Ashlie D. Stevens

'Didn't help us': Guy Fieri calls out Jeff Bezos for not donating to relief fund for food workers

Food Network star Guy Fieri claimed that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos did not contribute to an emergency relief fund that the honorary Flavortown mayor formed for out-of-work restaurant employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Fieri said he launched the relief fund soon after the pandemic began because he was angry at the way local restaurants were left out of the handling of the national health crisis and associated government relief efforts.

"I don't get pissed or lose my sh*t," he said. "But I was pissed."

Most of the small, local restaurants that would have appeared on his long-running Food Network series "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" likely only had enough money in the bank to last 10 days amid government-mandated shut-downs and reductions of services, Fieri told the Hollywood Reporter.

"[Fieri] decided to ask his business manager for contact info for CEOs of major corporations," the article said. "He drafted personal emails to power brokers like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, soliciting donations for an emergency relief fund that would ultimately award more than 43,000 grants — of $500 each — to out-of-work line cooks, servers and other restaurant professionals."

Food Network President Courtney White said there was no better salesman than Fieri.

"There's a power to his enthusiasm," she said. "It gets people to rally around his vision, whether it's a pitch for a show or in raising all that money."

Fieri went on to receive large donations from PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble and Uber Eats.

"I'm not into shaming people and telling who didn't donate," he said. "That's not my style."

However, after a pause, Fieri revealed to the publication that neither Bezos nor Amazon had rallied around the cause.

"Jeff, by the way, didn't help us," he revealed.

Regardless, Fieri has raised more than $25 million for food workers left unemployed by COVID-19 closures over the last year. He also co-directed "Restaurant Hustle 2020: All on the Line," a documentary that premiered in December and highlighted four chefs trying to stay in business amid the pandemic. A sequel is planned for this summer.

The right wing launches a new sexist attack against First Lady Jill Biden

Over the weekend, First Lady Jill Biden's patterned tights went viral on conservative Twitter. It began when a photograph of her deplaning at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland — wearing a tailored black blazer, an A-line leather skirt, the aforementioned tights and black booties — was shared on the platform and a user likened them to "fishnet stockings."

It started a really nasty pile-on, underscored by a lot of Republicans drawing comparisons to former first lady Melania Trump; a couple of the tamer comments read, "Jill Biden is too old to be wearing fishnets. It's gross. Melania, on the other hand, would rock them," and "Madonna called and wants her trashy look back, Doc."

Biden's supporters were quick to defend her. "She is wonderful, you are jealous," one wrote, while another added: "She looked very chic."

For what it's worth, Biden's tights weren't actually fishnets. They were sheer tights with a geometric pattern — not that it should matter, obviously. However, the immediate backlash to Biden's outfit echoes past pearl-clutching, especially from conservatives, about what type of clothing is "appropriate" for the first lady of the United States.

It's an exercise that often speaks to a certain societal discomfort with reconciling cultural understandings of what femininity and power look like, and has since extended to criticism of how other women politicians dress.

According to Carl Sferrazza Anthony, the author of "First Ladies: The Saga of Presidents' Wives and Their Power," first ladies of the United States have held a "highly visible, yet undefined, position in the U.S. government."

"The role of the first lady, the U.S. president's spouse, has evolved from fashion trendsetter and hostess of White House dinners to a more substantive position," he wrote. "While there have been diverging views on the roles of women in society, the first lady is still a role model for American women. One of the highest-profile jobs in the U.S. government comes with no official duties, no paycheck, and almost limitless possibilities."

Inherent to that concept of being a role model is an understanding that the first lady will be, well, "ladylike." The meaning of that term has shifted some throughout time, though it denotes politeness and a certain demureness or docility. As such, it's no surprise that male politicians have weaponized the term against their female counterparts, like when Republican Todd Akin complained that his Democratic opponent, Claire McCaskill, was not sufficiently "ladylike" in 2012.

This expectation of demureness has long extended to FLOTUS fashion, which has ignited a number of fashion scandals throughout history. When Mary Todd Lincoln wore shoulderless, sleeveless dresses, she was criticized as "showing off her bosom." Several years later, the Women's Christian Temperance Union started a petition over Florence Cleveland's sleeveless gowns, claiming they were an immoral influence on America's young women.

While some first ladies have been criticized as being "frumpy" — Mamie Eisenhower with her pressed shirt dresses and Hillary Clinton in her pant suits, for instance — it seems that there's no bigger affront to being in a position of political power or prestige than being considered provocative. We've seen this reaffirmed over and over again as more and more women take office of their own.

For example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been criticized for her signature red lip – which she wears as a nod to Latina culture – as being too frivolous or seductive, a sentiment that was echoed by some conservatives when a video of her dancing in college was released hours after she was sworn in.

It remains to be seen, however, how or if eventual first gentlemen (FGOTUS?) will be judged by their attire. The closest search result that comes up when you Google "Doug Emhoff too sexy" is a lighthearted piece by The Forward, "Kamala Harris' husband Doug Emhoff is our hot Jewish dad crush," and we all know that male politicians' style choices rarely cause a blip on the radar. I don't think I've ever seen a commentator decry an especially vibrant red tie as too much for the House floor, for instance.

Yet in more recent memory, Michelle Obama ignited controversy by wearing a pair of shorts while exiting Air Force One at Grand Canyon National Park Airport which caused the blogosphere, as Time reported in August 2009, to explode with debates over whether they were "hot pants? Cutoffs? Booty Shorts?"

Obama's shorts were far from "booty shorts." They were gray, loose and looked like they could have been pulled off the shelf at GAP or J. Crew. To me, this is reminiscent of the Jill Biden tights situation. Sure, fishnets — like hot pants — are culturally recognized as sexy, if a bit campy in certain contexts (in "The Pleasures of the Text," French essayist Roland Barthes posited that the appeal was found in "intermittence, which is erotic: the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing").

But in both situations you have commentators who seem intent on positioning certain items of clothing as more seductive than they actually are as a way to shame or discredit the women wearing them.

