#COVID19Chronicles-289: January 20, 2021-Joseph R. Biden, Jr. 46th President of the USA

The coverage by news media was full, and I preferred to watch the BBC World Service, which had a less political flavour, and added some useful pointers for non-Americans, such as the Constitutional rule is power is transferred at noon, but the swearing in was done at 11.48am, so we had an awkward period. In fact, the presidency changed hands midway through the inaugural speech.

It was a great speech, a healing speech by President Biden given with much heart-felt words and tone. He framed unity in its context. He wanted to end this “uncivil war’” and be a president for all Americans. he stressed the importance for truth in trying to build and rebuild.

His deep religious conviction and his true humanity were laid bare, again.

But, he also wanted to make a clear separation with the immediate past regime:

“We will lead not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”

The other aspects of the Inauguration were powerful, in content and context, especially with the historical first of a woman Vice President, Kamala Harris, with her other uniqueness, but I will just let them have their place.

All was sealed by Amanda Gorman, the youngest ever Inaugural poet, who gave a lot to unpack in her poem:

“Democracy has prevailed.”

Work starts now!

#COVID19Chronicles-288: January 20, 2021-Handing over political power in the USA

President Trump is due to depart from the White House at 8am this morning, amid reports that he’s having a hard time filling the guest list. Notably, top Republican politicians will not attend:

He’s then off to on Air Force One to Palm Beach, Florida. He will not attend the Inauguration of president-elect Biden. Oddly, that means there will be two nuclear ‘footballs’ to cover the gap in transition, instead of being handed over during the Inauguration. What else is new but another piece of political theatre and the breaking of norms?

Last night, he issued another flurry of pardons (73) and commutations (70), including for Steve Bannon (‘a key adviser in Trump’s 2016 presidential run. He was charged last year with swindling Trump supporters over an effort to raise private funds to build the president’s wall on the US-Mexico border’-The Guardian), who some would see as an insurrectionist who wasn’t at the Capitol. White House officials had advised Trump against pardoning Bannon, who left the Trump administration in late 2017. Elliot Broidy, was also pardoned: he’s a major Republican party fundraiser, pleaded guilty in October to acting as an unregistered foreign agent, admitting to accepting money to secretly lobby the Trump administration for Chinese and Malaysian interests.

Washington DC is empty and silent, apart from a huge military and police presence. The bridges that connect DC to Maryland and Virginia have been closed!

The general public will not be participating. Having been to Inaugurations, this must be the most eerie of days.

The major event will be virtual, with swearing-in set for the west steps of the US Capitol.

Last night, we got a taste with a memorial ceremony for those who have died from COVID-19. It was the president-elect who paid tribute to them and the many caregivers who have tolled tirelessly for months!

This long-overdue attempt at national recognition of the suffering during the pandemic was on the day when the USA hit another sombre milestone of 400,000 deaths from COVID.

The president gave a farewell address that was taped; it listed his achievements; even then, he had no words for those who had suffered from COVID. Again, what’s new?

As the Inauguration nears, politics continued. The Senate was called back yesterday to start the confirmation process for the Biden Cabinet nominees:

Finally, Inauguration will be bookended by impeachment proceedings. It looks likely that the Senate will start the trial, but not until at least January 21, to not draw attention from the Inauguration. Senate leader, Mitch McConnell gave more strong signals that he may be leaning towards conviction as he clearly laid blame for the insurrection at the feet of the outgoing president: “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”

Biden had planned to travel to DC by train from Delaware, but security concerns forced a change to a flight. Before that, he opened a National Guard facility in Delaware named for his dead son, ‘Beau’. He showed his raw emotions, again, as he cried that his son wasn’t there to be hailed as president. His empathy is something refreshing and much needed.

So, let the events roll on. There’ll be end-to-end TV coverage to hunker down to. The entertainment is scheduled to be full of great performers:

Let’s wish president-elect Biden and vice-president Harris luck as they try to mend a country left broken by four years under a leader who had no interest in his States being united.

His day will start with a visit to church, accompanied by politicians from both sides.

#COVID19Chronicles-284: January 16, 2021-The deeper plot behind the US insurrection?

More than a week on from the insurrectionist siege of the US Capitol (and I’m sure that the historical term has still not yet been set), we’ve learned a lot about the events of January 6, 2021 that are disturbing and suggest a deeper plot was in play and that the political divisions that were behind it are not going to subside quickly. This is just a sample of what has surfaced.

