Reaping the Benefits

The countries that take decisive action now to create the industries of the future will be the ones that reap the economic benefits of the clean energy boom that’s coming.

– President Biden,
opening remarks at the Virtual Leaders Summit on Climate

This week’s featured post is “Red States Crack Down on Protests“.

This week everybody was talking about the Chauvin verdict

Unless you spent the week completely off the grid, you already know that Derek Chauvin was found guilty of all charges. He’s due to be sentenced in June, and probably he will appeal on a number of grounds that seem unlikely to succeed (but you never know). So it will still be a while before we can definitely attach a number of years to his name — between 12 1/2 and 40 years, if his conviction stands — but at the moment he is a convicted murderer. It was the best result the trial could have produced.

Opinions about the larger meaning of this verdict varied widely, from “See, I told you the system works” to “This one result doesn’t really change anything.”

I come down somewhere in the middle: The Chauvin verdict establishes a floor. It shows that the well of injustice is not bottomless. Police officers cannot kill Black people with complete impunity, in broad daylight, on a city street, in front of multiple witnesses who are recording video. If Chauvin had been acquitted, or if just one juror had held out to force a retrial, we still wouldn’t know where the floor is, or even if there is one.

But the Chauvin verdict doesn’t mean that the system works, or works as well for Black people as for White people. We can’t forget what the original police report said about George Floyd: “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” If the video hadn’t gone viral, that most likely would have stood as the official word. You would not know the names of Derek Chauvin or George Floyd, and Chauvin would still be abusing Black people on the streets of Minneapolis.

Most of all: The killings haven’t stopped, or even slowed down. It’s hard to give ourselves credit for progress until they do.

As for the larger struggle for justice, I think this widely viewed trial begins to establish a consensus that police mistreatment of Black people really is a thing. We didn’t all imagine this murder, and it’s not a he-said/she-said situation. It’s now public knowledge that Chauvin murdered Floyd. We all saw it happen, and we can’t unsee it.

But knowing that doesn’t mean that we know what to do about it. Many people, particularly many white men, still believe the Bad Apple theory: Chauvin was a bad cop, and he’s off the force now, so the problem has been handled. Maybe there are other bad apples, but the system can deal with them too.

The problem with the Bad Apple theory is the way other cops usually rally around a cop who kills someone or otherwise abuses authority. (Hence: “Man Dies After Medical Incident”.) In case after case, we see police investigating the victim rather than the death, while official police spokespeople and the local police union president act as PR flacks for the bad-apple cop. In other words, the whole department joins Team Bad Apple.

To a large extent, that didn’t happen this time. One reason Chauvin was convicted, I believe, was that cops testified against him. They blew up his lawyer’s claims that Chauvin acted according to his training, and that his use of force was appropriate. Maybe that signals some larger change in police culture, or maybe not; we’ll see in future cases.

Pity poor Fox News, which was all geared up to cover the post-verdict violence. You know: Dangerous Black people run wild, cheered on by Democrats. Ratings gold.

Instead, they’re left with no burning buildings to televise, and a conspiracy theory about why that is: The jury might have acquitted Chauvin, but for the threat of violence that intimidated them.

I last looked at police reform in June, and the defund-police slogan a week later.

At the federal level, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has passed the House, but is pending in the Senate, where Democrats once again lack the votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. Unlike other issues, though, this one could result in a bipartisan compromise.

Still, there are new signs of optimism that Republican and Democratic lawmakers are serious about trying to make a deal. [Democratic Rep. Karen] Bass says she hopes the two sides can put together a framework by late May, which would be the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s murder. [Republican Senator Tim] Scott floated a potential compromise last week on reforming qualified immunity, arguing that police departments could be held accountable even if individual officers are still shielded. The South Carolina Republican has said some Democrats he has spoken with are open to his compromise and he doesn’t believe Republicans are far apart on the issues.

