Happy Friday Sky Dancers!
I’ve had to adult during my one solid week off a year and it’s been a series of having to do some training, pay bills, and work with FEMA. I had a great experience with my FEMA inspector yesterday and hopefully can get enough to get this very old kathouse an electrician to figure out why I have what seems like random electricity. I’d really like a functional laundry room again for one. I should get a response within 10 days and I’m crossing everything possible.
The Guardian has the story of Julie K. Brown and the work she did to “bring down Jeffrey Epstein”. It’s a great read.
The town of Palm Beach in Florida, the crime writer Carl Hiaasen has observed, “is one of the few places left in America where you can still drive around in a Rolls-Royce convertible and not get laughed at.” It’s an unironic island, filled with the super-rich and famous, plastic surgeons and, of course, the former US president, Donald Trump, who holds court at his ostentatious Mar-a-Lago resort.
A satellite of Miami, the island prides itself on its many flamboyant charity balls, but no amount of good-cause fundraising can remove the whiff of corruption that hangs heavy in the subtropical air. If money talks in most places, in Palm Beach it speaks with a confident authority that’s seldom questioned. Never has that understanding been more egregiously demonstrated than in the case of the inscrutable financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
n 2008 Epstein was sent to prison, having pleaded guilty to the charge of procuring for prostitution a girl below the age of 18. It was the culmination of a three-year investigation, involving first state and then federal authorities. The local police had uncovered evidence that Epstein had sexually coerced and abused scores of young women and girls, some as young as 13 or 14. There were also a number of testaments to rape.
But all throughout the prosecution seemed reluctant to take Epstein to court and the police were always one step behind their target. For a start, Epstein appeared to be tipped off that he was going to be arrested. When the police arrived at his Palm Beach mansion, six computer hard drives had been removed, along with video recordings from his internal closed circuit system. The police were never able to gain access to this potential evidence.
Florida is notorious for its harsh prison system and lengthy sentencing. Someone accused of Epstein’s alleged crimes might have been looking at 20 years in a gang-dominated penitentiary. Instead he received an 18-month sentence, of which he served less than 13 months in a private wing of the county jail. He was granted immunity for himself and four assistants for any related charges, was awarded daily work release, in which he was driven to his office by his own driver, and at night he was allowed to sleep with his jail door open. He also had access to another room where a television had been installed for him.
How did he get off so lightly? And how was he able to return to his gilded world of billionaire friends and celebrity playmates without any real stigma attached to his name? These were the questions that Julie Brown, an overworked and underpaid investigative journalist at the Miami Herald, kept asking herself towards the end of 2016.
“I wanted to do a story on sex trafficking,” she recalls on a Zoom call from New York, “but every time I googled Florida and sex trafficking, a story about Jeffrey Epstein came up.”
As she delved deeper, she realised just how far the authorities had bent over backwards to accommodate Epstein and his battery of well-paid lawyers. Although they seemingly had enough evidence to support his prosecution for much more serious crimes, they offered him a “sweetheart deal” on a relatively minor charge. Brown’s intrepid work led to a three-part Herald series in 2018 on Epstein that would encourage federal authorities to reopen the investigation and to arrest the financier.
Along with the three-part Herald series, Brown delves into how Epstein kept getting away with rape and sex trafficking. Brown published a book this year that’s a compilation of her research. Here’s the NYT review of Perversion of Justice.
Epstein today is so universally reviled that it is easy to forget that things were not always so. Less than a year before he died in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019, awaiting trial on federal sex-trafficking charges, the self-proclaimed financier had many of the world’s richest, smartest and most powerful men on speed dial. He hopscotched the planet on his private Gulfstream. He owned an island in the Caribbean. He bankrolled pie-in-the-sky science projects, longing for immortality.
Journalists were among those who allowed themselves to be snookered. Epstein was a savvy manipulator, and many of us (including at The New York Times) were wowed by access to him and blinded by the cadre of famous men who encircled him. Too often, we viewed Epstein as a source to cultivate rather than as a predator to investigate. It was a big mistake.
Thankfully, there were exceptions. In November 2018, Julie K. Brown, a reporter at The Miami Herald, published an explosive three-part investigation into Epstein. Brown focused on how, a decade earlier, Epstein had wriggled out of a federal criminal investigation by pleading guilty to two state charges of soliciting prostitution. Florida and federal authorities, Brown reported, delivered one favor after another to the politically connected suspect and his politically connected lawyers, overruling investigators and keeping victims in the dark.
Brown’s bombshell shook prosecutors and politicians out of their yearslong stupor. Federal prosecutors in New York opened a new criminal investigation, which culminated in Epstein being arrested and charged the following summer. R. Alexander Acosta, who as the U.S. attorney in Miami had helped cut the sweetheart deal with Epstein in 2008, resigned as labor secretary.
Now, nearly two years after Epstein was found hanging in his cell in what authorities concluded was a suicide, Brown is revealing how she landed the story of a lifetime. Her book, “Perversion of Justice,” is a warts-and-all retelling of what it took to expose not just Epstein but also a badly broken justice system.
Having read the Miami Herald series, I already knew the basic plotline, but that didn’t make it any less maddening to see how Epstein’s fixers — including lawyers like Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz — worked the system to catastrophic effect.
The press continues to be snookered on many accounts for this and other cases involving rich old white men. I was horrified to hear that Alan Dershowitz was party to a BBC interview as an “impartial observer”. How do these things happen? Here’s the coverage from WAPO of that journalistic sin. Capturing Epstein’s powerful friends may be next on the agenda.
