Ex-colleague of chief justice’s wife makes ethics claim
January 31, 2023
A Boston attorney and former colleague of U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts‘ wife, Jane, has filed a complaint with Congress and the Justice Department alleging her work as a legal recruiter poses a conflict of interest at the Supreme Court.
The confidential complaint, first obtained and reported by The New York Times on Tuesday, suggests Jane Roberts’ past position as legal recruiter — helping high-profile firms hire top talent, some of whom later have business before the court — may present an ethical concern.
While she quit her job as a law partner when her husband was confirmed as chief justice in 2005, Jane Roberts made millions of dollars in commissions helping recruit for firms regularly involved in court business, according to the former colleague, Kendal Price, as reported by the Times.
“I do believe that litigants in U.S. courts, and especially the Supreme Court, deserve to know if their judges’ households are receiving six-figure payments from the law firms,” Price wrote, according to the Times.
Neither John nor Jane Roberts immediately responded to ABC News’ request for comment.
A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court did not respond either, though a spokesperson told the Times that the court’s members were “attentive to ethical constraints” and cited the federal judges’ code of conduct and related advisories, which specifically said a judge didn’t have to recuse themselves solely because their spouse had been a recruiter for a firm before the court.
ABC News has reached out to the Department of Justice and didn’t immediately receive a response.
The complaint, which the Times reported was sent in December, has not been independently reviewed by ABC News. But in a statement provided by his attorney, Price explained why he is coming forward years later.
“I made the disclosures at this time for two principal reasons. First, any potential influence on what cases are accepted by the Supreme Court is a serious matter that affects the justice system in the U.S., particularly if that influence is not publicly known,” Price said.
“Second, the national controversy and debate regarding the integrity of the Supreme Court demanded that I no longer keep silent about the information I possessed, regardless of the impact such disclosures might have upon me professionally and personally,” he added.
Jane Roberts is currently the managing partner at a Washington-based legal recruiting firm. She previously worked with Price at a separate firm in Maryland.
Price was fired from the firm in 2013, according to the Times, and later sued Jane Roberts and another executive.
Price is calling on lawmakers and Justice Department attorneys to investigate. However, the Supreme Court is not typically subject to outside ethics oversight and largely polices itself.
His complaint is the latest in a string of ethics allegations against sitting justices and their spouses, which have stoked longstanding calls for greater transparency and enforceable ethics rules at the Supreme Court.
Corruption rife across Latin America; Guatemala, Nicaragua reach all-time lows: report
Steven Grattan – January 31, 2023
SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Guatemala, Nicaragua and Cuba reached all-time lows on Transparency International’s corruption index released on Tuesday due to increased organized crime by public institutions, co-optation by political and economic elites and increased human rights abuses.
“Weak governments fail to stop criminal networks, social conflict, and violence, and some exacerbate threats to human rights by concentrating power in the name of tackling insecurity,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio, head of Transparency International, a Berlin-based anti-corruption group.
Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption on a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). The average for the Americas stands at 43.
In Latin America, Nicaragua and Venezuela are the lowest ranked as each struggles with public institutions infiltrated by criminal networks, the report notes.
The governments of Guatemala, Venezuela, Brazil, Cuba and Peru did not immediately reply to requests for comment on the report.
Guatemala has seen state institutions co-opted by political and economic elites and organized crime, the report said.
Over the past year, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei has faced a growing chorus of critics claiming he has slammed the brakes on anti-corruption efforts, as well as forced some judges and prosecutors to flee the country, the main reasons for the country’s decline in the index.
Repression of the political opposition, human rights abuses and cracking down on freedom of speech is what lowered Nicaragua’s ranking, while Cuba has a historic low due to the “ongoing repression” and the “absolute lack of any kind of freedom in the country,” one of Transparency International’s researchers told Reuters.
The report adds that the combination of corruption, authoritarianism and an economic downturn proved “especially volatile” in Brazil where ex-President Jair Bolsonaro’s term was marked by dismantling anti-corruption efforts, the use of corrupt schemes to favor allies and amass support in Congress, as well as promoting disinformation.
Neighboring Uruguay scored best in the region with a ranking of 74, the same as Canada.
Transparency International pointed to years of instability in Peru with its cycle of different governments including last December’s ouster of then-President Pedro Castillo, himself a target of corruption investigations.
Weak law enforcement and high-level corruption have also allowed drug cartels to expand in the Caribbean, the report said.
“The only way forward is for leaders to prioritize decisive action against corruption to uproot its hold and enable governments to fulfill their first mandate: protecting the people,” Rubio said.
(Reporting by Steven Grattan; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Lisa Shumaker)
Op-Ed: L.A. ports can’t follow business as usual. Our shipping system is unsustainable
Christina Dunbar-Hester – January 30, 2023
Ports in the Los Angeles region entered national headlines as a supply chain crisis unfurled during the pandemic. After an initial near-halt to commerce and shipping in early 2020, some of us saw bluer skies and enjoyed cleaner air for a fleeting moment.
But by 2021, consumer purchasing skyrocketed and trade came roaring back. Though that might sound good for business, it’s a status quo in which the L.A.-Long Beach port complex is Southern California’s largest single source of pollution. If California wants to live up to its reputation as an environmental leader, port operations require more scrutiny — and change.
