National Security & Defense

Uncommon Knowledge: Cold War II — Just How Dangerous Is China?

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China is a nation with 1.3 billion people, an economy projected to become bigger than the United States’ in just a few years, and a rapidly growing military. Hong Kong has already fallen under its authority. Meanwhile, Taiwan looms in the distance — with a population of almost 24 million, it’s a technology hub and the world’s leading manufacturer of microchips and other items essential to high tech. What are China’s ambitions toward Taiwan? And if they are ominous, what should the U.S. response to Chinese aggression be? To answer these questions, we’re joined by two experts: former national security adviser (and current Hoover Institution senior fellow) H. R. McMaster and former U.S. deputy national security adviser (and current Hoover distinguished visiting fellow) Matthew Pottinger. They also discuss the Biden administration’s recent diplomatic encounters with China, and which countries might be allies in a conflict with China — and which ones would not be.

Recorded on April 9, 2021.

Law & the Courts

Chauvin Defense Expert Destroyed on the Stand

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Use-of-force expert Barry Brodd is questioned on the twelfth day of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minn., April 13, 2021 in this courtroom sketch. (Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)

The Chauvin defense called its big witness Tuesday afternoon, retired federal and state law-enforcement officer Barry Brodd, an expert in police training and the use of force. Some of his testimony was preposterous — particularly the claim that if three police officers physically restrain a person prone on an asphalt street for over nine minutes, with his arms cuffed behind his back, with significant parts of the officers’ body weight pressing down on him, with an officer’s knees occasionally grinding into his neck and shoulders, and with his needing to press his face onto the street to try to shift into a breathing position, that is not a use of force, but merely a “control technique.”

Apart from that, the testimony was an overall disaster for the defense. The danger in presenting a defense case, especially in a prosecution that is so video-dependent, is that it allows the prosecutor, through leading questions on cross-examination, to walk witnesses through the video, explaining to the jury moment-by-moment exactly what the prosecution’s theory of the case is. If he does this skillfully, the prosecutor turns his “questioning” into the equivalent of a summation.

Suffice it to say that Steve Schleicher did it very skillfully on behalf of the state.

Schleicher blew Brodd’s testimony to bits. He induced the expert to acknowledge that, according to the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) guidelines — to say nothing of common sense – physical restraint that renders a detainee unable to move about is a use of force. Then, even accepting for argument’s sake Brodd’s specious distinction between force and control, the prosecutor got the expert to acknowledge that what he described as “control” would rightly be deemed force if it caused pain to the detained person. Schleicher then proceeded to show that Floyd was in a constant state of pain while the officers held him down.

Indeed, in the examination’s most memorable moment, Schleicher played a part of the recording of the detention in which Floyd cried out, “My stomach hurts, my neck hurts, everything hurts. Give me some water or something.” As Floyd said these things, Chauvin responded, “Ah-hah, ah-hah.”

Schleicher then got Brodd to concede that his “no use of force” testimony was premised on the fiction that Chauvin had caused Floyd no pain.

Beyond that, Brodd conceded that it is excessive force for a police officer to use a tactic that causes pain if the suspect is not resisting. Combined with Brodd’s admission that force must be reasonable throughout a police interaction with a suspect — i.e., if a suspect starts out resisting, police must modulate if he stops resisting — Brodd’s testimony was an implicit acknowledgment that Chauvin used excessive force on Floyd.

This became even more dramatically apparent when Brodd initially refused to concede that Chauvin had pressed his body weight onto Floyd with both legs. Schleicher then walked him through the video and still images of Chauvin with his left knee on Floyd’s lower neck and right knee on Floyd’s rib cage — and, at one point, with the toes off the ground.

Schleicher had a field day with Brodd’s portentous assertion that police are highly trained to maintain “situational awareness.” In addition to stressing Chauvin’s patent awareness that Floyd was in pain, the prosecutor had the witness concede that the defendant had been told by his fellow officers that Floyd had lost consciousness, ought to be rolled over on his side (to facilitate breathing), and had no pulse.

While defense attorney Eric Nelson had made much of the crowd presence and the possibility that it could pose a threat to the police, Schleicher had Brodd conceding that the crowd was small and posed no threat to the police. The crowd also told the cops that Floyd was not resisting and had become non-responsive, but that Chauvin appeared to be cutting off his breathing — which, Brodd admitted, appeared to be true and to be the kind of information a reasonable, “situationally aware” officer would take into account.

In addition, Brodd admitted that an officer should de-escalate from a restraint tactic that could cause pain if a suspect is not resisting, whereupon Schleicher demonstrated that Chauvin maintained a neck-and-back hold on Floyd, which had caused Floyd actual pain, for four minutes after Floyd had lost consciousness and had no pulse.

The foundation of Chauvin’s defense is that he had reason to fear that Floyd would regain consciousness and begin resisting arrest again. Schleicher elicited from Brodd the explanation that there is a difference between a threat and a risk: Police may use force to counter a threat they perceive based on some affirmative act by a detainee; but they may not use force based on a mere risk that a detainee might pose a threat at some future point. Floyd was unconscious and non-responsive. By Brodd’s own stated guidelines, the possibility that Floyd could have regained consciousness and started fighting the police was a remote risk, not a realistic threat, when he was prone on the ground, cuffed behind the back, unconscious, and pulseless.

The objective of a defense case is supposed to be the creation of reasonable doubt, not the removal of all doubt.

1937 Democrats Had the Best Response to Court-Packing

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President Franklin Roosevelt delivers a fireside chat from the White House, 1933 (National Archives)

FDR’s Court-packing scheme, wrote the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee in 1937, “is a measure which should be so emphatically rejected that its parallel will never again be presented to the free representatives of the free people of America.”

Today, modern progressives, intent on centralizing state power and nullifying constitutional protections for the minority, disagree. After spending four years delegitimizing the Supreme Court, they’ve convinced Joe Biden to create the “Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court,” which is another step in normalizing the idea of packing the Supreme Court.

It’s worth noting that even Justice Stephen Breyer warned that “alteration motivated by the

Culture

Do Girls and Women Know They Don’t Have to Go to Planned Parenthood?

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Planned Parenthood employees look out from their building, St. Louis, Mo., June 4, 2019. (Lawrence Bryant/Reuters)

This morning, I spent a little time outside Planned Parenthood in Manhattan, offering information. I was only out there for a little under an hour, and I only had rejections. The first young woman, who looked to be in some distress, walked in with her boyfriend, and said “No.” The second was laughing as she went in — she and her boyfriend seemed to be enmeshed in some real darkness. The third glared as if in anger at the thought of an alternative.

You can never be certain what a girl or young woman is going in for, but the abortion-minded woman tends to have an intensity about her that a girl getting birth control or a pap smear doesn’t have.

A woman very visibly pregnant walked in in the early afternoon when I happened to stop by to pray again. She said she wasn’t going in for abortion, but there was a gravity in her face that suggested something else.

Last week, a girl lashed out at me, yelling: “I’m trying to prevent having cancer, I’m not getting an abortion,” and threw the brochures back at me. I’m convinced she reacted that way because of the hostility that is created when clinic escort volunteers are out there. On Friday, one was a man who seemed reminiscent of a bouncer outside a bar. It creates such an unnecessarily hostile atmosphere.

When the 40 Days for Life counselors (which is really ideally 365 Days for Life) are out there, frequently, there’s a little conversation; often, there is a very gracious “No thank you.” And yet sometimes a girl walks away, having wanted a sign she could go on with the pregnancy. Sometimes they of their own free will go to the Sisters of Life.

Today, two of the evangelical sidewalk counselors with the group Love Life told me how they brought a 17-year-old girl heading in for an abortion for some Chick-fil-A to talk about alternatives — of her own free will. Her high-school guidance counselor, complete with an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez T-shirt, met her to take her away from the two sweet young counselors, sisters, and parted by telling them to “Mind their f***ing business.”

The guidance counselor was white, and the pregnant girl was black, by the way. Down in NoHo, the neighborhood folks who thank the escorts and glare at the pro-life counselors don’t seem to really think Black Lives Matter — not when they are unborn, not when they are young black girls who think they have no other option than end the developing life within them.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a fan of the approach of some — every once in a while I’ll encounter someone shouting about people going to hell and babies being butchered. I definitely favor the hope approach.

On the other hand, I do believe we are a culture that has become too accustomed to legal abortion. While we need less shouting, not more, most of us who consider ourselves pro-life — or even those who consider themselves pro-choice but do not like abortion, knowing it to be an evil — can do more to make sure the girls and women in our lives know that we will walk with them if they find themselves unexpectedly pregnant. Do they know we will love them now, and will then, too? Do they know about loving alternatives to abortion? I worry most don’t. And the shouting probably doesn’t help them to know.

