Writing “to a mouse,” the Scottish poet Robert Burns offered consolation for the little “beasties” eviction from its home by a “cruel” plough that turned up a field. “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men” often go awry, Burns explained.
But some plans aren’t made to be broken. When a plea bargain is hammered out after months of negotiation, the formal acceptance of it in court is usually carefully choreographed — and predictable. So it was remarkable Wednesday when the deal for Hunter Biden to plead guilty to two misdemeanors for his failure to pay taxes on time fell apart in a federal courtroom after the judge raised questions about it.
That wasn’t the only legal surprise of the week. Special counsel Jack Smith unexpectedly added a major allegation to the indictment charging former President Donald Trump with mishandling classified documents. It came as Trump’s team was bracing instead for possible charges arising out of Smith’s investigation of efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
In a “superseding indictment,” Smith alleged that Trump wanted employees at Mar-a-Lago to erase subpoenaed security camera footage to stop it from being given to a grand jury. Trump replied to the charge by accusing prosecutors of “election interference” and misconduct. The Trump and Hunter Biden developments underlined how America’s political climate is being shaped by what happens in the courts.
Norman Eisen wrote that while revising the indictment against Trump risks delaying a trial, the move was worth it: “While the Justice Department already had powerful evidence on obstruction, this is a leap forward because it hammers home the extent of the degree to which he and his co-defendants went to conceal potential evidence from a jury. This addition, an alleged surveillance tape conspiracy, almost reads like a spy novel.”
“It features Trump employee and co-defendant Walt Nauta’s surprise clandestine trip to Florida. And it is followed by Nauta and the new co-defendant, De Oliveira, observing and pointing out the surveillance cameras, and then De Oliveria having a conversation about ‘the boss’ wanting the IT server deleted…”
“If the facts bear out as charged, this is slam dunk legal proof that also has a strong human dimension. Like the unflattering nature of the Bedminster tape and the Fox News appearance, a former president allegedly dragging two of his workers into a criminal scheme is an extremely unsympathetic look,” Eisen observed.
To W. James Antle III, it was the Hunter Biden plea deal snafu that brought to the forefront the “powerful split screen that drives” how Republican voters see the emerging 2024 presidential race.
“Republicans have long claimed that President Joe Biden’s son has gotten special treatment from prosecutors looking into his business practices and allegations of tax and gun crimes, even as former President Donald Trump has faced the strictest legal scrutiny for any and all potential offenses. On Wednesday, the GOP position on Hunter Biden received vindication from US District Judge Maryellen Noreika, who rejected an ‘unusual’ plea bargain the Department of Justice had offered him.”
“Noreika had been asked to approve a plea deal that would have spared the president’s son prison,” wrote Antle. “The deal, brokered in June, was presented to her even though IRS whistleblowers last week told Congress they weren’t able to treat Hunter Biden like a typical target of their investigations, couldn’t pursue leads against his family members and recommended far harsher charges than were leveled. (Joe Biden has said he wasn’t involved in his son’s business deals.)”
On Wednesday, a routine press conference by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell drew wide attention when the senator froze and was unable to answer a question before he was escorted away. Though he returned minutes later and responded fluently to questions, the 81-year-old senator’s health remained a topic of conversation, as was that of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. The 90-year-old California senator needed prodding on Thursday from a colleague before she cast an “aye” vote.
As Julian Zelizer pointed out, “In presidential politics, health has been a major concern too, particularly given the age of the current leading candidates — President Joe Biden, who is 80, and former President Donald Trump, who is 77. And while the age of politicians should not be a determining factor for voters — given that many older officials have proven to still be up to the job and many younger politicians have proven they are not — health is a legitimate issue.”
“Politicians should disclose to voters any major medical issues that could impede their ability to perform their tasks in office, so that voters can account for those issues when casting their ballots.”
“Just think about it: We evaluate candidates and incumbents based on a whole host of qualifications — intelligence, charisma, ethics, political prowess, experience — and more. Why should their health, particularly where it pertains to their ability to perform their jobs, not be included in that list? Moreover, if politicians were more transparent about their health, the public might be less concerned about the question of their age and agility.”
X marks the spot
It’s hard to figure out what Elon Musk’s plan was for Twitter when he paid $44 billion for the social media platform. But he likely didn’t expect the mass abandonment of the site by many advertisers.
Twitter “once was an inviting place, a place of stimulation and information,” wrote Bill Carter. “But lately it had become far less comfortable to hang out there, thanks to an erratic personality, overbearing demands and increasing levels of ugly hate speech. It was barely recognizable anymore.”
