IUY Weekly Journal – #49 June 20 – 26, 2020

Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal

The Week of Saturday, June 20 through Friday, June 26, 2020 [#49]

“Coronavirus Surge”

The Week’s Most Notable

Reality stalks Trump and the GOP. The surging COVID-19 pandemic regained domination over the news of the week. (And a bewildering jam-packed week of news it was.) Instead of going away as Trump suggested at his Tulsa rally, new cases in states such as Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California reached levels above previous records. In fact, it appears that several states might see 5,000 to 10,000 new cases a day, which will translate into hundreds of hospitalizations and scores of deaths – per day, per state. By midweek doctors in Texas were predicting that Houston could have the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the world, eclipsing the terrible records set in New York City. Meanwhile, Trump, most of the GOP, and the right-wing media continued to deny the significance of the surge and reiterated their abhorrence of using facemasks, social distancing, and testing. This time, however, the people being affected are mainly in the red-state South, Trump’s people. Already several southern governors are rolling back their state’s “reopening” and it is possible selective lockdowns may be required. The reality of the medical situation demands dramatic countermeasures, the political situation for the GOP demands denial to the level of delusion. The next week or two are going to be brutal as new hospitalizations and deaths add to the rising numbers and clash with Trump’s insistence the crisis is over.

Saturday, June 20

[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 2,333,337; Deaths – 123,994

[Elections 2020] Trump Tulsa Rally Tanks – Trump spoke of millions wanting to attend. The campaign planned for about 100,000 inside and outside the arena. The arena could hold more than 19,000 – closely packed, chanting, potential coronavirus victims. (Some of Trump’s advance team and Secret Service detail have already tested positive.) It was to be the breakout rally, the re-launch of his campaign. Approximately 6,200 attended and the visual provided was a sea of empty blue seats, which became the iconic representation of one of the worst political event flops on record. Like the Bible incident in D.C., this was one for the history books if not for lasting real-world impact.

[Justice Department] SDNY Saga Stumbles On – Having failed to acquire a resignation from Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Atty. Gen. Barr was forced to go to Trump and have him directly fire Berman (although in true Trumpian fashion, Trump later denied any involvement). So Berman was out, but his obstinacy had a point; without a resignation Barr could not appoint a temporary replacement. Instead Deputy District Attorney Audrey Strauss took over the job. She is not a Trump loyalist and will likely hold the job until the Senate confirms a permanent SDNY Attorney. (Unlikely to happen before the election.) This mostly botched “coup” opened the Pandora’s Box on Barr’s interferences in cases related to the president, which is now the subject of House investigation and is attracting a trove of journalistic revelations.

[Trump – Book] Judge Rules Bolton Book Publishing May Proceed – The judge said, “the horse is already out of the barn,” as the book was distributed to thousands in the previous week and most of its contents thoroughly picked out and placed before the public. However, by the judge’s ruling it is possible Bolton may be denied sales and royalty money for having “gambled with the national security of the United States.” Most reviews said it was a poorly written book; but it contained useful cross-references, and nuggets of factoid material such as Trump imploring the Chinese to help with his reelection by purchasing more American farm goods.

[Racism – Protest] Shooting in Seattle’s CHAZ Spells End of Autonomous Zone – The shooting resulted in one dead and one injured and brought the police into the investigation. [Update: Several days later the need for police presence resulted in the mayor’s use of the incident to begin clearing the occupied six block zone. This will end a colorful right-wing media talking point within a week to 10 days.]

Sunday, June 21

[Coronavirus] WHO Records Biggest One-Day Coronavirus Increase – Following a worldwide pattern for acceleration of COVID-19 infection, a record 183,000 new cases were reported. In the U.S., where Trump insisted the pandemic will ease, 22 states recorded their highest level ever of new cases.

[Coronavirus – Economy] Keynes Would Be Proud, Federal Crisis Relief Worked – Two studies by Columbia University and the University of Chicago show that the injection of more than $1 trillion in direct aid to consumers cushioned the economic onslaught and prevented a sudden steep rise in poverty. “Right now, the safety net is doing what it’s supposed to do for most families — helping them secure a minimally decent life,” said Zachary Parolin, a member of the Columbia University team.

