Read the October 2021 issue of Justin Chapman's Newsletter, featuring his interview with Congresswoman Judy Chu, his 2nd and 3rd place LA Press Club journalism awards, his Culture Honey Magazine article about Iceland, his article about Adam Schiff's book event, two episodes of his "Well Read" show featuring authors of books about Ethel Rosenberg and post-WWII Berlin, two local shows that he was a guest on, some great reads recommendations, updates on international, national, California, and local news, and much more! Check it out and subscribe. It's free and monthly.

https://justinchapman.substack.com/p/october-2021

Pasadena journalist Justin Chapman came in 2nd place in the Hard News (one day’s coverage of a hard news story) category and 3rd place in the Obituary/In Appreciation (politics/business/arts personalities) category in the 63rd annual Los Angeles Press Club’s Southern California Journalism Awards on Saturday. More than 2,000 entries were submitted this year.

“There are so many outstanding reporters doing yeoman’s work in Southern California, and I was honored to be recognized among them this year by the LA Press Club,” said Chapman, who frequently writes for Pasadena Now. “Congratulations to all the winners and nominees. Keep up the great work of keeping our community informed.”

Both nominations were for Chapman’s article in Alta Journal about Mad Mike Hughes, the flat earther daredevil rocketeer who launched himself in a self-made, steam-powered rocket in the desert outside Barstow in February. When a pneumatic cylinder damaged the rocket’s nozzle upon launch, it caused the rocket to jolt to the side, likely knocking Hughes unconscious. He flew several thousand feet into the sky and then nose dived into the desert floor without releasing the parachutes on board, killing him instantly.

Chapman, who was writing a book about Hughes, was at the scene and filmed the launch and crash. The video went viral on Twitter with 5 million views in three days, garnering significant national and international media attention. Chapman wrote two articles, one for Huffington Post, “The Spectacular Finale of Mad Mike Hughes,” and the other for Alta Journal, “The Daredevil Who Reached for the Stars.” He is continuing to work on a book about Hughes.

Chapman, who was born and raised in Altadena and Pasadena, has been an independent journalist since 2005. He has written hundreds of articles for two dozen print and digital publications, including KPCC/LAistAlta JournalHuffington Post, LA Weekly, Berkeley Political Review, and extensively for Pasadena Now and Pasadena Weekly. He is the Digital Content Writer & Editor at Michelson Philanthropies and previously served as the Communications Officer at the Pacific Council on International Policy.

He hosts two TV talk shows on Pasadena Media: “Well Read with Justin Chapman” and “NewsRap Local with Justin Chapman,” which launched in April and airs on the third Friday of every month on the Arroyo Channel on cable and Pasadena Media’s streaming apps. It is the only TV talk show that focuses exclusively on Pasadena news and politics. Congress members Judy Chu and Adam Schiff are scheduled as Chapman’s guests in the October and November episodes.

Chapman also served as the editor-in-chief of USC’s Public Diplomacy Magazine and as a staff writer at the Daily Trojan. He received his master’s degree in public diplomacy from USC and his bachelor’s degree in mass communications/media studies from UC Berkeley. His book about his travels across Africa, Saturnalia: Traveling from Cape Town to Kampala in Search of an African Utopia, was published by Rare Bird Books in 2015.

He serves on Pasadena Media’s Citizens Advisory Committee and is a member of the LA Press Club. He previously served as president of the Pasadena-based nonprofit Men Educating Men About Health, as secretary of the West Pasadena Residents’ Association (and currently as a member of the WPRA Advisory Board), as secretary of the ACLU SoCal Pasadena/Foothills chapter board, as a member of the United Nations Association Pasadena chapter’s Communications Committee, and as a commissioner on the city of Pasadena’s Northwest Commission. As a professional child actor, he performed in dozens of commercials, television shows, plays, and movies.

Learn more here.


Congressman Adam Schiff Says Republicans are Putting American Democracy at Risk During  Pasadena Event About His New Book

By Justin Chapman, 10/17/2021

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena) discussed his new book, Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could, during a Vroman’s Bookstore event on Saturday at Pasadena Presbyterian Church. “Seinfeld” actor Jason Alexander interviewed him before a crowd of a couple hundred people.

Alexander asked Schiff why he decided to write this book now.

