Wall Street-backed candidate loses race for Manhattan district attorney

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of the Manhattan district attorney’s office since it overseas Wall Street and others parts of the city where some of the wealthiest people in the country work, and thus is the hub for all manner of white-collar crimes that the rich indulge in, including but not limited to, tax fraud. The current occupant is Cyrus Vance Jr., who has long been friendly to the New York elites including the Trump family but recently seems to be trying to right that balance by using a grand jury to investigate the Trump organization. Just this week, his office issued indictments of grand larceny and fraud against the Trump organization and its chief financial officer and long-time Trump confidante Allen Weisselberg.
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It’s about time: Moratorium on federal death penalty

In a welcome move, US attorney general Merrick Garland has imposed a moratorium on the federal death penalty.

The US attorney general has imposed a moratorium on all federal executions while the justice department reviews its policies and procedures on capital punishment. Civil rights and criminal justice advocates have been pushing for a halt following a wave of controversial executions under the Trump administration.

Citing the disproportionate impact of capital punishment on people of color, and deep controversy over the drugs used to put people to death, the attorney general, Merrick Garland, ordered a temporary pause on scheduling executions.

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Who reads all these Trump books?

It is not uncommon for people who work in presidential administrations to write books once they leave office. These books generally fall into two categories: those written by high-level officials trying to justify their actions while in office and those written by lower-level people and reporters using administration sources that purport to reveal secrets, sometimes embarrassing, about what was really going on.

What has been extraordinary about the defunct Trump administration is the large number of books written, especially books that fall into the second category. It seems like not a day passes without the announcement of yet another tell-all book. In one sense it is not surprising. Whatever else one might say about that administration, it was not boring. Pretty much every day brought some new outrage or chaotic development. The Trump administration from the top down was full of venal grifters, incompetents, and outright sociopaths and so there are many salacious stories to tell.
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There are some limits to religious exemptions

In the US, people use religious beliefs to claim a broad array of exemptions from the laws that apply to everyone. The primary vehicles for doing so have been the Free Expression clause of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and courts have often been willing to accommodate them. But it seems like there are limits to that leeway, as this case shows.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a religious rights case involving an Idaho man who refused to provide the state his Social Security number in a job-related filing because he said it was “the number of the beast” – an ominous biblical reference.

The justices let stand a lower court ruling against a man named George Ricks who in a lawsuit against Idaho demanded an exemption due to his Christian beliefs from the state’s requirement that he provide his Social Security number to apply to work as a state contractor.
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More fitting obituaries for Donald Rumsfeld

The smug and arrogant Rumsfeld, an utterly odious man, died yesterday at the age of 88. In a just world, he would have been tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison for war crimes. But given that he was an American leader and we all know that by definition Americans never commit war crimes, that would never would have happened.

To get a more accurate recounting of his career, we can read Jon Schwarz who calls him a “dreary war criminal” who “managed to do terrible things throughout his life while remaining tremendously banal”.

[L]ess than six hours after the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center, Rumsfeld was anxious to “hit SH [Saddam Hussein] @ same time.” And he wasn’t especially concerned whether Iraq or any target was responsible for the attacks. He wanted to conduct “massive” attacks on targets “related & not” (emphasis in original). That is, he saw the deaths of thousands of Americans as a wonderful opportunity to do whatever the George W. Bush administration wanted.

At that moment, Rumsfeld was doing what he did best throughout his life: spinning the unspeakable suffering of others into the desired ends of himself and his political allies.
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Hilbert’s Hotel shows why some infinities are bigger than others

Here is an entertaining video that has a nice explanation of a seeming paradox about infinities.

In 1924, the German mathematician David Hilbert raised a peculiar and seemingly paradoxical question: are some infinities bigger than others? The answer he arrived at – yes, actually – might have been impenetrable to non-mathematicians if not for the thought experiment he devised involving a hotel with an infinite number rooms. This video from the Australian filmmaker and educator Derek Muller builds Hilbert’s ‘infinite hotel’ and populates it with some strange, fuzzy creatures to demonstrate how the mathematician arrived at his groundbreaking conclusion, and touches on the real-world implications of his discovery.

New Pew analysis of 2020 election

There are many interesting features about the 2020 election, especially the way that various demographic groups voted that do not quite fit into a simple picture. Analyses of voting patterns in the election keep coming in. One of the most comprehensive is a new one by the Pew organization.

Every piece of evidence since the November election suggests Donald Trump made significant inroads among blocs of voters thought to be out of reach to the controversial now-former president.

And he still lost the popular vote by roughly twice the margin he did in 2016 — enough for Joe Biden to flip five states Trump won and capture the Electoral College.

A new analysis from the Pew Research Center shows why: Even as Trump was narrowing Democrats’ margins with white women and Hispanic voters, Biden was surging with other groups, like suburbanites, white men and voters who identified as independents, that propelled him to victory.

According to the Pew analysis, Trump won white voters by 12 percentage points, 55 percent to 43 percent, down from 15 points in 2016. Biden narrowed Trump’s margin among white men — from 30 points in 2016, to 17 points in 2020 — but Trump won white women by a larger spread (7 points) than he won them in 2016 (2 points).

Meanwhile, Biden held steady among Black voters, carrying them by an 84-point spread (92 percent to 8 percent), virtually identical to Hillary Clinton’s 85-point lead four years ago.

But Biden only won Hispanic voters by 21 points, 59 percent to 38 percent, down significantly from Clinton’s 38-point advantage, 66 percent to 28 percent. There was a slight gender gap — Biden won Hispanic men by 17 and Hispanic women by 24 — but Trump surged broadly among Hispanics, especially among Hispanic voters without a college degree.

You can read the Pew report here.

The mysterious motivations of some people

California’s highway 101 runs north-south and in 2019 there was a mysterious spate of projectiles that were hitting cars traveling through a particular stretch of that road just north of Monterey where I live. Over 70 incidents were reported. There were no crashes or fatalities but six people suffered cuts and bruises when the glass shattered. It was unsettling and police found it hard to track down the culprit. I always assumed that it would turn out to be young kids who had nothing better to do and thought this was an amusing way of passing the time.

But in January 2020, police arrested a suspect and it turned out to be a 54-year old man Charles Kenneth Lafferty who was firing marbles with a slingshot.
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