Rockin’ New Year’s Eve Reads: Goodbye to a Year of Silencing WomenPosted: December 31, 2021
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