Want to get The Morning by email? Here’s the sign-up.
Good morning. A retired judge harshly criticizes the Justice Department. Protesters take down a statue in Virginia. And many parts of the U.S. have managed to reopen while still reducing new virus cases.
We journalists don’t always pay enough attention to good news. So I want to highlight some this morning: Across much of the United States and Europe, the coronavirus has been spreading less rapidly than many people feared.
Yes, the caseload is growing in some places, and they’re rightly getting a lot of attention. But the full story is more complex. Over the past six weeks — as communities have started to reopen, Americans have flocked to beaches and lakes and European schools have reopened — the number of new cases has continued falling in many places.
Across the Northeast and Midwest of the U.S., they’re down more than 50 percent, and often much more, since May 1. Nationwide, weekly deaths have fallen for six weeks in a row. And Europe “seems to have turned a corner,” Caitlin Rivers of Johns Hopkins University says.
How could this be?
I put that question to public health experts, and they gave two main answers. One, the virus spreads much less easily outdoors than indoors. “Summer — being outside, warmer weather, humidity — seems to help, and we may have underestimated how much it’s helped,” Ashish Jha, the incoming dean of Brown University School of Public Health, told me.
Two, many people are taking more precautions than they were in February and March. They’re wearing masks, remaining six feet apart and being careful about what they touch. “Even absent top-down health interventions” — like lockdowns — “people want to keep themselves safe,” Rivers said.
The combination appears to have eliminated most “superspreader events,” like parties, concerts and restaurant meals, where multiple people get sick. Such events may account for 80 percent of all transmissions, research suggests. (Read this Times Op-Ed for more.)
I recognize that this is a somewhat dangerous message. Transmission rates in the U.S. are higher than they need to be, and they have begun rising again in parts of the South and West. In Arizona, where the governor has played down the virus and hospitals are filling up, the situation looks especially bad. But many other places are showing what a responsible and effective reopening looks like.
One crucial caveat is that the virus will outlast the summer — everywhere. During the 1918-19 flu, transmission rates fell in the warmer months, only to soar again in the fall. “People thought it was over,” as Apoorva Mandavilli, a science reporter at The Times, said, “and stopped taking precautions.”
Where the news is worse: A few big countries where cases are still rising — India, Mexico, Russia, Iran and Pakistan — are nevertheless ending their lockdowns, citing economic reasons.
THREE MORE BIG STORIES
1. A ‘gross abuse of prosecutorial power’
A court-appointed expert urged a federal judge to reject the Trump administration’s attempt to drop the criminal case against Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser. The expert, a retired federal judge, criticized the Justice Department’s “highly irregular conduct to benefit a political ally of the president.”
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about his contact with Russia’s ambassador, but the Justice Department later claimed the lies were not “material.” Those claims, the retired judge, John Gleeson, wrote, “are preposterous.”
What’s next: The case will continue on Friday when a three-judge panel on the Court of Appeals considers the case.
2. National Guard reckons with its role
After the National Guard took part in the crackdown on peaceful protesters outside the White House last week, a white commander referred to the standoff as the “Alamo.” But among the ranks of the D.C. Guard, a majority of whom are people of color, troops feel demoralized, The Times reports. The National Guard is now conducting an investigation into the day’s events.
Some troops said they were so ashamed in their role that they have kept it from family members.
In other protest developments:
In a series of late-night tweets, President Trump threatened to take federal action to control protests in Seattle, mocking local officials for not doing so. Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington State, returned the scorn, saying Trump was “incapable” of governing.
In Richmond, Va., protesters pulled down a Jefferson Davis statue, where it lay broken in the street until a tow truck carried it away.
Amazon said it was putting a one-year pause on letting the police use its facial recognition tool, amid concerns about how the technology treats African-Americans.
NASCAR announced that it would prohibit the Confederate battle flag from its events after Bubba Wallace, the sport’s only black driver, called for the ban. Separately, Trump rejected a Pentagon proposal to consider renaming Army bases named after Confederate officers.
3. The Fed projects a long crunch
In their first economic projections this year, officials at the Federal Reserve said they expected the unemployment rate to end 2020 at 9.3 percent and to remain elevated for years. The Fed pledged to do “whatever we can” to support the recovery. “This is the biggest economic shock, in the U.S. and the world, really, in living memory,” Jerome Powell, the Fed chair, said.