“So now, for many, it’s just another… ‘ex.’”
“That even goes for … Musk, who, in what looks like the culmination of a months-long campaign to sabotage his own investment, announced on Sunday he will totally reinvent Twitter, even ditching its corporate name, replacing it with a single capital letter: X.”
“Having overseen — devised, really — the demise of Twitter, Musk has also created a reasonable chance that he could now be in charge of a complete brand blowout, should this daring reboot eventuate in extinction for X.”
It’s a mistake to bet against Musk, whose other ventures include the successful Tesla and SpaceX, and the company says X will be “a breakthrough of incalculable impact, a one-app-serves-all service not just for social interaction but also commerce, banking, video, audio and personal advancement,” Carter noted. That’s the plan, anyway.
It is “virtually certain” that July will be the planet’s hottest month on record, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service and the World Meteorological Organization. As heat waves continued, wildfires forced the evacuation of tourists and residents from the Greek islands of Rhodes, Corfu and Evia, noted Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London.
“It would be a big mistake to regard these as freak events and to continue holidaying as usual in the years ahead,” McGuire wrote. “The extreme weather conditions across southern Europe this summer are a wake-up call — a reminder that not even our vacations are insulated from the growing consequences of global heating…”
“A straight line can be drawn from the huge volumes of carbon dioxide pumped out as millions fly off on a summer holiday every year, to the heat, fires and other episodes of extreme weather that now endanger both resorts and those who visit them.”
The fires should “give us pause for thought, not only about whether we should any longer be flying on holiday to places that may threaten us and our loved ones — but about the whole point of having a holiday.”
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On the surface, what David Grusch told a House subcommittee Wednesday is astounding. As Jason Colavito wrote, he testified “that he had heard from other unnamed officials that the US government has a secret program to recover and reverse engineer non-human spacecraft.”
“In a statement after the hearing, the Pentagon disputed Grusch’s testimony and emphasized that it has found no evidence of crashed saucer programs or space aliens. We can’t entirely rule out the possibility that Grusch discovered something real. Certainly, pilots see things in the sky they don’t understand.”
But, Colavito added, “Congress and UFO enthusiasts have been all too willing to accept witness reports at face value when we know eyewitness testimony is unreliable. This problem has been compounded by the fact that much of this testimony comes from seemingly unassailable military pilots who are trained to observe airborne threats. This dynamic has been a problem from the dawn of UFO investigations last century until the present day.”
Taking on inequality
The dramatic increase in wealth inequality “is a threat to our economy and democracy,” wrote Rep. Barbara Lee and Disney heir Abigail E. Disney. “We need a tax specifically aimed at constraining it.”
“America’s 735 billionaires now hold more wealth than the entire bottom half of the country. Over the course of the pandemic, America’s billionaires increased their combined wealth to nearly $4.7 trillion.”
But taxing that wealth may not be straightforward. “The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case, Moore v. United States, which will decide the constitutionality of a little-known tax known as the mandatory repatriation tax,” Lee and Disney noted. “Although it’s not receiving much attention, the potential effects of the case cannot be understated. Should the court rule in favor of the plaintiffs, the case may essentially quash other proposals to tax extreme wealth and, in so doing, impede the ability of Congress to fight inequality.”
For Michael Bociurkiw, the Black Sea resort of Odesa is a jewel. “With its seemingly endless seaside promenade, joyful outdoor gyms, Miami-like flair and New York chutzpah, Odesa has made me its number one fan,” the Canadian writer observed. But now the port is the target of Russian cruise missiles as President Vladimir Putin’s invading forces try to hold their own against a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
“In the past, friends in Kyiv often talked of the zombie state they’d experience after relentless nightly waves of Russian bombings,” Bociurkiw wrote. “That’s now commonplace in Odesa: You can see it on the worn faces of residents taking their pet dogs out on their morning constitutional.”
“As daylight broke on Sunday, after the double strike on the Transfiguration Cathedral and the historic district, it seemed that moms were hugging their kids tighter, that faces became more stern.”
“Handshakes seemed more firm, as if they could be the last for a while.”
Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, scored what may be a pyrrhic victory last week, one that threatens his legacy. Frida Ghitis wrote that “it is likely that history will remember Netanyahu as the man who served the interests of Israel’s enemies by tearing the country into bitterly opposed camps. Instead of seeking common ground and trying to bring the people together, he pushed ahead with a plan that undermined the country’s democratic foundations.”
