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Book:  Chris Wallace – “Countdown 1945”

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished reading Countdown 1945:  The Extraordinary Story of the Atom Bomb and the 116 Days that Changed the World by  news anchor, Chris Wallace with Mitch Weiss. It is a quick read mainly because the subject matter is so provocative.  Anyone interested in history, particularly World War II, will finish its 270 plus pages in a few days.  The last hundred pages are riveting and include detailed descriptions of President Harry Truman at the Potsdam Conference during which he is negotiating with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.  His main objective during this conference was to get Stalin to commit to declare war on Japan.  During the conference, he is also keeping open his communications lines with his military advisers who are getting ready to test the first atomic bomb.  The test is successful and plans for dropping the bomb on mainland Japan are discussed, debated and eventually approved.  For every adviser who supports dropping the bomb, another is against it.  Senior military personnel such as General Dwight Eisenhower preferred a land invasion of Japan rather than using such a destructive weapon that would result in an incredible loss of civilian lives.  General Douglas Arthur felt that a land invasion of Japan would be “the greatest bloodletting in history” resulting in a loss of at least 250,000 to 500,000 American military lives. Later on, there is much debate about the consequences of having unleashed nuclear weapons upon humanity.  Robert Oppenheimer, the main architect of the bomb regretted his decision to use it stating “I have blood on my hands.” 

If you are not familiar with the details of the development and deployment of the first atom bomb, Wallace’s book is a good place to start.

A review that appeared in the New York Times Review of Books is below.

Tony

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New York Times Review of Books

A Day-by-Day Re-Creation of Truman’s Decision to Use Nuclear Weapons

By Jay Winik

July 9, 2020

COUNTDOWN 1945
The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days That Changed the World
By Chris Wallace with Mitch Weiss

On April 12, 1945, Franklin Roosevelt, beloved by the American people, was sick and depleted. Convalescing in Georgia after an exhausting summit with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin about ending the war and creating the peace to follow, he slumped in his chair, dead from a cerebral hemorrhage. He had tamed the Great Depression, lifted the hearts of Americans with his fireside chats, forged a remarkable Allied coalition and was victorious at D-Day. Now he was gone. Eighteen days later so was Hitler. All that remained for America was forcing Japan to surrender.

That job fell to the untested vice president, Harry S. Truman. “Salty,” “blunt” and “decisive,” Truman barely knew Roosevelt, and in the previous three months had met with him only twice (outside of cabinet meetings). Yet after being hurriedly sworn in as president, Truman was informed by Secretary of War Henry Stimson about an enormous top-secret program to develop a bomb of “unbelievable destructive power.” With “Countdown 1945,” Chris Wallace, son of the legendary newscaster Mike Wallace, and today one of the nation’s premier news anchors, tells the powerful story (assisted by the journalist Mitch Weiss) of the frenzied rush to develop the bomb before America’s adversaries did, and of the agonizing decision of whether to use it against Japan. It is a debate that haunts us to this day.

On one hand, the book reads like a riveting novel as Wallace reveals the machinations and internal debates among the scientific community to devise a workable atomic bomb as quickly as possible. We see Albert Einstein; we see Robert Oppenheimer; we see Enrico Fermi, each of whom played a role in developing the bomb, but then later came to regret the awesome power they helped unleash upon the world.

But “Countdown 1945” is also a profound story of decision making at the highest levels — and of pathos. The alternative to using the bombs would have been for a war-weary America to invade Japan. Yet as Wallace notes, the closer American troops got to Japan, the more “fanatical” the Japanese defenders became. American military planners feared that the war could go on not for months but for years, especially if a guerrilla war was carried out. And most estimates believed it would cost 500,000 or even a million American lives. Gen. Douglas MacArthur put it bluntly: An assault on Japan, he said, would be “the greatest bloodletting in history.”

“Countdown 1945” is filled with fascinating details. Truman referred to Stalin as a “little son of a bitch.” Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, cost more than an aircraft carrier, and was likened to the stuff of sci-fi and even “Frankenstein.” The men of the flight crew carried cyanide pills with them, in case they somehow got caught by the Japanese. Incredibly, the bomb fell nearly six miles in 43 seconds; the explosion could be heard 50 miles away and the mushroom cloud was visible 400 miles away. As for the Japanese victims? “The fluid of their melted eyes” ran down their cheeks, and for one American crew member, “a lively city … disappeared before his eyes.”

