Week In Review
By Lisa Ornest Edited by Elissa D. Hecker
Below, for your browsing convenience, the categories are divided into: Entertainment, Sports, Media, and General News
Sexual Predation of Kids
Kids are going online and playing games, and then all of a sudden sexually explicit images pop up, and the discussion is also filled with graphic language and images. The perps begin by being friendly and eventually use blackmail to extort kids into providing pictures of themselves or worse. This is tedious and annoying and full of misery, as well as unspeakably dangerous. Therefore, parents have to learn, they have to be taught, how to talk to their children about this. Simply banning the games isn't going to be enough. It's got to be just like the old days, when your parents taught you never ever to get into a car with a stranger. Except exponentially more, of course. Parents can't just wait for the platforms or anyone else to do it. The second article gives some good advice, but these days, everyone is just so incompetent.
If Howard Stern calls your show the "'ultimate example of a boys' club,'" well, he should know, don't you think? Apparently, Gabrielle Union complained about Cowell smoking indoors and Jay Leno's racist Korean jokes, and she was chastised for her "too black" hair, among other things. This is at NBC, which allegedly tried to shut down Ronan Farrow's investigation of Harvey Weinstein. Oh for crying out loud. Wake up and smell the baba booey, you morons.
Apple is not having fun getting into the streaming business. Apparently no one likes the pretend talk show with Rachel and Jill (despite all the swearing), and the first Apple-produced movie has been pulled from release on the basis of an accusation by the daughter of one of the real-life protagonists. The movie is about two black entrepreneurs, Bernard Garrett, Sr. and Joseph Morris, who eventually succeed against the racist mid-century business practices of this country. Now, however, Cynthia Garrett, the daughter of Bernard Garrett, Sr., has accused her half-brother, Bernard Garrett, Jr., who was acting as a producer of the film, of sexual abuse when she was a child, and Cynthia's mother was left out completely. Once the accusation is made, that's it. You can't unring the bell.
New York legislators want to ban "virginity" testing, but others say how can you ban something that doesn't really exist? The rapper says he was never in the room and he was sorry for airing details of his daughters personal life. I should hope so. Pretty damn icky. How about banning any attempt at virginity testing? How about stop being so ridiculously literal?
Farewell Big Bird and Oscar
Caroll Spinney was a "full body" puppeteer who played both the "perennial 6-year-old canary" and the "consummate kvetch" hoarder (who lived in a garbage can and had a pet orange worm called Slimey), right from the beginning (1969). Carroll Spinney was born December 26, 1933, in Waltham Mass. He was shy, but his mother encouraged his artistry, and by the age of 12 he had 70 puppets, many made by his mother. After high school he attended the Art Institute of Boston, but dropped out to join the Air Force. Spinney had his first professional puppet show in 1955 while stationed in Las Vegas. He met Jim Henson in Salt Lake City in 1969, and you know how that turned out. By 2015, Spinney had to stop inhabiting the puppets, and his apprentice, Matt Vogel, took over, but the puppets still spoke Spinney's recorded dialogue. In October 2018, after 49 years, he retired from the show altogether. Spinney won numerous industry awards, and he published a memoir in 2003 (The Wisdom of Big Bird [and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch]: Lessons from a Life in Feathers). There is also a 2014 documentary. Spinney is survived by his second wife, three children and several grandchildren. He was 85.
Pay it Forward
Women starting out in sports in the 1970s had no facilities, like a nearby toilet stall. Now, many of the wealthy ones are donating funds to their alma maters to give the young women athletes better sports facilities, uniforms, and bathrooms with stalls and mirrors. Women's athletics are traditionally underfunded, but that seems to be changing now.
More World Anti-Doping Agency Stuff
The problem is that innocent athletes will suffer from a ban, but there doesn't seem to be a way to allow the innocent ones to keep playing. The Russians cheated, and then tried to cover up their cheating, and have just generally been ridiculous about the whole thing. Their behavior has called into question the integrity of the entire system and demonstrated a deep lack of respect for the hard work of the all the great athletes who don't juice.