Culture

Fifteen Things That Caught My Eye Today: Chemical Abortion, Human Rights and the Biden Administration & More

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1. This is a horrendous move:

2. Nurses to perform abortions in Hawaii

Blinken’s denunciation was unfair and misleading. What he repudiated was a phantom report, one that was never written, whose critics shouted it down even before its authors were appointed, and had little to do with the report that actually emerged. The letters LGBTQ are not to be found in its pages; abortion is not discussed; natural law is not insisted upon; and the hierarchy that is proposed is mainly a prioritization of rights that are binding in all places and circumstances over those that are tailored more flexibly to circumstance and locale. 

. . .

What the commission’s report recommends may be thought of as a strengthening of the human rights magisterium. With respect to the vertical dimension, while the report does not require that human rights be viewed as divinely bestowed, it does hold that they are “pre-political,” “inherent in human beings” and “inalienable,” the eponymous term derived from the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Human rights do not exist at the pleasure of governments or by virtue of positive law, but rather exist prior to law and institutions and serve as standards by which they may be judged. 

4.

Continue reading “Fifteen Things That Caught My Eye Today: Chemical Abortion, Human Rights and the Biden Administration & More”

Books

Beyond the Joyless Quest for Joy

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(YakobchukOlena/Getty Images)

A lot of books have tried to put a finger on the sources of contemporary American discontent in recent years. They’ve pointed to all manner of causes, from the economic to the metaphysical, but most of them (and I’ve written a couple myself) have tended to understand the problem in terms of a breakdown or some kind of dysfunction. These books have all gotten at something, to be sure, but they’ve also all plainly missed something crucial.

The most astute observers of our peculiar civilization — writers from Alexis de Tocqueville and Orestes Brownson to Allan Bloom, Pierre Manet, Leon Kass, Peter Lawler, and others in between — have always seen that the problem has at least as much to do with what we’re trying to achieve as with how we’re doing at achieving it.

A new book, just out this month, follows ably in this tradition and applies its lessons especially to the disquiet of many young Americans in our particular time. It’s called Why We Are Restless, and it was written by two of America’s best teachers of political philosophy — Benjamin and Jenna Storey.

The Storeys teach at Furman University in South Carolina. They are teachers in the deepest sense (and for the sake of full disclosure, I should note that they are also old friends of mine, from graduate school days). Their book is an education in the irony and complexity of the modern quest for contentment, and in the pre-modern sources required for any understanding of how to actually achieve meaningful contentment. It overflows with their concern for their students, and with the wisdom that is still on offer in some islands of sanity in the contemporary academy, waiting for those students determined enough to pursue it or lucky enough to come across it.

I can’t recommend it enough.

National Security & Defense

Announcing a U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan Is the Easy Part

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A member of the Taliban and others stand at the site of the execution of three men in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, in 2015. (Reuters)

President Biden intends to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20-year anniversary of the terror attacks.

In January, the Department of Defense said that only 2,500 U.S. troops remained in Afghanistan, “the lowest number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan since operations started there in 2001.” But two months ago, the New York Times reported that, according to U.S., European, and Afghan officials, “that number is actually around 3,500.” The last death of a U.S. soldier from hostile fire was February 8, 2020. As I noted in January, the U.S. combat death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years is comparable to that of Niger.

While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes the move, I expect most Americans – many of whom have forgotten about our presence in Afghanistan, or who at least don’t think about it often — will either shrug or applaud the move. Twenty years is a long, long time.

Concerned Veterans for America senior adviser Dan Caldwell issued a statement, “While we still believe a full withdrawal by the May 1st deadline in the Doha agreement best serves America’s interests, we are pleased to hear President Biden is firmly committed to bringing our troops home within the next few months. America has more pressing priorities at home and elsewhere, and President Biden must keep his promise to end our endless war in Afghanistan.”

And yet… it’s quite possible that our withdrawal will result in the Taliban eventually toppling the legitimate and freely-elected government of Afghanistan. A spring 2020 report from the United Nations painted a portrait of the Taliban indicating they have learned nothing, and have changed nothing:

The senior leadership of Al-Qaida remains present in Afghanistan, as well as hundreds of armed operatives, Al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent, and groups of foreign terrorist fighters aligned with the Taliban. A number of significant Al-Qaida figures were killed in Afghanistan during the reporting period. Relations between the Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network, and Al-Qaida remain close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and intermarriage. The Taliban regularly consulted with Al-Qaida during negotiations with the United States and offered guarantees that it would honour their historical ties. Al-Qaida has reacted positively to the agreement, with statements from its acolytes celebrating it as a victory for the Taliban’s cause and thus for global militancy. The challenge will be to secure the counter-terrorism gains to which the Taliban have committed, which will require them to suppress any international threat emanating from Al-Qaida in Afghanistan…

Some Member States reported that the Taliban appear to have strengthened their relationship with Al-Qaida rather than the opposite. One Member State reported that the regularity of meetings between Al-Qaida seniors and the Taliban “made any notion of a break between the two mere fiction”. The link was described not in simple terms of group-to-group, but rather as “one of deep personal ties (including through marriage) and long-term sense of brotherhood”. Al-Qaida capitalizes on this through its network of mentors and advisers who are embedded with the Taliban, providing advice, guidance and financial support. The Taliban offensive against Ghazni City in August 2018 was a prime example of the effective deployment of Al-Qaida support.

Another U.N. report laid out how the Taliban never lost their taste for civilian casualties:

In 2020, the Taliban continued to cause the most civilian casualties of any party to the armed conflict. From 1 January to 31 December, UNAMA attributed 3,960 civilian casualties (1,470 killed and 2,490 injured) to the Taliban. This represents a 19 per cent decrease in civilian casualties in comparison to 2019. However, the reduction is only in civilians injured, as UNAMA documented a concerning 13 per cent increase in civilians killed.

…UNAMA also recorded a 22 per cent increase in the number of civilians killed and injured by Taliban targeted killings, which includes “assassinations” deliberately targeting civilians, and a 169 per cent increase in civilian casualties occurring during abductions of civilians by the Taliban.

Suicide attacks, improvised explosive devices, mortar attacks on civilian areas…  the Taliban never changed their tactics or their character.

There is no indication that the Taliban has changed its attitudes towards women’s rights. In the aftermath of our withdrawal, we should be prepared to hear more stories of girls being barred from school and getting hit with acid to the face.

And then there is the question of whether five to ten years from now, we’re faced with either a resurgent al-Qaeda or a like-minded international terrorist threat, setting up their home base on the Taliban’s turf, all over again…

National Security & Defense

Liz Cheney: Biden ‘Hands the Taliban and al Qaeda a Propaganda Victory’

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Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) speaks during a news conference in Washington, D.C., December 10, 2020. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Wyoming congresswoman Liz Cheney, chair of the House GOP conference, weighs in on the Biden administration’s plan to pull the remaining 3,500 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by September 11:

“Wars don’t end when one side abandons the fight.

“Withdrawing our forces from Afghanistan by September 11 will only embolden the very jihadists who attacked our homeland on that day twenty years ago. By declaring that this withdrawal is not based on conditions on the ground, the Biden Administration is sending a dangerous signal that the United States fundamentally does not understand—or is willfully ignorant of—the terrorist threat.

“President Biden’s decision hands the Taliban and al Qaeda a propaganda victory, abandons our global leadership position, and plays into our adversaries’ hands. As we saw with President Obama’s reckless decision to pull troops out of Iraq in 2011, retreat does not end the fight against terrorism. It merely gives our enemies more room to reconstitute and plot attacks against the homeland.”

Update: This post has been emended since its initial publication to note that the latest reporting indicates there are 3,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, not 2,500.

The Unexpected Growing Conflict between Gretchen Whitmer and the Biden Administration

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Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a campaign event in Detroit, Mich., March 9, 2020. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Life can be pretty darn unpredictable. So unpredictable, in fact, that Joe Biden, who considered Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer to be his running mate in 2020, now heads an administration “locked in an increasingly tense standoff” with Whitmer over the allocation of vaccines, in the words of the New York Times.

As you’ve probably noticed, COVID-19 hammered the state of Michigan over the past month, while caseloads are generally going down in most of the rest of the country. Last week, Whitmer urged high schools to suspend in-person classes and youth sports for two weeks as well as asking diners to

Health Care

No, Dr. Fauci, We Are Not ‘Ruled by the Science’

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NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci addresses the daily press briefing at the White House, January 21, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Dr. Fauci says that the FDA’s decision to pause deployment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the right one because “we are ruled by the science and not any other consideration”:

This is nonsense. Indeed, it’s almost self-parodic nonsense. The “science” tells us that, as far as we know, six people out of the seven million who have taken the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have developed blood clots. It does not tell us what to do about this. There is no “scientific” answer to that question. It’s a matter of judgment, of tradeoffs, of consideration. One might as well say that one has come to the correct scientific conclusion as to what the speed limit should be. There is no such thing.

