Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, November 5 through Friday, November 11, 2022 [Vol.4 No.17]
Rule of Law
The Week’s Most Notable
It was a remarkably positive week. Somehow emotionally it might have marked a sea-change. Historically momentous midterm elections came and went without violence or in fact any significant challenge. Economic reports indicate that we may be on the downhill side of inflation. Biden is going to the G20 conference carrying economic and political momentum. Ukraine retook Kherson, a major victory, without a major battle. We might even be seeing the backside of Donald Trump. Let us stop and smell the roses, while keeping in mind how rarely they bloom in November.
When the dust settles in about a month, after the Georgia runoffs, the remarkable midterm elections of ‘22 will still have positive impact and, at the same time, reveal that the results were a mixed bag. It’s been twenty years since the last time a first-term president didn’t lose a busload of congressional seats in midterm elections; but then that was 2002, post-9/11, and G.W. Bush had an approval rating in the 60s. This time, Democrats retained control of the Senate, (did/nearly did) retain control of the House, won a cluster of governorships and state legislatures, and went a long way to repudiating election deniers. The ballyhooed “red wave” turned into foam. Much of the media had accepted the pending red wave as fact and still made it sound like its extraordinary demise was somehow unmotivated, surprisingly non-historical. The polls, most of them, didn’t get it either. As Biden might say, here’s the deal.
By a solid majority, women are insistently angry about the loss of their reproductive rights. They organized quietly and voted consistently – adding a hefty margin for Democrats in many, many races. Young people, notorious for not voting in midterms, voted in unusual numbers in key states because – among other things – gun control, climate change, and student loans mean something to their lives. Independents said they were tired of the squabbling, chaos, and threats to democracy – and they voted accordingly, adding key points in many races. Overall, while inflation and the economy still sit at the top of voters’ worry list, other, more fundamental issues were kept in perspective by a majority of voters. In other words, these are extraordinary times and produced historically extraordinary results.
Still, nearly half the country remains unconvinced. A lot of people still think only Republicans can legitimately win elections. There are still many “angertainers” and “performative politicians” in office. In fact, 160+ election deniers were just elected. The union is not secure. As one headline put it, “Democrats didn’t win the midterms – they simply held the line.” The next two years need more energetic leadership, more intelligent focus by the Democratic party, and more participation by everybody else.
One favorite game of these fateful midterms is to spell out some takeaways. A fool’s challenge, no doubt, risking looking very foolish, but it could also be instructive, eighteen months from now.
Whatever the configuration of Congress, expect little or no significant legislation for the next two years. If the House is in Republican control, especially by a small margin, there’s likely to be a three-ring circus: leadership fights, crazed revenge-filled investigations, maybe even an impeachment or two. Hopefully Democrats will not only enjoy the show, but aggressively call out every significant (and senseless) thing Republicans say and occasionally do. The in-fighting will expose Republicans’ true positions – which should be implacably exploited.
Trump is at the beginning of a sunset (probably longish and slowish). Trump still controls the loyalty of his base – that’s tens of millions of Americans. He is not going away anytime soon. But the GOP dogs will be at his heels. DeSantis and others will be looking for opportunistic bites. The Murdoch media empire (Fox News, NY Post, Wall Street Journal) will not abandon Trump, but they will carefully meter any favors, and they too may bite occasionally. Also, Trump will potentially/probably be indicted next year, perhaps in multiple venues. He is aging, tiring, and demonstrably losing coherence. He will never again be at the top of his chaos and intimidation game. This will all make a difference over the next two years. For Democrats it creates a goal: the functional end of MAGA and especially the Big Lie. Remember the formula: Trump = Big Lie = MAGA = GOP, it’s a linked chain; break a link where one can. (Note: Sometimes the fall of a celebrity develops unexpectedly rapid momentum.)