The Italian sports newspaper Corriere dello Sport showed photos of two black players, Chris Smalling and Romelu Lukaku, and used the words "Black Friday" as a headline to refer to an upcoming match. If meant as a play on words regarding holiday shopping, it was not felicitous. The fact is that there is racism in the soccer world, both from the fans and from within the teams, and it should not be encouraged. Then, in response to the criticism, the paper said it was being lynched. Sigh. In response to that, some teams have banned the paper from their facilities.
Bread and Circuses
The Crown Prince is trying to make everyone forget about Kashoggi by allowing WWE to put on performances, even with women, granted with the women wearing loose tee shirts over long sleeves and leggings. WWE says breaking into the market was a "business" decision.
When he decided to seek the Democratic nomination, ex-Mayor Bloomberg issued an edict (or something) that his news service would report on but not investigate any of the Democratic contenders, which is really kind of gracious if a little hard on the reporters who are chomping on the bit. The president is using that as an excuse to ban Bloomberg News from attending his rallies and other news events. Of course he has no power over their investigative reporting. Bloomberg News is now in good company, with the Washington Post, Politico, and BuzzFeed already having lost their press credentials, and CNN was forbidden to be played from the televisions in the White House offices.
Sex Trafficking Troll?
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects tech companies from liability for the gaucheries of their users. A Houston P.I lawyer is trying to challenge this law, by arguing, in a series of lawsuits around the country, that Facebook (and MailChimp and Salesforce), is facilitating the sex trafficking of minors. A Texas judge keeps denying Facebook's motions to dismiss. Facebook is appealing. The ultimate issue may hinge on whether and how much the companies know about what is happening. Courts have already ruled that Air BnB can be held liable for users who violate home rental bans in Santa Monica, and Amazon may be liable for selling a defective dog leash. So how far can this go? What if a young woman meets a pimp in the lobby of the Plaza?
Google Founders Stepping Aside
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who founded Google 20 years ago, are stepping down from the founding company, Alphabet, and Sundar Pichai will become the chief of both Goggle and Alphabet. Page and Brin will remain directors of Alphabet, and they are still the majority shareholders of both companies. Page is worth about $58.9 million, and Brin is worth about $56.8 billion. They seem to be leaving at a time when antitrust issues, skepticism about Google's intimacy with the government (particularly Homeland Security), and other questionable third parties, and employee walkouts may make corporate life more interesting, but they are really not that far away.
I Know You Are
Last year, Vernon Unsworth, a British cave explorer, was publicly less than sanguine about Elon Musk's attempts to help rescue a group of trapped children in Thailand using a submarine. Unsworth said that Musk could "stick his submarine where it hurts." Musk's feelings were hurt, and he retort-tweeted that Unsworth was a "pedo guy." Unsworth sued. Musk now claims that's just a phrase they used to say, generically, in South Africa, where he grew up, and is used in the English-speaking world, and wasn't meant literally. Musk claims he only meant that Unsworth was a creep. Then he spent $50,000 on an investigator to "look into" Unsworth, and the investigator claimed to have found that Unsworth had a 12-year-old bride. Then it turned out that the investigator had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from a business he co-founded and spent 18 months in prison. The judge has already ruled that Unsworth is a private figure. Musk he apologized on the stand, and the jury let him get away with this one.
Imprisoned Writer in China
China has detained and is torturing Yang Hengjun, an Australian writer and citizen, under the pretense that he is a spy. He is in isolation, being interrogated daily, and constantly shackled at his hands and wrists. He is getting medication for things like high blood pressure, although his lawyers say he was healthy when he left New York. Beijing says that Australia is just being hysterical. Yang Hengjun worked for the Chinese Foreign Ministry before becoming a novelist and blogger. Prior to his detention, he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University. He is charged with espionage, and apparently the conviction rate in those circumstances is very high. He is not the first detained writer who has "disappeared into detention in China."