Though the ports were built to transport general goods and commodities, their fate has been particularly tied to fossil fuels. The rise of oil from the 1920s onward spurred their development to handle a large volume of petroleum. The wealth this generated was poured back into the ports themselves, intensifying the scale of trade. Combined, Los Angeles-Long Beach makes up the largest container port complex in the Western Hemisphere, through which goods — especially from Asia— reach warehouses, retail shelves, e-commerce fulfillment centers and ultimately consumers’ homes.
Economic concerns are understandable, especially since the ports are associated with thousands of jobs. But building bigger operations to move an ever-increasing volume of goods is short-sighted locally and globally. Massive ships create infrastructure demands at odds with our need to reduce carbon emissions, curb resource extraction and control environmental pollutants. Many shipped consumer goods are bound for landfills after only a very short period of use. Apparel, appliances, electronics and furniture have shorter lifespans than they did a few decades ago. The way we consume goods right now is simply not sustainable.
Meanwhile, officials and regulators have been sharply criticized for delaying measures to safeguard health for communities around the ports. As air quality activists note, cutting port emissions is urgently needed. Electrifying port and warehouse equipment is underway, but long-haul journeys, including ocean shipping itself and truck distribution, also need to transition off fossil fuel — cargo ship fuel is even dirtier than the diesel on which trucks run — and meet much lower emissions targets. San Pedro Bay’s port complex also traffics a large volume of fossil fuels in addition to consumer goods. Petroleum handling in the ports will need to be significantly diminished to meet the challenge of climate change.
As Angelenos, we should be planning for a future where the success of the ports and the region is not measured by year-over-year growth in goods movement. Indeed, a more livable future in this region might see the ports planning for fewer ships and fewer goods, handled more slowly and accompanied by good jobs in cleaner energy, environmental stewardship and remediation of contaminated sites.
A just energy transition will require that we examine every part of business as usual. That means reconsidering how we’ve managed the ports for the past century. We should be reimagining their role in a more democratic, far less fossil-fuel-dependent future.
Christina Dunbar-Hester is a communication professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC, a current member of the Institute for Advanced Study and the author of “Oil Beach.”
Florida weighs allowing concealed carry guns without permit
Matt Dixon – January 30, 2023
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida is set to become the 26th state to allow citizens to carry firearms without a permit under legislation outlined Monday by Republican House Speaker Paul Renner.
Conservatives and gun rights groups in Florida have long pushed to give Florida residents to ability to carry firearms with a permit, known by supporters as “constitutional carry,” but past legislation has routinely gotten bogged down. This year’s efforts are bolstered by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has repeatedly said he would sign a permitless carry bill if lawmakers sent it to his desk.
As the 2023 legislative session approaches, though, the Renner-led House appears to be taking point on getting the bill through the Legislature.
“Florida led the nation in allowing for concealed carry, and that extends today as we remove the government permission slip to exercise a constitutional right,” Renner said Monday during a news conference, where he was flanked by a handful of county sheriffs.
Renner spearheaded the press conference, a signal it’s a clear top priority for the speaker, but the bill is being sponsored by state Rep.Chuck Brannan (R-Lake City) and state Sen. Jay Collins (R-Tampa). Lawmakers did not formally file a bill at the time of the news conference but are expected to by Monday afternoon.
Under the proposal, the state will no longer require individuals to get a permit from Florida to own a gun. The state also won’t mandate other provisions, including a training requirement needed to get a permit. Permits would still be an option for gun owners who want to get them, something needed to be able to legally carry a gun in states that do not have permitless carry.
The proposal does not address whether people will be allowed to openly carry firearms in public. Under current Florida law, gun owners are not allowed to carry guns in the open.
In 2021, Texas approved a similar “open carry” law that allows most gun owners 21 and over to carry a handgun in a holster without a permit. The Texas law allows citizens to carry the gun in the open or concealed.
Democrats blasted the bill that they say will flood the state with gun owners who are not properly trained. Shortly after Renner’s press conference, Democrats pledged to fight to defeat it during the 2023 session — but Republicans have supermajorities in both the House and Senate, giving them near unchecked power.
“We are united in opposition to this policy proposal,” said Rep. Christine Hunschofsky (D-Parkland), whose district includes the scene of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass school shooting that left 17 people dead.
Democrats also see the proposal as another in a long line of culture war-infused bills DeSantis will champion during the legislative session to further energize his conservative base as he prepares to run for president. In the past few week alone, DeSantis has asked lawmakers for a sweeping criminal justice bill packed with policies generally supported by conservatives, rejected an Advanced Placement course focused on African-American history, a move that has gotten him national criticism from those who think he is whitewashing American history and signaled he will push for legislation cracking down on teacher’s unions, which are the last bastion of reliable political support for Florida Democrats.
“This is another effort to appeal to his conservative base as he runs for president,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando).
DeSantis was not at the Tallahassee press conference, instead holding his own at the same time in Orlando focused on transportation budget requests.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this report misstated one of the cosponsors of the bill. State Rep. Chuck Brannan is co-sponsoring the bill.