The BBC says it is investigating how Alan Dershowitz was allowed on its airwaves to talk about the conviction of Ghislaine Maxwell without mentioning that the constitutional lawyer is implicated in the case and accused of having sex with an alleged victim of financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Shortly after Maxwell was convicted Wednesday of sex-trafficking charges for assisting Epstein in abusing young girls, BBC News brought on Dershowitz to analyze the guilty verdict of Epstein’s longtime paramour. But the network failed to mention that Dershowitz not only previously served as Epstein’s attorney but that he is accused of having sex with Virginia Roberts Giuffre when she was as young as 16. Dershowitz has denied the allegations.
Dershowitz used his time on the “BBC World News” to slam Giuffre for supposedly not being a credible witness in the Maxwell case — claims that went unchallenged by the show’s anchor. He also claimed the case from Giuffre against him and Britain’s Prince Andrew, who has also been accused of sexual assault and has denied the allegations, was somehow weakened after Maxwell’s guilty verdict.
“The government did not use as a witness the woman who accused Prince Andrew, who accused me, accused many other people because the government didn’t believe she was telling the truth,” he said. “In fact she, Virginia Giuffre, was mentioned in the trial as somebody who brought young people to Epstein for him to abuse. And so this case does nothing at all to strengthen in any way the case against Prince Andrew.”
Even Fox News acknowledges the connections between Dershowitz and Epstein. This New York Magazine article written by Joshua Kendall shows once again, how rich white guys can silence women. “She Tweeted That Alan Dershowitz Might Be Acting Crazy. So Yale Fired Her. The strange free-speech case of Bandy Lee.”
“I think I’ll order only a bowl of the New England clam chowder,” Bandy Lee said to me one afternoon several months ago, as we settled in at a restaurant overlooking the Boston Common. “I have just completed a 40-day fast when all I consumed was water and powdered electrolytes. So it will take a couple of days before I am ready to eat a full meal.”
When I asked her if fasting was a regular part of her dietary regimen, she said, “I’ve fasted a few times before for various reasons. On this occasion, I wanted to think through the direction of my life.”
The trajectory of Lee’s life had indeed taken a strange turn of late. A widely respected scholar who has authored over 100 peer-reviewed articles and either written or edited a dozen academic books on violence, Lee was an assistant clinical professor in the law and psychiatry department at Yale for 17 years until the summer of 2020, when Yale declined to renew her contract. The precipitating offense? Tweeting about the retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.
Lee claims it was all Dershowitz’s doing: “Dershowitz’s pressure seems to be the reason why everything changed.” But Lee had long been one of her department’s most controversial members, thanks to her outspoken, boundary-pushing commentary about Donald Trump. Still, while her department chair, John Krystal, had never liked the public attention her comments attracted, he had tolerated them as long as she made it clear that she was not speaking on behalf of the department. As he noted in a 2018 talk: “We are an academic institution which respects free speech, but the department and the medical school do not issue statements regarding the mental status of public officials. We are committed to living with this tension.”
Lee has always been driven, she says, by a “sense of social mission,” reflected in her years of work on violence prevention. She strongly identifies with Greta Thunberg and other social-justice advocates. But Lee paid little attention to domestic politics until 2016. “The morning after Trump was elected president, I decided to do something because I was convinced that his administration was likely to increase violence,” she said. The following spring, Lee organized a conference at Yale titled “Does Professional Responsibility Include a Duty to Warn?” on the subject of Trump’s mental state and the ethics of psychiatrists diagnosing him from afar. She respected the Goldwater Rule — the ethical guideline designed to prevent psychiatrists from rendering a professional opinion of a public figure without first receiving permission and conducting an examination — but she also worried about “the risk of remaining silent.”
The conference led to a 2017 book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, which argued that Trump’s lack of “mental fitness” made him a threat to the nation. As Lee and Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Judith Herman put it in their introduction: “Delusional levels of grandiosity, impulsivity, and the compulsions of mental impairment, when combined with an authoritarian cult of personality and a contempt for the rule of law, are a toxic mix.” With contributions from 27 mental-health experts, the book, which sold more than 100,000 copies, claims that Trump likely suffers from a grave personality disorder such as malignant narcissism. Lee then began writing op-eds and emerged as a nationally prominent Trump critic. Being a Trump critic at Yale was not unusual, of course, but what raised eyebrows was the assertion that her critique had the weight of medical expertise behind it.
I’d like to point to another woman denied tenure at UNC because her research became a right-wing hysteria misadventure. Remember Nikole Hannahah-Jones? “Nikole Hannah-Jones’ delayed UNC tenure offer highlights political battle over critical race theory. Her 1619 Project is at the center of a debate about what public-school students can learn about race in America.” If anything, we should characterize 2021 as the year of silencing women. This is especially true of women of color.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s board of trustees voted on Wednesday to grant tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones after initially delaying the customary job protection for the incoming journalism professor, who is best known for her award-winning work reexamining how slavery shaped the United States’ founding.
The board’s vice chair, R. Gene Davis Jr., who was among those who voted to offer tenure to Hannah-Jones, said that UNC “is not a place to cancel people or ideas. Neither is it a place for judging people and calling them names, like woke or racist.”
“In this moment at our university, in our state, and in our nation, we need more debate, not less. We need more open inquiry, not less. We need more viewpoint diversity, not less. We need to listen to each other and not cancel each other, or call each other names. If not us, who?” Davis added in remarks after the 9-4 vote.
