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A genius is someone who “takes the lemons that Fate hands him and starts a lemonade-stand with them,” the American writer Elbert Hubbard once observed. Last week, two women showed how it’s done.
Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, was staring down an October election that looked like a possible loser for her party. She shocked the nation by announcing her resignation, and fans around the world responded by praising Ardern’s accomplishments and candid admission that she was burned out. Stephen Colbert contrasted Ardern’s decision to the behavior of US and UK political leaders who cling to power and joked, “Please rest up because we need you to come to America to run in 2024.”
Reflecting on the prime minister’s exit, Kara Alaimo wrote, “Ardern, who entered office at the age of 37 and led her country through numerous crises, saw a meteoric rise on the world stage. But her popularity has waned at home in New Zealand, and on Thursday, she said, ‘I no longer have enough in the tank to do the job justice.’”
“Her example, from her speedy response in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic to her resolve in the aftermath of the 2019 Christchurch shootings, should make the world re-think its widespread bias against women leaders.”
Another famous woman, the Colombia-born music superstar Shakira, was coping with the aftermath of her relationship with former footballer Gerard Piqué when she released a new song January 11.
“In 24 hours, ‘BZRP Music Sessions #53,’ her latest single alongside Argentinian producer and DJ Bizarrap, racked up a record-breaking 63 million views on YouTube and 14.4 million streams on Spotify,” wrote Ximena N. Beltran Quan Kiu.
“The catchy pop ballad is a formidable addition to the canon of breakup songs, but it is more than a diss track about her former partner and father of her two children. By airing out her grievances in such a public forum, Shakira made an explosive and significant cultural statement by refusing to carry any shame associated with the end of their relationship.”
The charges against actor Alec Baldwin over the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film “Rust” are “pretty surprising,” wrote Jill Filipovic.
“Authorities say Baldwin was using a gun he was handed by an assistant director, which he had no reason to believe was loaded with a live round – and indeed, the assistant director reportedly told the people on set that it was a ‘cold gun,’” Filipovic noted.
“It doesn’t seem wholly unreasonable for Baldwin to have relied on the multiple professionals around him whose job it was to ensure that the gun was safe. Under these truly unusual and specific circumstances, it’s hard to say he should be on the hook for involuntary manslaughter.”
“But: Baldwin wasn’t just an actor in this film; he was a producer as well, and therefore, arguably, had an elevated level of responsibility for on-set safety. If this gun firing was a one-off, perhaps one could still safely say that this was a tragedy, not a crime.”
“The shooting that killed a bright, talented cinematographer, though, was not the only safety issue on set.”
“There’s no there, there.” That was Biden’s characterization Thursday of the controversy over classified documents found at his home and former office. A special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland is investigating whether there is a “there,” while another special counsel continues to investigate former President Donald Trump’s large cache of classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago compound.
Biden’s comments didn’t explain why the administration kept the discovery of classified documents secret for two months.
“You have to remember,” Alice Stewart wrote, “that on Biden’s first day in office, then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki vowed that this administration ‘would bring transparency and truth back to government.’”
“But that hasn’t been the case with this documents saga. Last week, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated the document search had been ‘completed’ and that only one page was found in a room adjacent to the garage. But as we now know, additional documents have since been found in Biden’s home.”
Another question is why two successive presidents have fallen afoul of the classified documents rules. Indeed CNN National Security Analyst Beth Sanner, who served for a time as President Trump’s intelligence briefer, wrote that “it is likely more classified material will be discovered ‘outside the wire’ in the future unless we tackle another underlying issue: too much classified paper in circulation.”
“The mountain of classified material flowing around the White House – and other national security agencies and departments – presents an inherent vulnerability no amount of finger-pointing or procedural reform will solve,” Sanner observed.
Circulate classified information on “tablets, like the iPad or Surface Go, which provide better security and accountability,” Sanner noted. “Like paper, tablets can be misplaced or mishandled, but applying simple tools like controlled network access, passwords and biometric identification and embedding timed wipeout programs reduces the risk that unauthorized individuals gain access to classified material.”