Florida GOP leaders want to get rid of gun permits
Brendan Farrington – January 30, 2023
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Saying gun owners don’t need a government permission slip to protect their God-given rights, Florida’s House speaker proposed legislation Monday to eliminate concealed weapons permits, a move Democrats argue would make a state with a history of horrific mass shootings less safe.
Republican leaders, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, have expressed support for the idea, so the bill should not have a problem passing in a legislature with a GOP a super-majority.
“What we’re about here today is a universal right that applies to each and every man or woman regardless of race, gender, creed or background,” Speaker Paul Renner said at a news conference.
Democrats immediately responded that the proposal could lead to more gun violence and accidents. They said that the bill supporters call constitutional carry will allow people to buy guns with no training or background checks.
“Untrained carry is what it is,” said Democratic Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, who was mayor of Parkland when a former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student fatally shot 17 students and faculty. “You are not making our communities, our schools or any places safer with this.”
Renner said law-abiding gun owners will take safety seriously.
“Anybody that is a gun owner and uses guns knows that safety comes first,” Renner said. “That’s important, but it’s not required. So the permit and all aspects of that permit will go away.”
Manuel and Patricia Oliver became advocates for tighter gun regulations after losing their 17-year-old son Joaquin in the 2018 massacre at the Parkland high school. They said with more people carrying guns without restrictions, Florida will become a more dangerous state.
“How about a little paperwork, some norms, before we take that step. It’s not right and it’s not protecting (the carrier) from anything. It is actually putting in danger a lot of people,” Manuel Oliver said.
Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey said people who want to do harm to others won’t be stopped by the permit requirement.
“Criminals don’t get a permit. Not one of them. They don’t care about obeying the law. Our law-abiding citizens have that immediate right, guarantee and freedom to protect themselves,” Ivey said.
About half the states allow people to carry a gun without a permit, a movement that has been growing particularly among conservative states.
Florida handgun owners would still have to conceal their weapons in public, though there has been discussion to allow gun owners to openly carry weapons.
Associated Press writer Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, contributed to this report.
Absence from work at record high as Americans feel strain from Covid
Melody Schreiber – January 29, 2023
For many Americans it feels like everyone is out sick right now. But there is a good reason: work absences from illness are at an all-time annual high in the US and show few signs of relenting. And it’s not just acute illness and caregiving duties keeping workers away.
About 1.5 million Americans missed work because of sickness in December. Each month, more than a million people have called out sick for the past three years. About 7% of Americans currently have long Covid, which can affect productivity and ability to work, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The last time the absentee number dipped below a million Americans was in November 2019.
Last year, the trend accelerated rather than returning to normal. In 2022, workers had the most sickness-related absences of the pandemic, and the highest number since record-keeping began in 1976.
In 2022, the average was 1.58 million per month, for a total of 19 million absences for the year. The largest spike was in January 2022, when 3.6 million people were absent due to illness, about triple the pre-pandemic number for that month.
Parents and caregivers also saw the highest rates of childcare-related absences of the entire pandemic in October 2022 as illnesses surged amid relaxed precautions and lower vaccination rates among children.
Patterns in absenteeism correspond with rises and falls in the spread of Covid. But long Covid is probably contributing to sick leave rates as well.
One analysis in New York found that 71% of long Covid patients who filed for worker’s compensation still had symptoms requiring medical attention or were unable to work completely for at least six months. Two in five returned to work within two months, but still needed medical treatment. Nearly one in five (18%) of claimants with long Covid could not return to work for a year or longer after first getting sick. The majority were under the age of 60.
Workforce participation has dropped by about 500,000 people because of Covid, according to one study that looked over time at workers who were out sick for a week. But the actual number could be higher, because not all workers are able to take time off during their illnesses, Bach said.
“It’s likely that long Covid is keeping somewhere around 500,000 to a million full-time-equivalent workers out of work,” said Katie Bach, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Some affected by long Covid have reduced their hours, while others have left the workforce temporarily or permanently – a metric not captured by work absence data, but calculated in labor participation statistics.
Patients who are very sick with long Covid often “try to work for some amount of time and then eventually they drop out”, Bach said.
Between death and disability, the workforce has been reduced by as much as 2.6% during the pandemic, with 1bn days of work lost, McKinsey recently reported.
Those who stay in their jobs may need more sick leave than before because of new chronic illnesses.
“People who are on the less-sick end of long Covid, maybe they can keep working, but every now and then they might need a day or two off just because they have overdone it or something happened that triggered a symptom flare,” Bach said.
Nearly one in five Americans developed long Covid after their initial infection, with some 7.5% of all American adults currently experiencing long Covid, according to the CDC. The CDC began collecting data on how many people have long Covid in 2022.
Much more research still needs to be done on the causes of and treatments for long Covid, the researchers said. Some patients do eventually recover, for instance, but it’s not clear why or how long they will be sick.
“We don’t know how long it’s taking them to recover. There’s a lot of uncertainty there,” said Alice Burns, associate director of the program on Medicaid and the uninsured at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The more immunity people have, from vaccines and recovery from prior cases, the less likely they are to get sick in the first place, which reduces the risk of developing long Covid. But it is still possible to have long Covid even after mild or asymptomatic infection.
