Biden to Expand SCOTUS? The Best (And Worst) Chauvin Case Arguments, 19K Unaccompanied Minors at the Border, 1/2 of "High Viral Load" COVID Cases Have No Symptoms, Soviet LOTR (The Five for 04/09/21)

Hey, welcome to The Five.

Before we begin:

  • If you’re so inclined, this story on my grandma’s first cousin Elmer by the Farm Bureau is a great snapshot of the contributions to a rural community over a lifetime. Elmer turned 101 last month and also served as a clown in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Just after WWII, Elmer opened one of the first John Deere dealerships in the area, which required building the brick building to house it himself (while also keeping up with his own farm). He was instrumental to bringing a hospital to my native Pike County, IL. It’s a heartwarming reminder that a good life isn’t always comprised of flashy moments, but faithful service and moving continually in the right direction through struggle.

  • The Today Show is reporting that states with stricter lockdown measures still in place have higher rates of COVID than Texas and Florida, which are fully open (The Texas Rangers home opener featured 40,000+ fans in the stadium). It’s a bit more complicated than that, but this three minute video is a pretty good summary.

  • By the time this email delivers (noon), you probably know that rapper DMX has died of a drug overdose and Prince Phillip, husband of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, passed away in his sleep last night. The former was a highly troubled individual who clung to a strong faith in Christ throughout a life of drug addiction. The latter, who has been greatly overshadowed by the behavior of his grandsons, saved the lives of two downed pilots while serving in the Navy in WWII. I’m saddened by the loss of DMX because I can’t even begin to untangle his music from my high school basketball days, and by Phillip’s passing because we are down to the very last surviving members of the greatest generation.

  • The news broke this morning that Congressman Matt Gaetz allegedly sent $900 to an accused sex trafficker in 2018 via the social payments app Venmo, followed by three payments to young women that read “tuition,” “school” and “school.” While Gaetz deserves his day in court, at first glance this sure looks like payments for prostitution.

[one]

I write The Five in small chunks (normally a day or two before final publication), so I suppose I’m running the risk of this information becoming obsolete by the time you read it (BTW, publishing schedule is Tuesday/Friday at 12pm CST).

The Derek Chauvin trial for George Floyd’s death is likely the most high profile trial since O.J. Simpson.

I haven’t spent a lot of time following the case day-by-day, so I could be off here. But I did want to summarize the strongest piece of evidence from both the prosecution and the defense.


PROSECUTION

The case here, simply put, seems to be that Chauvin was aggressively holding Floyd down and putting the weight directly on Floyd’s neck, with the implied attempt at bodily harm (or death).

State’s witness Dr. Marvin Tobin testified that “even a healthy person would have died” from Chauvin’s restraint and that a lack of oxygen killed Floyd, not the Fentanyl in his system.

DEFENSE

The best thing the defense may have going for them is…the bumbling moves of the prosecution.

The state called Lt. Johnny Mercil, who was in charge of use-of-force training for the department (full video here, if you want to see it), which severely backfired on the prosecution and contradicted the testimony of Dr. Tobin, who said Floyd died of oxygen deprivation.

It was at this point that Nelson showed Mercil a series of photographs captured from the body worn camera of Officer Lane, and showing Chauvin’s knee on Floyd from the angle down Floyd’s proned body.

Photo 1: (Nelson:) Where’s Chauvin’s leg in this image? On Floyd’s neck? Or on his shoulder blades and back. Mercil: Shoulder blades and back.

(Nelson:) And in photo 2? (Mercil) Same. (Nelson) Photo 3? (Mercil) Same. (Nelson) Photo 4? (Mercil) Same.

And later:

“The use-of-force officer admitted that Chauvin’s procedure (use of body weight and pressure) was a LESSER use of force than adopted in the past, that it wasn’t a chokehold, that use of force standards change based on drug use or physical stature of a suspect, that he had personally restrained suspects until EMS arrived, that some suspects quickly regain consciousness and thus sometimes suppression is necessary despite appearances.”

Finally, the New York Post is reporting that the defense found a “speedball” pill on the floor of the squad car Floyd was detained in had Floyd’s DNA on it, backing the possibility that Floyd ingested drugs to avoid being caught with them, and then spit some of the pills onto the floor of the squad car.

The bodycam footage shows Floyd saying over and over “I can’t breathe” while being put into the squad car, and he later claimed severe stomach pain…both of which may have been symptoms of an overdose is progress.

