politicians, politics, true crime

Terrorism isn’t the answer.

This morning over breakfast, I read yet another news story about someone who is in trouble with the law for cyberstalking a public official. A 40 year old man from Virginia took it upon himself to threaten Tulsa, Oklahoma Mayor George T. Bynum. The Virginia man, name of Adam Maxwell Donn, sent dozens of menacing emails and made as many abusive phone calls to the mayor, warning him to cancel Donald Trump’s rally last June.

Donn implied to Mayor Bynum that harm would come to him and his family if he didn’t put a stop to the event. He also threatened to publish the official’s home address, cellphone numbers, and computer passwords. According to The New York Times:

“You are putting everyone in Tulsa at risk so Im gonna put your family at risk,” Mr. Donn wrote in one email, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Tulsa. “Maybe show up to meet at your next bible study??”

The threats began on June 11th and police were summoned June 18th. In most of the emails Donn sent, there were vulgarities and insults. Donn wrote that he hoped Bynum and his family were infected with the coronavirus. The family eventually moved to a different location because they were so rattled by Donn’s continued harassment.

Trump’s planned rally event, held on June 20th, went on as scheduled. Most of the attendees dispensed with wearing face masks. We all know how that turned out for the unlucky among them who got COVID-19.

By now, a lot of people have already read about how six men in Michigan and Wisconsin, angry with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to shut down businesses due to COVID-19, plotted to kidnap her, try her, and leave her alone in a both in the middle of Lake Michigan. There was also discussion about kidnapping Virginia’s Democratic Governor, Ralph Northam, who has similarly pissed off people over COVID-19 restrictions.

Just yesterday, a man in Maryland was arrested for plotting to kidnap and kill Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris. 42 year old James Dale Reed decided to leave a threatening note at a home in Frederick, Maryland which had many Biden signs in the front yard. Fortunately, the homeowners had a doorbell camera and managed to get a picture of the unhinged man, who now faces up to five years in prison for threatening a major political candidate. Reed’s note read, in part:

“We are the ones with these scary guns, we are the ones your children have nightmares about,”

And finally, a woman in Wichita, Kansas was arrested for threatening Wichita’s Democratic Mayor Brandon Whipple with kidnapping and murder. Meredith Dowty, aged 59, sent the mayor a descriptive and detailed note vowing to locate him, slit his throat, hang him and turn him into fertilizer.

Although I’m sure that threats against politicians aren’t anything new, especially during election years that involve changing the presidency, they seem to be a lot more widespread this year. People are decidedly unhinged. There are a lot of reasons for people to be on edge. We have a global pandemic that has been poorly handled, resulting in many thousands of deaths and even more people who are sick and may stay sick for a long time. We have a lot of people who are hungry and unemployed, and a president who doesn’t seem too concerned about them. At the same time, a group of people are fretting about the idea of a new president, who will do his best to roll back the changes brought forth by Trump.

I know a lot of people like Trump, for whatever reason. I’ve found that a lot of the people who like Trump the most are folks who can’t stand the idea of more taxation and what they see as “government overreach”. A lot of them are people who don’t travel. They don’t see a need to visit other places and see how other countries work. They believe the United States is as good as it gets. To them, that is reality, and Joe Biden represents changing something they think is the best. They ignore Donald Trump’s obvious shortcomings because they see him as the best way to change the country to what they think it should be, even if cheating, threatening, and outright sabotage is unfair and unAmerican.

While I personally believe that travel is the best way to erase prejudice and expand one’s perspective, I get that not everyone likes traveling. That’s fine. What isn’t fine is threatening to harm or kill people who are running for office because you think they’re a threat to your way of life. I understand the frustration that comes with the power public officials have. But is the satisfaction of threatening them really worth going to prison? Because those threats are going to be very difficult to carry out, especially when they are made against people like Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

2020 has definitely been a strange and somewhat horrible year. It hasn’t been entirely horrible for me, personally– but a lot of it has really sucked for many people. People are pissed off, fed up, and some are just plain mentally ill and have no way of getting any help or finding hope. So they lash out in extreme ways. I’m sure some of the people who have been arrested are not entirely bad people. They probably think, on some level, that making these threats are reasonable and even heroic. They might believe that stopping “evil” leaders from ruining the country is worth the risk of losing their freedom.