“On Monday, as if history were trying to highlight the fragility of his power, Netanyahu was released from hospital after an emergency intervention to implant a pacemaker in time for a key vote in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.”
“The opposition boycotted the vote, but the Knesset approved a key element of the proposed judicial overhaul aimed at curtailing the power of the courts and strengthening that of the parliament, the Cabinet and the prime minister — all under Netanyahu’s control. The bill, approved 64-0, abolishes the so-called reasonableness clause, weakening the Supreme Court’s ability to review Cabinet decisions it views as unreasonable.”
Florida’s Board of Education drew fire for issuing a new set of standards for teaching Black history. As Peniel E. Joseph wrote, they “require middle school students to learn about how slavery helped slaves develop skills that could benefit them. High school students must learn about some of American history’s most egregious race massacres under the guise of ‘violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.’”
“These are perversions and lies; they are what Vice President Kamala Harris has called them: an attempt at ‘gaslighting.’ In truth, the peculiar Institution of racial slavery was foundational to America’s rise and depended entirely on classifying Black people as commodities that were both highly valued and sought after and simultaneously debased and exploited by a system of profit that denied their humanity.”
“Conditions for enslaved persons once in North America varied by circumstance, but it was a horrific existence: many were beaten, raped, sold away from their family members or subjected to other kinds of violence and psychological abuse. Inhumane living and working conditions produced a litany of painful and often fatal health outcomes, for adults and for children.”
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Barbie and the right
Another dashed plan was the campaign by some conservatives against a movie based on a doll, Dean Obeidallah wrote. “Voices on the right have been calling for a boycott of the new ‘Barbie’ film because to them it’s everything from being ‘woke’ to somehow ‘brainwashing’ young girls with ‘Chinese propaganda,’ as GOP Sen. Ted Cruz put it. But they just learned they are no match for the Mattel doll. Barbie — metaphorically speaking — drove her pink Dreamcamper right over these critics, breaking box-office records.”
“Director Greta Gerwig’s movie — starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling — saw a stunning $155 million opening weekend,” Obeidallah noted. (The film is distributed by Warner Bros., which, like CNN, is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery.)
Taylor Swift has such a hold on her fans that they will buy her albums twice. That was demonstrated this month when Billboard magazine named “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)” the best-selling album of the week. Swift now holds the record among female artists for the most No. 1 albums, eclipsing Barbra Streisand.
Margaret H. Willison wrote that “This chart dominance is clearly an impressive achievement. But what makes it stand out even more is that three of those 12 are rereleases of earlier No. 1 albums deliberately engineered to sound as much like the original versions as possible. While each reissue has contained six previously unreleased songs, the primary motive behind recording and releasing what Swift has labeled ‘Taylor’s Version’ of these albums has not been to share new songs but to reclaim full ownership of her old ones.”
“That’s because the master recordings of her first six albums belong not to Swift, but to her former label, Big Machine.”
The music of Sinéad O’Connor, who died this week at 56, spoke powerfully to trauma victims, wrote psychologist Sarah Gundle. “If Taylor Swift’s music speaks to people who need to express their pain and anxiety, but want to ‘shake it off,’ then Sinead O’Connor’s music spoke to those who are not so lucky. While Swift’s songs will make you feel less alone (and she’ll do it wearing sequins, with a toss of her long, flowing blond mane), O’Connor’s music registers for those who feel they must be alone with their grief.”
“There was an authenticity and anger in O’Connor’s life and work that deeply resonated with people, especially trauma victims, precisely because it was so honest.”
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Swimming has been banned in Paris’ Seine River for 100 years, but as David A. Andelman noted, “the 2024 Paris Olympics organizers want to make this fabled river the centerpiece of the lavish opening ceremony a year from now and for the entire 17 days of the games.
“In short, they want to clean up the Seine for swimming events. Good luck.”
“I wouldn’t swim in that water at gunpoint,” said Mort Rosenblum, former editor of the International Herald Tribune, who’s owned a houseboat barge on the Seine for more than 40 years.
“But, he admitted to me, his pet cat’s fallen in the river a dozen times and survived. Of course, he’s never dived in to fish her out.”
City authorities have invested $1.55 billion in a cleanup and, Andelman noted, “water samples from June showed ‘excellent results’ in complying with European regulation, according to city hall.”
“Disinfection units at wastewater treatment plants and a rainwater storage basin are en route.”
We’ll soon find out if this “best laid scheme” will work.