We begin today with last Tuesday's announcement (noted by Meteor Blades) by The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that the Doomsday Clock is closer to midnight than it has ever been.
This year, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moves the hands of the Doomsday Clock forward, largely (though not exclusively) because of the mounting dangers of the war in Ukraine. The Clock now stands at 90 seconds to midnight—the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been.
The war in Ukraine may enter a second horrifying year, with both sides convinced they can win. Ukraine’s sovereignty and broader European security arrangements that have largely held since the end of World War II are at stake. Also, Russia’s war on Ukraine has raised profound questions about how states interact, eroding norms of international conduct that underpin successful responses to a variety of global risks.
And worst of all, Russia’s thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons remind the world that escalation of the conflict—by accident, intention, or miscalculation—is a terrible risk. The possibility that the conflict could spin out of anyone’s control remains high.
While the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ statement cited the war in Ukraine as the primary reason for their decision, the heated nuclear rhetoric taking place on the Korean peninsula certainly isn’t helping matters, writes Ivo Daalder for POLITICO Europe.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has sent a nuclear shot across the bow, declaring earlier this month that if problems get worse, “our country will introduce tactical nuclear weapons or build them on our own.”
Yoon’s statement — which he emphasized didn’t constitute official policy — came in response to a highly belligerent speech by North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un in December. Already following a year in which North Korea tested more missiles of all ranges than in any previous 12-month period, Kim announced that Pyongyang would start “mass-production of tactical nuclear weapons,” leading to “an exponential increase of the country’s nuclear arsenal.” And few would be surprised if he decided to conduct a seventh nuclear weapons test this year. [...]
Diplomacy won’t curtail its nuclear potential. Over the last three decades, the U.S. has led multiple efforts — both in concert with other countries and through bilateral summit diplomacy — to convince a succession of North Korean leaders to implement a 1991 pledge to denuclearize the peninsula. But there’s been no serious diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang since the failed meeting held between Kim and former U.S. President Donald Trump four years ago.
Instead, nuclear tensions on the peninsula are accelerating dramatically — with Yoon now ratcheting them up a bit more.
The nuclear rhetoric by North Korea, and now South Korea, has to be making Japan a bit nervous.
Moving to domestic matters, A.O. Scott of The New York Times outlines some of the ethical considerations of watching the video footage of Memphis police officers beating Tyre Nichols to death.
A delicate ethical line separates witness — an active, morally engaged state of attention — from the more passive, less demanding condition of spectatorship. The spectacle of violence has a way of turning even sensitive souls into gawkers and voyeurs. Violence, very much including the actions of the police, is a fixture of popular culture, and has been since long before the invention of video. For much of human history, public executions have been a form of entertainment. The history of lynching in the United States is in part a history of public spectacle, in which the mutilation and murder of Black men brought out white crowds to stare, cheer and take photographs.
I’m not saying that looking at the video of Mr. Nichols’s beating is equivalent to joining in one of those crowds, but rather that Black suffering in America has often been either relegated to invisibility or subjected to exploitation and commodification. That is the dilemma that Ms. Wells and others in her position have faced, even as she challenges the public to acknowledge her son’s full humanity.
We don’t automatically recoil from violence. We can just as easily respond with indifference, morbid fascination — or worse. Images are powerful, but not powerful enough to compensate for a society’s failures of decency or judgment, or to overcome its commitment to denying truths that should be self-evident. Mr. Nichols’s case can’t help but recall the police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991, captured on video by a neighbor. The officers in that case were acquitted, and unrest swept the city.
Charles Blow, also for The New York Times, points out that in spite of the 2020 protests against police violence, police killings have increased since then—and America has returned to “normal.”
After the killing of George Floyd in 2020 and the historic summer of protest that followed, police killings of American citizens didn’t decrease; they increased. What fell away were the evanescent allies, poll-chasing politicians and cooped-up Covid kids who had used the protests as an opportunity to congregate.
America should be ashamed. It abandoned the issue of police reform.
After Covid lockdowns eased and people were once again gathered for things other than protest, their priorities snapped back to a noninterventionist normality. Their cabin-fever racial consciousness was like some kind of delirium, an outgrowth of end-of-the-world ideations.