In the end, the reader is forced to ask: Should Truman have dropped the bombs? Wallace points out that more than 100,000 people were part of the bomb-making effort, the program was approved by Roosevelt and over $2 billion was spent. “It is unrealistic,” Wallace says, “to think Harry Truman would make any other choice.” Truman himself exulted after the success of Little Boy, “This is the greatest thing in history.”

Was it? Wallace’s superb, masterly book lets the reader decide.

 

Video: Tom Nichols – “The Threat to American Democracy Has Increased Due to Mediocre People of Meager Talents…”

Dear Commons Community,

Tom Nichols, writer for The Atlantic and author of  Our Own Worst Enemy,  was interviewed on CNN this morning regarding the threats to American democracy.  He explained an earlier tweet:

“The threat to American democracy increased exponentially over the past five years or so when mediocre people of meager talents realized they would never have to work a straight job again as long as they could terrify a nation of right-wing nitwits about the end of “Real America.”

He called out various individuals and pundits including Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.

The five-minute interview is worth a view.

Tony

 

Matt Amodio’s “Jeopardy” Winning Streak Ends after 38 Wins!

Matt Amodio, a doctoral student at Yale, had the second-longest streak in the game show’s history. Jonathan Fisher, an actor, narrowly won the game on Monday.

Dear Commons Community,

The news in television land last night was the loss by long-time champion, Matt Amodio on the game show, Jeopardy. Amodio came in third during last night’s match; Jonathan Fisher, an actor, narrowly won the game, with Jessica Stephens, a statistical research specialist, following close behind. Amodio missed the Final Jeopardy clue, pushing him way behind his competitors, with $5,600 at the end of the game, compared to Fisher’s $29,200. (The clue: Nazi Germany annexed this nation and divided it into regions of the Alps and the Danube; the Allies later divided it into four sectors. The correct response: “What is Austria?”).  I watched the show last night and it was clear that Amodio was off his game.

Regardless, Mr. Amodio was a fine champion:  humble, talented and extremely knowledgeable in a host of categories. Below is a review of the evening, courtesy of The New York Times.

Tony

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The New York Times

Matt Amodio’s ‘Jeopardy!’ Streak Ends After 38 Wins

By Julia Jacobs

Oct. 11, 2021

Ken Jennings can relax.

On Monday, the reigning “Jeopardy!” contestant Matt Amodio lost his 39th game, leaving Jennings’s No. 1 hall-of-fame spot safe. Amodio, a Ph.D. student in computer science at Yale, had the second-longest streak in the game show’s history, earning him $1.5 million in prize money.

Since his debut on the show on July 21, viewers grew attached to following Amodio’s streak, turning him into the latest “Jeopardy!” darling. Amodio was less aggressive in his wagering compared with James Holzhauer, the professional sports bettor who dominated the show in 2019, but he lasted longer. Amodio, who ranks third in total regular-season winnings, had many more games to go to rival Jennings’s 74 wins.

The episode marked another behind-the-scenes transition for the show. It was the first episode following the departure of Mike Richards, the television executive whose short stint as the new “Jeopardy!” host imploded over offensive comments he had made on a podcast. Richards stepped down as host after taping five episodes, then left his role as executive producer less than two weeks later.

Monday’s pretaped episode was executive produced by Michael Davies, a game-show veteran who developed the original American version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and agreed to step in temporarily after Richards’s exit.

Amodio’s streak was likely a relief for the executives behind the show after weeks of attention around the struggle to replace Alex Trebek, who died last year after hosting the show for more than 36 years. Some of the games during Amodio’s streak were hosted by Mayim Bialik, an interim host who is vying for the full-time job but faces criticism of some of her positions, including her questioning of vaccines and an affiliation with a disputed brain-health supplement.

