China’s Foreign Ministry Tweets “I Can’t Breathe!” As America’s Rivals Troll US Over Unrest

China’s Foreign Ministry Tweets “I Can’t Breathe!” As America’s Rivals Troll US Over Unrest

Tyler Durden

Sun, 05/31/2020 – 16:05

Entirely to be expected in this rare moment of multiple American cities on fire amid the raging George Floyd protests, US enemies and rivals are seizing the opportunity to troll and mock Washington.

Beijing communist party officials are especially taking the US to task over its ‘hypocrisy’ regarding Hong Kong, starting with the below top Chinese official, the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Director General:

During last year’s many months-long and at times violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, recently flared up again over the deeply controversial ‘security law’, State Department officials on a near daily basis criticized both the HK police and mainland’s harsh response and crackdown.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying further used a recent RT segment to castigate what she called “THUGS & HEROES HYPOCRISY” in call caps, also as a reference to how Washington immediately dubs ‘rioters’ in official enemy countries as “heroes” while condemning any similar protest action in its own midst. 

State media is having a field day:

At the same time Iran didn’t miss the opportunity to take the US to task for previously stoking mass protests in the Islamic Republic, with Foreign Ministry Javad Zarif tweeting the following:

This follows days ago Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself responding to the unrest in the United States, saying, “if you’re dark-skinned walking in the US, you can’t be sure you’ll be alive in the next few minutes.”

“A human, for his black skin, has no reassurance to live in society, if indeed, a police officer can beat him to death because of his colored skin,” Khamenei said.

The country’s top cleric and theocratic leader tweeted a video highlighting the history of slavery and prior race riots in major American cities.

A number of independent Syria analysts, long critical of American sponsored ‘regime change’ efforts unsuccessfully targeting Assad, also pointed out the perils of “American style democracy’.

Of course, the Hong Kong issue remains the hot button foreign policy dilemma, with President Trump on Friday vowing to nix the “full range” of agreements which undergirded the special US relationship to the semi-independent city, based on HK allegedly ceding its special status to Beijing. 

“China has replaced its promised formula of one country, two systems, with one country, one system,” Trump said, taking the local opposition line. 

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Pandemic Policy In One Page

Pandemic Policy In One Page

Tyler Durden

Sun, 05/31/2020 – 15:40

Authored by David Hart via The American Institute for Economic Research,

Anybody who wishes to argue for a government monopoly which will “centrally plan” any industry or service (in this case public health during a pandemic) needs to come up with some very good reasons. So far, looking at both the theory and reality, I’ve seen no strong case for government to exercise monopoly controls during a pandemic, to say nothing for lockdowns, closures, travel bans, and controls on the population generally. Nothing about the presence of a virus, whether mild or severe, negates the problems with coercive central planning. 

In fact, all the sound reasons why central planning does not and cannot work in the case of the general economy apply equally in this case, along with a few other reasons which are specific to epidemics. 

Here are some of those reasons. 

1. The Knowledge Problem. Central Planners need to know an almost infinite amount of knowledge concerning consumer demand, the resources controlled by producers, the level of prices, production processes, and the infinite variables of time and place. This they can never and will never have for good Hayekian reasons

Central Planners of Public Health need to know who is sick, where they are, how sick they are, what strain of the virus they are suffering from, what are their other physical conditions, what medical facilities they have access to, how they will change their behaviour once they know they are sick, how they got sick, how to stop the spread, and what happens to the virus if it is stopped (since viruses don’t just disappear). 

The nightmare we have been watching unfold about the inadequate and often contradictory, and certainly partial information available to Central Planners of Public Health all over the world should be a warning to us that the knowledge problem here is as insurmountable as anything faced by the Stalinists and Maoists in the past.

2. The Weakness of Mathematical Models. It was a pipedream of the original Central Planners that computers would solve the knowledge problem, or at least make a good fist of processing the huge amount of data that governments and state managers had collected. This was never able to be put into practice because the amount of knowledge was too great (even for computers) and it kept changing faster than they could process it, and because the models they drew up were flawed and did not (could not) adequately describe how the economy worked. 

The same is clearly the case with the mathematical models which have guided the decisions made by the Central Planners of Public Health. The Imperial College London models have had an abysmal track record going back nearly 20 years; their predictions have been astronomically wrong, and it is astonishing that they would have been used today to make such important decisions. The incompetence of the data gatherers in the US and Europe is breathtaking, not to mention the dodgy data being given out by the Chinese government. How do we (could we) know that any future Central Planners would do any better? Would they (could they) come up with a better model? I would say never in a million years.

3. The One-Size-Fits-All Problem. Given the national, regional, ethnic, behavioural, and climatic differences which exist (Hello! it was summer in Australia and not the winter flu season when all this began!) it is again not surprising that the “one size fits all” solution hasn’t worked. It is always the first choice of the Central Planners because it is the most manageable one. If one wants to argue that the future Central Planners would allow more local solutions to be tried and implemented then it would no longer be a “central” plan or a (central) government monopoly, depending on how granular you wanted it to be. 

For a “government” solution to the problem to work, what is the optimum geographical area for this to work: the “empire” (the US or the EU), the nation, the state, the region, the city (the big city or the small city?), the county, the street, the household? What the bumbling of the past couple of months has clearly revealed is that the solution which might suit Brooklyn in NYC is not suitable for the lakeshore town of Dunkirk in upstate NY.

4. The Problem of Cost and Expenditure. Like any Central Planner, Public Health Planners would not know what to spend what amount of money on what district to do what things or on/for whom, not to mention when to start and when to stop. They might say something as general as a “lockdown” or quarantining only the sick would not cost much, but anything beyond that becomes so complex and politicized as to be almost impossible to carry out. All sorts of public choice issues will (and have) occurred, such as Cuomo’s political ambitions, Trump’s hubris, Fauci’s reputation, pharmaceutical manufacturers, the high voting turnout of the elderly, Neil Ferguson’s sex life, etc. Not to mention the irrational panic among the general public fanned into flames by an irresponsible and ignorant mainstream media.

5. The Problem of Unintended Consequences. How do the Central Planners of Public Health calculate the cost-benefit analysis of their proposed measures? At present it seems they were too panicked to give this a second thought, or even if they had the thought to begin with (which I doubt). The all-seeing, all-knowing Planners would have to show how they could do this in a just and reasonable way, which I believe would be impossible to do. They would have to make calculations on how to spend scarce resources which might mean some officials (elected or appointed?) making some Benthamite calculation about who or what constitutes “the greatest number” and what their “greatest happiness” would look like. 

As part of this calculation, you have to consider missed surgeries and medical appointments, deaths from suicide and drug overdoses, depression and famine in other parts of the world, far-reaching economic costs of shutting down businesses, layoffs, enforced isolation, ending freedom of movement, explosion in the debt, monetary expansion and resulting distortion, the “ratchet effect” of the increase in government power, and other effects of the plan. 

