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Astronomers discover a bizarre string of planets

Nature is fond of patterns, on both the small scale and the large. Take the Fibonacci sequence, for instance — the repeating pattern of numbers in which each subsequent number totals the sum of the previous two. The formula appears in nautilus' spiral shells, but also in the arrangement of the planets in the solar system, whose distances align roughly with Fibonacci numbers' ratios.

But the rough synchrony of our planets is nothing compared to the precise alignment of five newly-discovered exoplanets, which orbit their parent star with such a perfect harmony that it seems almost uncanny. According to a study published in the scientific journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, a solar system discovered by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is host to at least six planets, five of which orbit around the star — known as TOI-178 (or TESS Object of Interest 178) — in a precise ratio. This is known as a "chain of resonances," or a series of occasions in which planets orbit a star while maintaining a beat with one another.

"A resonance between two planets is what happens when one completes a certain integer number of orbits while the other also does so," Dr. Nathan Hara, an astrophysicist at the University of Geneva and a co-author of the paper, wrote to Salon. "They therefore find themselves periodically in the same configuration and the strongest attraction between them is therefore always in the same direction."

There are a few details that make the new finding so striking. One is the fact that five planets are involved instead of two; as Hara explained, this makes it "one of the longest known chains" of resonant planets. In the case of the exoplanets surrounding TOI-178, they dance at a rhythm of 18:9:6:4:3. This means that every time the innermost planet in the chain makes 18 orbits around TOI-178, the next one in line makes nine orbits, and the one after that makes six orbits, and so on.

The finding is also significant because "in the known resonance chains, the farther the planet is from the star, the less dense it is, like in the Solar system: Mercury, Venus and Earth, Mars, have a higher density than Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune." The stars orbiting TOI-178 in synchrony, by contrast, have unusual comparative densities.

"The innermost planets are the densest ones, but then you have a planet with a very small, Saturn-like density, then it goes up again and falls off," Hara told Salon. "It is not shattering our understanding of planetary formation, but it is certainly puzzling."

He also told Salon that the discovery is helpful to scientists because TOI-178 is an unusually bright star — indeed, the brightest star which is known to have transiting resonant chains.

"Here 'transiting' means that the planet passes between the star and the observer, so that the stellar light flux measured by the observer decreases periodically," Hara explained. "This way you also get an estimate of the radius of the planet. The fact that the star is brighter means that we can gain information with other measurement techniques."

Hara told Salon that, in addition to TESS, the discovery was made possible by recent advances in astronomical technology including a European Space Agency telescope called CHEOPS, which was launched in 2019, and a state-of-the-art spectrograph known as ESPRESSO that has been operative since 2018.

"This one allows to measure the velocity of the star in the direction of the line of sight and has an unprecedented precision," Hara explained. "We would not have been able to make mass measurements of the planets of the system with the previous generation of spectrographs, or at the cost of extremely long campaigns."

As for how the resonant chain on planets exists, Hara told Salon that he has a partial hypothesis.

"The formation of resonant chains is believed to result from formations of planets at wider separations from the star which then migrate inwards together and are trapped in resonance with one another," Hara wrote. "As for the fact that the densities are not monotonically decreasing as you move away from the star, we don't really have a convincing explanation yet."

Chief Justice Roberts refused to preside over Trump's second impeachment, Schumer reveals

When it became clear that the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump would take place after he was out of office, it raised a curious constitutional question that few had ever previously considered: Should Chief Justice John Roberts preside over the trial, as he did during the previous impeachment?

We recently got the answer: No. President pro tempore of the Senate Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, will preside instead.

And in an interview on MSNBC with Rachel Maddow on Monday night, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer revealed why for the first time.

"It was up to John Roberts whether he wanted to preside," Schumer said, "and he doesn't want to do it."

Many had assumed that, as he was during Trump's first impeachment trial, the chief justice would be obligated to preside. But a close reading of the U.S. Constitution suggests he is not.

"When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside," the Constitution reads. The word "the" before "President" is crucial. Because while Trump is in some sense still "a president," he is definitively not "the president." Joe Biden is. Therefore, we can conclude there's no obligation on the part of the chief justice to preside in Trump's trial.