A call for more stimulus: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called for “another bipartisan legislation to put more money into the economy.” The Trump administration and congressional Republicans have been sending mixed messages about more stimulus.
Here’s what else is happening
Republicans expect to move their national convention this summer to Jacksonville, Fla., from Charlotte, N.C., after Trump disagreed with North Carolina officials about social-distancing measures.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed back against Democrats who have argued that Joe Biden must pick an African-American running mate. “I think Joe Biden should pick whoever he wants,” Pelosi said in a round table with journalists. “I would never, never narrow his possibilities.”
The final count in Georgia showed that Jon Ossoff had received more than 50 percent of votes in the Democratic primary, which will allow him to avoid a runoff and become the party’s nominee for a Senate election this fall.
Lives lived: Lennie Niehaus first attracted attention as an alto saxophonist and arranger in the 1950s. But his most lasting legacy may have been the scores he wrote for films directed by Clint Eastwood — among them “Bird,” for which he also taught Forest Whitaker to emulate the saxophone playing of Charlie Parker. Niehaus has died at 90.
BACK STORY: A film to watch now
The interruption of pro sports has led many desperate fans to watch ESPN documentaries like “The Last Dance” and “Lance.” It turns out that one ESPN documentary also offers a searing look at police brutality: “O.J.: Made in America,” by Ezra Edelman.
The main narrative is about O.J. Simpson and the 1994 murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman. But the backdrop to the story, and to the jury’s deep mistrust of the prosecution, is the Los Angeles Police Department’s longtime mistreatment of the city’s black residents, through violence and lies.
As the Times critic A.O. Scott told me: The movie shows “the deep roots of mistrust and resentment that the L.A.P.D. sowed among the city’s black citizens over decades of abuse and contempt. The jury’s verdict — so shocking to so many at the time — is shown as an act with clear historical roots and political meaning.” (His 2016 review of the film compared it to the work of Norman Mailer and Robert Caro.)
The Times’s Wesley Morris says: “It’s one of the most rigorous, most haunting X-rays of this country’s racial crises and racist myths, from law enforcement and criminal justice to sex, sports, and Hertz.” The movie stretches over five episodes and almost eight hours, but, as Wesley says, “You’ve spent far more time with far less superior storytelling.”
PLAY, WATCH, EAT, BAKE
It’s strawberry season
For a summery dessert, try Melissa Clark’s spin on strawberry shortcake. Swapping the traditional soft biscuits for cookies gives the dish some crisp. Melissa recommends using cultured butter to make the cookies extra rich, though regular or salted butter will work, too.
Reese Witherspoon opens up
For years, agents told her to avoid playing a mother because it was a career-ender. A financial adviser warned her that acting roles would dry up once she turned 40. Yet Reese Witherspoon, now 44, has been all over TV screens lately — from “Big Little Lies” to her latest series, “Little Fires Everywhere” — thanks to female producers, including herself.
Glenn Whipp profiled Witherspoon in The Los Angeles Times, where she discussed her faith, ageism in Hollywood and how to tell stories about women.
The police in pop culture
“Cops,” a series that spawned the genre of crime reality television, was canceled this week. LEGO temporarily ceased marketing two of its police-themed sets. And online, there are joking calls to “defund the Paw Patrol” — the children’s cartoon about a team of canine helpers, including a puppy cop.
As the protests against police brutality continue, the role of the police in pop culture is being re-examined. Amanda Hess, a Times critic-at-large, breaks down the “good cop” archetype that permeates TV.
Here is today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Big Pharma regulator (three letters).
You can find all of our puzzles here.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David
P.S. Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris, hosts of the “Still Processing” podcast, are holding an online event on Friday at 4 p.m. Eastern to talk about the reckonings of the past couple of weeks. It’s called “So Y’all Finally Get It.”
You can see today’s print front page here.
Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about what Georgia’s troubled primary could mean for November.
The Times is providing free access to much of our coronavirus coverage. Please consider supporting our journalism with a subscription.
Ian Prasad Philbrick and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.