U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton sentenced Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, two former top associates of Governor Chris Christie, to prison time for their role in the “Bridgegate” scandal. Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, received 24 months, along with a year of probation, 500 hours of community service, fines and restitution. Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, was sentenced to 18 months in prison. A jury in Newark, New Jersey, found them guilty last November of all charges. As I wrote at the time:
Baroni … and Kelly were indicted [in 2015] on nine counts of conspiracy and fraud in connection with the scheme in 2013 to close lanes on a section of the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey, over the refusal of its Democratic mayor to endorse Christie, a Republican, for re-election. …
Federal prosecutors’ main witness in the six-week trial was David Wildstein, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority who admitted to masterminding the plan. The jury also heard testimony from more than 30 other witnesses, including Baroni and Kelly. Federal prosecutors alleged Christie was aware of the actions of his aides.
Christie, a close associate of President Trump, consistently denied any knowledge or involvement in the lane closures, and hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing.
Kelly and Baroni will remain free while they appeal their convictions.
Iraqi Forces Battle ISIS in Mosul as Concerns Over Civilian Casualties Persist
Iraqi forces are battling ISIS militants in western Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city that was captured by the Islamic State in 2014. Here’s more from Reuters today on the state of the fighting: “The close-quarters fighting is focused on the Old City surrounding the [ al-Nuri] mosque where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a caliphate nearly three years ago across territory controlled by the group in both Iraq and Syria.” Thousands of civilians are trapped in the city, and as the fighting rages, their position is fraught. Indeed, as we reported yesterday, the Pentagon is investigating the March 17 coalition airstrike in Mosul that may have led to the collapse of buildings with at least 160 people inside. “It is very possible that Daesh blew up that building to blame it on the coalition in order to cause a delay in the offensive into Mosul and cause a delay in the use of coalition airstrikes,” General Mark A. Milley, the U.S. army chief of staff, told reporters Monday in Baghdad. “And it is possible the coalition airstrike did it.” But Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the senior coalition commander in Iraq, said: “My initial assessment is that we probably had a role in these casualties.”
Bob Dylan to Accept Nobel Prize This Weekend, Swedish Academy Says
Bob Dylan will accept his Nobel Prize for Literature this weekend, a member of the Swedish Academy, the body that awards the prize, has said in a blog entry. The academy announced last October that Dylan had won the prize “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” But the famously reclusive singer did not acknowledge the award or indicate whether he would accept it until two weeks after the announcement, telling a British newspaper he would attend the ceremony “if it’s all possible.” Ultimately, he did not—but he did send a speech in which he said the prize “is something I never could have imagined or seen coming.” Which brings us to today’s blog post by Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy. She said:
The good news is that the Swedish Academy and Bob Dylan have decided to meet this weekend. The Academy will then hand over Dylan’s Nobel diploma and the Nobel medal, and congratulate him on the Nobel Prize in Literature. The setting will be small and intimate, and no media will be present; only Bob Dylan and members of the Academy will attend, all according to Dylan’s wishes.
The U.K.’s envoy to the European Union has hand-delivered a letter from Prime Minister Theresa May to the office of European Council president in Brussels, invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and formally beginning the process of talks over the U.K.’s separation from the European Union. The move comes nine months after Britons voted 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU, a decision that shocked the political establishment, and sparked a rancorous debate in the U.K. on what a future U.K.-EU relationship should look like. It’s the nature of that relationship that talks between the U.K. and the EU will focus on. The process will take two years, during which time the U.K. remains a full member of the bloc. Those who campaigned to keep the U.K. in the EU want a future relationship to be similar to the one the country enjoyed with full EU membership, but the main sticking point, access to the EU single market, depends on the free movement of the EU’s citizens across the bloc—an aspect of membership deeply unpopular in the U.K. Linda Kintsler wrote yesterday about what happens next. Read it here.
On Monday morning, my partner laid a carry-on suitcase down on the floor, preparing to pack for his first post-vaccination trip to visit his parents. The moment he unzipped the bag, our cat Calvin promptly clambered inside.
A piece of me would like to think that Calvin was attempting to covertly join my partner on his trip, or perhaps thwart his inevitable attempt to spirit away. But I’m pretty sure #OccupyLuggage was less a heart-wrenching bid to tag along on a flight, and more a textbook example of a central scientific tenet: Cats are absolute suckers for boxes. And sinks, and vases, and grocery bags, and shoes, and Pringles cans, and the nooks and crannies between furniture and walls, and just about any other space they deem cozy, confining, and swaddly. (Cats, in case you were wondering, are a non-Newtonian liquid.) It’s the one thing about which our pointy-eared companions are not terribly picky: If it fits, they sits. And when they do, we humans can’t help but obsess over them.