There is, of course, a certain amount of hypocrisy that comes from Trump supporters criticizing either Michelle Obama or Jill Biden over the appropriateness of their attire. Before marrying Donald Trump, Melania worked as a model and occasionally posed nude. Those photos ran on the cover of the the New York Post in 2016, during Trump's campaign.

The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik posited at the time that this was potentially done with Trump's knowledge, or even blessing, as the Post was resolutely pro-Trump. It could have been Trump's way, Gopnik wrote, of trying to lure his feminist opponents into "revealing their hypocritical readiness to turn on a woman with the wrong politics." That didn't happen.

"The photographs were received almost entirely without scandal, because, well, because education does happen, and change does take place, and even the most benighted among us, Trump quite possibly aside, now understand that a woman's body is hers to pose and have photographed more or less as she chooses, and that it is for the rest of us to respect her choices and to look or not at the photographs as we choose," Gopnik wrote.

It seems that Jill Biden's detractors could take that advice, as well.

'Murder Among the Mormons' filmmakers on how forgeries, faith and a salamander led to Utah bombings

Netflix's "Murder Among the Mormons" co-directors Jared Hess and Tyler Measom were both young — six and 14, respectively — when a series of Salt Lake City bombings killed several high-profile members of the Mormon church in 1985. The murders drew national attention to the church, which, after a century of being viewed as a sort of "outsider religion" plagued by 19th-century extermination orders and persecution campaigns, had become and remains one of the fastest-growing denominations in the United States.

The violent nature of the crimes was a juxtaposition against a religious group that is often caricatured for its unrelenting optimism (as David Foster Wallace once wrote, "There's always a Mormon around when you don't want one, trying your patience with unsolicited kindness"), and as such, the bombings captured tabloid attention, which quickly gave way to conspiracy theories.

"Nobody knew what was going on," Hess told Salon in an interview. "Because of that, it was a really uncomfortable time for so many people. Everyone was trying to get to the bottom of this tragedy, the likes of which Salt Lake City had never really experienced before."

Speculation continued. Was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints actually behind the bombings? Or was it tied to the impending collapse of an investment business with which two of the bombing victims were involved?

The real answer, which is comprehensively outlined over the gripping three-episode true crime docuseries, is stranger than fiction. And it's a story that many Americans either never knew or don't clearly remember.

It starts with Mark Hofmann, a master forger who had initially made a name for himself in the burgeoning Mormon antiquities market. He launched his career by selling "found" documents about the early LDS Church to collectors, or the Church itself, and was known by some at the time as the "Indiana Jones" or a "rock star" of Mormon documents.

But then, in 1984, he produced what was later termed the "Salamander Letter."

The correspondence describes how Joseph Smith found golden plates, which later resulted in the Book of Mormon, with the help of what the letter described as "a seer stone, a kind of magical looking-glass." The letter also said Smith was initially barred from gaining possession of the plates by an "old spirit" that "transfigured himself from a white salamander."

This stood in opposition to the early church's claims that it was the angel Moroni who had appeared to Smith and told him about the buried ancient record that would later become the Book of Mormon, and the fear was that the "Salamander Letter" would call into question Smith's spiritual experience by associating it with folk magic.

"I think when a lot of these documents were 'discovered,' it was really disrupting for the church, because it called into question the basis of what the church was, its history and founding," said Hess. "[The LDS Church leaders] had never dealt with anything like this before."

That revelation could potentially cause a huge rift in the denomination. Hofmann anticipated this fear and acted to suppress the letter, but then his life, finances and work came under increased scrutiny — and secrets began to emerge from his past, sparking violence.

"There's no other true crime saga out there like this," Hess said. "There are the murders, the forgeries and the religious aspects of it. And it was important to tell it from the perspective of people who lived it."

According to Hess, who is still a member of the Mormon church, and Measom, who left the faith years ago, the initial title of the series was "The Salamander," and then later "The Salamander Murders," but they were ultimately influenced by the streaming service to change it.

"I think clearer is better for Netflix true crime," Hess said. "There was this question of 'Is it about killing lizards? What is it about?' But there was this clip of archival news from the time, I think it was a national news report about all the attention on Utah, that said, 'There's murder among the Mormons.' And that was it."

Measom continued with a laugh: "Plus, we like alliteration."

The new title is more conspicuous, which Hess and Measom anticipate could turn off some potential viewers. "But I think anytime you're doing a film about a particular group, people are going to be nervous," Measom said. "You could say you're doing a film about a country club, and if someone is a member, they're going to be at least a little nervous about how it's portrayed."

However, one of the ultimate goals of the series, Hess said, was to clarify the events surrounding the Salt Lake City bombings which, while becoming part of the church's collective mythology, are largely unremembered by the mainstream public.

That was what drew him to the project after nearly two decades of making offbeat comedies like "Napoleon Dynamite," "Nacho Libre" and "Don Verdean," a 2015 comedy lightly based on Hofmann's forgeries about an archeologist who, after being bankrolled by an evangelical pastor, searches for items that can prove that the stories from the Bible are true.

"We showed it to several people during production, including my brother and some other people who are also LDS, and they said that it was educational and that it helped 'clear the air' regarding some of the details of the bombings," Hess said. "It's a true crime story that just has so many layers to it."

But the docuseries isn't just a reflection on the history of a crime. A major, contemporary theme woven throughout "Murder Among the Mormons" is how susceptible people are to disinformaion when they want to believe something simply because it supports an existing point of view, much like how Hofmann found eager buyers for his earlier forged documents.

"We are all surrounded by so much information, it's everywhere, and people could do so much research — and they just don't," Measom said. "And what Mark found in his forgery victims were people who were willing buyers, people who were susceptible to that disinformation, because they were blinded by their own faith or beliefs or sometimes greed. He even says at one point, 'When somebody says something is real, it becomes real.'"

And, "Murder Among the Mormons" quietly asserts, we could all be similarly taken. Not that we'd necessarily rack up thousands of dollars of debt to purchase purported Mormon antiquities, but for all of us, there's likely a point that we would take an ill-advised leap of faith, without fact-checking, simply because doing so supports the beliefs we currently hold. With that in mind, the series overwhelmingly eschews salaciousness for compassion in its retelling of the Salt Lake City bombings.

