Alex Rodriguez appears at a news conference following the announcement of his suspension from Major League Baseball for 211 games. (John Gress/Reuters)
There was a time, believe it or not, when Alex Rodriguez was popular. Really, genuinely, popular. Granted, it wasn't recently -- you'd have to go back to the Clinton Administration -- but as a young shortstop for the Seattle Mariners in the late 1990s, A-Rod was considered one of the game's true bright lights.
It wasn't just because of his on-the-field accomplishments, though these were remarkable: In 1996, at an age (20) when most players were in college or the low minor leagues, Alex Rodriguez was already the best in the American League. But A-Rod, too, was a saint: a humble, decent (Christian, natch) young man who called his mom five times a week, avoided alcohol, and worshipped his veteran teammates. "A guy this sweet," wrote Gerry Callahan in a fawning profile of Rodriguez for Sports Illustrated that year, "must be hiding some cavities."
If only Callahan knew what was coming. Seventeen years later, this very same Alex Rodriguez is the most hated player in baseball.
How hated? His fellow players voted him as the "biggest phony" in the majors. His own boss, New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, told the media that he should "shut the fuck up" after A-Rod tweeted his satisfaction at being medically cleared to play. (Cashman disagreed with this diagnosis). His own fans boo him mercilessly. And The New York Post, its finger forever on the city's pulse, summed up its feelings for Rodriguez with this headline:
A full account of the reasons behind A-Rod's unpopularity would require volumes, but here are the highlights. First was the contract -- 10 years for $250 million -- which Rodriguez signed with the Texas Rangers in early 2001. Then there was his colorful private life: the extra-marital affairs, the dalliance with Madonna ("she's my fucking soulmate dude"), the unfortunate photograph in Details magazine of Rodriguez kissing his own reflection in a mirror, and the better-left-unexplained "centaur painting."
For all of his off-field problems, there was one thing that couldn't be taken away from A-Rod: his accomplishments on the field. But then came his revelation in early 2009 that, as a member of the Texas Rangers earlier in the decade, he had used performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Suddenly, his once-pristine playing career came under suspicion. A-Rod being a buffoonish, narcissistic philanderer? Fine, he's a famous athlete -- it's normal. But a cheater? That was too much. For in the morality play that is 21st century baseball, any number of crimes are tolerated -- but using drugs to improve one's play on the field is not one of them.
And so this week, Commissioner Bud Selig did what fans had wanted him to do for years: He threw the book at A-Rod. Rodriguez was one of 13 players suspended for his link to BioGenesis, a since-shuttered "anti-aging" clinic in south Florida that allegedly supplied athletes with PEDs. The other 12 players, each first-time offenders, were suspended for 50 games each, as per guidelines established in baseball's (unfortunately-named) Joint Drug Agreement. Rodriguez, on the other hand, was banned for 211 games -- enough to keep him out of action for the rest of this season and all of next.
Never mind that Rodriguez's suspension is more than twice as long as any other non-permanent ban in baseball history. Or that, in recent baseball history, any number of criminals, drunks, and scoundrels have avoided any punishment from the league. Or that Alex Rodriguez -- still -- has never failed a drug test, which is (in theory) the basis for suspending players under the JDA. Or that Major League Baseball's investigation of BioGenesis relies heavily on one witness -- clinic founder Tony Bosch -- who may be slightly less than reliable. Or that 211 games is an arbitrary total, dependent more on the whims of the league's game schedule than any sense of proportional punishment.
Rodriguez, alone among the BioGenesis 14 (counting Ryan Braun, banned for 64 games last month), has chosen to appeal his suspension. In the coming days, then, Selig and Major League Baseball will reveal, precisely, what merited the 211 game suspension. It may be that the league has incontrovertible evidence that Rodriguez' sins were grave enough -- he is alleged to have tried to obtain and destroy evidence, a claim A-Rod denies -- that an ordinary 50-game suspension would be insufficient. Or, possibly, an arbitrator will determine that Rodriguez should be regarded as just another player who made an error in judgment, rather than a pariah deserving of harsher punishment.
Either way, it's hard to escape the sense that the Alex Rodriguez suspension was Bud Selig at his worst -- tackling the steroid problem by going after a player who had basically run out of defenders. Not that I, or anyone else, should feel sorry for him. Alex Rodriguez has lived a charmed life. Through his career, he has earned more than $350 million in salary (plus more in endorsements), dated Hollywood stars like Cameron Diaz and Kate Hudson, and won a World Series -- all the while playing a children's game for a living. He's hardly a sympathetic character. But that doesn't mean that he deserves special opprobrium -- cavities or not.
A mix of patriotic balladeers and apolitical acts will take the stage on Thursday and Friday.
It is not true, as a lot of commentary would have it, that Donald Trump’s inauguration will feature “no stars.” Some of the entertainers who have signed on to play have, in fact, built their success on entertaining millions of people. But it is true that what’s considered “the A-list” will be conspicuously absent, as will be acts from other lists: The B-Street Band, a Bruce Springsteen tribute group, backed out from an unofficial inaugural party after outcry; Broadway singer Jennifer Holliday reneged from the main concert event.
The mix of entertainers lined up for Thursday’s “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration” on the National Mall and Friday’s swearing-in ceremony represents a hodgepodge of ideology and expediency. In a savvy MTV essay about Trump’s national-anthem singer Jackie Evancho, Doreen St. Félix argued that booking the 16-year-old America’s Got Talent runner up was “a matter of scavenging, and then gilding over the spoils”—a description that could apply across the lineup given the many headlines about Trump’s team getting turned down by celebrities then saying that not having famous people is a good thing. But in its relative lack of glitz, and in its coalition of performers well familiar to state-fair stages, this week’s bill may inadvertently achieve the stated inaugural goal of projecting an image not of Trump but of the people who elected him.
