Wins and Losses:  Trump’s Influence on the Republican Primaries!  

Former president Donald Trump's influence over the Republican Party is still an open question after mixed results in primary elections (AFP/Brendan Smialowski)

Dear Commons Community,

The past three weeks of Republican primary elections have presented a confused picture of former President Donald Trump’s influence in the GOP with some wins and some losses.

Trump’s endorsements have had a major impact in some races. He has shown the ability, in most competitive primaries, to direct about one-third of Republican voters to support his handpicked candidate. That may seem modest, but it’s the same percentage he received in most competitive primary elections in 2016 on his way to the presidential nomination.

He has also lost some big races. In Nebraska, his choice for governor, Charles Herbster, was rejected by Republican voters after being accused by a Republican state senator and numerous other women of predatory sexual behavior. Trump stood by Herbster after the accusations were made, and held a rally with him.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s loss in North Carolina’s 11th District this week was similar to Herbster’s, in that Cawthorn had so badly damaged his own standing with a series of embarrassing episodes that Trump’s support could not save him.

In Idaho on Tuesday night, the incumbent, Gov. Brad Little, handily defeated his sitting lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin, who enjoyed Trump’s “complete and total endorsement.” By a margin of 53% to 31%, Little crushed McGeachin, who had aligned herself with extreme far-right figures in Idaho and had attempted to rescind Little’s pandemic guidelines while he was traveling out of state last year.

Trump backed off his attacks on Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine after suggesting that he should be challenged in the primary and the incumbent governor won nomination for a second term by a 20-point margin. As reported by Yahoo News.

“He’s certainly not setting the world on fire,” said Bill Palatucci, a Republican National Committee member from New Jersey. Palatucci is a longtime adviser to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has aggressively challenged Trump since the 2020 election and may run for president in 2024.

Many Democrats, however, are convinced that Trump is still the undisputed leader of the GOP, regardless of whether his chosen candidates win their primaries.

Joe Trippi, a longtime Democratic consultant who has worked on multiple presidential campaigns, was blunt about Trump and the Republican Party. “He owns it,” Trippi told Yahoo News.

Trump’s backing has been determinative in a few races. In North Carolina, he endorsed Rep. Ted Budd for Senate almost a year ago, and that selection gave Budd a clear path to the nomination, which he won easily this week. In Ohio, Trump helped push J.D. Vance over the finish line after a late endorsement weeks before the May 3 primary there.

Rep. Ted Budd, a Republican candidate for a U.S. Senate seat from North Carolina, with Trump, who endorsed him, at a rally April 9 in Selma, N.C. (Chris Seward/AP)

There is a trend here: Trump has done terribly in his endorsements for governor. But he’s been able to move the needle in races for U.S. Senate.

That trend is set to continue in Georgia next week, where the incumbent, Gov. Brian Kemp, is expected to easily defeat Trump’s pick, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, and to win a second term. At the same time, Trump’s pick for U.S. Senate, former NFL star Herschel Walker, is expected to win the GOP primary handily as well, although he also also enjoys the support of establishment Republicans like Sen. Mitch McConnell, the minority leader.

The reasons for this contrast are fairly straightforward. Governors have stronger connections to their states, their decisions affect voters in a more tangible way, and so they are not as subject to national political trends. Members of Congress, however, are seen almost entirely through a national lens.

One other Georgia race that will be watched closely is for secretary of state, where the incumbent, Brad Raffensperger, has been a target of Trump’s because he — like Kemp — refused to accede to Trump’s demand to overturn the 2020 election results.

Given the results of the last few weeks, the Georgia results are not likely to shift perceptions too much one way or another. This gives both Trump and his opponents the ability to spin things in their favor.

“Trump lost big in Idaho. DeWine won in Ohio, and Vance only got a third. All just good for the country as well as the Republican Party,” Palatucci noted.

That may be the case, but without a clear rebuke of Trump by his own party — as demonstrated consistently over multiple contests — it is not apparent that anything will change.

The Pennsylvania results this week threw a few surprises into the mix. In the Senate race, Trump’s endorsement helped the TV celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz win about a third of the vote, but another fourth of the vote went with a surprise candidate, Kathy Barnette, whom many considered even more to the right than Oz.

The former hedge fund CEO David McCormick, a more establishment candidate, won another third of the vote, and trailed Oz by around 2,000 votes out of 1.3 million cast. McCormick and Oz are likely to be headed for a recount.

In the Pennsylvania governor’s race, Trump can claim a victory of sorts. He waited until three days before the primary to endorse state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who won his race Tuesday night. But Mastriano, who had long staked out a position as the most pro-Trump candidate in the primary, was already the clear favorite to win when Trump backed him.

