Watching Takes Its Toll

I don’t know if you’ve seen anyone be killed, but it’s upsetting

Minneapolis EMT Genevieve Hansen
under cross-examination by Derek Chauvin’s attorney

This week’s featured post is “Answering 7 Questions About the Georgia Election Law“.

This week everybody was talking about the Chauvin trial

CSPAN is carrying the trial live, and large chunks of it have been on MSNBC. The Minneapolis Star Tribune is livestreaming it. The Washington Post has put entire days of testimony on YouTube. I’ll let other sites do the legal analysis.

The thing that has struck me (and others) is the emotional tenor of the prosecution’s witnesses. Virtually all the bystanders seem traumatized by their experience. Again and again, witnesses have expressed regret or shame that they didn’t or couldn’t do more to help George Floyd, even though they knew he was being murdered right in front of them. The cashier who made the original call to the police (after Floyd passed him a counterfeit $20 bill) testified: “If I would have just not taken the bill, this could have been avoided.”

I’ve lost track of the number of witnesses who have cried on the stand. CNN’s Don Lemon broke down on his TV show just from listening to Cornell West imagine trying to save Floyd. “Some of us black men, we’re not gonna stand there. We have to intervene in some way. They ain’t gonna kill us like that, and we remain spectators.”

The only people who don’t seem to feel remorse are the cops.

I think it’s important that so much of the trial is being seen live by large numbers of people. When a trial happens far away and the verdict seems strange, it’s easy to yield to the deeper immersion of the jury: I wasn’t there. Maybe the jury came to a different understanding of the case from the one I picked up from the media. Or maybe the evidence I found so convincing wasn’t admissible for some reason.

Not this time. It’s obvious to anybody who’s watching that Chauvin murdered Floyd. If he gets off, the whole country will know that cops are above the law. Financial Times sets the legal stage:

Prosecutors have hedged their bets by pursuing three charges: second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter. The most serious, second-degree murder, requires that prosecutors prove Chauvin unintentionally killed Floyd while committing a felony. Manslaughter only requires proving Chauvin took an unreasonable risk of causing death. Manslaughter carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, compared to 40 years for second-degree murder.

The fact that he’s only charged with second-degree murder is already an injustice. Chauvin continued kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly ten minutes, while people all around told him that Floyd was dying. How is that not an intentional killing? Houston’s Channel 11 says that the recommended sentence for manslaughter with no prior convictions is four years. Actual time served might be less. Would that feel like justice?

The two most likely scenarios, in my opinion, are either a mistrial (because of one holdout juror), or a conviction resulting in a light sentence (sending the message that a cop killing a black man just isn’t that big a deal). In either case, violent protest is the likely result.

and infrastructure

President Biden came out with his infrastructure plan, the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan. The Washington Post summarizes it in this graphic.

Employing people to build or rebuild the stuff we all use is a fairly popular idea with Americans of both parties. It was implicit in both recent winning presidential slogans: Biden’s “Build Back Better” in 2020 and Trump’s “Make America Great Again” in 2016.

Unfortunately, as I keep saying, the Senate is broken. So Mitch McConnell announced all-out GOP opposition.

He said as much as Republicans would like to address infrastructure, “I think the last thing the economy needs right now is a big, whopping tax increase,” according to Politico. The Kentucky Republican specifically criticized the plan’s proposed corporate tax rate hike, which he said would hurt America’s ability to compete in a global economy, and the subsequent increase to the national debt.

In other words, McConnell wants to address infrastructure, but without raising taxes or increasing debt. (This is like my desire to lose ten pounds without dieting or exercising.) With those principles in mind, I doubt he’ll be making a counter-proposal. Maybe Republican thoughts and prayers will build bridges the same way they prevent school shootings.

The one upside of McConnell’s position is that he won’t keep us guessing about whether a bipartisan deal is possible: It’s not. You might imagine pealing off two or three Republican senators in spite of McConnell’s opposition, but getting the 10 necessary to survive a filibuster is out of the question.

The only alternative is the same reconciliation path that Biden’s Covid relief plan took, and that depends on keeping all 50 Senate Democrats united. In particular, Joe Manchin has to stay in line. Manchin has previously stated that any infrastructure plan should be bipartisan. But he’s also said he’s for a big infrastructure plan. He’s going to have to choose which of those positions is more important to him.

The fact that they’re already pledged not to support the bill won’t keep Republicans from opining about what should be in it. CNN quotes numerous Republicans musing about what “infrastructure” is, and deciding that it’s only roads and bridges.

Some items in the Biden plan, like support for keeping elderly people in their homes (which might end up being one of the most popular parts), does stretch the traditional meaning of infrastructure. (Bernie Sanders describes them as “human infrastructure”.) But replacing all the nation’s lead water pipes (the ultimate culprits in the Flint water crisis) would be infrastructure under any reasonable definition. Rural broadband hasn’t been in previous infrastructure bills, but there was also a time when interstate highways were a new idea. Modernizing the electrical grid and public transportation systems are likewise infrastructure.

