Politics & Policy

Cuomo Endorses Mass Protests in NYC Mid-Pandemic

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Mass protests “could potentially be infecting hundreds and hundreds of people, after everything that we have done,” New York governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday morning. “We have to take a minute and ask ourselves, what are we doing here?”

Apparently Cuomo didn’t have to think too long about it. 

By Monday afternoon, he issued a joint statement with New York City mayor Bill de Blasio in which the two elected leaders said that “we encourage people to protest peacefully and make their voices heard.” 

Cuomo and de Blasio declared an 11:00 p.m. curfew for the city and urged the protesters not to loot but made no mention of social distancing in their joint statement. 

Oddly, I haven’t seen anyone publish a take on “New York’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice.”

Economy & Business

Switzerland: A New ‘S’ in ESG?

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The Swiss Parliament Building in Bern, Switzerland (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

Switzerland is generally a well-run place, with a healthy respect both for the preservation of capital and for the way that its referendums help ensure that Swiss democracy is genuinely bottom-up as well as top-down.

But, judging by this Financial Times report, these two qualities may be about to come crashing into each other:

Some of the world’s biggest companies, from Nestlé to Glencore, face the prospect of tougher ethical regulations in Switzerland, as a four-year debate over business practices comes to a head in parliament this week.

From Tuesday, MPs will have less than three weeks to thrash out a compromise to a proposed change to the law brought by the Responsible Business Initiative (KVI) .

The proposal will make businesses in Switzerland legally liable and “guilty until proven innocent” for abuses of human and environmental rights anywhere in their supply chains around the world — whether at subsidiaries or third-party companies.

The Responsible Business Initiative emerged in 2016 as a result of Switzerland’s direct democratic process garnering the support of more than 100,000 citizens, the threshold for triggering a referendum.

Under Switzerland’s constitution, the country’s lawmakers have the right to formulate an alternative to the popular proposal. If the initiative’s sponsors agree to the parliamentary compromise, the proposal becomes law. If the initiative’s sponsors do not, then their original proposal is submitted for a popular referendum.

This looks like a recipe for perpetual lawfare against Swiss companies, with the meaning of “abuse” and both “human and environmental rights” opening up the possibility for endless and expensive debate. Egregious cases are easy enough to identify — and in principle few well-run companies should have any problem in avoiding them, although it’s easy to see how policing their supply chains could be a different matter.

The real problem will come in cases that fall closer to that point where reasonable people could disagree over whether there has been any “abuse” of, for that matter, how far those “human and environmental rights” actually go.

The Financial Times:

Critics say the proposed legal changes would impose crippling legal liabilities on businesses for abuses far beyond their control, and turn Switzerland into a centre for activists trying to “blackmail” some of the world’s biggest multinationals.

Critics are right.

The Financial Times:

Supporters meanwhile argue the move will put Switzerland at the forefront of a global change. It will force businesses to account for their conduct, and prevent the Alpine country from becoming an international pariah as investors and other developed nations alter their ideas about good business practice.

The words “at the forefront of a global change” ought to be enough to fill anyone with gloom, but it’s interesting to read the argument-by-momentum that “supporters” are trying to create, unaware, perhaps, that being a “pariah” can be, as the Swiss used to understand when it came to banking secrecy, not the disadvantage that the Gutmenschen seem to assume.

Nevertheless, arguments-by-momentum should not be underestimated. The FT report quotes Vincent Kaufmann, chief executive of the Ethos Foundation, “a leading Swiss ethical investment adviser,” and an early inhabitant of the eco-system that is flourishing as interest grows in “socially responsible” investment (often nowadays defined by reference to the extent to which companies measure up to often ill-defined environmental [‘E’], social [‘S’] and, less controversially, governance [‘G’] standards). Naturally enough, Kaufmann plays the momentum card:

We are already late in Switzerland. If we adopt nothing we will be lagging. The proposals now will certainly put us ahead of other countries, but this is the direction of the trend. And since Switzerland was the host country for the universal declaration of human rights, I think we can afford to be ahead of the pack.

