state’s presidential election. This was about the same time as the documented phone calls to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. The article of impeachment already contains reference to those Georgia phone calls.
[Biden – Administration] Lloyd Austin Confirmed as First Black Secretary of Defense – Austin was granted a waiver to the legal requirement that there be seven years between leaving the military and assuming the top military post. The Senate vote was 93 – 2.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 25,390,042; Deaths: 424,177
Vaccine and virus vagaries are beginning to appear and they’re worrisome. PM Boris Johnson of the UK was forced to admit that recent evidence indicates that the British COVID-19 strain is not only more contagious but possibly more virulent. In South Africa some variants show signs of being resistant to the current vaccines, and there is a new significant variant in Brazil. Health agencies around the world are already sounding warnings about the British variant as it seems likely to be the reason that mitigation efforts are failing to bring down the average of new infections. The spotty but sometimes significant problems with vaccine supply, cold temperature handling, local resistance the vaccines, and a general lack of motivation for vaccination in several countries, especially the U.S. and the UK, add up to justified concerns – not panic, not even noisy warning, but solid keep-an-eye-on-it concerns.
Constitutional, Political, Election Notes
Impeachment Trial Watch: The current situation is a compromise – the Article of Impeachment will be transmitted on Monday, January 25, but the trial won’t open until 9 February. McConnell is apparently okay with letting the Democrats use the time to approve their cabinet and other administrative nominations without serious obstruction. The three extra weeks might not be as long as Pelosi would want, as new evidence continues to amass (such as the revelation about Trump planning to fire the AG and then put pressure on the state of Georgia to reverse the election), in return Trump will get time for his sacrificial lawyers to assemble their briefs. If the trial boils down to a power struggle between the McConnell Republicans (clean the slate) and Trumpkins (the impeachment is unconstitutional), it could get exciting, but don’t punch your tickets just yet.
Will Biden’s agenda be stymied by Republican opposition? Probably yes for the most significant legislation, but it’s complicated. The 50-50 split in the Senate provides the set up for negotiations. The influencing factors include ultra-far-right factions like QAnon and the militias, establishment GOP types like McConnell ($), power-broker conservative “centrists” such as Murkowski (R-AK) and Manchin (D-WV), conservative/corporate Democrats, progressive Democrats – and of course the whole raft of outside influences from PACs and lobbyists to various media organizations. Recently even the donors have gotten into the act by threatening to cut off political donations; however, no one is certain how persistent that threat will be. Any legislation that requires a 60-vote majority, for example the current $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, is going to have a perilous passage through Congress – but not impossible. However, as one observer put it, given the rising (and predictable) Republican obstructionism, the Democrats may have to settle for much smaller packages ($), or go for the abolition of the filibuster.
Quote of the Week
Five years ago, we thought Trump was a bad joke, but five years later we realized he jeopardized nothing less than the world’s most powerful democracy.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, 01/20/2021.
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