Schumer did seem to suggest that the chief justice may have presided over the trial, if he had so chosen. And nothing in the Constitution would appear to forbid that. But it's not surprising that Roberts, believing he had an option under the constitution, would opt to sit the trial out. He is known for having a strong desire to keep the Supreme Court as apolitical as possible. During Trump's first impeachment trial, he frequently looked uncomfortable and displeased with his obligation to preside.

There still remains a question of why the Leahy had undertaken the obligation to preside over the trial. The duty could have fallen to Vice President Kamala Harris, who is the president of the Senate. Leahy, the president pro tempore, only presides in her absence. And Harris may be required during the trial if she needs to cast any tie-splitting votes on procedural matters.

Trump and other critics of the impeachment process may point to the chief justice's absence as a reason to discredit and dismiss the trial. But the constitutional analysis about his presence being unnecessary is clear-cut.

On Tuesday, 45 Senate Republicans voted to dismiss the trial entirely, arguing that former officials can no longer be subject to impeachment procedures. However, the scholarly consensus is against this view, and it is not directly supported by the Constitution. In fact, the Constitution specifically lists "disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States" as a potential consequence of conviction. And that possibility clearly still exists for a former official. So it's reasonable to infer that a trial for a former president is within the scope of the Constitution. The Constitution also makes clear that the Senate itself has the sole power to try impeachments, suggesting that its determination on the matter is conclusive. And with 55 votes in favor of the trial, it has determined that the proceedings against Trump are legitmiate.

'Evil was in my house': New audio exposes pro-Trump attorney’s disturbing arguments with ex-associates

Known for his lawsuits with fellow conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell, Atlanta-based Lin Wood is among the far-right attorneys who tried to help former President Donald Trump overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election — and he even proposed, in a December 1 tweet, that Trump "declare martial law." Law & Crime has been reporting on Wood's legal battle with three former law partners, and the website has posted some older audio that sheds light on that case.

Law & Crime reporter Adam Klasfeld explains, "Long before becoming the face of former President Donald Trump's post-election conspiracy theories, lawyer Lin Wood had been embroiled in an acrimonious spat with his former lawyers, who claimed to have caught his 'erratic, hostile, abusive, and threatening' behavior on tape. Several of those recordings became public for the first time on Tuesday with the release of Law &Crime's new podcast, 'Objections.'"

The three former law partners that Klasfeld is referring to are Nicole Wade, Jonathan Grunberg and Taylor Wilson, who left the firm L. Lin Wood, P.C. and started their own firm, Wade, Grunberg & Wilson, LLC. In a legal brief, the attorneys allege that Wood physically attacked Grunberg and Wilson.

Klasfeld notes, "Wood's former law partners claimed they had him caught on tape confessing to assaulting them, threatening them in profane rants, and asserting that he may be 'Christ coming back for a second time in the form of an imperfect man.'"

In one of the recordings Law & Crime has posted, Wood is hard saying, "I have apologized to Taylor when I pushed him. It was like evil was in my house."

In other audio, Wood is heard mentioning Wilson and saying, "Taylor Wilson, your former partner, who you have abused and treated like a dog, repeatedly for weeks, if not months."

Grunberg, Klasfeld notes, has alleged that Wood made anti-Semitic remarks about him, describing the attorney as a "Chilean Jewish fucking crook."

Wood's clients have included Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia congresswoman known for supporting QAnon, Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse, and the late Herman Cain, who ran for president in 2012. The attorney's Twitter account was suspended following the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol Building by far-right insurrectionists.

Trump's radicalized followers must be forced to see who he really is

Donald Trump is gone. Jan. 20 has come and gone. Joe Biden is our 46th president and Kamala Harris is our vice president. Celebration has been on display and our democracy is breathing easier.

But our glow of hopefulness will inevitably be dampened by the penetrating darkness of the past four years. The aftermath of Donald Trump is before us. And it cannot be avoided. For example, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and several other members of the "sedition caucus" are still in Congress and stand as a constant reminder of how much accountability and healing must still occur.

Many of us are at high risk for the development of trauma, stress-related and anxiety-related symptoms (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD). We have been subjected to physical and psychological abuse by the now-departed president. The sickness and death associated with the coronavirus pandemic has been catastrophic. Our crippled economy has created widespread depression and anxiety. Trump's racism, xenophobia, misogyny, nativism, white supremacy, violence and incitement of insurrection have all been traumatic forces as well.