I still remember the women denied jobs in the Biden administration and treated horribly including one of my senators from the gret swampland of Republican Lousyanna. This was just a month ago! This wasn’t back in the McCarthy Era. But wait, another McCarthy and another McCarthy Era. This coverage is from Politico.
Saule Omarova, tapped to be comptroller of the currency, was met with resistance from Republicans over her advocacy for a dominant role for government in finance. One GOP lawmaker questioned the Cornell law professor, who was born in the former Soviet state of Kazakhstan, about her previous affiliation with a communist youth organization and asked if he should refer to her as “comrade.” Omarova vigorously denied having any sympathy with communist views.
This is from Roll Call published in early August. “Sexist comments followed by silence mar Alabama Senate race. Trump, congressman belittle female former Senate chief of staff.”
While Republicans are still celebrating electing a record number of women to the House in 2020, former President Donald Trump and a sitting member of Congress have resorted to sexist attacks in a Senate primary that won’t take place for another 10 months. Yet no one seems to care enough to condemn the comments publicly.
Katie Britt is one of a handful of Alabama Republicans running to replace GOP Sen. Richard C. Shelby, her former boss, who is not seeking reelection. Britt clearly touched a nerve among her competitors when she raised $2.2 million in less than a month after entering the race.
“I see that the RINO Senator from Alabama, close friend of Old Crow Mitch McConnell, Richard Shelby, is pushing hard to have his ‘assistant’ fight the great Mo Brooks for his Senate seat,” Trump said in a July 10 release, just a few days after Britt announced her second-quarter fundraising. “She is not in any way qualified and is certainly not what our Country needs or not what Alabama wants.”
Britt has compiled a serious résumé on and off Capitol Hill. The 37-year-old progressed from Shelby’s deputy press secretary to press secretary, earned her law degree and practiced law, then returned to the Hill as Shelby’s communications director and finally his chief of staff from 2016 to 2018. She was subsequently president and CEO of the Alabama Business Council before joining the Senate race. Calling Britt an “assistant” was clearly meant to belittle her.
“I was called that and assumed to be that more times than I can count,” said former chief of staff Kristin Nicholson, who ascended to the top job with Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin of Rhode Island at age 28. “But I never heard one of my male counterparts mistaken for a secretary.”
This warning was published in April of this year by The Centre for International Governance Innovation. It’s written by Marie Lamensch. “When Women Are Silenced Online, Democracy Suffers.”
“I would never ever, ever subject myself to that again. It has damaged my mental health. It has made me fear for the safety of my family. It has made me fear for my safety,” says former television anchor and political candidate Tamara Taggart.
In April, during a virtual discussion on cyber harassment of journalists and politicians, Taggart recounted the avalanche of online insults and disparaging comments she received during the 2019 federal elections. As a former journalist, she was not a stranger to working in a toxic environment, but the situation worsened dramatically when she decided to run for office. “If I had known how much abuse I would face, I would not have run,” she stated.
Taggart’s experience online is not an exception. Around the world, online violence against women is pervasive and endemic. Understanding its impact on women is fundamental to our understanding of the consequences for democracy.
We know that technologies are double-edged swords. Social media platforms such as Twitter have become de facto tools for politicians, journalists and activists, and there is no denying that participation in these spaces has many benefits, for women in particular. A global report by #ShePersisted, an organization that seeks to tackle gendered disinformation and online attacks against women in politics, shows that women involved in politics benefit from an online presence, particularly since traditional media remains biased toward them. Female politicians use these platforms to connect with communities, build an identity, and shape policies and political discourse.
However, social media platforms can also silence and delegitimize women who speak out. Whether in Canada, India and Pakistan, the Philippines, or the United Kingdom and the United States, it is well documented that women, particularly those in positions of leadership or activism, are subject to more online abuse than men. In 2018, a project by Amnesty and Element AI titled “Troll Patrol” found that female politicians and journalists in Britain and the United States are abused on Twitter every 30 seconds.
I’ve not even discussed violence or threats of violence here. We may see the end of access to the full constitutional rights of reproductive rights by mostly old white men on the Supreme Court. State Regulation of our bodies and choices and when and how to give birth is the ultimate silence of women’s moral agency. Suppression and silencing of women continue. This is an example from Australia
We can soon bid farewell to 2021. The past two years have been awful, thanks to Trump and Covid-19. Will 2022 be any better? We can only hope. For now, the new Omicron variant is infecting more people than ever before.
With a caseload nearly twice that of the worst days last winter, the United States shattered its record for new daily coronavirus cases, a milestone that may not adequately illustrate the rapid spread of the Delta and Omicron variants because testing has slowed over the holidays.
As a second year of living with the pandemic was drawing to a close, the new daily case total topped 488,000 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times database. (The total was higher on Monday, but that number should not be considered a record because it included data from the long holiday weekend.)
Wednesday’s seven-day average of new daily cases, 301,000, was also a record, compared with 267,000 the day before, according to the database. In the past week, more than two million cases have been reported nationally, and 15 states and territories reported more cases than in any other seven-day period.
The rise in cases has been driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant, which became dominant in the United States as of last week. So far, however, those increased cases have not resulted in more severe disease, as hospitalizations have increased only 11 percent and deaths have decreased slightly in the past two weeks.
Because Covid tests have been in short supply over the holidays, Wednesday’s numbers still may not fully illustrate the havoc caused by the two variants, which have sent caseloads soaring and have worsened a labor shortage, upending the hospitality, medical and travel industries, among others.
Demand for tests has outstripped supply, particularly in the last month as the Omicron variant has spread at an astonishing speed. And the holiday season offers its own disruptions to the U.S. case curve, with many testing sites offering limited hours and labs and government offices not open to report test results.