People are still dying from COVID. Schools are still closed because of COVID. Civil society is still restricted because of COVID. What level of risk is acceptable from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and how does it compare to the risks that will flow from pausing its deployment or to the risk to public confidence that such a pause would guarantee? In examining this question, different people will come to different conclusions. But one thing is for sure: Dr. Anthony Fauci does not have the only answer, and he does not have a “scientific” answer, either. The scientific part of this equation lies in the data under consideration. What we do with it? That’s something else.

The mistake Fauci is making here is one that is endemic within American progressivism, whose most vehement adherents seem genuinely to believe that we are divided politically because we are looking at different facts rather than drawing different conclusions from those facts. This isn’t true — at least, it’s not the primary cause of our divisions. Those result from the differing moral judgments that free people naturally draw — and will continue to, however many times they are told in frustration that the answers are already known.

National Security & Defense

McConnell Blasts Biden Plan to Pull Remaining U.S. Troops from Afghanistan

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A senior Biden administration tells Politico that the plan to withdraw the remaining 3,500 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September will not be based on conditions on the ground:

“Precipitously withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan is a grave mistake,” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell says in a statement. “We’ve seen this movie before, multiple times. Ten years ago, when President Obama let politics dictate the terms of our involvement in Iraq, those failed decisions invited the rise of ISIS. It was our hasty abandonment of Afghanistan in the 1990s that allowed the Taliban to grab power in a bloody civil war and create the safe haven for terrorism that led to the September 11, 2001.”

Here’s McConnell’s full statement:

“Just moments ago, new reporting suggests the Biden Administration plans to turn tail and abandon the fight in Afghanistan.

“Precipitously withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan is a grave mistake. It is retreat in the face of an enemy that has not yet been vanquished and abdication of American leadership.

“Leaders in both parties, including me, offered criticism when the prior Administration floated the concept of a reckless withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan.

“Those same voices in both parties should be equally concerned about the Biden Administration’s announcement today.

“A reckless pullback like this would abandon our Afghan, regional, and NATO partners in a shared fight against terrorists that we have not yet won.

“It will also specifically abandon the women of Afghanistan, whose individual freedoms and human rights will be imperiled.

“It did not have to unfold like this. Today in Afghanistan the fighting is borne almost exclusively by our local partners. We have successfully solicited more buy-in and more support from foreign partners as well.

“Our NATO allies have practically been begging the United States to stay by their side.

“As a result, there was broad political support for a sustainable and residual presence to backstop the progress we have made.

“In 2019, Republicans and Democrats joined hands to support an amendment I authored that cautioned against precipitous retreats from Afghanistan and Syria. A supermajority of Senators voted for it.

“That amendment called upon the Administration to – quote – ‘certify that conditions have been met for the enduring defeat of al Qaeda and ISIS before initiating any significant withdrawal of United States forces from Syria or Afghanistan.’

“Can President Biden certify that right now?

“We’ve seen this movie before, multiple times. Ten years ago, when President Obama let politics dictate the terms of our involvement in Iraq, those failed decisions invited the rise of ISIS. It was our hasty abandonment of Afghanistan in the 1990s that allowed the Taliban to grab power in a bloody civil war and create the safe haven for terrorism that led to the September 11, 2001.

“Conflicts do not simply ‘end.’ They are won or lost. America and American administrations must be in the business of winning. Al Qaeda and other radical Islamic terrorists have not yet been defeated.

“There is no reason to believe the Taliban will abandon Al Qaeda if we leave. We know we cannot conduct effective counterterrorism operations without presence and partners on the ground.

“Foreign terrorists will not leave the United States alone simply because our politicians have grown tired of taking the fight to them. The President needs to explain to the American people why he thinks abandoning our partners and retreating in the face of the Taliban will make America safer.”

Update: This post has been emended since its initial publication to note that the latest reporting indicates there are 3,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, not 2,500.

Politics & Policy

Great New Bradley Foundation Video on Election Integrity and Reform

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The latest episode of the We The People series, produced fortnightly by our friends at The Bradley Foundation, is out, and is worth your while. Bradley president Rick Graber has an important discussion with J. Christian Adams from the Public Interest Legal Foundation and Rick Esenberg from Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (who has a great weekend NRO piece on why ‘equity’ is a bad fit for America’s legal system) about the consequential fight for election integrity and reform going on in many states. Watch the video:

Law & the Courts

Sixth Circuit Upholds Ohio Law Protecting Unborn Babies with Down Syndrome

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Ohio Governor Mark DeWine speaks to volunteers at Republican Party headquarters during a campaign stop in Columbus, Ohio, November 6, 2006. (Matt Sullivan/Reuters)

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld an Ohio law that prohibits abortions chosen on the basis of a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis. The law, called the “Down Syndrome Non-Discrimination Act,” was signed into law in 2017 but has been entangled in court battles with abortion-advocacy groups since.

Today’s 9-7 decision came from the full Sixth Circuit, an en banc ruling,  reversing an earlier ruling from a three-judge panel on the Sixth Circuit that had struck down Ohio’s law.

In 2018, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a similar bill in Indiana that sought to prevent abortions chosen on the basis of an unborn child’s diagnosis with Down syndrome.

As a result of today’s Sixth Circuit decision, there’s now a circuit split on the question of whether states are permitted to enact such laws to protect unborn children with disabilities from discrimination, making it far more likely that the Supreme Court will eventually agree to review the matter.

Burn the Dictionary, Cont.

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An ICE officer is seen at Otay Mesa immigration detention center in San Diego, Calif., May 18, 2018. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the tendency of major news outlets to refuse to use phrases such as “alien” or “illegal immigrant” and, thereby, to confuse the hell out of their readers:

Already, mainstream news pieces on this topic tend to leave me more confused than I was when I started. As a matter of habit, outlets such as the Associated Press and Reuters call illegal immigrants “migrants,” and people with fake papers “undocumented,” and deportees “non-citizens,” and, in so doing, flatten the key distinctions so dramatically that it becomes impossible to tell what is going on.

Today, the Washington Post provides a good example of this trend. The story is titled “Florida man promised immigrants licenses, work permits. Instead, he stole their money and got them deported.” The subhed is “Florida man Elvis Harold Reyes duped hundreds of immigrants as he led a ‘a life of frauds and swindles,’ prosecutors said.” And here’s how it opens:

In early 2018, a woman postponed cancer treatments so she could pay Elvis Harold Reyes more than $4,000 to sort out her immigration status and let her legally stay in Florida.

She was just one of hundreds of immigrants who turned to Reyes for driver’s licenses and work permits. He represented himself as a philanthropist lawyer and pastor who had learned immigration law as a former FBI agent and who gave back to the immigrant community through his nonprofit ministry.

Instead, according to prosecutors for the Middle District of Florida, he was leading “a life of frauds and swindles,” that led his victims to financial ruin — and even caused some to be deported.

Reyes, 56, was sentenced to more than 20 years in federal prison on Monday after pleading guilty to dozens of charges connected to a sophisticated scheme to con immigrants by filing fraudulent immigration documents and intercepting communications from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to conceal the fraud, all while stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“For years, Reyes exploited vulnerable immigrants in our community and vitiated our immigration system for personal profit,” federal prosecutors said in a sentencing memo last week.

The story is absolutely unreadable. Because the writer insists upon using the word “immigrant” throughout, irrespective of the detail, it is impossible to work out what is going on. Are the people in the story in America legally? Are they here illegally? Were they originally here legally, but then overstayed their visas? Are they in one category and hoping to find another? Are they here legally but with visas that are running out? Are they in the midst of hearings? It’s simply impossible to tell. I’ve read the piece five times now and, aside from understanding that Elvis Harold Reyes is a bad person, I have no real grasp of the nature of his scam, to whom he was doing it, and on what basis. This is ultimately a story about the law, and yet the author would rather flatten the English language into incomprehensibility than acknowledge that that law exists — and that it is pretty complicated to boot.

No, Asa Hutchinson Is Not Right

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Former congressman Asa Hutchinson speaks during a news conference in Washington, D.C., December 21, 2012. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters )

I find myself in the rare position of dissenting from Noah Rothman in his latest at Commentary, in which he defends Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson. Hutchinson has been harshly critiqued by many on the right  — including National Review institutionally and myself — for vetoing a bill that would have banned minors in his state from being prescribed hormone-blocking drugs or going under the knife to address gender dysphoria. Essentially, Rothman buys into Hutchinson’s argument that it is not the role of government to intervene in such decisions:

More troubling, though, the right has simply dismissed Hutchinson’s compelling political argument. “To

Health Care

Doc: FDA’s J&J Decision a ‘Devastating Blow’

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The CDC and FDA’s recommendation to “pause” use of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine already is raising concerns in the medical field about the impact on the pace of and confidence in COVID-19 vaccinations.

“It’s going to be hard … to walk this back,” Dr. Kavita Patel, a Brookings nonresident fellow, said on CNBC this morning. “This is a devastating blow to the J&J vaccine effort in the United States.”

