Christmas Eve Caturday Reads

Good Morning!!

Orovida Camille Pissarro

By Camille Pissarro

I’m still coughing constantly, so not at my best; but I’ll see what news I can find to share with you on this freezing cold Christmas Eve.

First up, I want to recommend this lengthy article at the New York Times Magazine by Dan Draper and Luke Broadwater: Inside the Jan. 6 Committee. Power struggles, resignations and made-for-TV moments — the untold story of the most important congressional investigation in generations.

The story is really fascinating and reads like a political thriller. The authors explain how the Committee carefully structured its presentations with the help of former TV executive James Goldston. Everything in the hearings was very deliberate and planned out. From the article:

One afternoon in early May, a lanky, bespectacled and mostly bald 53-year-old British American named James Goldston sat in a conference room in the Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. House Office Building before the expectant gazes of 25 or so men and women: the staff of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. For almost a year, they had been amassing evidence against former President Donald J. Trump and his associates. In less than a month, the committee would be presenting this evidence in a succession of live televised hearings. Goldston, who had left his position as president of ABC News a year earlier, had just been hired by the committee to assist in this endeavor.

“So what have we got?” he asked the staff members.

Quite a lot, replied the committee’s lead investigator, Tim Heaphy, a former U.S. attorney. The committee staff had conducted nearly 1,000 witness interviews. It had collected over a million pages of documents from the National Archives and other sources. It had obtained hundreds of phone records, in addition to thousands of text messages sent by and to Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff. The committee’s cache of visual material included hundreds of hours of never-before-seen footage that security cameras captured during the attack.

The committee’s chairman, Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, and its vice chairwoman, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, had worked with the staff to organize the hearings around seven specific methods by which Trump and his allies sought to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election: the willful spreading of lies that the election had been stolen; trying to coerce the Department of Justice into disputing the election results; pressuring Vice President Mike Pence; pressuring state and local officials; seeking to recruit phony electors in several contested states; summoning a mob to Washington; and then, upon inciting that mob, sitting back for more than three hours and doing nothing to stop the violence. The idea, Heaphy said, was for every hearing to include a significant audiovisual representation of the evidence the staff had gathered.

I can’t possibly summarize this long story, but here’s just a bit more. I do hope you’ll go read it; it’s really excellent.

The most consequential congressional committee in generations was immersed in high drama from beginning to end. It originated six months after a domestic siege of the Capitol. It devoted a year to seeking evidence from sources who were often reluctant or even hostile. It then presented that evidence in the form of captivating televised hearings that were watched by more than 10 million Americans at a time, leading up to the November 2022 midterms in which a clear majority cast their ballots against election denialism. And then the committee concluded its work by making history with its criminal referrals of a former president to the Department of Justice.

Mujer con gato - Sonya Grassman

Mujer con gato – Sonya Grassman

But the inner workings of the Jan. 6 committee — members of Congress, lawyers, video producers and assorted staff members totaling about 80 people tasked with investigating a violent attack on American democracy and a sitting president’s role in that attack — have been almost completely shrouded from public view. Through extensive interviews with all nine of the committee’s members and numerous senior staff members and key witnesses, we have been able to reconstruct a previously unreported account of the committee’s fevered, fraught and often chaotic race to a finish line that has always been understood to be Jan. 3, 2023, when the new Congress is sworn in and a new Republican majority in the House would immediately dissolve the committee. Those same efforts took place at a time when the Republican Party was resolutely united behind the committee’s principal target, Trump, with politicians and voters alike joining the former president in lustily condemning the inquiry at every opportunity.

The committee’s first few months were rocky, even “tumultuous,” in the words of one member, as the lawmakers struggled to plot out a strategy to investigate what they saw as a sprawling, complex conspiracy. It was only after they hired around a dozen former federal prosecutors, including two U.S. attorneys and a lawyer who helped put the drug lord known as El Chapo in prison, that things began to get serious: The committee sent requests to telecommunications companies to preserve phone and text records of some 700 potential witnesses. Soon, witnesses started agreeing to testify, with dozens of interviews coming in a week. If a high-ranking Trump official refused to comply, the committee tried to bring in an aide. If the aide refused, the former prosecutors went after the aide’s aide.

