Who’s having a good week? Who’s having a bad one?
Every week we track the highs, lows and everything in between. We give you … What’s Up? What’s Down?
DOWN: GHISLAINE MAXWELL
The one-time girlfriend and longtime confidant of convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein was found guilty this week on five out of six counts related to the latter’s child rape scheme — all felony charges.
After five days of deliberation, the jury handed down its guilty verdict Wednesday. Ghislaine Maxwell pleaded not guilty to all charges, including sex trafficking of a minor, but is now in jeopardy of spending the rest of her life behind bars.
The date for her sentencing hearing has not been set, and there is growing speculation that she may cooperate with investigators to cut a deal for a reduced sentence.
With Jeffrey Epstein long dead, it’s not clear why federal prosecutors would need her testimony. But with a potential 65-year prison sentence on the horizon, she’s playing every card she’s got. Ghislaine Maxwell is definitely trending down.
UP: BRITNEY SPEARS
Recently freed from her conservatorship, the Grammy-winning artist is planning a comeback in 2022.
There’s no indication yet that Britney plans to produce or release new music, but a source close to the 40-year-old recently told Entertainment Tonight that she’s in talks for “different brand deals and entertainment opportunities.”
Now that she’s sure to have the final say in how her money’s spent, Britney could see a return to mainstream relevance for the first time in years. While we wait for her next move, she’s trending up.
DOWN: THE CDC
The CDC has been a fixture of national news since the pandemic kicked off in March 2020, but it’s facing unprecedented pushback after revising its Covid guidelines this week.
The federal agency announced that individuals who test positive for the virus should self-isolate for five days — reducing the 10-day timeline it had previously issued, and not suggesting a negative test before returning to normal life.
The recommendations drew criticism even from longtime allies, and White House advisor Anthony Fauci raised even more eyebrows Wednesday when he admitted the decision was made with the economy in mind rather than public health.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has defended the new decree by saying that PRC tests could give positive results for weeks after an individual recovers, and that antigen tests are similarly unreliable.
But the announcement is pitting the agency against stalwart defenders at a time when its public credibility is crucially important. For now, the CDC is trending down.
UP: ANDREW CUOMO
Among other highs and lows, 2021 saw the fall of the political dynasty that ran New York state politics for two generations.
Then-Governor Andrew Cuomo left office in disgrace amid a sexual harassment scandal, and CNN anchor Chris Cuomo was ousted from his job after he was accused of advising his older brother weather the fallout.
But for the first time since the Trump era, the Cuomos got some good news this week, when prosecutors said they wouldn’t file charges against the former governor.
While they concluded there was enough evidence to believe the incident occurred as reported, they said they “cannot pursue criminal charges due to the statutory requirements of the criminal laws of New York.”
It’s a technicality, but it’s the difference between jail time and freedom — so for the first time in a long time, Andrew Cuomo is trending up.
DOWN: CALIFORNIA TEENS
Unfortunately for these northern California teens, a picture says a thousand words.
A group of high school students in Wheatland, just north of Sacramento, drew swastikas and other Nazi imagery on their bodies and posed for a photo which circulated on Instagram and TikTok before an anonymous party sent it along to the local newspaper.
Now, the school district says it’s investigating the matter. The Wheatland Police Department has also said it launched a probe, but it’s not quite clear why, as they’ve said there’s no criminal violation alleged against the teens.
In any case, adorning oneself in swastikas is definitely a reason to trend down.
UP: THE SQUAXIN ISLAND TRIBE
This Native American tribe in Washington scored a symbolic win last week when it got back 2 miles of waterfront and 125 acres of tidelands along the Little Skookum Inlet from a timber company.
The small stretch of land has historically connected the Squaxin Island Tribe to the Puget Sound and holds cultural and spiritual significance for the community. Tribe Chairman Kris Peters told reporters there are no plans for development on the property, noting its traditional use as a ceremonial gathering place.
Turning the land back over appears to have been a PR move by Port Blakely Companies. The firm has operated in the Pacific northwest since 1864, engaging in the same resource extraction that drove indigenous tribes from their ancestral lands to begin with, and company president Mike Warjone bizarrely said he was inspired to give the land back after the murder of George Floyd.
But after several lifetimes, the Squaxin Island Tribe was reunited with its sacred land, and so this week, the tribe is trending up.
Jeff Bezos’ website is almost always under fire for something, but this week was an especially tumultuous one.
Most notably, the company stoked shock and outrage when Alexa, its flagship product, reportedly instructed a child to kill themselves. According to one mom, the in-home assistant “challenged” her child to touch a penny to an exposed electrical plug.
Amazon spokespersons said the device was reading from search engine results and that the “error” was “quickly fixed.”
Then, the e-commerce giant fell to fourth place in global rankings for shopping app installments, lagging behind newer foreign brands that made significant gains in the international market through 2021.
Additionally, the company hit a snag in an ongoing lawsuit against Denver-based real estate magnate Brian Watson, who it accused of bribing two of its employees to win a development deal for an Amazon data center.
According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady — the judge in Amazon’s case against Watson — has a conflict of interest. After ruling in the company’s favor for two years straight, it was revealed that O’Grady’s wife owns Amazon stock, which would bar him from presiding over the case under federal law.
Three strikes and you’re out. Amazon is trending down.
UP: PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON
The auteur behind There Will Be Blood has done it again.
In his latest release, coming-of-age drama and ’70s period piece Licorice Pizza, Anderson takes aim at a rose-tinted cultural memory of youth in the 20th century.
Though the film has raised eyebrows for its central relationship — the protagonist, a teen boy, pines after a woman in her 20s — critics are by-and-large raving about the director’s latest offering.
At the time of writing, Licorice Pizza stands at 95 percent on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Critics have singled out its “freewheeling” feel and character-driven performances for praise, and the film has an undoubtedly personal touch that the notorious control-freak Anderson must have carefully curated. Audiences had a slightly cooler take at 75 percent fresh, but that’s likely to change now that the film has seen a wide release.
As 2021 comes to a close, Licorice Pizza is mounting an eleventh-hour bid for movie of the year. But no matter what the Academy decides, Paul Thomas Anderson is trending up.
Wishing our readers, a happy and healthy New Year!