Weekly Journal #47 June 6 – 12, 2020

 Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal

The Week of Saturday, June 6 through Friday, June 12, 2020 [#47]

“monumental change”

The Week’s Most Notable

It’s a bit peculiar or possibly ironic that much of the week’s brouhaha concerned an unfortunate phrase: Defund the Police. Trump and conservatives took it at face value – get rid of police entirely. Centrist Democrats like Biden also disavowed the phrase, saying that their intent was to transform or reform the police but not to get rid of police departments entirely. Perhaps the majority opinion of protesters could be summarized with a tweak: Reimagine the Police. Of course, a more radical segment of the protesters said “No, no, no, we mean no police.” That this constituted an open debate at all is remarkable and a testament to how rapidly public opinion shifted toward doing something about police violence and racism. By the end of the week there were numerous news stories covering how cities were reforming their police in some way or another. However, putting the good news in perspective also underscores how contentious and difficult it will be to alter the culture, practice, and structure of the more than 18,000 police jurisdictions in the U.S. Systemic reform, especially with any hope of federal leadership, will at best have to wait until after the election.

Even the British got into the act as people in Bristol rolled a statue of a local slave trader into the Avon River. (British right-wingers fished it out a day later, but it’s not going back up.) Although the furor created by the George Floyd murder focused on police violence and racism, it didn’t take more than a week to set off repercussions in the general culture. In particular, a movement developed to finish removing the public monuments (statues, plaques, flags, memorials) lionizing the Confederacy, such as the statue of Gen. Robert E Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. (A court fight over this particular monument is already underway.) Another expression of the movement calls for the renaming of military bases, mostly in the South, such as Fort Bragg, named for a particularly inept Confederate general. However, Trump tweeted “[M]y administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations…” Most of these monuments were installed for propaganda value during the Jim Crow era.

Saturday, June 6

[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 1,988,544; Deaths – 112,096

[Racism – Protest] A Weekend of Protests – Unlike the preceding week when police frequently responded to protests by trying to enforce location and curfew rules with aggressive tactics, this weekend the police seemed to back off. There were dozens of peaceful protests in cities such as Washington DC, New York, and Seattle, in some cases drawing tens of thousands of protesters.

Sunday, June 7

[Racism – Protest] Colin Powell Joins Other Military Luminaries in Denouncing Trump – In company with Generals Mattis, McMaster, Petraeus, and Clark, the former Secretary of State and Chair of the Joint Chiefs said that Trump is a chronic liar who has “drifted away” from the Constitution; Powell added that he will vote for Biden.

Monday, June 8

[Coronavirus] Studies Show That Lockdowns Prevented 60 Million U.S. COVID-19 infections – Those 60 million could have translated into as many as 1.2 million deaths. Studies repeatedly show that prompt and strict lockdowns have a major impact on the ability to control the spread of the virus. This week, New Zealand announced that it had no more active cases – it was one of the first and most disciplined of countries in controlling COVID-19.

[Economy] U.S. Officially Enters Recession – Normally, a recession is triggered by two consecutive quarters of economic contraction; this time The National Bureau of Economic Research Business Cycle Dating Committee considers the downturn so severe that a recession was called with less than even one quarter of data.

[Racism – Protest] House Democrats Announce Police Reform Bill – In what must be record time, the Justice in Policing Act was prepared in rough form and includes provisions banning chokeholds and no knock warrants in drug investigations. It’s still a long way from polishing and approval by the House, much less passing the GOP-controlled Senate. Nevertheless, there is a significant amount of momentum.

Tuesday, June 9

[Racism – Protest] George Floyd Buried in Houston – His brother said, “He’s going to change the world.” He just might, if his brothers and sisters in American minorities can stay focused through the November election.

[Coronavirus] Without Evidence, Trump Labels Injured Protester ANTIFA – The 75-year-old victim of police assault in Buffalo, NY memorably seen in a graphic recording has been made a target of a Trump/Fox News/right-wing smear.  All the while, police and FBI continue to say that there is no evidence of a significant ANTIFA presence in the protests.