6. The Problem of Political Responsibility. If there is one day a government monopoly in the provision of public health, will the Central Planners of Public Health be held legally liable for the mistakes they are bound to make? If their mathematical model of the epidemic is wrong, if the unintended consequences (the costs in money and lives lost) is worse than the disease, can they be sued in court for damages, or at least voted out of office if they are elected officials)? Governments are not good at admitting error much less arranging compensation for the victims of their policies. 

7. The Problem of Individual Liberty. I won’t say more on this than state it. To me it seems rather obvious. 

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I Got Tear Gassed at Baltimore’s City Hall

Race was invented right here in the Chesapeake—in Virginia, to be exact. For two decades after the English Civil Wars ended and King Charles II was restored to the throne, he used the Chesapeake colonies as a dumping ground for England’s unwanted radicals. For several generations, meanwhile, Virginia and Maryland had been filling up slowly with African slaves. Add the ever-present Indians, and the English gentry was becoming even more outnumbered than usual.

In 1676, Bacon’s Rebellion erupted. This was essentially a border war waged by Nathaniel Bacon, an Indian-killer and genteel rival of the colony’s governor, William Berkeley. The height of the rebellion came when Bacon sacked Jamestown and installed himself as its ruler, forcing Berkeley to flee across the Chesapeake Bay. Bacon’s army included not just white indentured servants but their fellow laborers-in-bondage, the Africans.

There had never been a large number of Africans in Virginia to that point, and the original ratio was about four white rebels for every one black rebel. They meant to dismantle much of the power of the colony’s elites, and for a brief moment it looked as if they would actually manage it. A few months into the conflict, Bacon promised both freedom and land to servants and slaves.

But then he suddenly died, leaving his motley army leaderless. King Charles thought Berkeley was a royal screwup and dispatched Thomas Grantham as the king’s negotiator. Grantham arrived with a portion of the Royal Navy to find a seriously dwindled rebel force. Right there on the James River, he called out an offer to the white rebels: Desert your black comrades and you will go free, with full pardons. In an act of treachery and cowardice which has lived with us ever since, most of the whites complied. Only about 80 rebels remained when Grantham swept the last of their ships, in nearly reversed ratios of white to black.

To make sure they never again faced uprisings of both poor whites and enslaved blacks, the Virginia burgesses wrote the infamous Slave Codes. These regulated slaves’ interactions with whites, banned miscegenation, and—most importantly—defined slavery as a socioeconomic category dependent on one’s skin color. Only blacks could be enslaved; everyone else (including Indians) was subject merely to indenture. Only people with black skins could be forever owned like machinery or cattle, and transmit that wretched status to their children. The Virginia model quickly spread to the other British colonies; it gave birth to the very concept of race.

So this is where it started. In hopes that it might end here too, I went to Baltimore City Hall Saturday night, where I locked arms with protestors of all colors, stood on the front lines pushing back against the riot police, trying my damnedest to reverse that Baconian ratio back to its original position.

Well, now I know what it’s like to be tear gassed.

I won’t belabor the history of race in the Americas anymore, nor will I bore you with all my reasons for joining in the protests. Suffice to say that I’m as sick of abusive policing as anyone else who tries their best to be good and decent. And the fact that police abuse falls most heavily on black Americans hits home for me: I married into a black family, I have a black son roughly the same age that Tamir Rice was when the police murdered him, and we all live in downtown Baltimore. My wife and I are always a little scared when our son goes outside to play. These atrocities have to stop, and we have to stop them.

I knew that a series of marches was going to converge on the Inner Harbor and that the ultimate plan was to form up in mass at City Hall. After my son ate dinner, I changed out of the Aristotle (“Private Property”) shirt I’d been wearing all day and put on my much more fitting Albert Jay Nock (“Our Enemy the State”) shirt. I masked up and set out on a long walk to join in. 

I arrived at City Hall at about 7:30, when the crowd was still fairly small. A line of police had formed behind metal barricades in front of the building. For the next 90 minutes or so, I alternately stood there staring stone-faced at the cops a few feet from me, walked the lines telling maskless officers to do what their precious governor ordered and mask up, and generally got out my anarcho-individualist steam by imploring them to find decent employment.

In their half-assed attempts to talk with the crowd and hear our pleas, one of the higher-ups claimed he was doing his job because he supports democracy—which, apparently, means we the people doing what they the police tell us to do. He asked what I do for a living and I responded that I’m an historian.

“So, what, do we just get rid of all the police?” he asked.

“Well, yes, of course we do,” I said. “I’m an abolitionist.”

I told him flatly that the best thing he could do for the democracy he claimed to love so much was to quit the police union and quit the force. He seemed like a decent and sincere person, but frankly that’s not good enough. He walked away to talk to people more willing to hear him out and listen to his authority.

Later, another higher-up arrived in his squad car, bursting out of it with the usual bluster and walkie chatter. He wasn’t wearing a mask, so I told him to comply with the governor’s orders and mask up. Many of the officers I said this to did in fact mask up then and there. Others stared back at me blankly. This one laughed and pointed to a group of young black women behind me without masks. “What about them?” he asked.

I shot back: “Dude, you’re supposed to be law enforcement. How about you do your job, set the example, and at least follow all the stupid laws you try to hold us accountable for?”

He laughed again, but he was getting mad. I was getting mad too. “I bet you’re just itching for the chance to kill someone’s kid out here tonight,” I told him.

I didn’t expect his reply. “Oh, you bet I am,” he said.

The third officer I’ll mention was a young black woman standing near me. She was mainly looking at the ground, obviously trying to avoid eye contact with protestors. A black protester started talking to her, person of color to person of color. She would neither answer him nor look at him. He pointed out that she is someone’s daughter, and might be someone’s sister, and perhaps has children herself who will soon be in the police’s firing line. I turned then and told them what the higher-up had said to me about itching to kill a kid tonight.

She left the line, went behind the nearest cruiser, and visibly shed tears for several minutes.

Early on, some protestors smashed up a police car, spray-painted “FTP” and the like on nearby cruisers, and lobbed water bottles across the lines—which spooked the small number of officers quite a bit. But when the main contingent of marchers arrived, the situation broke loose. The officers on the scene immediately scrambled to distribute tactical gear and form up for battle. A few minutes later, the riot police arrived, shields and all.

First came the tear gas, unannounced, fired straight at us. (My mask and glasses kept most of it out, but it stung my lungs.) What followed was like witnessing a Greek phalanx moving to war, the rapping of nightsticks on riot shields. A line of us met them head on. “MOVE BACK” they shouted with every rap on their shields. A young woman next to me was trapped between a metal parking lot bar and the riot shields. I pushed the closest officer back enough that she could get herself loose and flee. The next officer over reached out and grabbed me, presumably to arrest me for “assaulting an officer” or something. They ripped that Albert Jay Nock shirt and tore off my mask and glasses, but I managed to wriggle free and to scurry back to the field of protestors.