“Over the last several years, a number of my colleagues in the House would come up to me and say, ‘I hope you're writing this down. You better be writing this down.’ And I would always say, ‘When do I possibly have time to write anything down?’ And then the pandemic hit and I finally found myself, like so many people, sequestered at home,” Schiff said. “I did want at some point to write about this, both because I wanted to preserve a record of what took place and impeachments are so rare, but also because I’ve seen in the space of just a couple short years this incredibly unethical man completely remake a political party, one of America’s two great parties, in his image.”

He added that a lot of books were written about what was going on in the White House but not many were written about what was going on in the Congress.

“When we look back on this with some perspective, we will recognize the terrible role that the enablers of Donald Trump played,” he said. “What he did would not have been possible but for so many people that I serve with, giving themselves up completely to his immorality. And I wanted to write about how that happened to people I’ve worked with and liked and respected because I believed that they believed what they were saying, but they turned out not to believe it at all. And I think that’s a very important story to tell as well.”

As an example of dishonesty, Schiff told the story of how he happened to sit next to Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) in 2010. They made small talk and McCarthy said he believed Republicans would take the House in the midterms and Schiff disagreed. After the plane landed, McCarthy held a press conference in which he claimed that Schiff admitted Republicans would win the midterms.

“I was incredulous,” Schiff said. “I rushed up to him on the House floor that morning and I said, ‘Kevin, first of all, if we were having a private conversation, I would have thought it was a private conversation, but if it wasn’t, you know you told the press the exact opposite of what I said.’”

McCarthy looked at Schiff and said, “Yeah, I know, Adam. But you know how it goes.” Schiff replied, “No, Kevin, I don’t know how it goes. You just make—I can’t say this word in a church—up. And that’s how you operate? Because that’s not how I operate.”

Schiff continued, saying, “But that is how he operates. And in that sense, he was really made for a moment like this when his party and his party leader have no compunction about propagating falsehood after falsehood, who believe that they’re all entitled to their own alternative facts, that truth isn’t truth. And from my point of view, there’s nothing more corrosive to a democracy than the idea that there’s no truth. So I wanted to tell this story, both to answer the question, ‘Do they really believe what they say?’ But also to show the danger of allowing someone like that to step into the Speaker’s office.”

Republicans are favored to win the House in the 2022 midterms mostly due to historical precedent of the minority party winning the House in the first midterm election in the term of a new president’s term of the opposite party. McCarthy, as the minority leader of the Republicans, would likely become the next Speaker of the House.

Alexander brought up another House Republican who underwent a similar transformation to dishonesty during Trump’s term, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Fresno). Schiff describes in his book how Nunes was once a colleague with integrity who Schiff respected and worked well with for many years, but then who slowly corrupted himself. Alexander asked what motivated Nunes.

Schiff said he thinks Nunes, who didn’t start out as an ideologue, formed a bond with Trump when he chaired the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Trump. After then-FBI director James Comey testified in an open session and revealed for the first time that the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign, Nunes went to the White House in what is now known as the Midnight Run to purportedly get documents from whistleblowers showing that the Obama administration had surveilled the Trump administration.


“Of course, there was no such thing,” Schiff said. “The whole Midnight Run ended up being a charade. There was no whistleblower. The documents that he got, he got them from the White House, and then he went back to present them to the White House. And when that happened, I think it was such a humiliation that it forged this bond between him and Trump.”

Schiff then asked Nunes to step down from running the Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation, which he soon did.

“How can you have an investigation be credible when the person leading the investigation is engaged in that kind of chicanery? It was, of course, the end of the relationship that we had,” Schiff said. “I took no pleasure whatsoever. In addition to the investigation, we had a committee to run, and it’s not like we could ignore the need to oversee the intelligence agencies. And one thing I will say, which is a bit of a marvel, is through it all we have managed to do the work of the committee. I don’t know how to attribute that, except that both of us have made the decision without ever the need to discuss it that we would compartmentalize our very serious differences and disagreements and we will get the work done.”

Alexander also asked about Schiff’s experience leading the first impeachment trial against Trump. Schiff said that going into the trial, he didn’t expect Democrats would get a conviction.

“But the question was, how do you win by losing?” Schiff said. “My thought was that there were really going to be two juries: the jury of the senators that would be so heavily predisposed against us, and then the jury of the American people. And between the two juries, the American people were really the more important jury.”

He explained that the impeachment managers received a note from some senators that said they knew Trump was guilty, but they wanted to know why they should vote to remove him.

