Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, April 23 through Friday, April 29, 2022 [Vol.3 No.41]
The Week’s Most Notable
What, you should ask, do Elon Musk, a 35-year-old federal judge in Florida, and Vladimir Putin have in common? Expressed colloquially, way too much power. Last week, without any effective accountability, they took actions with potentially disastrous consequences for millions of people.
At least for the moment, Elon Musk is the world’s richest man, owner of Tesla, and apparently soon to be sole owner of Twitter. He announced his intention to purchase Twitter for $44 billion, putting him in charge of one of the world’s largest and most influential social media platforms. If everything goes as planned – and because of financing that’s not necessarily a given – his thinking, biases, and quirks will become Twitter policy, affecting tens if not hundreds of millions of people. That prospect has some shaking in their proverbial boots. Musk is more than a bit of a chimera, a semi-imaginary creature compounded of incongruous parts. In short, he’s complicated, somewhat unpredictable, and soon to be in charge of enormous influencing power. For example, it’s more than likely he will reinstate Trump’s Twitter account. Many of the things Musk can do at Twitter will have serious impact on the world; but the world will have relatively little to say about it. He might destroy Twitter, since so far, despite its popularity, nobody’s been able to make money with it, but even that is probably not a good thing. Twitter is one of those institutions of social media that are best described as a public utility – flawed, over-large, but necessary. Assuming his purchase goes through, the next year or two are likely to be punctuated by moments of Musk created mayhem.
In the Middle District Federal Court of Florida, Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, one of the youngest of several Trump appointed judges who was not approved by the American Bar Association, made a ruling that struck down the Biden administration’s federal mandate for COVID-19 mask wearing on public transport. Her legal rationale, oversimplified, is that the CDC does not have the ability to proactively combat disease and national medical emergencies; it can only react or, in the judge’s terms, “participate in sanitizing.” The DOJ is immediately appealing the decision, and it likely won’t stand, but for months at least, the U.S. population cannot be required to follow any CDC mask mandate. Fortunately, the current wave of the pandemic has receded, and the new threat, the Omicron BA.2 variant, may not be that lethal, although the numbers of infected, hospitalized, and dead in the U.S. are once again on the rise. Nevertheless, Judge Mizelle’s ruling illustrates the power of one person – unqualified in a highly technical and complicated field, unelected, though demonstrably influenced by political considerations – can affect the lives of millions or even the entire nation.
As for Vladimir Putin, well, he’s a dictator and for the most part can do what he damn well pleases, at least in Russia; we get that. However, at the moment, under the cover of war, he is threatening to unleash weapons of mass destruction – biological, chemical, or nuclear – if the Ukraine war goes badly for Russia (which it appears to be). In a sense, he can hold the world hostage. Once again, one person can make a decision that will affect the lives of millions, where accountability, if any, comes too late to prevent or even influence disaster.
These three people illustrate a modern dilemma: technology is creating situations where one person, or at best a few people, can make decisions for which they are not only unaccountable but usually unfit to hold that power. This is a problem. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions, but the world needs to learn how to deal with these situations. After all, technological change (sometimes called progress) is inevitable.
Last week was notable for a stream of news about or related to the Jan. 6 insurrection. Much of it was in the form of email communications between Trump administration officials, prominently Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and people who were planners, promoters, or enablers of the insurrection. Much of it contributed to a growing understanding of what happened before, during, and after the attack on the Capitol. The story is coming together, and by the end of the week the House Select Committee announced that public hearings would begin in early June. The impact of those hearings and the findings of the committee, with very little rhetorical inflation, could well determine the course of American democracy.
Saturday, April 23
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 82,741,818; Deaths: 1,019,044
[Ukraine] Russia Resumes Full-Scale Attack on Mariupol – It’s Russian policy: bomb and shell until the rubble dances. Several thousand Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are still trapped in the Azovstal steel plant; negotiations continued throughout the week to create safe passage for evacuees.
Sunday, April 24
[France] Macron Wins Reelection – Despite weeks of media coverage that implied Marine Le Pen was in striking distance of taking the presidency away from Macron, he won by 16 points; not close, though not as strong as the previous election. The results are typical for French presidential elections: the first round is often narrowly contested with more radical candidates doing well; in the second round, voters tend to pull to the center.