All of this means the US may continue to see higher-than-normal workplace absences.
“Some people just really need flexibility from their employers,” Burns said. That can include telework, unscheduled leave, flexible schedules and reduced hours.
“The challenge with that is, those supports are a lot more likely to be available to workers who have office jobs, higher-paying jobs, who are pretty well-established in the labor market,” Burns said.
“Covid in general, and long Covid too, are more likely to affect people who are minorities, who have lower levels of education, [who have] likely lower levels of income. So there may be, for many people, a mismatch between the people who need some of these employment-related supports and the types of jobs they are in.”
Employers can adjust to this new normal by offering as many accommodations as possible, both for those suffering initial bouts of Covid infection and those experiencing longer-term symptoms, Bach said. Again, some of the jobs where people are most at risk might be the least accommodating – it’s usually easier for office workers to telecommute than it is for fast-food workers – but there are still steps employers can take.
“Companies have to get creative, like: can we offer more frequent breaks?” Bach said. “Can we as a society convince Medicare and Medicaid to reimburse a little bit more where companies are employing people with long Covid? What memory aids can we put together?”
If long Covid continues to affect 7% of the country, that’s 23 million people at any given time who may require accommodations under laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“But there isn’t a lot of clarity about what is a reasonable accommodation” under the law when it comes to Covid and long Covid, Burns said.
While Covid has thrown the country into disarray in every realm, including work, it is also shining a more intense light on the ways chronic illness affects productivity and workforce participation – a change that disability and chronic illness activists say is long overdue, Bach pointed out.
“My hope is that it’s big enough that we can rethink how we research and treat these diseases, and how we approach workplace accommodation,” Bach said. “In a world where any of your workers could suddenly become disabled, I think you have to be more flexible.”
How Reagan Convinced Himself He Didn’t Sell Arms for Hostages
Philip Taubman – January 28, 2023
Shocking news about secret arms-for-hostage deals rocked Washington in late 1986. The first hint came with a White House announcement on November 2, that David Jacobsen, an American held hostage in Lebanon by Iranian-directed Islamic forces, had been released. As Secretary of State George Shultz read a draft White House statement about the development, he noted that it referred to freed “hostages,” with the “s” crossed out. That told him that the White House had expected Jacobsen would not be alone. Shultz suspected that the news meant that clandestine White House efforts to free captive Americans in the Middle East by sending arms via Israel to Iran might be responsible. He had first heard about the possibility in mid-1985.
Within a few weeks, the dimensions of the story expanded exponentially with word that some Iranian payments for American arms had been secretly diverted to the rebel Contra forces in Nicaragua that Washington hoped would topple the leftist Sandinista regime. The funding was in clear violation of a congressional cutoff of aid to the Contras. Overnight, the affair, quickly dubbed the Iran-Contra scandal, engulfed the White House.
Shultz realized that President Ronald Reagan faced an explosive crisis similar to Watergate that might upend his presidency. The fiasco staggered Shultz. It exposed his own failure to stop the arms-for-hostage dealing at several critical moments when he heard about pieces of it, objected to it but stopped short of forcefully intervening. He had deliberately kept his distance, telling the White House officials who managed the arms shipments to Iran that he did not want to know the details.
The scandal also forced Shultz to face up to Reagan’s weaknesses as president, for the affair, at its core, was a colossal blunder. As Shultz confronted the issue, he struggled mightily to remain loyal to Reagan while simultaneously protecting his own reputation and legacy. In doing so, he barely escaped indictment for obstruction of justice.
The sudden crisis had been a long time in the making, born of two international flashpoints that the Reagan administration struggled to manage: the Middle East and Central America. The U.S.-Iran skirmish opened on November 4, 1979, when a mob of young Iranians overran the American embassy in Teheran and seized fifty-two Americans as hostages. On January 20, 1981, after 444 days in captivity, the hostages were freed moments before Reagan was sworn in as president. In the years that followed, the Khomeini regime supported Shiite proxy groups in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East that killed or kidnapped Americans.
Although Reagan administration policy clearly barred making concessions to hostage takers, Reagan yearned to free them. He also bought the untenable proposition that by selling arms to Iran he could establish a less adversarial relationship with the ayatollahs and turn Iran into a moderating Shiite influence in the region. Israel, for its part, offered to sell American arms in its arsenal to Iran to secure the release of hostages.
While the Middle Eastern plot was taking shape, the American officials who favored it—including CIA Director William Casey, National Security Adviser Bud McFarlane, and marine lieutenant colonel Oliver North, a National Security Council staff member—grew increasingly concerned about Soviet and Cuban inroads in Central America. When congressional Democrats cut off American support to paramilitary forces trying to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, these men first looked to Israel and South Africa as potential sources of money for the Contras. Over time, the Middle East and Central America vectors converged. The result was an elaborate plot in which Israel sold American weapons to Iran in exchange for hostages, and profits from the arms sales were funneled to the Contras. Reagan enthusiastically endorsed the arms sales but was not informed about the diversion of money to the Contras.