Truth works at the margins –over time. Prior to these midterms, it was rumored (gaslighted) that Americans didn’t really care about things like democracy, fair voting, honesty. That turned out not to be true for at least a ragged but decisive majority in most parts of the country. Take that to heart – yet even more, it shows the effectiveness of persistent but fair and non-accusatory telling of the truth. The mandate: Sunset the Big Lie. Show that Jan. 6 is history we can learn from. Show that Democrats, Liberals, Progressives are not demons – they are brothers, sisters, family. Americans.
Lost in the Midterms: Ukraine Re-takes Kherson. Ukraine appears to be liberating Kherson, the largest city and key regional capitol formerly in Russian hands, the lynchpin of Russian positions along the Black Sea coast, and gateway to the Crimea. This has been a possibility for weeks; however, given the months of resolute expressions by Putin that Kherson would be held at all cost, a Russian evacuation seemed highly unlikely (and more than a bit suspect), at least not without an all-out fight in city streets. Now the Russians said they are leaving and it t looks like they are leaving. They really left without a fight. What happened? First: Kherson is on the west side of the wide and deep Dnipro River, separated from the rest of Donbas – it’s a location vulnerable to encirclement without an easy way to retreat. Second: Some of Russia’s most elite soldiers, and some their worst (the new draftees), roughly 20,000 in all, could be trapped in the city. Third: Ukraine captured Pavlivka last week, a transportation hub of the region and is in position to shut off major logistical supply to Kherson. Fourth: Winter is coming, not a good time to be cut off. Putin and his generals are (still) rational; their decision and cover-story is to withdraw and live to fight again in the spring. They will sit on the other side of the river, behind newly constructed fortifications and lob artillery shells into the city. For the Ukrainians this will be a major victory, both in terms of international PR and in military strategy. It will significantly help keep their allies in the fight. It is a big deal: much like defending Kyiv and retaking Kharkiv.
Saturday, November 5
[Midterms] Biden and Obama Roll Out for Midterms Finale – Biden hasn’t done much campaigning; Obama has done a ton of it in the last few weeks. Today in Philadelphia they worked together. It’s all orchestrated exposure, carefully preserving Biden’s presidential status and avoiding his relative unpopularity in certain locations. On the other hand, Obama has repeatedly demonstrated why he is a generational politician, drawing huge crowds and energizing Democrats wherever he goes. In some states, such as Pennsylvania and Georgia, it might make a difference of a few thousand votes – and this year that could be surprisingly important.
[World Series] Astros Do It in Six – Winning 4-1 over the Phillies to take game six and the World Championship, “America’s Most Hated Team” once again proved why they have been dominant for the past six years.
Sunday, November 6
[Midterms] Election Threats Increase Country-wide – Arizona leads with more than 140 “serious threats” to officials and poll workers. Most threats echo Trump’s complaints about voter fraud, augmented by statements like, “You will all be wired around the limbs and tied & dragged by a car.”
[Climate Change] UN COP27 Begins – Surveys show that most Americans have no idea what COP27 means (most haven’t heard of it either). This year delegates from 200 countries meet in Egypt to review, discuss, and make promises about the world climate crisis. The COP (Conference of Parties), in its 27th meeting, starts with state leaders making speeches about climate and by the end of the week, staffers frenetically work out actual plans and agreements. It’s easy to be cynical about this yearly event; countries rarely keep most of their promises. Nevertheless, it does provide a crude level of status and accountability for the world’s recognition that climate change MUST be addressed.
Monday, November 7
[Midterms] Trump Tosses Spanner into Midterm Works, Hints at Presidential Run – Perhaps as a sign that he’s going to determine what Republicans do next – whatever the midterms’ outcome – Trump heralded “a very big announcement” next Tuesday. You could hear Republican teeth grinding.