While I’m not at the point of desperation myself, I can empathize somewhat with how some people might be feeling right now. There have been times in my life when I’ve been broke and scared. I’ve been frustrated and felt like I’ve had no options. I’ve never gotten to the point of sending threatening letters to anyone, but I’ve definitely had fantasies. I think a lot of people have. But ultimately, I’ve always concluded that no person was worth going to prison. Besides, I am not a violent person. I’m just cranky.

I’ve heard from my friends and a few family members in the United States who tell me I’m lucky to be in Germany. I have to agree with that. It’s been great to be spared the political shitstorm that always spins this time of year and hits a fever pitch when the race includes new candidates for president. I’m sure it’s way worse this year than it’s ever been. I just think it’s a shame that people are sinking to threats, intimidation (vote for a certain candidate or you might lose your job), and outright efforts to cheat (burning collection boxes for votes). Those measures will not amount to anything good.

I think we should try to have more faith… I know it’s hard, given what happened the last time America voted for a new president. But taking matters into your own hands won’t work and may even land you behind bars. Take a deep breath and go do something that isn’t illegal. If you have to write a note, write one you’ll never send. Then burn it or delete it or otherwise destroy it. Terrorizing people isn’t the answer.

Unfortunately, I think that no matter who wins in November, things will probably get worse before they’re better. I have to admit, sometimes I think my cousin’s spouse, Dustin, was the lucky one getting to “peace out” a few days ago rather than continue to endure the weird dystopian times we’re in right now.

On the bright side, thanks to The New York Times, I just discovered jazz pianist, Keith Jarrett… but sadly, I discovered him because of an article about how he can’t play piano anymore due to recently suffering two strokes that have left him partially paralyzed on his left side. He can now only play piano with his right hand. His left hand can barely hold a cup of water. Sigh… well, at least I can listen to his older recordings, even if his days of making new music are probably over. That brings me a little bit of joy.

If you like jazz and don’t know Keith Jarrett, I recommend checking him out. He’s inspired me on many levels this morning… and in ways that are more positive and hopeful than sending threats to public figures. Lots of videos are on YouTube.

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true crime

Felicity Huffman gets two weeks in “the joint”…

Last night, as I was about to go to bed, I read the news that Felicity Huffman, of Desperate Housewives fame, was sentenced for her part in “Varsity Blues”, the college cheating scandal involving dozens of people that has gripped the United States since the spring. Wealthy parents were paying off university officials to get their children into prestigious institutions of higher learning. Although most of the parents involved aren’t necessarily famous, there have been a few Hollywood notables involved in this case– namely Huffman, Lori Loughlin, and Mossimo Giannulli.

I was shocked to read that Huffman and fellow actress Lori Loughlin, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, had spent thousands of dollars in bribes in bids to get their daughters enrolled in prestigious colleges. Loughlin, who famously portrayed the wholesome “Aunt Becky” on Full House and Fuller House, and has been on a bunch of other family friendly shows in the interim, is probably watching Huffman’s case with interest. Loughlin and her husband have pleaded not guilty, and they will go on trial. Huffman, by contrast, pled guilty and threw herself at the court’s mercy.

Felicity Huffman paid about $15,000 to a fake charity to get someone to change her daughter’s answers on the Scholastic Aptitude Test so that her scores would be higher. Loughlin and Giannulli are accused of spending over $500,000 to get their daughters, Isabella and Olivia Jade, into the University of Southern California as fake members of the crew team. Neither daughter has ever participated in crew and, in fact, Olivia Jade even publicly stated that she doesn’t even care about college. She had a thriving social media influencer business going until this mess came to light.

Naturally, many Americans are outraged at what is clearly a case of people abusing their wealth and privilege to get ahead. Every year, thousands of students work extremely hard to legitimately earn their spots at top U.S. universities. It’s not fair to them that super wealthy people, like Huffman and Loughlin, can simply pay people off to get their children into the “right” college.

Since the spring of 2019, many people have been wondering what these privileged parents can expect as the court system begins to hand down punishments. Huffman was the first among them to be sentenced. After what I’m sure was a very stressful summer, Huffman got her answer yesterday. On October 25, 2019, she will present herself to a federal prison to serve her fourteen day sentence. The facility Huffman will be assigned to will most likely be minimum security, though I’m sure the experience will still be horrifying. She will spend fourteen days in the prison, pay a $30,000 fine, and complete a year of supervised probation. She must also complete 250 hours of community service.

