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.
Colonizing the red planet is a ridiculous way to help humanity.
There’s no place like home—unless you’re Elon Musk. A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship, which may someday send humans to Mars, is, according to Musk, likely to launch soon, possibly within the coming days. But what motivates Musk? Why bother with Mars? A video clip from an interview Musk gave in 2019 seems to sum up Musk’s vision—and everything that’s wrong with it.
In the video, Musk is seen reading a passage from Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot. The book, published in 1994, was Sagan’s response to the famous image of Earth as a tiny speck of light floating in a sunbeam—a shot he’d begged NASA to have the Voyager 1 spacecraft take in 1990 as it sailed into space, 3.7 billion miles from Earth. Sagan believed that if we had a photo of ourselves from this distance, it would forever alter our perspective of our place in the cosmos.
The Danish series John Dillermand makes a very big deal about a very big body part.
The world of Danish children’s television is not for the prudish. Kids who turn on the tube in Denmark might be greeted by gratuitous flatulence, cursing, casual nudity, or cross-dressing puppets. One show centers on a pipe-smoking pirate who wallops ninjas and flirts with Satanism. In another, an audience of 11-to-13-year-olds asks probing questions about the bodies of adults who disrobe before them. As Christian Groes, an anthropologist at Denmark’s Roskilde University, told me, Danish children’s television is not unlike an LSD trip: “Everything is possible in that universe,” he said, loosely quoting a friend, “and people won’t complain about it.”
But people did complain when the Danes debuted a kids’ animated series in January featuring a protagonist with an absurdly long, prehensile penis.
We’ll never know for sure how contagious people are after they’re vaccinated, but we do know how they should act.
Every day, more than 1 million American deltoids are being loaded with a vaccine. The ensuing immune response has proved to be extremely effective—essentially perfect—at preventing severe cases of COVID-19. And now, with yet another highly effective vaccine on the verge of approval, that pace should further accelerate in the weeks to come.
This is creating a legion of people who no longer need to fear getting sick, and are desperate to return to “normal” life. Yet the messaging on whether they might still carry and spread the disease—and thus whether it’s really safe for them to resume their unmasked, un-distanced lives—has been oblique. Anthony Fauci said last week on CNN that “it is conceivable, maybe likely,” that vaccinated people can get infected with the coronavirus and then spread it to someone else, and that more will be known about this likelihood “in some time, as we do some follow-up studies.” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky had been no more definitive on Meet the Press a few days before, where she told the host, “We don’t have a lot of data yet to inform exactly the question that you’re asking.”
Adam Kinzinger says he’ll fight to take his party back from Donald Trump.
adam Kinzinger is a liberated individual—liberated from his party leadership, liberated from the fear of being beaten in a primary, liberated to speak his mind. The 43-year-old representative was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump for inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“I don’t have a constitutional duty to defend against a guy that is a jerk and maybe says some things I don’t like,” Kinzinger told me, explaining what had pushed him to finally break with the president. “I do when he’s getting ready to destroy democracy—and we saw that culminate on January 6th.”
This was the sort of language a number of Republicans used in the immediate aftermath of the riot. “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on January 13. But by the end of the month, McCarthy was traveling hat in hand to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Trump.
After saying a racial slur and being exiled from radio, Morgan Wallen has become only more popular. What’s going on?
It’s no exaggeration to say that one of the biggest artists in American music right now is a disgrace. Three weeks after the 27-year-old country singer Morgan Wallen said a racial slur on camera, his second studio album, Dangerous: The Double Album, is at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. His singles have been bobbing in the country-music top 10 and the cross-genre Hot 100. Billboard’s ranking of the most popular artists in the United States had him in the top spot for five straight weeks. Thousands of people are, at this moment, streaming Wallen’s songs, buying his records, and watching his music videos—putting money in the pockets of someone who has admitted to saying one of the most noxious things imaginable.