The timeline looked like this:

It shows that credible and disturbing evidence existed within official security circles to have forwarned of the violent events, but a serious lack of coordination of that stopped mobilization of personnel to at least suggest these were credible threats.

On the day, after others speakers (especially Rudy Guiliani and Don Trump Jr.) had done and while President Trump was making his remarks to the rally, the mobs were on their way at about 1pm. President Trump finished his remarks about 1.15pm, then spent some two hours berating his VP and complaining about the election being “stolen”.

At about 2:25 p.m. Trump tweeted criticism of Vice President Pence: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

Around 4.15, Trump tweeted a video downplaying the events of the day, repeating false claims that the election was stolen and sympathizing with his followers, saying: “I know your pain, I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. … You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel, but go home, and go home in peace.”

This was while the mob was laying siege to the Capitol, not acting to put in place resources to quell it. His ‘calming’ tweet at 6pm is damning: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

The policy vacuum and failure to anticipate the disruption are now part of the focus of various government agencies:

What also needs to be established, but for a different set of investigations–maybe, if/when the Senate looks at the impeachment charge–is what the president knew (from official briefing and other sources-phone and messaging logs) and how did he act ahead of, during and after the siege of the Capitol. Reports are that at the time he was watching it play out on TV–apparently pleased with what he saw. What he didn’t do was issue orders to quell it–in fact, refusing to approve National Guard responses. His actions were late and too little, and reports suggest that he was not in favour of doing the little he did with ‘softer’ tweets and scripted videos. He issued a denunciation only after being impeached.

As information emerges, there are clear signs that ‘inside’ help was involved, not least in knowing the layout of the complex Capitol building. The matter has led to an Inspector General review.

Wider spread disruptions happened on January 6 and are likely for the near-term. Already, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have warned about potential violent and armed protests in all 50 state capitals.

Arrests and charges are beginning to flow in as culprits are identified. More than 200 case files have been opened. According to the FBI, more than 100 arrests have been made in connection with the Capitol siege. The F.B.I. has received more than 100,000 tips, including photos and videos, and that number does not include tips that people have submitted by phone; the number of arrests is expected to “geometrically increase.” He noted that some defendants had been charged with misdemeanor crimes so they could be quickly arrested, but those people could be indicted on more significant charges, including sedition and conspiracy.

Planning for the presidential inauguration is now seeing a series of cancellations as the security threat widens; the rehearsal, due Friday, has been postponed till Monday, due to security concerns. President-elect Biden will not travel to Washington DC by Amtrak due to similar concerns.

DC has already gone into lockdown ahead of the presidential inauguration:

The National Guard has been deployed in large numbers (20,000+) to DC, with many camped out at the US Capitol:

This response reflects a serious under-estimation of the risks that were emerging last week.

Businesses nearby are also taking precautions and trying to do things that won’t feed the needs of potential troublemakers. For instance, AirBnB has cancelled all existing bookings and blocking any new bookings in metropolitan DC area for inauguration week.

Airlines have invoked ‘don’t fly’ rules for people seen and identified as participating in the insurrection.

Lawmakers are also openly expressing fears for their lives, including risks that may come from Congressional colleagues!

Those who have opposed President Trump in recent days have found themselves harrassed when trying to travel and some report death threats at their homes and offices. Add to that growing evidence that the insurrectionists included people whose intent was assassination.

Retired and current members of the military and police forces are being identified amongst the insurrectonists.

Political fall out for some who supported protests on January 6, continues to be heavy, especially for Senators Hawley and Cruz.

#COVID19Chronicles-255: December 19, 2020-New NIDS Bill Tabled in Parliament

Yesterday afternoon (December 15, 2020) the new National Identification System and Registration (NIDS) Bill was tabled in Parliament. The NIDS Bill …

New NIDS Bill Tabled in Parliament

#COVID19Chronicles-250: December 14, 2020-Electoral collage

For much of the past four years, I’ve tried to explain to people that Hillary Clinton did not lose the 2016 presidential election: she won the election (popular vote) by a sizeable margin (>2 million), but the important thing was the popular vote does never determines the winner in presidential elections: that’s the role of the Electoral College. She lost that vote by 304-227. (Trump won States covering 306 votes, but 2 of those were not cast for him, finally.)