Post-traumatic stress symptoms are increasingly evident among us: distressing and intrusive thoughts, anxiety, worry, fear, flashbacks, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, disturbed sleep and more. These symptoms occur most notably in those with close proximity to the horrific nature of the deadly disease, such as first responders, medical providers and friends and families of victims. All are due to the impact of a cruel and corrupt leader who harmed us after swearing to be our protector. Much like a domestic abuser, Trump deceived, betrayed and mistreated us.

Beyond that, millions of Americans continue to view Trump as their beloved cult leader — even though he has been defeated, disgraced and repudiated. Trump's followers have been radicalized by the cumulative effects of his lies, conspiracy theories, magical thinking and fake narratives. Americans were bombarded with misinformation and propaganda. As a result, there are many passionate supporters who, at least until now, have refused to allow facts and the truth to shape their perceptions of their leader. Trump's demagoguery and fear-mongering has worked.

Donald Trump is a proven traitor — at least in the colloquial sense, and perhaps the legal sense as well — who spent four years disavowing the Constitution, attacking our democracy and abusing the public. He must be prosecuted and punished for his misdeeds and malfeasance.

We know that victims of abuse are better able to recover their self-esteem and hopefulness when abusers are held to account and victim safety is assured. Victims often feel unheard, misunderstood and unloved because their horrific experiences are minimized or not believed altogether. Prosecution of the abuser can go a long way to validate the intrinsic worth of the victim, and to help recapture positive mental health.

So, in a very real way, prosecution of Donald Trump is necessary for individual Americans to heal from their psychological distress and trauma and to feel liberated and positive going forward.

In a similar vein, the radicalization of Trump supporters can be deprogrammed if they see him being prosecuted and punished for his nefarious acts. He must be exposed for who he is — a con man whose cruelty, indifference and anti-democratic leanings were unleashed on the public. The realization of Trump's menace might help sweep away the false view of him as an esteemed leader. For some, this realization began last Wednesday, as President Biden was sworn in and Trump's supporters realized that their delusional belief in an ongoing Trump reign was shattered.

Dealing with the maliciousness and destructiveness of Donald Trump has begun. His oxygen of attention has been taken away. He has been banned from social media platforms. He is being ostracized and purged in most circles. But more than that, he must be prosecuted and punished for his transgressions against America and its people. He cannot simply be given a free pass because he is finally out of office. This would convey a dangerous message. We cannot stick our heads in the sand when abuse and radicalization have run rampant.

It appears that Trump is already considering another presidential run in 2024. Such is an unfathomable proposition in light of his past four years of abuse, death and insurrection. His lack of shame and remorse is appalling — but in no way surprising.

Trump must be convicted in the Senate for his second impeachment offense. He must be banned from future elected office as well. We must send a clear message to him and to all other future or potential presidential candidates that corrupt and criminal behavior will not be tolerated. We will not be abused all over again.

It will take time for us to heal, but that will happen more quickly and completely if prosecution and punishment is meted out to Donald Trump. In a democracy, no person is above the law. We must all be held accountable for our actions. Especially someone who misused and debased the highest office in the land, and whose reign of terror has traumatized us all.

'Disgusting sense of entitlement': Report reveals a scheme to get vaccines meant for an Indigenous community

A wealthy couple has come under fire for traveling to Canada's remote community of Yukon to take COVID-19 vaccines designated for indigenous seniors.

According to The Washington Post, the couple has been identified as Rodney Baker, a 55-year-old casino executive and president, and his wife, Ekaterina Baker, a 32-year-old actress. It has been reported that the couple, residents of Vancouver, Canada, are now facing charges for violating Yukon's Civil Emergency Measures Act (CEMA).

The two are accused of "breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek," reports Yukon News. The couple is said to have traveled from Vancouver to Whitehorse, Canada before chartering a private jet to Beaver Creek, home to a very small population of mostly the White River First Nation.

The couple's actions have led to stark scrutiny from local officials. On Monday, Jan. 25, Mike Farnworth, the British Columbia solicitor general, released a brief statement to the Vancouver Sun as he shared his reaction to the news. "I can't believe I've ever seen or heard of such a despicable, disgusting sense of entitlement and lack of a moral compass."