“For the past three years, Republicans had confided, to me and to many of my Democratic colleagues, their serious misgivings about the president,” Schiff wrote in his book. “Some would go on Fox News and bash me, only to urge me privately to keep on with the investigation. And it became clear that many Republicans felt someone needed to do it, someone needed to put a stop to it all, even if they couldn’t, or wouldn’t. And the question wasn’t so much “Why should he be removed?” as “Why should I be the one to remove him? Why should I risk my seat, my position of power and influence, my career and future? Why should I?”

Schiff said Trump learned from his first impeachment that he could get away with anything, that Republicans in Congress would never hold him to account.

“You can draw a straight line between the unwillingness of senators to honor their oath and the bloody insurrection that would follow,” Schiff said. 

Alexander pointed out that Trump put Schiff in the crosshairs and did everything he could to destroy Schiff’s reputation. Among Trump’s nicknames for Schiff were “Shifty Schiff,” “Watermelon Head” and “Pencil Neck.” Alexander said that Trump also targeted Schiff’s wife and children and asked him how he maintained his composure in the face of a deluge of death threats.

“You all in Pasadena have known me for a long time, well before Trump,” Schiff said, to which the audience applauded. “And I would wager that before Trump, you never viewed me as a particularly partisan person. And I still don’t view myself as a particularly partisan person. But I view myself as very strongly pro-democracy and anti-Trump.”

He said he has been able to get through this tumultuous period because of his wife, staff and constituents who have “had my back throughout all of this.” But he added that more than the death threats, it was the hate directed at him that was unsettling.

“Up until Trump, I wasn’t the object of that kind of hate,” Schiff said. “Most of the feedback I got was actually pretty good. But now I would go into airports and people would come up to me and say, ‘You lie all the time. Why do you lie all the time? You should be ashamed of yourself. Your family should be ashamed of you.’ People would call the district office and say, ‘I’m going to put three bullets in the back of his head, and this is the gun I’m going to use.’ For me, it was a little bit of a thing where it starts happening gradually, then it’s more and more, and you kind of don’t notice because it’s now become, unfortunately, all too common.”

Schiff also described what it was like to be in the Capitol Building during the Jan. 6 insurrection, when representatives who were certifying Joe Biden’s electoral votes had to flee the House and Senate as rioters broke into the building.

“If [Republicans] hadn’t been pushing these lies about the election, I wouldn’t need to be worried about my safety, none of us would have,” Schiff said about his thought process that day. “And in the days that followed that feeling grew, because I watched the footage of these people beating police officers and climbing up the building and I realized these people really believe the Big Lie [that the election was stolen from Trump].

“But the people inside the building that I worked with, on the other side of the aisle, knew it was a lie and they were content to push that lie. To me, that was unforgivable. For a lot of us in the Democratic caucus, that was a real breaking point in terms of how we looked at our colleagues across the aisle. It was a relationship-altering event. And it still is.”


Republicans who voted not to certify Biden’s electoral votes are “insurrectionists in suits and ties,” Schiff wrote in his book.

“Where does that leave the country if you can’t trust elections to decide who should govern? Then it just leads to violence,” he said.

Outside Pasadena Presbyterian, there were a few Trump supporters who waved Trump flags and tried to drown Schiff out with a megaphone and music, including Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

“I appreciate the musical accompaniment,” Schiff joked.

After the event, the Trump supporters yelled at attendees as they left the church about wearing masks and their lack of patriotism.

“None of you in there believe in America First!” one man yelled.

“The Republican Party has also not always been like this,” Schiff wrote in his book. “The four years of the Trump presidency destroyed many friendships, and not a few marriages. But it also destroyed the Republican Party—once devoted to robust alliances, a healthy mistrust of executive power, and the expansion of democracy around the world—and turned it into something else: a party willing to tear down the institutions of its own government, a party willing to give aid and comfort to a malign foreign power that wishes to destroy us, a party hostile to the truth. This was only possible because many of the Republican members of Congress, people I served with for years, liked, and respected—turned out to prize power and position, even if it meant imperiling the country.”


U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Review Pasadena Republican Club’s Case Against City, Western Justice Center

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Now, 10/14/2021

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a case filed in 2018 by the Pasadena Republican Club against the Western Justice Center, then-Western Justice Center Executive Director Judith Chirlin, and the city of Pasadena for alleged political and religious discrimination.

“The Court declined our request for review,” Anthony Caso, the attorney who filed the case on behalf of the Pasadena Republican Club, said of the Supreme Court’s decision last Friday. “The case is now at an end.”