Amodio came in third during Monday’s match; Jonathan Fisher, an actor, narrowly won the game, with Jessica Stephens, a statistical research specialist, following close behind. Amodio missed the Final Jeopardy clue, pushing him way behind his competitors, with $5,600 at the end of the game, compared to Fisher’s $29,200. (The clue: Nazi Germany annexed this nation and divided it into regions of the Alps and the Danube; the Allies later divided it into four sectors. The correct response: “What is Austria?”)

As Amodio built up a string of wins, he amassed a large following on social media, where he answered fans’ questions, shared behind-the-scenes details and bantered with his fellow “Jeopardy!” champions. His clue-answering strategy of beginning every response with the word “what” rather than other question words such as “who,” which he has said he does to focus on finding the correct response, sparked a lively online debate around the game show’s rules.

“I always wanted to be a ‘Jeopardy!’ champion, and I accomplished that,” Amodio said in a news release. “I know going into every bar trivia game that I play that I’m going to come in with a little intimidation factor.”

Republicans Christine Todd Whitman and Miles Taylor Want to Save their Party from Pro-Trump Extremists!

Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Dear Commons Community,

In an essay in today’s New York Times, Republicans Christine Todd Whitman and Miles Taylor call on their membership to abandon the extreme pro-Trump wing of their party and to team up on key races with their longtime political opponents: the Democrats. Ms. Whitman was the Republican governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001 and Mr. Taylor  served at the Department of Homeland Security from 2017 to 2019.  To achieve their goals,  they are organizing a Renew America Movement — and will release a slate of nearly two dozen Democratic, independent and Republican candidates to support in 2022.

The key take-away from their essay is:

“…the best hope for the rational remnants of the Republican Party is for us to form an alliance with Democrats to defend American institutions, defeat far-right candidates, and elect honorable representatives next year — including a strong contingent of moderate Democrats.

It’s a strategy that has worked. Mr. Trump lost re-election in large part because Republicans nationwide defected, with 7 percent who voted for him in 2016 flipping to support Joe Biden, a margin big enough to have made some difference in key swing states.

Even still, we don’t take this position lightly. Many of us have spent years battling the left over government’s role in society, and we will continue to have disagreements on fundamental issues like infrastructure spending, taxes and national security. Similarly, some Democrats will be wary of any pact with the political right.

But we agree on something more foundational — democracy. We cannot tolerate the continued hijacking of a major U.S. political party by those who seek to tear down our Republic’s guardrails or who are willing to put one man’s interests ahead of the country. We cannot tolerate Republican leaders — in 2022 or in the presidential election in 2024 — refusing to accept the results of elections or undermining the certification of those results should they lose.

To that end, concerned conservatives must join forces with Democrats on the most essential near-term imperative: blocking Republican leaders from regaining control of the House of Representatives. Some of us have worked in the past with the House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, but as long as he embraces Mr. Trump’s lies, he cannot be trusted to lead the chamber, especially in the run-up to the next presidential election.

And while many of us support and respect the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, it is far from clear that he can keep Mr. Trump’s allies at bay, which is why the Senate may be safer remaining as a divided body rather than under Republican control.

For these reasons, we will endorse and support bipartisan-oriented moderate Democrats in difficult races, like Representatives Abigail Spanberger of Virginia and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona, where they will undoubtedly be challenged by Trump-backed candidates. And we will defend a small nucleus of courageous Republicans, such as Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Peter Meijer and others who are unafraid to speak the truth.”

We wish Ms. Whitman and Mr. Taylor all the best in their efforts. Our democracy is at stake!

Below is their  entire essay.

Tony

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The New York Times

We Are Republicans. There’s Only One Way to Save Our Party From Pro-Trump Extremists.

Oct. 11, 2021

By Miles Taylor and Christine Todd Whitman

After Donald Trump’s defeat, there was a measure of hope among Republicans who opposed him that control of the party would be up for grabs, and that conservative pragmatists could take it back. But it’s become obvious that political extremists maintain a vise-like grip on the national and state parties and the process for fielding and championing House and Senate candidates in next year’s elections.

Rational Republicans are losing the party civil war. And the only near-term way to battle pro-Trump extremists is for all of us to team up on key races and overarching political goals with our longtime political opponents: the Democrats.