“I know this is possible because the intelligence community has been producing the (President’s Daily Brief) for delivery on tablets to the president and top national security officials since 2012.”
The clock began ticking Thursday toward an unthinkable – and yet possible – US default on its debt. Unless Congress raises the $31.4 trillion borrowing limit on government debt sometime before this summer, the Treasury could have to stop paying interest and delay writing checks for government workers and social security recipients.
House Republicans, led by the new Speaker Kevin McCarthy, are threatening to oppose raising the debt ceiling unless Biden “agrees to draconian spending cuts,” wrote Julian Zelizer.
“The political battle that is unfolding is a result of Republicans becoming increasingly radicalized in what they are willing to do to achieve partisan power. … For decades, raising the federal debt limit remained a routine matter. Understanding that the government had to pay its bills, even when costs ballooned during times of war, Congress would pass the measure either on a temporary or permanent basis…”
“There is no reason for this crisis to happen. While vigorous debates about government spending are certainly a legitimate part of politics, forcing a situation that could create economic chaos after Congress has already reached deals over expenditures should not be a legitimate and normal part of politics.”
It was the kind of weapon designed to sink ships. But instead, the Russian cruise missile – with a warhead of nearly one metric-ton – struck an apartment building in Dnipro, Ukraine, wrote Michael Bociurkiw. At least 45 people were killed, including six children – and more than a dozen people were still missing after the attack.
“It created a scene of destruction described by some in Dnipro as ‘hell,’” he observed.
The continued attacks on civilian targets make a powerful case for more western aid to Ukraine, writes Bociurkiw, who noted that Germany is still hesitating on whether to allow its “advanced Leopard tanks currently stationed in 13 European countries” to be sent to Ukraine. “Allowing this degree of barbarism from Russia to continue not only encourages other autocratic-led nations to follow suit, but will result in further civilian deaths in Ukraine.”
The Biden administration is not coming for your gas stove, despite fears on the right. But there is controversy over the safety of gas cooking, CNN Opinion’s Kirsi Goldynia wrote.
“A growing body of research has detailed the numerous environmental and public health costs of cooking with gas. A study by Stanford University published last year found that the impacts of gas stoves are more significant than previously understood, due largely to the leakage of methane into the air.”
Even some professional chefs are giving up on gas. Chris Galarza is a 33-year-old New Jersey native who “spent the formative years of his career cooking over a gas burner. The heat from the flames that licked the sides of his pans, combined with the constant stream of gas pollutants he was breathing in during his long shifts, often made the chef and his colleagues physically ill,” Goldynia noted.
He now works as a consultant to help companies transition to fully electric kitchens, relying on induction stoves. “It’s not true at all that gas stoves cook better,” Galarza says. “In fact, you can cook about 38.6 pounds of food per hour with your gas range, and it’s going to take time and elbow grease to clean and degrease it afterward. With induction, you can cook 70.9 pounds of food per hour – nearly double the amount of food – and your clean up is going to be a lot easier.”
In August, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell cited “candidate quality” as a key variable in the Republican effort to retake the Senate, which failed in the November election. But echoes of the “candidate quality” question keep arising for other Republicans.
Rep. George Santos, the New York Republican whose resume appears largely fictional, faced yet another controversy this week when two veterans from New Jersey said he set up a GoFundMe for a pit bull to undergo lifesaving surgery and then absconded with the roughly $3,000 that was raised. Santos denied the allegation.
The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan wrote, “He shouldn’t be in Congress. We all know this. It’s not good enough to say they’re all con men. Even in Congress there are degrees. This one’s a pro, a menace, a total, not partial, fraud. If he has any qualifications for public office they haven’t emerged. He is a bad example for the young: Cheating works. He is an embarrassment to the old. He is an insult to the institution.” The Republican leaders should “tell him he has to leave. They should press him to resign. They should dissociate themselves from him, ostracize him.”