Some of the most interesting parts of the story focus on Nancy Pelosi’s decision to ask Liz Cheney to join the Committee and Cheney’s very important role in the investigation. Whatever you think of her politics, Cheney is a remarkable woman.

Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post: The Jan. 6 report’s most important finding: Trump enabled extremist groups.

It will take weeks to absorb the massive, 845-page report from the House Jan. 6 select committee. No doubt, certain sections will receive more attention than others, such as Chapter 1, about Donald Trump’s role in constructing election lies, and Chapter 7, about the near-total absence of White House records during the four-hour siege of the U.S. Capitol. (Was any evidence destroyed?)

But from a historical, legal and national security perspective, the most alarming information comes in Chapters 6 and 8 and Appendix 1. Those sections cover the right-wing extremists who jointly planned and executed the violent uprising — and the degree to which Trump enabled their attack.

First and foremost, the report busts a myth promoted by right-wing apologists that because some insurrectionists began the assault on the Capitol before Trump concluded his “Stop the Steal” speech, he was not the inspiration for the attack. Wrong.

Chapter 6 details the degree to which members of extremist groups (e.g., Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Three Percenters) seized upon Trump’s “big lie” of a stolen election. They heard his call to come to D.C. and believed he wanted them to do what was needed to keep him in power. The Proud Boys planned to move ahead of the crowd, which later — at Trump’s instruction — followed them down Pennsylvania Avenue.

In Chapter 8, the report details the early removal of barricades at the Peace Circle by the Proud Boys and their associates. That cleared the way for thousands of protesters to move down Pennsylvania Avenue directly to the Capitol. That provides evidence of the meticulous preparation that went into the assault.

Much of the country experienced a huge winter storm yesterday, and today millions of people are being hit with record cold temperatures. 

Read more at the WaPo.

CNN: At least 9 dead as massive winter storm leaves more than a million without power and bitter cold across much of US.

A massive winter storm battered the US on Friday with frigid temperatures, high winds and heavy snow, leaving at least nine people dead, knocking out power to over a million customers and wrecking holiday plans from coast to coast.

Pierre-John Maurel

By Pierre-John Maurel

The storm – expected to intensify throughout Friday as it barrels through the Midwest and East – is making for grim road conditions with poor visibility and ice-covered streets. Coastal flooding is also an issue, particularly along the shorelines of the Northeast.

All modes of travel – planes, trains and automobiles – were being disrupted: There were hundreds of miles of road closures and flight cancellations were growing rapidly. In New York, flooding along the Long Island Rail Road forced part of the Long Beach branch to temporarily shut down.

“Christmas is canceled,” said Mick Saunders, a Buffalo, New York, resident who was two hours into blizzard conditions that are expected to last through Sunday morning. “All family and friends agreed it’s safer this way.”

At least 9 deaths have been reported since Wednesday.

In north-central Kansas, three people were killed in separate car crashes on Wednesday evening; one death was confirmed to be weather-related, and two were believed to be weather-related but need more investigation, according to Kansas Highway Patrol spokesperson Lt. Candice Breshears.

In Kansas City, one person died after losing control of their Dodge Caravan on icy roads Thursday afternoon, according to the Kansas City Police Department. “The Dodge went down the embankment, over the cement retaining wall and landed upside down, submerged in Brush Creek,” police said in a statement.

In Kentucky, three people died due to the storm, including two in vehicle crashes and the other a “housing insecure” person in Louisville, Gov. Andy Beshear said. The man’s body was found outside with no obvious signs of trauma and an autopsy would determine the cause of death, police said.

And in Ohio, four people have died “as a result of weather-related auto accidents” and several others have been injured, according to Gov. Mike DeWine.

Life threatening cold has pushed all the way to the Gulf Coast and the Mexican border, with below zero wind chills reported as far south as Austin and Atlanta. Many locations in the eastern US are in for their coldest Christmas Eve in decades as the Arctic blast reaches its peak.

