Friday Reads: Flowers Everywhere!

Mary Cassatt Lilacs in a Window

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

I’m off to a late start today.  Doctor Daughter called and we talked forever!  She delivered over 50 babies in March so there’s evidently a Pandemic Baby Boomlet happening!  It’s kinda like the pattern that happens 9 months after blizzards or having to stay at home all summer because everything is basically shut down!

I was talking to BB yesterday about the the expert medical testimony from the pulmonary doctor yesterday and thinking Derick Chauvin might as well get used to the idea of prison. I brought up the other two officers who were as seemingly helpless as the bystanders at stopping Chauvin.  I keep wondering what’s in store for them.  There’s an Op Ed by Rosa Brooks at Politico today that addresses just that question.   “What About the Cops Who Watched George Floyd Die?”  The author says the two officers were a perfect example of “Bystander Effect.” 

They were paralyzed by the powerful social forces that too often operate to prevent even decent people from taking action to halt abuses.

Edouard Manet
Peonies In A Vase

I really didn’t know much about their individual backgrounds until I read this piece.  Officer Thao was the one who ‘controlled’ the bystanders.  BB has written about the Kitty Genovese case which is one of the most famous crimes where the bystander effect could be documented.

Although Officer Thao was a nine-year police department veteran with several prior misconduct complaints of his own, Lane and Kueng were unjaded rookies, each less than a week out of field training, and they were perceived by their peers as caring, idealistic young officers. Kueng, one of just 80 Black officers in a department of 900, had joined the Minneapolis police because he hoped an increasingly diverse force would reduce police racism and aggression toward people of color. Lane, who tutored Somali children in his spare time, was known for his calmness and his ability to defuse tense situations. Both had received instruction at the police academy about the dangers of using bodyweight to keep a suspect in a prone position for an extended period.

So why did neither man intervene when it became clear that Floyd was struggling to breathe? For that matter, why didn’t any of the half-dozen New York City police who watched Officer Daniel Pantaleo place Eric Garner in a chokehold in 2014 step in to aide Garner? Why did none of the six Baltimore officers involved in Freddie Gray’s 2015 arrest point out the need to secure Gray’s seat belt after loading him into a police van? In far too many police abuse cases, other officers could have intervened to prevent harm, but instead remained passive.

The bystander effect, which social psychologists have puzzled over for decades, is hardly limited to police officers. Think of the millions of ordinary Germans who watched Nazi abuses with dismay but didn’t speak out as their Jewish neighbors were rounded up. Or Kitty Genovese’s neighbors, who neither intervened nor called 911 as she was stabbed to death on a Queens street in 1964. On a more mundane level, think of all the people who look away and pretend not to notice when a school or workplace bully taunts some unlucky victim.

Scores of studies have documented the bystander effect, and we now have a fairly clear understanding of the factors that can lead ordinary people to do nothing even when morality seems to demand intervention. People are less likely to intervene when faced with ambiguous rather than clear situations, for instance. They’re less likely to intervene when surrounded by peers who are also doing nothing, or when intervention would require challenging those they perceive as having authority. They’re also less likely to intervene when they believe someone else will, or should, take action, or to help those whom they view as culturally different from themselves.

All of these factors appear to have been at play in the moments leading to Floyd’s death. Chauvin was the most experienced officer on the scene, and the less experienced officers deferred to his judgment; Chauvin was insistent about keeping Floyd on the ground and indicated that he was taking steps to keep Floyd alive, creating, for the other officers, a degree of ambiguity about whether Chauvin’s actions were inappropriate. Each of the three officers could see that none of his colleagues was intervening to stop Chauvin, thus diffusing responsibility for any bad outcomes. Finally, differences of class, race and culture might have allowed the officers to view Floyd as “other,” rather than as someone they felt obligated to help


Vase with Lychnis, Vincent Van Gogh

Brooks goes on to explain that police training needs to address a police culture of  “bystandership”.  The article is quite an interesting read and I highly recommend it. There’s a link here to CNN about all four officers and the charges the three could face eventually after the Chauvin Trial.  Basically, the three are  ” now charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.” This is from June 2020 and was posted the day before Floyd’s memorial.