I do not like the Electoral College system, which seems to up-end the basic democratic practices of a country, where the popular vote settles electoral contests, for the single purpose of deciding the presidency. If it’s so vital to that position, why not cascade the principle down throughout the whole electoral process?

A recent survey suggests most Americans don’t like it, either.

That dislike is important, because today, December 14, is when the Electoral College will vote to decide the 2020 presidential election.

This presidential election has been extraordinary, most notably because the incumbent petulantly disputes the outcome and plasters the public with lies about the outcome of claims of “massive” fraud for which no one can evidence. Court cases arguing to contest the results so far returned a dismal 1 win versus 59 lost suits.

But, this has not stopped attempts to subvert the outcome. As the vote approaches–first being done at 10am ET today, in Indiana, Vermont and Tennessee–we need to watch carefully. (Extraordinarily, the voting will be covered completely live by CNN!) Why? As the ultimate deadline approaches, we have been warned that some will resort to desperate measures. The first glimmers of that was at the weekend when a some ‘million MAGA’ rallies in support of Trump ended in violence, in Washington DC and Washington State.

Threats of violence have already surfaced regarding the electors, trying to simply do their constitutional duty:

Procedures will differ from the past, in part due to threats, but also reflecting issues created by the pandemic, meaning fewer people in larger areas, but also some absences because officials are in quarantine.

But, amidst all that, the day will also be highlighted by the roll out of the first COVID vaccines. Major delivery companies have divided the country: UPS will take the east and FedEx dealing with the west:

#COVID19Chronicles-245: December 9, 2020-Reaching a safe harbour in the election saga

In most presidential election years, many people don’t focus on the arcane details of how the president is elected. Many probably know that the Electoral College (EC) actually elects the president not the actual votes in each state. That fact was clear in 2016, when Hillary Clinton won by over 2 million actual votes but Donald Trump got the EC majority.

Few note the steps to the EC decision—on December 14 this year. An important one is ‘Safe Harbour Day’, December 8, when States must conclude their official certification.

To that effect, one can see each State’s actual certification online:

Supreme Court ruled a harsh one-sentence dismissal to yet another attempt to overturn election results in favor of President Trump, this time concerning Pennsylvania: “The application for injunctive relief presented to Justice [Samuel] Alito and by him referred to the Court is denied,” said the court’s one-sentence order, which did not suggest any dissent among the nine justices.

This should put an end to any realistic legal challenges to the votes. Maybe, now, congressional Republicans can acknowledge reality.

But, it’s been a strange period during a strange year.

#COVID19Chronicles-227: November 22, 2020-When will he throw in the towel? Disgracing the office of The President

Bloomberg wrote yesterday: ‘A federal judge in Pennsylvania threw out a lawsuit by President Donald Trump’s campaign that aimed to block certification of the state’s election results unless it tossed out tens of thousands of mail-in ballots, rejecting the “startling” request due to a lack of evidence.’ It cited the judge’s ruling (my emphasis):

“This court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence…In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state.”

Bloomberg also wrote ‘It’s the latest and perhaps highest-profile courtroom defeat for Trump since the U.S. election Biden won by 6 million ballots. Suits filed by the campaign and its GOP allies have failed in Michigan, Georgia, Nevada and Arizona as judges declined to toss out millions of votes based on vague assertions by lawyers and sworn affidavits from voters who interpreted perceived irregularities as evidence of a Democratic conspiracy.’

In response, the Trump campaign said in a statement that it would seek an “expedited appeal” to the Third Circuit as a means to ultimately have the Supreme Court, and its 6-3 conservative majority, consider the case.

The court cases are now losing at a rate of 2 for 34.

Meanwhile, the president has checked out of governing, if he was ever checked in. As many noted, yesterday, instead of focusing on COVID with other G-20 leaders, he went golfing.

President Trump missed the virtual G20 summit’s “Pandemic Preparedness” event to visit one of his golf clubs on the same day that a record 195,500 new Covid-19 infections were reported in a 24-hour period in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins.

Much as I like being on a course, this is the metaphor that should stand as his legacy. His biggest care was about his golf score and handicap. The Guardian wrote: ‘According to a tally kept by CNN, Trump has visited one of his golf clubs on 303 occasions during his four years as president. During his 2016 campaign for the White House Trump regularly attacked his predecessor Barack Obama for hitting the links too often and insisted that he would have little time to play golf himself as president as he would be working too hard.’

