You’ve probably heard about actor Bruce Willis having stopped acting because he has aphasia. Aphasia is most commonly caused by a stroke that affects language areas–usually located on the left side of the brain. It can but it can also follow a severe head injury or other brain trauma. It can result from traumatic brain injuries suffered by athletes in contact sports like football and hockey. Willis’ family has declined to explain the cause of his aphasia, so we don’t know if he had a stroke or some other type of brain injury or if he has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. There’s an interesting story at the LA Times on other celebrities who have struggled with aphasia, including Sharon Stone, Dick Clark, Kirk Douglas, and Patricia Neal.
Apparently Willis showed signs of cognitive decline as far back as 2017, but he continued working. His performances apparently deteriorated enough that he received a “Razzie” award (now rescinded) for “worst performance in a 2021 movie.” I’m not sure what to think about this, but it made me uncomfortable when I learned about this. Abigail Weinberg writes at Mother Jones: For Years, Hollywood Suspected Bruce Willis’ Deteriorating Health. They Exploited Him Anyway This is a labor issue.
After an illustrious career that featured starring roles in movies like Pulp Fiction and The Sixth Sense, Willis had in recent years taken to churning out dozens of low-budget productions. A new Los Angeles Times article reveals just how bad things were on the set of those movies—and gives the impression that the actor was being taken advantage of.
Two crew members from the upcoming film White Elephant told the Times that Willis asked aloud, “Why am I here?” “Someone would give him a line and he didn’t understand what it meant,” a crew member said. “He was just being puppeted.”
The incidents ranged from relatively benign to potentially dangerous: A crew member from the 2020 movie Hard Kill said that Willis repeatedly fired a gun loaded with blanks on the wrong cue. The incident seems particularly stark in light of Alec Baldwin’s gun accidentally firing and killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of Rust last year.
So, why were the dozens of people involved in these films so set on working with someone who wasn’t cognitively fit to perform? Well, the money, of course. “His involvement in films—even if for a fleeting few minutes—helped low-budget independent filmmakers sell their films internationally,” the Times explains. “Having Willis’ face on a movie poster or a lineup of streaming service thumbnails helped draw viewers to his films.”
Seems a tad exploitative, no? I’m no Hollywood insider, but I hope these revelations will spur the industry to work toward safer on-set conditions for workers on- and off-screen.
Being rich and famous doesn’t protect you from exploitation.
Another labor story from The Daily Beast: Amazon Workers Claim Historic Union Win in Big Blow to Bezos.
An Amazon warehouse in New York City made history on Friday when workers said they had won a vote to form the retail behemoth’s first union, a breakthrough that represented another sign that support for labor unions is resurgent in America.
Over 2,000 employees at the fulfillment center known as JFK8 voted to form a union, organizers said, after facing down months of hostile messaging that workers say included daily mandatory meetings with Amazon’s anti-union consultants.
The victory was especially significant because employees not only appeared to unionize a facility controlled by one of the world’s most powerful companies—but also to join the Amazon Labor Union (ALU). The grassroots group is led by current and former warehouse workers who waged a hard-fought battle frequently billed as Davids battling a $1.6-trillion Goliath.
Outside the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) office in Brooklyn, ALU president Chris Smalls and other organizers popped champagne once the win was official.
“It’s not about me,” Smalls told reporters at a press conference. “Amazon tried to make it about me from Day 1. And I never said it was going to be Amazon versus Chris Smalls. It’s always going to be Amazon versus the people, and today the people have spoken, and the people wanted a union.”
During his remarks, the new union president took aim at Amazon’s billionaire founder, saying, “We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going to space because when he was up there, we was signing people up.”
The Ginni and Clarence Thomas story continues to develop. Yesterday, Dakinikat posted the Daily Beast story about Thomas’s influence on Trump’s hiring and firing decisions. Jane Mayer, who wrote a book about Clarence Thomas, added this to the story:
This situation presents serious problems for the Supreme Court and for Congress. It’s unlikely that Clarence Thomas will voluntarily recuse himself from January 6 cases and I doubt if Chief Justice Roberts will take action unless there is a massive public outcry. At The Washington Post, Paul Waldman writes: What can Democrats do about Clarence Thomas?
The controversy over Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, Clarence Thomas and the Jan. 6 insurrection is demonstrating one profound difference between Democrats and Republicans: how they view the value of making a stink….
Given his wife’s role in encouraging the effort to overturn the election that culminated in the awful events of that day, Clarence Thomas should obviously recuse himself from any case having to do with Jan. 6. But what can Democrats do about him?
The way Democrats are answering that question tells us a lot about their party.
This Friday, 17 progressive organizations are releasing a letter calling on Democrats to launch a congressional investigation of Justice Thomas’s “misconduct in his handling of cases regarding the January 6 insurrection, the 2020 presidential election, and other cases involving his wife’s political activities.”
As the groups note in their letter, which is spearheaded by Take Back the Court, Supreme Court justices are bound by a federal statute that says they, like other judges, should recuse themselves from any case in which their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
In addition, in the past, Thomas has failed to properly disclose his wife’s income from political groups (he later amended his disclosures after the omissions were revealed), and she reportedly works with groups that have business before her husband.