Unlike Covid Relief, this isn’t an emergency bill, so I suspect we’ll have many weeks to discuss the details.

and voting rights

The featured post examines the Georgia election law.

and Matt Gaetz

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard the gist of this story. Super-Trumper and insurrection defender Congressman Matt Gaetz is being investigated for some lurid stuff: sex with a 17-year-old, possibly involving money or interstate travel; sex in exchange for gifts with other women recruited online; and illegal drug use while on these “dates”. Reporters from The New York Times claim to have seen text messages and receipts related to these allegations. All of this is connected with Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg, a former Orlando tax collector who is himself under multiple indictments.

Those accusations have brought out other stories that are unseemly but not illegal in themselves.

Gaetz allegedly showed off to other lawmakers photos and videos of nude women he said he had slept with, the sources told CNN, including while on the House floor. [I assume CNN means the showing was on the House floor, not the sex.] The sources, including two people directly shown the material, said Gaetz displayed the images of women on his phone and talked about having sex with them. One of the videos showed a naked woman with a hula hoop, according to one source.

The fact that his colleagues are telling the press such stories rather than rushing to Gaetz’s defense demonstrates that “His antics have also aggravated a sizable number of his own GOP colleagues, leaving him now with few allies outside of the far-right faction of the party.” (One of those “antics” was going to Wyoming to speak out against Liz Cheney after she voted to impeach Trump.) As far as I know, the only Congresspeople who have defended Gaetz are Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

And this:

Mr. Gaetz’s behavior also came into question during his service in Florida’s state legislature from 2010 to 2016, according to a person familiar with the matter. While in Tallahassee, he and others competed against each other in a contest over having sexual relationships with women, operating under a point system in which participants were awarded one point for sleeping with a lobbyist and two points if the lobbyist was married, this person said.

Also, photos of Gaetz with teen-age girls have been all over Twitter this week. Maybe they were harmless selfies-with-a-celebrity at the time, but events now have cast them in a much creepier light.

I’m of two minds about all this. On the one hand, I already thought Gaetz was a slimeball, so I’m not going to hide my schadenfreude. Picturing Matt Gaetz in an orange jumpsuit makes me smile.

On the other hand: We shouldn’t know any of this yet. Gaetz hasn’t been charged or convicted of anything, and it doesn’t look like The New York Times dug this up through independent reporting. Somebody in the Justice Department must have leaked the investigation (and maybe the receipts and text messages).

That’s not good. The government has enormous investigative powers, and that power should not be abused.

Remember: The heart of the first Trump impeachment was his illegal attempt to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Bidens. The point wasn’t to expose any Biden crimes in Ukraine, since Trump probably knew that there weren’t any. But his goal was to produce a regular stream of “Biden Under Investigation for Ukraine Corruption” headlines, similar to the Hillary-email stories that worked so well for him in 2016 (“Lock her up!”), but ultimately fizzled as investigators found nothing worth prosecuting.

I’m not claiming the Gaetz story is similarly insubstantial, or that the Department of Justice investigation (which apparently began under Bill Barr) is politically motivated. But it’s a bad practice to run people out of town because they’re “being investigated” for something lurid. Anybody could be investigated for anything. And while leaks about investigations can be legitimate if those investigations are being interfered with (so that the normal course of justice is blocked), that also doesn’t seem to be happening here.

So if and when the Gaetz investigation culminates in an indictment, as I’m confident it will if everything we’re reading is true, then that information will legitimately wind up in the public domain. But until then, I’m going to treat this like a National Enquirer story: I’ll follow it for my own entertainment, but I’m not going to demand that it result in any negative consequences for Gaetz, even though I still don’t like him.

McSweeney’s explains how Gaetz fits inside the “party of family values”

We are very much still the party of family values. We’re simply redefining “family values” to reflect what the term actually meant in the first place. Would it be helpful to spell it out? Here you go:

GOP family values
values that mandate that a woman should marry a man and provide him with sex and free domestic labor

And the April Fool’s issue of the Washington Free Beacon published this commiserating letter from Liz Cheney. “I am so sorry this is happening to you, Matt.”

and the new Covid surge

For weeks, new Covid cases had been stuck in a range around 55-60K per day. It seems to have broken out on the upside, and is now around 64K. Typically, this has been interpreted as a battle between vaccination pushing the numbers down and the new variants pushing them up. But I wonder if there might be a different dynamic in play: Maybe what’s been making younger, less vulnerable people take care has been the thought “I don’t want to be the one who gets Grandma killed.” But now Grandma is vaccinated, so they’re taking more risks.

Ultimately, though, the vaccines should win, if we can get enough people to take them. At last count, 106.2 million Americans had received at least one shot, with 61.4 million fully vaccinated. Saturday more than 4 million people were vaccinated. (I’m scheduled to get my first shot a week from tomorrow.)

One side effect of the battle against Covid is that colds and flu infections have been way down this year. Maybe wearing a mask should be more common, even after we “return to normal”.

and you also might be interested in …

The March jobs report was really good: The economy added 916K jobs in March, and the January and February estimates were revised upward, accounting for another 156K jobs. The unemployment rate is back down to 6%, which is still way higher than the 3.5% before the pandemic, but well below the April, 2020 peak of 14.7%.