President Biden announced the creation of a commission to study the idea of expanding the Supreme Court today.  This is from the New York Times:Biden Creating Commission to Study Expanding the Supreme Court.  The commission will also examine other potential changes such as term limits for justices. Progressives are pushing President Biden to add seats to balance the court’s conservative majority.”

President Biden on Friday will order a 180-day study of adding seats to the Supreme Court, making good on a campaign-year promise to establish a bipartisan commission to examine the potentially explosive subjects of expanding the court or setting term limits for justices, White House officials said.

The president acted under pressure from activists pushing for more seats to alter the ideological balance of the court after President Donald J. Trump appointed three justices, including one to a seat that Republicans had blocked his predecessor, Barack Obama, from filling for almost a year.

The result is a court with a stronger conservative tilt, now 6 to 3, after the addition of Mr. Trump’s choices, including Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just days before last year’s presidential election.

But while Mr. Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asserted that the system of judicial nominations is “getting out of whack,” he has declined to say whether he supports altering the size of the court or making other changes — like imposing term limits — to the current system of lifetime appointments.

It is not clear that the commission established by Mr. Biden will by itself clarify his position. Under the White House order establishing it, the commission is not set to issue specific recommendations at the end of its study — an outcome that is likely to disappoint activists.

Roses in a vase, Auguste Renoir

Biden’s budget priorities were also in the headlines today.  This is from The Washington Post: “Biden seeks huge funding increases for education, health care and environmental protection in first budget request to Congress. Defense spending would remain mostly flat under the president’s proposal.”

President Biden on Friday asked Congress to authorize a massive $1.5 trillion federal spending plan in 2022, seeking to invest heavily in a number of government agencies to boost education, expand public housing, combat the coronavirus and confront climate change.

The request marks Biden’s first discretionary spending proposal, a precursor to the full annual budget he aims to release later in the spring that will address programs including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The president’s early blueprint calls for a nearly 16 percent increase in funding across nondefense domestic agencies, reflecting the White House’s guiding belief that a bigger, better resourced government in Washington can help close the country’s persistent economic gaps.

Many of the programs Biden seeks to fund at higher levels starting in 2022 are initiatives that President Donald Trump had unsuccessfully sought to slash while in the White House. In a further break with Trump, who sought to spend sizable sums on defense during his term, Biden’s new plan calls for a less-than 2 percent increase for the military in the upcoming fiscal year.

But the administration’s approach quickly divided lawmakers from both parties. Senior Senate Republicans accused the president of trying to shortchange the Pentagon, which they alleged would put the country at a disadvantage against China. Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other progressives demanded cuts to the Pentagon’s budget, though they endorsed the domestic investments Biden put forward in his plan.

Fleur rose dans un vase
Jean Metzinger

And it’s getting Trumpier in GOP La La Land.  This is from Vanity Fair‘s Bess Levin:  “Nothing says unhinged cult like labeling people “defectors” and threatening to rat them out. “

Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that over the course of the 2020 election, the Trump campaign ripped off unwitting supporters for tens of millions of dollars. It did so through an extremely simple yet wildly deceitful scheme in which the default option for donations authorized the campaign to transfer the pledged amount from people’s bank accounts not once but every single week. Later, the campaign introduced a second prechecked box that doubled a person’s contribution and was known internally as a “money bomb.” In order for people to have picked up on this before it was too late, they would have had to wade through “lines of text in bold and capital letters that overwhelmed the opt-out language.” Few people did, hence why the two and half months leading up the the election, the Trump campaign, the RNC, and their shared accounts were forced to issue a whopping 530,000 refunds worth $64.3 million to online donors, compared to the 37,000 online refunds of $5.6 million that Joe Biden‘s campaign and his equivalent Democratic committees refunded. “Bandits!” Victor Amelino, a 78-year-old Californian whose $990 donation turned into nearly $8,000, told the Times of the scheme, and you can probably understand why!

Yet apparently, Republicans associated with Donald Trump have not changed their tactics in light of the very bad press; they’ve upped the ante. By which we mean that in addition to continuing to use prechecked boxes to bilk supporters, they’re threatening to rat out anyone who doesn’t agree to recurring donations to the ex-president.

Isn’t that sweet of them?

Anyway, I need to grade–still–so that’s enough from me.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?