When the polio vaccine was declared safe and effective, the news was met with jubilant celebration. Church bells rang across the nation, and factories blew their whistles. “Polio routed!” newspaper headlines exclaimed. “An historic victory,” “monumental,” “sensational,” newscasters declared. People erupted with joy across the United States. Some danced in the streets; others wept. Kids were sent home from school to celebrate.
One might have expected the initial approval of the coronavirus vaccines to spark similar jubilation—especially after a brutal pandemic year. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the steady drumbeat of good news about the vaccines has been met with a chorus of relentless pessimism.
The GOP has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
We are living in a time of bad metaphors. Everything is fascism, or socialism; Hitler’s Germany, or Stalin’s Soviet Union. Republicans, especially, want their followers to believe that America is on the verge of a dramatic time, a moment of great conflict such as 1968—or perhaps, even worse, 1860. (The drama is the point, of course. No one ever says, “We’re living through 1955.”)
Ironically, the GOP is indeed replicating another political party in another time, but not as the heroes they imagine themselves to be. The Republican Party has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
I can already hear the howls about invidious comparisons. I do not mean that modern American Republicans are communists. Rather, I mean that the Republicans have entered their own kind of end-stage Bolshevism, as members of a party that is now exhausted by its failures, cynical about its own ideology, authoritarian by reflex, controlled as a personality cult by a failing old man, and looking for new adventures to rejuvenate its fortunes.
Getting a heat pump is one of the easiest ways for homeowners to fight climate change.
If you’re like me, you know that getting rid of your car is one of the best things you can do for the climate, and also that you will never do it. This is a car-oriented country, and a car-oriented time. But in 2019, the private cars and light trucks that ordinary people drive for work and shopping and leisure were responsible for about 15 percent of U.S. fossil-fuel-energy use. Electric vehicles get a lot of press, but less than 1 percent of energy used for transportation came from electricity. Personal transportation is a large contributor to carbon emissions in America; it’s also the hardest to give up.
But trading a gasoline automobile for an electric one (or for a bus or train) isn’t the only way ordinary citizens can contribute to fossil-fuel reduction. Decarbonization has two pillars: First, generate electricity from energy that does not emit carbon—renewable sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal instead of fossil fuels. That requires legislative and regulatory change. Second, use electricity to run as much of your personal life as possible.
Side effects are just a sign that protection is kicking in as it should.
At about 2 a.m. on Thursday morning, I woke to find my husband shivering beside me. For hours, he had been tossing in bed, exhausted but unable to sleep, nursing chills, a fever, and an agonizingly sore left arm. His teeth chattered. His forehead was freckled with sweat. And as I lay next to him, cinching blanket after blanket around his arms, I felt an immense sense of relief. All this misery was a sign that the immune cells in his body had been riled up by the second shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and were well on their way to guarding him from future disease.
Side effects are a natural part of the vaccination process, as my colleague Sarah Zhang has written. Not everyone will experience them. But the two COVID-19 vaccines cleared for emergency use in the United States, made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, already have reputations for raising the hackles of the immune system: In both companies’clinical trials, at least a third of the volunteers ended up with symptoms such as headaches and fatigue; fevers like my husband’s were less common.
At some point—maybe even soon—the emergency phase of the pandemic will end. But what, exactly, is that magic threshold?
In the middle of January, the deadliest month of the pandemic, one day after inauguration, the Biden administration put out a comprehensive national strategy for “beating COVID-19.” The 200-page document includes many useful goals, such as “Restore trust with the American people” and “Mount a safe, effective, and comprehensive vaccination campaign.” But nowhere does it give a quantitative threshold for when it will be time to say, “Okay, done—we’ve beaten the pandemic.”
A month later, it’s time to get specific. The facts are undeniable: The seven-day average of new cases in the United States has fallen by 74 percent since their January peak, hospitalizations have gone down by 58 percent, and deaths have dropped by 42 percent. Meanwhile, more than 60 million doses of vaccine have gone into American arms. At some point—maybe even some point relatively soon—the remaining emergency measures that were introduced in March 2020 will come to an end. But when, exactly, should that happen?