I was able to find my mask and glasses again, and the rest of the night was—for me, at least—far less storied. I did my best to stay at the front of the line no matter what, whether standing up to riot police or just putting myself first in the potential firing line.

I implore all of you: Figure out which side you’re on, and do it quickly. If you are unwilling to do whatever you can to stop these injustices, then they are all the more likely to continue unabated. If we who hate the state are unwilling to actually dismantle it, if we who have layer after layer of privilege going right the way back to those tactical Slave Codes are unwilling to put ourselves at risk, then the state will kill more of our children, our parents, our friends, our fellow beings. We have to undo that grand act of treachery and betrayal on the James River, that first deal with the white supremacist state where relatively powerless whites abandoned their black compatriots.

“When the people fear the government,” Thomas Jefferson supposedly said, “there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” Whether or not he actually said that, the statement rings true. Staring at those cops Saturday night, I saw it in face after face. They’re scared.

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How to Curb Police Abuses—and How Not to


Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pins George Floyd’s neck with his knee, eventually causing his death (Darnella Frazier, AP).

 

The brutal recent killing of African-American George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer has sparked outrage at police abuses, and led to rioting and looting in many cities around the country. It’s understandable if many people—particularly minorities—feel a sense of anger, frustration, and hopelessness in the wake of these events, which come in the midst of a terrible pandemic. I sometimes feel that way myself.

But there is much that can be done to curb police abuses. The task is difficult, but far from hopeless. On the other hand, rioting and looting are not only wrong in themselves, but likely to have counterproductive effects.

I. What Can be Done

All too often, police get away with brutal treatment of civilians, particularly poor minorities. The problem is not that police officers are unusually bad people. It’s that they have bad incentives, under which they are rarely held accountable for abuses. Those incentives can and should be altered.

An important first step would be to get rid of the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity,” under which law enforcement officers are immune from suits for violating citizens’ constitutional rights unless the officers’ actions violate “clearly established” law. The Supreme Court interprets the term “clearly established” so narrowly that officers routinely get away with horrendous abuses merely because no federal court in their area has previously decided a case with essentially identical facts. Recent examples include stealing $225,000 from civilians and shooting a 10 year old boy in the course of an attempt to shoot the family dog (who posed no threat to the officer).

Qualified immunity is not required by the Constitution or even by a federal statute. It is a purely judge-made doctrine made up by the Supreme Court itself in a misguided effort to protect law enforcement officers from excessive litigation.  University of Chicago law professor and Volokh Conspiracy co-blogger Will Baude explains why the doctrine lacks any valid legal basis in this excellent article.

The Court is right now considering taking several cases whose consideration could lead to the abolition or at least the narrowing of qualified immunity. Both Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court’s most conservative member, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the most liberal, have been severely critical of qualified immunity. There is a real chance they can persuade at least three of their colleagues to take the same view.

Rolling back qualified immunity will not put an end to all police abuse. But it will make it possible to hold police accountable in court for egregious violations of civil rights, which in turn will alter their incentives.

Co-blogger Jonathan Adler rightly warns that state and local governments might respond by indemnifying police officers for the damages they have to pay in such cases. But even if that happens, it would still be a step in the right direction. Indemnification costs money that many local governments will be loathe to pay. They will therefore have an incentive to crack down on abusive officers, particularly repeat offenders who routinely force authorities to pay out large sums to settle claims.

As Adler also explains, empirical research shows that impunity for police abuses is often promoted by police unions. State and local governments should consider banning police unionization, or at least curbing unions’ powers by, for example, eliminating disciplinary issues from the list of matters that are subject to collective bargaining. Whatever the merits of public-sector unions in other contexts, they create too much of a conflict of of interest in the case of employees who often literally wield the power of life and death over civilians.

Abolishing police unions or even limiting their power will not be easy. But progress is possible if liberal civil liberties advocates  can work together with conservatives who dislike public sector unions more generally.

Police abuses can also be curbed by rolling back—and eventually abolishing—the War on Drugs. Many of the worst police tactics and most dangerous confrontations with civilians (especially minorities in urban areas) are products of the War on Drugs. In his important book The Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko shows how the War on Drugs has been a major driver of the militarization of police, and of hyper-aggressive tactics that routinely lead to violence and abuse.

The recent trend towards legalization of marijuana in many states is a good start. We should build on that and begin cutting back on the rest of the War on Drugs, as well. In 2011, the NAACP called for an end to the War on Drugs because it causes great harm to minority communities. Police abuse is a major part of that harm.

Finally, we can also reduce police abuse and improve relations between law enforcement and minority communities by curbing the widespread practice of racial profiling. A 2019 Pew Research Center poll found that some 59% of black men and 31% of black women say they have been unfairly stopped by police because of their race.

Almost every black male I know can recount experiences of racial profiling by law enforcement. Admittedly, the people I know are not a representative sample. But given that I am a law professor, my African-American acquaintances are disproportionately affluent and highly educated. Working-class blacks likely experience racial profiling even more often.

If you don’t trust survey data or take the word of my friends and acquaintances, take that of conservative Republican African-American Senator Tim Scott, who has movingly recounted multiple incidents in which he was racially profiled by Capitol Hill police. Even being a powerful GOP politician is not enough for a black man to avoid such mistreatment. It is not hard to see how racial profiling increases the risks of violence between police and racial minorities, and more generally breeds hostility between the two groups.

Reducing racial profiling is a very difficult task. In many cases, it is hard to tell whether it really occurred or not. The issue likely deserves a post of its own, which I hope to find time to do  in the future.

For now, I will only emphasize that this is an issue we cannot afford to ignore. This is particularly true for conservatives who—rightly—advocate color-blind government policies in other contexts. For many years, I have repeatedly argued that color-blindness advocates on the right must not turn a blind eye to racial profiling in law enforcement. If you truly believe that government should not discriminate on the basis of race, you cannot tolerate a glaring exception to that principle when it comes to those government officials who carry badges and guns, and have the power to kill, injure, and arrest people. Otherwise, your position will be glaringly inconsistent, and many will suspect that your supposed concerns about discrimination only arise when whites are the victims, as in the case of affirmative action programs.

The reforms described here may not be easy to achieve. But they are feasible. Qualified immunity and the War on Drugs have already come under serious challenge, and there is room for plenty of additional progress.

We can also learn from the increasingly successful campaign to curb abusive asset forfeiture, the practice under which law enforcement can seize the property of (often innocent) civilians -a practice that, like police brutality, disproportionately harms minorities and the poor. Thanks to the efforts of a cross-ideological coalition of reformers, including libertarians, liberals, and even some conservatives, many states have enacted reform laws, and courts have begun to crack down on the practice. Much remains to be done to fully address the problem of asset forfeiture abuse. But the progress achieved so far can be a model for other efforts to curb law enforcement

II. Why Rioting is Not the Answer

Much can be done to roll back abusive law enforcement practices. The ideas described above are far from exhaustive. But one tactic that must be avoided is the kind of rioting and looting that has occurred over the last few days. Such actions are not only wrong in themselves, but also likely to be counterproductive.