One of the reasons the series is able to achieve that tone is because "Murder Among the Mormons" offers unprecedented access to people who were intimately familiar with Hofmann and the bombing victims, including Brent Metcalfe, a historian who did research for Hofmann; Dorie Olds, Hofmann's ex-wife; Randy Rigby, a close friend of one of the bombing victims; Richard E. Turley Jr., a Latter-day Saint historian; and Ken Sanders, a Salt Lake City-based expert in rare books and antiquities.

Many of those interviewed for the series were still emotional about the tragedy, the filmmakers said, largely because it was underpinned by fundamental questions about faith, religion and skepticism, which are also often private topics in American culture. You see hints of this as soon as the documentary opens on a visibly upset Shannon Flynn, a rare documents dealer whose voice wavers when he's asked about Hofmann.

"Can I ask a favor?" he says. "Don't make me answer that. Don't make me answer that. Let someone else do it. I don't want to make a hero out of him. Because he was fantastic."

Hess and Measom said that getting people to open up was a process. It helped that they were both raised in the LDS church, currently lived in Salt Lake City and had been toying with the idea for a documentary project about the "Salamander Letter" for almost a decade.

Measom also has a track record of exceptionally thoughtful work about Mormonism, including the longform NPR radio documentary "Wives Tale," a short documentary about a love story between a Mormon missionary and a communist in 1974 called "Elder," and "Sons of Perdition," which "follows three teenage boys after they escape from the secretive FLDS polygamist sect and must fend for themselves in mainstream America."

But according to Measom, in the case of "Murder Among the Mormons," the biggest thing they had going for them was time. Living in Salt Lake City, they spent years going to lunch with the individuals whom they would eventually go on to interview.

"This wasn't a situation where we just spent an hour with someone to get a quote," he said. "We would sit with them, just asking questions and really listening to their memories and feelings. Think about it — how often do people have the opportunity to tell their stories and have someone really listen?"

Hess added: "A lot of the people we spoke with hadn't had to talk about [the events surrounding the bombings] for years, so I think when they started reliving it, and we were listening, the emotions became very fresh again."

"Murder Among the Mormons" is currently streaming on Netflix.

'Who cares!': Trump writes bizarre letter resigning from the Screen Actors Guild

Former president Donald Trump resigned from the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists on Thursday, after the union's National Board voted "overwhelmingly" to convene a disciplinary process that could have resulted in expelling him in response to Trump's part in inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol.

Trump released an open letter to SAG-AFTRA on what appears to be photocopied White House stationery addressed to union president Gabrielle Carteris (of "Beverly Hills 90210" fame) detailing his immediate resignation. "I write to you today regarding the so-called Disciplinary Committee hearing aimed at revoking my union membership," Trump wrote. "Who cares!"

Trump went on to write that while he was "not very familiar" with the union's work, he was proud of his work on movies and television shows like "'Home Alone 2,' 'Zoolander' and 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps'; and television shows including 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,' 'Saturday Night Live,' and of course, one of the most successful shows in television history, 'The Apprentice' – to name just a few!"

He also wrote that, due to his involvement in politics, he helped resurrect interest in television, which he characterized as a "dying platform with not much time left."

"[I've] created thousands of jobs at networks such as MSDNC and Fake News CNN, among many others," Trump wrote.

He concluded the letter by saying that he no longer wished to be involved in the union and was tendering his immediate resignation.

On Thursday afternoon, SAG-AFTRA offered a two-word statement, jointly attributed to Carteris and the union's National Executive Director David White, in response to Trump's resignation: "Thank you."

Trump's resignation letter was a response to a Jan. 19 release from SAG-AFTRA, which stated that the organization's National Board had ordered a disciplinary hearing regarding Trump's role in inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol and "in sustaining a reckless campaign of misinformation aimed at discrediting and ultimately threatening the safety of journalists, many of whom are SAG-AFTRA members."

"Donald Trump attacked the values that this union holds most sacred – democracy, truth, respect for our fellow Americans of all races and faiths, and the sanctity of the free press," Carteris said at the time. "There's a straight line from his wanton disregard for the truth to the attacks on journalists perpetrated by his followers."

The release stated that if Trump was found guilty of violating SAG-AFTRA constitutional guidelines during the union's disciplinary committee hearing, there would be possible penalties including reprimand, censure, fines, suspension from the rights and privileges of membership, or expulsion from membership in SAG-AFTRA.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Trump had pensions at both the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Radio and Television Artists — dating back from before the two organizations merged in 2012 — and throughout his time in office continued to receive residuals from roles in projects such as "The Apprentice," "Home Alone 2" and "The Little Rascals."

Steven Mnuchin's wife plays a cannibalistic killer in a weird trailer for her campy new film

The trailer for Louise Linton's new movie "Me You Madness" dropped on Thursday, and well, it's a lot.

I'm here to offer a description of a film that, while real, feels more like an insane game of GOP-adjacent "Mad Libs." "Me You Madness" stars Linton, the wife of former Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, as a sociopathic bisexual woman who, per IMDB, "hunts down and kills men with crossbows, martini glasses, and kitchen knives in order to eat them."

Catherine Black (Linton) is a 1980s Malibu hedge fund manager who is addicted to fashion, money and sex. "You may think that I'm a materialistic, narcissistic, self-absorbed misanthrope," Black muses in a voiceover in the trailer below. "I don't deny it."

Her life is an endless parade of stacks of cash, spin classes and metallic boots — that is until Tyler, played by infamous "Gossip Girl" star Ed Westwick, answers her ad for a roommate. Tyler, a petty criminal, thinks he's struck gold when he rolls up to her beachside mansion; Catherine thinks she's found her next meal. It's a love story for the modern ages (made all the weirder by the recent allegations that actor Armie Hammer allegedly identifies as "100% a cannibal").

Linton is not primarily known as an actress, though she's had several small roles in low-budget horror movies and on shows like "CSI: NY"; she did, however, write, direct and finance "Me You Madness" through her production company Stormchaser Films.