Last year, the national case curve showed pronounced declines after Thanksgiving and Christmas that did not reflect real decreases in new infections. The impact of holidays may be even more noticeable this time around, as illustrated by the Labor Day holiday in September, because states are reporting data less consistently than they did a year ago.
Head over to the NYT if you want more details.
Massachusetts is one of the most highly vaccinated states, but case numbers here are hitting record highs. CBS Boston: Massachusetts Reports New Single Day Record Of 15,163 COVID Cases, Positivity Rate Also Hits New High.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported 15,163 new confirmed COVID cases on Wednesday, a new single day record. The previous record was set last week when the state reported 10,040 new cases on Christmas Eve.
As of Wednesday, the seven-day weighted average of positive tests in Massachusetts had also increased to 13.58%, also a new record high.
There were also 45 additional deaths reported Wednesday.
Health officials said the total number of confirmed cases in the state is now 1,017,429. The total number of confirmed deaths is now 19,737.
There were 91,974 total new tests reported.
There are 1,711 people currently hospitalized for a coronavirus-related illness.
There are also 392 patients currently in intensive care.
Governor Baker plans to speak about the crisis later today. It’s happening everywhere.
According to an expert quoted in this article at The Washington Post, most people are probably going to get the virus eventually. We just have to hope the vaccinations protect us from serious illness and death.
Across the nation and the world, people who thought they knew how to avoid covid are getting a rude surprise. Safety precautions that had for so long felt talismanic ― get vaccinated, mask up, avoid large indoor gatherings — have in the past week or two collapsed under the weight of omicron, a much more highly transmissible variant than the ones before it.
Schools and colleges returned to virtual learning. Flights were canceled as airline staff caught the virus. Long-anticipated holiday plans fell apart as people — young and old, vaccinated and unvaccinated — tested positive right and left. Those with negative tests worried it was only a matter of time.
They are likely right, according to Robert Frenck, professor of pediatrics and director of the Vaccine Research Center at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “You know what? You’re probably going to get covid,” he said, but if you have been vaccinated you are unlikely to become seriously ill.
Instead of thinking they lost the race against the virus, Frenck encouraged people to redefine their concept of winning. “It’s not that you failed,” he said. “You actually succeeded. You dodged the bullet. … What are people trying to prevent? Are we trying to prevent the common cold? Nobody’s going to do that. You’ve gotten your booster, you’ve done everything, and you still get covid, but how sick did you get?”
For most infected people with vaccines, he said, “What they’re having is a cold.”
People misunderstand what the vaccine is designed to do, Frenck said, adding that unvaccinated people are dying at a rate 20 times higher than people who are vaccinated and boosted. “Vaccines are going to stop people from being hospitalized and from ending up in the ICU and from dying,” he said. “This is nature saying, it hasn’t gone away now, and we need to go out and get vaccinated.”
Vaccinated people are dying from breakthrough cases though. Here are the latest numbers from Massachusetts: 20,247 New Breakthrough Cases in Mass., 70 More Deaths in Vaccinated People.
Massachusetts health officials on Tuesday reported more than 20,000 new breakthrough COVID cases over the past week and 70 more deaths.
In the last week, 20,247 new breakthrough cases — infections in people who have been vaccinated — were reported, with 353 more vaccinated people hospitalized, Massachusetts Department of Public Health officials said Tuesday. It’s a 45% increase in the rate of new breakthrough cases in Massachusetts — last week saw 13,919 new COVID infections in vaccinated people — but a decrease in the number of deaths among vaccinated people.
The new report brings the total number of breakthrough cases to 134,565, and the death toll among people with breakthrough infections to 854.
Both figures remain a tiny percentage of the total number of all people who have been vaccinated.
Yes, the numbers are relatively small, but I wonder how many people who died are in my elderly age group?
The Washington Post reports that Coronavirus risk calculations get harder as a study suggests rapid tests may be less effective at detecting omicron.
As the coronavirus spawns a record-breaking wave of infections, new research suggests that rapid tests widely used to identify potential covid-19 cases might be less effective at identifying illness caused by the swiftly spreading omicron variant.
Unfortunately, the truth is that we still don’t know very much about the Omicron variant. I just hope the reports that it is milder than previous versions of the virus hold true.
In other news, Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty yesterday. NBC News: Ghislaine Maxwell convicted of federal sex trafficking charges for role in Jeffrey Epstein’s abuses.
British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted Wednesday of five federal sex trafficking charges after a jury concluded that she played a pivotal part in recruiting and grooming teenage girls to be sexually abused by her close confidant, the wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Maxwell was found guilty of five of the six federal counts she was charged with and faces up to 65 years in prison. The judge has not set a sentencing date.
The jury of six men and six women reached the verdict in the federal sex trafficking trial in New York City after six days of deliberations that bookended the holiday weekend. As deliberations dragged on, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, who oversaw the case, worried that the omicron variant of the coronavirus and rising case numbers in the city could lead to a mistrial, and she had told the jury that if no verdict were reached, it would have to deliberate through the holiday weekend.
Late Wednesday, however, the jury came to its conclusion.
Maxwell was convicted of conspiracy to entice a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors and sex trafficking of minors.
She was not found guilty of enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, which carried a five-year sentence.
According to Insider, Maxwell can either appeal or turn on other people who were involved with Epstein: After her guilty verdict, Ghislaine Maxwell has two options: Cooperate with investigators and start naming names or appeal the decision. Either way, she may face decades in prison.