To recap, the agencies want a pause “out of an abundance of caution” after six reported cases of a “rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the J&J vaccine.” This, out of more than 6.8 million doses of the shot.

Patel cast doubt on whether there’s a “strong link of causality.” The FDA now says the pause might only last days while they sort it out. Evidently conflicted, Patel tweeted it “seems like the right thing to do” but stated what, within moments, has become painfully obvious – “it’s going to be hard to get back lost consumer confidence.”

Politics & Policy

An Accidental Shooting Is Worse

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(welcomia/Getty Images)

In some senses, the accidental shooting of Duante Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minn., is more troubling than an intentional shooting.

An intentional shooting involves judgment and a decision to use deadly force. An officer may use poor judgment or make the wrong decision in a high-stress confrontation, but an officer who shoots someone and means to do so has, at least in theory, a case to make for himself. “I thought this was the necessary thing to do in this specific situation” is not an answer that is always going to be satisfactory, but it is an answer that in almost every case deserves to be considered seriously.

“I didn’t know I had a loaded firearm in my hand” is not an answer that should receive much of a hearing — not even if it is true but especially if it is true. If the police departments are in fact sending people that poorly trained but nonetheless armed into the streets, then they are a danger to the people they purport to protect, and we’d be better off if they were like the British bobbies of old armed only with truncheons.

This sort of thing happens more than you would expect. I remember the case of a Philadelphia police officer who accidentally shot a ten-year-old boy in the face after drawing her firearm in the classroom in a “show and tell” demonstration. This isn’t Barney Fife in Mayberry — Philadelphia was at the time the fourth-largest city in the United States.

(It is now the sixth — monopoly Democratic governance at work.)

Police officers will always use deadly force, making it inevitable that at least some of them will use deadly force wrongly. If that is the result of individual failings, then that is a problem that is, ultimately, manageable. But an accidental shooting by a police officer who didn’t know that her pistol was a pistol isn’t an individual failing — that is institutional failure at work. There are still facts to be determined in the case, but if the facts of the story are as we currently understand them, then the entire department has to answer for it.

Health Care

FDA Backtracking on Johnson & Johnson Halt, but the Damage Is Already Done

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A vial and syringe are pictured in front of the Johnson&Johnson logo, January 11, 2021 (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

After the significant backlash to its egregious decision to call for a halt in the administration of Johnson and Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, the FDA made the following clarification:

The problem is that the damage is already done. Even if the halt suggestion is reversed by the end of the week, vaccine-skeptical Americans are going to be more hesitant to take vaccines, which is going to increase their risk of catching and spreading COVID-19, as well as the possibility that they will become vectors for variants to develop. In other words, all of the scenarios that public-health officials have been warning us about and using as a justification for endless closures of businesses and schools will get worse as a result of the initial announcement.

Update: Judson Berger cites a doctor who calls the announcement a “devastating blow” that will be difficult “to walk back.

Health Care

The FDA Doesn’t Care about Risk When It Comes to Abortion

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The headquarters of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Silver Spring, Md. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

News broke this morning that the Food and Drug Administration, as well as the Centers for Disease Control, are calling for a halt in the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after six individuals experienced severe blood clotting as a side effect. About 7 million Americans have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine thus far, an enormous number compared to the six affected individuals.

At the same time, the FDA announced that it is gutting safety requirements for the two chemical-abortion drugs — mifepristone and misoprostol — in response to a pressure campaign from pro-abortion activists and Democratic politicians.

As FDA officials surely are aware, the drugs used in a chemical abortion carry the risk of significant side effects and complications for women who ingest them. Somewhere between 5 percent and 7 percent of women who obtain a chemical abortion require a follow-up surgical abortion because the drugs fail to fully kill or evacuate the unborn child. One survey found that up to 8 percent of women who underwent a chemical abortion required emergency-room admission to manage complications.

And yet, because of political pressure from the abortion industry and abortion-advocacy organizations, the FDA has altered its safety protocol that heretofore required doctors to prescribe the chemical-abortion drug to women in person. Women will now be able to obtain the two chemical-abortion pills via mail after a telemedicine appointment, never having consulted with a doctor in person prior to taking them.

In the past, justifying the safety policy, the FDA argued that not seeing a doctor in person to obtain the drugs would make it harder for a woman to access follow-up care later on if she experienced any of the side effects that chemical abortions can entail.

It turns out that the FDA is perfectly fine with Americans taking on significant health risks — just as long as those risks are in service of expanding legal abortion, not in service of choosing to protect oneself against a deadly disease.

World

Prince Philip and Institutions

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Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II leaves with Prince Philip after a service of thanksgiving for her 90th birthday at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, June 10, 2016. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

An article in The Times of London on the late Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II for 73 years, begins as follows:

“He looked,” recalled his aide and friend Michael Parker, “as if you’d dropped half the world on him.” Prince Philip and the young Princess Elizabeth had traveled to Kenya at the beginning of 1952 at the start of a royal tour, standing in for King George VI, who was too ill to travel. News reached them of the King’s sudden death, aged 56. [Philip’s] wife was 25 and he was 30. Born to privilege but not to duty, he would now and for the years to follow embrace duty. His life had changed key. Until its end he would be a tireless consort to the Queen. It was a responsibility that he had not expected so young, yet which thereafter he shouldered with energy, originality and flair.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, passed away last Friday at the age of 99. The public reaction to his death has, to my mind, been extraordinary. What was it about the husband of the British queen that has touched so many?

I don’t have a full answer to that complicated question, but let me share with you one thought: He did his duty.

Even after marrying the daughter of the king and heir to the throne, Philip longed for and expected many years of relatively normal life, relishing the prospect of a career in the Navy. But that’s not the hand he was dealt. Instead, he spent the final three-quarters of a century of his life doing what was required and expected of him, living up to his responsibilities, working tirelessly on behalf of his wife and the nations for which she serves as head of state.

That kind of selfless devotion to duty is all too rare in public life today. It seems to have resonated.

All this has made me think of my colleague Yuval Levin’s excellent book, A Time to Build. Levin writes of a great change in the role of institutions in public life. Rather than letting them form and structure the individuals associated with them, institutions today are used as performative platforms. To take one example, it used to be common for people to get elected to Congress and to allow Congress to mold and shape them into legislators and public servants. Today, it is all too common for members of Congress to use their office merely as a platform to build their personal brand.

Prince Philip bucked this trend. Levin’s book helps to understand why that is important.

World

WHO Promotes ‘World One Health’ Globalization Treaty

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World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

The World Health Organization has failed miserably in the COVID crisis — covering for China’s blatant misfeasance and badly muddling public-health communication.

So, of course, it wants more power. The WHO wants us to prepare for future pandemics with a “One Health” international treaty that would foster globalized government. From the WHO press release pushing for “an all of government, all of society approach” to pandemic prevention and combat:

We believe that nations should work together towards a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response.

Such a renewed collective commitment would be a milestone in stepping up pandemic preparedness at the highest political level. It would be rooted in the constitution of the World Health Organization, drawing in other relevant organizations key to this endeavour, in support of the principle of health for all.  Existing global health instruments, especially the International Health Regulations, would underpin such a treaty, ensuring a firm and tested foundation on which we can build and improve.

Wellness is now the grand excuse for power grabbing. Moreover, the concept of health has become entirely malleable. That allows fighting future pandemics to become conjoined (impliedly) with combatting climate change and radical environmentalism (my emphasis):

It would also include recognition of a “One Health” approach that connects the health of humans, animals and our planet. And such a treaty should lead to more mutual accountability and shared responsibility, transparency and cooperation within the international system and with its rules and norms.

That’s known as a real power grab.

None other than Anthony Fauci described the utterly radical nature of globalists’ plan in an article he co-authored for Cell (again, my emphasis):

Living in greater harmony with nature will require changes in human behavior as well as other radical changes that may take decades to achieve: rebuilding the infrastructures of human existence, from cities to homes to workplaces, to water and sewer systems, to recreational and gatherings venues.

In such a transformation we will need to prioritize changes in those human behaviors that constitute risks for the emergence of infectious diseases. Chief among them are reducing crowding at home, work, and in public places as well as minimizing environmental perturbations such as deforestation, intense urbanization, and intensive animal farming.

Equally important are ending global poverty, improving sanitation and hygiene, and reducing unsafe exposure to animals, so that humans and potential human pathogens have limited opportunities for contact.

Oh, is that all?

Look, I am all for international cooperation in matters of public health. But I am not for ceding the kind of power to unaccountable international agencies and bureaucrats that WHO and Fauci covet. But “The Great Reset” crowd, and the policy enforcers of the emerging corporatocracy, are unquestionably on board.

To say the least, we live in challenging times for individual freedom and personal liberty.