No, no, you are right about that last sentence: Its logic is . . . elusive

ESG , of course, can also be a good business. Ethos offers a range of funds which only invest in companies with an above average ESG rating — and there is nothing wrong with that. Investors who wish to take account of such considerations should have the opportunity to put their money in funds that do just that (the problem is when the element of investor choice is removed).  Additionally, the firm “offers a full range of advisory services to foster socially responsible investment,” such as “portfolio and funds sustainability screenings.”

Politics in Switzerland these days comes with a green tinge and the FT reports that:

Polling indicates that support . . . for the original, hardline text of the KVI is high: an independent survey conducted last month found that 78 per cent of respondents were supportive of enforcing the new requirements on big business.

According to Mark Pieth, a legal professor at the University of Basel and founder of the Basel Institute on Governance:

“It is not a left-right struggle as you might think . . . There are already 120 Swiss NGOs which have come out in support of it, including all of the country’s churches.”

Churches and NGOs are, of course, famously above the left/right divide.

Could Liechtenstein’s big opportunity lie just ahead?

Culture

Twenty Things That Caught My Eye Today: Police and Actual Protesters Pray & More (June 1, 2020)

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1. ABC News: ‘Just relax’: George Floyd’s brother condemns violent protesters

2. Brian Butler: I’m a CEO, a retired Army officer and a black man

3.

4. Fr. Raymond J. de Souza: Don’t think abusive and wrongful arrests are just a U.S. problem

5.

6.

7.WSJ: Hong Kong Police Ban Tiananmen Massacre Vigil

8. USA Today: ‘Very encouraging’: Spain reports no coronavirus deaths in 24-hour period

9. Reuters: New coronavirus losing potency, top Italian doctor says

Continue reading “Twenty Things That Caught My Eye Today: Police and Actual Protesters Pray & More (June 1, 2020)”

Politics & Policy

Protest and Partisanship

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Minneapolis is a city with a Democratic mayor and a Democratic city council without a single Republican on it: Twelve of the 13 city-council members are Democrats, one is a Green. It has a progressive chief of police who was preceded by another progressive chief of police. It is in a state with a Democratic governor and a Democratic state house. Every statewide executive office in Minnesota is either held by a Democrat or is officially nonpartisan — there is not one Republican as such holding a statewide office in Minnesota. The people of Minneapolis are represented in the U.S. House by, among others, Ilhan Omar and Dean Phillips, both Democrats, and in the Senate by Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, both Democrats.

I wonder if the solution to what ails Minneapolis and its police is really giving more unaccountable power to Democrats.

Politics & Policy

Most of These Mayors Have Been in Public Office for Decades

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Voter Michael Grabowski holds an “I Voted” sticker, Peru, Ill., March 17, 2020. (Daniel Acker/Reuters)

In today’s Morning Jolt, I ripped most of America’s current political leaders for habitually forming their beliefs based upon comforting narratives rather than the facts in front of them. After arsonists set fire to buildings, looters ransacked stores, and brutes hurt innocent people, some mayors and governors preferred to believe it was all the work of outside interlopers, white nationalists, drug cartels or heavily driven by foreign intelligence operations. While those may be minor or contributing factors in the coast-to-coast chaos, the overwhelming majority of those committing acts of violence on camera were young people eagerly embracing the excuse to commit crimes of opportunity, driven by selfishness and malevolence.

But my assessment probably didn’t blame the electorate enough. States and localities did not merely elect these leaders; in most cases, they reelected them. For those in their first term, the voters knew darn well what kind of men they were.

President Donald Trump is seeking a second term. New York City mayor Bill De Blasio is nearing the end of his second term; before that he was a city councilman and held the office of city public advocate. New York governor Andrew Cuomo is in his third term. Minnesota governor Tim Walz is in his first term, but he was a congressman for twelve years before this office. Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey was elected in 2017 but was on the city council for four years before that. Saint Paul mayor Melvin Carter was elected in 2017 as well but was on the city council from 2008 to 2013.  Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti is in his second term; he was on the city council from 2001 to 2013. Washington, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser is in her second term and was on the city council from 2007 to 2015. Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney is in his second term and before becoming mayor, was on the city council for 23 years.