In light of the conviction, she has two paths forward, and neither one may keep her from spending significant time behind bars.
“Maxwell truly has two options: She can fight this case and take it up on appeal, where she will likely face a 65-year sentence, or she can start issuing some names of who else was involved for a substantially lighter sentence,” said Matthew Barhoma, a criminal-appeals lawyer in Los Angeles….
Neama Rahmani, the president of West Coast Trial Lawyers and a former federal prosecutor, told Insider that he didn’t believe Maxwell had a legal basis to appeal, but that he expected she would anyway.
“She’s going to appeal because otherwise, she’s going to die in federal prison,” Rahmani said. He added that he believed the prosecution’s case against Maxwell was strong.
Barhoma agreed, but said he thought Maxwell could have some strong claims in an appeals process….
Even if Maxwell had some success in the appeals process and the case was retried, prosecutors would still likely get a conviction, based on the strength of their case and the other accusers’ testimonies, Barhoma said. It was extremely unlikely, he said, that the conviction would be thrown out entirely.
Read more at the link.
In politics news, this is a scary piece by Nicholas Riccardi at AP: ‘Slow-motion insurrection’: How GOP seizes election power.
In the weeks leading up to the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, a handful of Americans — well-known politicians, obscure local bureaucrats — stood up to block then-President Donald Trump’s unprecedented attempt to overturn a free and fair vote of the American people.
In the year since, Trump-aligned Republicans have worked to clear the path for next time.
In battleground states and beyond, Republicans are taking hold of the once-overlooked machinery of elections. While the effort is incomplete and uneven, outside experts on democracy and Democrats are sounding alarms, warning that the United States is witnessing a “slow-motion insurrection” with a better chance of success than Trump’s failed power grab last year.
They point to a mounting list of evidence: Several candidates who deny Trump’s loss are running for offices that could have a key role in the election of the next president in 2024. In Michigan, the Republican Party is restocking members of obscure local boards that could block approval of an election. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the GOP-controlled legislatures are backing open-ended “reviews” of the 2020 election, modeled on a deeply flawed look-back in Arizona. The efforts are poised to fuel disinformation and anger about the 2020 results for years to come.
All this comes as the Republican Party has become more aligned behind Trump, who has made denial of the 2020 results a litmus test for his support. Trump has praised the Jan. 6 rioters and backed primaries aimed at purging lawmakers who have crossed him. Sixteen GOP governors have signed laws making it more difficult to vote. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll showed that two-thirds of Republicans do not believe Democrat Joe Biden was legitimately elected as president.
“It’s not clear that the Republican Party is willing to accept defeat anymore,” said Steven Levitsky, a Harvard political scientist and co-author of the book “How Democracies Die.” “The party itself has become an anti-democratic force.”
Republicans who sound alarms are struggling to be heard by their own party. GOP Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming or Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, members of a House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, are often dismissed as party apostates.
One more before I wrap up this depressing post. NPR: As the Jan. 6 attack anniversary nears, one Capitol officer fears a violent repeat.
“This is how I’m going to die.”
That’s what U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell thought on Jan. 6, 2021 as an angry mob stormed the Capitol and dragged him by the leg.
“I could feel myself losing oxygen and recall thinking to myself, ‘This is how I’m going to die, trampled defending this entrance,'” he said last July before a House Select Committee investigating the riot that disrupted a joint session of Congress as it affirmed the results of the presidential election.
On that January day, Gonell was assigned to guard the west entrance to the Capitol, which he’s described as a “medieval battleground”.
Nearly a year later, the emigrant from the Dominican Republic still can’t raise his left arm due to injuries he sustained during the attack, and the psychological wounds have also not healed for him or his family.
Gunnell says he and some fellow officers believe it will happen again.
“A lot of the officers have in mind the possibility of this being a recurring annual or every four year thing, which is why officers like myself are being outspoken about it, because we don’t want to go through this again,” Gonell said.
Nevertheless, he says he would, if it’s required of him.
“It’s mind boggling to hear some of the things that are coming from some of these elected officials. But at the end of the day, our job is to make them safe and make their work environment safer, regardless of our opinion or political affiliation,” Gonell said.
Read more at NPR.
I hope you all have a peaceful Thursday and a relaxing long weekend. Take care Sky Dancers!
Cartoons via Cagle:
And with that, have a merry day…this is an open thread.
Good Day Sky Dancers!
This isn’t a particularly newsy day. I’m actually thinking that might be a good thing if only most of the headlines I see weren’t about Covid-19 and the upcoming anniversary of the sedition insurrection. I’m going to take the time to dig into some other things. That’s an accidental hint because the first thing I’m going to share appeals to the kid in me that wanted to be an archeologist and you know, digging up bones and pottery of some lost tribes.
This is from NPR and involves the “big” finds of 2021 as determined by members of Trowelblazers which is “a group of four female archaeologists of different specialties dedicated to highlighting the historic and integral role of women in the “digging sciences”.” The first discovery is that of a family group of Neandertals–including children–whose footprints show that gathering may have been a family business. Is this a precursor to the family picnic?
While these aren’t the first Neanderthal footprints to be discovered, they are very special.
“This is especially nice, because it’s a group – mixed age, including children, some of which are quite young. They seem to be sort of foraging around on the edge of a lagoon,” Wragg Sykes said.
The diversity in age is key here and actually helps to challenge a common assumption that Neanderthals foraged in solitude, with the adults peeling off from the group to find food for the children.
The discovery instead gives support to the theory that hunting and gathering might have been a family affair, involving a collaborative and intergenerational effort.