Meanwhile Solomon Peña, a failed Republican candidate for a New Mexico state legislative seat, “was arrested as the alleged ringleader of a criminal conspiracy to shoot at the homes of several elected Democrats – motivated, police say, by election denial,” Jill Filipovic noted.
His “involvement in an alleged criminal conspiracy in which he is accused of pulling the trigger at least once in a series of shootings at Democrats’ homes is not aberrational. That he was a Republican candidate for office speaks both to the caliber of person this party is attracting and to a broader pattern of right-wing violence, fueled by the rhetoric coming from Republicans who hold some of the most powerful positions in the country.”
For more on Congress:
Dean Obeidallah: Jim Jordan and other election deniers don’t deserve to head House committees
Casey Michel: This congressional office is a success. The GOP wants to gut it anyway
The Supreme Court couldn’t find the source of the leak. Joan Biskupic wrote for CNN Politics that the court’s “stunning report Thursday on its failure to discover who leaked a draft decision reversing abortion rights last year laid bare shortfalls at the nation’s highest court, in its technology, protocols for confidentiality and overall institutional safeguards.”
The leaked draft, published in May, prefigured the court’s June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the ruling that made abortion legal nationally. Sunday is Roe’s 50th anniversary, as Claudia Dreifus noted.
Abortion “remains fully legal in more than half of all states and in the District of Columbia,” but “in multiple states, doctors frankly are scared,” Dreifus wrote. “State laws are changing. Lawyers and judges are making decisions about whether or not women – and in some cases young girls – can get the care their doctors know they need. Women are afraid of being investigated if they suffer a miscarriage. Politicians are advocating for abortion to be declared homicide.”
“Meanwhile, people who use the drug Methotrexate for rheumatoid arthritis are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain. The medication can induce miscarriage. Pharmacists fear that under post-Dobbs laws, they can be prosecuted for dispensing it.”
Mary Ziegler and Aziza Ahmed: Who sits in the White House is key to abortion access
Rachel Monroe: ‘True crime’ makes entertainment of someone else’s tragedy
Erik German and Peter Bergen: The Pentagon’s long hunt for UFOs
Michael T. Bertrand: Why Lisa Marie Presley’s untimely death was so jarring
John Avlon: The ‘word police’ are doing more harm than good
Dr. Roopa Farooki: ‘We can barely breathe.’ How did Britain’s treasured NHS get so sick?
Les Abend: What every pilot should know before landing in the Himalayas
Holly Thomas: Horrific acts of London police officer are a flashing warning light
Marcia L. Fudge: It’s time to finish the work of the Fair Housing Act
Yanzhong Huang: In China’s countryside, a Covid-19 tsunami is brewing
Jake Cline: The latest jewel snatched from Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire
Today begins the Year of the Rabbit. Lunar New Year is an official state holiday in California for the first time this year, wrote Lynda Lin Grigsby. It “acknowledges that we are a part of the fabric of American society, gives us permission to live out loud and signifies that our joy is as important as our service.”
“In our family, we were governed by one unbreakable rule: No matter where in the world you were, you had to come home for Lunar New Year, because the holiday is about reunion and reconnection.”
As novelist Vanessa Hua wrote, “By tradition, on Lunar New Year, you’re supposed to outfit yourself with new clothes, from inner to outer layers. If they’re an auspicious red, all the better. You can never have too much luck.”
“But when you turn a multiple of 12 — 24, 36, 48, 60 and so on — the ritual gets prolonged: Red underwear every day of that lunar calendar year.”
Hua was skeptical about the tradition, but her view is changing. “In what’s shaping up to be another year of uncertainty, transition and change – compounded by worry about a looming recession, persistent pandemic and anti-Asian hate – talismans take on a greater urgency. … For me – for now – this shared tradition is fortifying, connecting me to the diaspora.”