This year we joined more than 150 conservatives — including former governors, senators, congressmen, cabinet secretaries, and party leaders — in calling for the Republican Party to divorce itself from Trumpism or else lose our support, perhaps with us forming a new political party. Rather than return to founding ideals, Republican leaders in the House and in many states have now turned belief in conspiracy theories and lies about stolen elections into a litmus test for membership and running for office.

Starting a new center-right party may prove to be the last resort if Trump-backed candidates continue to win Republican primaries. We and our allies have debated the option of starting a new party for months and will continue to explore its viability in the long run. Unfortunately, history is littered with examples of failed attempts at breaking the two-party system, and in most states today the laws do not lend themselves easily to the creation and success of third parties.

So for now, the best hope for the rational remnants of the Republican Party is for us to form an alliance with Democrats to defend American institutions, defeat far-right candidates, and elect honorable representatives next year — including a strong contingent of moderate Democrats.

It’s a strategy that has worked. Mr. Trump lost re-election in large part because Republicans nationwide defected, with 7 percent who voted for him in 2016 flipping to support Joe Biden, a margin big enough to have made some difference in key swing states.

Even still, we don’t take this position lightly. Many of us have spent years battling the left over government’s role in society, and we will continue to have disagreements on fundamental issues like infrastructure spending, taxes and national security. Similarly, some Democrats will be wary of any pact with the political right.

But we agree on something more foundational — democracy. We cannot tolerate the continued hijacking of a major U.S. political party by those who seek to tear down our Republic’s guardrails or who are willing to put one man’s interests ahead of the country. We cannot tolerate Republican leaders — in 2022 or in the presidential election in 2024 — refusing to accept the results of elections or undermining the certification of those results should they lose.

To that end, concerned conservatives must join forces with Democrats on the most essential near-term imperative: blocking Republican leaders from regaining control of the House of Representatives. Some of us have worked in the past with the House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, but as long as he embraces Mr. Trump’s lies, he cannot be trusted to lead the chamber, especially in the run-up to the next presidential election.

And while many of us support and respect the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, it is far from clear that he can keep Mr. Trump’s allies at bay, which is why the Senate may be safer remaining as a divided body rather than under Republican control.

For these reasons, we will endorse and support bipartisan-oriented moderate Democrats in difficult races, like Representatives Abigail Spanberger of Virginia and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona, where they will undoubtedly be challenged by Trump-backed candidates. And we will defend a small nucleus of courageous Republicans, such as Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Peter Meijer and others who are unafraid to speak the truth.

In addition to these leaders, this week we are coming together around a political idea — the Renew America Movement — and will release a slate of nearly two dozen Democratic, independent and Republican candidates we will support in 2022.

These “renewers” must be protected and elected if we want to restore a common-sense coalition in Washington. But merely holding the line will be insufficient. To defeat the extremist insurgency in our political system and pressure the Republican Party to reform, voters and candidates must be willing to form nontraditional alliances.

For disaffected Republicans, this means an openness to backing centrist Democrats. It will be difficult for lifelong Republicans to do this — akin to rooting for the other team out of fear that your own is ruining the sport entirely — but democracy is not a game, which is why when push comes to shove, patriotic conservatives should put country over party.

One of those races is in Pennsylvania, where a bevy of pro-Trump candidates are vying to replace the departing Republican senator, Pat Toomey. The only prominent moderate in the primary, Craig Snyder, recently bowed out, and if no one takes his place, it will increase the urgency for Republican voters to stand behind a Democrat, such as Representative Conor Lamb, a centrist who is running for the seat.

For Democrats, this similarly means being open to conceding that there are certain races where progressives simply cannot win and acknowledging that it makes more sense to throw their lot in with a center-right candidate who can take out a more radical conservative.

Utah is a prime example, where the best hope of defeating Senator Mike Lee, a Republican who defended Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede the election, is not a Democrat but an independent and former Republican, Evan McMullin, a member of our group, who announced last week that he was entering the race.

We need more candidates like him prepared to challenge politicians who have sought to subvert our Constitution from the comfort of their “safe” seats in Congress, and we are encouraged to note that additional independent-minded leaders are considering entering the fray in places like Texas, Arizona and North Carolina, targeting seats that Trumpist Republicans think are secure.