I think Huffman’s sentence is just, although I can see by the angry reactions on social media that not everyone agrees with it. Many people seem to think she should spend a lot more time incarcerated. For some reason, a lot of my countrymen are in favor of putting people behind bars for years and years. We, in the United States, have a very revenge oriented culture, particularly when it comes to crime. I’ll admit it, when I get angry enough, I often want revenge, too. Ultimately, though, I think justice should be more about rectifying wrongs than exacting revenge.

Felicity Huffman isn’t a career criminal, nor is she a violent person. Her two daughters are grown and are reportedly quite humiliated by these events. In fact, I’d say the biggest loser in Huffman’s case, is her daughter, Sophia. Because her daughters are grown and Huffman is clearly distraught about the effect her actions had on her relationship with them, Huffman definitely won’t be repeating her crime. And while I can understand why so many people are outraged that such a privileged woman got such a “light” sentence, it doesn’t serve society to lock up Huffman for years. All that would do is punish the ultimate victim, Huffman’s daughter, who now has to live with the fact that her mother very publicly communicated that didn’t believe her child could achieve academic success on her own.

Moreover, Sophia Macy did not take a spot from another aspiring student, since the college she wanted to attend did not allow her to audition and, in fact, didn’t require SAT scores anyway. The young woman was reportedly horrified that her mother went to such lengths to rig the results of her college application, and it’s caused a serious rift in their relationship.

About that prison sentence– I found an interesting article about what it’s like for famous and/or wealthy people like Felicity Huffman to go to a federal prison. This is a woman who lives in a beautiful home, has people who cater to her, and has complete control over her comings and goings. She will enter a system where she will be strip searched, be forced to wear a used uniform and used undergarments, and will eat awful food, endure unpleasant smells, non-stop noise, and non-stop lighting. She may encounter inmates who resent her for being rich and famous, and guards who hate their jobs and take it out on her. Conversely, she may also meet inmates who try to take advantage of her. Or, looking on the bright side, perhaps she might make a friend or two and learn a new skill. Who knows?

If I were Felicity Huffman, I think I’d try to look at this experience as a way to add to my bag of acting tricks. She will experience incarceration, which will probably be hell for her. But perhaps in a future role, she can draw on her experiences and bring realism to the part. And while it might feel like she’s in for an eternity, the two weeks will eventually pass and that part will be over. A year from now, she’ll be almost past this mess and able to put it behind her. Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli, by contrast, will probably still be fighting for their freedom.

I was a late fan of Huffman’s, having not discovered Desperate Housewives until around 2008, when Netflix used to send me DVDs in APO mail in Germany. I used to be a real television addict, but I don’t watch as much now, and it often takes me some time to get into the popular shows of today. Sometimes, I don’t discover a show until it’s been off the air! Although I had heard of Huffman’s husband, William H. Macy, because I was an ER fan from the day that show started, I was not really a Huffman fan until I got into Desperate Housewives. I haven’t watched anything else she’s been in since then.

I have empathy for Felicity Huffman’s situation. I think she thought she was doing the right thing, trying to help her daughter get ahead in life, even though her daughter no doubt already has a lot of privileges most people don’t have. But even Huffman admits that she messed up, has expressed sincere remorse, and is willing to do her time and pay the fines. I, for one, wish her luck.

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education

Gaming the system… a couple of moms flunked the test.

I suppose it’s about time I offered my opinions about this college admissions scandal involving Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. If you haven’t been living on a distant mountain top, you’ve probably already heard about it. Apparently, both of these well-known actresses are in deep shit with the feds because they paid bribes to get their daughters’ college admissions packets shored up so they could attend elite universities. Huffman is married to actor William H. Macy, who apparently wasn’t involved or arrested when federal agents showed up to take Huffman into custody. Loughlin is married to fashion designer, Mossimo Giannulli, who was reportedly complicit in the affair.

Huffman and Loughlin are probably the best known of the dozens of people caught in this sting. Both are beautiful, successful, and most importantly, wealthy, actresses who live in California. Loughlin reportedly wanted her daughters, Isabella and Olivia, to attend a top flight college because she’d never had the opportunity. As for Huffman… I really don’t know what the motive was. I guess she just wanted her daughters, Sofia and Georgia, to have the “best” education. Unfortunately, these parents all resorted to cheating and bribery to get their daughters ahead. Sadly, I think their tactics have backfired spectacularly.