More than one million customers in the US are experiencing power outages amid the winter weather and frigid temperatures, according to the website PowerOutage.US. Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania have the most outages.

Mother and Cat, Mine Ocubo

Mother and Cat, by Mine Ocubo

In Georgia, Fulton County DA Fani Willis’s grand jury investigating the Trump gang’s interference in the state’s 2020 presidential election has finished its work.

AP: Georgia special grand jury wraps up probe of Trump, allies.

A special grand jury investigating whether then-President Donald Trump and his allies illegally tried to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election in Georgia appears to be wrapping up its work, but many questions remain.

The investigation is one of several that could result in criminal charges against the former president as he asks voters to return him to the White House in 2024.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who began investigating nearly two years ago, has said she will go where the facts lead. It would be an extraordinary step if she chooses to bring charges against Trump himself.

“Even if he’s acquitted by a jury, for him to face trial and to have a public trial with evidence on the record would be an epic thing for American history,” Georgia State University law professor Clark Cunningham said….

Over about six months, the grand jurors have considered evidence and heard testimony from dozens of witnesses, including high-profile Trump associates and top state officials. A prosecutor on Willis’ team said during a hearing in November that they had few witnesses left and didn’t anticipate the special grand jury continuing much longer.

The grand jurors are expected to produce a final report with recommendations on potential further action. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who’s supervising the panel, will review the report and recommend to the court’s chief judge that the special grand jury be dissolved. The judges of the county Superior Court will then vote on whether to let the special grand jurors go or whether more investigation is necessary.

The special grand jury cannot issue indictments. Willis will decide whether to go to a regular grand jury to pursue criminal charges.

Click the link to read the rest.

This seems like a big deal. The New York Times: The F.D.A. Now Says It Plainly: Morning-After Pills Are Not Abortion Pills.

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday significantly changed the information that will be in every box of the most widely used emergency contraceptive pills to make clear that they do not prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. The agency explained in an accompanying document that the products cannot be described as abortion pills.

Up to now, packages of the brand-name pill, Plan B One-Step, as well as generic versions of it have said that the pill might work by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb — language that scientific evidence did not support. That wording led some abortion opponents and politicians who equate a fertilized egg with a person to say that taking the morning-after pill could be the equivalent of having an abortion or even committing murder.

Paul Kulsha

By Paul Kulsha (the mysterious P.A.R.K., the artist behind last week’s illustration of the cat in an overcoat, walking a pet mouse.)

The F.D.A. revised the leaflets inserted in packages of pills to say that the medication “works before release of an egg from the ovary,” meaning that it acts before fertilization, not after. The package insert also says the pill “will not work if you’re already pregnant, and will not affect an existing pregnancy.”

In a question-and-answer document posted on the F.D.A.’s website, the agency explicitly addressed the abortion issue. In answer to the question, “Is Plan B One-Step able to cause an abortion?” the agency writes: “No.” It added: “Plan B One-Step prevents pregnancy by acting on ovulation, which occurs well before implantation. Evidence does not support that the drug affects implantation or maintenance of pregnancy after implantation, therefore, it does not terminate a pregnancy.”

Since the Supreme Court overturned the ruling that ensured the national right to abortion, advocates of abortion rights have warned that some conservative states may outlaw or restrict morning-after pills on the erroneous grounds that they might cause abortions. Advocates and reproductive health providers have also worried that people who are misinformed about how the pills work may decline to use an effective tool to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

For at least a decade, the pills have figured in political debates about abortion. During the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney called emergency contraceptives “abortive pills,” and two other Republican presidential candidates, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, made similar statements.

The crazies won’t buy it, but it’s still a good thing.

Speaking of enabling crazies, Elon Musk continues to make a mess of Twitter.

Reuters: Exclusive: Twitter removes suicide prevention feature, says it’s under revamp.

Twitter Inc removed a feature in the past few days that promoted suicide prevention hotlines and other safety resources to users looking up certain content, according to two people familiar with the matter who said it was ordered by new owner Elon Musk.