More broadly, this experiment in “coalition campaigning” — uniting concerned conservatives and patriotic progressives — could remake American politics and serve as an antidote to hyper-partisanship and federal gridlock.

To work, it will require trust building between both camps, especially while they are fighting side by side in the toughest races around the country by learning to collaborate on voter outreach, sharing sensitive polling data, and synchronizing campaign messaging.

A compact between the center-right and the left may seem like an unnatural fit, but in the battle for the soul of America’s political system, we cannot retreat to our ideological corners.

A great deal depends on our willingness to consider new paths of political reform. From the halls of Congress to our own communities, the fate of our Republic might well rest on forming alliances with those we least expected to.

 

Video: Congressman Steve Scalise Squirms under Questioning from Chris Wallace on Whether the 2020 Presidential Election Was Stolen!

Dear Commons Community,

Rep. Steve Scalise, the House’s second-ranking Republican, refuses to acknowledge the 2020 presidential election’s legitimacy, nearly a year after the majority of states and Congress elected President Joe Biden.

The Louisiana congressman spoke on Sunday with Fox News’ Chris Wallace (see video above), repeating a false claim widely spread by GOP members that some states ― especially those where election results favored Biden over incumbent Donald Trump ― did not follow the Constitution when certifying their votes.

“I’ve been very clear from the beginning ― if you look at a number of states, they didn’t follow their state-passed laws that govern the election for president,” said Scalise, who voted against certifying the election results. “That is what the United States Constitution says. They don’t say that the states determine what the rules are, they say the state legislatures determine the rules.”

“But the states all certified [the election],” Wallace said.

“Right, but at the end of the day, are we gonna follow what the Constitution says or not? I hope we get back to what the Constitution says, but clearly a number of states, they didn’t follow those legislative rules.”

Scalise repeatedly refused to say what irregularities he believes happened in which states. He also did not say what the legislatures’ specific preferences the states went against.

Wallace did not challenge the congressman’s false allegations that were an attempt to cast doubt on the election’s results, which were free and fair.

Some state courts allowed more voters more means ― such as mail-in ballots ― and time to vote, regardless of party affiliation. These adjustments fell in line with the state constitutions and were in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has now killed over 700,000 Americans. Every investigation into the election ― including by the Justice Department ― has confirmed the legitimacy of the results, and proven how rare voter fraud is.

When Wallace asked multiple times if Scalise believes the election was “stolen,” the congressman continued to repeat the same lies about states not following the Constitution. He evaded directly answering whether he believes the election was fraudulent.

This is not the first time Scalise publicly refused to rebuke the so-called “Big Lie” peddled by Trump and his allies that the election was “stolen” and rife with voter fraud. In February, the Republican acknowledged that “Biden’s the president” but did not directly say whether the election wasn’t stolen.

Following his comments on Sunday, Rep. Liz Cheney blasted Scalise. The Wyoming Republican’s rejection of the voter fraud lie has led to her alienation from most of her party. She is now vice chair of the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol insurrection.

“Millions of Americans have been sold a fraud that the election was stolen,” she tweeted. “Republicans have a duty to tell the American people that this is not true. Perpetuating the Big Lie is an attack on the core of our constitutional republic.”

Scalise is among the cowardly, kowtowing Republicans who can’t stand the truth!

Tony

Ezra Klein:  Democrats in Trouble in 2022 and Beyond!

Opinion | Democrats, Please Get Ready to Lose - The New York Times

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, The New York Times opinion columnist, Ezra Klein, had a dreary prediction for the upcoming elections in 2022 and  beyond.  In an essay entitled, “Can Democrats Find a Winning Message,”  he reviews models developed by data analyst David Shor and others that posit that the odds of the Democrats keeping control of the House or Senate are very slim.

Among other indicators, Shor’s model is based on data showing that Democrats are losing support among blue-collar, white and black non-college educated voters, a trend that is likely to continue into 2022 and beyond.  Shor is deeply pessimistic about the near-term chances for Democrats.