Most of the damage caused by rioting is inflicted on innocent people who are in no way responsible for police abuses. Destruction and looting of stores and other businesses not only hurts the owners and employees of those enterprises, but also impoverishes the broader communities of which they are a part. Violence and violation of property rights reduce investment and economic development, which predictably exacerbates the poverty of minority inner-city neighborhoods.

It may be tempting to say that rioting and other similar violence is justified if you are doing it in the name of a just cause. But even people with legitimate grievances must still observe moral limits on tactics they use to pursue them. Ignoring this principle is a recipe for disaster.

Many of the worst atrocities in world history were perpetrated by groups who themselves had legitimate grievances. Soviet communists had legitimate complaints about the injustices of czarist Russia. Their disregard for moral constraints still contributed to mass murder on a horrific scale.  German nationalists in the 1920s and 30s had legitimate grievances about the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles. That in no way justifies what they did in response. Being a victim of injustice cannot be a license to perpetrate injustices on others, especially people who did not perpetrate the wrongs you suffered.

Obviously, currently ongoing riots are nowhere near as bad as the actions of the Nazis and communists. But the same general principle applies: we should be wary of perpetrating new evils in the name of addressing the old.

It is admittedly possible there are situations where committing a wrong is the only way to address an even greater injustice. But this is not such a case.  There are more constructive ways to curb police abuses. Moreover, rioting is likely to make the problem worse, rather than better.

Rioting and other violent racial protests in the 1960s not only failed to curb police abuses, but actually boosted support for “tough on crime” politicians who advocated giving cops more of a free hand. When white swing voters see riots on TV, many of them react by supporting harsh tactics to restore “law and order.” Such reactions may be wrong. But they are predictable and difficult or impossible to avoid.

In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. warned that “riots are socially destructive and self-defeating” and that, “[e]very time a riot develops, it helps George Wallace.” Today, they are likely to give a boost to Donald Trump and other politicians who support cruel law enforcement tactics. We would do well to heed King’s warning. Pursuing reform by peaceful means is both more just and more likely to be effective than resorting to violence against innocent people.

 

 

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Did Prosecutors Undercharge the Cop Who Killed George Floyd?

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was arrested on Friday in connection with the death of George Floyd, faces two charges as a result of that incident: third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Floyd’s family argues that Chauvin should have been charged with first-degree murder. The distinction hinges on Chauvin’s state of mind as he pinned Floyd to the ground with a knee on his neck, which he continued to do even as Floyd complained that he could not breathe, even after Floyd stopped speaking or moving, and even after another officer reported that he could not detect a pulse.

The May 25 incident, which sparked protests across the country, began when someone called 911 to report that a man had used a counterfeit $20 bill for a purchase at Cup Foods, a restaurant on Chicago Avenue. Shortly after 8 p.m., Officers Thomas Lane and J.A. Kueng arrived at the restaurant, where employees reported that the customer who had made the purchase was sitting in a car parked nearby on 38th Street. Lane and Kueng found Floyd sitting in the driver’s seat and ordered him, then pulled him, out of the car. According to the criminal complaint against Chauvin, which is based largely on body camera video of the incident, Floyd “actively resisted being handcuffed” but “once handcuffed…became compliant and walked with Officer Lane to the sidewalk and sat on the ground at Officer Lane’s direction.”

The complaint says Lane asked for Floyd’s name and identification, asked if he was “on anything,” and informed him that he was under arrest for passing a counterfeit bill, a misdemeanor when the offense involves merchandise worth no more than $1,000. When Lane and Kueng stood Floyd up and tried to walk him toward their squad car, the complaint says, he “stiffened up, fell to the ground, and told the officers he was claustrophobic.” At this point Chauvin and Officer Tou Thoa arrived at the scene in a separate squad car.

According to the complaint, the officers repeatedly tried to get Floyd into Lane and Kueng’s car. The complaint says Floyd “did not voluntarily get in the car and struggled with the officers by intentionally falling down, saying he was not going in the car, and refusing to stand still.” While standing outside the car, Floyd “began saying and repeating that he could not breathe.” About five minutes after Lane and Kueng intially tried to put Floyd in their car, Chauvin pulled Floyd “out of the passenger side of the squad car.” Floyd “went to the ground face down and still handcuffed.” As Kueng held Floyd’s back and Lane held his legs, Chauvin “placed his left knee in the area of Mr. Floyd’s head and neck.”

Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. “I can’t breathe,” Floyd repeatedly said. “Please,” he pleaded more than once. “Mama,” he cried out. CNN legal analyst Elie Honig, a former state and federal prosecutor, notes that Floyd also can be heard saying “don’t kill me” and “I’m about to die” in video of the incident, although the complaint omits those statements. It also does not mention that bystanders, worried about Floyd, urged the officers to get off of him.

Chauvin and the other two officers nevertheless “stayed in their positions,” although Lane twice suggested that they roll Floyd off his stomach and onto his side. “I am worried about excited delirium or whatever,” Lane said at one point. Chauvin rejected Lane’s suggestions.

About five minutes after the officers pinned Floyd to the ground, he stopped moving. A minute later, “the video appears to show Mr. Floyd ceasing to breathe or speak.” Kueng checked Floyd’s right wrist for a pulse and said, “I couldn’t find one.” Still, “none of the officers moved from their positions.” About two minutes later, Chauvin finally removed his knee from Floyd’s neck. An ambulance arrived and took Floyd to the Hennepin County Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The third-degree murder charge against Chauvin, which is punishable by up to 25 years in prison, alleges that he caused Floyd’s death by “perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life,” but “without intent to effect the death of any person.” The lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, alleges that Chauvin killed Floyd through “culpable negligence” that created “an unreasonable risk” of “death or great bodily harm.”

Both of those charges seem well-supported by the facts revealed in the video. What about first-degree murder, the charge that Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing Floyd’s family, thinks should have been brought? That charge, which carries a mandatory life sentence, requires that Chauvin acted “with premeditation” and “with intent” to kill Floyd. “We now have the audio from the police body cam, and we hear where one officer says, ‘He doesn’t have a pulse, maybe we should turn him on his side,'” Crump said today on Face the Nation. “But yet, Officer Chauvin says, ‘No, we’re going to keep him in this position.’ That’s intent.”

That claim seems plausible given the repeated pleas from Floyd, the repeated exhortations by witnesses, and Lane’s repeated suggestions that Floyd should not be left on his stomach—any of which, if heeded, could have prevented Floyd’s death. But do Chauvin’s actions suggest “premeditation”? That element does not require a carefully laid plan to kill someone, but it does mean that the defendant “consider[ed], plan[ned] or prepare[d] for, or determine[d] to commit, the act…prior to its commission.”