Law & the Courts

Using the Law as a Sword against Those You Dislike

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An activist LGBT group seeks to prevent students from using federal student-aid money to attend colleges that adhere to traditional Christian beliefs on sexuality.  The schools would have to either abandon their beliefs or lose students who need federal loans and grants.

Alliance Defending Freedom has moved to intervene in the case. ADF’s release is here.

This is litigation cut from the same cloth as the persistent attacks against Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop — using the law not as a shield for your rights, but as a sword to damage people you disagree with.

As I have written many times, the federal government has no constitutional authority to finance higher education (or housing, or businesses, or anything else). The Founders understood that politicians would be poor stewards of the nation’s capital and wisely gave them no power to lend. Too bad that the Supreme Court, following FDR’s threat to pack it, stopped defending the idea that the Constitution imposes limits on whatever Congress and the president want to do with our money.

Abusive litigation like this is the inevitable outgrowth of laws that give the government power it was never supposed to have.

Mob Rule in Minnesota: City Council Member Voted to Fire Manager to Avoid Violent Repercussions

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Protesters rally outside Brooklyn Center Police Department a day after Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minn., April 12, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Brooklyn Center city manager Curt Boganey was fired Monday evening, just one day after 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a police officer.

Was he fired for failing to prepare his employees for the rioting that rocked the Minneapolis suburb hours after Wright’s death, or for some inflammatory statement about the shooting?

No, he was fired because the mob demanded it.

Per the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

At a virtual council workshop, Council Member Kris Lawrence-Anderson said she voted to remove the city manager because she feared for her property and retaliation by protestors if she had voted to keep him.

“He was doing

Culture

Poems by Heart

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Robert W. Service in 1905 ( Library and Archives Canada / Wikimedia)

“Dictators are needy people,” begins my Impromptus column today. Yes. “They are constantly demanding adulation.” I go on to speak of the dictator of Turkmenistan, whose name is a mouthful. He is Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. (The first name has ten letters — same as “Nordlinger,” by the way — and the last has sixteen, which beats me by some.)

In my next item, I talk about language — not very nice language, such as “garbage human being,” “human scum,” and “human rodent.” Lot of that goin’ around, in our social media and elsewhere.

Today’s column has a number of personalities, including Jordan Spieth, Ernest Hemingway, Wesley Snipes, and Prince Philip. Also Marshall Sahlins, the anthropologist who died this month at 90. He and I once had an exchange, which ended cordially, sort of.

Here in the Corner, I would like to talk poetry — particularly, the memorization of. First, I need to paste a swatch of Impromptus:

The pen of an angel was owned by Giacomo Leopardi, the poet who lived from 1798 to 1837. His full name was — settle in — Count Giacomo Taldegardo Francesco di Sales Saverio Pietro Leopardi. Among his poems is “L’infinito.” For many, many years — generations — it has been the most memorized poem in all Italy. What is our equivalent? “The Tyger” (Blake)? “Invictus” (Henley)? “If—” (Kipling)? Do we in the English-speaking world still memorize poems? (I don’t.) (Never did.) (Wish I did.)

These thoughts were occasioned by a new translation of “L’infinito” by Beverley Bie Brahic, published in the current New Criterion.

Time was, boys and men memorized poems by Robert W. Service. Did girls and women? I don’t think so, but I could be wrong. Ronald Reagan committed Service poems to memory. While he was president, he memorably unleashed a little of “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” This was at an event with the education secretary, Bill Bennett.

This morning, I have found a piece by Andrew Ferguson, published in The Weekly Standard in December 1999. “In his autobiography,” writes Andy, “Ronald Reagan recalls discovering a book of Service poems during his boyhood.” Andy then quotes from the autobiography:

I reread “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” so many times that years later, on the occasional nights when I had trouble falling asleep, I’d remember every word and recite it silently to myself until I bore myself into slumber. If I still couldn’t sleep, I’d switch to “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” and that usually did it.

Once, Pierre Trudeau challenged Reagan to recite “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.” They were at a state dinner — Buckingham Palace — where Reagan sat between the Queen Mother and Trudeau. Reagan accepted the challenge and recited the poem, all 112 lines. Andy Ferguson writes of this — entertainingly — in his piece.

He also writes of John McCain, who was campaigning across New Hampshire. Aboard the candidate’s bus was a crew from Comedy Central. They asked him, “Who’s your favorite poet?” McCain answered, “Robert Service, I guess.” The crew then challenged him to recite some — which he did: “The Cremation of Sam McGee” (115 lines).

“The wise-asses from Comedy Central were apparently impressed with McCain’s performance,” writes Andy.

As they were breaking down their camera equipment, McCain mentioned offhandedly how he had come to memorize “Sam McGee.”

“The guy in the cell next to me,” he said, “it was his favorite poem. He used to tap it to me on the wall, in Morse Code. That’s how I memorized it.”

Politics & Policy

Is Halting Use of the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine at All Justified?

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A vial of the Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine at Northwell Health’s South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y., March 3, 2021 (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has called for a halt to use of the Johnson & Johnson “one-shot” coronavirus vaccine in the United States. Around 6.8 million Americans have already received it, and blood-clotting in only six recipients caused the FDA to postpone its use indefinitely — that’s .000088 percent of cases. From the FDA’s statement:

CDC will convene a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) on Wednesday to further review these cases and assess their potential significance. FDA will review that analysis as it also investigates these cases. Until that process is complete, we are recommending this pause. This is important to ensure that the health care provider community is aware of the potential for these adverse events and can plan due to the unique treatment required with this type of blood clot.

The argument for shutting it all down for the time being is that the kind of clots being observed — cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) — are extremely rare and require unique treatment. Administering heparin, the anticoagulant used in most cases of blood-clotting, may be dangerous. However, while the condition is rare, it is not occurring in recipients at a greater rate than in the general population. According to Johns Hopkins, five out of every million people are afflicted with CVST a year.

There are, I think, two conclusions to be reached:

  1. The FDA is acting out of an overabundance of caution, and that’s a mistake. Without a causal link between this negligible case count of CVST and the vaccine, calling for a complete halt to use of the vaccine is going to hurt distribution numbers in the short and long-term. Not only will it wipe out a great many appointments made by willing recipients, it will provide anti-vaxxers with a new talking point and likely discourage many Americans from ever signing up for any of the coronavirus vaccines. Even if the clots are related to the vaccine, this halt will assuredly cost more lives than the Johnson & Johnson vaccine ever could. Why wouldn’t authorities simply issue guidance to providers to be on the lookout for cases of CVST so as to head off the immediate use of heparin as a remedy?
  2. Looking at it another way, this should be a devastating development for the professional anti-vaxxers, and persuade coronavirus vaccine skeptics to feel safe scheduling an appointment to receive one of the other two vaccines right away. For those who believe there’s a massive conspiracy at work to cover up the vaccines’ deleterious side effects, this is the ultimate proof otherwise. A mere six cases of (not deaths caused by) CVST caused the FDA to slam the brakes and begin a review of the Johnson & Johnson products anew. If even the smallest whiff of a serious side effect caused the FDA to overreact as it has, it’s hard to believe that it’s hiding others.

CDC
Halting Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Is a Dangerous Overreaction

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Vaccine vials in front of the Johnson & Johnson logo, February 9, 2021 (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

The decision by the FDA and CDC to halt the administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine over fears of a rare blot clot side effect is an overreaction with potentially dangerous consequences.

According to the FDA, there were six reported cases of a “rare & severe type of blod clot in individuals after receiving the vaccine.” How rare? Well, there were over 6.8 million doses of the vaccine administered. So that means that fewer than one in a million people have been found to have developed a blood clot.

What’s more, it is unclear that the blood clot was directly caused by the vaccine.

While some may say it’s worth halting the use of the vaccine to investigate further, it’s important to consider the consequences of the decision.

Most immediately, halting the use of Johnson & Johnson will slow U.S. vaccination efforts. Not only was Johnson & Johnson one additional tool in the arsenal, but it also requires only one shot, meaning states can vaccinate twice as many people with the same number of appointments. It means that it’s less of a burden on those who are less eager to get vaccinated. And it means that those who receive the shot are fully vaccinated more quickly, because they don’t have to come back for another appointment three to four weeks later.

Furthermore, by blowing a very rare potential side effect out of proportion, the news is likely to provide more fodder to anti-vaxxers to spread fears about the vaccine to those still on the fence.

It has become all too common during the pandemic for people to argue that a given decision will kill people, but make no mistake, this move will cost lives. Clinical trials found that once it it was fully in effect, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 100 percent effective in preventing people from being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19. Specifically, out of about 40,000 people in the clinical trial total (roughly divided between those who received the vaccine and those who received the placebo), seven people receiving the placebo died, compared to zero deaths among those who received the vaccine. So in just that small universe, more people died than the six people who experienced blood clots out of nearly 7 million who have received the vaccine so far.