Additionally, Attorney General Merrick Garland has restarted the Obama-administration policy of federal oversight of local police departments, which may result in lawsuits and enforceable consent decrees.

I can’t remember who first called my attention to Beau of the Fifth Column, but I’ve become a fan. He combines working-class common sense with deep insight into what’s going on under the surface of the public conversation. I envy the way he can communicate complex ideas in five or six minutes without using polysyllabic buzzwords. Here’s what he had to say about the questions people raise to justify police killing 13-year-old Adam Toledo.

and climate change

Thursday, President Biden set a goal:

to cut greenhouse gases in half by the end of this decade. That’s where we’re headed as a nation, and that’s what we can do if we take action to build an economy that’s not only more prosperous, but healthier, fairer, and cleaner for the entire planet. These steps will set America on a path of net-zero emissions economy by no later than 2050.

Setting goals is the easy part, though. The question is whether he can get the country committed to achieving them, and in particular whether that commitment can endure even after he leaves office.

One encouraging thing about this speech is that he’s not even nodding at people who make the Environment vs. Economy argument. In the same way that we can’t reopen the economy without dealing with the virus, we can’t have a healthy economy for the future if we ignore climate change.

I see an opportunity to create millions of good-paying, middle-class, union jobs.

I see line workers laying thousands of miles of transmission lines for a clean, modern, resilient grid.

I see workers capping hundreds of thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells that need to be cleaned up, and abandoned coalmines that need to be reclaimed, putting a stop to the methane leaks and protecting the health of our communities.

I see autoworkers building the next generation of electric vehicles, and electricians installing nationwide for 500,000 charging stations along our highways.

I see the engineers and the construction workers building new carbon capture and green hydrogen plants to forge cleaner steel and cement and produce clean power.

I see farmers deploying cutting-edge tools to make [the] soil of our Heartland the next frontier in carbon innovation.

and infrastructure

Last week, I predicted that the GOP would not come up with a counterproposal to President Biden’s infrastructure plan. Thursday, they seemed to prove me wrong, announcing what The Hill described as “a $568 billion infrastructure proposal”.

I mean, their two-page big-print document has a specific number attached to it, and even breaks it down: $299 billion for roads and bridges, $61 billion for public transit, $65 billion for broadband, and so on. That’s a proposal, right?

Not exactly. A lot of key questions remain unanswered, and I suspect it’s because the GOP Senate caucus doesn’t have any answers they agree on. The big one is: Where does this $568 billion come from? Their pamphlet rejects how Biden funds his much larger proposal: no new debt, no changes to the Trump tax cut, and no “corporate or international tax increases”. It vaguely offers to “repurpose unused federal spending”, and proposes taxing electric vehicles, which Biden wants to subsidize.

It also wants to “partner with spending from state and local governments” and “encourage private sector investment and the utilization of financing tools”, whatever that means. Which raises this question: Are the anticipated state, local, and private-sector investments included in the $568 billion? How much federal money are we really talking about here? (Trump’s ill-fated 2018 proposal claimed to be a $1.5 trillion plan, but only contained $200 billion of federal money spread over 10 years. An analysis by the Wharton Business School predicted that most of the other $1.3 trillion would never appear.)

The Washington Post notes that while the GOP “plan” appears to be about a quarter the size of Biden’s $2.3 trillion plan, it’s actually not even that big.

Congress typically passes long-term transportation funding bills, currently worth about $300 billion over five years. For example, between 2016 and 2020, Congress provided the $300 billion for roads, transit and rail, with a separate measure funding airports. The Biden plan expects that Congress will continue to provide at least that much money in the coming years. But the Republican proposal includes that $300 billion as part of its total.

So if you’re talking about new money, Republicans are offering about 1/9th what Biden is asking for — and committing themselves to oppose the most obvious ways to finance even that much, without specifying an alternative.

If the GOP pamphlet were a serious proposal, they would be on their way to writing an actual piece of legislation, which some large percentage of their senators and representatives would commit to vote for.