We Have No Secrets
Julian Assange was spied on when he was in the Ecuadorean embassy. He is now suing a Spanish security company, UC Global, for eavesdropping by, for example, putting microphones in the bathrooms where he went to have private conversations. However, the real issue is, who hired UC Global? Was it the CIA? Or was it just Sheldon Adelson? Either way, Assange believes that if he can prevail in his case against the company, it will demonstrate that he can't get a fair trial in the U.S. and that will convince Britain, where he is currently a guest of the government, not to extradite. A former Justice Department attache says that may not be enough. What is necessary is to show lack of compliance with Britain's Human Rights Act, which protects the right to privacy, but also balances it with other considerations, like national security and crime fighting. Of course the head of UC Global, David Morales, has himself been indicted in regard to privacy violations, bribery, and money laundering. It was he who entered into the contract with Adelson's company, Las Vegas Sands.
"Did an angel/ Whisper in your ear/ And hold you close/ And take away your fear/ In those long, last moments?" -Lucinda Williams
So much money, and children are dying horrifically, frightened and alone, on concrete floors. Why are children, never mind sick children, even being put in cells? There is a four-hour gap in the video that was produced, about the length of time it one boy to die, spitting blood and spasming.
Thrift, Thrift, Horatio
It was McKinsey Consulting's idea to save money on the whole illegal immigration thing by cutting down on food and medical supplies for detainees and shipping them to rural county jails, where conditions are "abysmal." Its ultimate fee was about $20 million for that. The cuts went too far for some career employees, and a number of proposals were never carried out. Incidentally, McKinsey also consulted for the opioid industry to help it improve sales.
The House voted, pretty much along party lines (except for Republican Brian Fitzpatrick (PA)), to reinstate federal oversight of state election law. The vote was in opposition to Shelby County v. Holder, in which the Supremes ruled that oversight was no longer necessary in nine states in the South. Republicans claim that it would "trample on" states' ability to enforce their own election rules (especially when those rules disenfranchise non-Republican voters). Most likely it will probably die on Mitch McConnell's desk, like the 400 other pieces of legislation the House has passed and the Senate ignored.
Something of a Reprieve
This is complicated. There have been no executions in this country for the past 16 years. Last month, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, of the Federal District Court in D.C., preliminarily enjoined four executions on the basis that the protocol the government planned to use did not comply with the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994, which requires executions to be carried out "'in the manner prescribed by the laws of the state in which the sentence is imposed.'" On December 2nd, a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit refused to stay the preliminary injunction (PI). Later that day, the Justice Department went to the Supremes, who, in a "brief, unsigned" order on December 6th, also refused to lift the PI (although Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh were not happy about it). The legal issue seems to be whether the word "manner," above, refers to the method of execution or the protocols involved in the method. The Justice Department wants to use the single drug pentobarbitol. However, Judge Chutkan says that the use of a single drug is not authorized by the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act, which in this case requires the three-drug "cocktail." However, there have apparently been Eighth Amendment challenges to the use of the "cocktail," the efficacy and swift dispatch of which Justice Sotomayor has compared to "being burned at the stake." So if I understand this correctly, it sounds like Judge Chutkan ruled that the federal government is not allowed simply to substitute its own method; it must use the method prescribed by the state; unfortunately, the method in this state is currently being litigated; so until we decide whether it's legal or not, and if not, find something else, we can't execute anyone.
Up the Sandbox
A copper smelter near Butte processed ore and released lethal chemicals like arsenic (which doesn't biodegrade), into the environment for almost 100 years. In 1983, the smelter was shut down, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated the surrounding 300 square miles a Superfund site and required the owner, Atlantic Richfield Company, to clean it up. The company says that it has spent more than $450 million to do so. The nearby landowners want more, and the Supremes have to decide if EPA approval must be required for any additional remediation efforts. The landowners simply want to present their own plan. The Court seems to think that the agency should remain in charge and that anything else would create chaos. The landowners say that is just code for too expensive. The government says that allowing the landowners a say would "jeopardize" plants in other Superfund sites. The landowners also say they shouldn't have to get federal approval to clean up their own property or build a sandbox. Roberts says there may be no way around that. Kagan sort of agrees that EPA really can't spend time monitoring sandbox construction. Gorsuch calls superfunds a taking.