Thus, millions fewer people getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will mean more people will be vulnerable to getting severely sick and dying of COVID-19. And this doesn’t even account for the likely increase in vaccine hesitancy as a result of this decision, which could cause many more people to avoid not only the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but also Moderna and Pfizer.

The FDA claims the decision was being made out of an “abundance of caution.”

After the past year, that’s a phrase I really want to see retired.

Health Care

Insanity: The FDA and CDC Want to Pause Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

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According to the New York Times, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control want to pause use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine doses because six people have developed a rare disorder involving blood clots. One has died. Around seven million people have taken the vaccine so far. Which means the United States government wants to shelve nine million doses when nearly a thousand people are still dying every day from COVID because of a 0.00008 percent risk. There is a far higher chance of a person getting a blood clot taking birth control pills or even over-the-counter pain killers.

Americans should be able to make choices about taking the J&J vaccine. If women between 18 and 48, the ages of six people who developed blot clots, are at slightly — and I mean slightly — higher risk, they should avoid the vaccine if they like. Or avoid vaccines altogether if you like. Unless new information emerges, a basic cost-benefit analysis tells us that holding up nine million doses of vaccine is insanity.

Fiscal Policy

Democrats Consider Firing the CBO Director

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Mother Jones has the scoop:

The interest stems from some Democrats’ disappointment over the [Congressional Budget Office]’s recent scores of the party’s top priorities and a desire to see the office led by an economist willing to give Democrats the scores they’re looking for to push Biden’s agenda over the finish line. Such a move would make the ostensibly nonpartisan office a wonky pawn in the three-dimension chess game Democrats hope to play. . . .

The move is being deliberated among Senate Democratic staff, according to several senior Democratic sources, with some outreach to progressive House members. Staffers for the Senate Committee on the Budget, which is chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have already provided Senate Democratic leadership with a list of potential replacements for the role.

What was all that about norms again?

The current CBO director is an economist who held positions in the George W. Bush administration. He is serving a four-year term that started in 2019 — though most of the actual work of scoring bills is done by lower-level employees adhering to nonpartisan norms. The CBO especially infuriated Democrats by finding that a $15 minimum wage would reduce employment, for example, but this is standard economics and in line with previous CBO reports.

Yet if Democrats want to do this, there’s not much stopping them. Either house of Congress can pass a resolution to fire a CBO director, and the Democrats are in full control of the House. The replacement would be appointed by the speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi) and the president pro tem of the Senate (Patrick Leahy).

Politics & Policy

Trump’s McConnell Bashing Serves the GOP a Reminder

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Then-President Donald Trump talks with reporters next to then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Roy Blunt as he arrives for a closed Senate Republican policy lunch on Capitol Hill, March 26, 2019. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

When Donald Trump unloaded on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell over the weekend, it harkened back to the glory days of his presidency, when his bombastic speeches would generate headlines and dominate the news cycle.

Trump’s remarks came after a series of months in which he has been relatively quiet. Since January 20, Trump has granted the occasional interview, made the occasional speech, and issued the occasional statement — a roundabout way of getting past the social-media bans enacted after the January 6 Capitol riot. But by and large, Trump has been a peripheral figure since leaving office. He doesn’t dominate the headlines, he hasn’t embraced the “leader of the opposition” role many thought he might, and he hasn’t announced a 2024 candidacy.

While it’s impossible to say right now if Trump will make a third attempt at the White House, he does not have to run in order to maintain influence. He has already made it clear that playing kingmaker in races big and small seems to be of great interest to him. At the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, Trump implored the crowd to donate to his Save America PAC. And he continues to take aim at figures he believes betrayed him in the aftermath of his election defeat.

Then came this weekend, when at the Republican National Committee meeting, Trump blasted GOP leaders who didn’t support his effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. He called McConnell a “dumb son of a b****” and said of his own vice president, “I wish that Mike Pence had the courage to send it back to the legislatures.”

The message is clear: With both his money and his mouth, Trump intends on shaping the direction of the party.

To start, if Trump doesn’t run, his will be the most coveted endorsement of the cycle. Every candidate with a chance of securing the nomination will at least pay lip service to Trump’s achievements in office, which are not insignificant. Few, if any, will make meaningful critiques of his character faults — also not insignificant.

In this scenario, and if the primary were to begin tomorrow, Florida governor Ron DeSantis would begin the race as the favorite: He boasts conservative credentials, executive experience, and all the right enemies. Most importantly, he appeals to both Trump’s most ardent supporters and loudest critics.

If Joe Biden continues to govern as progressive with a mandate instead of the unifying moderate he ran as, Republicans have a real shot at reclaiming the White House a few years from now. Particularly if they nominate DeSantis or another candidate with the savvy to bring together the GOP’s myriad factions.

But Trump’s involvement would present Republican contenders with a difficult choice – do they explicitly reject his unrelenting claims that the election was stolen, or do they indulge him? Dismissing the stolen-election narrative would be sure to incur Trump’s wrath and alienate primary voters who agree with him. Yet any Republican who embraces Trump’s claims would feel repercussions with Republican-leaners and independents in the suburbs who were horrified by the aftermath of the 2020 race.

Since there is no way for any 2024 candidate to avoid this question, it would be better for the GOP, institutionally and individually, to begin distancing itself from “Stop the Steal” now rather than later.

Religion

Could We Be More Mercy in the World?

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Priests attend as Pope Francis leads a Holy Mass to mark the feast of Divine Mercy at the Vatican, April 8, 2018. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

Picture this if you dare: Christ standing before his heavenly Father and pleading for us, still bearing his wounds.

Yesterday, I read this from the homily I was present for during the very hour that my friend — and friend to many here — Kate O’Beirne, former Washington editor of National Review and president of the National Review Institute — died on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2017. Since Easter moves around, so does Divine Mercy Sunday, the Sunday after Easter. This year it was yesterday. Mercy is certainly something we could use more of. One of the plagues of our politics today is how merciless it can be — on both/all sides — and the abuse and misuse of the word “mercy.”

Divine Mercy Sunday was instituted by John Paul II, who said:

Continue reading “Could We Be More Mercy in the World?”

World

Iranian Officials Call Sabotage of Its Nuclear Program ‘Crime against Humanity’

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The place of Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency at a meeting in the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, March 9, 2020. (Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images)

In the wake of an explosion that caused a blackout at an Iranian nuclear facility in Natanz, which Israeli outlets have attributed to the Mossad, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif condemned Israel’s reported involvement as “reckless criminal nuclear terrorism” and a “grave war crime” in a letter to U.N. secretary general Antonio Guterres:

The deliberate targeting of a highly sensitive nuclear facility—with the high risk of potential release of radioactive material—constitutes reckless criminal nuclear terrorism. Considering the possible indiscriminate human and environmental consequences of this international crime, those who planned, ordered, participated and carried out this cowardly act committed a grave war crime; one that must not go unpunished.

In what appears to be a swipe at the United States, he also writes, “Any power with knowledge of, or acquiescence in, this act must also be held accountable as an accomplice to this war crime.”

According to Zarif, the Natanz incident increases pressure on the United States to offer unilateral concessions to Iran in the context of the ongoing indirect nuclear talks in Geneva:

If the United States wants to avert the drastic consequences of foolish gambles by its terrorist stooges, it must cease forthwith to consider unlawful measures—whether economic terrorism perpetrated by Trump (and continued by the current U.S. administration) or the recent nuclear terrorism—as negotiating leverage and remove all sanctions imposed, re-imposed or relabeled since the adoption of the JCPOA.

Never mind that the Biden team can rest easy with the knowledge that the blackout at Natanz likely set back Tehran’s uranium enrichment capabilities nine months, just a day after the regime made a show of restarting certain enrichment activities. Zarif’s claim that the Natanz blackout was some sort of “terrorism” is ridiculous on its face. The sabotage of the nuclear-enrichment site seems to have been executed without a hitch. There’s no indication that it was conducted in a way that would cause radioactive leakage.

But the very fact that Iran operates such a facility, and likely for non-civilian purposes, is the real scandal, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons in contravention of international law is the true “nuclear terrorism” here.

Through savvy diplomacy and a years-long public-relations campaign, Tehran has managed to convince some in U.S. policy circles that its transparent pursuit of nuclear weapons is equivalent to Washington’s decision to levy sanctions on that activity. According to this sleight of hand, seeking weapons of mass destruction in violation of international law is no worse than U.S. steps to contain Iran’s support of regional terrorism and its development of ballistic missiles.

As Zarif has demonstrated, Iran takes this message to its absurd conclusion: that any attempt to prevent the regime’s illegal uranium enrichment is terrorism or even, as another Iranian official put it, a “crime against humanity.”

The Natanz blackout is an opportunity to break free from that framework. The truth is that Israel seems only to have acted in its self-interest to prevent the regime that called its very existence a “cancerous tumor” from acquiring the means to “uproot” it.