Not surprisingly, this highlights yet another simple untruth uttered that has marked almost every day in office.

His biggest handicap was that he really doesn’t care for the people he is supposed to lead.

#COVID19Chronicles-220: November 15, 2020-A hard COVID autumn and winter coming?

Predictions of a hard COVID winter are beginning to look right. Much of Europe is now bracing for an extended second wave of COVID infections:

Most European countries have decided to impose a range of national lockdowns. Germany, which had managed its situation well, is preparing for maybe five months of restrictions:

By contrast, the USA, which has gone through a wave of new highs of cases and deaths over the past two weeks is far from any sort of national restrictions. CNN reported:

‘More than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases were reported in the United States on Saturday, the 12th day in a row the country saw new cases of the virus rise by six figures.

Friday saw the highest daily case count since the pandemic began with 184,514 new cases. 

As of Saturday afternoon US time, 116,716 new Covid-19 cases and 917 additional deaths had been reported. 

The US has reported more than 10.8 million cases and more than 245,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.’

Texas is way out in front, and President Trump refuses any such national measures, emphasizing last week that “this administration” wont do that, citing the financial/economic costs and lost jobs. (This was also his near ‘acceptance’ moment that he had lost the election.)

In fact, yesterday saw El Paso’s lockdown deemed illegal by courts. Newsweek reported:

‘Texas state appeals court rejected a stay-at-home order in El Paso County on Friday despite the community seeing a surge in new cases and rapidly decreasing space in morgue trucks and tent hospitals.

The Eighth District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the state and local restaurant owners, who sued El Paso District Judge Ricardo Samaniego for issuing a city-wide shutdown after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a reopening order on October 7.’

Asian countries are also ramping up restrictions:

What is also clear, is where life has moved back towards ‘normalcy’ has seen recent difficulties, with sporting and educational activities having to be curtailed as cases spike among playing and coaching personnel as well as with students and teachers.

Cancellations are starting to mount and affect fixtures:

Plans to adjust to COVID-affected schedules are coming into play in an otherwise full US fall/winter sports calendar:

#COVID19Chronicles-212: November 7, 2020-The world’s media call it for Joe Biden—‘president elect’ in Election 2020

The major media houses have reached their acceptance thresholds and called the US presidential election for Joe Biden:

The result in Pennsylvania took him past the 270 Electoral College votes needed to claim the title of ‘president elect’:

Steve Kornacki has been standing for a week analyzing charts and numbers for MSNBC and needs to sit down. He says the total may be 306 Electoral College votes, which would be the same as President Trump in 2016.

The president was playing golf at the time that media called it, so I hope he’s having a good round. Rain washed out my golf this morning, as torrential rain hit early.

Crowds are now gathering in celebration all over the US and elsewhere, including outside the White House. It’s occupant may object, but, let’s see what he does when he’s back from golfing. We know acceptance will not come immediately:

I’m taking nothing for granted, after four years of division being sown and lies become the currency of a president that is traded so readily by many supporters.

The fundamentals of the USA as a democratic place were deeply shaken and need to be re-established.

The Caribbean has the music for this moment: ‘Hold him. Joe’:

Analysts will pore over many details to see what went right and what did not, but a key point made earlier today was that Biden was more a man of the people than the incumbent could ever claim to be (coming from the elitist background that he does) and had the real ability to be empathetic, rather than confrontational.

#COVID19Chronicles-211: November 7, 2020-Not quite a victory speech

Joe Biden has not yet gotten the 270 Electoral College (EC) votes needed to be officially ‘president elect’, but he signalled that he’s about to assume the duty of care for all Americans.

He spoke to the nation at about 10:45pm, with 253 EC votes according to some media house or 264 according to others (adding Arizona). He has over 74 million votes, some 4 million votes over his opponent. He’s leading in enough states to get about 300 EC votes, though some are close.

His words were soothing and sought to also praise electoral workers trying to uphold democratic rights. He set the tone for his coming administration: “We may be opponents but we’re not enemies.”

Ballots remain to be counted, some of which were legally unavailable for counting earlier. The patient waiting continues and the final numbers must await the weekend, after final voting took place on Tuesday.