Shultz’s first inkling about irregular activity came in mid-April 1984 during administration debates about Central America policy and possible third-country aid to the Contras. Shultz wanted to maintain American assistance to the guerrilla forces, but not by funneling foreign money to them. He preferred to persuade Congress to extend American aid, if possible. When Casey suggested enlisting South Africa’s help in April 1984, Shultz was appalled, fearing covert foreign funding might lead to the impeachment of Reagan.
The arms-for-hostages operation came up formally in a July 13, 1985, McFarlane memo to Shultz. The national security adviser described an Israeli proposal to ship American arms to Iran to encourage a political dialogue and dislodge hostages from captivity. To get the dialogue started, Iran wanted one hundred American antitank missiles. Shultz told McFarlane to “make a tentative show of interest without commitment.” Shultz neither opposed nor supported the missile transfer—he did not address the question. He advised McFarlane to manage the initiative personally. Reflecting later on his response to McFarlane, Shultz said, “I was uneasy about my response, but I well knew the pressures from the president to follow up on any possibility of gaining the release of our hostages. I felt that Bud would in fact go ahead no matter what I said and that I was better off to stay in close touch with him and thereby retain some influence over what happened.”
Eight days later, McFarlane outlined the Israeli proposal at a White House meeting. Shultz, apparently reluctant to reiterate his earlier equivocation, objected to the arms transfer, arguing that it brazenly violated the administration’s firm stance against trading guns for hostages or making any concessions to terrorists. Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger agreed. The meeting ended inconclusively, but two days later Reagan told McFarlane to move ahead with the plan. On August 20, Israel shipped 96 antitank missiles to Iran, followed by another 408 two weeks later. One American hostage, Benjamin Weir, was soon freed. Upping the ante, Iran requested a shipment of more powerful weapons, medium-range surface-to-air HAWK missiles. When Israel could not deliver the larger weapons directly to Iran and efforts to ship them via a third country failed, Oliver North enlisted the help of the CIA.
Reagan enthusiastically supported the effort, acting on a humanitarian conviction that the United States should do everything possible to gain the release of the hostages. In doing so, he persuaded himself that the United States was not trading arms for hostages but instead was engaged in a noble attempt to save the lives of his countrymen..
Once news of the deal broke into the open in November 1986, Shultz’s attempts to dent the Reagan illusion grew frantic—and perilous for him. His challenge was threefold: convince Reagan that McFarlane, Vice Admiral John Poindexter (who had succeeded McFarlane as national security adviser), Casey, and North had misled him; end the arms-for-hostage strategy; and help Reagan survive the firestorm. Reagan did not want to hear that he had approved an arms-for-hostage strategy. On November 6, three days after the Lebanese newspaper report about the McFarlane mission to Teheran, Reagan declared that news coverage of the trip had “no foundation” and denied that the U.S. was exchanging arms with Iran for the release of hostages.
Shultz tried repeatedly to convince Reagan that his administration was trading arms for hostages and brazenly violating its own policies for dealing with terrorists. Reagan repeatedly rejected his appeals and grew increasingly impatient with Shultz. As the tension escalated, Shultz ruminated about his own failure to act more decisively in 1985 and 1986 as evidence of the operation caught his attention. “I felt I should have asked more, demanded more, done more, but I did not see how,” he recalled. “Did I have myself to blame for the aggrandizement of the NSC staff? I agonized. Ever since my first days as secretary of state, I had sought to make the national security adviser my channel to the White House and, on day-to-day matters, to the president.”
On one level, he was right. Secretaries of state cannot operate independent of the White House and the national security adviser. But on another level, Shultz was wrong. His willingness to rely on the White House national security staff after repeated setbacks caused by the incompetence and ideological rigidity of the staff does not make for a persuasive defense of his failure to act more decisively to stop the Iran-Contra affair before it reached critical mass.
Shultz’s assertion at the time that he was unaware of many incremental developments in the arms-for-hostage operation, a defense repeated in his memoirs, does not conform with detailed notes kept by Charles Hill, Shultz’s executive assistant. The memory lapse can be explained by the dizzying demands that descend daily on a secretary of state and Hill’s failure to capture all the relevant information about Shultz’s awareness of the Iran-Contra activities when he reviewed his notes for Shultz to help prepare Shultz’s congressional testimony. But Shultz’s selective memory also evoked Richard Nixon’s years-earlier warning to Reagan that Shultz had “a wonderful ability to, when things look iffy or are going wrong, he’ll contend he never heard about the issue and was never briefed and was not a part.”
Shultz’s defective memory, compounded by Hill’s handling of his notes, nearly proved disastrous when Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh discovered that Shultz had withheld relevant information about the Iran-Contra affair in his 1987 congressional testimony, delivered under oath. Walsh weighed charging Shultz with obstruction of justice but ultimately found that “Shultz’s testimony was incorrect, but it could not be proven that it was willfully false.”
Shultz’s faith in Reagan was shaken by the scandal. The president’s refusal to acknowledge the reality of exchanging arms for hostages was dumbfounding. In a nationally televised address on November 13, 1986, Reagan said he had authorized a small shipment of arms to Iran but was not bartering arms for hostages. “We did not—repeat—did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we.” After the speech, Shultz tried to make sense of Reagan’s blind spot. “The president’s speech convinced me that Ronald Reagan still truly did not believe that what had happened had, in fact, happened. To him the reality was different. I had seen him like this before on other issues. He would go over the ‘script’ of an event, past or present, in his mind, and once the script was mastered, that was the truth—no fact, no argument, no plea for reconsideration, could change his mind.”