Monday, June 22

[Coronavirus] The “Slow the testing down, please” Controversy – Trump’s call for reduced testing, more or less officially, rests on statements he made over the weekend: “So, instead of 25 million tests, let’s say we did 10 million tests. We look like we were doing much better because we have far fewer cases. You understand that.” Apparently, quite a few in the White House and GOP believe (their) people can’t figure out that not knowing how many cases (no testing) doesn’t mean there are no cases.

[Immigration] Trump Temporarily Suspends H-1B Visas – Angering a wide range of industries, but most especially tech and electronics, the new restrictions primarily affect the use of highly skilled foreign engineers. This is one of the many recent moves by the Trump administration that appear to fulfill promises to his base while pissing-off large and/or influential groups.

Tuesday, June 23

[Elections 2020] Primary Elections:  – Although several elections were held on Tuesday, most results will not be completed for up to a week. [Update: In NYC, AOC reelected in the 14th District (73% – 20%); progressive Jamaal Bowman elected in the 16th (62% – 35%), replacing 16 term Eliot Engle.]

[Federal Judiciary] Republicans Celebrate 200 Lifetime Federal Judge Confirmations – Virtually all of the 334 confirmations to the federal bench have been conservative to ultraconservative. The Senate GOP under Mitch McConnell has used its majority to pack all of the open federal appeals court positions in the country. Non-partisanship was the anti-selection criteria, along with ignoring American Bar Association recommendations. This cohort of judges will haunt American law for decades, not necessarily just because of overt conservative bias but because much of it will be applied incompetently.

Wednesday, June 24

[Racism – Protest] Rayshard Brooks Funeral – Two weeks after his shooting by a police officer, the service for Brooks was modest and low-key. Held in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. used to preach, the Rev. Raphael Warnock eulogized, “Rayshard Brooks is the latest high-profile casualty in the struggle for justice and a battle for the soul of America. This is about him, but it is so much bigger than him.”

[Coronavirus] EU Will Block Entry by Americans – Owing to the high COVID-19 rates in the U.S., particularly the most recent surge in southern states, the U.S. will join Brazil and Russia on the list of countries whose travelers will be denied entrance to Europe. This will not be a Trump talking point.

[DOJ – Barr]  House Testimony: Barr Exerted Political Pressure – The House Judiciary Committee heard from Aaron Zelensky, Assistant U.S. Attorney, formerly with the Mueller investigation, who testified that during the Roger Stone trial he experienced “heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to give Stone a break by requesting a lighter sentence.” Similarly, former Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer said, “Barr poses the greatest threat in my lifetime to our rule of law.” The day of testimony included John Elias, DOJ antitrust official, and former U.S. Atty. Gen. Michael B. Mukasey. The running theme: Atty. Gen. Barr is corrupting the DOJ. The testimony prompted calls for Barr’s impeachment, which ranking Democrats Jerry Nadler and Nancy Pelosi dismissed.

[Courts – Flynn] Appeals Court Rules Flynn’s Case Must Be Dismissed – In a 2-1 decision, the court ruled that U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan does not have the authority to examine the Justice Department’s dismissal of charges. The ruling is a preview of Trump-era judging. The case is now likely to be taken up by the entire D. C. Circuit Appeals Court (en banc), a process that usually requires months. (And after that, the Supreme Court.)

Thursday, June 25

[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 1.5 million – Although continuing to drop, slightly, the number of unemployment claims remains historically high, this being the 14th straight week with claims above 1 million. Total claims dropped below 20 million. These figures are in the category of “the boulder on top of the economy lost a little weight, but it’s still crushing.”

[Coronavirus] Texas Pauses Reopening – Gov. Greg Abbott (R), one of the staunchest supporters of Trump’s coronavirus denial, announced that hospitalizations have tripled since Memorial Day and therefore he was pausing the state’ s reopening program. Nationwide, coronavirus cases are up 30% this month. [Update: On Friday, Texas and Florida began re-imposing lockdown measures.]

