Opinion
April 22, 2021

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is being held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day following his conviction for the murder of George Floyd. He's held in a small cell with "a bench with a mattress pad, a combination toilet and sink, and a tiny shower." A guard checks on him every 30 minutes.

Chauvin's solitary confinement is protective, and he's hardly languishing in a dank hole. He has writing materials, and potentially reading materials, too. The Count of Monte Cristo this is not. He's also perhaps the most notorious man in the country at this moment — hardly a sympathetic test case for arguing against solitary confinement.

But America should rethink solitary, even for Chauvin. It's not a stretch to call it torture. A brief separation is one thing, but extended isolation from human contact is "cruel and unusual punishment," in constitutional parlance. About 60,000 people are held in solitary in U.S. prisons at any given time (under normal conditions — use of solitary has spiked during the pandemic in an attempt to curb viral spread). Isolation is used not only for protection, as in Chauvin's case, but also for punishment, including for very minor offenses, like "derogatory comments" and "reckless eye-balling."

The worst cases are the long ones. In Texas, The Texas Observer reported last year, 1,300 people have been in solitary for six years or more. Among those, 129 have been in solitary for two to three decades, and 18 for 30 years or more. Texas isn't the only state with ultra-long solitary stays. Before it passed a law limiting solitary confinement to 15 consecutive days, New York kept a teenager, Kalief Browder, in solitary for two out of three years of pre-trial detention. Browder committed suicide after his ordeal.

As for Chauvin, he'll likely be sentenced to around 12 years in prison, or potentially as many as 40. If he is held in solitary longer than 30 days, his situation will be subject to review. But it's difficult to know what alternative prison officials would choose: Chauvin's notoriety (and therefore their quandary) will be no different in 30 days. That solitary may seem like the only option points to our prison system's larger need for reform. Bonnie Kristian

May 8, 2021

"There is simply no democratic justification whatsoever for [U.K. Prime Minister] Boris Johnson or anyone else seeking to block the right of the people of Scotland to choose our future," Scottish National Party leader and Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Saturday in a victory speech after the SNP won its fourth straight election, while the pro-independence Greens also had a strong showing, meaning a majority of Scottish parliament would back a referendum.

If a vote is blocked Sturgeon added, it "will demonstrate conclusively that the U.K. is not a partnership of equals and astonishingly that Westminster no longer sees it as a voluntary union of nations."

While Sturgeon is expected to pressure Johnson to allow another referendum, the prime minister has said he won't, calling it "irresponsible and reckless."

As for what's happening on the ground with Scottish voters, Prof. John Curtice, whom Bloomberg notes is the U.K.'s "most prominent electoral analyst," said the country is "divided straight down the middle on the constitutional question," which was the driving force behind the highest turnout since 1999. There's no telling which way a vote would go at the moment, so a referendum would be an "enormous political gamble" for both Johnson and Sturgeon, Curtice writes. Read more at BBC and Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

May 8, 2021

Annie Pforzheimer, a longtime diplomat who has extensive experience working in Afghanistan, is concerned about President Biden's plan to withdraw U.S. troops from the country without any conditions from the Taliban by or before Sept. 11, 2021. In a piece for Politico published Saturday, she shares her not uncommon view that the U.S. exit will allow the Taliban an opportunity to "increase their territorial control and dictatorial rule," depriving Afghanistan of much hope for a "normal future." But, at this point, she acknowledges Biden's mind won't change, so she turned her attention to ways the U.S. can employ leverage without forces on the ground.

Pforzheimer's ideas include remaining publicly committed to Afghan security forces, retaining old and imposing new sanctions on the Taliban until they're no longer a threat to Afghanistan's stability, and refusing to recognize a Taliban government if it "denies basic human rights to its citizens." She also argues the U.S. should make sure that "Afghanistan's neighbors, particularly Pakistan and Central Asia ... prioritize their existing trade and energy linkages and press for a peace process that will contribute to regional prosperity." Additionally, she writes, "the Gulf States and other former and current Taliban patrons should understand that a peaceful outcome is a top U.S. government goal." Read Pforzheimer's full piece at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

May 8, 2021

The Colonial Pipeline, the principal transporter of gasoline and diesel fuel up and down the East Coast of the United States, was temporarily shut down on Friday after its operator, Colonial Pipeline Co., learned it was the victim of a cyberattack.

The attack reportedly involved ransomware and appeared to be limited to information systems, as opposed to operational control systems, but the investigation is still in the early stages. Subsequently, there's no clear sense of who the perpetrator was.