That’s not going to happen.

and the virus

Thanks largely to India, new-case totals are soaring worldwide. In the US, they have renewed a downward track, with daily new cases averaging around 56K. Maybe the vaccinations are getting ahead of the new variants and relaxed standards of behavior. Daily US death totals are currently just above 700.

The number of vaccinations per day in the US has peaked, and is now around 2.75 million, down from around 3.3 million. 94.8 million people have been fully vaccinated.

We seem to be hitting the point where the problem is demand, not supply, particularly in Trump country. Basically, everybody who listens to President Biden or Dr. Fauci already is either vaccinated or has shots scheduled. To get the rest of the way, we all need to start exercising our personal influence. Does somebody you know need a nudge?

Botswana native Siyanda Mohutsiwa unleashed a massive tweetstorm about media coverage of Covid in Africa.

The @nytimes, like countless others in Western media, has a tradition of “journalism” which takes place in an Africa without leaders, without public health officials or activists. It takes place in a vacuum of knowledge and strategy. Africa has no thinkers or planners. In Western Media, Africa has no epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, no academics, no local journalists or medical associations are quoted. Just a vast maw of African horror witnessed only by the brave souls at the UN and the Africa bureaus of western papers.

… COVID coverage in Africa ignores reality to instead reach for any other explanation that squares with a continent devoid of brains. Most writers lean on vague ideas about “genetics” and “immunity.” It smacks of “the tenacious physical traits of the negroid race” style thinking. I cannot think of any other way to explain a decided refusal to acknowledge the actions of nations like my native Botswana which, through strict lockdown measures instituted as early as February 2020, managed to keep COVID deaths to 45 by January 2021.

It appears even as its own healthcare system is brought to its knees & exposed as a hollowed out shell of its former self, America’s media need a world where Africa can produce no solutions, can give no knowledge and is devoid of the power to positively influence the world.

and you also might be interested in …

I gotta love this story: A January 6 insurrectionist bragged about storming the Capitol to a woman the Bumble app had matched him with. “We are not a match,” she replied, and reported him to the FBI. He was arrested Thursday.

It’s hard to decide whether the Arizona election audit is a tragedy or a farce.

The audit grew out of Arizona Republican lawmakers’ effort late last year to toss out Joe Biden’s victory in the state. The audit won’t change the certified election results.

The audit is being led, funded and supported by people with documented records of promoting the falsehood that the Arizona vote was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

Senate Republicans are spending at least $150,000 in taxpayer money for the audit, according to audit documents. 

A private fund-raiser reports bringing in another $150,000 in donations from undisclosed sources. That fund raising continues.

Democrats have been suing to stop the audit, and a hearing was scheduled for today. But yesterday the judge overseeing the case withdrew. Meanwhile, Trumpist yahoos have custody of the ballots. Nothing that we hear from this point on can be trusted or checked.

At the 100-day mark, Biden’s popularity is holding up pretty well.

In the long-but-worth-it department: Wil Wilkerson’s “The Anti-Majoritarian Mistake“. It’s a direct answer to the idea currently popular in conservative circles that we can maintain a liberal society without majority support.

The conservative theory — which is the substantive content behind the republic-not-a-democracy slogan, to the extent there is any substantive content — is that constitutional restrictions have to protect basic liberties against a tyranny of the majority. So far, so good. But they jump ahead to the conclusion that majority rule is actually not necessary.

Wilkerson’s point is that society never comes to a complete-and-permanent agreement about what “basic liberties” are. In the long term, they can’t be defined by a minority, no matter how convinced that minority is of its own righteousness.