[Supreme Court] Asylum-Seekers Can’t Appeal in Federal Courts – The 7-2 ruling held that rights of habeas corpus and due process do not apply to those whose asylum applications have been rejected, opening the path for immediate deportation. Given that recent Trump administration guidelines make it very difficult to achieve asylum status, very few asylum-seekers will remain in the U.S.

[Racism – Legislation] House Passes the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” Unlike the token measures in a White House edict and the GOP Senate bill, the House bill  bans chokeholds, prohibits most no knock warrants, creates a national database of officer misconduct, and most importantly abolishes the “qualified immunity doctrine” that protects police officers from lawsuits. Is this the harbinger of the sweeping reforms promised in response to the massive protests? McConnell has already signaled the bill will not be considered in the Senate. The Democrats announced this bill would go to the top of the pile labeled “Pass as soon as GOP loses Senate majority.”

[Coronavirus – Economy] GAO: $1.4 Billion in Stimulus Checks Sent to 1.1 Million Dead People – What is sure to be a classic right-wing talking point, it may be more significant when used to deny another round of direct relief payments.

[Elections – 2020] Polls Converge on Bad News for Trump – Even five months from the election and their  reputation  being what it is, this week’s polls are uniformly Trump toxic; for example, NYTimes/Siena found  Biden leads Trump in six battleground states (double digits in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin; 6-9 points in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina). In general, polls show a preference on the part of voters for fixing the coronavirus crisis before addressing economic issues, and support for significant changes in U.S. policing involving race.

[Supreme Court] Trump Administration Files Brief to End ACA – Filing on behalf of California v Texas, the U.S. Solicitor Gen. opened a new page in the ongoing book of attacks on the Affordable Care Act by the GOP and the DOJ. The brief reiterates that Congress took away the “individual mandate” (a principal means of funding the ACA). Then, arguing that requiring an unfunded participation is unconstitutional, the entire act should be nullified. If successful, 130 million Americans will lose coverage due to pre-existing conditions and 23 million will lose health insurance entirely. In the middle of the coronavirus crisis and the growing popularity of the ACA this new attack seems . . . crazy. But this is what Trump and the GOP have promised their base – maybe it’s just PR with no chance the Supreme Court will actually hear it (before the November elections). It does provide the Democrats with some powerful talking points.

Friday, June 26

[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 2,552,956; Deaths – 127,640

[Coronavirus] Coronavirus Alarm Bells Across the South, 40,000 New Cases Nationwide – Reaching new highs, eclipsing the March-April figures, the dramatic rise in COVID-19 infections and in some locations, notably Houston, hospitalizations beginning to overwhelm the medical system, more than 30 states are reporting a surge in pandemic activity. It should be emphasized this southern outbreak is potentially worse than the initial bout of COVID-19, and because of political resistance will be much more difficult to mitigate.

[Coronavirus – Travel] American Airlines to Resume Booking Full Flights – In an instructive conjunction of economic imperative with medical consequences, American Airlines joins United and Spirit in bowing to the necessity of full planes if they are ever to have an economic recovery. At the same time, it depends on people – not flying sick and using a mask – to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks that lead to crippling lawsuits.

[Coronavirus – Immigration] District Judge Orders ICE Must Release Detained Children – Held for more than 20 days, 124 children with 11 confirmed coronavirus cases, the judge suggested releasing them to their parents (who were also detained). The White House said the judge “was part of a group of activist judges who have imposed their own vision in the place of duly enacted laws.”

[Government] House Passes Bill to Grant D. C. Statehood – A similar bill was debated 25 years ago; the principal issues are essentially unchanged: D.C. has 700,000 residents who pay the highest tax rate in the country but have no vote in either House or Senate (taxation without representation). The political reality (not actually a counterargument) is that Republicans will oppose until doomsday the creation of a 51st state and two additional likely Democratic senators. This bill will join the pile labeled “Pass as soon as GOP loses Senate majority.” (The filibuster would also probably have to go.)

