Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, March 26 through Friday, April 1, 2022 [Vol.3 No.37]
Flap, Slap, and Gap
The Week’s Most Notable
It was one outstandingly weird week, chockablock with pseudo- or semi-significant events. Not that most weeks haven’t been weird like that in the last several years; but the past week had an unusual number of vellicating (twitchy) items. For example, “the Flap” in which Biden gave a great speech in Poland, honoring Ukraine and its people, but as an exit line said of Putin, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” Good point, really, but not exactly diplomatically framed. So, it created a political furor and it was labeled another Biden gaffe. It’s doubtful that Putin cared, and the flap about it will soon be forgotten. Then there was a uniquely staged “the Slap” that excited the American media for days, consisting of the actor Will Smith bitch-slapping Academy Award show host Chris Rock for mildly insulting Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith in a primetime international broadcast. This too garnered an unusual amount of politicized spin. Finally, there was “the Gap” as it was discovered that the official White House call log for January 6, 2021, had a 7 hour and 37-minute lacuna, reminding everybody of the famous eight-minute gap in the Watergate tape that brought down Nixon. In this case, it was immediately assumed the missing calls were part of a cover-up. The controversy lasted for several days, but if there is any significant follow-up, it will be down the line while the House Select Committee investigates. Oh yes, there was the revelation of emails between Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, stuffed with lines that read like they came out of a QAnon brochure, (“Biden crime family and ballot fraud co-conspirators are being arrested and detained for ballot fraud right now and over the coming days and will be living in barges off Gitmo to face military tribunals for sedition.”). And so forth for the week.
Meanwhile, thousands of people are dying in a brutal war in Ukraine and the U.S. mostly ignored the fact that more than 1 million Americans have now died from COVID-19. Such contrast between the pumped-up and the profound are not unique, but last week was disturbingly rich in examples.
Has the Ukraine war reached a real turning point? Bombing and shelling continues; however, there is recent evidence that Russian troops have begun pulling away from Kyiv. The question everyone’s asking, including military analysts, is it real, or a perfunctory gesture meant to generate some distracting PR? It is difficult to believe that Putin accepts the now manifest failures of the Russian military and is willing to settle for some kind of negotiated treaty with Ukraine. On the other hand, it’s difficult to believe that Zelensky and the Ukrainian people would accept giving up the Dombas region. Zelensky has indicated there is a potential kernel of an agreement, based on Ukraine guaranteeing military neutrality and not joining NATO – while at the same time leaving their door open for negotiations for entry into the EU. Whatever the bargaining situation really is, it’s still remarkable bargaining exists at all, considering that a month ago it appeared Russia would consume the entire country. A crucial final impression: Putin is backing away from all-out confrontation.
Saturday, March 26
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 81,648,202; Deaths: 1,004,626
[Ukraine] Biden: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” – The words were no sooner out of his mouth at the end of a speech in Poland, than partisans on all sides began screeching, “Regime change! He called for regime change!” It was good for about five days of bloviating. The Biden administration quickly but partially walked it back, “It was a personal expression, not policy.” It was certainly not diplomatically discreet, though many would affirm its validity. Perhaps the best analogy: it was like a statement in an American courtroom, where the prosecutor says something negative about the defendant, and the defense attorney yells “Objection!” The judge responds, “Sustained.” The prosecutor then says, “Withdrawn,” knowing full well that the jury heard every word and the point was made.
Sunday, March 27
[Ukraine] Azerbaijan Takes Advantage of Ukraine War, Russian Distraction – Azerbaijan troops advanced into Nagorno-Karabakh, normally a Russian patrolled territory and a long-contested area with Armenia. Russian troops had been stationed there as a peacekeeping force. This is an example of a military ripple-effect from the war in Ukraine.
[Pakistan] Pakistan Prime Minister Threatened Because of His Support for Russia – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan faces a vote of no-confidence. He was elected in 2018 largely based on his fame as a cricket star and on support from the Pakistani military. American involvement with the military is deep – paymaster for most of the generals. Khan’s support for Russia has not been taken kindly by the military or the U.S. Another example of the ripples in world political alignment because of the Ukraine war.
[Ukraine] Zelensky Suggests Neutral Status as Part of Negotiated Deal – Who would’ve thought a month ago that an actual negotiation with Russia might be real? It’s still more than a few bargaining points away from being a deal.