Mastriano is widely considered the underdog in the fall election against Pennsylvania’s Democratic attorney general, Josh Shapiro, although the Republican turnout in the vote this week was so strong that it calls conventional wisdom into question.

Mastriano has been one of the most aggressive purveyors of Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was unfair. He also played an active role in seeking to throw out millions of ballots cast by voters in his own state, in an attempt to undo the result and retroactively award the presidency to Trump.

If Mastriano were to win this fall, he would be in a strong position to influence the 2024 election results in a key swing state. Governors are one of the most consequential figures in transmitting Electoral College results to Congress. Congress has yet to pass legislation that bars governors from meddling with or overturning election results, and in Pennsylvania the governor appoints the state’s top election official.

As of now, there is room under the law — specifically the Electoral Count Act of 1887 — for a state legislature to try to throw out the popular vote in its state by sending a competing slate of electors to Congress. If the governor signs off on that slate, the law would dictate that those electors’ votes are the ones that are counted. A bipartisan group of senators is working on a law to close this loophole and prevent other forms of antidemocratic meddling.

Mastriano may be a liability for the GOP in the fall, but his primary win this week demonstrates clearly that there is an appetite for extremism among a significant portion of the Republican base.

The extent of that appetite has yet to be tested in primaries still to come, particularly in Arizona on Aug. 2, where another aggressive election denier, the former TV reporter Kari Lake, is running for governor in another key swing state. Trump endorsed Lake last September.

We will see!

Tony

Plunging Enrollments in American Public Schools!

Click on to enlarge

Dear Commons Community,

In New York City, the nation’s largest school district has lost some 50,000 students over the past two years. In Michigan, enrollment remains more than 50,000 below prepandemic levels from big cities to the rural Upper Peninsula.

In the suburbs of Orange County, Calif., where families have moved for generations to be part of the public school system, enrollment slid for the second consecutive year; statewide, more than a quarter-million public school students have dropped from California’s rolls since 2019.

And since school funding is tied to enrollment, cities that have lost many students — including Denver, Albuquerque and Oakland — are now considering combining classrooms, laying off teachers or shutting down entire schools.

All together, America’s public schools have lost at least 1.2 million students since 2020, according to a recently published national survey. State enrollment figures show no sign of a rebound to the previous national levels any time soon.  As reported by The New York Times.

A broad decline was already underway in the nation’s public school system as rates of birth and immigration have fallen, particularly in cities. But the coronavirus crisis supercharged that drop in ways that experts say will not easily be reversed.

No overriding explanation has emerged yet for the widespread drop-off. But experts point to two potential causes: Some parents became so fed up with remote instruction or mask mandates that they started home-schooling their children or sending them to private or parochial schools that largely remained open during the pandemic. And other families were thrown into such turmoil by pandemic-related job losses, homelessness and school closures that their children simply dropped out.

Now educators and school officials are confronting a potentially harsh future of lasting setbacks in learning, hardened inequities in education and smaller budgets accompanying smaller student populations.

“This has been a seismic hit to public education,” said Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University. “Student outcomes are low. Habits have been broken. School finances are really shaken. We shouldn’t think that this is going to be like a rubber band that bounces back to where it was before.”

There are roughly 50 million students in the United States public school system.

In large urban districts, the drop-off has been particularly acute. The Los Angeles Unified School District’s noncharter schools lost some 43,000 students over the past two school years. Enrollment in the Chicago schools has dropped by about 25,000 in that time frame.

But suburban and rural schools have not been immune.

In the suburbs of Kansas City, the school district of Olathe, Kan., lost more than 1,000 of its 33,000 or so students in 2020, as families relocated and shifted to private schools or home-schooling; only about half of them came back this school year.

In rural Woodbury County, Iowa, south of Sioux City, enrollment in the Westwood Community School District fell by more than 5 percent during the last two years, to 522 students from 552, in spite of a small influx from cities during the pandemic, the superintendent, Jay Lutt, said. Now, in addition to demographic trends that have long eroded the size of rural Iowa’s school populations, diminishing funding, the district is grappling with inflation as the price of fuel for school buses has soared, Mr. Lutt said.

In some states where schools eschewed remote instruction — Florida, for instance — enrollment has not only rebounded, but remains robust. An analysis by the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank, concluded last month that remote instruction was a major driver around the country, with enrollment falling most in districts most likely to have delayed their return to in-person classrooms.

Private schools have also seen some gains in enrollment. Federal head counts have not yet been released, but both the National Association of Independent Schools and the National Catholic Educational Association have reported increases that total about 73,000 K-12 students during the past two years.