Second-degree murder, which is punishable by up to 40 years in prison, seems like a better fit. That charge requires that the defendant “cause[d] the death of a human being with intent to effect the death of that person or another, but without premeditation.” Yet even that charge requires an intent that Chauvin surely will deny.

Prosecutors may yet revise the charges against Chauvin. They may also file charges against Kueng and/or Lane, who were complicit in keeping Floyd pinned to the ground on his stomach despite all the warning signs. All four Minneapolis officers who were involved in the incident were fired the day after Floyd’s death.

“The defendant had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in total,” the criminal complaint notes. “Two minutes and 53 seconds of this was after Mr. Floyd was non-responsive. Police are trained that this type of restraint with a
subject in a prone position is inherently dangerous.”

Some of the details in the complaint could be useful to the officers’ lawyers. The complaint claims that Floyd was uncooperative and that he began complaining about difficulty breathing even before he was pinned to the ground, which might have led the officers to discount his subsequent complaints. “You are talking fine,” one of them said while Floyd was still moving.

The report also notes—gratuitously, in Honig’s view—that Floyd was “over six feet tall and weigh[ed] more than 200 pounds.” While that information might be relevant in understanding why the officers had trouble getting Floyd into the patrol car, it has no real bearing on what they did once they had him pinned. In particular, it does not explain Chauvin’s decision to keep kneeling on Floyd’s neck.

Honig also faults the prosecutors’ description of what caused Floyd’s death, which is based on preliminary autopsy results. “The autopsy revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation,” the complaint says. “Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease. The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.”

Honig notes that “the lack of ‘physical findings’ by no means rules out the possibility that the victim died of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.” And he questions the reference to intoxication as a factor that may have contributed to Floyd’s death. “In my 14 years as a prosecutor (or my 45 years of life), I’ve never heard of a ‘potential intoxicant,'” he writes. “Did Floyd have intoxicants in his system or not? A basic toxicology test should answer that question conclusively, and there is no excuse for prosecutors to not know the answer, or to state it ambiguously, four days after Floyd’s death.”

Contrary to Honig’s assertion, toxicology results often are not available for weeks after an autopsy. At this point, the speculation that Floyd was under the influence of a drug seems to be based on little more than the officers’ suspicions. In any event, as Honig points out, that question is irrelevant to Chauvin’s culpability. Regardless of Floyd’s preexisting medical conditions or any drug he may or may not have taken, the relevant question is whether he would still be alive but for Chauvin’s actions, and the answer to that seems clear.

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How to Curb Police Abuses—and How Not to


Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pins George Floyd’s neck with his knee, eventually causing his death (Darnella Frazier, AP).

 

The brutal recent killing of African-American George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer has sparked outrage at police abuses, and led to rioting and looting in many cities around the country. It’s understandable if many people—particularly minorities—feel a sense of anger, frustration, and hopelessness in the wake of these events, which come in the midst of a terrible pandemic. I sometimes feel that way myself.

But there is much that can be done to curb police abuses. The task is difficult, but far from hopeless. On the other hand, rioting and looting are not only wrong in themselves, but likely to have counterproductive effects.

I. What Can be Done

All too often, police get away with brutal treatment of civilians, particularly poor minorities. The problem is not that police officers are unusually bad people. It’s that they have bad incentives, under which they are rarely held accountable for abuses. Those incentives can and should be altered.

An important first step would be to get rid of the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity,” under which law enforcement officers are immune from suits for violating citizens’ constitutional rights unless the officers’ actions violate “clearly established” law. The Supreme Court interprets the term “clearly established” so narrowly that officers routinely get away with horrendous abuses merely because no federal court in their area has previously decided a case with essentially identical facts. Recent examples include stealing $225,000 from civilians and shooting a 10 year old boy in the course of an attempt to shoot the family dog (who posed no threat to the officer).

Qualified immunity is not required by the Constitution or even by a federal statute. It is a purely judge-made doctrine made up by the Supreme Court itself in a misguided effort to protect law enforcement officers from excessive litigation.  University of Chicago law professor and Volokh Conspiracy co-blogger Will Baude explains why the doctrine lacks any valid legal basis in this excellent article.

The Court is right now considering taking several cases whose consideration could lead to the abolition or at least the narrowing of qualified immunity. Both Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court’s most conservative member, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the most liberal, have been severely critical of qualified immunity. There is a real chance they can persuade at least three of their colleagues to take the same view.

Rolling back qualified immunity will not put an end to all police abuse. But it will make it possible to hold police accountable in court for egregious violations of civil rights, which in turn will alter their incentives.

Co-blogger Jonathan Adler rightly warns that state and local governments might respond by indemnifying police officers for the damages they have to pay in such cases. But even if that happens, it would still be a step in the right direction. Indemnification costs money that many local governments will be loathe to pay. They will therefore have an incentive to crack down on abusive officers, particularly repeat offenders who routinely force authorities to pay out large sums to settle claims.

As Adler also explains, empirical research shows that impunity for police abuses is often promoted by police unions. State and local governments should consider banning police unionization, or at least curbing unions’ powers by, for example, eliminating disciplinary issues from the list of matters that are subject to collective bargaining. Whatever the merits of public-sector unions in other contexts, they create too much of a conflict of of interest in the case of employees who often literally wield the power of life and death over civilians.

Abolishing police unions or even limiting their power will not be easy. But progress is possible if liberal civil liberties advocates  can work together with conservatives who dislike public sector unions more generally.

Police abuses can also be curbed by rolling back—and eventually abolishing—the War on Drugs. Many of the worst police tactics and most dangerous confrontations with civilians (especially minorities in urban areas) are products of the War on Drugs. In his important book The Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko shows how the War on Drugs has been a major driver of the militarization of police, and of hyper-aggressive tactics that routinely lead to violence and abuse.

The recent trend towards legalization of marijuana in many states is a good start. We should build on that and begin cutting back on the rest of the War on Drugs, as well. In 2011, the NAACP called for an end to the War on Drugs because it causes great harm to minority communities. Police abuse is a major part of that harm.

Finally, we can also reduce police abuse and improve relations between law enforcement and minority communities by curbing the widespread practice of racial profiling. A 2019 Pew Research Center poll found that some 59% of black men and 31% of black women say they have been unfairly stopped by police because of their race.

Almost every black male I know can recount experiences of racial profiling by law enforcement. Admittedly, the people I know are not a representative sample. But given that I am a law professor, my African-American acquaintances are disproportionately affluent and highly educated. Working-class blacks likely experience racial profiling even more often.

If you don’t trust survey data or take the word of my friends and acquaintances, take that of conservative Republican African-American Senator Tim Scott, who has movingly recounted multiple incidents in which he was racially profiled by Capitol Hill police. Even being a powerful GOP politician is not enough for a black man to avoid such mistreatment. It is not hard to see how racial profiling increases the risks of violence between police and racial minorities, and more generally breeds hostility between the two groups.

