It’s A Start
April 21, 2021
The Good News
- L.A. Set to Be Largest City to Offer Guaranteed Income for Poor (Bloomberg)
- In Texas, a rancher swaps his oil pumps for wind turbines (Techxplore)
“Words like ‘freedom,’ ‘justice,’ ‘democracy’ are not common concepts; on the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous and, above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply.” — James Baldwin
“It is essential that justice be done, and it is equally vital that justice not be confused with revenge, for the two are wholly different.” — Oscar Arias
It’s A Start
(Brandon Bell via Getty Images)
Perhaps there’s hope for the soul of this nation after all, and we have a teenage bystander to thank for it. If it hadn’t been for Darnella Frazier’s smartphone recording of 46-year-old George Floyd’s death in its entirety, and posting it online where the video immediately went viral, would former police officer Derek Chauvin ever have been tried and found guilty of murder? Very doubtful.
After a three-week trial and testimony from 44 witnesses, the jury of seven women and five men took just 10 hours to find Chauvin guilty on all counts Tuesday afternoon in a Minneapolis courtroom. He was convicted of second-degree murder (maximum sentence of 40 years); third-degree murder (maximum of 25 years); and second-degree manslaughter (maximum of 10 years. Chauvin’s bail was revoked and he was taken away in handcuffs. The 45-year-old will learn his fate when he returns in eight weeks for sentencing.
Prosecutors had argued it was Chauvin’s actions — kneeling on the prone, handcuffed man’s neck for 9 minutes 29 seconds — that caused Floyd to die from low oxygen, or asphyxia. The defense claimed Floyd’s illegal drug use and a pre-existing heart condition, even possible exposure to carbon monoxide, were to blame. Precautions were taken in anticipation of the verdict. National guard surrounded the Hennepin County Government Center. Once word came at 1:45 pm that the jury had reached a verdict, government workers were sent home.
When the verdict was read about two hours later, there was relief and celebration, not rioting. Car horns, even money, filled the air. Official reaction was immediate. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said: “I would not call today’s verdict justice, because justice implies true restoration. But it is accountability, which is the first step towards justice. And now the cause of justice is in your hands.” Governor Tim Walz also called the verdict an important step toward justice, adding “our work has only begun.”
Civil rights leader Al Sharpton lead a prayer thanking God as well as prosecutors and the jury for delivering justice “in the midnight hours.” Darnella Frazier wrote on Facebook: “George Floyd we did it!! Justice has been served.”
President Biden telephoned Floyd’s family from the Oval Office after the verdict, saying “We’re so relieved.” Asked how he was doing, Biden responded “Feeling better now. Nothing is going to make it all better, but at least now there is some justice.” Biden has pledged to help end the epidemic of Black people being killed by police, but the policing overhaul bill named for Floyd is currently stalled in Congress. Even so, Biden told Floyd’s family the change the country needs starts right now. Later, Biden addressed the nation.
While it provides a glimmer of hope for accountability, Chauvin’s conviction is still far from the norm. Of approximately 15,000 police on-duty killings since 2005, only 140 officers have been arrested on murder or manslaughter charges. Of those, just seven — 5% — were convicted of murder.
Floyd’s death set off international protests against police brutality and racial injustice, but Chauvin’s guilty verdict will hopefully resonate far beyond one man’s murder. It has to. (Star Tribune, NBC, MSN, CBS Minnesota, PBS, CNN)
A Strong Man, But Not Strong Enough
(Minasse Wondimu Hailu via Getty Images)
- President Idriss Deby, 68, a former soldier who headed up the landlocked African country of Chad, has died. Deby ruled with an iron fist for three decades and had just claimed victory in his reelection for a sixth term.
- The West considered Deby an indispensable ally in fighting against Islamist extremism in Central Africa. His contribution to countering groups like Boko Haram in neighboring Nigeria was seen as critical, despite accusations of human rights violations and the repression of political opponents.
- Many questions surrounded the circumstances of Deby’s death. It was reported he had been wounded while visiting government troops in an area of active engagement with insurgents. A group of military officers said Tuesday that Deby had died of his wounds, one day after his reelection. They also announced that the President’s son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, would succeed him, and head up a transitional military council leading to new elections in 18 months.
- The accession of the 37-year-old four-star military general was immediately condemned as violating the country’s constitution, which specifies the president of the National Assembly — or failing that, the first vice president — takes over when a president dies. (NYT, $)
Ukraine Protests, Russia Says Crimea River
- Russia’s military presence in Crimea has steadily increased in just the last two weeks. The Pentagon is reporting the number of troops now exceeds the number deployed when Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
- US Press secretary John Kirby declined to provide specific numbers, but Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said last week there were about 80,000 troops stationed along the country’s border with Russia, 40,000 of them in Crimea. On Monday, the EU said there were now over 100,000 troops in border regions, primarily concentrated in Ukraine’s eastern border and in the Crimean Peninsula.
- One US Defense Department official said in addition to the combat troops there were, tanks, artillery, helicopters, and fighter aircraft in the region, and nine Russian amphibious naval ships in the Black Sea near Ukraine’s borders. A second senior official called the buildup “alarming.” (NBC)
Additional World News
- A Global Tipping Point for Reining In Tech Has Arrived (NYT, $)
- ASEAN calls summit on Myanmar as EU widens sanctions (Reuters)
- Violence erupts as Mexico’s deadly gangs aim to cement power in largest ever elections (Guardian)
- Caving to Islamists, Pakistan’s Parliament Debates Expelling French Ambassador (NYT, $)
- Carbon emissions to soar in 2021 by second highest rate in history (Guardian)
- U.N. Reports Surge of Migrant Children Entering Mexico, Destined for U.S. (NYT, $)
- Joy, Relief In Airports As Australia And New Zealand Open ‘Travel Bubble’ (NPR)
- Beijing won total control over Hong Kong. Now, the ‘brainwashing’ begins. (WaPo, $)
- Evacuations as firefighters battle wildfire in Cape Town (Al Jazeera)
Humana Needs A Lesson In The Humane
- A federal audit released Tuesday claims a Humana Health care plan for Florida seniors improperly collected nearly $200 million in 2015 by overstating how sick some patients were.
