News Update

Opinion: Jurors send a powerful message

Those words, famously echoed by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and former President Barack Obama, come to mind when juries render their verdicts, as they did twice last week in closely watched cases.
In Georgia, a jury found three men guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was chased and shot to death on a suburban street in 2020. In Virginia, a jury ordered extremists, including organizers of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, to pay damages of more than $26 million for the violence that ensued.
The Georgia verdicts “represent a real strike against white supremacy and systemic racism in our criminal legal system,” wrote Issac Bailey. The “nearly all-White jury shamed the defense for believing anti-Black racism would help secure an acquittal. It’s the kind of decision we should want replicated throughout our system, the kind we should want proclaimed and celebrated, the kind we must hope becomes precedent. If it does, Black jurors would not be continuously discriminated against during jury selection. If it does, racist White men would think twice before arming themselves to take matters into their own hands the way White racist mobs did during the height of the lynching era. If it does, I’ll feel less of a need to arm myself to go jogging alone, even in nearly-all White neighborhoods.”
Legal analyst Areva Martin credited the “the powerful video evidence and the stellar work of prosecutor Linda Dunikoski” for leaving “in shreds the preposterous citizen’s arrest/self-defense contentions that were raised” by the defendants. “Travis McMichael’s contradictory statements and testimony, along with the video evidence, demonstrated that he never had a fear of imminent harm and never even told Arbery he was holding him for the police.”
“Reasonable fear did not motivate this killing. The prosecution had only to mention the defendant’s own words on the 911 call he made. What emergency did he cite? ‘There’s a Black male running down the street.’
In Virginia, jurors also rejected the defense’s case. The Charlottesville rally, Frida Ghitis wrote, is “seared in the minds of many Americans…The march through the grounds of the University of Virginia looked and sounded like something out of 1930s Nazi Germany, with tiki torches and shouts of ‘Jews will not replace us,’ ‘Blood and soil,’ and stiff-armed Nazi-style salutes.”
“The moment seemed to confirm our worst fears. The day after that spine-chilling march, violent clashes between racists and anti-racists turned deadly when one of the defendants rammed his car into a crowd of counter protesters, killing one and injuring several of the people now turned plaintiffs in this lawsuit.”

Omicron worries

Omicron is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet. It’s also now the name of a new coronavirus variant whose many mutations prompted scientists to rush to figure out its likely impact. Will it rival or exceed the Delta variant’s transmissibility? Will it evade any of the protection offered by vaccines?
“After South Africa sounded the alarm on a new Covid-19 variant, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 900 points on Black Friday, marking a dire start to what was forecast to be a record-shattering holiday spending season,” wrote Julian Zelizer. It’s too early to tell how much of a threat Omicron poses, but it clearly complicates the recovery efforts of President Joe Biden’s administration.
“Under more normal circumstances, we would expect the President to enjoy some political benefit from the economic recovery and strong legislative wins, including the passage of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.” But Biden’s approval ratings are much lower than they were at the start of his presidency, Zelizer wrote.
“The pandemic is far from over, and after nearly two years and more than 775,000 deaths, many Americans are traumatized and on edge.”
Writing for Bloomberg Opinion, David Fickling noted that “scarcely more than half of the world’s population has had a dose of a Covid vaccine. That means there’s still more than 3.4 billion people out there whose bodies the virus can treat as laboratories in which to develop new mutations. Until we reduce that number further, the odds aren’t as strongly in our favor as we’d like to think.”