Reputation in Danger

In early 2017, the Pasadena Republican Club rented space in the Western Justice Center’s Maxwell House in west Pasadena for $190 for their April 20, 2017, meeting, which was to feature as a speaker Dr. John Eastman, a conservative lawyer and former dean of Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law. Eastman had also previously chaired the National Organization for Marriage, an organization that spearheaded Proposition 8 in 2008 to ban same-sex marriage in California.

Upon finding out about Eastman’s views, the Western Justice Center’s executive committee, which included federal judges, decided to cancel the Pasadena Republican Club’s meeting less than three hours before it was set to begin. That, according to Eastman and Caso, a clinical professor of law at Chapman and director of the Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, which is based at Fowler, was a civil rights violation.

“While I knew that Prof Eastman was a professor and author, we learned just today that he is the President [sic] of the National Organization for Marriage [NOM],” Chirlin, a retired L.A. Superior Court judge, wrote in an email to the Pasadena Republican Club the day of the event. “NOM’s positions on same-sex marriage, gay adoption and transgender rights are antithetical to the values of the Western Justice Center. The Western Justice Center works to improve campus climates with a special focus on LGBT bias and bullying. We work to make sure that people recognize and stop LGBT bullying. Through these efforts we have built a valuable reputation in the community, and allowing your event in our facility would hurt our reputation in the community.”

The Western Justice Center also adopted a policy banning political organizations from future rentals of the Maxwell House, including the Pasadena Republican Club. The Maxwell House is owned by the city of Pasadena, which leases the space to the Western Justice Center for $1 a month. The Pasadena Republican Club had held meetings with other speakers there before.

Caso filed a complaint on Nov. 28, 2018, in federal district court on behalf of the Pasadena Republican Club alleging viewpoint discrimination, religious belief discrimination and violation of the free exercise of religion in violation of the First Amendment, as well as an additional charge of conspiracy to deny civil rights against Chirlin. It sought declaratory and injunctive relief and unspecified monetary damages.

“The essence of the complaint is that they’ve taken public property and they’ve decided who can use it based upon political or religious viewpoint,” Caso told this reporter at the time. “Take your pick; both are unconstitutional.”

‘Cancel Culture’

On KPCC’s “AirTalk with Larry Mantle” in November 2018, Eastman said that if the city were to rent the Maxwell House out as a public forum, “there’s no question constitutionally it would be required to lease it out without discriminating on the basis of viewpoint. The real question is, by signing a dollar-a-month lease, can it avoid those constitutional duties and pass the buck to a nonprofit organization to do the discriminating for it? I don’t believe it can do so.

“The Western Justice Center has some decisions it’s going to have to make,” he continued. “If they want to continue to discriminate on the basis of viewpoint, they can’t do that with sweetheart deals using publicly owned facilities. If they want to continue serving as an agent of the city, renting out this spectacular facility for community organizations’ meetings, then they have to comply with the Constitution just like the city does.”

Two courts, however, did not agree. According to Caso, both the trial court and the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court ruled that the Western Justice Center was not a state actor and that the city of Pasadena could not be held responsible for its actions in discriminating against the Pasadena Republican Club because “there was no allegation that the city participated in or had knowledge of the Western Justice Center’s viewpoint and religious discrimination.”

Caso argued that these rulings contradicted previous court rulings that established that a government entity isn’t required to have direct knowledge or participation in order to be held liable for the illegal activity of a private group to which it delegated authority to manage city-owned property.

Caso, on behalf of the Pasadena Republican Club, filed a petition for writ of certiorari — a request for judicial review of a lower court’s decision — with the Supreme Court on June 16.

“The Ninth Circuit’s decision allows governmental agencies to wash their hands of viewpoint discrimination on public properties by delegating away their authority,” Caso wrote in the petition to the Supreme Court. “This may be a welcome development for those entities concerned about liability in the current climate of ‘cancel culture.’ It is not, however, consistent with the Constitution. There is no ‘delegation exception’ to the First Amendment.”

The Supreme Court considered Caso’s petition at its conference on Oct. 8 and declined to review the case.

“We’re pleased,” said Lisa Derderian, Pasadena’s public information officer, when asked for comment on the Supreme Court’s decision.

FULL VERSION:

Supreme Court Declines to Review Pasadena Republican Club’s Civil Rights Case Against Western Justice Center and City of Pasadena

By Justin Chapman

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a case filed in 2018 by the Pasadena Republican Club against the Western Justice Center, then-Western Justice Center Executive Director Judith Chirlin and the city of Pasadena for alleged political and religious discrimination.