- The Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s recommendation to repay, if finalized, would be “by far the largest” audit penalty ever imposed on a Medicare Advantage company. Humana sharply disputed the audit findings, and said the recommendations “do not represent final determinations, and Humana will have the right to appeal.”
- Medicare Advantage is a fast-growing private alternative to original Medicare and has enrolled more than 26 million people. While popular with seniors, Medicare Advantage has been the target of multiple government investigations, Department of Justice and whistleblower lawsuits, and Medicare audits that concluded some plans boosted their government payments by exaggerating the severity of illnesses they treated. One 2020 report estimated that Medicare Advantage plans overcharged the federal government $16 billion in 2019. (NPR)
Florida Gets A Grip, An Iron One
- Florida’s Republican governor Ron De Santis has signed a new law he called the “strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement measure in the country.” The legislation was a response to protests seen around the country last summer following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
- While Florida experienced little of the violence that occurred in places like Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon, DeSantis said tougher laws were needed to make sure Florida doesn’t experience that kind of protests. The bill provides new protections for police, and increases penalties for people who block roadways, deface public monuments, or take part in any property damage or violence during protests.
- It creates a new crime, “mob intimidation,” and requires that anyone arrested at a protest be denied bail until their first court appearance. Local Florida officials will be liable for lawsuits from injured parties if the officials are found not to have done enough to control violent protests.
- And the law reacts to the “defund the police” movement by allowing officials to appeal to the governor and his Cabinet any decision by local officials to reduce law enforcement funding. Civil rights and social justice groups called the law an unconstitutional attack on free speech, clearly meant to “silence dissent and create fear among Floridians who want to take to the streets to march for justice.” (NPR)
Additional USA News
- Johnson & Johnson suffers another setback as FDA tells Md. vaccine maker to suspend production (WaPo, $)
- Dozen Megadonors Gave $3.4 Billion, One in Every 13 Dollars, Since 2009 (NYT, $)
- Supreme Court passes on Second Amendment cases challenging lifetime gun ownership ban (USA Today)
- Immigrant Detention For Profit Faces Resistance After Big Expansion Under Trump (NPR)
- Democracy and free speech: The First Amendment has a Facebook problem (Vox)
- The ‘New Redlining’ Is Deciding Who Lives in Your Neighborhood (NYT, $)
- Not ‘Illegal Alien,” But ‘Undocumented Noncitizen’ Under New Immigration Policy (NPR)
- ‘Within minutes I was weeping’: the US pastor using scripture to mobilize climate action (Guardian)
- ‘Water warriors’: the US women banding together to fight for water justice (Guardian)
Extreme Makeover: Freshwater Edition
- In less than the number of years that can be counted on one hand, an invasive water weed has turned one of Cameroon’s largest lakes from a blue haven — for freshwater turtles, crocodiles, 18 families of fish, vulnerable African manatees, and livelihoods for local fisherman — into what looks from above like the expansive lawn of a well-manicured golf course.
- This free-floating thick layer of greenish-brown freshwater fern is Salvinia molesta, a species known locally as kariba weed or simply Salvinia, and it has choked the life from Lake Ossa.
- Salvinia is native to southern Brazil and northern Argentina, but it can spread between bodies of water by wind, water currents, floods, animals and people. With no natural enemies present, the invasive weed can double in size in 10 days, making its prolific growth almost impossible to stop. The Salvinia invasion has been declared a “conservation emergency” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.
- Manual removal of the weed cannot keep pace with the speed of its regeneration, and killing it with chemicals has its own ecological drawbacks. So scientists are trying a third approach: they are breeding, as quickly as possible, a small brown-black water beetle native to Brazil known as the Salvinia weevil. It feeds almost exclusively on the destructive intruder. But it is weevil larvae that truly devastates Salvinia, by burrowing into the plant’s rootstalks to cause fatal damage.
- The Salvinia weevil was discovered in the late 1970s by a scientist at Australia’s government research agency while conducting surveys in South America. It was first tested as a biological agent to destroy Salvinia at Australia’s Lake Moondarra in 1980. Weevils killed 50,000 tons of Salvinia over a 1.5 square mile infestation, and today the lake is mostly clear of the plant.
- Lake Ossa covers 15.4 square miles, and 40% of it is already covered with Salvinia. Time is of the essence for Cameroon, so we wish those birthers of beetle babies the best of luck with their project. (BBC)
- Could electric tattoos be the next step in body art? (BBC)
- DNA robots designed in minutes instead of days (Phys)
- The best climate solution you’ve never heard of (BBC)
- Facebook is joining the (very) crowded audio space with soundbites, live rooms and podcasts (CNN)
- Apple set to release long-awaited iOS update to restrict tracking by advertisers (CBS)
- These Rocks Made a 1,000-Mile Trek. Did Dinosaurs Carry Them? (NYT, $)
- Psychedelics are transforming the way we understand depression and its treatment (Guardian)
- They Hacked McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines—and Started a Cold War (Wired)
- The remarkable power of Australian kelp (BBC)
- How Face Recognition Can Destroy Anonymity (Wired)
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