Thanksgiving 2021

The Thanksgiving weekend of 2021 represented a step closer to a pre-pandemic world, with more people traveling, gathering in person and venturing out to shop, even as parts of the US saw surges in Covid-19 infections.
Target drew attention this week when its chief executive Brian Cornell announced it will never again open its stores on Thanksgiving. As Kara Alaimo wrote, “[He] said he made the decision after employees told him they wanted to spend the holiday with their families — which is, of course, exactly where they should be.”
“The move to prioritize the well-being of Target’s staffers sends a powerful message about the company’s values at a time when Americans are rethinking our approaches to work. And, whether customers realize it or not, this benefits them, too. Other companies would be smart to follow suit.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat wrestled with a situation many have experienced. “Almost everyone I know worries about ruptured or strained relationships with friends or family members who are caught up in a vortex of disinformation and immersed in alternate versions of reality, including the popular conspiracy theory QAnon,” Ben-Ghiat noted.
“I know what it’s like to see a loved one drift away until they are unreachable through logic, reason or evidence. During the pandemic, a family member previously known for her common sense became radicalized.” What to do?
“Keep them close and find common ground on other issues, as hard as that might be. This does not mean we accept or validate their racist or anti-science beliefs, but rather aim to be strategic. After all, if we cut them off or yell at them, we simply magnify the chances that they will remain siloed among like-minded people.”
In Washington, some Democrats are already fretting over the possibility of losing control of Congress in the 2022 midterm election and over the question of who will lead their party’s ticket in 2024 if President Joe Biden chooses not to run. (The White House says he is planning to run again.)
“If Biden does run, as an incumbent, he has an advantage,” wrote Lincoln Mitchell. “But if he chooses not to, that doesn’t mean Democrats are doomed.”
Two of the party’s most prominent figures, Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg could wind up as rivals in a post-Biden primary contest. But that needn’t happen, Mitchell observed. They could “run together in 2024, with Harris the nominee for president and Buttigieg for vice-president. This could put an end to whatever feuding exists between them now, while giving the Democratic Party a very strong ticket in 2024 that would seem like a natural continuation of Biden’s first term. A Harris-Buttigieg ticket would showcase two dynamic politicians and represent the breadth and diversity of the Democratic Party, and indeed the whole country, while not veering too far left and alienating key swing voters who Biden won in 2020.”
Biden’s troubles are partly a matter of messaging, wrote Molly Jong-Fast in The Atlantic. “To improve Biden’s popularity, earnest consultants might tell him to work on the fundamentals,” she observed. “But the fundamentals are actually good: The economy is getting better. Americans have both cash and jobs…The disconnect between the facts and the polls suggests that Biden’s true problem is a narrative one. Specifically, he doesn’t have an enemy, a punching bag to absorb Americans’ anger (rational or irrational)…”
“Biden needs to remind Americans of what he’s trying to achieve — rescuing democracy from the threat of authoritarianism, both at home and abroad — and ask them to enlist alongside him in that cause. Voters rallied behind Biden when he made that case on the campaign trail in 2020, and with the right messaging they would do so again today,” Jong-Fast argued.
“For most of 2021, we have been engaged in a national conversation around why the January 6 insurrection happened and who was responsible,” wrote Jennifer Rodgers. In recent days, she noted, judges have spoken out on the question.
For example, “Judge Amit Mehta of federal district court in Washington, D.C., said during the sentencing of a January 6 defendant that the defendant was a ‘pawn’ who was ‘told the election was stolen when it was not,’ and that ‘those who created the conditions that led to [the defendant’s] conduct have in no meaningful measure been held accountable.'” More judges will give their views as hundreds of similar cases get resolved.
Measured, fact-based descriptions of relevant events by judges have the potential to persuade where hyper-partisan rhetoric from elected officials may not,” Rodgers observed. “Indeed, the public should place greater weight on what judges are saying because of their unique role as neutral arbiters and their mastery of the relevant evidence. Let’s just hope people are listening.”

Don’t miss

Robert Redford’s plea

Robert Redford was 11 when he left Los Angeles for the first time. He had recovered from a mild case of polio and his mother drove him to Yosemite National Park. Seeing the famous landscape from Inspiration Point, “I knew immediately that I was somewhere special,” the actor wrote.
Thus began a lifelong passion for America’s national parks. Redford took his children to places like Chaco Canyon, where they “could explore the remains of what was once the center of a bustling and sophisticated Puebloan civilization that existed hundreds of years before Europeans first set foot on this continent.”
“Unfortunately, these sacred and unprotected landscapes around Chaco have long been targeted for oil and gas drilling that desecrates what was once the center of an ancient civilization, and a part of the history of our continent and our species.” Redford applauded the Biden administration’s announcement of a ban of new oil and gas drilling on federal lands within a 10-mile radius around the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico.
There are many other parks and sites threatened by development, Redford observed, including the Grand Canyon. “The United States is not even 250 years old,” he wrote. “These places collectively hold thousands of years’ worth of history, culture and stories. We must preserve these lands.”
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