At the same time, some families are leaving their local public schools not because they are abandoning the system altogether but because they have moved to other parts of the country that are more affordable.

Enrollment has surged as well in rural resort areas, driven by the relocation of tech workers and others able to work remotely, particularly after the pandemic set in.

School funding is tied directly to enrollment numbers in most states, and while federal pandemic aid has buffered school budgets so far, the Biden administration has made it clear that the relief is finite. Some districts are already bracing for budget shortfalls.

“When you lose kids, you lose money,” Ms. Roza said. “There’s no hidden piece to this puzzle. You have to close schools and lay off people. And every day you spend trying to avoid that, your kids are getting older and still not reading, and your district is spending money it’s not going to have.”

This is a potential financial disaster for our public schools especially those in large urban areas.

Tony

Finland and Sweden Officially Apply to Join NATO!

Finland's Ambassador to NATO Klaus Korhonen, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Sweden's Ambassador to NATO Axel Wernhoff attend a ceremony to mark Sweden's and Finland's application for membership in Brussels, Belgium, Wednesday May 18, 2022. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the military alliance stands ready to seize a historic moment and move quickly on allowing Finland and Sweden to join its ranks, after the two countries submitted their membership requests. (Johanna Geron/Pool via AP)

Finland’s Ambassador to NATO Klaus Korhonen, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Sweden’s Ambassador to NATO Axel Wernhoff attend a ceremony to mark Sweden’s and Finland’s application for membership in Brussels, Belgium. (Johanna Geron/Pool via AP)

Dear Commons Community,

NATO’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday that the military alliance stands ready to seize a historic moment and move quickly on allowing Finland and Sweden to join its ranks, after the two countries formally submitted their membership requests.

The official applications, handed over by Finland and Sweden’s ambassadors to NATO, set a security clock ticking. Russia, whose war on Ukraine spurred them to join the military organization, has warned that it wouldn’t welcome such a move, and could respond.  As reported by the Associated Press.

“I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. You are our closest partners,“ Stoltenberg said. “All allies agree on the importance of NATO enlargement. We all agree that we must stand together, and we all agree that this is an historic moment which we must seize.”

“This is a good day at a critical moment for our security,” a beaming Stoltenberg said, as he stood alongside the two envoys, with NATO, Finnish and Swedish flags at their backs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded that the alliance stop expanding toward Russia’s borders, and several NATO allies, led by the United States and Britain, have signaled that they stand ready to provide security support to Finland and Sweden should he try to provoke or destabilize them during the time it takes to become full members.

The countries will only benefit from NATO’s Article 5 security guarantee — the part of the alliance’s founding treaty that pledges that any attack on one member would be considered an attack of them all — once the membership ratification process is concluded, probably in a few months.

For now though, the application must now be weighed by the 30 member countries. That process is expected to take about two weeks, although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed reservations about Finland and Sweden joining.

If his objections are overcome, and accession talks go as well as expected, the two could become members within a few months. The process usually takes eight to 12 months, but NATO wants to move quickly given the threat from Russia hanging over the Nordic countries’ heads.

Canada, for example, says that it expects to ratify their accession protocol in just a few days — while in the Baltic region, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted: “I encourage a rapid accession process. We in Estonia will do our part fast.”

Stoltenberg said that NATO allies “are determined to work through all issues and reach rapid conclusions.”

The fact that the Nordic partners applied together means they won’t be losing time by having to ratify each other’s membership application.

“That Sweden and Finland go hand in hand is a strength. Now the process of joining the talks continues,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde told the Swedish news agency TT.

Public opinion in Finland and Sweden has shifted massively in favor of membership since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Finland and Sweden cooperate closely with NATO. They have functioning democracies, well-funded armed forces and contribute to the alliance’s military operations and air policing. Any obstacles they face will merely be of a technical, or possibly political nature.

NATO’s membership process is not formalized, and the steps can vary. But first their requests to join will be examined in a sitting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) of the 30 member countries, probably at ambassadorial level.

The NAC will decide whether to move toward membership and what steps must be taken to achieve it. This mostly depends on how well aligned the candidate countries are with NATO political, military and legal standards, and whether they contribute to security in the North Atlantic area. This should pose no substantial problem for Finland and Sweden.

Moving forward, during accession talks that could be concluded in just one day once the terms of those negotiations are set, the two will be asked to commit to uphold Article 5 and to meet spending obligations concerning the NATO in-house budget, which runs to around $2.5 billion dollars, split proportionally among what would be 32 member countries.

Finland and Sweden would also be made aware of their role in NATO defense planning, and of any other legal or security obligations they might have, like the vetting of personnel and handling of classified information.