[Ukraine] Blinken and Austin Meet Zelensky – in Kyiv – It’s a parade, top officials travel by train all the way from Poland to Kyiv. The U.S. Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, the two most senior and relevant members of Biden’s administration, discussed the Ukraine war with Zelensky. Later in the week members of Congress, including Nancy Pelosi, made the same trip. There’s a war going on? The Russians know about this? Of course, they do. This is not good PR for them, so how can it happen? Good, unanswered, question. It seems like the new Iron Curtain must be closer to a mosquito screen, or something is up in Moscow.
[Ukraine] Secretary of Defense Austin Reveals New Pentagon Position on Russia and Ukraine – “To see Russia weakened,” is a significant change in the war of words. It implies that Russia is losing, which seems to be the consensus among military analysts. That the U.S. is even posturing like this is something of a change in policy, and a much more provocative stance.
[Coronavirus – China] Surging COVID-19 Cases in Beijing Test Zero COVID Policy – China has resolutely stuck by its conviction that controlling the highly contagious Omicron BA.2 variant is possible. Despite setbacks in the Shanghai lockdown, the new threat in Beijing, where 39 people died from COVID on Saturday, may push the policy of control beyond its limits. The Chinese are aware that political instability could be one of the repercussions of a failed COVID policy.
Monday, April 25
[Ukraine] U.S. Announces Resumption of Diplomatic Operations in Ukraine – Following the visit by Blinken and Austin, diplomatic offices will be reopened in Kyiv – with minimal staff – and a new ambassador to Ukraine, career diplomat Bridget Brink, will be nominated for confirmation by the Senate. This is just one of many recent signals that the U.S. is not only escalating its support for Ukraine, but is doing so under the apparent belief that Ukraine will be successful in its military resistance to the Russians.
[Twitter] Twitter Board Accepts Elon Musk’s $44 Billion Takeover Bid – It’s complicated financially (even shaky), and the Twitter Board was none too certain about the situation, but Musk can now go ahead with assembling his bid. This created shockwaves throughout the media world and beyond. Twitter, while not the largest of social media companies, might be one of the most influential. Musk has always been a key player on Twitter and his participation at the ownership level is not unexpected. What he will do with Twitter is far more uncertain. It could become a prominent platform for his current bent toward right-wing beliefs, or a bastion of moderated free speech. Nobody knows.
[Trump – Court] New York Judge Holds Trump in Contempt – The key here is that this is about withheld documents in the civil case brought by AG Leticia James against Trump and his corporation. The judge agreed that Trump appears to be stalling and has levied a $10,000 a day fine until the documents are produced. Unlike the criminal cases against Trump, which one by one have dissipated, the civil case does not need to prove intent to commit fraud, making a conviction more likely. [Update: Trump lawyers maintain there aren’t any documents to reveal. The court isn’t buying it and the fine remains in place.]
[Florida – Election Police] DeSantis Signs Law Creating Election Police – The law gives DeSantis powerful discretion to investigate alleged election crimes. Election crime is, in fact, very rare.
Kane Tanaka, believed to be the world’s oldest person, second oldest ever, dies in Japan at the age of 119.
Tuesday, April 26
[Immigration] Judge Stymies Biden Plan to End Title 42 – Title 42 is a remnant of the early days of COVID-19 when it was used under the auspices of the CDC and public health authorities to turn back migrants at the U.S./Mexican border. The Biden administration hoped to end the practice, but was challenged by the AGs of Missouri, Arizona, and Louisiana (backed by more than a dozen Republican led states). For them, Title 42 is a part of immigration policy. This issue is one of several relating to the need for radical fixes to the chaotic and ill-defined U.S. immigration situation.
[Tesla] Tesla Shares Dive 12% on News of Twitter Takeover – Indicative of the various financial stresses involved with Elon Musk’s $44 billion Twitter bid; it’s expected he will need to convert some Tesla stock into cash for the Twitter purchase.
[Climate Crisis] Southern California Drought Forces Emergency Water Restrictions – The restrictions are unprecedented, responding to the worst drought on record. Water use will be strictly limited under penalty of fines. Currently, 95% of California is in a severe or extreme drought.
Wednesday, April 27
[Ukraine] Russia Cuts Natural Gas Supply to Poland, Bulgaria – This move was expected, in fact Poland has been preparing for it over the years. Other European countries have stepped in to guarantee at least partial replacement of gas supplies. The Russians are hoping to apply pressure to Europe, which is still highly dependence on Russian gas. Ukraine and the EU decry Russia’s demand that the gas be paid for in rubles as “economic blackmail.”