Tuesday, November 8
[Midterms] Democrats Make Historic Progress – The goal for Democrats was to make abortion and preservation of democracy pivotal factors in voters’ decisions. Contrary to expectations, that seems to have happened in many of the crucial elections. The typical media headlines emphasized that Democrats somehow managed to not be inundated by Republican victories (the super-hyped “red wave”). In fact, by day’s end Tuesday it appeared that Democrats would likely retain control of the Senate and even had a shot at retaining control of the House – an historic achievement in midterms for a party holding the presidency. It’s only happened twice before in modern times. Republicans – officials, candidates, and voters – were in shock. For weeks, right wing media of all stripes promised a plenitude of victories, especially for MAGA folk. It didn’t happen – especially for election deniers (. i.e., Big Liars) and Trump’s handpicked MAGA candidates. Of course, as has become customary because of deliberately inefficient mail-in ballot counting, most definitive results for close races will come in throughout Wednesday and beyond. Also, so far, no reports of violence or even many shrieks about voting fraud. This turned into an orderly election, which was almost as surprising as the results.
[Ukraine] Russia Admits Withdrawal from Kherson – Speaking for the Putin government (Putin doesn’t show up for bad news), military spokespeople announced complete withdrawal from the western side of the Dnipro River and the key city of Kherson, which the Russians took early in their attack on Ukraine. A lot of people, including Ukrainian military and officials, had difficulty believing it wasn’t some kind of trick. It turned out to be true, and by week’s end there are film clips of Ukrainian soldiers at the city center and residents dancing in the streets. There was some fighting in the city outskirts until Russian troops crossed to their new defensive position on the other side of the Dnipro – and then blew up the last bridge. Russian propaganda spun this as brilliant strategy; most of the world knew it was a massive defeat.
Wednesday, November 9
[Midterms] Control of Congress Unsettled – By midnight Wednesday it was still unknown which party would control the House and Senate, not officially at least. It remained likely the Democrats would keep the Senate (Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Georgia still uncalled). Over 50 House seats were too-close-to-call, especially in the west, but leaning toward Republicans achieving the 218 needed for control.
Some important midterm results: Florida is now a red state, in fact, DeSantis’s crushing win and authoritarian-style mastery of Florida’s politics immediately anointed him as the successor to Trump. This is not going down well with Trump. Democrats managed to screw-up New York politics, just holding onto the governorship and losing four key House seats. Beto O’Rourke (TX) and Stacey Abrams (GA) lost their gubernatorial bids, again. John Fetterman defeated Mehmet Oz in the Pennsylvania Senate race in something of a nail-biter. (This one really hurt Trump.) All five anti-abortion positions on ballots lost; California, Michigan, and Vermont okayed constitutional changes to create pro-abortion laws. MAGA and election denier candidates did not do well, in fact election denier secretary of state candidates in swing states all lost. The Georgia Senate contest between Warnock and Walker is going to a runoff election on Dec. 6. Democrats swept Michigan – all key offices and both houses of the legislature – for the first time in forty years. Overall, Democratic issues of abortion rights and defense of democracy were more decisive in the final moment in front of a ballot than the Republican fear-twins, inflation and crime.
[Coronavirus – China] China Locks-Down 5 Million People in Commerce Hub Guangzhou – This will mess up important computer and electronics manufacturing, including Apple’s. China’s zero-COVID policies are unpopular.
Thursday, November 10
[Climate Change] Unusual Late Season Hurricane Nicole Hits East Florida Coast – Belatedly noticed during the midterm fevers, Nicole was a punishing storm. Lives were lost, homes flooded and destroyed – mostly in Florida – a state still reeling from the effects of hurricane Ian.
[Economy] Inflation Rate Shows Signs of Easing – It’s tempting to over-read the indicators, especially for only a month of data, however the drop from 8.2% to 7.7% is big enough to create some optimism that it may continue. Pressure from the Fed’s interest rate increases, improving stocks of critical manufactured goods, and some stabilization in energy prices may combine to curb the corporate enthusiasm for raising prices. Wall Street appears to think so, as stocks skyrocketed Thursday and Friday.