Adorably, the paper also noted that some of the footprints which belonged to children were “grouped in a chaotic arrangement,” as if they were playing.
“That’s an angle on the Neanderthal life that we don’t often get to see,” Wragg Sykes said, adding that the discovery helps give a sense of humanity to this not-so-distant human relative.
Other finds include powerful women in ancient Spanish society, a million-year-old mammoth, and early tracks in Tanzania that were previously thought to belong to bears but instead, the prints “are an estimated 3.6 million years old, are the oldest evidence of bipedal locomotion of a human ancestor.” It’s a really interesting set of reads.
We lost another American feminist icon this week. “Sarah Weddington, Who Successfully Argued Roe v. Wade, Dies at 76. She went before the U.S. Supreme Court at 26 with almost no legal experience and won one of the most consequential cases in American history.” This is from her NYT Obit.
The Supreme Court first heard appeals on Dec. 13, 1971, with Ms. Weddington making the oral arguments.
“Weddington enjoyed the public stage as much as Coffee disliked it,” Joshua Prager, a journalist, wrote in Vanity Fair in 2017. “Moreover, despite her brilliance, Coffee could come across as bedraggled. And optics mattered. ‘She was younger than I was,’ Coffee said of Weddington. ‘She was blond, blue-eyed.’”
Jay Floyd, who was representing Texas, opened his argument with what commentators have called the “worst joke in legal history.” “It’s an old joke,” Mr. Floyd told the court, “but when a man argues against two beautiful ladies like this, they are going to have the last word.”
As it happened, only seven of the nine justices heard the arguments that day — two others had retired and had not yet been replaced. The justices then decided that the case should be reargued before the full court. All justices were sitting when Ms. Weddington came back on Oct. 11, 1972, and reargued the case.
Their 7-2 decision held that Texas had violated Roe’s constitutional right to privacy as outlined in the First, Fourth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments.
The decision was widely praised at the time. But with the rise of the religious right a few years later, abortion became a volcanic political issue, and it remains one of the most divisive in American society. Ms. Weddington received death threats and often traveled with security.
An important case in voting rights today will be heard in the Ohio Supreme Court. It concerns the highly gerrymandered new congressional districts. Governor DeWine’s son is on the bench and refused to recuse himself. Given the Governor is one of the parties being sued by the ACLU the people there should be outraged. The hearing is being broadcast live here.
Today’s Oral Arguments: 2021-1428/ Regina C. Adams, et al. v. Governor Mike DeWine, et al. 2021-1449 League of Women Voters of Ohio, et al. v. Ohio Redistricting Commission, et al.
This article discusses how Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine’s refusal to recuse himself from the lawsuit involving his father may be unprecedented. It’s from Cleveland.com. It is written by Cory Schaffer.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Patrick DeWine’s refusal to recuse himself from trio of redistricting lawsuits, in which his father — Gov. Mike DeWine — is a defendant who will testify as a witness, might be unprecedented.
Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer set out to find a case where the Ohio Supreme Court’s chief justice considered whether a judge, at any court level, should be allowed to preside over a case in which his or her parent or child was a participant. The outlet searched through dozens of cases where the chief justice was asked to force a judge off of a case. Cleveland.com also spoke with multiple attorneys, all of whom declined to comment for this story.
Okay, one article on what we’re learning about what could’ve happened on sedition day. This is from TPM: “EXCLUSIVE: There Was ANOTHER Rally Planned On Jan. 6 … At The Supreme Court. The same people who organized Trump’s fateful rally on the Ellipse had something else in store on Jan. 6: a rally planned in front of the Supreme Court.” Josh Kovensky has the byline.
The same people who organized Trump’s fateful rally on the Ellipse had something else in store on Jan. 6: a separate, previously unreported rally planned in front of the Supreme Court.
According to text messages and invoices obtained by TPM and provided to the House Jan. 6 Committee, the rally outside of the Supreme Court was set for the afternoon of Jan. 6 with some of the same speakers scheduled to appear.
The plan for a Supreme Court rally after the event at the Ellipse reveals a new and different perspective on the geography and timing of the attack on the Capitol.
We already knew that President Trump amassed supporters at the Ellipse, at the White House end of Pennsylvania Avenue, and dispatched them toward the Capitol end of Pennsylvania Avenue, declaring that he would walk with them before promptly returning to the White House. But whether the rally at the Ellipse was planned as a march on the Capitol, even though it was never issued a march permit, remains a hotly contested issue. Regardless, rioters penetrated the Capitol even as the President was still speaking at the Ellipse.
But now TPM’s reporting suggests that the Ellipse rally organizers intended to hold a separate 2 p.m. ET event on the steps of the Supreme Court, across the street from the Capitol, where Congress began certifying the Electoral College vote at noon ET. It suggests that organizers wanted to keep up the pressure on Congress through an event far closer to the Capitol.
And to get there, Big Lie supporters would have had to walk past the Capitol building, traversing a geographic bit of irony: Constitution Avenue.
It’s a long read but try to skim through it at least. The Augusta Chronicle reports that the county is closing 7 of 8 polling places in Lincoln County Georgia. The county is deep in rural Georgia. Officials argue that one location will make it more convenient for people to vote. The county is heavily black and has no public transportation.
Lincoln County is trying to close all but one polling place for next year’s elections, a move opposed by voting and civil rights groups.
Relocating voters from the county’s seven precincts to a single location will make voting “easier and more accessible” and eliminate the need to transport voting equipment and staff the remaining sites, according to a news release. Community members disagreed.