[Election-2020] Georgia Primary Debacle – Faulty voting machines, closed precincts, insufficient staff, a lack of paper ballots – and of course mis-handled COVID-19 mitigation – resulted in people waiting in lines for up to eight hours. All of this was predicted and is a direct consequence of a deliberate policy by the Georgia Secretary of State and the Governor to limit voting, especially in areas with large black populations. The question now being asked: Can this be fixed before the November election?

Wednesday, June 10

[Coronavirus] Coronavirus U.S. Milestones:  2,000,000 Cases, 113,000 Deaths

[Michael Flynn-Trial] Former Federal Judge Labels DOJ Flynn Dismissal “A Gross Abuse” – In an 82-page brief, former New York judge John Gleeson called the Justice Department’s attempt to undo the conviction, “corrupt, politically motivated dismissals,” and “a gross abuse of prosecutorial power.” The presiding judge in Flynn’s case, Emmett G Sullivan, had asked for Gleeson’s advice. Various elements of the case are now before a Court of Appeals. The Gleeson brief has no legal standing there, which doesn’t necessarily mean it will have no influence.

[Racism – Protest] Protesters Create CHAZ in Seattle – About a six-block area near downtown Seattle has been occupied by Black Lives Matter protesters, which they have dubbed the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. It contains a Seattle police precinct office and numerous businesses, but for the time being the police have withdrawn from the area. Trump/Fox News/right-wing immediately went into hyper hype, proclaiming this “a sovereign ANTIFA territory” that should be immediately obliterated. Trump tweeted a threat to send in the Army. The mayor of Seattle requested Trump to stay in his bunker. Count this as a distraction all the way around.

Thursday, June 11

[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 1.5 million – Down from last week but still three times “normal.”

[Economy] U.S. Stock Market Plunges – After reaching highs earlier in the week – NASDAQ reached 10,000 for the first time – reality seems to have snuck into brokers’ thinking. The Dow dropped 1,836 points (7%) and NASDAQ dropped by 5%. The market has been buffered by almost $7 trillion provided in various forms by the Federal Reserve. However, bad news in the form of anything happening more than three months out and especially involving COVID-19 makes the market skittish. It did some recovery on Friday.

[Election-2020] Trump Planning Tulsa Rally, Requires No-Sue Waiver – Tulsa is a city where the coronavirus is making a comeback, but Trump plans on filling a 50,000-seat auditorium, provided they sign a waiver and agree “not to sue the campaign or the venue if they contact COVID-19.” The rally was planned for June 19, the day Blacks celebrate their emancipation during the Civil War (“Juneteenth”). Whether this was a faux pas by White House staff or a deliberate poke in the black eye, after protests, Trump moved the rally date to June 20.

[Racism – Protest] Gen. Milley Apologizes for Presence at Trump Photo-Op – The Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was recorded in his uniform fatigues participating in an event where no military man should have been involved. The apology is welcome but it does not explain his massive lapse in judgment. Expect House investigation.

Friday, June 12

[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 2,116,922; Deaths – 116,825

[Healthcare] Trump Administration Finalizes Rollback of Transgender Healthcare Protections – Under the cover of a three-way crisis, new Health and Human Services rules will no longer provide healthcare protection for transgender people under the Affordable Care Act. This will be most significant when employers and others refuse service on religious grounds. Legal challenges will follow immediately.

[Racism – Protest] Majority of Americans Support Changes to Policing – Over the past week, one of the things that may have shaken the political establishment the most are polls consistently showing 70% or more of Americans supporting the goals of Black Lives Matter and/or police reforms. The latest poll by Reuters/Ipsos showed that 92% backed making federal police wear body cameras and 82% supported a ban on chokeholds. Unfortunately, the good news about public opinion was muddied by the sudden appearance of the “Defund the Police” controversy. In a sense this meme came out of a sincere desire to go beyond just complaining about police behavior – to move protest into policy. However, from the beginning it wasn’t clear if it meant “cut the police budget” or “do away with the police entirely.” Predictably Trump and his allies jumped into the confusion by claiming protesters (and by extension liberals, socialists, and other thugs) want to “completely abolish” police forces. Most likely the controversy will have little effect for the simple reason that “defund the police” is ambiguous.