While some Democratic strategists such as Michael Podhorzer question Shor’s modelling, Klein also comments that the Democratic Party’s messaging is muddled and disconnected with factions fighting and disagreeing among themselves.  He is also concerned that the electorate is not splitting allegiances and that in races in national, state, and local jurisdictions, increasingly the voting is for one party.  Klein concludes:

“The core problem Democrats face is that almost all politics are now national. They are one party facing electoral disaster, and they will rise or fall together. Democrats cannot escape one another, no matter how they might try…For the Democratic Party to chart any course out of the peril it faces, it must first accept that in the minds of most Americans, it is a party, a singular entity. And before that party can shape what voters think, it must find a way to see itself clearly and act collectively.”

If Klein and Shor are correct, the future for the Democrats is not rosy.  His essay is worth a read.

Tony

 

Maureen Dowd on the US Supreme Court – “It Ain’t Pretty”

Abortion, gun control, death penalty: How this US Supreme Court could  change America - BBC News

Dear Commons Community,

Maureen Dowd, in a column this morning, entitled, The Supreme Court v. Reality, examines the conservative make-up of the US Supreme Court as it gets ready to take on major issues such as abortion.  Here is an excerpt:

“Donald Trump’s ability to get three conservatives on the court, thanks to Mitch McConnell, will turn out to be the most consequential part of his miserable presidency. And the minority leader is about to get his reward in the form of a bunch of conservative rulings.

The beauty of it for McConnell is that the court is going to do his dirty work for him. Republicans don’t want to vote to roll back abortion rights because they know it’s not popular and they don’t want their fingerprints on it. They’d prefer the court do it.”

Her conclusion:  “Ignore the charade of the parade of justices protesting that they are pure and neutral. Nobody’s buying it. We all know it’s a disaster if the country’s going one way and the court’s going the other.

The Least Dangerous Branch, as the court was once known, has become the Most Dangerous Branch.”

Her entire column is below.

“It ain’t pretty.”

Tony

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The New York Times

The Supreme Court v. Reality

Oct. 9, 2021

By Maureen Dowd

Opinion Columnist

WASHINGTON — Ordinarily staid and silent Supreme Court justices have become whirling dervishes of late, spinning madly to rebut the idea that Americans are beginning to regard the court as a dangerous cabal of partisan hacks.

They need not fret and wring their hands. No one is beginning to think that.

Many of us have thought that for a long time.

Supremes are often Shakespeare fans, so of course they are familiar with the phrase “doth protest too much, methinks.”

The once august court’s approval ratings on fairness were already falling two decades ago. The bloom came off the robe in 2000, when the court threw the game on Bush v. Gore, voting 5 to 4 to stop the Florida recount and anoint a Republican president.

If we conjure an alternative-history look at America, consider all the things that the Supreme Court brought down on our heads by pre-emptively purloining that victory for George W. Bush: two interminable and inexplicable wars, costing so many lives and so many trillions; a descent into torture; the villainous Dick Cheney.

As some on Twitter noted, our 20 years of quicksand in Afghanistan was capped Friday with this headline: “Son of Afghanistan’s Former Defense Minister Buys $20.9 Million Beverly Hills Mansion.”

Al Gore, mocked as “Ozone Man” by Bush senior, certainly would have tried to head off the biblical floods and fires engulfing our country.

The right-wing justices may as well embrace their reputation for hackery. Because in this blockbuster year, when the conservative court begins debating abortion and the Second Amendment, one thing is certain: They are going to make rulings that will drive people crazy, rulings that will be out of sync with what most Americans believe.

So please, conservative cabal, don’t pretend you’re not doing this out of ideology.

And please, Justice Breyer, skedaddle. You’re playing a dangerous game. You need to get out of there because it looks as if the midterms are going to be bad, and if the Democrats lose the Senate majority, there’s no guarantee that Mitch McConnell will let any Biden nominee onto the court, even with two years left on the president’s term. Do you want the court to be 7 to 2?

Listen to those Democrats who are warning that staying would be irresponsible and egotistical. Don’t make the colossal mistake that Ruth Bader Ginsburg did, ignoring entreaties from top Democrats and hints from the Obama White House to leave in a timely way and hanging on so long that the worst possible outcome happened: That remarkable feminist’s seat went to the ferociously anti-abortion Lady Handmaid’s Tale, who is trying to cancel out R.B.G.’s legacy.