The administration is rescinding orders permitting transgender students to use the bathroom of their choices or to participate in the sports corresponding to their gender identities. It is reversing protections in prisons, homeless shelters, and for the employees of federal contractors. Transgender people cannot now be officers in the army. The administration claims that it is only "correcting" Obama administration policies that "exceeded presidential authority." It is also simply helping people not to have to "violate their conscience." Incidentally, hate crimes against transgender people are increasing.
Lebanon Aid Defrosted
The National Security Council froze this aid a month ago, but is now releasing it, both with no reason. This particular holdup might have deleterious effects on Lebanon's self-defense against Iran and Russia. Some, like Ted Cruz, have sought to hold back aid until assurances that the aid is not helping Hezbollah.
This is about China and the fact that it is cheaper for China to buy pork, soybeans, and other agricultural projects from Brazil and Argentina than from the U.S., which puts a damper on the effects of the president's trade war with China. These countries are already in economic crisis, and their leaders sound panicky. This will hurt them much more, probably, than it will hurt China. Just to be clear, it's not about "our farmers." The tariffs have not yet actually been put in place.
Step Away from the Brie
Yes, let's double the price of French wines and cheeses. That'll teach those pretentious liberals.
DeVos is Overworked
DeVos seems to want to privatize the federal student loan program. She calls the program a "monopoly," and claims that the Education office is "'battered by 'the ever-changing political whims of Washington.'" BTW, she has been in this job for two years of a single administration.
Forty states agreed to this bipartisan plan, the Common Core State Standards Initiative. It hasn't worked as well as hoped. It was a response to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which traded education for non-standardized test-taking. Common Core wanted to make the tests standardized. Yet then states started opting out of the tests. Further, it sounds like there was a lot of stupid stuff in how math was being taught. Parents hated it. So maybe national education standards are not a good idea. Maybe poverty alleviation is a better idea. And whose idea was it to stop teaching cursive? Give students three corners of a problem. They ought to be able to figure out the fourth for themselves.
New regulations have been released by the Agriculture Department, and banks will no longer be required to prove, through mountains of paperwork, that any hemp business which they are thinking of financing is something more than a money laundering scheme. The National Hemp Association is glad that hemp businesses will be able to have checking accounts and credit card processing. However, regular cannabis businesses may still have a hurdle, and even with hemp, it may take the banks a while to digest all the complicated licensing requirements before they are willing to lend.
Brouillette Confirmed by Senate
The Senate has confirmed former lobbyist for the Ford Motor Company and Rick Perry's number two as the new secretary of energy. Some Democrats also voted to affirm. Guess what? Brouillette favors aggressive expansion of oil and gas drilling and doesn't believe that climate change is a serious threat. China's emissions are much worse than ours, he seems to think is an appropriate response. Further, he was a big contributor to Perry's campaign and stonewalled about Perry's dealings with Ukraine.
The Fullness of the Whale
A dead sperm whale washed up on a Scottish beach had more than 220 pounds of non-biodegradable human garbage in its stomach. So many wild sea creatures are swimming around like that, including the dolphins. Possibly the ones that wash up are only a small percentage of the ones who starve to death with a full stomach.
Emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels hit a record high this year, although worldwide, industrial emissions rose at a slightly slower pace than 2017 and 2018. Even though coal emissions declined, it's not enough. Every year, there are exponentially more cars, air conditioners, jets, and Starbucks cups. A slow rise is not enough. There has to be a reversal.
The Abortion Fight Goes On
Let's fact it, many were lulled into complacency. In fact, complacency seems to be the default position for people who are mostly about live and let live. Is it about class? A great deal. For the most part, Democrats are complacent while Republicans are working to punish everyone in sight.
A new program will give 200,000 Uninsured American Free HIV-Prevention Drugs. Why, however, is the government paying $200 a month per bottle to dispense these drugs? Further, even though people can get the drug, they can't get the necessary medical exam and lab tests.