On November 16, Shultz made a fateful appearance on the CBS News Sunday-morning interview program Face the Nation. When host Lesley Stahl repeatedly pressed Shultz to state whether any further arms shipments would be made to Iran, he replied, “Under the circumstances of Iran’s war with Iraq, its pursuit of terrorism, its association with those holding our hostages, I would certainly say, as far as I’m concerned, no.” Stahl then asked if Shultz was speaking for the entire administration. “No,” he answered. It was a stunning moment—the secretary of state acknowledging that he could not speak for the U.S. government.
He barely survived his candid answer. The White House announced that Shultz did speak for the administration and that Reagan had “no desire” and “no plans” to send further arms to Iran. Yet Reagan continued to defend the operation privately. Meanwhile, Poindexter and North kept working on plans for new arms shipments. Sensing that Shultz’s persistence was annoying Reagan, Casey urged the president to select a new secretary of state.
The same day Casey urged the president in writing to do so, he joined Bush, Shultz, Weinberger, Poindexter and others at the White House for a National Security Planning Group meeting with Reagan to hear from Attorney General Edwin Meese. Reagan had commissioned Meese to investigate the arms-for-hostage operation. Reagan brushed aside Shultz’s objections.
That evening, as Shultz lamented the latest developments, Poindexter, who had strongly defended the operation earlier in the day, called from the White House. His tone was entirely different—mild, even meek. The change in tone pleased but puzzled Shultz. Two days later he learned the reason behind the turnabout: Meese aides had discovered the secret payments to the Contras. When top officials gathered again at the White House, Meese told the group that between $10-30 million dollars had been sent to the Contras. Reagan had not approved the diversion or even known about it. As a result, Poindexter was out and North reassigned. On November 26, three weeks after the first news reports about the deals broke, Shultz and Reagan stilled the rancor that had agitated their relationship and agreed Shultz should stay on as secretary of state through the end of the Reagan presidency.
Philip Taubman is a lecturer at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. Before joining CISAC, Taubman worked at the New York Times as a reporter and editor for nearly 30 years. He is the author of The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb (2012); Secret Empire: Eisenhower, the CIA, and the Hidden Story of America’s Space Espionage (2003); and In The Nation’s Service: The Life and Times of George P. Shultz (2023).
New Study Finds the Best Brain Exercises to Boost Memory
Korin Miller – January 28, 2023
Research has found exercise can have a positive impact on your memory and brain health.
A new study linked vigorous exercise to improved memory, planning, and organization.
Data suggests just 10 minutes a day can have a big impact.
Experts have known for years about the physical benefits of exercise, but research has been ongoing into how working out can impact your mind. Now, a new study reveals the best exercise for brain health—and it can help sharpen everything from your memory to your ability to get organized.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, tracked data from nearly 4,500 people in the UK who had activity monitors strapped to their thighs for 24 hours a day over the course of a week. Researchers analyzed how their activity levels impacted their short-term memory, problem-solving skills, and ability to process things.
The study found that doing moderate and vigorous exercise and activities—even those that were done in under 10 minutes—were linked to much higher cognition scores than people who spent most of their time sitting, sleeping, or doing gentle activities. (Vigorous exercise generally includes things like running, swimming, biking up an incline, and dancing; moderate exercise includes brisk walking and anything that gets your heart beating faster.)
The researchers specifically found that people who did these workouts had better working memory (the small amount of information that can be held in your mind and used in the execution of cognitive tasks) and that the biggest impact was on executive processes like planning and organization.
On the flip side: People who spent more time sleeping, sitting, or only moved a little in place of doing moderate to vigorous exercise had a 1% to 2% drop in cognition.
“Efforts should be made to preserve moderate and vigorous physical activity time, or reinforce it in place of other behaviors,” the researchers wrote in the conclusion.
But the study wasn’t perfect—it used previously collected cohort data, so the researchers didn’t know extensive details of the participants’ health or their long-term cognitive health. The findings “may simply be that those individuals who move more tend to have higher cognition on average,” says lead study author John Mitchell, a doctoral training student in the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health at University College London. But, he adds, the findings could also “imply that even minimal changes to our daily lives can have downstream consequences for our cognition.”
So, why might there be a link between exercise and a good memory? Here’s what you need to know.
Why might exercise sharpen your memory and thinking?
This isn’t the first study to find a link between exercise and enhanced cognition. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifically states online that physical activity can help improve your cognitive health, improving memory, emotional balance, and problem-solving.
Working out regularly can also lower your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. One scientific analysis of 128,925 people published in the journal Preventive Medicine in 2020 found that cognitive decline is almost twice as likely in adults who are inactive vs. their more active counterparts.
But, the “why” behind it all is “not entirely clear,” says Ryan Glatt, C.P.T., senior brain health coach and director of the FitBrain Program at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, CA. However, Glatt says, previous research suggests that “it is possible that different levels of activity may affect brain blood flow and cognition.” Meaning, exercising at a harder clip can stimulate blood flow to your brain and enhance your ability to think well in the process.