When minorities strip majorities of their power to successfully seek redress and assert their will within the system — which is what a stacked 6-3 Republican court majority veto over Democratic unified government could amount to — sooner or later, stymied majorities will seek to protect their rights and interests outside the system. This is what it means for a political system to lose legitimacy — in the grubby, practical, nuts-and-bolts stabilizing sense of “legitimacy.” …

There’s a sense in which basic rights, whatever those turn out to be, are non-negotiable. But what they turn out to be is the product of negotiation. … Political deliberation and negotiation can be a process of discovery, but what’s discovered depends on who’s allowed in the room. Rights don’t come to us on tablets etched by the divine. They come from people who know where the shoe pinches demanding more comfortable shoes. …

[T]he peaceful management of pluralistic disagreement is perhaps the most basic problem we need our political institutions to solve.

As with so many Facebook memes, I don’t know who should get credit. But it’s too good not to share.

Speaking of Fox, I have a theory: Tucker Carlson already has the next phase of his career planned, and Step 1 is getting Fox to fire him. That’s why he keeps ramping up his white-supremacist rhetoric. Fox wants to dog-whistle to those people, not appeal to them openly. But Tucker is going to find out exactly where their line is, then go out as a martyr to the Liberal Cancel Culture that even Fox is part of.

Unlike Tucker, I try to be open about when I’m speculating beyond the evidence, and that’s what I’m doing here. I don’t know whether Step 2 is entering politics or starting some more lucrative media gig that milks subscribers (like Glenn Beck does; just because you don’t notice him any more doesn’t mean that he’s not raking in the bucks) or launching some more extreme network to out-Fox Fox. But I think there’s a method in Tucker’s increasing madness.

Fascinating set of issues in a Supreme Court case about whether a school can punish a cheerleader for something she put on Snapchat. Her personal issues are all moot — a lower court restored her to the cheerleading squad and she has graduated — but the case is still alive because of the broader implications about student speech. I’m going to have to read the appellate-court ruling before I even know which side I’m on.

Matt Yglesias called attention to a fact I hadn’t noticed: Gallup reported already in 2017 that the number of Americans who described the Bible as “fables, history, moral precepts recorded by men” exceeded the number who think of the Bible as “actual word of God to be taken literally”. Both views significantly trail the fairly stable 47% who chose “inspired by God, not to be taken literally”.

and let’s close with something both airy and timely

Xavi Bou practices an unusual form of bird photography, using time studies of individual birds and flocks of birds to create arresting patterns.

someone encountering his work for the first time could be excused for having no idea what his subject is. In a project called Ornithographies, he creates mesmerizing images by taking many photographs per second and stitching up to 3,500 or more of them together. The results are beautifully abstract, capturing the energy of flight, whether in the chaotic squiggles that result when Alpine Swifts dive and swoop for insects, or the smooth, even undulations of a gull flying over the water.

The result is a still image like this:

Or a video like this:

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  • RevLinda  On April 26, 2021 at 2:35 pm

    The transportation problem seems unending. For an example, google “Brent Spence Bridge.” This bridge has been causing problems in the Cincinnati metro area for at least 30 years, but any plans for improvement are still on the drawing boards. Even the websites about the bridge aren’t being updated. This project alone is going to top out at 3 billion or more. Do the Republicans have any idea how much work this country needs?

  • frankackerman0617  On April 26, 2021 at 4:06 pm

    I think it useful to be reminded that some of the fundamental political problems we are dealing with have been with us for awhile. For example: “The Basic Problem of Democracy” by Walter Lippmann in The Atlantic issue of Nov. 1919.

    Unfortunately, like many of the references you find here on the Sift you will need a paid-up subscription to access it. I think this is a basic problem for our democracy. Before the covid-19 pandemic a good public library provided a very limited access to mankind’s store of knowledge. Hopefully this resource will soon return.

  • janinmi  On April 27, 2021 at 12:21 pm

    Thank you for mentioning Xavi Bou’s works featuring birds. I found the video you included both soothing and fascinating.

  • Ed O  On April 28, 2021 at 3:03 am

    You had a typo there. Where you said “no matter how convinced that majority is…” you meant “minority”.


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