I read in one article that Lori Loughlin and her family would probably suffer more from this than Huffman and Macy will. That’s because besides Loughlin’s acting gig, the family is heavily tied to corporate America. 19 year old Olivia Jade has a very successful Instagram gig with millions of followers, as well as a burgeoning YouTube channel. She has publicly stated that she doesn’t even care about going to college and, in fact, isn’t available to attend classes due to her work schedule. Why she couldn’t just work, instead of taking away another student’s spot at a top tier school, is beyond me. She’s absolutely gorgeous, and obviously making more than minimum wage… at least for now. There is no shame in working and/or skipping college. It looks like Olivia Jade is about to learn a hard lesson, Paula Deen style. Brands are already distancing themselves from her. What’s more, if she ever did decide to pursue a more “normal” profession, are people going to take her seriously? She’s been publicly outed as an academic fraud! Lori Loughlin has been dropped from Hallmark and will not be making any appearances on next season’s Fuller House episodes.

What is especially sad to me, though, is the idea that the children of Lori Loughlin, Mossimo Giannulli, Felicity Huffman, and William H. Macy feel like they even need to attend a school like the University of Southern California. There are so many great schools in the United States. It just seems like a shame to me that they had to resort to fraud to find one that suits their needs.

I have written in depth about my college experiences before on my old blog, but here’s a very quick recap. When I was 18, I wanted very badly to go to James Madison University. I didn’t have the grades or the SAT scores, so I went to less competitive Longwood College (now Longwood University) instead. It turned out to be a fabulous place for me. That’s where I learned to sing. Discovering that gift and having the chance to develop it changed my life. If I had gone to JMU or Virginia Tech, I sincerely doubt I would have ever had that opportunity. Mike Pence, who debated Tim Kaine at my alma mater in 2016, might have helped put Longwood on the map. Alas, he called my school “Norwood” instead. For that gaffe alone, I’d never vote for him, not to mention his penchant for calling his wife “Mother” and obsession with controlling the uteri of all women.

Twenty-five years after I graduated, there are still professors there who remember me. My husband, who graduated from much better known American University, often marvels at how close-knit and nurturing Longwood obviously is. I keep in contact with several former professors, thanks to social media, and still have so many friends from those days. To me, that is a big part of what college is supposed to be about, besides learning. If you don’t care about college, why go? Especially if you’re already gainfully employed!

Olivia Jade Giannulli is only 19 years old. She’s legitimately beautiful, and simply being that beautiful will open a lot of doors for her. Add in the fact that she has very successful parents who are obviously interested in seeing her succeed and you have someone who really didn’t even need to be a Trojan. Maybe she could have gone to college later, if she wanted to, but she’s clearly not even ready for college and doesn’t want to be there.

And then there are the schools themselves. Clearly, this is something that has been going on for a long time. How seriously can a person take the colleges that were identified in these scams? Obviously, the admissions staff lets these frauds through. I have mentioned that I once worked as a temp at the College of William & Mary’s admissions office. I know how overwhelmed those offices are, particularly at this time of year. But the whole reason for having an admissions office is to find the best students. Somehow, Olivia Jade and her sister got into USC as “athletes”, even though they weren’t actually athletes. How does that happen?

I read that Lori Loughlin and her husband paid about half a million bucks to get their special snowflakes into USC. I bet she’s going to pay a hell of a lot more, once all of this is said and done. Felicity Huffman supposedly paid about $15,000 to help her daughter cheat on her SATs. Although she was considering helping her younger daughter in the same way, she ultimately decided not to. I think Huffman has done her older daughter a huge disservice, since it will now be harder for people to trust that her accomplishments are her own. In her desire to “help” her daughters get the “best”, she has saddled one of them with the stigma of public humiliation. That will probably be difficult for her to overcome.

Well… everyone makes mistakes. This mistake is definitely a “whopper” for Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and all of the other people out there who felt they needed to cheat in order to get their kids into the “right” college. Maybe I haven’t set the world on fire with my own post collegiate endeavors, but at least I know I got into my school entirely on my own merits. There’s a lot of value in that knowledge. I think Huffman and Loughlin would do well to watch some public television or something… they need to be reminded that cheaters never win.

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