“Lincoln County is a very rural county. Some people live as far as 23 miles from the city of Lincolnton,” said Denise Freeman, an activist and former Lincoln County school board member. “This is not about convenience for the citizens. This is about control. This is about the good old boys wanting to do what they’ve always done, which is power and control.”
The move was made possible after the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation earlier this year disbanding the Lincoln County Board of Elections. The chief sponsor of Senate bills 282 and 283 was Sen. Lee Anderson, R-Grovetown, whose district includes Lincoln County. The newly-appointed board agreed to move forward with the “consolidation” plan and was expected to vote on it last week, but appeared to lack a quorum, several said.
I imagine they will keep trying just like the Radical Republican Right did in Texas. I intend to keep my jaded eyes on gerrymandering cases and voting rights and that is my new year’s resolution. Oh, that and spending a lot more time in my PJs with a cuppa!
So, that’s enough for me today. Thanks to BB for helping me out yesterday! I made it through my last dentist appointment for the year. I intend to continue to stay in my pjs doing exactly what I want this week.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today? Meanwhile, surry down to a Stoned Soul Picnic!
Over the weekend we lost two giants of biology and the study of biodiversity.
The New York Times: E.O. Wilson, a Pioneer of Evolutionary Biology, Dies at 92.
Edward O. Wilson, a biologist and author who conducted pioneering work on biodiversity, insects and human nature — and won two Pulitzer Prizes along the way — died on Sunday in Burlington, Mass. He was 92.
His death was announced on Monday by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. A cause of death was not given….
“Ed’s holy grail was the sheer delight of the pursuit of knowledge,” Paula J. Ehrlich, chief executive and president of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation said in a statement. “A relentless synthesizer of ideas, his courageous scientific focus and poetic voice transformed our way of understanding ourselves and our planet.”
When Dr. Wilson began his career in evolutionary biology in the 1950s, the study of animals and plants seemed to many scientists like a quaint, obsolete hobby. Molecular biologists were getting their first glimpses of DNA, proteins and other invisible foundations of life. Dr. Wilson made it his life’s work to put evolution on an equal footing.
“How could our seemingly old-fashioned subjects achieve new intellectual rigor and originality compared to molecular biology?” Dr. Wilson recalled in 2009. He answered his own question by pioneering new fields of research.
As an expert on insects, Dr. Wilson studied the evolution of behavior, exploring how natural selection and other forces could produce something as extraordinarily complex as an ant colony. He then championed this kind of research as a way of making sense of all behavior — including our own.
As part of his campaign, Dr. Wilson wrote a string of books that influenced his fellow scientists while also gaining a broad public audience. “On Human Nature” won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1979; “The Ants,” which Dr. Wilson wrote with his longtime colleague Bert Hölldobler, won him his second Pulitzer in 1991.
Dr. Wilson also became a pioneer in the study of biological diversity, developing a mathematical approach to questions about why different places have different numbers of species. Later in his career, Dr. Wilson became one of the world’s leading voices for the protection of endangered wildlife.
National Geographic: Thomas Lovejoy, renowned biologist who coined ‘biological diversity,’ dies at 80.
Thomas Lovejoy, a well-known American conservation biologist who coined the term “biological diversity” in 1980, died on December 25 at the age of 80. Lovejoy, who lived in northern Virginia, spent more than 50 years working in the Amazon rainforest, founding the nonprofit Amazon Biodiversity Center and bringing worldwide attention to the threats of tropical deforestation. In 1971, he received his first grant from the National Geographic Society, becoming an Explorer at Large in 2019.
“To know Tom was to know an extraordinary scientist, professor, advisor, and unyielding champion for our planet,” said Jill Tiefenthaler, the Society’s CEO, in a statement. “He was also a consummate connector, helping bring people and organizations together to preserve and protect some of our most fragile ecosystems and cornerstone species.”
In 1980, he also published the first estimate of global extinction rates, correctly projecting that by the early 21st century a huge number of species would be lost forever. Lovejoy, who held a Ph.D. in biology from Yale University, advised three administrations, the United Nations Foundation, the World Bank, and other organizations on how to protect species and advance the field of conservation biology. Since 2010, Lovejoy served as a professor in environmental science and policy at George Mason University in Virginia.
“Tom was a giant in the world of ecology and conservation,” said Enric Sala, a National Geographic Explorer in Residence. “But most importantly, he was a wonderful mentor and extremely generous with his students, colleagues, and friends.”
Despite his focus on some of the world’s toughest environmental challenges, Lovejoy remained an optimist. “We all have an interest in fixing this before it gets badly out of hand, and it’s getting close to that,” Lovejoy told National Geographic in 2015, speaking about climate change. “There are things we can do together. There are energy and innovation possibilities. There are biological solutions that would benefit everyone.
Donald Trump Jr. recently slammed the teaching of Jesus. Relevant: Biblical Scholar Donald Trump Jr. Tells Young Conservatives That Following the Bible Has ‘Gotten Us Nothing.’
On Sunday [December 19], Turning Point USA hosted Donald Trump Jr. where he praised a crowd of young conservatives as “the frontline of freedom” but cautioned that following biblical teaching like “turn the other cheek” was holding them back and has “gotten us nothing.”
“If we band together, we can take on these institutions,” Trump told the crowd in Arizona. “That’s where we’ve gone wrong for a long time.”
“They cannot cancel us all,” he continued. “This will be contrary to a lot of our beliefs because I’d love not to have to participate in cancel culture. I’d love that it didn’t exist. But as long as it does, folks, we better be playing the same game.”