[Coronavirus] World’s Third Largest City in COVID Lockdown – With a population over 25 million, locking down Shanghai will be no small feat. The Omicron variant BA.2 is forcing the issue by creating tens of thousands of new infections, something China has not faced for a while. Many experts wonder if it is feasible for China to actually control the pandemic by lockdown.
[Jan.6 Investigation] Jan. 6 Committee Report Details Contempt of Congress for Navarro and Scavino Jr. – After weeks of cajoling and subpoenas, former White House trade advisor Peter Navarro and former Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino Jr. remained intransigent. The House will shortly vote on Contempt of Congress and send a recommendation to the Department of Justice. This, in turn, kicked loose repeated complaints about the lack of response from the DOJ. This became a hot topic during the week.
Monday, March 28
[Ukraine] Ukrainian Forces Begin Retaking Area around Kyiv – The Kyiv suburb of Irpin was one of several areas that were reclaimed by Ukrainian troops. It’s thought (hoped) that this is an indicator of Russian troops pulling out of the area. [Update: By the end of the week, it became increasingly demonstrated that the Russians are in fact moving out of areas near Kyiv and much of northern Ukraine. They could always come back, but logistically that’s easier said than done – especially with the Russian military. If it looks like a retreat, and acts like retreat, but doesn’t say it’s a retreat – it’s still a retreat, a huge climb-down for the swaggering Putin military.]
[Jan.6 Investigation] Judge Rules Trump “more likely than not” Committed Crimes in Attempt to Overturn Biden Win – In his ruling on Trump legal advisor John Eastman’s claim that his Jan. 6 related documents are covered by attorney-client privilege, U.S. District Court Judge David Carter wrote that Trump “more likely than not” committed crimes (felony obstruction) in his bid to prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 election. Attorney-client privilege is waived under circumstances of criminal behavior. The ruling, of course, will be appealed; but the facts surrounding it will be important.
[Florida Law] DeSantis Signs Florida “Don’t Say Gay” Bill into Law – Republicans nationwide are resurrecting anti-gay legislation and propaganda, which many people thought were pure history. The bill forbids any instruction about sexual orientation or gender in classrooms from kindergarten to third grade. The bill has already provoked a huge brouhaha with the Disney Corporation, one of Florida’s major employers. It is being challenged in the courts. Anti-gay legislation is apiece with similar actions on LGBTQ issues that Republicans are using to whip up their base and create education-oriented chaos.
[U.S. Budget] Biden Administration Proposed Budget for 2022-23 Revealed – Like all such budgets, it’s more of a starting point and wish list, but the $5.8 trillion budget does contain a provision for a “wealth tax” to be imposed on the nation’s richest households. That will not happen unless the Democrats retain control of Congress.
Tuesday, March 29
[Academy Awards] AMPA Slaps-Down Will Smith, Opens Formal Review – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, chagrined by the seen-around-the-world slap of Academy Award ceremony host Chris Rock by Will Smith (who then won the Best Actor Award), decided to continue the uproar on a formal basis. [Update: Will Smith apologizes to everyone but Chris Rock, resigns from the Academy.]
[Coronavirus] FDA, CDC Okay Fourth Booster Shot for People Older Than 50 – Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines qualify. The authorization is not the same as a recommendation, but it’s assumed that having the booster, following an initial vaccine sequence, is safe and beneficial. The objective is to use the boosters to keep people out of the hospital and from dying, not to prevent them from contracting COVID.
[Coronavirus] States File Lawsuit Over Travelers Mask Mandate – The federal mandate ends April 18. The lawsuit is a good example of how Republican/right-wing opposition to vaccination and COVID mitigation seriously lags behind the actual situation. However, it sets a worrying precedent if another such pandemic occurs (which of course it will).
[Federal Law] Lynching Is Now Illegal Nationwide – Attempts to pass this law have happened 200 times over the past 120 years. Biden thanked the law’s supporters for never giving up.
Wednesday, March 30
[Jan.6 Investigation] White House Phone Log Gap – Somehow, 7 hours and 37 minutes of the legally mandated log of every White House phone communication has gone missing. The gap just happens to cover the most important time, from 11:17 AM to 6:54 PM, January 6, 2021 – the time of the attack on the Capitol. It was assumed that this was no coincidence and indicated intent to cover up potentially embarrassing communications. The revelatory report by the Washington Post and CBS also indicated that White House occupant Donald Trump routinely did not use official phones, using instead phones belonging to aides or “burners” (throwaway phones which Trump said he never heard of). The matter has been referred to the House Select Committee investigating January 6. [Update: by the end of the week, the Committee indicated that most of the calls during that time were already catalogued and accounted for.]