This was long overdue!

Tony

 

Video: Lawrence O’Donnell – Rupert Murdoch and Fox News Have “Blood on Their Hands”!

The entire video  is worth watching.  Lawrence O’Donnell’s comments about Rupert Murdoch come at about the 7:20 -minute mark.

Dear Commons Community,

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell yesterday tore into billionaire press baron Rupert Murdoch and Fox News (see video above). “The Last Word” host apportioned blame for the weekend’s massacre in Buffalo, New York, on the Fox News founder.

Much criticism has been leveled at the divisive rhetoric peddled by some personalities on Murdoch’s conservative network — including Tucker Carlson, who’s repeatedly talked about the racist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory on his show — after a white gunman allegedly killed 10 people in a reported racist rampage in a supermarket in a mostly-Black part of the city.

“No one should waste their breath on the men in makeup at Fox when Rupert Murdoch is responsible for everything that they say and do that helps shape the thinking of white supremacist mass murderers,” said O’Donnell.

Fox News hosts will stop “the minute Rupert Murdoch tells them to stop,” he added in the segment titled “Fox News Has Blood On Its Hands.”

O’Donnell highlighted Fox’s “abject fealty to the National Rifle Association,” saying it was thanks to Murdoch “as much as it is any Republican president that America’s mass murderers are still what they have always been, the very best equipped mass murderers in the world.”

O’Donnell is telling it like it is!

Tony

 

How Often Can You Be Infected with the Coronavirus? Repeatedly!

Reinfections rose with Omicron

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article this morning examining the question:  How Often Can You Be Infected with the Coronavirus.  Unfortunately the short answer is “repeatedly.”  Here is an excerpt:

A virus that shows no signs of disappearing, variants that are adept at dodging the body’s defenses, and waves of infections two, maybe three times a year — this may be the future of Covid-19, some scientists now fear.

The central problem is that the coronavirus has become more adept at reinfecting people. Already, those infected with the first Omicron variant are reporting second infections with the newer versions of the variant — BA.2 or BA2.12.1 in the United States, or BA.4 and BA.5 in South Africa.

Those people may go on to have third or fourth infections, even within this year, researchers said in interviews. And some small fraction may have symptoms that persist for months or years, a condition known as long Covid.

“It seems likely to me that that’s going to sort of be a long-term pattern,” said Juliet Pulliam, an epidemiologist at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

“The virus is going to keep evolving,” she added. “And there are probably going to be a lot of people getting many, many reinfections throughout their lives.”

It’s difficult to quantify how frequently people are reinfected, in part because many infections are now going unreported. Dr. Pulliam and her colleagues have collected enough data in South Africa to say that the rate is higher with Omicron than seen with previous variants.”

This is not the way it was supposed to be!

The entire article is below.

Tony

————————————-

The New York Times

How Often Can You Be Infected With the Coronavirus?  

By Apoorva Mandavilli

May 17, 2022

A virus that shows no signs of disappearing, variants that are adept at dodging the body’s defenses, and waves of infections two, maybe three times a year — this may be the future of Covid-19, some scientists now fear.

The central problem is that the coronavirus has become more adept at reinfecting people. Already, those infected with the first Omicron variant are reporting second infections with the newer versions of the variant — BA.2 or BA2.12.1 in the United States, or BA.4 and BA.5 in South Africa.

Those people may go on to have third or fourth infections, even within this year, researchers said in interviews. And some small fraction may have symptoms that persist for months or years, a condition known as long Covid.

“It seems likely to me that that’s going to sort of be a long-term pattern,” said Juliet Pulliam, an epidemiologist at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

“The virus is going to keep evolving,” she added. “And there are probably going to be a lot of people getting many, many reinfections throughout their lives.”

It’s difficult to quantify how frequently people are reinfected, in part because many infections are now going unreported. Dr. Pulliam and her colleagues have collected enough data in South Africa to say that the rate is higher with Omicron than seen with previous variants.

This is not how it was supposed to be. Earlier in the pandemic, experts thought that immunity from vaccination or previous infection would forestall most reinfections.

The Omicron variant dashed those hopes. Unlike previous variants, Omicron and its many descendants seem to have evolved to partially dodge immunity. That leaves everyone — even those who have been vaccinated multiple times — vulnerable to multiple infections.

“If we manage it the way that we manage it now, then most people will get infected with it at least a couple of times a year,” said Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. “I would be very surprised if that’s not how it’s going to play out.”

The new variants have not altered the fundamental usefulness of the Covid vaccines. Most people who have received three or even just two doses will not become sick enough to need medical care if they test positive for the coronavirus. And a booster dose, like a previous bout with the virus, does seem to decrease the chance of reinfection — but not by much.