“It could relate to a variety of factors related to brain growth and skeletal muscle,” says Steven K. Malin, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “Often, studies show the more aerobically fit individuals are, the more dense brain tissue is, suggesting better connectivity of tissue and health.”
Exercise also activates skeletal muscles (the muscles that connect to your bones) that are thought to release hormones that communicate with your brain to influence the health and function of your neurons, i.e. cells that act as information messengers, Malin says. “This could, in turn, promote growth and regeneration of brain cells that assist with memory and cognition,” he says.
Currently, the CDC recommends that most adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise.
The best exercises for your memory
Overall, the CDC suggests doing the following to squeeze more exercise into your life to enhance your brain health:
Do squats or march in place while watching TV
Start a walking routine
Use the stairs
Walk your dog, if you have one (one study found that dog owners walk, on average, 22 minutes more every day than people who don’t own dogs)
However, the latest study suggests that more vigorous activities are really what’s best for your brain. The study didn’t pinpoint which exercises, in particular, are best—“when wearing an accelerometer, we do not know what sorts of activities individuals are doing,” Glatt points out. However, getting your heart rate up is key.
Malin’s advice: “Take breaks in sitting throughout the day by doing activity ‘snacks.’” That could mean doing a minute or two of jumping jacks, climbing stairs at a brisk pace, or doing air squats or push-ups to try to replace about six to 10 minutes of sedentary behavior a day. “Alternatively, trying to get walks in for about 10 minutes could go a long way,” he says.
Marjorie Taylor Greene keeps rising in Republican ranks despite ‘loony lies’
Adam Gabbatt – January 28, 2023
When Marjorie Taylor Greene was elected to America’s House of Representatives in 2020, she became one of the most visible of a wave of extremists to enter the Republican party whose often bizarre utterings stretched the bounds of what had previously been the norm of US politics.
The Georgian congresswoman, who has suggested Jewish space lasers are responsible for wildfires, speculated whether 9/11 was a hoax and supported the QAnon conspiracy theory, was part of a new wave of Trumpian Republicans and was mocked, ridiculed and reviled in equal measure – including by some in her own party.
But in 2023, Greene is now firmly on her way to becoming one of the senior figures in the Republican party. She has become a favorite, and key ally, of Kevin McCarthy, the new House speaker, and preparing to take up assignments on some of Congress’s most prominent committees.
It’s been a remarkable rise that few could have seen coming during a checkered first half of 2021, when Greene was making her name known through her penchant for unhinged conspiracy theories and strange remarks, but her ascension to the upper echelons of the GOP was confirmed this week by McCarthy, in an interview with the New York Times.
“If you’re going to be in a fight, you want Marjorie in your foxhole,” McCarthy said.
“When she picks a fight, she’s going to fight until the fight’s over. She reminds me of my friends from high school, that we’re going to stick together all the way through.”
This apparent fondness for a tussle has seen Greene rewarded with positions on the homeland security committee, despite her previously musing that no plane crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, and on the oversight committee, where she is expected to be part of a subcommittee investigating the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
If the latter seems problematic, given Greene’s loudly stated suspicions and conspiracy theories about the pandemic – in January she was permanently banned from Twitter for repeatedly violating rules about Covid-19 misinformation – then that’s only because lots of things Greene has said and done are problematic.
In 2021 Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, condemned Greene’s “loony lies and conspiracy theories” in relation to Greene having claimed support for executing Democratic politicians and harassing the survivor of a mass school shooting.
Later that year McCarthy himself, who had earlier attempted to avoid conflict, felt compelled to step in after Greene compared Covid masking rules to the treatment of Jewish people in Nazi Germany.
“Marjorie is wrong, and her intentional decision to compare the horrors of the Holocaust with wearing masks is appalling,” McCarthy said.
“The Holocaust is the greatest atrocity committed in history. The fact that this needs to be stated today is deeply troubling,” he said.
The multiple rebukes, and the egregiousness of Greene’s beliefs – whether disavowed or not – make her rise to prominence, as she takes up her seat on some of Congress’s most powerful committees, all the more remarkable.
Greene’s rapid recent rise began when she backed McCarthy for the House leadership, two months ahead of the ultimately farcical vote that saw him elected after 15 ballots. Greene had got in early, declaring her support in November on Steve Bannon’s podcast.
For McCarthy, who has been an unpopular figure among far-right voters and politicians – it was a selection of the latter that meant the manner of his ascension to speaker was embarrassing at best, it was a boost he needed.
McCarthy and Greene had spent months forging a working relationship they believed could be beneficial for both, with Greene placating the zaniest wing of both Republicans in the House and voters at home, and McCarthy providing relevance to someone who had been stripped of her committee assignments in 2021, leaving her, essentially, having nothing to do in Washington.
The New York Times reported that McCarthy, as he prepared to take up the speakership, had been mindful of the problems his centrist predecessors, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, faced in dealing with their furthest-right colleagues.
Both Ryan and Boehner – who would later describe some of his rightwing colleagues as “assholes” – endured battles with the Freedom Caucus, a conservative and often obstructionist group of GOP congressmen, when trying to pass legislation.
