Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, November 27 through Friday, December 2, 2022 [Vol.4 No.20]
Rule of Law
The Week’s Most Notable
For those who may have thought the midterm elections would chasten Republicans, this week provided an apotheosis of that wishful thinking. From the fallout of Trump’s awkward private dinner at Mar-a-Lago that included two stentorian fascists, to the unicorn-sighting rarity of the conviction of the Oath Keepers’ leader for seditious conspiracy, it was a busy and high-profile week for American extremists. For those paying any kind of attention, an important question was raised: How significant is the apparent rise of authoritarian sentiment in the U.S.? Put another way, are we on the verge of turning into a fascist state? Really? The U.S. has had a streak of anti-democratic and authoritarian people running through the population well before its founding. Is this time different? Or is it more like the wave of crime and devastating inflation – a piece of reality exaggerated for political effect? It can be difficult to tell, which may at least partially explain some of the blasé attitudes even among progressives.
It seems like a majority of people with progressive beliefs will readily admit that political extremism (mostly right-wing) is currently prominent, even unsettling; but life goes on, not so much in denial of the danger, but a willingness to ignore it. This might be understandable. There is an element of the circus in the headliners of contemporary neo-fascism – Elon Musk, Marjorie Taylor Greene, The My Pillow Guy, Trump; anyone else? That element of entertainment-craziness makes it easier for many to dismiss or downplay it.
It’s true, the rantings and antics of many, if not all, the right-wing anti- (take your pick: semitic, democratic, government, judicial, human rights) seems so out-there, even beyond the fringe. EXCEPT, there is Trump, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and now dozens of elected officials who have or soon will wield government power. Among other things, they appoint religious authoritarians to high courts, block voting and vote counting, and can martial well-armed men to key-points of intimidation. Americans elected these folks and presumably endorse most of their agenda. That was also highlighted by the midterm elections.
Saturday, November 27
[Ukraine] Winter Has Come to Ukraine – Significant snow in Kyiv, country-wide sub-freezing temperatures, combined with rolling electrical blackouts forced by Russian destruction of the utility infrastructure provided the first taste of this winter’s potential misery. It will be bad at least temporarily for many people, but the U.S. just committed $53 million toward repair of the electrical systems and the EU is organizing a task force specializing in utility repair. Accurate reporting on the actual condition of the populace will be intermittent, as stories of a military “winter offensive” (by either Ukraine or Russia) will require a healthy skepticism.
[Oil Economy] Biden Administration OK’s Pumping Venezuelan Oil by Chevron – Nothing like an oil price war to motivate strange geo-political bedfellows. That the U.S. would snuggle up to a South American dictatorship (especially one bogusly labelled socialist) is not surprising. Environmentalists cringe, but of course it’s the economy, not the environment, stupid.
[Black Friday] Online Sales Gangbuster, In-Store Not So Much – “Black Friday,” the make-or-break retail sales day (week, month) demonstrated that the U.S. consumer is motivated to spend – a record $9 billion in sales online, but thanks to pandemic memories, still some reticence about shopping among an actual crowd. Retail store sales were down 2-4% from last year. For the entire “discount season” from the week of Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, sales exceeded $35 billion. In short, the consumer economy is healthy, if not exuberant.
Sunday, November 28
[Coronavirus] Fauci: COVID Pandemic, Better, Not Over – It might be a classic swan-song for a public health servant, as Dr. Anthony Fauci prepares to leave his government job after 40 years. When COVID-19 is still killing 300-400 people a day it certainly isn’t over, no matter what Biden or right-wing pundits say, but most people act as if they believe them. Fauci has repeatedly had to grapple with politically manipulated medical information – a fitfully successful battle. He wants to go home and write a book. Republicans-Trump-Fox News on the other hand want him to go to hell through a House investigation next year. It will not be congressional spectacle at its finest.
[Coronavirus] Chinese COVID Protests Continue, Government Waffles – The official policy is still “zero-COVID,” but after several days of demonstrations with people yelling “We don’t want masks; we want freedom” and official promises to “review policy,” China is beginning to sound like the U.S. However, unlike the U.S., protests of any kind are only tolerated if they provide a “safety valve” of sorts for official policy or they represent a political faction powerful enough to get limited public visibility. It’s unclear which this is; but affecting a few thousand people and a handful of cities, they are clearly limited in scope.