At the pandemic’s outset, many experts based their expectations of the coronavirus on influenza, the viral foe most familiar to them. They predicted that, as with the flu, there might be one big outbreak each year, most likely in the fall. The way to minimize its spread would be to vaccinate people before its arrival.

Instead, the coronavirus is behaving more like four of its closely related cousins, which circulate and cause colds year round. While studying common-cold coronaviruses, “we saw people with multiple infections within the space of a year,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University in New York.

If reinfection turns out to be the norm, the coronavirus is “not going to simply be this wintertime once-a-year thing,” he said, “and it’s not going to be a mild nuisance in terms of the amount of morbidity and mortality it causes.”

Reinfections with earlier variants, including Delta, did occur but were relatively infrequent. But in September, the pace of reinfections in South Africa seemed to pick up and was markedly high by November, when the Omicron variant was identified, Dr. Pulliam said.

Reinfections in South Africa, as in the United States, may seem even more noticeable because so many have been immunized or infected at least once by now.

“The perception magnifies what’s actually going on biologically,” Dr. Pulliam said. “It’s just that there are more people who are eligible for reinfection.”

The Omicron variant was different enough from Delta, and Delta from earlier versions of the virus, that some reinfections were to be expected. But now, Omicron seems to be evolving new forms that penetrate immune defenses with relatively few changes to its genetic code.

“This is actually for me a bit of a surprise,” said Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute. “I thought we’ll need a kind of brand-new variant to escape from this one. But in fact, it seems like you don’t.”

An infection with Omicron produces a weaker immune response, which seems to wane quickly, compared with infections with previous variants. Although the newer versions of the variant are closely related, they vary enough from an immune perspective that infection with one doesn’t leave much protection against the others — and certainly not after three or four months.

Still, the good news is that most people who are reinfected with new versions of Omicron will not become seriously ill. At least at the moment, the virus has not hit upon a way to fully sidestep the immune system.

“That’s probably as good as it gets for now,” Dr. Sigal said. “The big danger might come when the variant will be completely different.”

Each infection may bring with it the possibility of long Covid, the constellation of symptoms that can persist for months or years. It’s too early to know how often an Omicron infection leads to long Covid, especially in vaccinated people.

To keep up with the evolving virus, other experts said, the Covid vaccines should be updated more quickly, even more quickly than flu vaccines are each year. Even an imperfect match to a new form of the coronavirus will still broaden immunity and offer some protection, they said.

“Every single time we think we’re through this, every single time we think we have the upper hand, the virus pulls a trick on us,” Dr. Andersen said. “The way to get it under control is not, ‘Let’s all get infected a few times a year and then hope for the best.’”

 

Buffalo Mass Murder Suspect Payton S. Gendron Embraced Racist ‘Replacement’ Conspiracy!

Dear Commons Community,

Payton S. Gendron, the suspect in the fatal shooting of 10 people at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket Saturday, was reportedly haunted in his writing by the “great replacement” conspiracy theory — a viciously racist view of the world that has been touted by far-right conservatives such as Fox News host Tucker Carlson (see video above).

Gendron repeatedly returned to the conspiracy in his 180-page online manifesto that white Americans are at risk of being replaced by people of color by immigration, interracial marriage and eventually violence, The New York Times reported Saturday. Almost all of the victims in the mass shooting were Black.

Gendron, 18, referred to “racial replacement” and “white genocide” in his writings, according to the Times. The first page included a symbol known as the sonnenrad, or black sun, which was once used by German Nazis but has been adopted by white supremacist neo-Nazis, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

In an interview on CNN Saturday night, Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), who represents Buffalo, called the mass shooting part of a planned, “organized” effort to attack the minority community within an “element in our society that is blatantly racist, and they’re violent.”

The horrific crime “points to an effort to exact domestic terrorism that is racially motivated,” he added. “That threat to our community in Buffalo and western New York is a threat to the nation.”

This is a “problem that’s pervasive and growing,” he warned.

“This was pure evil,” Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said of Gendron, who traveled some 200 miles from his home in Conklin, New York, to carry out the attack. “A straight-up racially motivated hate crime.”

The “great replacement” rhetoric was once considered an extreme-right belief, but has edged toward the mainstream with winks from politicians and outright support on right-wing programs, including Tucker Carlson’s.

Just a week ago, Carlson was dubbed in an MSNBC column the “No. 1 champion” of the racist ideology ― someone who repeatedly warns of invasions of “illegals” and has insisted that President Joe Biden wants to “change the racial mix” of the nation.

In September, Media Matters reported that Carlson launched a “dedicated campaign to insert the ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory … into mainstream Republican discourse.”