The Week in Impeachment
The Report is Out
The 52-page report lays out the legal and historical underpinnings of the impeachment case. It reminds us that the framers intentionally put impeachment into the Constitution for moments such as when there is corruption, abuse of power, and self-dealing. Republicans are crying that they don't have enough time to read the documents and that the inquiry is nothing more than sour grapes. They also claim that Democrats are letting power go to their heads and not taking practical issues into consideration. The report rebuts all that.
The White House refuses to cooperate with the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives could conceivably vote on December 20th. Any Presidential defense in the Senate would not be heard before early January. House Republicans want to retaliate by investigating Adam Schiff. I haven't read it, but my understanding is that in THE IMPEACHERS: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation, by Brenda Wineapple, the author explains that Johnson had a "hair-trigger sensitivity to slights," which made him "self-pitying and prone to a corrosive paranoia." Eventually, he "goaded" legislators with his "accelerating attempts to rule by decree, daring them to 'go ahead' and impeach him,'" which the House eventually did. My guess is that Trump is sticking blindly to the script, not intentionally, but just because. What about the Senate?
On December 3rd, The House Intelligence committee report, issued a few days earlier, found that Trump abused his office by offering government benefits to a foreign power in exchange for a personal favor.
First Trump claims that Ukraine could not have felt pressured because it did not know that the money wasn't coming when he asked for his favor. Apparently, however, the Ukrainians did know. This was corroborated by someone in the Ukraine government as well as by Laura K. Cooper, the American Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia.
Queen of Denial
Then they tried this, to say that it wasn't Russia, it was Ukraine, that interfered with the 2016 election. At least no one let Louisiana's John Kennedy get very far, the first time, but now some other senators seem to be hopping on the bandwagon. Do these people not know the difference between theory and empiricism?
Rudy's Workin' the Phones
Probably as the result of subpoenas to AT&T and Verizon, investigators have found that Rudy Giuliani began early and often to try and remove Marie Yovanovitch and get Ukraine to smear Trump's political opposition, apparently mostly by phone. The calls started on March 26th and went through to August 8th. He spoke to Pompeo, John Bolton, Devin Nunes, and Sean Hannity, among others, including someone with the "mysterious number" "-1." Adam Schiff thinks that the negative one may belong to Trump himself, because Roger Stone also received calls from the negative one. All of this is evidence of Giuliani's "shadow foreign policy." He also talked quite a bit to a number belonging to the White House's Office of Management and Budget, which had its finger on the money. Giuliani said that he never discussed military assistance.
Rosemary Woods Can't Help You Now
A three-judge panel at the Second Circuit ruled that in response to subpoenas from the co-equal legislative branch, Deutsche Bank must turn over detailed documents about the president's finances. Over the years Deutsche Bank lent Trump over $2 billion, so these records contain even more information than the tax returns. Deutsche Bank is the only one who would continue to lend to him after all his bankruptcies and loan defaults. Certain types of utterly irrelevant info may be excluded, in regard to which the lower court has discretion, but Deutsche Bank will of course comply with any court order. The president's attorneys have seven days to appeal.
More of Trump's Lawyers
Michael Cohen apparently told Robert Mueller that there were more details about Trump's putting a tower in Moscow than actually appeared in his 2017 letter to Congress. Apparently Trump's other lawyer, Jay Sekulow, of the American Center for Law and Justice, the Christian Broadcasting Network, and Fox News, counseled that the details of the deal didn't need to be disclosed because it never went forward. Cohen also told Mueller that Sekulow told Trump to say that the talks had gone on for less time than they actually had. These memos were released by the Justice Department in response to a lawsuit by BuzzFeed and CNN. They don't change anything, but certain details are made more clear.
No Churro for You!
It is finally coming out that Police Deputy Inspector Constantin Tsachas told his officers to lay off Asians and Russians and to focus more on ticketing and arresting blacks and Hispanics. Between 2017 and 2019, black and Hispanic people, who account for slightly more than half the population, received almost 73% of the tickets, and accounted for 90% of those who are arrested. Now all Tsachas needs is some facial recognition software.