And please, America, can we have term limits? Justices should not be on the court for 30 years, or into their late 80s.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who did not want the court to be seen as too extreme, has lost control because there are five more rabid conservatives running over him.

Donald Trump’s ability to get three conservatives on the court, thanks to McConnell, will turn out to be the most consequential part of his miserable presidency. And the minority leader is about to get his reward in the form of a bunch of conservative rulings.

The beauty of it for McConnell is that the court is going to do his dirty work for him. Republicans don’t want to vote to roll back abortion rights because they know it’s not popular and they don’t want their fingerprints on it. They’d prefer the court do it.

Linda Greenhouse, who has a book coming out called “Justice on the Brink,” had a piece in The Times summing up why it is brutal for our democracy to have institutions so out of step with majority views in the country: “Three polls within the past month show that fewer than a third of Americans want to see the court overturn Roe v. Wade. Yet it appears that only a third of the justices can be counted on to preserve the right to abortion as defined by the court’s current precedents.” So unlucky women in red states are going back to back-alley days?

As The Times’s Adam Liptak said on “The Daily,” the Supreme Court might tinker with Roe v. Wade, or it might take “an option that will be attractive to the most conservative members of the court,” the one “that gives rise to the headline ‘Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade,’ which would be a big news day.” He also noted that the reason justices are so sensitive now is that “the authority of the Supreme Court — it’s a little hard to know where it comes from. Sure, it’s in the Constitution, but they don’t have an army, they don’t have the power of the purse. It’s not entirely clear why we do what the Supreme Court tells us to do.”

Ignore the charade of the parade of justices protesting that they are pure and neutral. Nobody’s buying it. We all know it’s a disaster if the country’s going one way and the court’s going the other.

The Least Dangerous Branch, as the court was once known, has become the Most Dangerous Branch.

 

Gamal Abdelaziz and John Wilson – Convicted in the Varsity Blues Admissions Trial!

Two Parents Found Guilty of All Charges in College Admissions Cheating Case  - WSJ

Gamal Abdelaziz and John Wilson

Dear Commons Community,

Gamal Abdelaziz, a former casino executive, and John Wilson, a private equity financier, were the first people to stand trial in the federal investigation known as Operation Varsity Blues which involved dozens of parents, coaches, and exam administrators  in a scheme that had children fraudulently admitted to some of the most prestigious universities in the country.

The defendants in the case were powerful and successful men. They and their families enjoyed privileges and opportunities that most of us can only imagine. Yet they were willing to break the law in order to guarantee an admission spot for their children in the school of their choosing. What they did was an affront to hard-working students and parents.  As reported by The New York Times.

“The investigation has snared more than 50 parents, coaches, exam administrators and others in an admissions scheme that implicated college athletic programs at the University of Southern California, Yale, Stanford, Wake Forest and Georgetown. Many other wealthy parents, including some celebrities, have pleaded guilty rather than take their chances in court.

Mr. Abdelaziz, 64, was accused of paying $300,000 in 2018 to have his daughter admitted to U.S.C. as a top-ranked basketball recruit even though she did not make the varsity team in high school. Mr. Wilson, 62, was accused of paying $220,000 in 2014 to have his son admitted as a water polo recruit at U.S.C. His son did play water polo, but prosecutors said he was not good enough to compete at the university.

Mr. Wilson was also accused of agreeing to pay $1.5 million in 2018 to have his twin daughters, who were good students, admitted to Harvard and Stanford as recruited athletes.

“What they did was an affront to hard-working students and parents,” Nathaniel R. Mendell, the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said in a news conference after the verdict. “But the verdict today proves that even these defendants, powerful and privileged people, are not above the law.”

Mr. Abdelaziz and Mr. Wilson were both convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and fraud; Mr. Wilson alone was found guilty of additional fraud and bribery charges and of filing a false tax return for taking a deduction for a payment that the government called a bribe.

They face up to 20 years in prison on the most serious charges. But experts said that under the sentencing guidelines they would get far less, perhaps less than three years for Mr. Abdelaziz and less than five years for Mr. Wilson.