“The Court declined our request for review,” Anthony Caso, the attorney who filed the case on behalf of the Pasadena Republican Club, told Pasadena Now. “The case is now at an end.”

‘Allowing your event in our facility would hurt our reputation in the community’

In early 2017, the Pasadena Republican Club rented space in the Western Justice Center’s Maxwell House in west Pasadena for $190 for their April 20, 2017, meeting, which was to feature as a speaker Dr. John Eastman, a conservative lawyer and former dean of Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law. Eastman had also previously chaired the National Organization for Marriage, an organization that spearheaded Prop 8 in 2008 to ban same-sex marriage in California.

Upon finding out about Eastman’s views, the Western Justice Center’s executive committee, which included federal judges, decided to cancel the Pasadena Republican Club’s meeting less than three hours before it was set to begin. That, according to Eastman and Caso, a clinical professor of law at Chapman and director of the Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, which is based at Fowler, was a civil rights violation.

“While I knew that Prof Eastman was a professor and author, we learned just today that he is the President [sic] of the National Organization for Marriage [NOM],” Chirlin, a retired LA Superior Court judge, wrote in an email to the Pasadena Republican Club the day of the event. “NOM’s positions on same-sex marriage, gay adoption and transgender rights are antithetical to the values of the Western Justice Center. The Western Justice Center works to improve campus climates with a special focus on LGBT bias and bullying. We work to make sure that people recognize and stop LGBT bullying. Through these efforts we have built a valuable reputation in the community, and allowing your event in our facility would hurt our reputation in the community.”

The Western Justice Center also adopted a policy banning political organizations from future rentals of the Maxwell House, including the Pasadena Republican Club. The Maxwell House is owned by the city of Pasadena, which leases the space to the Western Justice Center for $1 a month. The Pasadena Republican Club had held meetings with other speakers there before.

Caso filed a complaint on Nov. 28, 2018, in federal district court on behalf of the Pasadena Republican Club alleging viewpoint discrimination, religious belief discrimination and violation of the free exercise of religion in violation of the First Amendment, as well as an additional charge of conspiracy to deny civil rights against Chirlin. It sought declaratory and injunctive relief and unspecified monetary damages.

“The essence of the complaint is that they’ve taken public property and they’ve decided who can use it based upon political or religious viewpoint,” Caso told this reporter at the time. “Take your pick; both are unconstitutional.”

‘Cancel culture’

On KPCC’s “AirTalk with Larry Mantle” in November 2018, Eastman said that if the city were to rent the Maxwell House out as a public forum, “there’s no question constitutionally it would be required to lease it out without discriminating on the basis of viewpoint. The real question is, by signing a dollar-a-month lease, can it avoid those constitutional duties and pass the buck to a nonprofit organization to do the discriminating for it? I don’t believe it can do so.

“The Western Justice Center has some decisions it’s going to have to make,” he continued. “If they want to continue to discriminate on the basis of viewpoint, they can’t do that with sweetheart deals using publicly owned facilities. If they want to continue serving as an agent of the city, renting out this spectacular facility for community organizations’ meetings, then they have to comply with the Constitution just like the city does.”

Two courts, however, did not agree. According to Caso, both the trial court and the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court ruled that the Western Justice Center was not a state actor and that the city of Pasadena could not be held responsible for its actions in discriminating against the Pasadena Republican Club because “there was no allegation that the City participated in or had knowledge of the Western Justice Center’s viewpoint and religious discrimination.”

Caso argued that these rulings contradicted previous court rulings that established that a government entity isn’t required to have direct knowledge or participation in order to be held liable for the illegal activity of a private group to which it delegated authority to manage city-owned property.

Caso, on behalf of the Pasadena Republican Club, filed a petition for writ of certiorari—a request for judicial review of a lower court’s decision—with the Supreme Court on June 16.

“The Ninth Circuit’s decision allows governmental agencies to wash their hands of viewpoint discrimination on public properties by delegating away their authority,” Caso wrote in the petition to the Supreme Court. “This may be a welcome development for those entities concerned about liability in the current climate of ‘cancel culture.’ It is not, however, consistent with the Constitution. There is no ‘delegation exception’ to the First Amendment.”

The Supreme Court considered Caso’s petition at its conference on October 8 and declined to review the case.

“We’re pleased,” said Lisa Derderian, Pasadena’s public information officer, when asked for comment on the Supreme Court’s decision.