In a statement released to The Post, the White River First Nation also condemned the couple's behavior as they demand stricter consequences for their actions. Given the couple's financial status, the nation believes that the fine they are currently facing is "essentially meaningless." It has been reported that investors have revealed Baker earned "more than $10.6 million in 2019" as the executive of Great Canadian Gaming, Corp.

Chief Angela Demit said, "It's clear to me that because we are a predominantly Indigenous community, that they assumed we were naive."

Janet Vander Meer, who serves as the director of the White River First Nation's coronavirus response team also argues a similar stance insisting the couple should face greater consequences for their actions.

"Our oldest resident of Beaver Creek, who is 88 years old, was in the same room as this couple. My mom, who's palliative, was in the same room as this couple," Vander Meer told during a discussion on Monday. "That's got to be jail time. I can't see anything less. For what our community has been through the last few days. The exhaustion. It's just mind-boggling."

'Pro-insurrection' Marco Rubio goes down in flames for calling impeachment a 'waste of time'

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) called impeachment a "waste of time," and he was drowned in fury and ridicule for sucking up to former president Donald Trump.

The Florida Republican made clear he would not vote to convict Trump for inciting a violent insurrection Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol in a last-ditch effort to stop the certification of President Joe Biden's election win.

"Waste of time impeachment isn't about accountability," Rubio tweeted. "It's about demands from vengeance from the radical left. And a new 'show' for the 'Political Entertainment Industry.'"

Rubio's tweet was swiftly condemned by other social media users.

Noam Chomsky slams 'liberal American intellectuals' for refusing to admit US is a 'leading terrorist state'

Although left-wing author Noam Chomsky was glad to see former President Donald Trump voted out of office in 2020, that doesn't mean that he doesn't have some vehement criticisms of the Democratic Party and American liberalism — including Democratic views on foreign policy. And during a recent interview with progressive journalist/author Chris Hedges, Chomsky stressed that American liberals have a hard time admitting how bad U.S. foreign policy can be.

Chomsky, now 92, appeared on Hedges' show, "On Contact," which airs on RT America — the U.S. division of the Russian cable news outlet RT. Hedges, like Chomsky, has been extremely critical of the Democratic Party.

"Just as you can't get the Republican mobs to admit that the election was lost," Chomsky told Hedges, "you can't get liberal American intellectuals to recognize that the United States is a leading terrorist state."

Chomsky told Hedges that throughout its history, the U.S. has had a belligerent and imperialistic foreign policy. And he notes some examples of U.S. foreign policy being condemned in other countries — for example, the International Court of Justice slamming the Reagan Administration's intervention in Nicaragua during the 1980s as a violation of international law.

"What the Reagan Administration was doing was the peak of terrorism by our own definitions," Chomsky told Hedges. "But the New York Times ran an editorial saying we can dismiss the judgment of the Court because it's a hostile forum. Why is it a hostile forum? Because it condemned the U.S."

Chomsky also slammed U.S. intervention in Cuba, noting its actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. "It was a serious terrorist war that almost led to the destruction of the world," Chomsky told Hedges.

Economist Paul Krugman analyzes Biden’s new treasury secretary — and he’s mostly optimistic

On Monday evening, January 25, the U.S. Senate, in an 84-15 vote, confirmed former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department. Liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman analyzes President Joe Biden's new treasury secretary in a Twitter thread posted the following morning — and his thoughts are generally positive.

Krugman notes that Yellen will be the United States' first female treasury secretary and that she brings to the Treasury Department a "huge change in personal style from her predecessor," Steven Mnuchin, who served as treasury secretary under the Trump Administration. And according to Krugman, one of Yellen's positive traits is that she isn't an ultra-obsessive budget hawk.

In the past, Krugman writes, the 74-year-old Yellen "was especially inclined to wait for actual evidence of inflation, as opposed to assuming that it must be coming…. In the current context, this means that she's not likely to say 'Eek! Debt!' as opposed to looking for evidence that debt and spending are actually problems."

Krugman, in his New York Times column, has been stressing that given the severity of the coronavirus recession in the U.S., aggressive stimulus is needed — even if it means having a federal deficit for the time being. According to Krugman, the damage that COVID-19 has inflicted on the U.S. economy calls for New Deal-style economics, not Milton Friedman economics.

Tweeting an article that Yellen wrote with economist George Akerlof for the Quarterly Journal of Economics back in 1990, Krugman points out that she "helped lay the foundations for behavioral macroeconomics — macro based on observation of how people actually act, not how maximization says they should act."