Monday, November 29
[2022 Election] Cochise County AZ Refuses to Certify Votes – All other 14 Arizona counties have certified their votes, specifically in the gubernatorial election. Cochise County doesn’t have a problem with its own votes, but it believes the count in Maricopa County is fake, so they’re protesting. Legally ridiculous, of course. Ironically, if they could get away with it, they would disenfranchise their own, mostly Republican, voters. [Update: By week’s end a judge ordered the completion of certification, and the county complied. They got the desired media coverage though, and demonstrated that for many Republicans only “trusted” vote counts are truly legitimate.]
[Hawaii] Mauna Loa Erupts After 38 Years of Relative Tranquility – Literally earth-shaking news, but of little current impact on non-scientific people.
Tuesday, November 30
[Jan. 6 Trials] Jury Convicts Two Oath Keepers Leaders – As rare as hens’ teeth, seditious conspiracy was created to deal with the after-effects of the Civil War, and very, very seldomly used since. It was considered a major risk by the DOJ to try Stewart Rhodes, leader of the Oath Keepers, the extreme right-wing militia group, and Kelly Meggs, a chapter leader, for their part in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Their conviction is a major achievement and the precedent should not be underestimated. Sentences are pending for them and three other defendants with lesser charges; sentences in all cases could run in to decades.
[Ukraine] U.S Pledges $53 Million to Repair Electrical Grid – The pledge was designed to meet the current emergency caused by Russian drone and missile attacks and to provide incentive for EU and NATO countries to finish tailoring their own Ukraine utility repair plans.
[Georgia Grand Jury] South Carolina Supreme Court Orders Mark Meadows to Testify in Georgia Case – Meadows, like several others, has been attempting to duck this election tampering investigation. He went to South Carolina because he lives there; but the state’s supreme court said, in effect, rubbish (“manifestly without merit”). The Fulton County DA is expected to wrap up the investigation early next year; indictments may (probably will) follow.
Wednesday, December 1
[House] House Democrats Choose Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) as New Minority Leader – He becomes the first Black leader of the minority (or majority) in either congressional chamber. At age 52, he also marks a generational shift, although it is arguable that he has not fully kept pace with the many even younger, more progressive House Democrats. He’s an avowed centrist and amenable to working with Republicans.
[House] House Ways and Means Committee Gets Trump Tax Returns – Following a Supreme Court decision to stay uninvolved, six years of Trump tax returns are now in the hands of a congressional committee; it only took four years for this to happen. It will be some time before the committee reviews the documents, and given the Republican takeover of the House, who knows how long it will be before the public gets a look – much less an analysis.
[Economy] Fed Spots Signs of Economic Improvement – Slower Rate Hikes Ahead? – Like COVID, inflation isn’t nearly gone and the economy hasn’t fully recovered; but gas prices are heading down, food prices are stabilizing, and even the Fed is making noises about not needing to continue the precipitous rise in interest rates. The stock market reacted jubilantly.
Thursday, December 2
[Mar-a-Lago Documents] 11th Circuit Appeals Court Shuts Down Special Master – The sharply worded ruling by a panel of three Republican judges (two from Trump and the Chief Justice of that Court) “evacuated” the previous ruling by Judge Aileen Cannon that installed a special master to review documents stolen and removed by Trump to Mar-a-Lago. Evacuated here means not only was Judge Cannon’s ruling wrong – it no longer exists, wiped clean from the books so to speak. This is a mild PR disaster for Trump and probably a career killer for Judge Cannon. However, in terms of the DOJ investigation, it’s likely not to be very significant. The DOJ already got back the 103 most critical (super-secret) documents. The special master ploy and Judge Cannon’s supine complicity with Trump (one man above the law) will make an important legal footnote to the case. Next up: Trump appeals, unlikely and anyway won’t succeed. Indictment in early 2023, more likely.
[Rail Strike] Congress Puts the Kibosh on Potential Rail Strike – Citing the health of the national economy, Biden and mostly Republicans, first in the House and then in the Senate, voted to increase worker pay but quash the rail union’s’ bid to get sick leave. This won’t help Biden’s pro-union cred, but it will help keep him on the right side of economic recovery.