‘A deliberate warping of the Constitution’

Eastman has been in the national news recently because he wrote a memo advising then-Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to certify Joe Biden’s Electoral College votes on Jan. 6 and he spoke at Trump’s rally that morning before the crowd of thousands descended on and broke into the Capitol Building. According to Michael Wolff’s book Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency, Rudy Giuliani connected Trump with Eastman because he had recently written an article “claiming that Kamala Harris wasn’t a natural born citizen and therefore couldn’t be vice president.”

Matthew Sheffield, a conservative activist, wrote on Twitter that Eastman has a “long record of extremist activity. Eastman is anything but a ‘little-known but respected conservative lawyer,’” as he was described in a recent New York Times article, but rather “has a decades-long history leading hate groups, especially those against LGBT people. Eastman has called homosexuality ‘barbarism’ and said on video that he supported a Ugandan law that made homosexual acts a life-sentence offense. Eastman’s NOM group is intimately affiliated with the ‘World Congress of Families,’ a radical anti-LGBT group funded by Russian oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin.”

Caso wrote in the Supreme Court petition that the National Organization of Marriage “works to defend marriage and the faith communities that sustain it at the local, state and national levels. It does not advocate bias of any type.”

Eastman’s memo, revealed in Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s new book, Peril, laid out a scenario in which seven swing states would submit dual slates of electors to Congress giving Pence cover to say there was a dispute and send the matter back to Congress to resolve.

Under Eastman’s plan, Pence would first discard the electors from seven disputed states, meaning only 43 states’ votes would be counted in the election. “Pence then gavels President Trump as re-elected,” Eastman wrote. “Howls from the Democrats, of course.”

He added that if that didn’t work, Pence should then send the matter to the House, where each state delegation, with Republicans in the majority, got one vote.

“President Trump is re-elected there as well,” Eastman wrote. “Pence should do this without asking for permission. The fact is that the Constitution assigns the power to the Vice President as the ultimate arbiter.”

This, of course, is incorrect. The 12th Amendment simply states that the vice president opens “all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.”

“If thrown to the House, there was a twist,” Woodward and Costa wrote. “And Trump was fixated on the twist,” Pence told former Republican Vice President Dan Quayle when asking him for advice on what he should do on Jan. 6 because Quayle was in the same situation on Jan. 6, 1993, when he had to certify Bill Clinton’s win over President George H. W. Bush.

The twist was a “provision that could keep Trump in power. While the Democrats held the current House majority, the 12th Amendment of the Constitution stated the voting on a contested election would not be done by a simple majority vote. Instead, the amendment states that the election vote would be counted in blocs of state delegations, with one vote per state. Republicans now controlled more delegations in the House of Representatives [by one, 26-24], meaning Trump would likely win if the chamber ended up deciding the victor.”

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), a staunch Trump supporter, “was shocked” when he read Eastman’s memo, according to Peril. He “knew any attempt to make the vice president the critical player in the certification would be a deliberate warping of the Constitution. Eastman’s two-page memo turned the standard counting process on its head. Lee was surprised it came from Eastman, a law school professor who had clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

“A procedural action by the vice president to throw out tens of millions of legally cast votes and declare a new winner? Lee’s head was spinning,” Woodward and Costa wrote. “No such procedure existed in the Constitution. Eastman apparently had drawn it out of thin air.”

Another problem with this plan: not one state legislature in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin or Arizona planned to submit alternate slates of electors. Eastman’s plan hinged on these states doing so. Wolff wrote that Eastman himself told White House Counsel Pat Cipollone that he thought the strategy was “theoretical” and “not likely” to succeed, but that it was “worth a shot” and thus recommended it to the president anyway. Despite relentless pressure from Trump, Pence ultimately decided he did not have the power to reject the Electoral College votes and send the matter to the House to decide on Jan. 6.

When Pence certified Biden’s election, Trump encouraged his supporters to march to the Capitol Building, where they overran police, broke into the building, and chanted, “Hang Mike Pence! Bring out Mike Pence! Where is Pence? Find him!” Outside, insurrectionists erected gallows. Pence was whisked away to safety, avoiding running into the rioters by mere seconds.