After publication of this story, Twitter head of trust and safety Ella Irwin told Reuters in an email that “we have been fixing and revamping our prompts. They were just temporarily removed while we do that.” [….]

The removal of the feature, known as #ThereIsHelp, had not been previously reported. It had shown at the top of specific searches contacts for support organizations in many countries related to mental health, HIV, vaccines, child sexual exploitation, COVID-19, gender-based violence, natural disasters and freedom of expression.

Its elimination had led to increased concerns about the well-being of vulnerable users on Twitter. Musk has said that impressions, or views, of harmful content are declining since he took over in October and has tweeted graphs showing a downward trend, even as researchers and civil rights groups have tracked an increase in tweets with racial slurs and other hateful content….

Boy with Cat, by Ivan Generalic, 1959

Boy with Cat, by Ivan Generalic, 1959

Eirliani Abdul Rahman, who had been on a recently dissolved Twitter content advisory group, said the disappearance of #ThereIsHelp was “extremely disconcerting and profoundly disturbing.”

Even if it was only temporarily removed to make way for improvements, “normally you would be working on it in parallel, not removing it,” she said.

Washington-based AIDS United, which was promoted in #ThereIsHelp, and iLaw, a Thai group mentioned for freedom of expression support, both told Reuters on Friday that the disappearance of the feature was a surprise to them.

AIDS United said a webpage that the Twitter feature linked to attracted about 70 views a day until Dec. 18. Since then, it has drawn 14 views in total.

Damar Juniarto, executive director at Twitter partner Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network, tweeted on Friday about the missing feature and said “stupid actions” by the social media service could lead his organization to abandon it.

Musk backed down after the blowback.

The Guardian: Twitter restores suicide-prevention hotline feature after outcry.

Twitter has restored a feature that promoted suicide prevention hotlines and other safety resources to users looking up certain content, after coming under pressure from users and consumer safety groups.

The feature, known as #ThereIsHelp, placed a banner at the top of search results for certain topics, listing contacts for support organizations in many countries related to mental health, HIV, vaccines, child sexual exploitation, Covid-19, gender-based violence, natural disasters and freedom of expression.

Reuters said on Friday the feature had been taken down this week. Citing two people familiar with the matter, the report said the removal was ordered by the social media platform’s owner, Elon Musk.

After publication of the story, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, confirmed the removal but said it was temporary….

Musk then denied the feature had been removed, and called the Reuters report “fake news”.

Nonetheless, the report appeared at the start of the Christmas holiday, a fraught time for many, prompting widespread concern. The anonymous sources cited by Reuters said millions had encountered #ThereIsHelp messages on Twitter….

“This is the worst time of the year to remove the suicide prevention feature,” wrote Jane Manchun Wong, a software developer and Twitter user. “Instead of leaving a time gap without suicide prevention feature for a revamp, they could’ve kept the old prompt and replaced it with a new one when it’s ready.”

Early on Saturday, Musk responded, tweeting: “1. The message is actually still up. This is fake news. 2. Twitter doesn’t prevent suicide.”

What an asshole. I hope Tesla stock drops to zero.

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a nice holiday weekend, celebrating in whatever manner you wish.

9 Comments on “Christmas Eve Caturday Reads”

  1. bostonboomer says:

  2. dakinikat says:

    Happy Hols from the swamps of Lousiana! It’s still really cold down here and my brand new space heater committed seppuku last night!. I’ve been binge watching White Lotus with a side of popcorn and wine while being snuggled upin bed with cats and the dog. Temple won’t let me take her sweater off and she slept in it last night. I sleep bundled up in sweat suits and fleece jackets! My front two rooms are hovering in the low 50s but at least the kitchen is warm.

    Take care!

  3. NW Luna says:

  4. NW Luna says:

    What a lovely tradition! May all SkyDancers have warm holidays and good books to read!

  5. NW Luna says:

  6. quixote says:

    Take care all Skydancers! I hear even the PacNW is feeling effects. I hope all ends well and is well!

  7. NW Luna says:

    One last cat tweet.