[Supreme Court] Supreme Court Rejects Emergency Request Allowing All Texans to Vote by Mail – Although no opinion was supplied, Justice Sotomayor indicated there was not enough time to consider weighty changes to rulings on the 26th Amendment. She suggested the issue of voting by mail be returned to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, as the most conservative such court in the U.S., it is unlikely that an appeal would be handled quickly, or with an outcome favorable to voting by mail. Texas will remain a mixed (mail) bag for this election.

[Coronavirus] Coronavirus Task Force Briefing – Pence Claims “We are opening up safely and responsibly.” – During the first briefing in two months, in a classic demonstration of spin, “Bagdad Bob” Pence danced the administration’s line “We slowed the spread, we flattened the curve, we saved lives.” As expected, he failed to endorse the use of masks. This on the day of over 40,000 new COVID-19 cases, the highest ever – with the background of 127,000 deaths. Fauci had to follow Pence with a factual-falsehood pooper scooper, pleading for social distancing and mask wearing.

[Foreign Relations – Russia] Intel Report: Russia Paid Militants to Kill U.S. Troops in Afghanistan – The report was given to the White House in March and has received no action. U.S. intel has evidence of bounty money having been paid – indicating probable successful killing. This story, along with the peculiar intransigence of the White House and Trump’s continuing deference to Putin (“Russia belongs in the G7”), could be the stuff of blockbuster news – however, there is no specific evidence of bounty-related American deaths.

Coronavirus (Crisis) Notes

On the “too many tests” Trump-Pence-GOP fallacy. If there are more new cases than tests, then increased testing is not what’s behind the new cases. Proof positive: if hospitalizations increase, that has nothing to do with testing. It means more people who were infected are getting sicker, whether tested or not. If deaths are increasing, then the argument that testing makes the numbers look bad is irrelevant. An infernal aspect of COVID-19 is that there can be one to two weeks each between infection, symptoms, serious illness, and death. It allows for statements like “Well new cases are bad, but the death rate is going down.”

Economy (Crisis) Notes

It’s almost eerie: 20 million out of work, thousands of bankruptcies a week, but there is little coverage in the media of a “crisis.” The stock market tootles along its usual roller coaster, although still astonishingly high. Politicians don’t even talk about recession, much less depression; McConnell ignores every effort to develop legislation in lieu of what everybody knows will be a wrenching and perhaps tragic third and fourth quarter. Pray the Federal Reserve can continue to prevent a financial crisis.

Racism Protest (Crisis) Notes               

Tempus, and issues, fugit. Much to the consternation of Fox News and other right-wing media, their coverage of the “violent protests” and “wanton destruction of historical memorials” got ramped up in a week when both protests and memorials were dropping back to a low simmer. Except for people who never get out, it’s hard to make a case for chaos and lawlessness if there isn’t any. It’s almost as if protesters and Black Lives Matter were creating distractions, right out of the Trump/Putin playbook. Meanwhile with the House Democrats passing a meaningful policing act, which will be blocked in the Senate, activists and organizers have been given a perfect pivot to move protests into policy via the November ballot box (or by post in a sealed envelope). This year the protest movement seems to be prepared to do exactly that.

Election Notes

Is Trump aligning his campaign with racism and coronavirus denialism? It looks that way. Most liberal commentators equate this with driving the campaign wagon off a cliff, basically saying Trump and by extension the GOP are nuts. Some GOP operatives offer another perspective: 40% of the voters favor Trump; if he is successful in motivating most of them to vote, then he can retake the crucial swing states that won him the election in 2016. He can motivate them by demonstrating he is doing what they want. Therefore, everything that he does should focus on energizing his base. It doesn’t matter if doing away with the ACA, championing Confederate statues, or destroying the justice system appear nuts to most voters. If Trump voters like it, that’s all that matters.

Quote of the Week

“Bolton cared about Iran. Mattis cared about the Islamic State. Jeffrey cared about the relationship with Turkey. . . .  Trump cared about his electoral base. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cared about pleasing Trump. But no one in the top tier of the administration actually cared about the Syrian people.”

Josh Rogan, “The Most Tragic Story in Bolton’s Book,” The Washington Post, 6/24/2020


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