New York Times file photo by Erin Schaff /Broken glass are seen on the doors to the entrance of the Capitol Rotunda in Washington after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Justice for Capitol rioters begins

We often lament that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

But, actually, these days we're seeing some real change. It feels like progress, and spurs hope.

A member of the Oath Keepers militia who was charged in connection with the riot at the Capitol pleaded guilty on Friday. What's more, the 53-year-old Oath Keeper, Jon Ryan Schaffer of Indiana, agreed to cooperate with the government — potentially against other members of the far-right group.

Schaffer's guilty plea was the first to be entered publicly by any of the more than 400 people who have been charged so far in the Jan. 6 riot. Even better, his now-expected cooperation with the government could help prosecutors pursue much broader conspiracy charges against a dozen other Oath Keepers accused of the some of the most serious crimes of the incident, according to The New York Times.

The Oath Keeper conspiracy case is one of two large cases in which federal prosecutors have charged rioters with hatching plans to commit violence at the Capitol as early as November.

The other large case involves four leaders of the far-right nationalist group the Proud Boys who led a mob of about 100 members and supporters past police barricades at the Capitol.

Schaffer pleaded guilty to obstruction of an official proceeding and entering a restricted building with a dangerous weapon. Both are felonies and carry a combined total of up to 30 years in prison, but as part of his deal with the government, prosecutors have agreed to sponsor him for the Witness Protection Program.


Finally, Russian comeuppance

So much happens these days — like a half dozen public mass shootings in five weeks — that it's hard not to forget other outrages like Russia's repeated hacks into our government and private networks, let alone its meddling in the 2016 election to boost Donald Trump.

That made it feel like a blast from the past Thursday when the Biden administration imposed the first significant sanctions targeting the Russian economy to punish the Kremlin for its cyberespionage campaign against the United States, as well as the efforts to meddle in elections.

Also sanctioned were six Russian companies that support Russian spy services' cyberhacking operations. Biden said the U.S. will expel 10 officials at the Russian Embassy in Washington, most of them identified as intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover. The administration formally named the Russian intelligence service SVR as responsible for the hacking operation commonly known as SolarWinds. The hacks compromised nine federal agencies and about 100 private firms.

For its part, the Kremlin — accustomed to years of the former guy's deferential treatment — said Friday it would retaliate for our "absolutely unfriendly and unprovoked action" by expelling 10 U.S. diplomats and blacklisting eight current and former U.S. officials, including FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, Susan Rice and John Bolton.

The tit-for-tat actions were expected, but foreign policy experts deemed them "relatively proportional," and noted that the Kremlin also signaled willingness to consider a summit between President Vladimir Putin and President Biden.

It's long past time — like four years past time — that our White House stopped rolling over for Putin.


Climate action is renewed

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Friday revoked a dozen Trump-era orders that promoted fossil fuel development on public lands and waters. With the orders, she erased a little of the former guy's damage to our environment and instead imposed a new directive that prioritizes climate change in agency decisions.

The Interior Department is increasingly the place where much of the President Joe Biden's climate agenda is being laid out and as such is increasingly becoming what the Times calls "a partisan battlefield." Republicans are especially unhappy with Interior pausing new oil and gas leases and placing the federal leasing program under review.

Every little bit helps.


There also was disappointment

Speaking of mass shootings, we have seen fewer of them during the pandemic. But that doesn't mean there has been less gun violence. In fact, 2020 was the deadliest gun violence year in decades, though most of it unfolded in small incidents in homes or on city streets.

In all, 2020 gun violence killed nearly 20,000 Americans, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. An additional 24,000 people died by suicide with a gun. Almost 40,000 were injured.

From March 2020 until the March 17, 2021, Atlanta spa shootings, mass public gun violence incidents had slowed to number only five, killing 22 people. Now with the Indianapolis FedEx shooting that killed eight, we're seeing a steep increase again. Already 40 people have died in the new public incidents.

Here in Tennessee, our lawmakers just made it easier for gunmen with a permitless carry law that means no new background checks. In Washington, as President Biden ordered the White House flags lowered to half-staff yet again, he called for Congress to pass universal background checks and an assault weapon ban.

What a disconnect we have, both with all this new violence and here in our Tennessee Capitol.

But hope springs eternal.