The conspiracy motivated white nationalists who marched in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia (who were described as “very fine people” by then-President Donald Trump). “Jews will not replace us,” marchers chanted.

The conspiracy has been cited as motivation in several racist mass shootings, including the killing of 20 people in an El Paso store in 2019 and the killing of 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.

“It is the most mass-violence-inspiring idea in white supremacist circles right now,” Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, told the Times.

About 60% of extremist murders in the U.S. between 2009 and 2019 were committed by people espousing white supremacist ideologies like the replacement theory, according to the ADL.

“A racially motivated hate crime is abhorrent to the very fabric of this nation,” Biden said in a statement Saturday after the shooting.

“Any act of domestic terrorism, including an act perpetrated in the name of a repugnant white nationalist ideology, is antithetical to everything we stand for in America,” he added. “Hate must have no safe harbor. We must do everything in our power to end hate-fueled domestic terrorism.”

Tony

Orbital Assembly Co. Aiming to Launch a Space Hotel in 2025!

An artist's impression of the space hotel. (Orbital Assembly)

An artist’s rendering of the space hotel. (Orbital Assembly)

Dear Commons Community,

Orbital Assembly Corporation announced a new project that could launch a space hotel into orbit as soon as 2025; they plan to design two new stations customized to accommodate space tourism. The first, which might launch in just three years, has been coined Pioneer Station—and it’s an all-inclusive luxury dwelling that offers “incredible views of space from the comfort of your own hotel room stocked with gravity,” notes the company’s website.

According to its brochure, the Pioneer will be the first hybrid space station for both work and stay and offers accommodations for up to 28 people. The larger hotel, dubbed Voyager, can hold as many as 400 guests and is scheduled to open in 2027. “Voyager is a rotating space station designed to produce varying levels of artificial gravity by increasing or decreasing the rate of rotation,” OAC’s website states. “Artificial, or simulated, gravity is essential to long term habitation in space.” Though gravity is not yet available on either station, both Pioneer and Voyager are slated to have this technology in place by their respective launch dates; this will allow passengers to move around freely, just as they would on Earth.

Each station is shaped like a wheel with modules built around the Gravity Ring (see image above), which is believed to be the first, at-scale platform capable of providing this level of artificial gravity, notes the company’s press release. These modules will house office spaces and research facilities that will be available for rent. Military groups, research organizations, and other entities will be able to launch and attach to this Gravity Ring, which “can simulate all levels of gravity including Mars,” the release states.

While guests will still experience some weightlessness during their stay, the Gravity Ring makes it possible for them to easily drink out of a cup—and they won’t need to be strapped down to their beds at night, SmithsonianMagazine reports. Early designs of both Pioneer and Voyager’s interiors are indicative of an experience that doesn’t look too dissimilar to a luxury hotel here on Earth, with complete kitchens, bars, and more.

Beam me up, Scotty!

Tony

Maureen Dowd: Catholic Doctrine and the US Supreme Court!

Is the Supreme Court Too Catholic? - WSJ

 

Dear Commons Community,

Maureen Dowd has a column this morning entitled, “Too Much Church in the State”, examining the makeup of the US Supreme Court in light of a possible ruling on abortion that might overturn Roe v. Wade.  Here is an excerpt:

“There is an astonishing preponderance of Catholics on the Supreme Court — six out of the nine justices, and a seventh, Neil Gorsuch, was raised as a Catholic and went to the same Jesuit boys’ high school in a Maryland suburb that Brett Kavanaugh and my nephews did, Georgetown Prep.

My father was furious that Catholic presidential candidates Al Smith and J.F.K. had to defend themselves against scurrilous charges that, if they got to the White House, they would take their orders from the pope.

One must tread carefully here. A Catholic signed on to the Roe v. Wade decision and another was in the court majority that upheld it in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a Catholic, has expressed support for Roe, and Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative Catholic, may be working for a compromise decision that can uphold Roe.

Still, this Catholic feels an intense disquiet that Catholic doctrine may be shaping (or misshaping) the freedom and the future of millions of women, and men. There is a corona of religious fervor around the court, a churchly ethos that threatens to turn our whole country upside down.”

Dowd has an interesting slant on this.

The entire column is below.

Tony

——————————————

The New York Times

Too Much Church in the State

By Maureen Dowd

May 14, 2022

WASHINGTON — During her Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Amy Coney Barrett tried to reassure Democrats who were leery of her role as a “handmaid” in a Christian group called “People of Praise.”

The group has a male-dominated hierarchy and a rigid view of sexuality reflecting conservative gender norms and rejecting openly gay men and women. Men, the group’s decision makers, “headed” their wives.