Anyone who considers returning to the JCPOA as an end in itself has reason to lament this apparent attack on the Natanz facility. Some of these analysts have even called for the U.S. to condemn Israel for its alleged actions.

But the blackout, and any resulting damage that it caused, has granted the U.S. an advantage as it approaches the talks in Vienna, just as the Biden administration ramped up an effort to squander the leverage left to it by the previous administration by indicating its intent to do away with some sanctions.

As the U.S. and Iran approach the next round of talks in Vienna, this episode should serve as a reminder that preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, not reaching a hollow agreement with Tehran, ought to be President Biden’s ultimate goal.

U.S.

Mistaking Handguns for Tasers

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(Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

My reaction to the tragic death of Daunte Wright in a Minneapolis suburb due to excessive police force was pretty much the same as Phil’s: A trained police officer’s mistaking a handgun for a taser seems inconceivable. It has nevertheless happened a few times.

The instances are statistically negligible: A 2020 analysis claimed there had been 16 such cases (though a couple appear to be dubious) over 20 years, during which there have been millions of taser uses by police officers. A 2015 Christian Science Monitor report related a 2012 study that documented nine such cases at that time, out of over 2.7 million taser uses since 2001.

It is an extraordinarily rare occurrence, and an excruciatingly tragic one when it results in death or severe injury.

Some tasers have similar design — not exactly similar but roughly similar — to handguns, which obviously helps with some aspects of training in how to operate them. But the different weapons do not feel the same, they do not weigh the same (tasers can be considerably lighter), and they do not operate the same way. To avoid the minute potential of confusion, cops are typically trained to carry the taser on the weak-hand side (the firearm is on the strong side). The aforementioned 2015 report recounts that in some of the documented cases of mistaken discharge, the taser was carried on the same strong-hand side as, and thus close to, the firearm.

This kind of mistake does not happen with anything close to the frequency that would allow portraying it as a reasonable or excusable error. That is a separate issue from the question of whether it can be an honest mistake. It can, but it is grossly negligent and criminally actionable, nonetheless.

There is already some commentary, similar to a narrative we have heard during the murder trial of Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd, that the excessive force is especially inexcusable in light of the comparative lack of severity of the criminal conduct that prompted detention. In the case of Daunte Wright, that argument seems even less persuasive: A court had issued an arrest warrant for Wright, and he was allegedly attempting to flee to avoid execution of the warrant. If an offense is not serious enough to merit issuance of an arrest warrant, a judge should not issue one. If one is issued, then it is not the police officer’s place to second-guess the court — particularly if the suspect resists and attempts to flee, which are separate crimes.

That said, the police must effect an arrest lawfully. It goes without saying that what tragically happened to Mr. Wright was not lawful.

Immigration

What’s the Real Problem at the Border?

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A family of migrants cross the Rio Bravo River to turn themselves in to U.S Border Patrol agents to request asylum in El Paso, Texas, seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, March 30, 2021. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

There seems to be disagreement about the nature of the problem at our southern border.

Much of the commentary has been about the terrible conditions in which migrants are being held. And the conditions are indeed terrible — children and teenagers warehoused in Border Patrol facilities not built for that purpose, awaiting transfer to HHS-managed shelters, where they’re held until the government can locate and vet (-ish) sponsors, usually their illegal-alien relatives, to deliver them to. Meanwhile, adult illegals bringing children with them have also overwhelmed the DHS’s capacity — in some instances they’re having to sleep under a bridge until they can be processed further.

The Democrats’ diagnosis is that this massive and growing flow of illegal aliens is not being processed fast enough into the U.S. The solution, therefore, is increased capacity, so that ever-larger numbers of illegal-alien families and minors will be processed quicker and more comfortably into the country. White House press secretary Jen Psaki, for instance, said last week that “our focus is on addressing the needs, opening up shelters, ensuring there is access to health and educational resources, expediting processing at the border.”

But the overcrowding, etc. is merely a symptom, not the actual problem, which is that huge numbers of people are illegally surging across our border. March apprehensions by the Border Patrol reached a 20-year high, with the number of unaccompanied children double the February level, and those family units nearly triple from the month before. The border crisis is rapidly approaching the scale of the 2015 disaster in Europe, also sparked by irresponsible comments and policies by government leadership, in that case by German chancellor Angela Merkel.

As Byron York wrote over the weekend:

Under administration orders, they are no longer really trying to prevent people from entering the U.S. illegally. Rather, they are attempting to humanely house and feed the thousands prior to releasing them into the country. The border’s guardians are overwhelmed and increasingly giving way to bureaucratic pressure to let most people in.

The numerical immigration limits and eligibility rules established by Congress are being comprehensively subverted by the Biden administration’s conscious decision to permit the large-scale admission of illegal aliens and to collude with them in systematic abuse of our asylum law. Few of those admitted to claim “asylum” qualify for it — many will not even bother to apply, and those who do, and lose, will not be made to leave.

In other words, in seeking more expeditious processing of illegal aliens at the border, the Biden administration is implementing an extra-legal increase in the number of de facto permanent residents of the U.S. That’s the problem at the border, and to the extent the administration does anything to try to moderate it, it’s only because of the political cost it is paying, not because it accepts it as a problem.

White House

Despite Promise, Biden Won’t Have a National Commission on Policing After All

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks from the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 6, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Joe Biden, speaking in Kenosha, Wisconsin, September 3: “If I get elected president, I promise you there will be a national commission on policing out of the White House where I’ll bring everyone to the table, including police chiefs, including civil rights activists, including the NAACP, including the African, the Latino community. We’re going to sit down there and we’re going to work it out.”

Jen Psaki, today:

MS. PSAKI:  In terms of the police commission, we have been in very close contact over the course of several months — back to the transition — with both civil rights activists, with law enforcement authorities and the law enforcement community about what would be most effective moving forward.

And as Dr. Rice conveyed — or I think the statement we put out, I should say, conveyed, we have made a decision, in coordination, that the best path forward is to work to the past — to pass the George Floyd Policing Act; that that has a great deal of the content of the policy changes, of the necessary reforms that we would all like to see in place.  So that was a collective decision, and that’s where our focus will be.

Q    And is this a delay, or do you expect it to just not go forward at all?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we expect, for the time being, for our focus to be on moving the legislation forward and not on the policing commission.

As far as presidential promises go, this isn’t the biggest or most consequential one; as noted Friday, most commissions have little or no impact on policy. But it is a good reminder that most presidential candidates have a habit of promising anything and everything when running, with little or no commitment to follow through once they’re elected.

Economy & Business

Polling: Corporations Should Stay out of Politics

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Delta Airlines jets sit at a terminal at Reagan National Airport. August 19, 2004 (Larry Downing/Reuters)

After the passage of Georgia’s new voting law, woke capital didn’t hesitate to seize another opportunity to pander to the left. Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola, and Major League Baseball were all eager to remind the Democratic Party where their loyalties lie. Never mind the fact that the corporate statements decrying the legislation were snap judgements based on snap reports that ludicrously oversimplified a complex issue. What were they supposed to do? Not take sides in a political fight that has nothing to do with running their business?

Before jumping into the political mosh-pit that is Georgia’s election fight, all these companies should have asked themselves: “Wait, do people actually want us to be doing this?” That is the kind of question which occurs to responsible executives before they risk their business’ reputation in exchange for . . . nothing, as it turns out. In fact, it risked being less than nothing for Delta Air Lines, as the GOP-controlled Georgia House voted to strip tens of millions of dollars’ worth of tax-breaks from the airline. However, the state senate did not go along, declining to consider the matter before adjourning.

In any event, the answer to that question is: “No, people don’t want huge businesses involved in politics.” And we have the data to back it up. Last week, pollster Scott Rasmussen released a survey that has some worrying implications for corporate America, at least if it continues in its current direction.

According to the poll, 59 percent of Americans think companies taking political positions “adds to divisiveness.” Over half of self-identified Democrats agreed. Another related poll released by Mr. Rasmussen a day earlier found that 66 percent of Americans thought corporations should not be taking political positions. Again, that includes over half of Democrats.

In other words, no broad electoral coalition is asking for businesses to be fronts for activism. Not Republicans, not Democrats, not independents. If that conclusion wasn’t obvious enough already, there’s data to support it. Corporations are doing themselves no favors when they take stances on controversial, complicated, political issues.

And yet, woke capital forges on. Delta Air Lines’ attack on the Georgia voting law fits perfectly with the pattern. But the consequences of corporate politicking are no longer merely rhetorical. Delta’s thoughtless compliance with the progressive social agenda resulted in a Republican House making a serious effort to punish them directly. It shouldn’t be a shock that Republicans would start to legislate against woke capital as public opinion turns against it. This isn’t just empty political theatre, either; this is actual legislation that could carry actual consequences. And this is all for the sake of an ultimately pointless statement attacking a policy that Delta had no business getting involved with in the first place.