 CIRCLING OTHERWORLDLY ICELAND

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

By Justin Chapman, Culture Honey Magazine, 10/12/2021

Perhaps because we are gluttons for punishment, my wife Mercedes and I traveled to the unspeakably beautiful island nation of Iceland when she was just a few weeks pregnant. To top off an already challenging trip, she was bedriddenly sick the entire time. But, as they say, with great beauty comes great pain.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

The timing of our journey was unfortunately non-negotiable. I was booked to attend an international conference sponsored by my Master’s in Public Diplomacy degree program at the University of Southern California. My fellow students and I had scheduled meetings with Islandic government officials to discuss the country’s “place branding” efforts.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

Iceland has been incredibly successful in projecting an image of itself to the outside world and thus drawing scores of tourists to its wild shores. And unlike some other places, Iceland—with its picturesque waterfalls, moss-covered lava rocks, bubbling geothermal hot springs, active volcanoes, enormous blue glaciers, beautiful snowscapes, adventurous spirit, and spectacular Northern Lights—lives up to the hype.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

After Iceland’s economy was hit hard by the 2008 financial crash, tourism helped the country claw its way back to solvency. Home to fewer than 350,000 people, in the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of tourists visiting the country grew to more than 2 million annually.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

As Kristjan Guy Burgess, chief political advisor to former Icelandic Foreign Affairs Minister Ossur Skarphéðinsson, president of the Social Democrats, and founder and CEO of Global Center Iceland, put it, “Iceland was in the news at a time when it was very cheap and interesting to come here. So we invested in a campaign to promote and encourage tourism.”

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

It hasn’t always been easy, though. Inga Hlín Pálsdóttir, director of Promote Iceland, said that Iceland’s recent political turmoil made their job of promoting Iceland difficult. Between 2013 and 2018, there were five prime ministers, one of whom had to resign in 2016 when the Panama Papers revealed his family’s bank accounts in offshore tax havens. Another had to resign because he tried to cover up a letter of support to rehabilitate a convicted pedophile written by his father.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

In addition to its political turmoil, Iceland is also known for its progressive gender policies. When we visited, the prime minister was Katrín Jakobsdóttir of the Left Green Party, only the second woman to hold the office. Iceland is a leader in equal rights for women and the LGBTQ community. In 2017, Iceland became the first country in the world to pass a law mandating equal pay for women.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

As for Icelanders themselves, everyone we met was welcoming and friendly. In fact, Iceland was voted the friendliest country in the world, according to a poll conducted by the World Economic Forum in 2013. But while their economy relies on tourism, Icelanders’ views on tourism are more nuanced. They encourage sustainable, responsible tourism.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

Around town in Reykjavík

While our visit to Iceland took place before the pandemic, repeat visitors report that the otherworldly island of ice and fire remains as dynamic and vibrant and foreboding as ever.

“It’s hard to believe this eerily beautiful vista exists on the same planet as, say, the living room where I’ve spent the past 14 months,” award-winning journalist Jessica Fender wrote in the Fall 2021 issue of Westways Magazine. “Being anywhere else is strange and exciting at the moment. As Iceland itself grows before my eyes, the world in general suddenly feels big again.”

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

There are a number of must-see locations in Reykjavík, before venturing out to the wider, wilder countryside. Depending on when you go—we found March an ideal time to visit because while it’s still cold and icy, the roads can be manageable than the dead of winter and you have a higher likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights than in the summer—you can walk across the frozen Tjörnin lake in central Reykjavík.

There are a number of architectural delights in Reykjavík as well, such as the glass honeycomb Harpa Concert Hall adjacent to the harbor.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland

As a fan of punk rock, I enjoyed visiting the Icelandic Punk Museum (Pönksafn Islands), featuring the history of Icelandic punk (such as Björk’s punk roots) in a repurposed underground public toilet.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland

Ring Road trip

After my meetings with government officials, we were free to explore the rest of the country. Most tourists visit a handful of destinations within a short drive from the capital, but Mercedes and I decided to venture beyond the beaten path. We rented a camper van with a heater in the back and drove the Ring Road around the entire island, stopping at designated campgrounds each night. This, of course, presented its own set of challenges. (Make sure you shell out for windshield insurance, as little rocks get kicked up on country roads and crack your windshield all the time, a lesson we later learned the hard way).

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

We did, however, visit some well-worn sites in the Golden Circle, a popular route that includes Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall, which are all worth a visit. In Þingvellir, you’ll see Alþing, the site of Iceland’s original national parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries. Founded in the year 930, Alþing is the oldest surviving parliament in the world, now housed in a beautiful old building in Reykjavík. The outdoor parliament area in Þingvellir, situated on dramatic rock cliffs, overlooks a beautiful rift valley created by two tectonic plates and the Almannagjá fault.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

In Geysir, the Strokkur geyser erupts every 15 minutes, shooting hot water 30 feet into the air. 