Justice Barrett said then that she would not impose her personal beliefs on the country. “Judges can’t just wake up one day and say ‘I have an agenda — I like guns, I hate guns, I like abortion, I hate abortion’ — and walk in like a royal queen and impose their will on the world,” she said amicably. “It’s not the law of Amy. It’s the law of the American people.”

Yet that’s what seems to be coming. Like a royal queen, she will impose her will on the world. It will be the law of Amy. And Sam. And Clarence. And Neil. And Brett.

It’s outrageous that five or six people in lifelong unaccountable jobs are about to impose their personal views on the rest of the country. While they will certainly provide the legal casuistry for their opinion, let’s not be played for fools: The Supreme Court’s impending repeal of Roe will be owed to more than judicial argumentation. There are prior worldviews at work in this upheaval.

As a Catholic whose father lived through the Irish Catholics “need not apply” era, I’m happy to see Catholics do well in the world. There is an astonishing preponderance of Catholics on the Supreme Court — six out of the nine justices, and a seventh, Neil Gorsuch, was raised as a Catholic and went to the same Jesuit boys’ high school in a Maryland suburb that Brett Kavanaugh and my nephews did, Georgetown Prep.

My father was furious that Catholic presidential candidates Al Smith and J.F.K. had to defend themselves against scurrilous charges that, if they got to the White House, they would take their orders from the pope.

One must tread carefully here. A Catholic signed on to the Roe v. Wade decision and another was in the court majority that upheld it in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a Catholic, has expressed support for Roe, and Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative Catholic, may be working for a compromise decision that can uphold Roe.

Still, this Catholic feels an intense disquiet that Catholic doctrine may be shaping (or misshaping) the freedom and the future of millions of women, and men. There is a corona of religious fervor around the court, a churchly ethos that threatens to turn our whole country upside down.

I come from a family that hews to the Catholic dictates on abortion, and I respect the views of my relatives. But it’s hard for me to watch the church trying to control women’s sexuality after a shocking number of its own priests sexually assaulted children and teenagers for decades, and got recycled into other parishes, as the church covered up the whole scandal. It is also hard to see the church couch its anti-abortion position in the context of caring for women when it continues to keep women in subservient roles in the church.

Religiosity is a subject some Catholics on the court have been more open about in recent years.

Last year, at Thomas Aquinas College in California, Justice Samuel Alito fretted that there was growing cultural hostility toward Christianity and Catholicism. “There is a real movement to suppress the expression of anything that opposes the secular orthodoxy,” he said. Precisely which belief or practice of his religion does he feel he has been denied?

President Biden is a Catholic who is uncomfortable with the issue of abortion despite his support for Roe. Still, when Barrett was a law professor at Notre Dame, a group she belonged to unanimously denounced the university’s decision to honor Biden even though he didn’t support the church’s position on abortion.

We have no one in the public arena like Mario Cuomo, who respected the multiplicity of values in an open society and had the guts to wade into the lion’s den at Notre Dame in 1984.

“The Catholic who holds political office in a pluralistic democracy — who is elected to serve Jews and Muslims, atheists and Protestants, as well as Catholics — bears special responsibility,” Cuomo said. “He or she undertakes to help create conditions under which all can live with a maximum of dignity and with a reasonable degree of freedom; where everyone who chooses may hold beliefs different from specifically Catholic ones — sometimes contradictory to them; where the laws protect people’s right to divorce, to use birth control and even to choose abortion.”

The explosive nature of Alito’s draft opinion on Roe has brought to the fore how radical the majority on the court is, willing to make women fit with their zealous worldview — a view most Americans reject. It has also shown how radical Republicans are; although after pushing for this result for decades, because it made a good political weapon, they are now pretending it’s no big deal. We will all have to live with the catastrophic results of their zealotry.

 

Buffalo Supermarket:  13 Shot, 10 Dead in “Pure Evil” Racially-Motivated Hate Crime!

Dear Commons Community,

Ten people were killed and three others injured in what authorities have described as a “racially-motivated” shooting at a Buffalo, New York supermarket yesterday (see video reporting above).

Police arrested Payton Gendron, an 18-year-old white male, after he ― armed with an assault rifle and wearing a tactical vest ― opened fire outside and inside the Tops Friendly Market. The market is in a predominately Black neighborhood, about 3 miles north of downtown Buffalo.

Erie County Sheriff John Garcia called the shooting a hate crime.  As reported by The Huffington Post.

“This was pure evil,” Garcia said. “It was straight up racially-motivated hate crime from somebody outside of our community, coming into our community and trying to inflict that evil upon us.”

