News Update

Opinion: Charles Dickens wakes up in 2021

Perhaps there has never been a passage that so eloquently captures, in only a few words, the predicament of people trying to make sense of life while grappling with opposing forces, never knowing whether they are headed to heaven or the other way.
Was this week a story of justice achieved, with Derek Chauvin’s conviction in the killing of George Floyd? — Or was it one of ongoing injustice, as the nation learned of new police shootings? Was it about the hope of widespread vaccinations enabling a return to a more normal life — or the despair wrought by vaccine hesitancy in the US and the rampaging pandemic in India? Was it the alarming news of skyrocketing carbon emissions as the world economy recovers from a year of lockdown? Or the heartening commitment of 40 world leaders at President Joe Biden’s climate summit to get serious about a transition to a post-carbon world?
That virtual gathering, economist Jeffrey D. Sachs wrote, was a “remarkable success.” The world’s economic powers “are finally aligning around the goal of deep decarbonization … Cynics might claim that we’ve been here before — big political talk about climate action but with little prospect of follow up.” Yet, Sachs pointed out, “the stark dangers of a warming planet, coupled with the breakthroughs in low-cost zero-carbon technologies, are convincing political and business leaders not to be left behind in the great global energy transformation already underway.”
Christiana Figueres, who led global climate negotiations from 2010 to 2016, wrote, “Since 2005, 32 countries, including some developing nations, have successfully grown their economies without growing their emissions.” This is a “moment for stubborn optimism — the necessary mindset when embarking on any momentous task. And the good news is that we have an extraordinary wind at our backs. Recent developments show the momentum for change is far stronger than anything we had ahead of the Paris Agreement.”
Biden’s bigger challenge may come Wednesday when he travels to Capitol Hill to sell his sweeping agenda of social change and expanded government to a Congress in which his fellow Democrats have the barest of majorities and most Republicans are deeply opposed.
The speech to a joint session comes two days before the President’s 100th day in office. “Although skeptics predicted Biden might be a hesitant leader who would focusing too much on elusive bipartisan deals out of fear of rocking the boat,” wrote Julian Zelizer, “he has proven to be anything but. Biden, it turns out, has hit the ground running and started crafting a robust record.
Biden will be speaking from a Capitol that was invaded Jan. 6 by Trump supporters seeking to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s victory. Questions still linger about what led up to that day, wrote Frida Ghitis. “What exactly was the endgame in this assault? What did the fervently pro-Trump mob plan? How much did Trump — who promoted the day’s event on Twitter, where he wrote, ‘Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!’ — know about those plans? Who else was involved?
We don’t know what Biden will say from the House podium, but we do have clues from his past speeches, such as the one he gave this week after Derek Chauvin’s conviction. “Here’s what you are not going to get in a major address from President Joseph Biden: textured rhetoric woven with references to the classics; eloquent, poetic phraseology ringing like heavenly music and leaving its listeners with echoes of Shakespeare, Lincoln and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.,” wrote Gene Seymour.
“Here’s what you are going to get in a major address from Biden: a torrent of phrases, some of them carefully clipped like a neighbor’s hedge, most of them rolling and gushing like a river, all of them aimed not at the gut in the manner of his immediate predecessor, but directly towards the heart, whether to soothe or to rouse, keeping at bay any haste or incaution.”

In handcuffs

At 4:09 p.m. CT Tuesday, Derek Chauvin stood up and put his arms behind his back, ready to be handcuffed and led away from the Minneapolis courtroom where he had just been declared guilty of murder. It was less than a year since the world watched a video showing another handcuffed man, George Floyd — who cried out for his mother and said he couldn’t breathe– while Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds.
The most dramatic US criminal trial in decades ended this week with Judge Peter Cahill intoning the jury’s verdict—guilty, guilty, guilty, on three counts –while Chauvin, wearing a disposable mask, watched with eyes that darted back and forth.
“This is what accountability looks like,” wrote Van Jones. “All we want is for the police to obey the law. When they break the law, they should be put in handcuffs just like anybody else.
The killing of George Floyd had ignited protests around the world, and many cheered the conviction as a measure of justice.
Issac Bailey understood why people “burst into celebration,” but, he wrote, “I’m not in a celebratory mood — because it took overwhelming evidence to convict a police officer, evidence so clear even his former boss and colleagues testified against him. There won’t always be that much evidence. The video won’t be so clear and gut-wrenching, even though the harm being perpetrated might be just as devastating next time. I haven’t forgotten about Daunte Wright or that no cop has been charged with killing Breonna Taylor or that bad cops are still protected by qualified immunity and a blue wall that remains all too silent.”