Greene remains one of the most popular figures among Trump supporters and believers, evidenced by her 758,000 followers on Trump’s Truth Social website – McCarthy has 113,000, Steve Scalise, the House majority leader, has 109,000 – and enjoys a close relationship with the former president, even calling Trump from the House floor during the debacle of January’s leadership vote.
Greene is also a successful fundraiser, bringing in $12.5m in the 2021-22 election cycle, the fifth most of any Republican representative, her popularity among the base and alignment with Trump making her the model of the new Republican politician.
On Greene’s part, she has sought to sanitize, somewhat, the ill-informed, conspiracy-minded viewpoints that have characterized her political career. In early 2022 Greene began a deliberate, “methodical” reinvention, a confidante told the Washington Post.
From her position on the sidelines, with a congressional office but no meaningful role in the House, she began to think of the future. Greene, like most observers, believed McCarthy would be the next House speaker, and saw a role for herself as a bridge between the far right and the less kooky Republicans, the Post reported.
As she tried to make herself palatable to a wider audience, Greene set about trying not to speak at any more white nationalist rallies, or discuss the “gazpacho police” who are apparently patrolling the US Capitol. (Her remark was widely understood to mean Gestapo.) She is also yet to repeat her 2018 claim that the Clinton family orchestrated the plane crash that killed John F Kennedy Jr more than two decades ago.
In addition to this new reserve, Greene hired a new aide with a track record in conventional conservative politics, and eventually began meeting with McCarthy once a week, as the pair forged a close bond, each aware of the potential benefits.
McCarthy would go on to win the speakership. But his concessions to the right, personified by his promotion of Greene, have come at a cost. Already McCarthy has pursued Greene-backed, far-right strategies on vaccines and treatment of January 6 perpetrators, something that has left Greene delighted.
“People need to understand that it isn’t just me that deserves credit,” Greene told the New York Times.
“It is the will and the voice of our base that was heard, and Kevin listened to them. I was just a vehicle much of the time.”
If Greene was displaying an amount of faux humility, her conviction that she is channeling the will of the people and willingness to make it heard are a warning as to the level of influence she now wields.
In her new roles Greene said she will be investigating: “How many of our enemies got pallets of cash!?” from Covid-19 unemployment benefits, a question she posed without any context or explanation, and has pledged to impeach the homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, for his perceived failures in handling immigration.
From Greene’s political position in February 2021, when she was removed from her committee assignments by Democrats – and some Republicans – in a rebuke over incendiary and racist statements, which included her posting a mocked-up image of her holding a gun next to three Democratic lawmakers, all women of color, on Facebook, it has been a remarkable turnaround.
Less than two years on, Greene has taken up positions on two of the most prominent committees in the House. She has a metaphorical seat at the House speaker’s right hand, and will enjoy the visibility that all this brings.
It’s a testament to how quickly things can change in politics, but also a very visible reminder of what the Republican party increasingly stands for.
Greene may have sought to sanitize her image, but it is clear that her brand of populism, outrage and misinformation is not the embarrassment it once was to the party leadership: this is the modern version of the Republican party.
Travelers opting for rail again as Amtrak expands options
Peter Greenberg – January 27, 2023
In the post-pandemic world, while many travelers have been obsessed with airlines, ground stops, cancellations and delays, Amtrak’s ridership is bouncing back — more than doubling in the Northeast corridor, and 88% across the country. At the same time, Amtrak was strengthening its long-haul services, with trains like the Empire Builder, the Zephyr, the Sunset Limited and the Southern Crescent, the Southwest Chief and the Coast Starlight, to name a few.
And while we don’t yet have true high-speed rail yet in this country — and may never have it — there are some improvements in the service. And why don’t we have high-speed rail? Because Amtrak doesn’t own its tracks. The freight lines do, and they have no interest in high-speed rail.
That may also explain why Amtrak doesn’t exactly own a great on-time service record — because their trains often have to pull over to a siding to let a 100-car-long freight train lumber through.
At the same time, Congress has never properly funded Amtrak to allow it to grow and upgrade and to be able to reinvest profits in its product.
In some cases, Amtrak has brought back the dining cars. But even more important, Amtrak has announced a major upgrade to its fleet, with the new “Amtrak Airo” trains — with more spacious interiors and modernized amenities will be rolling out across the U.S. in about three years. The cars will feature more table seating, better legroom and more room for all your electronic devices.
Until then, there’s some good news. Amtrak doesn’t promote it very well, and most passengers don’t know about it, but Amtrak actually sells a USA rail pass. For just $499, you get to travel Amtrak for 30 days and up to 10 rides. It’s a great deal — and children under 12 ride for $250.
And with new high-speed routes launching in several European countries in the past few months — Spain, in particular, has new options for travelers as train operators compete and prices fall — train travel in Europe is an increasingly attractive option.
The Eurail Pass has never been a better deal. It now enables rail travel in 33 European countries, an expansion from the initial 13 countries, with prices starting at $218. One Eurail pass for $473 gives you two months of train travel.
One caveat: you must buy your Eurail pass in conjunction with your roundtrip airline ticket from the U.S. to Europe. You can’t purchase it once you get there. And you can even get a Eurail pass that’s valid for three months.