As the world reopened, elections approached and crime and inflation rose in tandem, interest in police reform and protecting Black lives from police violence melted away like ice cubes on a summer sidewalk.
And with it, America was taught some horrendous lessons that do more harm to the quest for equality than the protests did to promote it.
That’s a tough, but I think mostly fair, assessment by Blow, especially the part about “cooped-up COVID kids.”
Juliette Kayyem of The Atlantic notes that police departments and cities have gotten better at anticipating and managing unrest following incidents of police brutality.
By the time protesters were chanting in the streets, the five officers who had beaten Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, had already been charged with second-degree murder. By the time the video footage of the attack was released, the anger and dismay had already been predicted; law-enforcement and political leaders had issued statements preparing the public for some of the worst police violence this nation has seen. The Memphis police chief likened Nichols’s beating to that of Rodney King in 1991. These officials were right: The footage was brutal, at times unbearable, with Nichols appearing not to resist the officers as they repeatedly struck him. All of this reveals the sad fact that, because of the sheer number of times Americans have now confronted videos of police officers killing Black citizens, public officials have gotten better at managing the shock.
This observation is not meant to minimize the police violence on display in the Memphis videos and so many before, but to acknowledge how important it is to mitigate the harm that such violence can cause even beyond the misconduct itself. As we have seen too many times, when videos reveal police violence or verdicts fail to bring officers to justice, the result is often more violence, including clashes between civilians and police. The Rodney King verdict in 1992, in which four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted for a beating that aired on television, led to the L.A. riots. During those days of unrest, 63 people died from violence related to what had started out as peaceful protests. The deaths of Michael Brown, George Floyd, and others also sparked violence in the streets—each side with its own narrative of who had initiated it—in addition to large, peaceful demonstrations. Our nation has been through this so many times before.
The release of the Nichols footage suggests that a combination of factors can help prevent police-civilian clashes, though it might be too soon to say. First, there was the quick firing of the five police officers involved, even before criminal charges were filed, and before the videos were made public. This rarely happens, but it is the correct response when the facts are impossible to defend. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland also made a commitment to examine the city’s SCORPION squad, its supposedly elite street-crime unit to which the police officers involved in Nichols’s beating were assigned. On Friday, just before the release of the footage, Strickland went further and said the unit would be “inactive” for the foreseeable future.
I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Ken Makin writes for the Christian Science Monitor about the utter refusal of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to see Black history as American history.
Last week, when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis explained his rejection of a proposed Advanced Placement African American Studies class, I thought about the small number of Black students enrolled in AP courses. A 2020 report by The Education Trust pegged it at 9%, despite counting 15% of high school students nationwide as Black.
I was one of those few Black students 20 years ago. More often than not, I was the only African American kid in my class, the social ramifications of which I didn’t fully understand until I attended a historically Black university years later. I can only imagine how many more Black classmates I might have had in an AP course if the curriculum presented had been relatable to students of African descent.
Fortunately, I didn’t solely rely on the public school system for an understanding of Black history. I still have a box of BlacFax, a Trivial Pursuit-style game that my parents bought for my younger brother and me when we were kids, with the intent of teaching us about popular African American facts along with less conventional anecdotes. I didn’t fully understand the ramifications of this either, until I became much older and gained a profound appreciation for the intricacies of Carter G. Woodson’s view of Black history.
Mark Joseph Stern of Slate notes that the Justice Department has gotten sick and tired of federal “judge-shopping” in the state of Texas.
As soon as President Joe Biden entered the White House, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton launched an unprecedented campaign of obstruction to block his agenda in the courts. Paxton took advantage of a quirk—really, a loophole—in the federal judiciary: A state can pick the specific judge who will oversee its case by filing in a small division where only one judge sits. Using this strategy, Paxton has positioned his cases before a rotating cast of the same conservative judges, most of them nominated by Donald Trump. They have dutifully played their role in this pantomime of litigation, issuing an unending series of sweeping injunctions that block Biden administration policies nationwide for months or years.
On Thursday, the administration finally said: enough. In response to yet another Texas lawsuit exploiting this loophole, Biden’s Justice Department called out Paxton—and, implicitly, the judges playing along with his scheme. The DOJ highlighted Texas’ “blatant” and shameless “judge-shopping,” urging a transfer to another court “in the interests of justice.” Naturally, Trump-nominated Judge Drew Tipton is unlikely to oblige; that is, after all, why Paxton hand-picked him for this lawsuit. But the DOJ’s filing marks a new phase of battle against Republicans’ judicial gamesmanship: The Justice Department is playing hardball in the lower courts, forcing compromised judges to address their own complicity in a cynical partisan chicanery.