These elected officials are known quantities. They cannot blame inexperience. They know their cities and states well. They went before their electorates and assured them that they knew what to do in a crisis and would act quickly. But for these past five or six nights, the best you can say of these leaders is that they tried and fell short. Some will question how hard they tried. Frey declared Friday night that he and the police chief “decided early that the option to vacate the 3rd Precinct needed to be on the table as a way to both help deescalate and prevent hand-to-hand combat.”

Does the situation in Minneapolis look deescalated to you?

Residents of these cities have every reason to be furious with their governors and mayors, who turned out to be so hesitant and feeble when vulnerable residents needed them the most. But at some point they should ask themselves . . . why did we elect and reelect these guys?

Politics & Policy

Joe Biden’s Terrible Gun Advice

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Joe Biden speaks during a campaign stop at Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Miss., March 8, 2020. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

As Dan McLaughlin writes, Joe Biden has no idea how guns work. Today the candidate suggested that cops who are rushed by “unarmed person” with “a knife or something” should be trained to “shoot them in the leg instead of the heart is a very different thing.” This is dangerous advice for the numerous reasons Dan lays out.

Biden says a lot of weird things about guns. Back in 2013, in an interview with Parent magazine, the vice president shared some guidance he’d allegedly given his wife on the topic on proper home defense.

I said, ‘Jill, if there’s ever a problem, just walk out on the balcony here, walk out and put that double-barrel shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house. You don’t need an AR-15 — it’s harder to aim. It’s harder to use, and in fact you don’t need 30 rounds to protect yourself.

Did the vice president really instruct Dr. Jill Biden to step out of the house onto the balcony and shoot blindly into the night with her 12-gauge to frighten away possible intruders? I was skeptical. After hearing him talk about training law enforcement to shoot at the limbs of those charging at them with knives, maybe I was too hasty in doubting him. Needless to say, one should refrain from going outside looking for trouble. Call the police. If you must shoot, you better have a good reason, and you shoot to kill. You’re not in a movie.

It’s debatable whether an AR-15 is more difficult to handle than a “double-barrel shotgun.” It’s also debatable whether Biden knows what AR-15 actually is. In recent months the candidate has warned us that “AR-14s” should be illegal because “if you yelled fire, that’s not free speech” — and, anyway, no one needs a gun with magazines that hold a “hundred clips,” because “AK-47s” can’t save you from Hellfire missiles.

It’s just a lot of gibberish.

Law & the Courts

How Much of a Role Does Race Play in Police Killings?

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Law enforcement personnel stand guard as protesters rally against the death of George Floyd, Brooklyn, N.Y., May 31, 2020. (Caitlin Ochs/Reuters)

This week we’re all thinking a lot about the role of police in minority communities, and specifically the question of whether suspects are more likely to be killed if they, like George Floyd, are black. I agree with pretty much everyone, by the way, that Floyd was murdered and justice should be done.

I’ve been following the research on this for years, and I wanted to provide a brief overview of some of the work that has been published. My current sense is that the vast majority of police killings are justified, but that at least some communities have a serious problem, both in terms of race and in terms of cops’ being too eager to shoot in general.

Here are the statistics, facts, and studies I find most important:

• In most years, about 25 percent of people killed by American police are black. This is much higher than blacks’ share of the overall population (13 percent), though it’s lower than blacks’ share of some other relevant comparison groups, including murderers and cop killers. (Cops don’t shoot people at random — if they’re following the law, they fire only when they reasonably believe a violent criminal poses an immediate threat to life or limb — so racial differences in crime rates are unfortunately important to consider here.) One study tried “benchmarking” blacks’ share of those killed by police against numerous measures of crime, and found no anti-black disparity in nearly all of these comparisons.

• It is hard to tell which specific shootings are unjustified, save for the handful each year that result in thorough investigations and convictions, so it’s hard to say what the racial balance is for those. No, one can’t simply focus on “unarmed” suspects, because an unarmed person can still pose a grave threat to a police officer. And yes, unjustified shootings happen to white people sometimes too.

• A few years ago, Roland Fryer published a landmark study that analyzed policing incidents in great detail, finding that, after accounting for how suspects behaved, there was no racial difference in lethal force (though blacks and Hispanics were more likely to suffer non-lethal force). However, much of this analysis relied on data from a single city, Houston, and the suspects’ behavior was taken from reports the police themselves provided.