“We’ve turned the other cheek and I understand sort of the biblical reference — I understand the mentality — but it’s gotten us nothing,” Trump said. “OK? It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution.”
Trump is more correct than he probably knows here. Christianity is a poor device for gaining worldly influence. Nearly every page of the Gospels has stories of Jesus refusing earthly power and exhorting his followers to do the same. In fact, there are few things Jesus talked as much about as the upside down Kingdom of God where “the last shall be first” and “blessed are the meek.” Moreover, he cautioned against seeking earthly influence, going so far as to proclaim “woe to you who are rich.” The most cursory reading of Scripture would leave anyone with the sense that this is not a manual for getting stuff.
Peter Wehner wrote about Don Jr.’s “values” at The Atlantic: The Gospel of Donald Trump Jr.
Donald Trump Jr. is both intensely unappealing and uninteresting. He combines in his person corruption, ineptitude, and banality. He is perpetually aggrieved; obsessed with trolling the left; a crude, one-dimensional figure who has done a remarkably good job of keeping from public view any redeeming qualities he might have.
There’s a case to be made that he’s worth ignoring, except for this: Don Jr. has been his father’s chief emissary to MAGA world; he’s one of the most popular figures in the Republican Party; and he’s influential with Republicans in positions of power. He’s also attuned to what appeals to the base of the GOP. So, from time to time, it is worth paying attention to what he has to say.
Trump spoke at a Turning Point USA gathering on December 19. He displayed seething, nearly pathological resentments; playground insults (he led the crowd in “Let’s Go, Brandon” chants); tough guy/average Joe shtick; and a pulsating sense of aggrieved victimhood and persecution, all of it coming from the elitist, extravagantly rich son of a former president.
Wehner notes Jr.’s reference to Jesus’s teachings of loving our enemies and “turning the other cheek” when they attack us.
Throughout his speech, Don Jr. painted a scenario in which Trump supporters—Americans living in red America—are under relentless attack from a wicked and brutal enemy. He portrayed it as an existential battle between good and evil. One side must prevail; the other must be crushed. This in turn justifies any necessary means to win. And the former president’s son has a message for the tens of millions of evangelicals who form the energized base of the GOP: the scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers. The teachings of Jesus have “gotten us nothing.” It’s worse than that, really; the ethic of Jesus has gotten in the way of successfully prosecuting the culture wars against the left. If the ethic of Jesus encourages sensibilities that might cause people in politics to act a little less brutally, a bit more civilly, with a touch more grace? Then it needs to go….
The problem is that the Trumpian ethic hasn’t been confined to the Trump family. We saw that not just in the enthusiastic and at times impassioned response of the Turning Point USA crowd to Don Jr.’s speech but nearly every day in the words and actions of Republicans in positions of power. Donald Trump and his oldest son have become evangelists of a different kind.
While we’re on the subject of Trumpian so-called “christians,” MSNBC opinion columnist Jarvis DeBerry writes: White evangelicals dying of Covid after denouncing vaccines are wasting martyrdom.
This year we’ve seen a number of conservative personalities, including the late evangelical leaders Marcus Lamb and Jimmy DeYoung, who succumbed to Covid-19 after minimizing the risks of the disease or making disparaging remarks about the vaccines. What is such opposition if not an arrogant attempt to put God to the test, no less problematic, say, than stepping off a great height and counting on being caught by angels?
A personal decision not to take Covid-19 seriously is bad enough. Even worse, though, is a personnel decision to fire those who do. When evangelical Christian radio host Dave Ramsey fired video editor Brad Amos on July 31, Amos responded with a lawsuit against Ramsey Solutions that claims Ramsey thought taking steps to avoid infection showed a “weakness of spirit.” A spokesperson for the company told McClatchy News that Amos was “fired during a meeting to discuss his poor performance with his leaders, where he insulted his most senior leader. He was not terminated for his religious beliefs or how he wanted to handle COVID.”
Weeks later, the National Religious Broadcasters fired spokesperson Daniel Darling after he said in a USA Today op-ed and on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that getting vaccinated was his way of obeying the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself. The NRB has stated that on the matter of vaccines, it is “neutral.”
The demands for religious exemptions to Covid-19 vaccination mandates may have Americans convinced that to be religious in America means to be recklessly indifferent to Covid’s dangers. But a December poll from the Public Religion Research Institute finds that at least 60 percent of Jewish Americans, Hispanic Protestants, Hispanic Catholics, white Catholics, Latter-day Saints and “other Christians” believe “there are no valid religious reasons to refuse a vaccine.” The PRRI also finds that at least 50 percent of Black Protestants, other Protestants of color, white mainline Protestants and “other non-Christian religious Americans” share that view.
That leaves white evangelicals by themselves as the only religious group in the country in which fewer than half — in this case, 41 percent — agree that there are no valid religious reasons for such a refusal.
Read the rest at MSNBC.
Stephen Collinson at CNN: Trump and the January 6 committee are now locked in a full-on confrontation.
Hugo Lowell at The Guardian: Capitol panel to investigate Trump call to Willard hotel in hours before attack.
Kelly Weill at The Daily Beast: Pro-Trump Group Invented Voter Fraud Claims Months Before Election.
Evan Osnos at The New Yorker: Dan Bongino and the Big Business of Returning Trump to Power.
Ian Millhiser at Vox: Just how much is Trump’s judiciary sabotaging the Biden presidency?
Raw Story: Biden-slurring dad Jared Schmeck goes full MAGA on Steve Bannon’s podcast: ‘The election was 100% stolen’
What’s on your mind today?