Reducing racial profiling is a very difficult task. In many cases, it is hard to tell whether it really occurred or not. The issue likely deserves a post of its own, which I hope to find time to do  in the future.

For now, I will only emphasize that this is an issue we cannot afford to ignore. This is particularly true for conservatives who—rightly—advocate color-blind government policies in other contexts. For many years, I have repeatedly argued that color-blindness advocates on the right must not turn a blind eye to racial profiling in law enforcement. If you truly believe that government should not discriminate on the basis of race, you cannot tolerate a glaring exception to that principle when it comes to those government officials who carry badges and guns, and have the power to kill, injure, and arrest people. Otherwise, your position will be glaringly inconsistent, and many will suspect that your supposed concerns about discrimination only arise when whites are the victims, as in the case of affirmative action programs.

The reforms described here may not be easy to achieve. But they are feasible. Qualified immunity and the War on Drugs have already come under serious challenge, and there is room for plenty of additional progress.

We can also learn from the increasingly successful campaign to curb abusive asset forfeiture, the practice under which law enforcement can seize the property of (often innocent) civilians -a practice that, like police brutality, disproportionately harms minorities and the poor. Thanks to the efforts of a cross-ideological coalition of reformers, including libertarians, liberals, and even some conservatives, many states have enacted reform laws, and courts have begun to crack down on the practice. Much remains to be done to fully address the problem of asset forfeiture abuse. But the progress achieved so far can be a model for other efforts to curb law enforcement

II. Why Rioting is Not the Answer

Much can be done to roll back abusive law enforcement practices. The ideas described above are far from exhaustive. But one tactic that must be avoided is the kind of rioting and looting that has occurred over the last few days. Such actions are not only wrong in themselves, but also likely to be counterproductive.

Most of the damage caused by rioting is inflicted on innocent people who are in no way responsible for police abuses. Destruction and looting of stores and other businesses not only hurts the owners and employees of those enterprises, but also impoverishes the broader communities of which they are a part. Violence and violation of property rights reduce investment and economic development, which predictably exacerbates the poverty of minority inner-city neighborhoods.

It may be tempting to say that rioting and other similar violence is justified if you are doing it in the name of a just cause. But even people with legitimate grievances must still observe moral limits on tactics they use to pursue them. Ignoring this principle is a recipe for disaster.

Many of the worst atrocities in world history were perpetrated by groups who themselves had legitimate grievances. Soviet communists had legitimate complaints about the injustices of czarist Russia. Their disregard for moral constraints still contributed to mass murder on a horrific scale.  German nationalists in the 1920s and 30s had legitimate grievances about the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles. That in no way justifies what they did in response. Being a victim of injustice cannot be a license to perpetrate injustices on others, especially people who did not perpetrate the wrongs you suffered.

Obviously, currently ongoing riots are nowhere near as bad as the actions of the Nazis ad communists. But the same general principle applies: we should be wary of perpetrating new evils in the name of addressing the old.

It is admittedly possible there are situations where committing a wrong is the only way to address an even greater injustice. But this is not such a case.  There are more constructive ways to curb police abuses. Moreover, rioting is likely to make the problem worse, rather than better.

Rioting and other violent racial protests in the 1960s not only failed to curb police abuses, but actually boosted support for “tough on crime” politicians who advocated giving cops more of a free hand. When white swing voters see riots on TV, many of them react by supporting harsh tactics to restore “law and order.” Such reactions may be wrong. But they are predictable and difficult or impossible to avoid.

In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. warned that “riots are socially destructive and self-defeating” and that, “[e]very time a riot develops, it helps George Wallace.” Today, they are likely to give a boost to Donald Trump and other politicians who support cruel law enforcement tactics. We would do well to heed King’s warning. Pursuing reform by peaceful means is both more just and more likely to be effective than resorting to violence against innocent people.

 

 

 

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Did Prosecutors Undercharge the Cop Who Killed George Floyd?

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was arrested on Friday in connection with the death of George Floyd, faces two charges as a result of that incident: third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Floyd’s family argues that Chauvin should have been charged with first-degree murder. The distinction hinges on Chauvin’s state of mind as he pinned Floyd to the ground with a knee on his neck, which he continued to do even as Floyd complained that he could not breathe, even after Floyd stopped speaking or moving, and even after another officer reported that he could not detect a pulse.

The May 25 incident, which sparked protests across the country, began when someone called 911 to report that a man had used a counterfeit $20 bill for a purchase at Cup Foods, a restaurant on Chicago Avenue. Shortly after 8 p.m., Officers Thomas Lane and J.A. Kueng arrived at the restaurant, where employees reported that the customer who had made the purchase was sitting in a car parked nearby on 38th Street. Lane and Kueng found Floyd sitting in the driver’s seat and ordered him, then pulled him, out of the car. According to the criminal complaint against Chauvin, which is based largely on body camera video of the incident, Floyd “actively resisted being handcuffed” but “once handcuffed…became compliant and walked with Officer Lane to the sidewalk and sat on the ground at Officer Lane’s direction.”

The complaint says Lane asked for Floyd’s name and identification, asked if he was “on anything,” and informed him that he was under arrest for passing a counterfeit bill, a misdemeanor when the offense involves merchandise worth no more than $1,000. When Lane and Kueng stood Floyd up and tried to walk him toward their squad car, the complaint says, he “stiffened up, fell to the ground, and told the officers he was claustrophobic.” At this point Chauvin and Officer Tou Thoa arrived at the scene in a separate squad car.

According to the complaint, the officers repeatedly tried to get Floyd into Lane and Kueng’s car. The complaint says Floyd “did not voluntarily get in the car and struggled with the officers by intentionally falling down, saying he was not going in the car, and refusing to stand still.” While standing outside the car, Floyd “began saying and repeating that he could not breathe.” About five minutes after Lane and Kueng intially tried to put Floyd in their car, Chauvin pulled Floyd “out of the passenger side of the squad car.” Floyd “went to the ground face down and still handcuffed.” As Kueng held Floyd’s back and Lane held his legs, Chauvin “placed his left knee in the area of Mr. Floyd’s head and neck.”

Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. “I can’t breathe,” Floyd repeatedly said. “Please,” he pleaded more than once. “Mama,” he cried out. CNN legal analyst Elie Honig, a former state and federal prosecutor, notes that Floyd also can be heard saying “don’t kill me” and “I’m about to die” in video of the incident, although the complaint omits those statements. It also does not mention that bystanders, worried about Floyd, urged the officers to get off of him.

Chauvin and the other two officers nevertheless “stayed in their positions,” although Lane twice suggested that they roll Floyd off his stomach and onto his side. “I am worried about excited delirium or whatever,” Lane said at one point. Chauvin rejected Lane’s suggestions.