Coronavirus (Crisis) Notes

By the end of the week, it was becoming clear that the COVID-19 virus is making a comeback in at least in half the states. The worst examples – the states with the most new cases – are predictably those where mitigation was never mandated or that prematurely reopened: Arizona, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and the exception, California. Nationwide the number of new cases is clearly plateaued above 20,000 per day. Keep in mind that within two weeks many of these new cases will convert to hospitalizations and within two weeks of that there will also be a spike in deaths. Latest estimates put the total number of deaths by July 4 somewhere around 135,000. Four months after the first COVID-19 cases, the U.S. still has the worst record, by far, of any country in the world. That fact continues to prove the incompetence of our response.

Economy (Crisis) Notes

We are not alone. There is a strong tendency in the U.S. to forget there is a world economy, of which we are still very much a part. This week the World Bank revised its estimates, now saying that this will be the deepest recession in 80 years with a contraction in worldwide output of 5.2% in 2020. The recession may push 70 to 100 million people into poverty.

What is unemployment in the U.S.? We see a lot of figures, which unfortunately the media tends to confuse. The one commonly used is an “unemployment rate” currently at 13.3%. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides this measurement called U3 (from a series U1 through U6). It means that 13.3% of the civilian labor force (158,227,000) = 21,000,000 unemployed. However, the BLS announced that for several months it had not been including laid off and furloughed employees as unemployed, which it should have done. This brings U3 up to 17.1% = 27,000,000. (Most economists prefer to use U6, which includes people not currently looking for work. That figure is 22.1% = 33,530,000.) These are figures not seen since the Great Depression.

Unemployment rate figures often get confused with reports on unemployment insurance; typically, this is the number of new applications for unemployment compensation a week (June 11, 1.5 million), or the total number of people currently receiving unemployment compensation (20.9 million). More than 44 million people have applied for unemployment benefits during the pandemic — about 29% of the workforce.

Racism Protest (Crisis) Notes               

The stunning speed of opinion change. It very much feels like the country was primed to jump into the Black Lives Matter movement. No better example would be the many brand-name corporations that came out with sympathetic advertising within a week of the George Floyd killing. The polls, to the surprise of many, continue to show extraordinary support for both the protesters and their positions on reforming the police. Any American poll above 70% (and there has been more than one) is a ringing endorsement for any issue. Then there is the protests themselves, which continue on a daily basis. Cumulative figures for participants are not officially available but are in the millions. Within less than three weeks this has become the largest political-cultural protest since the antiwar movement of the late 60s.

Other than being there yourself, the most powerful witness to a crime is an audio-video recording that makes a self-contained narrative. In fact, such a recording could easily be more effective than being there. That was the decisive power of the 17-minute recording of George Floyd’s death. It brought home like no other recording before it the routine brutality and moral numbness of police violence against minorities. Scarcely a week later the sights and sounds of the military clearing Lafayette Park of peaceful protesters to provide the president with his biblical-epic photo-op cut through the lies of the Attorney General and made real for millions what despotism on U.S. soil looks like. That same week in Buffalo a video of police shoving a 75-year-old man, hearing his head smack the ground, and seeing blood run out from his ears – was powerful confirmatory evidence. Is there any doubt that in the coming months there will be more such evocative recordings?

Election Notes

It’s argued that Trump’s dropping poll numbers and signs of crumbling support for right wing positions, especially on race, will lead to complacency among Democrats. It can also be argued that far too many commentators still have their “political fact-base” in 2016. Most of the evidence from recent primary and special elections is that Democrats are anything but complacent. Perhaps the right motivator for Democrats is not to warn about complacency but to call for a landslide election.

Quote of the Week

“There can be little doubt that the Trump administration is using the ‘outsider’ ploy much as segregationists did in the 1960s, to justify extreme measures against all of the protesters under that guise. As then, tear gas and rubber bullets don’t distinguish between natives and visitors.”

Thomas C. Holt, African-American History Professor, University of Chicago, quoted in “The Long History of the ‘Outside Agitator’”, The New York Times, 6/8/2020


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