Analysts don't expect the stoppage to negatively affect fuel markets or cause any shortages, so long as it only lasts for a day or two, The Wall Street Journal reports. Still, Tom Kloza, the global head of energy analysis for Oil Price Information Services, told the Journal that targeting the pipeline, which carries roughly 45 percent of the fuel consumed in the United States, is a "big deal" and "could really wreak havoc."

Mike Chapple, a cybersecurity expert at the University of Notre Dame and a former National Security Agency official, added that the pipeline shutdown "sends the message that core elements of our infrastructure continue to be vulnerable to cyberattack," a threat Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorakas acknowledged as recently as Wednesday, the Journal notes. Read more at The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

May 8, 2021

The National Republican Congressional Committee did not share internal polling data that showed former President Donald Trump has weak numbers in key battleground districts at a retreat for House Republicans in April, two people familiar with the presentation told The Washington Post. The NRCC staffers reportedly held back the information even when a member of Congress asked them directly about Trump's support.

The Post later obtained the full polling results, reporting that Trump's unfavorable ratings were 15 points higher than his favorable ones, and nearly twice as many voters had a strongly unfavorable view of him than those who had a strongly favorable one. In those same districts, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were both more popular than Trump, the Post notes.

It reportedly wasn't the first time this has happened — Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) told colleagues that Republican campaign officials had also glossed over poor Trump polling during a retreat for ranking committee chairs in March, per the Post.

Cheney, you may have heard in recent weeks, is determined to move the GOP away from Trump and she'd likely point to the polling as a reason why, but she's faced a lot of criticism from her colleagues, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who think the party's short-term electoral chances are doomed without the former president leading the charge, and there's no indication their minds will change anytime soon. Read more about Cheney's efforts at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

May 8, 2021

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday updated its public COVID-19 guidance to explicitly state that the coronavirus can be transmitted via aerosols — smaller respiratory particles that can float — that are inhaled at a distance greater than six feet from an infected person. The risk is higher while indoors, bringing ventilation practices to the forefront. The new language marks a change from the federal health agency's previous stance that transmission of the virus typically occurs through "close contact, not airborne transmission."

Infectious disease experts have warned that the CDC and the World Health Organization (which has also updated its guidance) were overlooking evidence of airborne transmission during the pandemic, The New York Times notes, and some have stressed the need for the CDC to strengthen its recommendations for preventing exposure to aerosolized virus, especially in indoor workplaces like meatpacking plants.

Good ventilation should be one of the primary things to focus on, Dr. David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington School of Public Health and the head of the Occupation and Safety Health Administration during the Obama administration, told the Times. Dr. Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech, explained that "if you're in a poorly ventilated environment, virus is going to build up in the air, and everyone who's in that room is going to be exposed."

Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, who has long been pushing for such a change, called it "one of the most crucial scientific advancements of the pandemic" that should provide a lot of clarity about what is and isn't safe going forward. Read her Twitter thread on the issue here and learn more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

May 8, 2021

India recorded 4,187 new COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, the government said Saturday, marking the first time the country, which is in the midst of a record-breaking surge of infections, has tallied 4,000 fatalities in a day. India's death toll, which has been questioned by health experts, officially sits at 238,270, the third highest in the world after the United States and Brazil.

India also added 401,078 cases on Saturday, a slight drop from the previous day, but the country's peak is not expected until the end of May. While cases appear to be stabilizing in large cities like Mumbai and New Delhi, the coronavirus is spreading in rural areas and southern states, several of which have ordered lockdowns. Oxygen and critical care bed shortages remain a major concern. Read more at Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse. Tim O'Donnell

May 8, 2021

More than 200 people were injured Friday night during a protest over the threat of evictions of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem, Palestinian medics and Israeli police said.

Tens of thousands of Palestinian worshippers had gathered at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque — the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism (known as the Temple Mount in that faith) — for the final Friday of Ramadan, and many remained for the protest, which reportedly erupted when Israeli police in riot gear deployed. The police reportedly fired rubber bullets at the crowd, while video footage shows the demonstrators throwing chairs, rocks, and shoes at the officers.

The United States and other foreign governments called for calm and expressed concern about the potential evictions, but Israelis and Palestinians are bracing for more unrest in the coming days. Worshippers will return to Al-Aqsa on Saturday for the most sacred night of Ramadan, while Sunday night marks Jerusalem Day, when Israel celebrates its annexation of east Jerusalem. And on Monday, an Israeli court is expected to issue a verdict on the evictions. Read more at Al Jazeera and The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

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