Alongside the predictably formulaic denunciations, Major League Baseball responded to the voting law with something more material: pulling its All-Star Game out of Atlanta. Whichever executive made that decision ought to be aware of how dependent the sports industry is on the good graces of local and state government — and they ought to be aware that Republicans have a legislative trifecta in 23 states, which is eight more than the Democrats. Just something to keep in mind as Republicans make their unhappiness with MLB all too clear .

Taking sides in a hotly contested political battle, the results of which have nothing to do with the company’s bottom line, is woke capital at its finest. That is precisely what the tide of public opinion, and increasingly public policy, is turning against. Those running the nation’s big businesses can listen to reason and stop bowing to the left, or they can ignore the warning signs and carry on with their current public-relations strategy, which seems to be something along the lines of “antagonize most of the country.” It’s hard to think that their shareholders will thank them for this.

White House

‘The Objective Is to Make It More Difficult to Make the Journey.’

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 22, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The good news is the Biden administration has, in the words of White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, convinced Mexico to “maintain 10,000 troops at its southern border, resulting in twice as many daily migrant interdictions.  Guatemala surged 1,500 police and military personnel to its southern border with Honduras and agreed to set up 12 checkpoints along the migratory route.  Honduras surged 7,000 police and military to disperse a large contingent of migrants.”

The amazingly ironic news is that the the Biden administration has gotten three countries to deploy military troops to their borders to prevent migrants from crossing them, and is applauding the use of thousands of police officers and military to “disperse a large contingent of migrants.” Psaki added, “the objective is to make it more difficult to make the journey and make crossing the borders more — more difficult.”

The thing is, if Joe Biden and his administration really want to make the journey and make crossing the borders more difficult… maybe they should rescind the executive order that paused all work on each construction project on the southern border wall, and restart certain wall construction projects to fill the gaps, as certain figures in the administration are reportedly contemplating?

 

Culture

Twenty Things That Caught My Eye: Christians in China and Pakistan & More

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1. The Daily Mail: Two Christian women face the death penalty in Pakistan for removing a sticker carrying a verse from the Koran from a Muslim colleague’s locker they were asked to clean

2. New York Post: China ‘brainwashing’ Christians to renounce faith, report finds

Radio Free Asia relayed stories last week from a man given the pseudonym Li Yuese, who said he was beaten in a windowless room for nearly 10 months. 

Li said he was detained after authorities raided his house church in 2018. “There were no windows, no ventilation and no time allowed outside,” said Li. “I was given just two meals a day, which were brought to the room by a designated person.”

3.  The Economist: China wants to make its Christians more Chinese

Even for many of those who attend official churches, the five-year plan’s emphasis on the need to integrate Christian theology with socialist ideology is grating. It says quotations should be used by preachers to promote “core socialist values”. These principles should feature more prominently in their training. Interpretations of the Bible should become more sinified—meaning, presumably, that they should help to bolster belief in socialism.

4. Mark Regnerus: Arkansas and the Politics of Experimenting on Children

Just last month, a pair of reports commissioned by the UK’s National Health Service was released, revealing yet again little evidence to suggest that puberty-blocking and gender-affirming hormonal treatments improve the mental health and psychosocial functioning of minors. The “clinical effectiveness, safety, and cost-effectiveness” of such treatments just aren’t there, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) report found.

The evaluation was commissioned in the wake of the scandal at Tavistock—Britain’s only clinic serving transgender youth—which had witnessed not only a 4,400-percent increase in demand for its services, but a growing chorus of whistleblowing clinicians, and complaints about informed consent, quality of care, and subpar research protocols. The NICE assessment offers another refrain in the growing litany of reasons to be far more cautious about treating underage persons in a way that permanently alters bodies as a response to problems of the mind.

. . .

Sometimes, however, even trumpeted conclusions actually turn out to be null. A study appearing in the October 2019 edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry declared that “gender-affirming” surgery was associated with reduced demand for subsequent mental health treatment in a sample of Swedish adults diagnosed with “gender incongruence.” Although that conclusion eventually succumbed to a correction of the authors’ overreaching claims about the efficacy of surgical treatment on subsequent use of mental health services, the original version had already observed no effect of time since initiating hormone treatment on the likelihood of subsequently receiving mental health treatment. After the correction, the authors admitted that surgeries did not yield the anticipated benefit, either.

5. Jillian Kay Melchior: God and the Border Crisis: Churches play a vital role sheltering migrants, who are overwhelming U.S. and Mexican authorities.

6. London police ‘deeply regret’ aftermath of Good Friday liturgy shutdown

7. John Stonestreet: Rescuing the Victims of Trafficking

Continue reading “Twenty Things That Caught My Eye: Christians in China and Pakistan & More”

Law & the Courts

Chauvin-Trial Judge Refuses to Sequester Jury after Latest Police-Involved Killing

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Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill presides over the trial of Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minn., April 12, 2021 in this courtroom sketch. (Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)

The Derek Chauvin murder trial is winding down amid more unrest.

This morning, Judge Peter Cahill refused a defense motion to sequester the jury. The request came as Minneapolis is again experiencing turmoil over a young black man’s death at the hands of police, after he resisted arrest. This time, as our Brittany Bernstein notes, a thus-far unidentified female police officer shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright to death on Sunday afternoon as he attempted to flee.

Wright, who was reportedly driving a car while accompanied by his girlfriend, was pulled over for an alleged traffic violation by police in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center. During the encounter, in which Wright exited the car, it was discovered that an arrest warrant had been issued for him on charges of carrying a gun without a permit and fleeing from police. As police tried to detain him on Sunday, he allegedly resisted, getting back into his car and attempting to drive away. The unidentified officer shot him.

Brooklyn Center police chief Tim Gannon has explained that the firing of a single shot was a tragic mistake in that the officer actually intended to discharge a taser in order to disable Wright. The car traveled some distance after the shooting, eventually colliding with another vehicle. Wright was pronounced dead at the scene; his companion suffered injuries that were not life threatening, while occupants of the other car were apparently not hurt.

There were violent protests in and around Minneapolis. The coverage of Wright’s killing, coming as Chauvin’s trial in Hennepin County for allegedly killing Floyd is coming to a close, is obviously intensifying the press coverage — even more locally than nationally. That is why Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, made the sequestration motion. The judge decided that the proposal was too drastic. The jury, however, will be admonished in strong terms to avoid media stories about the trial, Wright’s shooting, and the related issues of police brutality and community violence.

In the meantime, the prosecution in Chauvin’s case could wrap up its case this afternoon. This morning, the state called yet another medical expert, cardiologist Jonathan Rich, who testified that Floyd would not have died but for his being extensively restrained by police in the prone position. Dr. Rich echoed Dr. Martin Tobin’s earlier testimony that Floyd died of low oxygen, which gradually caused his heart and lungs to stop functioning.

A highly accomplished cardiac specialist and professor of cardiology at Northwestern, Dr. Rich further opined that Floyd’s life could have been saved had police rolled him over into a sideways position when they observed that he appeared to be passing out. Rich added that Chauvin and the other officers should have begun chest-compressions when it was obvious that Floyd had no pulse, and that the failure to do so for four minutes before emergency medical technicians arrived and began treating Floyd left little to no chance of reviving him. According to the doctor, the literature teaches that the chance of survival diminishes by 10 to 15 percent for every minute CPR is not administered when a person is pulseless.

Prosecutors are expected to call at least one more use-of-force expert, as well as another witness to give a sympathetic portrait of Floyd the man, before resting their case. Nelson is expected to call witnesses for the defense, but has not yet indicated whether Chauvin will testify.

Although things could change depending on what happens in the defense case, it is currently anticipated that summations could occur next Monday. After that, the jury would receive legal instructions from Judge Cahill and then begin deliberations on the two murder counts and one count of manslaughter.

Law & the Courts

How Does a Cop Confuse a Taser with a Gun?

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(welcomia/Getty Images)

How is it possible for a trained cop to confuse a taser with an actual gun?

That’s a question we’ll probably be asking each other a lot in the months to come.

I must admit, when I first heard that the chief of the Brooklyn Center Police Department concluded that the police officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright did so by accidentally firing a gun instead of a taser, it seemed far fetched. But the video does back up that claim.

Not only does an officer scream “I’ll tase you” and “Taser! Taser! Taser!” before firing a shot, but after the shooting, says, “Oh s**t, I just shot him.”

So that strongly supports the conclusion of the police chief.

However, what’s especially weird is that in the video, one can see the officer pointing what is clearly a gun rather than a Taser at Wright. So it wasn’t the type of situation where the weapon was grabbed and fired in a split second. There was eight seconds in the video between the first “I’ll tase you” and the “Oh s**t, I just shot him.” Even in the heat of the moment, eight seconds would seem to be enough time to realize the mistake.

So that brings us back to the original question. How is it possible for a trained cop to confuse a Taser with an actual gun?