[Inflation] Biden Announces up to 1 Million Barrel Oil Reserve Release – In an effort to undercut the price of gas at the pump and thereby attempt to assuage the inflation fears of the public, the release from the oil reserve will in fact take many months to work its way through the system.
[Ukraine] Biden and Zelensky Confer by Phone, Biden Promises Another $500 Million in Aid – Bringing the total U.S. aid contribution to Ukraine to roughly $2.5 billion, the two also discussed what might be called post-invasion measures including humanitarian aid. [Update: DOD announces $300 million in military aid to Ukraine.]
Thursday, March 31
[Ukraine] Russian, Ukrainian Negotiators Agree on Mariupol Cease-Fire – The beleaguered city with approximately 100,000 citizens remaining out of 400,000, might get relief from a brief cease-fire overseen by the Red Cross, which would try to get people out while bringing humanitarian aid in. [Update: Going into the weekend, the Red Cross had not been able to bring a convoy into the city.]
[LGBTQ] U.S. to Allow “X” Gender Marker on Passports/Multiple States to Ban Transgender Athletes – Another in this week’s parade of political contradictions (the confused right-wing responses to Putin’s attack on Ukraine being the main item). The entire transgender issue owes its amplitude to right-wing propaganda, pitting one segment of the American population against another with chaos and political confrontation being the goal.
[Florida Voting Law] Judge Rules Portions of Florida Voting Law Unconstitutional – Federal Judge Mark Walker said the law was enacted to “discriminate against black voters.” His ruling will be immediately appealed, beginning its long trek probably all the way to the Supreme Court.
Friday, April 1
[Economy] U.S. Economy Adds 431,000 Jobs – On the labor front, the addition of 431,000 jobs and an unemployment rate of 3.6% looks quite good. As one analyst put it, “the job market is still red-hot.” Unfortunately, the inflation rate is also hot, hitting 40-year highs. So far, the majority of the public thinks inflation outweighs employment.
[Labor Unions] Amazon Warehouse in Staten Island Unionizes – This was a first; bitterly opposed by Amazon management, because, of course, it sets a precedent.
[Ukraine] Ukraine Strikes Fuel Depot in Russian Territory – As if to punctuate the eerie reversal of military fortunes, it took a while to confirm, but it’s now agreed that Ukrainian helicopters bombed a fuel depot near Belgorod, in Russia.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 81,813,710; Deaths: 1,008,009
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
A conjugal conspiracy or not? The Supreme Court relies on the appearance of impartiality. It’s never been impartial, but appearances do count. The court is now at one of its lowest ratings ever in public opinion. That makes the right-wing propaganda team of Virginia and Clarence Thomas a matter of considerable concern for the court. As exposed by her correspondence with Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, it is a veritable fount of comprehensively and deeply held QAnon ideas. It’s impossible to believe that the couple, which Justice Thomas refers to as “best friends,” don’t share political discussions as well as opinions.
It’s no secret that Justice Thomas is the source of most of the truly outré right-wing decisions. On a court stacked with politically asymmetrical justices – where decisions concerning voting rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and environmental quality are most likely to have anomalous and highly conservative reasoning – Justice Thomas doesn’t always stand out. However, his refusal to recuse himself from cases involving issues publicly championed by his wife put the court’s reputation in repeated jeopardy, a fact that Chief Justice Roberts may have difficulty accepting.
There is a realistically straightforward solution: Justices of the Supreme Court should be held to the same judicial code of conduct as other federal judges, with the exception that they cannot sit in judgment of their own conduct. The fly in the ointment for this approach is that an impartial “judge of Supreme Court judges” would be complicated and controversial to develop. If there was any political will, which there unfortunately isn’t, solutions for this problem could be found.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
[Judge David O. Carter] ruled on Monday that former President Donald J. Trump and a lawyer who advised him on how to overturn the 2020 election most likely committed felonies, including obstructing the work of Congress and conspiring to defraud the United States. . . . ‘The illegality of the plan was obvious,’ he wrote. ‘Our nation was founded on the peaceful transition of power, epitomized by George Washington laying down his sword to make way for democratic elections. Ignoring this history, President Trump vigorously campaigned for the vice president to single-handedly determine the results of the 2020 election.’
Luke Broadwater, “Federal Judge Finds Trump Most Likely Committed Crimes Over 2020 Election,” The New York Times, 3/28/2022.
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