For most young people, the social and emotional benefits of taking masks off outdoors greatly outweigh the personal and public-health advantages of keeping them on.
As parents gradually reap the rewards of vaccination—including unmasking outdoors, socializing unmasked indoors with other vaccinated people, and abandoning anxiety about getting seriously ill—they’re wondering if they need to keep up pandemic precautions for their children’s sake.
I am a primary-care doctor, and the parents I talk with are deeply concerned about their communities; they also want to see their kids reengage in life. They want to liberate themselves from the intensity of pandemic child care and worry. I can empathize: I’m a mother of three.
Although emergency-use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine was granted this week for 12-to-15-year-olds, kids in this age group and younger ones don’t need to wait for freedom through shots. They can and should enjoy some benefits of our collective progress. That’s why I’ve begun telling my patients that their kids, vaccinated or not, do not need to wear masks outside—despite the fact that the CDC recently issued summer-camp guidelines that recommend kids wear masks whenever physical distancing is difficult, including outside. I know that parents in some communities get dirty looks at the playground if they let their kids run around without masks, but doing so is not a sign of recalcitrance; it’s a sign that they’re following the science.
For some Americans, history isn’t the story of what actually happened; it’s the story they want to believe.
This article was published online on May 10, 2021.
Most of the people who come to Blandford Cemetery, in Petersburg, Virginia, come for the windows—masterpieces of Tiffany glass in the cemetery’s deconsecrated church. One morning before the pandemic, I took a tour of the church along with two other visitors and our tour guide, Ken. When my eyes adjusted to the hazy darkness inside, I could see that in each window stood a saint, surrounded by dazzling bursts of blues and greens and violets. Below these explosions of color were words that I couldn’t quite make out. I stepped closer to one of the windows, and the language became clearer. Beneath the saint was an inscription honoring the men “who died for the Confederacy.”
By early February 2020, China had effectively locked down tens of millions of its citizens. Entire hospitals were sprouting from scratch to cope with an onslaught of coronavirus cases there. The World Health Organization had just declared that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus was a “public health emergency of international concern.” And on February 7, I went on a radio show and spent much of the segment discussing the economic implications of the ordeal for East Asia.
I often think about that segment now and wonder how I could have been so unimaginative. I was so focused on the desperate scenes in China that I failed to consider that similar scenes could soon transpire around the world. Why didn’t I grab the mic, dispense with the usual commentary, and issue an urgent plea for the world to wake up?
The recent scandal at her talk show suggests that the host’s smiling facade covers up something dark—and hints at why that facade had to be created in the first place.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show features a recurring segment, called “Cash for Kindness,” that spreads good cheer by lying to people. DeGeneres will send a producer or an audience member out into the world to pretend to be some harried worker—a cater-waiter, a delivery person, a birthday-party magician—and then, in spectacular fashion, spill whatever they’re carrying on the sidewalk. As potatoes go rolling or greeting cards flap in the wind, a trap is laid. DeGeneres watches through hidden cameras to see which passersby do, or don’t, stop to help pick up the mess.
The bit is funny because it is mortifying. Speaking into her producer’s wireless earpiece, DeGeneres feeds her staffer ever-more-distressing banter to recite: There’s an engagement ring in the tiramisus! The greeting cards are supposed to be in alphabetical order! The strangers who stop to help are, you may suspect, a bit nervous that they’ve been roped into some scam—or maybe worse, roped into a situation that will expose the limits of their time, means, or generosity. Eventually, the undercover staffer reveals that they work for Ellen. The random Good Samaritan is brought onto the talk show’s set, and DeGeneres hands them cash: a reward for being kind, but also, it feels, payoff for being messed with.
Like any good prank, especially the pranks DeGeneres loves, cash-for-kindness revels in voyeurism, deceit, and discomfort, all of which get forgiven in the name of a laugh. Yet, like so much of DeGeneres’s comedy, this mischief doubles as do-goodery. It is part of DeGeneres’s grand campaign to merchandise kindness—which is also seen when she says “Be kind to one another” at the end of each show, or when she gets taxi drivers to hug Uber drivers on air, or when she hawks kindness-themed subscription boxes for up to $250 a year. Her aesthetic of cream colors, goofy grins, and uplifting tears, along with her amusing displays of light sadism, have earned her a $330 million empire, a raft of Emmys, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The modern Republican Party does not tolerate criticism of its once—and current—leader.