Several studies have checked to see if black cops, who presumably are less likely to hold anti-black racist beliefs, are less likely to be involved when black suspects are killed. The difficulty of this method is that different parts of the country have different black population shares, and places with bigger black populations will have more black suspects and more black cops, causing a meaningless correlation between the two that falsely implies black cops are more likely to shoot black suspects. After accounting for the demographics of the area where each killing occurs, these studies find no difference between black and white cops. Importantly, however, black cops might be assigned to black neighborhoods even within jurisdictions, which would throw this method off.

• A study earlier this year used a good approach to get around this issue, looking at an unnamed city where the nearest cop is assigned to each call, with no discretion involved. It found that, relative to a black cop working the same beat and shift, a white cop was a whopping five times as likely to discharge his gun when sent to a neighborhood that was 80 percent black or more. As I noted at the time, though, there are limitations to this study as well: It’s just one city (though there’s a separate analysis of force against Hispanics in another), and there are possible explanations for the findings besides racist wrongful killings, including white cops’ being less able than black cops to deescalate tense situations in black neighborhoods.

• There’s forthcoming research in the pipeline suggesting that when police unionize, killings escalate, with the killings concentrated among minority suspects. This work is still tentative, but you can read a Twitter thread from one of the authors here.

U.S.

Mob Mentality

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David Haddock and Daniel Polsby, professors at Northwestern University, took up some crucial questions about riots back in 1994.

Day in and day out in any big city, police blotters will reflect the existence of a fairly steady background supply of theft, mugging, arson, and homicide. But this jumble of criminal mischief does not amount to a “riot”; riots are the coordinated acts of many people. If they are coordinated, who coordinates them? Authorities looking for ways to explain why trouble has broken out on their watch sometimes ascribe exaggerated organizational powers to “outside agitators.” While, as we explain, there is definitely a leadership niche in the ecology of a mob, it seems to become important only after the crowd has assembled. Riots are not, as a rule, plotted and scripted affairs.

It would be very difficult indeed to “stage” a riot. A person who set out to do so would encounter a series of difficult challenges. When should the riot be held? Where? How should the participants be notified? Once marshaled, how should they be instigated to behave in a way that would expose them to arrest? Trying to organize a riot as though it were a company picnic would quickly attract the attention of the police. And with the police watching, who would be brave enough to cast the first stone?

How, then, do riots begin?

Those are the questions the professors then attempt to answer.

Politics & Policy

Trump vs. Twitter

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On the most recent episode of The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and Michael discuss the Minneapolis riots. They also have an extended conversation concerning the president’s uncalled-for tweets about Joe Scarborough and the spotlight this has thrown on Section 230. Listen below or on Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn, or iTunes.

Politics & Policy

Obama: Don’t Rationalize Rioting, but Do Support Mass Protests in the Middle of a Pandemic

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Former President Barack Obama speaks during an Obama Foundation event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 13, 2019. (Lim Huey Teng/Reuters)

Former president Barack Obama writes today on the riots: “The small minority of folks who’ve resorted to violence in various forms, whether out of genuine anger or mere opportunism, are putting innocent people at risk, compounding the destruction of neighborhoods that are often already short on services and investment and detracting from the larger cause. I saw an elderly black woman being interviewed today in tears because the only grocery store in her neighborhood had been trashed. If history is any guide, that store may take years to come back. So let’s not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it.”

That video can be viewed here: 

The video is a good reminder that when keyboard warriors with comfortable homes and cushy jobs write “burn it all down” on social media, what they are really saying is “burn down other people’s grocery stores and other people’s workplaces and other people’s homes in other neighborhoods.”

Those “other people” in “other neighborhoods” are often poor and not white.

It’s good to see the former Democratic president urging his fellow progressives to not rationalize or excuse looting and arson. 

But Obama also writes: “The overwhelming majority of participants have been peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring. They deserve our respect and support, not condemnation.”

An honest question: Should mass protests really be supported in the middle of a pandemic? Many of the protesters are not wearing masks, they’re chanting slogans, and they’re standing very close together. We have learned the coronavirus is less contagious outdoors, but isn’t there a very real risk that the protests are going to spread the virus and get a lot of people killed?