Rather, she rose to a certain level of infamy in 2017 when she Instagrammed a photo of herself and Mnuchin disembarking a military jet following a trip to Fort Knox. She added hashtags that nodded to her designer apparel #rolandmouret, #hermesscarf, #tomford and #valentino. A woman responded with the comment, "Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable," which incensed Linton.

"Aw!!! Did you think this was a personal trip?! Adorable!" Linton responded. "Do you think the US govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol. Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country?"


Me You Madness - OFFICIAL TRAILER www.youtube.com


Three months later, Linton accompanied her husband to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington. Someone took a photo of her holding up a sheet of freshly printed dollar bills while wearing elbow-length black leather gloves. The image went viral — as did the frequent comparisons to Cruella de Vil — and cemented her status as a real-life cartoon villain.

With that in mind, perhaps Linton's lines in the trailer that detail her obsession with "the accumulation of money" are a self-aware nod to the public's perception of her? Perhaps. In interviews, Linton has expressed that the movie is an attempt to subvert the femme fatale steretotype, with a little "American Psycho" thrown in for good measure.

But according to the New York Times, the weirdest parts of the camp-fest aren't revealed in the trailer.

"In one sequence that plays like an MTV video, Catherine caresses frozen, severed male body parts while dancing to 'Let's Hear It for the Boy' in stiletto-heeled boots." writes Brooke Barnes. "There is a drug-fueled poolside orgy. Please, pretty please, stay around for the madly spinning nunchaku, thong leotard and choreographed 'tomayto-tomahto' conga."

"Me You Madness" debuts on demand on Friday, Feb. 12.

Behind Donald Trump's childish Diet Coke button

President Joe Biden had a busy first day in office. He halted construction on the border wall and re-established DACA protections. He rejoined the Paris Climate Accord and recommitted the United States to the World Health Organization. And, according to broadcast journalist Tom Newton Dunn, Biden removed Donald Trump's "Diet Coke button," which the former president used to request cold sodas on-demand.

"When @ShippersUnbound [Tim Shipman] and I interviewed Donald Trump in 2019, we became fascinated by what the little red button did," Dunn tweeted. "Eventually Trump pressed it, and a butler swiftly brought in a Diet Coke on a silver platter. It's gone now."

Throughout Trump's presidency, his obsessive love of the beverage was well-documented. In 2017, the Washington Post published that he reportedly drank a dozen cans of Diet Coke per day and, while the majority of Americans are just finding out about the Diet Coke button, that same year, Demetri Sevastopulo wrote for The Financial Times about how he noticed the red button on Trump's desk. He jokingly asked if it was the nuclear button, to which Trump replied, "No, no, everyone thinks it is. Everyone does get a little nervous when I press that button."

According to the Associated Press, the button has been a fixture "on the Resolute Desk that presidents have used for decades," though not for summoning diet soda. The fact that Trump appropriated for it for such use is, frankly, unsurprising. Its existence is a reminder for some of the most laughable parts of Trump's personality (and its removal seems to have been an almost a necessary exorcism).

While assigning goodness or inherent value to a food item can turn into an uncomfortable pseudo-classist exercise (like when the New York Times hosted a quiz where readers could guess whether refrigerators belonged to Biden voters or Trump voters based on their contents), there's a certain "Home Alone 2: Escape to New York" childishness inherent to slapping a button 12 times a day as a way to demand a Diet Coke on a silver platter.

It's a warped idea of what fanciness or indulgence denotes, which is both a perfect encapsulation of Trump's public persona and, in part, what led to Diet Coke's heyday in the '90s.

Consider the often-memed image of Trump and Melania standing, wax figure-like, in their $100 million New York penthouse. It's gaudy and gold-covered with columns, chandeliers and frescos reminiscent of a Cheesecake Factory dining room. That photograph is the visual definition of the adage, "You can't buy taste."

Trump's tastelessness was a glaring, omnipresent facet of his presidency. A photograph that feels strikingly similar was taken in 2019, when Trump invited the Clemson Tigers, that year's national college football champions, for a White House dinner, only to serve them a buffet of Filet-O-Fish sandwiches and slices of Domino's pizza, a choice that many criticized as racist and classist. He stands beneath a portrait of Abraham Lincoln with his arms outstretched over a mahogany table, stacked high with cardboard burger boxes and flimsy plastic packets of fast food sauces that were balanced inside pewter gravy boats.

"We went out and we ordered American fast food, paid for by me," he told reporters that night. "Lots of hamburgers, lots of pizza. Three hundred hamburgers. Many, many French fries."

It may seem odd that a well-documented fast food devotee (and former McDonald's and Pizza Hut spokesperson) like Trump would opt for Diet Coke instead of the real thing, but it's important to consider what the beverage likely meant to him.

In his essay "The Decline and Fall of Diet Coke and the Power Generation That Loved It," Nathan Heller asserts that while the Coca-Cola company tried to endear the beverage to "hip, scrappy youths, it became, enduringly, the beverage of the power generation that emerged across the Clinton years and cheered tie-less, outside-the-box, rule-bending thought in business and in life."

"During the late eighties and nineties, Diet Coke seemed less fussy, less patrician, less 'Frasier' than second-wave coffee," Heller wrote."It helped define a novel archetype of masculinity — the bootstraps kid who'd made it big, who was cool and modern, in a suit."

This is, despite the fact, that diet soda was traditionally marketed to women as a way to control weight. Emily Contois, the author of "Diners, Dudes and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture," wrote that while Coca-Cola went after male and female customers with Diet Coke, unlike their previous diet product Tab, they were largely unsuccessful.

"Men (and broader culture) seemed to deem the beverage derisively feminine in later decades," Contois wrote. "For example, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution an unidentified Coca-Cola executive declared that diet is a 'four-letter word' for men, or at least those aged 16–24."
When I emailed Contois to inquire as to why she thought President Trump, a leader who was deeply preoccupied with a limited and pugilistic view of masculinity, would drink Diet Coke, her answer was succinct.