One of the many Republican principles that Donald Trump obliterated was what was known as Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.” Like several of the stone-tablet dictates (the prohibitions on committing adultery and bearing false witness come to mind), this directive was lightly followed and rarely enforced—politics is a rough sport. But Reagan’s edict served the purpose of keeping internal GOP disputes from getting out of hand. Candidates and party leaders (including a former vice president named Dick Cheney) regularly used the line as a way to de-escalate intraparty fights.
Trump, of course, spares no one his vituperation. Insults are his shtick and his identity, and Republican voters love him for it. Just as he has remade the party in his image—on trade, on spending, on immigration, and on interventionism, among other policy areas—so too has he revised Reagan’s unwritten rule to apply not to fellow Republicans but to him alone. That commandment—“Thou shalt not speak ill of Donald Trump”—is the one that House Republicans enforced this morning when they ousted Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming as their conference chair in one of the more anticlimactic votes in recent memory. GOP lawmakers claim they removed Cheney because her refusal to let go of Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection amounted to “a distraction” in their attempt to regain the House majority. But anyone can see that her sin was far simpler: Cheney continues to call out Trump as a threat to democracy, and the party no longer abides such criticism—not from a party leader, and not publicly.
The most famous dysfunctional family of 1990s television enjoyed, by today’s standards, an almost dreamily secure existence.
Updated at 11:10 a.m. ET on February 8, 2021.
The most famous dysfunctional family of 1990s television enjoyed, by today’s standards, an almost dreamily secure existence that now seems out of reach for all too many Americans. I refer, of course, to the Simpsons. Homer, a high-school graduate whose union job at the nuclear-power plant required little technical skill, supported a family of five. A home, a car, food, regular doctor’s appointments, and enough left over for plenty of beer at the local bar were all attainable on a single working-class salary. Bart might have had to find $1,000 for the family to go to England, but he didn’t have to worry that his parents would lose their home.
This lifestyle was not fantastical in the slightest—nothing, for example, like the ridiculously large Manhattan apartments in Friends. On the contrary, the Simpsons used to be quite ordinary—they were a lot like my Michigan working-class family in the 1990s.
The representative from Wyoming is taking a stand against an authoritarian streak in the Republican Party that she helped cultivate.
Liz Cheney, the representative of Wyoming, the daughter of a former vice president, and a lifelong conservative Republican, is facing a purge.
Cheney’s transgression? She has continued to insist, truthfully, that former President Donald Trump’s claims about the 2020 election are false, after having voted to impeach him in March for inciting a mob that stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the result.
Yesterday, Steve Scalise, the No. 2 Republican in the House, publicly advocated for removing Cheney from her leadership post as the third-ranking House Republican, and replacing her with Elise Stefanik, who has obsequiously amplified Trump’s lies about voter fraud. “This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on January 6,” Cheney’s spokesperson, Jeremy Adler, told TheNew York Times. “Liz will not do that. That is the issue.”
Unless and until Republicans summon the wit and the will to salvage the party, ruin will follow.
The hope of many conservative critics of Donald Trump was that soon after his defeat, and especially in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection, the Republican Party would snap back into its former shape. The Trump presidency would end up being no more than an ugly parenthesis. The GOP would distance itself from Trump and Trumpism, and become a normal party once again.
But that dream soon died. The Trump presidency might have been the first act in a longer and even darker political drama, in which the Republican Party is becoming more radicalized. How long this will last is an open question; whether it is happening is not.
The radicalization manifests in myriad ways, most notably in Trump’s enduring popularity among Republicans. Trump’s loyalists have launched ferocious attacks against Republican lawmakers who voted to impeach him for his role in the insurrection, even as national Republicans eagerly position themselves as his heir. Right-wing media display growing fanaticism, while public-opinion polls show GOP voters embracing Trump’s lie that the election was stolen from him. The Republican Party’s illiberalism, its barely disguised nativism, and its white identity politics are resonating with extremist groups. Slate’s Will Saletan, in an article cataloging recent developments, summarized things this way: “The Republican base is thoroughly infected with sympathies for the insurrection.”
In February 2020, I traveled to New York to celebrate a zeroth birthday and an 80th birthday. First, I saw a close friend’s baby, who had been born only a month earlier. The next day, I went to my grandmother’s birthday party at a crowded Italian restaurant near Times Square.
I would say that this experience made me think about aging and what the alleged Soviet spy Alger Hiss (of all people) called “the Great Span”: the way that seemingly distant history is only a few lifetimes away. But this would be a writer’s white lie. I think about time’s bucket brigade probably too much, and I am constantly looking for tidy anecdotes. Weeks earlier, I had already written in the notes app of my phone: “When my friend’s baby is my grandmother’s age, it will be 2100.”