In many ways, the college admissions system was also on trial. The defense argued that its clients were playing by the rules as they understood them: that wealthy parents could get an edge for their children by donating money. In this case, they paid the money through a corrupt college consultant, William Singer, who said he had a “side door” reserved for recruited athletes.

Mr. Singer’s scheme has thrown an unflattering light on the college coaching industry, in which parents pay thousands of dollars for tutoring and advising services to help their children get into prestigious institutions. And it showed how many students use college athletics to gain a big advantage in admissions, reinforcing a cynical view that gaining entry into highly selective schools can be a transactional process.

But prosecutors stressed that universities were not on trial, and that this was not a case about traditional admissions. The defendants, they said, had gone to great lengths to pay bribes and falsify their children’s athletic profiles.

Even so, the case could lead to some self-examination by admissions officials, said Jeffrey M. Cohen, a former federal prosecutor and associate professor at Boston College Law School.

“People who are trying to cheat always look for the weakest link,” Mr. Cohen said, adding, “What’s shocking about this case was that we saw in broad daylight that people were lying to get through these weak links in the admissions system.”

U.S.C. issued a statement saying, “We respect the judicial process and the jury’s decision.”

The verdict was a swift, resounding victory for the prosecution. The jury came into the courtroom a little after 2:30 p.m. Friday, just more than 24 hours after it began deliberating. The court clerk read the verdict form, pronouncing each man’s name and a separate “guilty” verdict, over and over again, five times for the charges they had in common, and another six times for Mr. Wilson, a crushing pile of guiltys.

“This is obviously not the result he was looking for, but you know that’s our system and that’s why they have appellate courts, so that’s what we’ll be doing next,” Mr. Abdelaziz’ lawyer, Brian Kelly, said outside the courthouse.

As Mr. Wilson walked calmly out of John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse, he kept a straight face and held his wife’s hand. Though he was met by a barrage of reporters, he did not answer any questions.

Since the indictments were announced in March 2019, 47 of the 57 defendants who have been charged have pleaded guilty or have agreed to do so. Thirty-three of those have been parents, including the actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, and Ms. Loughlin’s husband, Mossimo Giannulli, a fashion designer. Their sentences have ranged up to nine months in prison.

A handful of parents are scheduled to go on trial in the new year.

The linchpin of the operation was Mr. Singer, who billed himself as a “concierge” admissions consultant for wealthy families. He ran a company called the Key and an associated foundation that provided a mix of legitimate and fraudulent services, and worked with a network of athletic coaches and administrators.

He has pleaded guilty to racketeering and other charges and is cooperating with the government, though he has not yet been sentenced.

Prosecutors said Mr. Singer’s services appealed to parents who wanted a guarantee of admission; he typically told them they did not have to pay in full until their children were admitted.

“The parents did not come up with the scheme; that was Rick Singer,” Leslie Wright, one of the prosecutors, said. “But without them, it never would have happened.”

After his son was admitted to U.S.C. as a water polo recruit, Mr. Wilson wrote in a March 2014 email to Mr. Singer: “Thanks again for making this happen! Pls give me the invoice. What are the options for the payment?” He asked if Mr. Singer could make it “for consulting or whatever,” so that “I can pay it from the corporate account?”

The defense argued that Mr. Wilson, a former Gap and Staples executive, and Mr. Abdelaziz, a former Wynn Resorts executive, were the victims of a masterful con artist. Mr. Singer had earned their trust by providing years of college coaching services, the defense lawyers told the jury, and they had no reason to suspect him.

They said they never saw the emails containing phony athletic profiles of their children that Mr. Singer sent to them for their approval — a claim the prosecution said was unlikely.

“John is not part of Singer’s con,” Michael Kendall, Mr. Wilson’s lawyer, told the jury. “There is no evidence, not even a hint, that John figured out Singer’s scam.”

Mr. Kelly, Mr. Abdelaziz’ lawyer, said: “It’s not illegal to do fund-raising, not illegal to give money to a school in the hopes that your kid will get in. So that’s his mind-set.”

In the end, the jurors did not see the defense’s blurry line, but a clear one. And they found that it had been crossed.”

Justice has been served!

Tony

 

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