Cariol’s Law

Cariol Horne FILECariol Horne FILE
“The truth is that there are many others like Derek Chauvin,” wrote Cariol Horne. She was fired from the Buffalo, New York, police force after a 2006 incident when she “stopped a fellow officer from choking a handcuffed Black man during an arrest. But my decision to intervene is one I stand by in spite of the price I paid.”
Horne pointed out that last year, the city of Buffalo passed “Cariol’s Law,” establishing that police officers must intervene when they see a fellow officer using excessive force. “Police officers’ jobs depend on our community believing and trusting us to both protect and serve,” Horne wrote. “And each officer who has the opportunity to wear the badge, and chooses not to intervene, should face the same fate as Chauvin.”
Legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers wrote that Chauvin is likely to appeal his conviction on several grounds. Among them: “Recent comments by elected officials, including Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who called for protesters to stay on the streets and ‘get more confrontational’ in the event of an acquittal, prompted a mistrial motion by the defense on the day of closing arguments. The denial of this motion, without asking the jury whether they were aware of or would be influenced by the remarks, will be…another appeal issue.” But she predicted that none of the arguments for appeal “has a strong likelihood of success, given the strict instructions these jurors have been under to avoid all news coverage…”
Errol Louis noted that Judge Cahill “appeared visibly angry over the fact that Waters came to Minnesota, traveled to areas where protestors have gathered, and did what politicians often do — urge people to stand up for what they believe in.” It was in the tradition of nonviolent civil rights protest pioneered by Martin Luther King, Louis argued. “It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s constitutionally protected speech — and it’s certainly not an attack on the integrity or functioning of the courts. But you’d never know that from Judge Cahill’s reaction.”
Miriam E. Rocah, district attorney of Westchester County in New York, asked, “What led a jury to convict Chauvin of murder when less than 2% of the police killings every year since 2005 have resulted in charges even being filed against the officers?”
“Three factors: The prosecutors did their job and treated this case and Chauvin’s actions like any other case, without special treatment because he was a police officer; the murder was recorded on video; and an unprecedented number of that Chauvin’s actions were antithetical to police practice and standards.”
For SE Cupp, there was a key takeaway from the trial’s outcome: “There are so many heartbreaking realities of modern life in America that we routinely have to explain to our children, but…with a Minnesota jury’s guilty verdicts, we can feel tremendous relief that we will not have to explain why justice was not done in the case of George Floyd.”
About 30 minutes before the verdict was delivered in Minneapolis, a police officer fatally shot Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio. “According to police officials and bodycam footage shared with the public, the teenager was holding a knife and charged two other females,” wrote Peniel E. Joseph. “But many are openly questioning why this young teenager could not have been subdued with nonlethal force.”

Oscars’ different look

In a year that’s mostly been unkind to award ceremonies, the Academy Awards kick off tonight with a “teeny tiny” red carpet, due to Covid precautions. And that’s not the only difference.
“It’s true that a startlingly small number of people — academy members and audiences alike — have seen this year’s nominees,” wrote Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post. “The fact that so many of this year’s nominees are scrappy little indies — or emanated from the scrappy-little-indie world — reflects a year when most studios held back such bigger-budget awards fodder as ‘West Side Story,’ ‘In the Heights’ and ‘The French Dispatch’ until theaters reopened. But it also reflects the binary way the film industry is now functioning, wherein films are either lavish, spectacle-heavy tentpoles or low-budget films that signal their seriousness by way of a grim tone and gritty production values.”
The Oscars are likely “to be memorable for who might scoop up top honors,” wrote Nadia Neophytou. “Five years after #OscarsSoWhite first gained momentum, Garret Bradley, the documentary filmmaker behind ‘Time,’ the late actor Chadwick Boseman and filmmaker Chloé Zhao all stand to make history — the kind that’s long overdue and much-needed for women filmmakers and people of color.” Neophytou argues that the Oscars –and the industry — are badly lagging in another category: creating opportunities and recognition for women composers.
Want to catch up on a bunch of the Best Picture nominees? Read Mai Nguyen on “Minari,” Sara Stewart on “Nomadland” and “Promising Young Woman,” Peniel E. Joseph on “Judas and the Black Messiah” and Daniel L. Greenberg on “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Also: Gene Seymour on “One Night in Miami”: Leslie Odom Jr. is a contender for Best Supporting Actor, along with sharing a songwriting nomination, and Kemp Powers is up for best adapted screenplay.

Walter Mondale

Walter Mondale served as vice president in the one-term presidency of Jimmy Carter and went on to run for president against Ronald Reagan, only to lose in a landslide. Yet when he died this week at 93, he was hailed for looming much larger — politically and personally. Kate Brower observed that Mondale had “revolutionized the vice presidency” by becoming a powerful all-purpose adviser to the president and securing a West Wing office “just 17 steps from the Oval.”
Joe Lockhart was hired in 1984 at the age of 23 as a press secretary for Mondale’s presidential campaign. He “got to see a side of him that was different from his public image as the stoic Norwegian. Mondale was a very funny man. He loved a good prank and was downright silly and goofy when he was around his kids.” He also “loved his staff. Many worked for him for decades both in Minnesota and DC.”

Don’t miss

‘Hygiene theater’

A year ago, millions of Americans were strategizing about the best ways to disinfect their mail and groceries, thanks to warnings that the virus that causes Covid-19 might linger on surfaces. “Remember when we all thought we had to wash our vegetables to remove possible contamination from the novel coronavirus,” Dr. Kent Sepkowitz recalled.
“Everything and anything seemed a potential danger, from touching a countertop to eating an apple to walking in the street,” he wrote. “In response, the most germophobic behavior suddenly made perfect sense…hand sanitizer sales in 2020 jumped 600%.”
Now we know that while “doorknobs and faucet handles” and other “high-touch surfaces” need attention, “and in households with a Covid-19-positive individual, disinfecting surfaces in the house can lead to lower viral transmission rates … the rest, according to Vincent Hill, chief of the Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch of the CDC, is protecting no one and is, in fact, nothing more than ‘hygiene theater.’
While many people “freaked out” at the beginning of the pandemic, wrote Greg Bardsley, ” a group of quiet, focused and determined people went to work.”
“While we were complaining about cheese-less fajitas or throwing grocery store tantrums, they were pouring their passions into developing vaccine candidates. While we felt helpless as loved ones got sick and death rates spiked, they got started on clinical trials involving tens of thousands of courageous volunteers.” The result: more than 130 million Americans have received at least one dose of vaccine against the virus.
The scientists, Bardsley wrote, deserve “ticker tape parades…a national monument in Washington…musicals and documentaries and Oprah interviews and TikTok videos and halftime shows in their honor.”
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