"Trump seemed to believe that rules, of any sort, don't apply to him," she wrote via email. "That guided his food and beverage choices — from a dozen Diet Cokes a day to well-done steak with ketchup to copious fast food — and much of his presidency."

While it's impossible to know what exactly Diet Coke meant to Trump (though we know it was something he would request during tense conversations, like when he cried out for one while discussing purchasing the rights to a story about an alleged affair he had with ex-Playboy model Karen Mcdougall), the bizarre optics surrounding the revelation of the Diet Coke button is a fitting epilogue to his presidency. It's a reminder of a man who could have just used an office mini-fridge to satiate his cravings, but obviously liked the feeling of being able to summon a servant with a cold drink at the push of a button. While so many of his stump speeches were bolstered by ramblings about being a man of the people, his actions consistently contradicted that — even down to how he took his dozen daily sodas.

But the Trump era has concluded, and the Oval Office already looks different. Where a bust of Fred Trump used to preside over the office, there is now a statue of labor organizer Cesar Chavez; Trump's beige rug has been swapped out for a royal blue replacement, and a portrait of Andrew Jackson was taken down in favor of a painting of Benjamin Franklin. No word yet on whether the Resolute Desk button will be replaced — and if so, what pushing it will summon.

This young poet laureate stole the show at Biden's inauguration with an unforgettable performance

When poet Amanda Gorman took center stage during President Joe Biden's inauguration to deliver her poem "The Hill We Climb," it became immediately clear why she was chosen to precede him on the podium.

Only four presidents —John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and now, Biden — have had poets read at their inaugurations and Gorman captivated viewers across America as she spoke of a shaded past and a lighter future, not shying away from four years of grief and trauma, but nevertheless determined to offer an outlook for America's redemption.

Her presence as a young Black woman artist on stage felt deeply historic, especially as deep political divisiveness and racist rhetoric from government leaders and law enforcement has continued to come into clearer view over the last four years. And everything about her reading — from the development of her work, to her chosen outfit, to the poem itself — is imbued with symbolism.

Here's everything you need to know about Gorman and her performance:

Who is Amanda Gorman?

Gorman is a 22-year-old poet from Los Angeles and is the youngest poet to ever perform on Inauguration Day. According to the New York Times, Gorman developed a love of poetry at a young age.

As Gorman told NPR's Steve Inskeep, she, like President Joe Biden, had a speech impediment as a child. She said that was one of the reasons that she was drawn to poetry. "Having an arena in which I could express my thoughts freely was just so liberating that I fell head over heels, you know, when I was barely a toddler," she said.

Gorman was encouraged to really pursue her craft by her middle school teacher mother, Joan Wicks, and became the first person to hold the position of National Youth Poet Laureate at 16. Later, she attended Harvard to study sociology.

How was Gorman chosen to perform at the inauguration?

According to Harper's Bazaar, several weeks before the inauguration, Dr. Jill Biden stumbled upon a video of Gorman reading her original poem "In This Place: An American Lyric" at the Library of Congress in 2017. A Zoom call was set up between Biden and Gorman, during which Gorman was invited to compose and read an original poem.

"They did not want to put up guardrails for me at all," Gorman told the New York Times. "The theme for the inauguration in its entirety is 'America United,' so when I heard that was their vision, that made it very easy for me to say, great, that's also what I wanted to write about in my poem, about America united, about a new chapter in our country."

What was Gorman's writing process like?

Gorman described to several publications how she initially struggled with the enormity of the project ahead of her. She told the Los Angeles Times that she listened to music that helped put her "in a historic and epic mind-set," including soundtracks from "The Crown," "Lincoln," "Darkest Hour" and "Hamilton."

What enabled her to fully complete the poem, however, was observing the insurrection attempt at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

"I wasn't trying to write something in which those events were painted as an irregularity or different from an America that I know," Gorman said. "America is messy. It's still in its early development of all that we can become. And I have to recognize that in the poem

With this in mind, she wrote the lines: "We've seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it / Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy / And this effort very nearly succeeded / But while democracy can be periodically delayed / It can never be permanently defeated."

What poem did Gorman read and what did it mean?

Gorman recited her original poem "The Hill We Climb," a poignant, self-aware piece that speaks boldly to the deep divides in this country, led by people who would rather topple democracy than accept defeat. And yet, she acknowledges how powerful it is that we are in "a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one."

While "The Hill We Climb" describes the brokenness and hopelessness many in this country may feel following Trump's incitement of violence, the poem encourages listeners with the knowledge that they can "step out of the shade." Gorman told NPR that she dug into the works of orators like Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, who all were tasked with calling for hope and unity in times of division.

One particular line that seemed to stand out to viewers was, "Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid. If we're to live up to her own time, then victory won't lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we've made."

"Under their own vine and fig tree" is a phrase found in multiple places throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and is used to describe the simple life of a farmer who was independent of military oppression. It was later used by George Washington nearly 50 times in various correspondence, as a reference to the American Revolution. Then, in a 1787 issue of the New York Journal it was used by a writer to describe America as a place for oppressed immigrants to find independence.

You may also recognize the line from the "Hamilton" song "One Last Time," where it's contextualized as, "Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree/And no one shall make them afraid/They'll be safe in the nation we've made."

Gorman's inclusion of that phrase speaks to America's founding as a place that had the potential to be free of oppression, and the ongoing dream that it could be true for all Americans, regardless of race or cultural background.

How did people respond to "The Hill We Climb"?

Gorman's recitation was met with rhapsodic praise from celebrities, artists, and political organizations alike, who took to Twitter to express their own thoughts on her sober, yet hopeful outlook.

"I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise! Brava Brava, @TheAmandaGorman!" said celebrity entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey, "Maya Angelou is cheering — and so am I."

Gorman also got nods from people in the news media, with CBS National Correspondent David Begnaud saying, "Watch Amanda Gorman. It's a treat." Seth Abramason, a popular columnist from Newsweek, also boosted Gorman's poem on Twitter, urging others to do so.

Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Jericho Brown posted on Twitter, "Oh this is just lovely. Flow like water," later quoting one of Gorman's most poignant lines on Twitter: "If only we're brave enough to see it, if only we're brave enough to be it." American legal scholar Lawrence Tribe also applauded the youth poet: "Amanda Gorman's inspiring inaugural poem perfectly captured the challenge of the moment — and our hopes for the future.

Meanwhile, many Democratic politicians joined the chorus. Senator Cory Booker, expressed on Twitter, "Thank you, Amanda Gorman, for sharing such powerful and inspiring words today." Congresswoman Stacey Abrams said, "Amanda Gorman's message serves as an inspiration to us all." Former First Lady Michelle Obama also added, "With her strong and poignant words, @TheAmandaGorman reminds us of the power we each hold in upholding our democracy. Keep shining, Amanda! I can't wait to see what you do next."

Even Republican political action committee The Lincoln Project chimed in, "Amanda Gorman's poem on unity is one for the history books."

Dazzling as it was, however, reception to Gorman's poem was not without criticism. Editor-in-chief of The Dispatch Jonah Goldberg went against the grain, and admitted, "Not loving this poem."

What's the story behind Gorman's outfit?

Gorman accessorized with subtle symbolism in mind. She wore a ring bearing the emblem of a caged bird, a tribute to poet Maya Angelou, the author of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," who performed at the 1993 presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton.

That ring was a gift from Oprah Winfrey. As Gayle King reported on CBS News on Wednesday morning, Oprah had actually gifted Angelou with the coat she wore that day and wanted to continue the tradition, but Gorman had already purchased the yellow coat seen on Biden's Inauguration Day, so Oprah gave her the earrings she is wearing, as well as the ring, as a nod to Angelou.

Trump's 'American Heroes' list is truly unhinged

On Monday afternoon the White House released an executive order detailing the figures that Trump wants represented in his National Garden of American Heroes.

Trump originally pitched the idea during a July 2020 speech at Mount Rushmore, amid nationwide protests that again brought questions of who should be memorialized through monuments into focus; across the country, statues of slave owners and Confederate officers were vandalized and removed.

In his speech, Trump said that these actions constituted a branch of "cancel culture."

"This movement is openly attacking the legacies of every person on Mount Rushmore," he said."They defile the memory of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt."

He continued: "I am announcing the creation of a new monument to the giants of our past. I am signing an executive order to establish the National Garden of American Heroes, a vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans to ever live."

In the seven months since, there has been no movement on creating the statue park. No Congressional funding was secured for the proposed project and, despite the executive order, it's unlikely to be picked up by the next administration. Regardless, two days before leaving office, Trump released the list of figures he'd like to see memorialized — and it is completely unhinged.

The list is a bizarro grab bag of 244 individuals, defined simultaneously by its randomness and tone-deafness. Logistics aside (How large would the park be? How close will the insane amount of statuary be to each other? Will it be like a Madame Tussauds cast in stone?), Trump's definition of "hero" is muddled.

You'd have Grover Cleveland, Walt Disney, Whitney Houston and Dolley Madison all next to each other, flanked by Kobe Bryant, Louis Armstrong, Neil Armstrong and Theodor Geisel aka "Dr. Seuss." There are civil rights champions and abolitionists like Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman and Harriet Beecher Stowe, alongside slave-owning presidents such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. More members of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show are present on the list than Asian Americans.

In many ways, however, Trump's list of "American Heroes" — which can be viewed in its entirety here — is emblematic of his presidency. It's riddled with choices that will make readers pause due to their obvious lack of research, regard for the truth and sensitivity. Here are some of the most weirdest missteps on the list (there are many more), starting with the demographic breakdown:

Demographic Breakdown

While the list is overwhelmingly random, it's also overwhelmingly male. As Axios' Danielle Alberti reported, Trump's "American Heroes" are 73% men. Additionally, 86 of the nominees, nearly a third, were born between 1900 and 1950.

When asked in that same article by Axios about his views on the list, historian Michael Beschloss, who specializes in the United States presidency, said, "Any American who loves democracy should make sure there is never some official, totalitarian-sounding 'National Garden of American Heroes,' with names forced upon us by the federal government."

"The glory of American democracy is that every one of our citizens decides who his or her personal heroes are," Beschloss said. "That is not the prerogative of any president, especially one rejected by American voters and who is on his way out the door. Many of the people on this list of 'heroes' would be embarrassed to be singled out by someone like Donald Trump."

Additionally, as the Associated Press reported, when Trump first proposed the list in 2020, there were no Native American, Hispanic or Asian American individuals. The list has been diversified some, but it's obviously an afterthought.

Christopher Columbus

One of the most incendiary names on the list was Christopher Columbus — who was neither American, nor did he ever actually set foot in North America. He did, however, initiate the Atlantic slave trade and the genocide of thousands of indigenous people. His cruelties are difficult to fully quantify, ranging from allowing the settlers under him to sell 9- and 10-year-old girls into sexual slavery, to forcing indigenous people to collect gold for him.

In June 2020, three statues of Columbus were damaged or pulled down in as many days.

"In St. Paul, demonstrators toppled a ten-foot-tall statue that stood in front of the Minnesota state capitol," wrote Theresa Machemer for Smithsonian Magazine. "In Richmond, protesters pulled down an eight-foot-tall statue in Byrd Park, carrying it about 200 yards before setting it on fire and throwing it into the nearby Fountain Lake. And, around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, police in Boston received a report that a marble statue of the Italian explorer and colonizer had lost its head."

Andrew Jackson

This choice is very much in the same vein as Columbus. Jackson, who was the seventh president of the United States, was one of the primary supporters of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which authorized the government to extinguish any Indian title to land claims in the Southeast.

"The result was the Trail of Tears, in which Cherokee and other native peoples of the Southeast were forced at gunpoint to march 1,200 miles to 'Indian territory,'" Billy J. Stratton wrote for Salon in 2017. "Thousands of Cherokee died during the passage, while many who survived the trek lost their homes and most of their property. Ironically, much of the land on which the Cherokee and other removed tribes were settled was opened to homesteading and became the state of Oklahoma some 60 years later."