About five minutes after the officers pinned Floyd to the ground, he stopped moving. A minute later, “the video appears to show Mr. Floyd ceasing to breathe or speak.” Kueng checked Floyd’s right wrist for a pulse and said, “I couldn’t find one.” Still, “none of the officers moved from their positions.” About two minutes later, Chauvin finally removed his knee from Floyd’s neck. An ambulance arrived and took Floyd to the Hennepin County Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The third-degree murder charge against Chauvin, which is punishable by up to 25 years in prison, alleges that he caused Floyd’s death by “perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life,” but “without intent to effect the death of any person.” The lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, alleges that Chauvin killed Floyd through “culpable negligence” that created “an unreasonable risk” of “death or great bodily harm.”

Both of those charges seem well-supported by the facts revealed in the video. What about first-degree murder, the charge that Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing Floyd’s family, thinks should have been brought? That charge, which carries a mandatory life sentence, requires that Chauvin acted “with premeditation” and “with intent” to kill Floyd. “We now have the audio from the police body cam, and we hear where one officer says, ‘He doesn’t have a pulse, maybe we should turn him on his side,'” Crump said today on Face the Nation. “But yet, Officer Chauvin says, ‘No, we’re going to keep him in this position.’ That’s intent.”

That claim seems plausible given the repeated pleas from Floyd, the repeated exhortations by witnesses, and Lane’s repeated suggestions that Floyd should not be left on his stomach—any of which, if heeded, could have prevented Floyd’s death. But do Chauvin’s actions suggest “premeditation”? That element does not require a carefully laid plan to kill someone, but it does mean that the defendant “consider[ed], plan[ned] or prepare[d] for, or determine[d] to commit, the act…prior to its commission.”

Second-degree murder, which is punishable by up to 40 years in prison, seems like a better fit. That charge requires that the defendant “cause[d] the death of a human being with intent to effect the death of that person or another, but without premeditation.” Yet even that charge requires an intent that Chauvin surely will deny.

Prosecutors may yet revise the charges against Chauvin. They may also file charges against Kueng and/or Lane, who were complicit in keeping Floyd pinned to the ground on his stomach despite all the warning signs. All four Minneapolis officers who were involved in the incident were fired the day after Floyd’s death.

“The defendant had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in total,” the criminal complaint notes. “Two minutes and 53 seconds of this was after Mr. Floyd was non-responsive. Police are trained that this type of restraint with a
subject in a prone position is inherently dangerous.”

Some of the details in the complaint could be useful to the officers’ lawyers. The complaint claims that Floyd was uncooperative and that he began complaining about difficulty breathing even before he was pinned to the ground, which might have led the officers to discount his subsequent complaints. “You are talking fine,” one of them said while Floyd was still moving.

The report also notes—gratuitously, in Honig’s view—that Floyd was “over six feet tall and weigh[ed] more than 200 pounds.” While that information might be relevant in understanding why the officers had trouble getting Floyd into the patrol car, it has no real bearing on what they did once they had him pinned. In particular, it does not explain Chauvin’s decision to keep kneeling on Floyd’s neck.

Honig also faults the prosecutors’ description of what caused Floyd’s death, which is based on preliminary autopsy results. “The autopsy revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation,” the complaint says. “Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease. The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.”

Honig notes that “the lack of ‘physical findings’ by no means rules out the possibility that the victim died of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.” And he questions the reference to intoxication as a factor that may have contributed to Floyd’s death. “In my 14 years as a prosecutor (or my 45 years of life), I’ve never heard of a ‘potential intoxicant,'” he writes. “Did Floyd have intoxicants in his system or not? A basic toxicology test should answer that question conclusively, and there is no excuse for prosecutors to not know the answer, or to state it ambiguously, four days after Floyd’s death.”

Contrary to Honig’s assertion, toxicology results often are not available for weeks after an autopsy. At this point, the speculation that Floyd was under the influence of a drug seems to be based on little more than the officers’ suspicions. In any event, as Honig points out, that question is irrelevant to Chauvin’s culpability. Regardless of Floyd’s preexisting medical conditions or any drug he may or may not have taken, the relevant question is whether he would still be alive but for Chauvin’s actions, and the answer to that seems clear.

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Protesting Police Violence Is Critical. But Why Are the Social Distance Shamers Suddenly So Quiet?

The protesters taking to the streets to demand justice for the killing of George Floyd certainly have a righteous cause. They are, however, breaking just about every rule of social distancing. And many of the most committed voices in support of continuing the aggressive, painful measure to contain the spread of coronavirus suddenly have nothing to say about it.

A month ago, when Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) ended the state’s COVID-19 lockdown and allowed gyms, restaurants, nail salons, and other businesses to reopen, many in the mainstream media accused him of wanton disregard for human life. The Atlantic described the state’s relaxation of the very strictest social distancing measures as “Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice.”

When Florida beaches reopened, it was the same story. CNN highlighted the activism of a local man who had dressed as the grim reaper and was warning sun-bathers that people would die unless they went home. Referencing the stereotype of the Florida man as a reckless and moronic thrill-seeker, The Washington Post wrote that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was essentially “standing astride the alligator cage, hollering at the rest of the country to check out what’s about to happen.”

Photos and videos of people gathering in parks in New York City, beaches in California, and public places elsewhere, have generated thunderous denunciation on social media for the past few weeks. Shaming people for failing to socially distance is now common practice for health authorities, government officials, amateur social media sleuths, and of course, many journalists in the mainstream press. (There has also been some welcome pushback.)

It is no accident that the term Karen, a derisive nickname for a type of snitch who summons the authorities to intervene in trivial matters, has suddenly become culturally ubiquitous. Karens are calling out social distancing fails on social media. Karens are on cable news scolding the unmasked. Karens are giving press conferences threatening those who violate stay-at-home orders with arrest.

It’s hard to imagine how that can continue.

In their formal statements, a lot of public officials are (correctly) endorsing the protesters’ concerns about police violence, and many have condemned the street violence that occurred during the protests.

But what we are not seeing is widespread condemnation of the protesters on what might have been the most obvious point of criticism: They are manifestly violating the social distancing orders. Again, if we are to believe the earlier, dire warnings from public health officials about what would happen if lockdowns were relaxed too quickly, people who fail to practice aggressive social distancing will spread the disease and get others killed. By the logic of lockdown supporters, even the protesters who are practicing strict non-violence have a lot of blood on their hands.

And make no mistake, the protests unfolding all over the country are violating quarantine in any number of ways. Remember that many places are still under stay-at-home orders, and people are only supposed to go outside for essential work or allowable recreation in small numbers. On the plus side, some protesters are thankfully wearing masks, and their activities are unfolding outdoors, which are both factors that work to stop the spread of the virus. But the sheer number of people involved, packed tightly together, often engaging in high-spread activities—like yelling—certainly override much of the benefit. Even Denver protesters, whose comparatively restrained demonstration involved gathering in a public place and lying prone on the ground for eight minutes—the amount of time Floyd’s alleged killer had a knee on Floyd’s neck—shouted “I can’t breathe,” the entire time.