[Primaries] Biden Officially Pushes for South Carolina to be First Democratic Primary – Unlike Iowa, the state has a true mix of races. Iowa has been a mess, politically and logistically, for years. South Carolina, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada are likely to be approved.
[Student Loans] Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Case Against Student Loan Forgiveness – This probably is not good news for students (or Biden). The court will begin hearings in February, meanwhile the lower court’s injunction against the program stands at least until June. The Supremes’ conservative block is not likely to rule in favor of students.
[France – U.S.] Biden and Macron Meet Tête-à-tête at the White House – All smiles and cordial agreement but plenty of issues percolating underneath, namely the Ukraine War, Russian/Putin relations, energy supplies – especially protectionist trade policies in the Inflation Reduction Act, and other economic matters. A massive state dinner was held, and believe it or not, it was the first of the Biden administration.
Friday, December 3
[Coronavirus – China] Zero-COVID Related Protests Continue – There is some indication, red flags for the government, that the protests are, or could become, a proxy for more fundamental opposition. Demonstrations in Shanghai and Shenzhen have provoked active crackdowns and censorship, while at the same time apparently winning a few concessions to relax COVID-related restrictions. Because of debt, housing shortages, and the instability of the world market, China’s economy is in a relatively precarious position. President Xi has to play the zero-COVID policy, his policy, carefully.
[Ukraine War] G7 and Australia Agree to Russian Oil Price Cap – There are signs that the sanctions against Russia are beginning to have an effect. Weaknesses in its economy and social fabric are beginning to worsen conditions for average Russians. Or so the G7 believes; and with that comes resolve. Publicly and privately G7 leaders agree that Putin must be defeated, with an almost inevitable corollary that he is no longer in power. This is not going to happen soon – it will be a long miserable winter, at least. To that end they agreed to cap the price of Russian oil at $60 a barrel. This, along with an oil embargo by the EU, is supposed to limit the profitability that funds Putin’s war.
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
Seriously, Marjorie Taylor Greene: Two years ago, she was stripped from holding any House committee position. Next year she may well be the most influential, if not powerful, committee member. She is becoming unofficial leader of the Freedom Caucus of Republicans that will repeatedly hold the House and Speaker McCarthy hostage. She got there under Trump’s aegis, and her dogged ability to trash – effectively – anybody and anything. Like Trump, she scares people. She is moving from the fringe to the fabric of her party. Wildfires in California started by a Rothschild satellite laser beam, be damned. Her list of mind-bending lies and misrepresentations is so long that she often gets attention just for the sheer volume and outrageousness. The thing is, she is concentrated outrageousness; it’s tempting to say she’s gifted at it. Remindful of Trump, she inspires awe at her very awfulness. Her constituents have elected her twice, and it’s guaranteed it wasn’t for her adherence to the truth. In fact, she is the epitome of “owning the libs,” a special category of word-spinner, who, like the fool in the king’s court, is understood to be performative but with a bite. As a legislator, however, her abrasive repartee also pisses-off fellow legislators, including Republicans. Nothing she proposes will even remotely smell like potential law, and her actions will be distraction for almost everybody. What does this add up to? In the House, conflict galore – with her psychologically trying to square her q-anonish circle. Why would she do that? Because she really wants higher office. She has already huddled with Trump about running as his VP candidate. This did not go down well with anyone, and of course, the media will lap it up.
Twitter ultra-twaddle: The quicker Twitter goes under the better. It’s easy to feel that way, if you don’t regularly use the service. Elon Musk is taking Twitter politically as far to the right as fast as he can, which encompasses re-instating Trump, COVID misinformation, a digital megaphone for right-wing conspiracy theories, and authorizing a slew of fascist/authoritarian personalities. Musk thinks this is what the U.S./world needs – more hatred, propaganda, and lethal medical advice.
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
It is not normal to release a campaign ad, as DeSantis did last month, that explicitly identifies you as someone created and commanded by God to pursue the precise political agenda that you’re pursuing. Better words for that include “messianic,” “megalomaniacal” and “delusional.”
Frank Bruni, “DeSantis Is an Optical Illusion,” The New York Times, 12/1/2022.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are at least casually familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search.]