[U.S. House] Kevin McCarthy Post-Jan. 6 Comments Create Brouhaha – House Minority Leader McCarthy had lots to say about what happened in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection, such as “they are putting people in jeopardy,” they being Rep. Matt Gaetz (R–FL) and others. Gaetz took exception to the comment, calling McCarthy “weak” and “sniveling.” In the broader picture, McCarthy’s comments are likely to become part of the House Jan. 6 investigation, as there is a pattern of congressional Republicans decrying the insurrection and shortly thereafter reversing their position. In McCarthy’s case his denial of what he said was immediately refuted by recordings of what he actually said.
[Coronavirus] Fauci Claims Pandemic in New Phase – Fauci did himself no favors by first appearing to say the pandemic is over, which he then had to correct by saying “by no means does this mean the pandemic is over.” What he meant to say was that “the full-blown explosive pandemic phase,” was over – a nuance the right-wing media failed to appreciate.
[Redistricting] New York Appeals Court Rejects Democrats’ Redistricting Map – Republicans aren’t the only ones getting caught with their hand in the cookie-jar of gerrymandering. The New York court ruled the redistricting unconstitutional. Since a redistricting commission has already failed in New York, and the legislature lost the court case, the court will now appoint a special master to handle the redistricting. Democrats were hoping to balance Republican gerrymandering gains in other parts of the country by adding three House seats in New York.
Thursday, April 28
[Ukraine] Biden Requests Additional $33 Billion for Ukraine War – At this point, his request is more than just a big number – it demonstrated the long-term commitment of the U.S. Combined with other allocations, the U.S. will have spent more than $40 billion this year on the Ukraine war, as much as it spent per year in Afghanistan. The request was also in tandem with the House passing 417-10 the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act to expedite purchase and shipment of weapons for Ukraine (paralleling the 1941 program to assist Great Britain).
[Economy] U.S. Economy Shrinks by 1.4% in First Quarter – This is the first decrease in GDP since the beginning of the pandemic. Strong consumer spending leads economists to conclude that this decline is temporary.
Friday, April 29
[Ukraine] Russian Military Progress in Donbas “Uneven” – According to UK intelligence and military analysis, Russian troops in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine are, at best, advancing slowly and with high casualties. As expected, in an area where war has been going on for more than eight years, both sides are dug-in and prepared for a long defensive struggle. Some analysts believe that the Russians are already having difficulty with supply chains, lack of qualified leadership (at least 16 high-level Russian officers have been killed since the beginning of the war), and unexpectedly determined and skillful Ukrainian opposition.
[Ukraine] Putin’s May 9 Deadline Fast Approaching – Russian military goals were to achieve some noteworthy victory that could be announced in the upcoming May 9 celebration marking the end of World War II in Europe. It’s looking more and more probable that no such “victory” is likely. Apparently, the Kremlin is preparing an alternative: announce that the Special Operations with limited goals is to be superseded by a fully declared war.
[Stock Market] U.S. Stock Market Plunges, Dow down More Than 900 Points – Marking the worst month since the beginning of the pandemic, the markets seem to be responding to the collection of woes: The Fed is about to raise interest rates, inflation is still rising, COVID-19 isn’t over, Ukraine is in a stalemate, and the domestic market is in turmoil – and the economy may be flirting with recession.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 83,042,153; Deaths: 1,020,718
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quotes of the Week
We don’t know if there will be any more details to come out in reporting or any more shoes to drop in the investigation or the upcoming hearings that will change the trajectory of the upcoming election. But there shouldn’t have to be. We know everything we need to know. There can be no more doubt in anyone’s mind who is paying attention that a coup was plotted and very nearly successful. The only question is if enough people care that American democracy is on life support to keep the people who planned it (or stood by while it was happening) from regaining power in spite of it.
Heather Digby Parton, Salon, 4/27/2022.
‘I feel exhilarated by the fact that this fellow finally, totally discredited himself,’ McConnell told one of the authors of a new book, when asked about his feelings on the violence and the rioters. Trump, [he] said, ‘was pretty thoroughly discredited by this. He put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. . .. Couldn’t have happened at a better time.’
Josh Dawsey, “’Exhilarated’ McConnell Said Jan. 6 ‘Discredited’ Trump’, Book Says,” The Washington Post, 4/25/2022.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are at least casually familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search.]