According to Krugman, Yellen "is, of course, part of a team — and it's a huge contrast with the outgoing team. Basically, to have been part of Team Trump you had to have gotten the last financial crisis wrong; Team Biden, reassuringly, is composed of people who got it right."

After serving as president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve from 2004-2010, Yellen became vice chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve under President Barack Obama in 2010 and replaced Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chair in 2014.

Trump campaign paid over $2.7 million to those behind infamous Jan. 6 'Save America Rally': report

Hours before a violent mob of pro-Trump extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, then-President Donald Trump and his allies spoke at a so-called "Save America Rally" in Washington, D.C. According to a study by the Center for Responsive Politics issued on January 22, the rally's organizers received millions of dollars from Trump's reelection campaign.

"Trump's campaign disclosed paying more than $2.7 million to the individuals and firms behind the January 6 rally," the Center for Responsive Politics' Anna Massoglia reports. "But (Federal Election Commission) disclosures do not necessarily provide a complete picture of the campaign's financial dealings since so much of its spending was routed through shell companies, making it difficult to know who the campaign paid and when."

The National Parks Service permit for the Save America Rally, Massoglia notes, lists Maggie Mulvaney — a niece of former White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney — as a "VIP lead" for the event. The Trump campaign, according to Massoglia, paid her "at least $138,000 through November 2020."

Others listed on the rally permit, Massoglia reports, include Megan Powers (who was the campaign's director of operations) and Caroline Wren, a long-time GOP fundraiser. Powers, according to Massoglia, "was paid around $290,000 by Trump's campaign while on its payroll from February 2019 through at least November 2020, FEC records show" — and Wren "received at least $20,000 from the campaign each month as its national finance consultant for its joint fundraising committee with the Republican National Committee, totaling $170,000 from March through November."

"The rally's production manager is listed as Justin Caporale, the Trump campaign's advance director who received more than $144,000 in direct payroll payments from the campaign in the one-year period leading up to November 2020," Massoglia explains. "Caporale's business partner, Tim Unes, was the rally stage manager and was paid more than $117,000 by the Trump campaign through at least November 2020. Event Strategies Inc., their firm, was paid more than $1.7 million from Trump's campaign and joint fundraising committee."

Massoglia adds, "Trump-affiliated dark money group America First Policies paid the firm another $2.1 million from 2018 to 2019, the most recent years for which data is available. America First Policies' tax returns obtained by OpenSecrets show it also provided funding to Women for America First, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that submitted the rally's permit records to the National Park Service."

The organizers of the Save America Rally and the far-right insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6 were hoping to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden's Electoral College victory in the 2020 presidential election. Regardless, the certification went ahead as planned, and Biden was sworn in as president on January 20.

Capitol Police chief apologizes to Congress — admits department's failure amid deadly riot

The acting U.S. Capitol Police chief is addressing the deadly riot that took place on Jan. 6, admitting the law enforcement agency does bear responsibility for failing to contain the angry mob of Trump supporters that breached Capitol security.

On Tuesday, Jan. 26, acting Capitol Police chief Yogananda Pittman delivered his testimony before lawmakers during the House Appropriations Committee, according to The Hill.

"On Jan. 6, in the face of a terrorist attack by tens of thousands of insurrectionists determined to stop the certification of Electoral College votes, the department failed to meet its own high standards as well as yours," Pittman said.

Pittman's remarks come nearly three weeks after the civil unrest which led to the deaths of five people. In the days leading up to the U.S. Capitol riot, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released an intelligence warning of violence on the day of the Electoral College certification. However, based on how violence erupted at the Capitol, the warnings were not taken as seriously as they should have been.

In the statement, Pittman went on to admit that the law enforcement agency could have done more to combat the violence that ensued. "We knew that there was a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target," Pittman said. "The department prepared in order to meet these challenges, but we did not do enough."

Since Jan. 6, the FBI has arrested more than 100 individuals in connection with the riots, including more than 20 state and local Republican lawmakers and several police officers from law enforcement agencies across the United States. With the investigation still underway, more arrested are expected in the coming days and weeks.

Former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial is also set to begin in the coming weeks. On Jan. 13, the disgraced president was impeached for a second time for inciting an insurrection.