The country has just endured nearly three months of a shutdown where many people were not allowed to go to their jobs and most were not allowed to attend religious services in order to slow the spread of the virus. Some of those restrictions are still in place, to varying degrees, in many parts of the country. 

Over the weekend, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Supreme Court’s four liberals to uphold an order in San Diego limiting church attendance to 100 people or 25 percent capacity, whichever is smaller.

In the middle of a pandemic, is the First Amendment right to protest somehow more important than the First Amendment right to practice religion? “Media and government experts who fail to consistently call out social distancing violations risk giving the impression that their commitment to zealous enforcement of public health measures wasn’t as absolute as they claimed,” Robby Soave writes at Reason.  “It turns out they are willing to make exceptions for their preferred causes.”

Law & the Courts

Cotton: Deploy Military If Necessary to Quell Riots

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Sen. Tom Cotton talks to reporters following a classified national security briefing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 8, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

On Fox News and on Twitter this morning, Arkansas GOP senator Tom Cotton called for the use of federal troops to quell violent riots if necessary:

Cotton’s use of the words “no quarter” sparked a controversy among some writers on Twitter. 

Cotton is “threatening to have the US military summarily execute rioters,” Christian Vanderbrouk tweeted. “A no quarter order is a war crime, prohibited even in actual insurrection since Abraham Lincoln’s signed the Lieber Code in 1863. Such an order is banned by international law and would, if carried out, be murder under American law,” David French tweeted.

An aide to Cotton tells National Review that “it’s ridiculous to suggest that [Cotton] was suggesting anything with a specific legal meaning” and that the senator was simply emphasizing that rioters and looters “do not deserve anything more than the strongest possible enforcement of the laws.”

“The law is well-prepared to deal with something like this,” the Cotton aide added. “If local law enforcement is under-armed and local politicians are unwilling to do what’s necessary, there’s long precedent in the United States for the use of federal troops from Little Rock, to the 1968 riots, to the Rodney King riots, to assist with the restoration of law and order.”

President George H.W. Bush, in response to the L.A. riots and at the request of California’s governor and L.A.’s mayor, deployed the U.S. military in 1992.

“I will use whatever force is necessary to restore order,” Bush said in an Oval Office address to the nation.

A literal reading of the words “whatever force is necessary” does not preclude war crimes, but literally no one thought Bush was calling for potential war crimes in 1992.

Economy & Business

Hey, Stupid

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The Wall Street Journal has to publish a story like this one every couple of years.

When William Mark decided to get back into investing after the 2008 financial crisis, he looked past stocks and bonds. Needing to play catch-up with his retirement portfolio, the piping engineer decided to bet on a complicated product he hoped would deliver double-digit annual returns.

It worked so well—earning him 18% a year in dividends, on average—that he eventually poured $800,000 into the investments, called leveraged exchange-traded notes, or ETNs. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, he lost almost every penny.

“I’m 67 years old and I’m basically bankrupt in just two weeks,” Mr. Mark said.

The Journal should have a standing headline for these: “Hey, Stupid, Don’t Put Money You Can’t Afford To Lose into Complex, Volatile Investments You Don’t Understand.” If your broker or your brother-in-law promises you 20 percent on yen-denominated Baltic Exchange freight future — can’t lose! — run, run, run.

U.S.

Forget the Name, Antifa Is No Better Than the Fascists

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A counter protester holds a sign outside of the Boston Free Speech Rally in Boston, Mass., August 19, 2017

Perhaps the most nonsensical talking point offered by Antifa apologists was to claim that the group couldn’t possibly be nefarious or violent because its members are anti-fascists — it says so right there in the name!

I apologize for singling out Rob Delaney, but he’s consistently shown the insight of a scholastically stunted preschooler. As the prominent anti-fascist Joe Stalin supposedly said, “Everybody has a right to be stupid, but some people abuse the privilege.”

Now, I only bring up the mass-murdering Communist because the group of radicals instigating violence, vandalizing and burning cities, and undermining the valid grievances of those peacefully protesting police brutality is named after a militant Stalinist German organization. Then again, Antifaschistische Aktion didn’t spend the vast majority of its time chasing imaginary fascists.