I have no idea how to interpret any of that. I mean, we all knew that jobs would collapse during the lockdown and rebound after reopening. But lots of things are reopening that shouldn’t reopen yet, and new Covid cases are headed back up, so I wonder how sustainable this is.

The big question is where we’ll be when the jobs market starts behaving normally again, assuming that happens. And I think it’s too soon to tell.

To the surprise of nobody who’s been paying attention, Brexit is causing problems in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement that ended the “the Troubles” in 1998 led to a nearly invisible border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which remained in the United Kingdom. But Brexit is all about putting a significant border between the UK and the EU, which Ireland still belongs to.

That contradiction was resolved by giving Northern Ireland an in-between status: It stays in the UK, but there now are trade barriers between it and the rest of the UK, so that the border with Ireland can stay open. The pro-British side in Northern Ireland doesn’t like that, and has been rioting this weekend. If they would happen to get their way, the pro-Irish side would probably start rioting.

Meanwhile, leaving the UK and rejoining the EU is a big issue in next month’s elections in Scotland.

Trump issued some kind of a statement this week that, like all his statements, was full of lies and got some people upset. But really, who cares? If you need somebody’s permission to ignore him, take mine.

A reminder that the meaning of your religious symbols might not be obvious to others.

and let’s close with something sinister

Hogwarts’ Sorting Hat may have a relative. Looking at the Classifying Khakis, I can only think of the line from Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock“: “The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase”.

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  • Derek  On April 5, 2021 at 5:15 pm

    The thing with police killings that seems overlooked is how much money the cities pay out in wrongful death suits, excessive force,.. If that money were coming from the police budget maybe they would begin to make the changes necessary to stop this from happening. It could also be used as campaign issues and be brought up during budget time. Minneapolis paid $27 million, Louisville paid $12 million, Kenosha paid (Michael Bell’s family) $1.75 million, and the list goes on.

    • weeklysift  On April 7, 2021 at 9:10 am

      I’m reminded of the observation “Good karma is cost effective.”

  • Ed O  On April 8, 2021 at 2:02 am

    Thanks for declining to condemn Gaetz until he’s indicted. But I wonder: why is it okay to condemn people who have only been charged but not convicted? Just as anyone can be investigated, almost anyone can be charged. Why not wait for a conviction? What good does “innocent until proven guilty” do when splashy stories about trials blanket the news and most of the public feels sure they’re guilty even if they’re eventually acquitted on all charges?

    • weeklysift  On April 10, 2021 at 8:36 am

      The difference between Gaetz and, say, Chauvin, is that the evidence against Chauvin is in the public domain; we can look at it and judge it for ourselves. If there were an indictment against Gaetz, listing the specific charges and summarizing the evidence that would be presented, we’d be in a very different situation. We’d also be in a different situation if the New York Times were running exposes on Gaetz based on their own reporting, without leaks from investigators,

  • ccyager  On April 11, 2021 at 6:38 pm

    “It’s obvious to anybody who’s watching that Chauvin murdered Floyd.”

    I live in Minneapolis. No, I did not witness in person George Floyd’s death. But like all the residents of this city — all colors, all ages, all ethnicities — we’ve been living with this tragic event since May 25. In conversation, I’ve told people that I was glad not to be called up for this jury because I would have been dismissed immediately. It has been obvious to me that Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd from the moment I saw that video on May 26. The thing that we’re interested in in this city is which charge will be the one he’s convicted of, and how many years he’ll get. The testimony for the last 2 weeks has been compelling and clear. But I expect the defense to put forward an argument that Chauvin’s training had been woefully incomplete — that he’d been taught that if someone could talk, they could breathe; that he’d been taught that a knee hold as he did was acceptable; that he was taught nothing about human anatomy and that asphyxiation can happen if someone is pressed down against a hard surface with no way to get air. Will the jury buy this? Or will they tell him that ignorance is not a defense, which is what he’ll be pleading if the defense takes that route.

    I am very concerned about how a verdict will be accepted. State, county and city leaders have emphasized that peaceful protest and demonstrations will be respected and anyone who perpetrates violence, destruction of property, and rioting and looting will be subject to arrest. We’ll see if that message is strong enough. I have to commute right past the Government Center where the trial is being held. I’m making alternate plans for my commute for the day of the verdict and the following days.

    • weeklysift  On April 12, 2021 at 8:12 am

      Like you, my expectation is that he’ll be convicted of a lesser charge, and the ordinary sentencing guidelines will recommend only a few years in prison. It will seem like George Floyd’s life has been discounted.

      • ccyager  On April 13, 2021 at 6:22 pm

        Well, and since I left my comment, there’s been yet another police officer shooting that resulted in a young Black man’s death. When I heard that the body cam revealed the officer had pulled out her gun instead of her taser as she was yelling “Taser! Taser!” my skepticism kicked in. But here it is Tuesday and they’re still calling the shooting an “accidental discharge.” The officer has resigned, however, as has the police chief. I’m still reeling.

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