Holding police accountable is a very important cause. But the logic of the lockdowns was that they were so necessary to stem the spread of COVID-19 that they should override other pressing concerns. Small business owners were forced to shutter, and many will close permanently, because policymakers ordained that slowing the pandemic was the top priority. Daring to reopen was an “experiment in human sacrifice,” a dangerous practice akin to riding an alligator while yelling yeehaw. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has fought to prevent churches from reopening to the public, characteristically said the protesters were “rightfully outraged.” He did not scold them to go back inside before they get their grandparents killed.

Media and government experts who fail to consistently call out social distancing violations risk giving the impression that their commitment to zealous enforcement of public health measures wasn’t as absolute as they claimed. It turns out they are willing to make exceptions for their preferred causes. Perhaps those who previously went overboard on the social distance shaming should admit this was a mistake. The current silence of the Karens is deafening.

 

 

 

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This Is How Systems Collapse

This Is How Systems Collapse

Tyler Durden

Sun, 05/31/2020 – 14:50

Authored by Charles Hugh Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,

Flooding the financial system with “free money” only restores the illusion of stability

I updated my How Systems Collapse graphic from 2018 with a “we are here” line to indicate our current precarious position just before the waterfall:

For those who would argue we’re nowhere near collapse, consider that over 20% of the Federal Reserve’s $2 trillion spew of free money went directly into the pockets of America’s billionaires: $434 billion by the latest estimates, while most of the rest went into the pockets of the top 10% who own all the assets that the Fed is goosing higher while millions of households are worried about feeding themselves: (American billionaires got $434 billion richer during the pandemic).

In America’s system, the solution to soaring, destabilizing inequality is… to goose inequality to new heights. No wonder there’s no middle ground left politically, socially or financially, and social disorder is so easily ignited. There are few feedback loops left in our fragile system; the rich get richer, and rather than restore some balance, our political system further empowers the parasitic and predatory financial elites. The rich and politically powerful are one group, sharing control of public and private institutions.

One way to understand “middle ground” is that the middle ground acts as a buffer between systemic extremes. The key concepts here are stability and buffers. Though complex systems are never static, but they can be stable: that is, they ebb and flow within relatively stable states supported by buffers.

America’s social, political and economic buffers have been thinned by extremes and excesses, but nobody noticed or cared: America’s reigning credo is: anything goes, winners take all.

In systems, this ebb and flow of low-level volatility generates stability and adaptation. In natural systems, feedback loops between the weather, environment and plant/animal species keep the ecosystem in a state of dynamic equilibrium. Ideal weather conditions may spark a rise in an insect population, for example, which then enables an increase in insect-predator populations (fish, birds, frogs, etc.) which then increases the consumption of the insects and reduces the impact of the higher insect population.

If the river runs low, the human populace relies on wells for reserves of water. In good harvests, grain is set aside for lean harvests; the wells and grain stores are buffers which can be drawn down to restore stability to a stressed system.

Buffers are largely invisible and of little common interest in times of abundance. When water and grain are well-supplied, who cares if the stores have spoiled and the well water tastes bad?

A system with thin buffers and few feedback loops looks robust on the surface but is highly vulnerable to collapse. In our example, the first lean harvest and low water flow completely drain the reserves, and the second year of drought triggers a collapse of the system.

In our complex socio-economic system, the buffers are largely invisible. As a general rule, “money” (currency created by central banks and private banks when a loan is issued) is our all-purpose buffer: if something becomes scarce and threatens the system, we print/ borrow into existence more “money” which is distributed to buy whatever is needed.

But “money” is an illusory buffer. If the well has run dry, no amount of money will restore ground water. If the fisheries have collapsed due to overfishing, no amount of currency issued by the Federal Reserve will restore the fisheries. In other words, the natural world provides hard limits that money can only fix if buffers are available for purchase.

“Money” is itself a system, a system with financial buffers, buffers that have been consumed by the speculative excesses of the private sector and the financial repression of central banks. These buffers are largely invisible; few know what’s going on in global liquidity markets, for example. Yet when liquidity dries up, for whatever reason, markets go bidless and asset prices go into freefall.

Flooding the financial system with “free money” only restores the illusion of stability. As noted in my diagram, restoring and maintaining an apparent stability thins buffers to the point of dangerous fragility.

When buffers are paper-thin, a crisis that would have been overcome with ease in the past triggers the collapse of the entire system. Everyone who based their faith in the system on its surface stability is stunned by the rapidity of the collapse, for how could such a vast, apparently robust system implode with so little warning?

The financial system’s buffers have been thinning for 20 long years, but nobody seems to care. The quality of risk, debt, borrowers and speculative gambles have all declined, but faith in the “Fed put”–that the Federal Reserve can fix anything and everything by printing endless trillions– is quasi-religious: few doubt the limitless power of the Fed’s currency-printing machinery to quickly overcome any crisis.

This is how systems collapse: misplaced faith in the visible surface of abundance generates fatal complacency and confidence, and the fragility of the buffers goes unnoticed.

Just before the collapse, central bank currency is super-abundant, but systemic stability is near-zero and all the buffers are paper-thin: the Fed’s trillions create an illusion of safety, as if all we need to do to restore the lost middle ground and buffers is to hand America’s most parasitic and predatory clique another $434 billion in stock market wealth.

Doing more of what has destabilized the system in the belief that new extremes will somehow restore equilibrium is simply rowing faster as we speed toward the waterfall of systemic collapse.

Recent Podcasts:

Meeting the Challenges of the “New Normal” World — FRA podcast (44:21)

AxisOfEasy Salon #6: The Hanseatic League of Decentralized Crypto-States (55:44)

The Pandemic Has Revealed The Structural Fragilities Of America — X22 Spotlight (31:55)

*  *  *

My recent books:

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World ($13)
(Kindle $6.95, print $11.95) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($6.95 (Kindle), $12 (print), $13.08 ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).

*  *  *

If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

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Buybacks Are Back: Here’s Who Is Repurchasing The Most Stocks

Buybacks Are Back: Here’s Who Is Repurchasing The Most Stocks

Tyler Durden

Sun, 05/31/2020 – 14:25

On Friday, Citi rekindled a mystery, or as we called it – a conundrum – that plagued markets for much of 2019: how was it possible that stocks have been rising (shaprly) even as outflows from equity funds have soared?



Source: @sbarlow_ROB

Citi’s explanation was simple: according to strategist Robert Buckland, the 31% global equity rally since March lows has probably been driven by short covering, given the $120b outflows the asset class suffered over the period.

Perhaps too simple, because while one of the concerns in recent weeks has been that companies have tapered stock buybacks, that’s not exactly true as the following table of recent buyback announcements indicates.

And while most sectors have indeed frozen buybacks, one group of companies stands out: we’ll let readers spot it.

Which is why to Citi’s assumption that it is all short covering, we will just add that the $65 billion in tech buybacks did not hurt. Oh, and incidentally, it just may explain the dramatic divergence between tech and everyone else.

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