Like their latter-day inheritors, though, Antifaschistische Aktion was a parasitic organization that fed off of the anger of peaceful opposition to the state. Like their namesake, Antifa often accuses free and democratic institutions of engaging in “fascism” to further their own authoritarian cause. Then, as now, useful idiots parroted the lie.

For one thing, any thinking person understands that simply because a group cloaks itself in the name of a principled cause doesn’t necessarily mean it represents a principled cause. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is not democratic, run by the people, or a republic. Nor was the German Democratic Republic, nor was Hungarian Peoples Republic, nor was the People’s Republic of Angola.

Second, even legitimately anti-fascist organizations are not, by default, champions of virtuous causes. There are competing evils in the world, and there is no better example of this struggle than the one played out between fascists and Communists over the past century.

Only one of these ideologies gets a pass in the American media. Outlets have been downplaying the violent nature of Antifa for years. Even now, Don Lemon says no organization is perfect. But you might remember CNN’s Chris Cuomo posting pictures of American soldiers storming the beach on Normandy as if this was somehow comparable to the anarchists who throw rocks through coffee shops.

In 2017, we were offered one defense of Antifa after the next. In a Teen Vogue interview with historian Mark Bray, perhaps the country’s leading Antifa apologist, the adolescent readership of that magazine was informed that, “antifa grows out of a larger revolutionary politics that aspires toward creating a better world, but the primary motivation is to stop racists from organizing.”

Don’t let the platitude hide the lie. Though now embedded in media coverage, Antifa’s primary goal isn’t to disrupt genuine racists. These days, anyone who diverges from the far Left’s agenda is deemed a racist, a fascist.

The Antifa Twitter account encouraged followers to engage in acts of wanton vandalism this weekend. The Associated Press reported that law enforcement offices warned that Antifa had told followers that Minnesota National Guard troops were “easy targets,” and to steal their weapons and body armor.

These alleged anti-fascists and alt-right Nazis deserve each other. America deserves neither. The difference is that one group is rightly condemned by all decent people, while the other gets high-fives from the celebrity class and apologias in the Washington Post.

U.S.

Joe Biden Doesn’t Know How Guns Work

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Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus pandemic at an event in Wilmington, Del., March 12, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Joe Biden can best capitalize on the rioting following the death of George Floyd in the same way he can best capitalize on anything in 2020: by keeping quiet and out of sight. Unfortunately for Biden, he does occasionally show up and say things. And then this happens: He suggests that police should be trained that, if cops rushed by unarmed person, they could “shoot them in the leg instead of the heart is a very different thing.”

This is bad advice that would get people killed. Police do have a variety of tools of non-deadly force at their disposal (tasers, rubber bullets, etc.), although some of those, too, can be deadly in some circumstances. Floyd, after all, was killed by a man’s knee. But anyone who has been trained in police work or the military could tell you: Firing a gun is always potentially deadly force. You shoot for center mass, to kill, or you don’t shoot at all. If you’re not prepared to kill someone, you should not even point a loaded gun at them, much less fire it. If you don’t have grounds to shoot to kill, you don’t have grounds to shoot.

There are all kinds of things that can go wrong by trying to shoot to wound, because most people are not expert marksmen, and even expert marksmen do not have the greatest of aim in chaotic circumstances. You can miss, and the person you’re shooting at isn’t stopped. You can miss, and hit and kill an innocent bystander. You can hit someone in an artery, and they bleed to death. You can be thinking “shoot to wound,” but the second radio car responding to the scene rolls out thinking “firefight in progress” and opens both barrels.

The police sometimes shoot people they shouldn’t, but this is the wrong way to try to change that. (If anything, studies have not supported the claim that police shootings are racially disproportionate; there may be a stronger claim for racial disparities in the use of other forms of force, as in Floyd’s case). One thing police training gets right, though, is that it draws a clear line around firing your gun only when you are prepared to kill. Blurring that line is only going to make things worse.