We’re still only two weeks into a trial that will likely drag on for more than a month. At this point, I can’t say I have any idea what the verdict will be.

[two]

An unprecedented number of children were picked up at the U.S./Mexico border in March, and the crisis is escalating rapidly. The Associated Press reports:

The U.S. government picked up nearly 19,000 children traveling alone across the Mexican border in March, authorities said Thursday, the largest monthly number ever recorded and a major test for President Joe Biden as he reverses many of his predecessor’s hardline immigration tactics.

complex mix of factors in the United States and Central America drove the increase. It has coincided with the Biden administration’s decision to exempt unaccompanied children from pandemic-related powers to immediately expel most people from the country without giving them an opportunity to seek asylum. Children are instead released to “sponsors” in the U.S., usually parents or close relatives, while being allowed to pursue their cases in heavily backlogged immigration courts.

March’s count was roughly double the number of unaccompanied children encountered by the Border Patrol in February and more than five times the number in March 2020.

[three]

This is the VERY rare time when I pulled a story out at the very last moment for “breaking news,” which is normally something that’s against policy for The Five. In this case, the story is so big and the facts appear to be undisputed, so we’re “going to press.”

The Washington Post Reports:

President Biden will unveil a bipartisan commission to study structural changes to the Supreme Court on Friday, according to three people with knowledge of the forthcoming announcement, amid liberal calls for expansion to blunt the court’s conservative majority.

The commission, to include as many as three dozen people, will fulfill Biden’s campaign promise create a group to study changes to the court. Biden has said he is “not a fan of court-packing,” but he faced pressure during the campaign from liberals to back changes, including court expansion, after Republicans pushed to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett shortly before the 2020 election.

The last POTUS to attempt to expand SCOTUS was FDR, who attempted to gain control of the Supreme Court by proposing a law that a new SCOTUS Justice would be added every time a justice reached 70 and failed to retire, with a goal of 15 Justices on the bench to push through the agenda items FDR wanted but congress wouldn’t pass.

I work hard to present The Five as both factual and nuanced, which often means silencing (at least my strongest) opinions and simply putting together the news.

However, this one terrifies me. Further politicization and destabilization of the Supreme Court is a threat to democracy.

If Biden gets his way, there’s no reason for the next Republican POTUS not to do the same thing. We cannot be a functioning democracy without fair courts, which doesn’t seem very possible when the courts are always in flux. That’s what we’re headed toward here….changes to the Supreme Court every time one party has the White House and both houses of Congress.

More than The Cold War, 9/11, Antifa, The January 6 Capital Riots, Mass Shootings, terrorist bombings, the abuse of power by federal agencies…I believe this is the biggest threat to democracy of my lifetime.

Let us hope and pray it is not so. Let the court stand as is.

[four]

The Office of National Statistics in Britain found that more than half of patients with a strong case of COVID…experienced no symptoms.

The Independent (UK) reports:

More than half of people with a strong Covid infection did not report any of the major symptoms, new figures from the Office for National Statistics have revealed.

This underlines the risk of people spreading the virus without knowing they are infected which is thought to be one of the main ways the coronavirus pandemic has been able to spread so easily around the world.

The ONS said 53 per cent of people with a strong positive, or high viral load, between December and March did not report having any symptoms compared to 47 per cent who did. It excluded patients likely to be at the start of their infection when transmission and symptoms are thought to be less likely.

Fatigue, headache and cough were the most commonly reported symptoms amongst people who had a strong positive test for Covid-19.

[five]

Let’s head into the weekend with a pop culture roundup. This one’s a little long, but this is the most exciting pop culture week of 2021 so far, in my humble opinion:

  • I may have to pick up Apple TV+ just to see The Mosquito Coast, the new Justin Theroux led thriller about an inventor being chased by the U.S. government, which hits the streaming service on 04/30. Side note, Justin Theroux and his then-wife Jennifer Aniston are the most famous people to have visited my birth through second grade hometown of Pittsfield, IL (pop: 4,211) since…well, a young trial lawyer named Abraham Lincoln arrived in town in 1839 to prosecute a murder.