For nearly two years, the Justice Department largely held its tongue about this abuse of the system. Over the past few months, however, its tone shifted. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar’s invective against nationwide injunctions at the Supreme Court in December was inflected with a criticism of states shopping cases to “one single district judge in a forum of their choosing.” And in October, the DOJ fought back when Oklahoma filed a complaint in Texas about a prisoner in Louisiana—even though the case had literally no connection to Texas. There, the DOJ filed a motion to transfer for the obvious reason that no party had any business litigating in the state. (The judge ultimately skirted the issue by denying jurisdiction.)
John Cassidy of The New Yorker notes a couple of things to watch out for with regard to the U.S. economy.
The world economy is still emerging from an unprecedented pandemic, Europe is experiencing its biggest war since 1945, and many countries have been recording inflation rates not seen in thirty years, so it’s hardly surprising that the economic picture is blurred. Since the coronavirus started to spread, in 2020, some long-standing economic relationships have broken down. Other, new trends have emerged, and they could turn out to be temporary. But, in looking through this haze of conflicting data, two things stand out.
The first is that, while higher inflation has raised the cost of living significantly in the past couple of years, the U.S. economy has made an impressive recovery from the pandemic in terms of output and jobs. On Thursday, the Department of Commerce reported that inflation-adjusted G.D.P. rose at an annualized rate of 2.9 per cent in the third quarter of last year. In 2022 as a whole, growth came in at 2.1 per cent, down from a bumper 5.9 per cent in 2021, but still well above the average growth rate from 2001 to 2020, which was about 1.7 per cent. If one considers G.D.P. levels rather than growth rates, the economy is now almost back on the trend line that it was on before the pandemic. And the unemployment rate, at 3.5 per cent, is back to its pre-pandemic February, 2020 level, which was the lowest level in half a century. These outcomes are much better than many economists and policymakers had expected during 2020. In fact, as the Washington Post’s Heather Long pointed out, to “recover all jobs and output in basically 2 years is remarkable.”
The second point that stands out is that, despite higher-than-expected G.D.P. growth at the end of last year, many signs now hint that the economy is slowing sharply, and that if the Federal Reserve sticks to its policy of raising interest rates it will likely bring about the recession it wants to avoid. Beyond the headline figure of 2.9 per cent, the G.D.P. report contained some worrying signs. Companies building up inventories that they haven’t sold yet accounted for about half of the fourth-quarter G.D.P. growth, and foreign trade for another fifth. Final domestic sales—the stuff and services that Americans actually bought—expanded by just 0.8 per cent on an annualized basis.
Finally, Konstantin Skorkin writes for the Russian independent media outlet Meduza that while Russia’s attack on Ukraine unified factions in the Ukrainian government, eventually it increased opportunities for government corruption.
Since the early days of the Russian invasion, [Zelenskyy’s] team showed remarkable unity, which, incidentally, had no precedent in the administration’s pre-war days. Nearly all officials remained in office, all joining the intensive effort to defend Ukraine. But as warfare moved into a chronic phase, that monolithic power structure began to show its cracks.
The wartime economy presented many new opportunities for looting the military’s budget. Meanwhile, officials’ special privileges have become more conspicuous in the context of mobilization and martial law. Hardship has sensitized Ukrainian society to abuses of power.
In spite of wartime limitations on freedom of speech, Ukrainian media and NGOs haven’t stopped exposing cases of blatant corruption. In this situation, [Zelenskyy] must assure Ukrainians that their officials will not be permitted to luxuriate at a time when ordinary people suffer. He must also assure Ukraine’s foreign partners that corruption will not be tolerated, and that their military aid will not be misappropriated by the Ukrainian elites. This is why the European Commission’s approval in the current wave of dismissals probably matters a great deal to Kyiv.
Note: Meduza has now been declared as "undesirable” by the Russian Federation; an action which may subject anyone reading Meduza in Russia to criminal penalties.
Be at peace today, everyone!