Eleven of the 13 people who were shot are Black and two are white. At a press conference Saturday night, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) called the shooter “a white supremacist who has engaged in an act of terrorism, and will be prosecuted as such.”

Gendron traveled from Conklin, NY, about a three and a half hour drive from Buffalo.

“This is the worst nightmare that any community can face, and we are hurting and we are seething right now,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said at a news conference. “The depth of pain that families are feeling and that all of us are feeling right now cannot even be explained.”

Police also confirmed that the suspect live-streamed the shooting on Twitch. In a statement, a Twitch spokesperson confirmed there was a live broadcast of the shooting, and said the company was working to monitor for any potential re-streams of the content.

The identities of the victims have not been released, but Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Saturday that one of the victims was a retired Buffalo police officer who was working as a security guard for the store. Gramaglia said the security guard was killed when he exchanged gunfire with the suspect, striking the gunman once in his armor plating.

Pure evil indeed!

Tony

Video: Jen Psaki Thanks Joe Biden, Her Press Team and Reporters in Last White House Briefing!

Dear Commons Community,

White House press secretary Jen Psaki stood at the podium in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room for the last time yesterday (see video clip above), facing questions on crises old and new, foreign and domestic. She addressed the baby formula shortage and gun violence, immigration and war.

She also addressed the journalists seated and standing before her. “You have challenged me. You have pushed me. You have debated me — and at times we have disagreed,” she said. “That is democracy in action.”

Tearing up, Psaki acknowledged that her plans to “keep it together” were being undone in the moment. Her successor, principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, watched from a chair alongside several of her loyal deputies in the White House communications department.

A spokeswoman for the State Department during the Obama administration, Psaki did not work on the Biden campaign, but beat out several well-regarded candidates for the job when she was named to the position shortly after the 2020 presidential election. Her immediate task was to move beyond the atmosphere of animosity and recrimination that had marked the Trump years, when the president himself would sometimes spar with members of the press.

“There will be times when we see things differently in this room — I mean, among all of us. That’s OK. That’s part of our democracy,” she said at her first briefing.

An analysis by Business Insider found that Psaki held 224 briefings in all, more than the total conducted by all four of Trump’s press secretaries (Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Stephanie Grisham and Kayleigh McEnany). It was rare for her to go two consecutive days without a briefing, whereas, by contrast, Grisham did not hold a single briefing.

Psaki could sometimes be short with reporters, and progressives on social media delighted at the “Psaki bombs” she deployed to cut off unwelcome inquiries. Heated exchanges with Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy became a regular occurrence, one that seemed to benefit both the conservative network and the White House.

Psaki’s biggest misstep was likely her quip — made as a new coronavirus surge was underway — about the White House sending coronavirus tests to every American, an idea she plainly found preposterous.

“Should we just send one to every American?” Psaki fired back sarcastically at NPR reporter Mara Liasson, who had asked about making the tests free. Days later, the Biden administration announced it was, in fact, providing Americans with free tests.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Psaki used her expertise in foreign affairs to capably detail the administration’s approach to the war without making the kinds of gaffes that complicate international relations. The invasion almost certainly prolonged her tenure at the White House by several months.

The Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank, praised Psaki as “one of the best press secretaries ever.

Even when Chris Wallace was at Fox News, a frequent critic of the Bident administration, he called Psaki one of the best ever.

Psaki has restored honor, dignity and class to the White House briefing room after four years of Donald Trump press secretaries, who seemed more interested in picking fights and criticizing the media than effectively communicating that administration’s policies and agenda.

Stephanie Grisham, a White House press secretary under Trump, even wrote a book about how dysfunctional it was to work as press secretary in Trump’s White House. In “I’ll Take Your Questions Now,” Grisham wrote she never held an official press conference: “I knew that sooner or later the president would want me to tell the public something that was not true or that would make me sound like a lunatic.”

Psaki was certainly a welcome change from her immediate predecessor, Kayleigh McEnany, who goes down as one of the most incompetent press secretaries ever. (McEnany’s daily pokes at Democrats and the media now fit right in at Fox News.)

Psaki was consistently prepared, effective in communicating for the president and, even when sparring with media members, always respectful. Even her frequent foe in the White House briefing room — Fox News’ Peter Doocy — had kind words for her when she announced she was leaving the post. (And Psaki was kind in return.) Doocy told Psaki, “You’ve always been a good sport. So on behalf of everybody, thank you for everything.”

Psaki will soon start a new gig at MSNBC, where she is expected to be a high-profile on-air personality, especially as the congressional midterms approach. Jean-Pierre, the new White House press secretary, will begin work on Monday.

She was a breadth of fresh air.

We wish her well!

Tony