Art

Two of a Kind

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Artists Christo (right) and Jeanne-Claude during a news conference in Zurich, Switzerland, in 2006 (Reuters)

In Impromptus today, I begin with the space launch, that thrilling event. I also walk down Memory Lane to the Challenger (1986) and the moon landing (1969). Further in the column, I discuss protests, riots, China, Russia, etc.

When I finished my column yesterday, I saw that Christo, the artist (one name), had died. I thought I would jot a little note here in the Corner.

I met him once, and, at the same time, his wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude (also one name). I was with David Pryce-Jones — and when you are with P-J, you meet the most interesting people, even when you don’t intend to.

We had gone to see a friend of his — darned interesting on his own. As we were arriving, Christo and Jeanne-Claude were leaving. They were as you would have expected them to be, and wanted them to be: charming, offbeat, and memorable.

They did “installation art,” which included the wrapping of buildings (and bridges and islands). He was Bulgarian — born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff — and she was French — born Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon. Do you know they were born on the same day? Yes: June 13, 1935. They were married in 1959. Jeanne-Claude died in 2009, and Christo yesterday.

One of their most famous projects was The Gates, in Central Park. Speaking of walking down Memory Lane: Allow me to quote from an Impromptus of February 2005:

I suppose I should say something about The Gates . . . Most of the people I respect the most have denounced it as a monstrosity and a con. They’re probably right. I defer to my betters on art . . .

But let me tell you about my first sight of The Gates. It was wonderful. I had forgotten it was going up. And I was walking down my side street, on the way to Central Park, to cross over to the East Side. That first glimpse was almost breathtaking: The “gates” looked strange and beautiful against those bare trees, with the morning sun glinting off those orange materials. The project was exotic, playful, delightful.

But that was the first look. You know how people say that the first bite of chocolate cake is the best, and everything else is downhill? Well, I don’t have that experience with chocolate cake — I think all the bites are “cosmic,” as we used to say — but I had a similar experience with The Gates. At first, it was kind of thrilling. But after a minute or so . . . monotonous. Boring. Even slightly annoying.

Perhaps that is my attention span, or eye.

Anyway, I’ve walked through the park every day since the installation went up — I walk through the park pretty much every day — and people seem enchanted by it. They smile, they murmur, they marvel. I can hardly begrudge them their enjoyment, no matter what I think.

This morning, I saw a little old lady tumble out of The Plaza, dressed all in orange, ready for her trip through those orange gates. She had such a gleam in her eye. . . .

I’m glad to have encountered Christo and Jeanne-Claude along the way. (Thank you, P-J.)

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President Trump was disappointed. Bad weather on Wednesday forced a delay in SpaceX's planned launch of the Dragon spacecraft, robbing the president of a prized photo opportunity. He plans to attend the next launch, scheduled for May 30 at 3:22 p.m. EDT, but the spoiled visit to Florida punctuated another week of ... Read More

Trump in Trouble

President Trump was disappointed. Bad weather on Wednesday forced a delay in SpaceX's planned launch of the Dragon spacecraft, robbing the president of a prized photo opportunity. He plans to attend the next launch, scheduled for May 30 at 3:22 p.m. EDT, but the spoiled visit to Florida punctuated another week of ... Read More

For Looters, Looting Is Fun

One important thing to realize about looting is that it's usually enjoyable for those engaged in it, who exult in the momentary suspension of any rules. Just a couple of examples from the last couple of days (language ... Read More

For Looters, Looting Is Fun

One important thing to realize about looting is that it's usually enjoyable for those engaged in it, who exult in the momentary suspension of any rules. Just a couple of examples from the last couple of days (language ... Read More

No, Martin Luther King Was Not Pro-Riot

Among the more contemptible rhetorical tricks used this past weekend was the hijacking of Martin Luther King Jr. to enlist him in the cause of rioting. Celebrities, activists, leading journalistic institutions, and even the Martin Luther King Jr. Center itself are participating in a misinformation campaign by ... Read More

No, Martin Luther King Was Not Pro-Riot

Among the more contemptible rhetorical tricks used this past weekend was the hijacking of Martin Luther King Jr. to enlist him in the cause of rioting. Celebrities, activists, leading journalistic institutions, and even the Martin Luther King Jr. Center itself are participating in a misinformation campaign by ... Read More