Because of this, it seems deeply tone-deaf to include Jackson next to Native American icons like Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull and Tecumseh.

Muhammad Ali

So, admittedly, this name stuck out to me because I live in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali's hometown, and have reported previously on why there are no full-body statues of the boxing legend. According to Jeannie Kahnke of the Muhammad Ali Center — whom I interviewed in 2018 — they receive a lot of requests to use Ali's likeness.

"Over the years, I cannot tell you how many times people have come to us, saying 'I want to do a Muhammad Ali statue,'" she said. "It has probably been at least 15."

However, Ali was a devout Muslim, and he felt his faith would prohibit full-body statues being erected of him — which, Kahnke said, would prevent Ali's family from giving their blessing for a life-size statue of him. Some sculptors have done so without his family's permission, but many have found other, more creative, ways to honor the boxer.

Including his name on the list demonstrates either an obvious lack of research or a willingness to dishonor Ali's wishes and religious beliefs.

Ingrid Bergman

In Trump's executive order, he stated that the park's goal is to honor those believed to be "historically significant," and "individual[s] who made substantive contributions to America's public life or otherwise had a substantive effect on America's history."

To that end, one of the defining characteristics of Trump's list is the mishmash of political and pop culture, but Swedish actress Ingrid Bergan stands out because she . . . wasn't American. And unlike Alfred Hitchcock and Alex Trebek (who were born in the U.K. and Canada, respectively), she never became an American citizen.

It really raises the question of what qualifies as a "substantive contribution to America's public life" in Trump's mind. Was he just a big "Casablanca" fan? Perhaps, because Humphrey Bogart is on the list, too.

Woody Guthrie and Hannah Arendt

As New York Daily News reporter Chris Sommerfield tweeted yesterday, there are several "incredible self-owns" found on Trump's list, like the inclusion of Woody Guthrie, "who wrote 'Old Man Trump,' a blistering 1950s tune about the Trump family's racist housing practices in Brooklyn."

Additionally, Trump included the German-born American political theorist Hannah Arendt, who was perhaps best known for her book "The Origins of Totalitarianism." Her writings on "the banality of evil" have been repeatedly invoked to describe Trump's apparent and growing desire for autocratic rule.

"I think she would be appalled," Roger Berkowitz, who directs the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College — on whose campus Arendt is buried and where she taught for many years — told Jewish Insider on Monday evening. "I think Arendt would find it ridiculous that Trump nominated her. I think she would find Trump ridiculous, and I think she'd find him dangerous insofar as he undermines the basic idea of truthfulness and truth in the country. His attack on the election she would have found abhorrent and dangerous."

Edward R. Murrow

Finally, Trump's disdain for legitimate, objective reporting is no secret. He has called the media the "enemy of the people," and as such, it was no surprise to see the phrase "Murder the media" scrawled on a door of the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

That's why it was kind of a shock to see Edward R. Murrow, the broadcaster and war correspondent who had a deep impact on journalistic ethics, included on Trump's list. If Murrow were still alive and writing, I have no doubt that he would have reported truthfully on Trump — just as he reported critically on Senator Joseph McCarthy — and been decried as another "enemy of the people."

For what it's worth, Trump's executive order directed the secretary of the interior to identify a site and provide funding and said a taskforce would "publish an annual public report describing progress on establishing the National Garden and on building statues."

Joe Biden has nominated Deb Haaland for the position, and neither she nor Biden's transition team have issued a comment on the garden, making it unlikely that it will ever actually take root.

New 'Heaven's Gate' series looks to Christianity to explain the method to the cult's madness

Many people first became aware of the Heaven's Gate cult in 1997, when — after an anonymous tip was called into the San Diego Police Department — the bodies of 39 men and women were found in a rented seven bedroom mansion. Each of the bodies were dressed in androgynous outfits with matching haircuts and Nike sneakers. On their arms were "Star Trek"-inspired bands that read "Heaven's Gate Away Team," and in their pockets were $5.75.

The discovery caused an inevitable media frenzy, especially after law enforcement authorities reported it as the largest mass suicide on American soil ( The "Jonestown Massacre," during which more than 900 Americans died, took place in Guyana in 1978). The group believed that once they shedded their physical "vehicles," they would ascend to heaven in a spaceship where they would reach the "Next Level. There, they would be transformed from their human shell into an alien form.

According to group documents, members had taken phenobarbital mixed with applesauce or pudding, followed by vodka, then asphyxiated themselves with plastic bags. The suicides occurred in shifts over three days, with cult founder Marshall Applewhite — known as "Do" — being among the final shift.

The scene was horrifying, but had enough of an aura of oddity to eventually become fodder for late-night television shows and comedy sketches. For example, in its first live show following the discovery of the bodies, "Saturday Night Live" aired a sketch in which the Heaven's Gate members actually make it to space, followed by a fake advertisement for Keds, with the tagline, "Worn by level-headed Christians."

Inherent to all jokes was a question that tends to underlie many mainstream discussions of cults: "How could someone be so easily taken?" The more fringe the group, the more blunt the question — but one that HBO Max's new docuseries "Heaven's Gate: The Cult of Cults," spearheaded by documentarian Clay Tweel, carefully attempts to dismantle and subvert over four hour-long episodes. It's a thoughtfully paced series, rich in original source material and striking watercolor animations in place of reenactments.

The first two episodes aren't the most salacious (if that's what you're looking for, skip ahead to the last two episodes), but they are the most illuminating when it comes to identifying where the tenets of Heaven's Gate fall in the orbit of culturally accepted religious and spiritual teachings.

If — like me — you grew up in or around a Christian church that was heavy on themes of sanctification and purification, some of the cult's ideologies won't sound, well, too alien; just replace the hellfire and brimstone with spacecraft and stargazing.

As this docuseries asserts early in the first episode, a key teaching of both mainstream Christianity and Heaven's Gate was that growing in one's spirituality hinges on shedding one's worldliness. As the Apostle Peter wrote to his followers, "Dear friends, I warn you as 'temporary residents and foreigners' to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls."