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

Around this area is where we saw the most beautiful long-haired Icelandic horses, one of which tried to eat my sweater. Also nearby we discovered the Secret Lagoon, the oldest pool in the country. Known to the locals as Gamla Laugin, it was established in 1891 at Hverahólmi, a geothermal area near Flúðir, and maintains its 100° Fahrenheit temperature all year round. With fewer people than the Blue Lagoon and tucked away in a rural area with geothermal activity, geysers, and rising mist on the terrain surrounding the lagoon, this one felt especially special.

Gullfoss in the Hvítá river canyon is likewise a beautiful view, but while most tourists stop there and head back to Reykjavík, there’s so much more to see beyond the Golden Circle, including many more breathtaking waterfalls as you drive east around Iceland’s southern shore. Those include Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, the two biggest waterfalls in Iceland at 197 feet. We slept at a campground near Skógafoss and severe winds rocked our camper van back and forth all night. It can feel at times like Iceland is trying to kill you.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

Also on the southern coast of Iceland is Seljavallalaug, an outdoor pool built in 1923, and Reynisfjara, a stunning black sand beach with a dramatic series of basalt columns and smooth jet black pebbles.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

As you continue driving along the Ring Road, you’ll pass through miles and miles of moss-covered lava rock fields, a mindblowing moonscape known as Eldhraun that was featured in a music video for the Sigur Rós song “Glósóli.” The Icelandic, Radiohead-esque, post-rock band makes for a perfect atmospheric soundtrack on your Icelandic road trip.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

On Iceland’s southeastern shore, we walked around Diamond Beach, located by the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Huge chunks of ice are scattered across the black sand beach, and even bigger chunks of the glacier float around like sea monsters in the gloomy lagoon.

Completing the circle

Most tourists, if they’ve ventured beyond the Golden Circle, stop here and turn back for Reykjavík, but Mercedes and I were determined to drive around the entire island, even though we only had a few days to do so. If you’re visiting anywhere from October to March, you must check road conditions and weather forecasts before you plan to continue on here. These roads are no joke. Black ice, wind, steep roadside cliffs with no guardrails, sudden blind curves, tight lanes, unpaved roads, and endless scenery distractions make for a treacherous trek.

While the number of sites to see in the northeast, north, and northwest areas of the island do thin out, there are still places indescribably more beautiful than many on earth: blanketed by snow, rural, vast. 

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

For example, Dettifoss on the northern side of Iceland is the second biggest waterfall in Europe, after Rhine Falls in Switzerland. (Iceland is sort of a hybrid European/North American country, as it sits on the tectonic plate boundary of Eurasia and North America—though it feels more European than North American). We also saw a herd of wild reindeer around this area.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

As you approach Lake Mývatn on the northern side of Iceland, you first pass through the Námafjall Geothermal Area, also known as Hverir, where smoking fumaroles and boiling mud pots steam and bubble out of the earth, making you feel like you’re on another planet. Huge plumes of multi-colored smoke scattered across the landscape gives it the feel of an alien warzone. I got too close to the sulphur-smelling smoke and breathed some in, which made me lightheaded.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

On the other side of the hill is Lake Mývatn, which is where we saw the most brilliant display of aurora borealis. The Northern Lights were, hands down, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life (until that was blown out of the water by the birth of my daughter Sienna). The swirls of color dancing around the sky are pure magic. Mercedes set up her camera on a tripod and captured these stunning images. You have to set your camera to a slower shutter speed to get good images, and you have to get away from the light pollution of the city in order to see them in the first place, provided the night sky is not blocked by clouds.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

Next we arrived in Akureyri, the second biggest city after Reykjavík. The Eyjafjörðurin fjord juts into the middle of the town, a body of water you have to drive around. Here is where the Einstök Brewery is located. Excellent beer, but the brewery itself was underwhelming, as it was a drab, featureless building that appeared to be off-limits to the public.

 

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart

By the time we got back to Reykjavík to drop off our camper van, rocks from the road had chipped a couple of spots on the windshield. Unfortunately for us, we hadn’t opted for the more expensive windshield insurance at the beginning of our trip. The rental company, of course, noticed these cracks and said our options were to pay them €200 now or wait to get the exact amount later. Knowing that these kinds of fixes can be as cheap as $15, we chose to wait. For whatever reason, they never charged us for the repairs.

Circling Otherworldly Iceland, Photo Credit: Mercedes Blackehart