  • Angelina Jolie partners with my current favorite movie/TV writer Taylor Sheridan (Yellowstone, Wind River, Hell or High Water) in the forest fire thriller To Those Who Wish Me Dead, which also stars Jon Bernthal (Punisher, the Walking Dead), Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones) and Tyler Perry (who proved in Gone Girl to be a great actor when he’s not busy making terrible schlock). The story follows Jolie’s character, a firefighter in the western US, as she befriends a young boy in the wilderness and attempts to save his life by outrunning both a wildfire and trained assassins. Catch the trailer here. Streaming on HBO Max on 05/14.

  • Jupiter’s Legacy may shape up to be the first successful Netflix foray into the superhero genre. It’s a fairly original setup, with the original superheroes of the 1930’s aging out and passing the torch to defend the world to their bratty, 20something children who may not be up to the task. (Note: superpowers apparently make you pretty spry at 100+?!) I wasn’t too interested until I saw that the story is by Mark Millar, creator of the Kingsman British spy movie series.

  • Two of my favorite alt-country singers, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, have been cast in Killers of the Flower Moon, a true story of a string of brutal murders in Oklahoma’s Osage Nation in the 1920’s as oil development moved onto the Reservation. Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro lead the film, which is helmed by legendary director Martin Scorsece. No release date yet, but expect this one to make a splash during awards season.

  • Sylvester Stallone will not return for the Creed III, the third installment of the Rocky franchise spinoff that follows the son of Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers in Rocky I, II and IV). The first Creed, which was written and directed by Ryan Coogler (Black Panther) is one of my favorite films of all time. The follow up, which Coogler couldn’t write/direct due to his Marvel commitments, was pretty terrible, allegedly due to Stallone getting too involved in the script. This time, star Michel B. Jordan will fill the director’s chair. If you love the Rocky movies as much as I do (and let’s face it, you don’t), then you’ll be excited that Stallone recently completed a directors cut of Rocky IV, which will be out soon. That’s the one where Rocky defeats communism. Or something. (At this point, I realize I’m just writing to myself…this whole bullet point is just a journal entry, isn’t it?)

  • Video of the Soviet version of Lord of the Rings (yes, communist Russia beat the U.S. to the punch on a movie version) has been unearthed, and it’s…something you have to see with your own eyes. See a side by side vs. Peter Jackson’s LOTR here. (Seriously, if you click one link from The Five this week, make it this one).

  • “How much does a preacher’s wife with teenage boys from nowhere Nebraska have to lend to the Americana conversation? Apparently, quite a bit.” -Saving Country Music on the new new Hope Dunbar album Sweetheartland…an artist you’ve never heard of, but absolutely have to check out. I’ve been listening non-stop all week.

  • Quick music roundup: the new Tim McGraw single “God Moves the Pen” is pretty solid, in my opinion. Taylor Swift re-recorded 2008 album Fearless with updated instrumental arrangements and new vocals. Former Carolina Chocolate Drops frontwoman Rhiannan Giddens has a solid new album if you’re into Americana. Rapper Propaganda (who may have blocked me on Twitter by this point, but whatever) released the excellent EP. British soul vocalist Rag N Bone Man dropped a cool duet with Pink, and Boston Celtic Punk perennials Dropkick Murphys released a very Dropkick Murphys type of single.

  • Finally, “The Justin Bieber surprise release Christian music EP where he raps the word ‘damn’ a couple of times and also features a megachurch pastor on two tracks just…hits” is a sentence I never thought I’d type, but here we are. You can also buy a pair of “Jesus Rose From The Dead” pink shorts to lounge in while listening to the album (not a joke, real product).

[epilogue]

A propaganda map printed in New York City by the American Rights Committee, a group of wealthy New Yorkers who were pushing for the U.S. to enter WWI. The map was designed to instill fear into the average American to drop a stance of neutrality and support entering the fight.

When the map was printed in 1916, the vast majority of German and Scandanavian Americans supported remaining neutral, and the Irish Catholics (who had a strong grip on the Democratic party) didn’t want to enter the war and help Britain in any way, after the 1916 Easter Uprising in Ireland.

The idea that the Axis powers could combine their military might and conquer the continental U.S. is absurd, but the map (unintentionally) did contain a grain of truth about the threat of invasion. In 1917, British forces intercepted the Zimmerman Telegram, in which Germany pledged support to Mexico if our neighbors to the south would invade the U.S. and tie up American weapons and resources that were being shipped to the Allied Forces.

Until the next one,

-sth