Weird Albany Stuff
The business of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics is supposed to be confidential. The Commission was discussing whether to investigate one of the governor's former aides. However, the vote of one of the members, Julie Garcia, may have been leaked to "Andrew from Albany." If so, that's a misdemeanor. Then, the state inspector general investigated and found no evidence of a leak, even though no one interviewed the governor, the commissioners, or Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, who is the person whose lawyer, Howard Vargas, told Garcia that her vote may have been leaked. Apparently Vargas heard from Cuomo himself that she had voted against him. Maybe Vargas made it up. Why would Cuomo tell Vargas? It's all very strange and a bit childish.
In Delaware, judges affiliated with one political party can make up no more than a "'bare majority'" on the state's highest courts, and the remaining seats are reserved for judges affiliated with the other party. A former Democrat who changed his affiliation to Independent is suing, saying that this provision not only prevented him from being chosen but made it pointless for him to even try for another post because the available positions were "reserved" for Republicans. The article says that he was turned down for reasons unrelated to party affiliation, but who knows. The governor says the system works, that Delaware has courts of "exemplary reputation," and that's why everyone incorporates there. Nevertheless, the Third Circuit sided with the former Democrat. It's going to the Supremes, but only on a standing issue. Gorsuch says, "'There is no such thing" as a Republican or Democratic judge. "'We just have judges in this country.'"
Forty-three year-old Republican Duncan D. Hunter (Jr.) of California, a "hardliner" and ardent Trump supporter, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to conspiracy to steal campaign funds, although he had been insisting for a year the charges were unfounded. He was accused of converting more than $250,000 in campaign funds to pay for personal expenses, and with filing false finance records with the Federal Election Commission. Initially he pleaded not guilty and blamed the Democrats. Then he blamed his wife. She returned the favor by pleading guilty to one charge and admitting that she and hubby conspired to violate campaign finance law. It's not clear whether she knew that he used the money for extra-marital affairs. There were dozens of counts, but he pled guilty to the most important one, using campaign funds for personal expenses.
Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Chinese scientists are collecting DNA samples of the Uighurs and other groups picked out for ethnic scapegoating, who upon internment are required to give blood for "Mandatory Health Checkups." China is trying to figure out a way to create the image of a person's face from DNA sample (phenotyping). We're doing it here too. Of course, it's not, and probably never can be, completely accurate, but hey, win a few, lose a few. In fact, a Chinese researcher, Tang Kun, works at the Partner Institute for Computational Biology, which was founded, "in part," by the Max Planck Society, a "top" research group in Germany. The Society has also directly funded Dr. Tang. In return, he was supposed to work with the police. This is true of other researchers as well. Their funding is tied to cooperation with law enforcement. Tang Kun said that he is unaware of the origin of the DNA samples he was given to study and was sure they were consensual.
Another Brave Whistleblower
Asiye Abdulaheb is a Uigher woman living in the Netherlands. She has made it her business to publicize China's concentration camp program against at least onernment in Xinjiang, and she is worried that China will retaliate, even though she has been a Dutch citizen since 2009. Approximately 425 pages have been leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other groups with which it is affiliated. The Chinese are trying to indoctrinate the Uighers into giving up their language and beliefs in these camps. However, the Chinese say that the camps are job training centers where future employees learn Mandarin and other practical skills. Abdulaheb has suffered from her social media and hotmail accounts being hacked. She's also getting threats of physical violence on Facebook.
Protests in Iran
About two weeks ago in Iran, gas prices increased by 50%, which brought demonstrations. Security responded by firing on the unarmed protesters, about 40 to 100 young men who were hiding in a marsh. All together, from 180 to 450 people were killed, with at least 2,000 wounded and 7,000 detained, who are perhaps not all being held in the same place. The Center for Human Rights in Iran, based in New York, called this use of force unprecedented. Some blame U.S. sanctions for having a harmful effect on the budget. Moussavi blames Khamenei. He says the killings are similar to what happened in 1978, which was the end of the Shah. Apparently they just went to neighborhoods and started shooting, even after the actual demonstrations were over.