What might a congressional investigation accomplish? The letter argues that it might determine “whether Justice Thomas’ conduct was consistent with basic principles of judicial ethics, whether he violated federal law and his oath to ‘impartially discharge and perform his judicial duties, and what actions must be taken in response.”
But so far, Democrats have largely been restrained in response to the Ginni Thomas revelations. While a few more liberal lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have said Clarence Thomas should resign or be impeached, Democratic leaders have not.
Read the rest at the WaPo. You can also check out this post from Emptywheel today: On Ginni Thomas’ Obstruction Exposure and Clarence’s Former Clerk Carl Nichols.
There’s also more news today about the gap in the White House phone logs during the January 6 Capitol insurrection. Dakinikat also wrote yesterday about the Axios claim that it was no big deal; the Trump executive assistant who kept track of the call log was out that day. I don’t buy it. That’s just too convenient an excuse.
Just days before the US Capitol riot, White House officials started providing fewer details about then-President Donald Trump‘s calls and visits, the person in charge of compiling those activities for the official record told the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021, according to two sources with knowledge of the probe.
The committee interviewed Trump’s presidential diarist roughly two weeks ago. That interview has not been previously reported, nor has the testimony describing a noticeable drop-off in information provided by Oval Office staff leading up to January 6.
Other witnesses also have told the panel there was significantly less information being shared with those involved in White House record-keeping during the same time period, according to three sources familiar with the investigation.
One source described how White House record-keepers appeared to be “iced out” in the days leading up to January 6.
“The last day that normal information was sent was the 4th,” said another source familiar with the investigation. “So, starting the 5th, the diarist didn’t receive the annotated calls and notes. This was a dramatic departure. That is all out of the ordinary.”
The White House diarist normally receives many streams of information, including the phone logs from the switchboard, the president’s movements from the US Secret Service and, critically, the notes from Oval Office operations, which detail calls, guests and activities.
The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington doesn’t seem to buy the Axios excuse either. He writes today: What is Trump hiding? The Capitol riot-sized hole in White House call log.
At 2.26pm on 6 January last year, Donald Trump picked up a White House phone and placed a call to Mike Lee, the Republican senator from Utah. The communication came at a very significant moment.
Thirty-seven minutes earlier, a riot had been declared by Washington DC police. Minutes after that the then vice-president, Mike Pence, was rushed out of the Senate chamber, where he had been presiding over Congress’s certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, and put into hiding.
Fifteen minutes before Trump made the call his supporters, exhorted by the sitting president to “fight like hell” against what he falsely claimed was a rigged election, broke through a window in the south front of the Capitol and entered the heart of American democracy.
And we know Trump was watching it on TV.
Yet when you look for recorded details of Trump’s 2.26pm call which was made, as Hugo Lowell of the Guardian revealed, on an official White House landline, they are nowhere to be found. The Lee call was one of an unknown number that Trump made during a mysterious gap of 7 hours 37 minutes that exists in the call logs – precisely the timeframe of the Capitol attack.
Those missing call logs, disclosed by the Washington Post and CBS News, raise several burning questions – how did the records disappear? who carried out the excising? – but none more urgent than this: what was Trump trying to hide?
“A gap like this doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not a coincidence,” said Charlie Sykes, columnist at the Trump-resistant conservative outlet the Bulwark. “There is no innocent explanation here – somebody made the decision to rip up the record for the crucial hours of January 6 and there has to be a reason why.”
What Trump is trying to hide lies at the heart of the House committee investigation into the January 6 insurrection. The former president has consistently tried to block information flowing to the committee – pressuring his inner circle not to testify, tearing up documents before they were handed over.
The stakes in the tussle over evidence rose sharply this week when a federal judge said in a ruling that Trump “more likely than not … dishonestly conspired to obstruct” Congress on 6 January. That would be a criminal act.
Read the rest at The Guardian.
Finally, Merrick Garland spoke publicly again yesterday. CNN’s Tierney Sneed reports: Garland says the only pressure DOJ feels on January 6 probes is to ‘do the right thing.’
After several recent developments in the January 6 investigations that put the Justice Department in the center of the political whirlwinds, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Friday that the only pressure his agency feels is to “do the right thing” by following “the facts and the law.”
“The only pressure I feel, and the only pressure that our line prosecutors feel, is to do the right thing. That means we follow the facts and the law, wherever they may lead,” Garland said at a news conference Friday, where he was announcing new charges in an unrelated gun trafficking case.
Garland was asked about political pressure on the agency at the end of a momentous week for the efforts to scrutinize the 2020 election reversal plot.
On Monday, a federal judge said that it was “more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct” Congress’ electoral certification vote. The assertion by US District Judge David Carter came in a documents disclosure case related to the House select committee investigation of the January 6 attack on the Capitol….
On Friday, Garland would not weigh in on the Carter opinion or on the status of the Meadows referral.
“We follow the facts and the law wherever they lead, and that’s all I can say about the investigation,” Garland said when asked about the ruling, as he referenced department policy of not commenting on ongoing investigations. “The best way to undermine an investigation is to say things out of court about how they’re going.”
Asked about the status of the Meadows referral, Garland said, “We don’t comment on ongoing referrals.”
I don’t know what else he is supposed to say. He has said repeatedly that he will follow the evidence up to and including people at the top. But the Garland detractors aren’t going to stop whining.
That’s all I have for you today. What are your thoughts? What stories are you following?