April 21, 2021
There’s comfort in immediacy. It’s useful and valuable to you, I trust, to round up what’s just happened, what’s just come to light, or what’s soon to begin. You need to know what’s new to plan and adapt. And each increment of news affords opportunities to tap into our reserves of knowledge and memory to construct stories that span greater stretches of time, a process that’s easier to do than describe. I get started with a couple examples below, which are sure to feature on every news outlet’s online front pages today and in print tomorrow, but I want to talk about something else first.
News that isn’t new
As I write a newsletter for the first time, I can’t help but think of some of the important things that aren’t making the front page anymore, having lost the quality of being new without ever being satisfactorily resolved. A few examples that burble at the edges of my consciousness:
The grievous American death toll from the Covid-19 pandemic, down from its worst rates of increase months ago, is still growing by hundreds of souls each and every day. The headlines have largely given way to news of the (so far) robust vaccine rollout and outbreaks of variants in other countries. As of this writing, it stands at 568,131.
The thousands of American citizens who died in Hurricane Maria and its bungled aftermath in the US territories, a number that’s never been definitively determined and a tragedy that’s never been the subject of a congressional investigation. (We might get a report on some aspects of the disastrous response from the Inspector General of HUD some day soon.)
The global collective action problem that checks any significant effort to address climate change. This one is never exactly out of the news; it just tends to hover behind an endless procession of puzzling, mostly ephemeral novelties, rather than forming a central concern. Meanwhile, the wasteful practice of Bitcoin mining has solved any collective action obstacles it faced and harnessed the great engines of human greed, making our climate problems all the worse.
The kaleidoscopic array of norms-to-be-codified and good-government-reforms-to-be-enacted once former President Trump left the Oval Office. Should another president be able to hold his political convention on the White House lawn? Should another president be permitted to maintain a private, for-profit business during their term, and drag their entire, taxpayer-funded entourage to spend money at its facilities every weekend? Should that private business be permitted to take money from foreign governments hoping to influence the president? Should another president be able to almost entirely cut the Senate out of confirming Executive Branch employees by making promiscuous use of acting appointments? Should another president be able to ignore Congressional subpoenas to the Executive Branch forever? I could go on with these questions. There was, at least among Democrats, a consensus that they ought to be answered, “No.” Moreover, unenforceable norms of presidential behavior clearly weren’t going to cut it anymore. Now, with a Democratic president in place, and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, there seems to be zero movement whatsoever to give that consensus legal force.
The long languishing investigation of leaks from the New York Field Office in 2016.
This list is hardly exhaustive, but I hope it gives you a flavor of the dormant stories that I’ll try to keep my eye on here, along with the regular news of the day. If you’re new here, and this sounds interesting, I hope you’ll take a moment to subscribe. A couple news of the day items come after these buttons.
Patterns and practices
Today, in the aftermath of the jury’s verdict finding former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd, the Justice Department announced a broad pattern-and-practice investigation of the police department in which he served. The investigation of the Minneapolis PD for systemic bias will be separate from the ongoing federal criminal investigation of Floyd’s murder.
The announcement, made by Biden’s new Attorney General Merrick Garland, confirmed a break with the DOJ of former president Trump. Last Friday, Garland rescinded a Trump-era memo that curtailed pattern-and-practice investigations; DOJ had apparently only opened one such probe during the entire Trump administration. (The Clinton, Bush II, and Obama administrations together opened nearly 70.) In a CBS interview last year, with typical levels of smarm, former Attorney General William Barr had defended not opening a broad investigation of the Minneapolis PD in the aftermath of Floyd’s death on grounds of both efficiency and patience, but it wasn’t hard to see how that posture complemented the former president’s overt racism and his solicitude for abusive police practices.
The timing of the Biden DOJ’s announcement was also a bit confounding. DOJ officials explained to reporters that they held the news until today to avoid interfering with the murder trial of Chauvin, but they didn’t explain why they didn’t also wait for the completion of the trial of the three officers accused of aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder, which is slated to begin this August.
Red lines and hunger strikes
Vladimir Putin gave a bellicose speech today, warning the world against crossing Russia’s “red lines.” That admonishment comes as Putin orchestrates a “vast military buildup” on Ukraine’s borders (or within them, if you still count Crimea as part of Ukraine) and slowly, deliberately presides over the failing health of his most prominent domestic opponent, Alexei Navalny, who is on a hunger strike in prison. Navalny’s supporters rallied in the streets of major Russian cities today.
Though he wasn’t expressly specific about it, it’s reasonable to conclude that Putin’s words were largely directed at the United States as well as Ukraine. Just a few days ago, the Biden administration issued new sanctions targeted at Russia. It also disclosed for the first time that the information former president Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had given to his business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who is allegedly a Russian intelligence officer, had (unsurprisingly) been passed along by Kilimnik to Russia’s intelligence services. This is a conclusion that was not included in the public version of Robert Mueller’s report, even though it’s central to what he was supposed to be investigating.
That’s all I have time for today. I promise this newsletter will get more polished as I get more practice at it, and there will soon be photos and embedded tweets. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to all of you who have subscribed already, and I hope I can persuade you to stick around and, maybe, recommend this newsletter to your friends and family too.
Write to me if you have suggestions about what to cover, stories of your own you’d like me to tell, or if I’ve bungled something. Thank you for reading, and please remember to be kind to one another.