Meanwhile, archived footage of Heaven's Gate members — gleaned by Tweel from early videos of recruiting sessions, public access television appearances, and the now-infamous "farewell messages" from group followers — features them espousing similar sentiments.

"I don't think people know how deep their humanness goes," said Dick Joselyn, a one-time Air Force pilot trainee, who was a member of the Heaven's Gate cult for over a decade, but as another member, Margaret Ella Richter, said, "It's possible to overcome humanness."

"Heaven's Gate: Cult of Cults" is built on the insight of various sociologists and religious scholars — most notably author and researcher Reza Aslan — who thoughtly weave together this connection, before landing on one of the things that makes a cult a cult. The leaders "break you down and create a new you."

Again, this has a Biblical parallel. Ephesians teaches, "Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds."

Many of the teachings of Heaven's Gate have a spiritual, though not always Christian, analogue — ideas of ascension (like in the Biblical book of Revelation), a state of enlightenment reminiscent of nirvana, an afterlife. This gospel, if you will, was deeply influenced by New Age concepts, including the idea of "walk-ins," a person whose original soul has departed his or her body and has been replaced with a modified soul. These teachings were also eventually recorded by Applewhite in a series of videos that are deeply evocative of televangelism.

How could people be naive enough to join Heaven's Gate? Well, as one of the featured religious scholars posits, the group was something akin to an errant branch of Christianity (a point that host Glynn Washington made in his popular "Heaven's Gate" podcast, wherein he details his own upbringing in a Doomsday Christian cult.)

It appealed to members for the same reasons churches continue to fill their pews. People want to find connection, they want to feel like they are destined for something greater and that there is evidence of life beyond our immediate and perceptible surroundings. Some former members — who, like the members who eventually died by suicide, were largely educated with strong family ties — still describe their Heaven's Gate years as the best time of their lives. For a brief moment in time, they felt like they belonged.

That said, Heaven's Gates teachings were ultimately dictated by its leaders. Applegate's "spiritual partner," Bonnie Nettles — known as Ti — is presented as the mastermind behind the original recruitment. She was raised Baptist, but her beliefs ultimately became a kind of spiritual grab bag, influenced by New Age teachings, astrology, divination and science fiction.

And once she eventually died, and Applegate was on his own (and absolutely bereft, it should be noted) those teachings became flexible in order to cope with the cognitive dissonance that her "leaving her vehicle early" sparked. That's when, Tweel asserts, Heaven's Gate became more about the messenger than the message, and Applegate transitions from kooky, fringey New Age leader to the leader of the, as he puts it, "cult of cults."

That's when things dip into the salacious — and into more familiar territory for those who already know the story.

Where "Heaven's Gate: Cult of Cults" falls a little short is in its explanation or exploration of Applegate and Nettles' appeal. As leaders, they lack any kind of discernable charisma. While their teachings may have initially been palatable — even appealing — there's a disconnect when it comes to why their followers stayed, especially when they were asked to forsake their families, mainstream society and any source of income.

This wasn't just popping into a church service once a week — it was a full-time commitment, so I was left wondering when things became uncomfortable, what it was about their leadership that compelled their flock to persevere?

That said, "Heaven's Gate: Cult of Cults" is a thoughtful assessment of the mechanisms of how otherwise smart, savvy people are attracted to fringe beliefs.It takes a story that is larger than life and brings it solidly back to earth.

All four episodes of "Heaven's Gate: Cult of Cults" are now available to stream on HBO Max.

Trump's ongoing refusal to concede was the giant turkey in the room at bizarre annual pardon

Days before Thanksgiving 2018, two turkeys — Peas and Carrots — were vying for the presidential pardon, an oddball tradition formalized by George H.W. Bush in 1989. Leading up to the event, the White House had set up online and social media polls to determine the fowls' fates.

When the votes were finally tallied, President Donald Trump revealed that Peas had won in "a fair and open election."

"Unfortunately, Carrots refused to concede and demanded a recount, and we're still fighting with Carrots," Trump said at the time. "And I will tell you, we've come to a conclusion — Carrots, I'm sorry to tell you, the results did not change. Too bad for Carrots!"

Too bad for Carrots, indeed.

During this year's turkey pardon, held Tuesday in The White House Rose Garden, Trump didn't mention his own refusal to officially concede the 2020 presidential election, nor did he reference the numerous, baseless allegations of voter fraud he and his oddball legal team lobbed into courts across the country (despite the fact, as Salon's Roger Sollenberger has reported, no state election officials have reported evidence of such fraud).

The president did, however, open the event by talking about the stock market, and even managed to squeeze in a racist reference to the "China virus" between pardoning one of the "two magnificent gobblers" in attendance.

"Thank you very much, please," Trump said as he stepped in front of the microphone. "I just want to congratulate everybody. The Dow Jones Industrial Average just broke, for the first time in history, 30,000. That's good, that's great for jobs and good for everything."

The president had already held a surprise, one-minute press conference earlier in the day, The Hill reported.

"His appearance on Tuesday may have been an attempt to grab credit for the historic rise on the Dow, and to siphon some attention away from Biden, who was scheduled to speak at 1 p.m. about his Cabinet picks," The Hill's Brett Samuels wrote.

It's also worth pointing out that the Dow surpassed 30,000 shortly after several of Biden's Cabinet picks were announced, along with updates on the development of several effective COVID-19 vaccines.

The turkey pardoning was a short event as well, lasting less than ten minutes, much of which Trump spent talking about the novel coronavirus.

"During this Thanksgiving we extend our eternal gratitude to the doctors, nurses, healthcare workers and scientists who have waged the battle against the China virus," Trump said. "We give thanks for the vaccines and therapies that will soon end the pandemic. It's just such a tremendous feeling knowing they are coming, and they are coming likely next week or shortly thereafter."

The president then proceeded to officially pardon Corn — whose compatriot was named Cob — a 42-pound turkey who will retire to Virginia Tech's "Gobblers Rest," at the university's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

As Trump turned to walk back into the White House, a reporter called after him, asking what most Americans are probably thinking as the president's days in office draw to a close: "Will you be issuing a pardon for yourself?"


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