[Student Loans] Federal Judge Blocks Entire Student Loan Forgiveness Program – Judge Mark Pittman, Federal District of North Texas, put the kibosh on the program as “one of the largest exercises of power without congressional authority in the history of the U.S.” In other words, the Biden program costs too much. This is not a legal argument and it has already been appealed. Meanwhile, the program remains frozen. There are several other similar legal actions underway. BTW, Judge Pittman is a Trump-Federalist appointee, showing a preference for sweeping anti-government arguments. As predicted, student loan relief is liable to be tied up in courts for a year or more, all the way up to the Supreme Court where the gang of six. . .
Friday, November 11
[Midterms] Kelly Wins Re-Election in Arizona; Senate 49-49 – Actually, Friday evening results showed it probable that Catherine Cortez Masto will win in Nevada, giving Democrats control of the Senate regardless of the Georgia run-off – which without Senate control at stake, will almost certainly go to Rev. Warnock (D-Ga), making the Senate 51-50. Meanwhile the House, once thought to be a lock for Republican control, is now down to an estimated 220 or 221 seats, creating an unruly majority of 2 or 3. That is, if the Democrats don’t continue the trend out west and wind up with 218 or more seats instead. Meanwhile, Republicans seem to have reached a near-consensus: It’s Trump’s fault. Usually, this conclusion results in nothing happening but this time there is a viable alternative – Ron DeSantis. The midterm losses seem to have profoundly rocked GOP equilibrium. [Update, Saturday: Cortez Masto wins in Nevada, Democrats retain control of the Senate. Runoff election in Georgia is now for 51st Senate seat.]
[Jan. 6 Investigation] Trump Sues House Committee over Subpoena – Trump claims “absolute testimonial immunity.” Some months from now this could wind up at the Supreme Court as a constitutional separation of powers issue. Even if the House is under Republican control, the DOJ can continue contesting this suit, HOWEVER without an actual committee to take testimony, the issue may become moot.
[Cryptocurrency] Crypto-Exchange RTX Files for Bankruptcy, Cryptocurrency Teeters – Books will be written about the scandal of RTX and founder Sam Bankman-Fried but for now, millions of crypto users are going to suffer big losses and cryptocurrency itself may collapse as a viable monetary medium.
[Social Media] Twitter Faces Bankruptcy – That didn’t take long. Gracelessly firing half the staff. Resignation of key executives. Total debacle of the “blue check” program (charging for status). Most major advertisers put a hold on their ads. Tens of thousands of subscribers jumped to competitive platforms such as Mastodon. Musk doesn’t get a honeymoon.
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
Most years, following midterm elections, Americans like to politically hibernate. This time, hopefully not so much. It’s not pedal-to-the-metal for a while, but it is a steady engagement that’s needed. Below the radar maybe, like this time before the midterms, below the polls but effective organization and communication between groups that clearly remember that anti-reproductive rights (and potentially worse) still rule the law of the land, that the Big Lie is still the horse-manure glue that holds Republicans together (stuck to Trump), and that totalitarian desires motivate many on the right. And, of course, Trump is still the leader of the MAGA cult. The midterms provided, if nothing else, proof of HOPE. A voting majority of American sensed that the threat to democracy is real, even more pressing than today’s inflation, and that hatred, lying, and demonization as a way of political life is WRONG. Thousands of battles, big and small, await in the 20 months to come. Fight those battles as best you can. Stay aware of what’s going on. Join with others, if so inclined. It’s not all “battles” though; best to work for improvements, encourage the positive – make things as better as you can. [End of pep-talk.]
Pinned Point: Until we seriously confront – and deal with – the media conundrum created by disinformation and the First Amendment (here’s looking at Fox News, Twitter et al.), the information chaos will get worse.
Quote of the Week
[N]one of the things that are still eating away at the foundations of American democracy — and preventing us from actually getting big hard things done — have gone away. I am talking about the way in which our primary system, gerrymandering, and social networks have coalesced to steadily poison our national dialogue, steadily polarize our society into political tribes, and steadily erode the twin pillars of our democracy: truth and trust.
Thomas Friedman, “America Dodged an Arrow,” The New York Times, 10/9/2022.
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