Some Democrats, most notably Representative John Lewis, have labeled Donald Trump with the same epithet applied to his two immediate predecessors.
When was the last time America had a “legitimate” president?
You’d have to go back a ways to find a unanimous choice. Certainly not Donald Trump. Representative John Lewis, the civil-rights icon, has sparked a fury by saying, “I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president.” Had Hillary Clinton won, she would not have fit the bill, either: Trump said repeatedly during the campaign that she should not have been allowed to run. Certainly not Barack Obama. Many opponents—none of them more prominent than Trump, yet again—argued, falsely and preposterously, that he was not even eligible to stand for the presidency because he had not been born in the United States. And certainly not George W. Bush, whom many Democrats viewed as illegitimate for several reasons: his popular-vote loss; questions over the final count in Florida; the fact that the Supreme Court effectively decided the election on a party-line vote.
Why Nixon's former lawyer John Dean worries Trump could be one of the most corrupt presidents ever—and get away with it
Sometime early last fall, John Dean says he began having nightmares about a Trump presidency. He would wake in the middle of the night, agitated and alarmed, struggling to calm his nerves. “I’m not somebody who remembers the details of dreams,” he told me in a recent phone call from his home in Los Angeles. “I just know that they were so bad that I’d force myself awake and out of bed just to get away from them.”
Few people are more intimately acquainted than Dean with the consequences of an American presidency gone awry. As White House counsel under President Richard Nixon from 1970 to 1973, he was a key figure in the Watergate saga—participating in, and then helping to expose, the most iconic political scandal in modern U.S. history. In the decades since then, Dean has parlayed that resume line into something of a franchise, penning several books and countless columns on the theme of presidential abuses of power.
The Russian leader tries to claim the role of senior partner in relationship with the U.S.
You have to feel bad for the Moldovan president. The newly elected Igor Dodon had traveled to Moscow to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin for the first Russian-Moldovan bilateral meeting in nine years. Yet here he was, standing side by side with Putin, his hero and model for emulation, at a regal-looking press conference and some reporter has to go and ask about the prostitutes.
“You haven’t yet commented on the report that, allegedly, we or in Russia have been collecting kompromat on Donald Trump, including during his visit to Moscow, as if he were having fun with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel,” said the reporter with the pro-Kremlin LifeNews. “Is that true? Have you seen these files, these videos, these tapes?”
The president-elect’s lawyers have explained why they don’t think he’ll violate the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause—but their arguments fall apart under closer scrutiny.
Last week, President-elect Donald Trump’s lawyers issued a brief, largely unnoticed memo defending Trump’s plan to “separate” himself from his businesses. We believe that memo arbitrarily limits itself to a small portion of the conflicts it purports to address, and even there, presents claims that depart from precedent and common sense. Trump can convince a lot of people of a lot of things—but neither he nor his lawyers can explain away the ethics train wreck that will soon crash into the Oval Office.
It’sbeenwidelyacknowledgedthat, when Trump swears the Oath of Office, he will stand in violation of the Constitution’s foreign-emoluments clause. The emoluments clause forbids any “Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States]” from accepting any “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” (unless Congress explicitly consents).
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
In his final press conference, the commander-in-chief reasserted his faith in progress and the American project.
Barack Obama is the leader of the nation’s progressive political party, but his belief in progress is more fundamental than a simple political label. “Hope” may have seemed a facile or even juvenile basis for a presidential campaign in 2008, but it was a sincere one, as Obama demonstrated one final time Wednesday afternoon in the final press conference of his presidency.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, he insisted that although the arc of history is long, passing even through a Donald Trump presidency, it does bend toward Obama’s vision of justice. This faith that there is a right side of history has been a hallmark of his term in office, but it looks shakier than ever to many members of his party since the November election. As he did in his farewell address on Tuesday, Obama made the case for hope, even as he offered a series of warnings to, and about, the incoming Trump administration.
Surprise remarks by the president-elect, which depart from decades of U.S. policy, sent American currency into a tumble.
On Wednesday morning, currencies in emerging markets across Asia started to rise: The Chinese yuan and the Thai bhat hit two-month highs, while Taiwan’s dollar reached a three-month peak, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, the value of the U.S. dollar had dropped 1.3 percent on Tuesday, to its lowest point in a month.
Those searching for an explanation didn’t have to look very hard. Over the weekend, President-elect Donald Trump delivered some remarks to The Wall Street Journal that took many by surprise. In response to a question about trade with China, Trump declared that the U.S. dollar is “too strong.” He added, “Our companies can’t compete with [China] now because our currency is too strong. And it’s killing us.”
How many nominees will the Senate confirm by the time the president-elect takes office on Friday?
When President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office on Friday, he may have a few members of his Cabinet in place alongside him. But the bulk of Trump’s nominees—including most of his economic team—won’t be joining him for several days or even weeks.
Three days before the inauguration, the Senate has not scheduled a single confirmation vote for Trump’s Cabinet. On Wednesday, retired General James Mattis became the first nominee to win approval at the committee level when the Senate Armed Services Committee voted overwhelmingly to recommend his confirmation as defense secretary. Senate Republicans still hope to confirm members of Trump’s national-security team on Friday, and the likeliest to receive votes are Mattis, retired General John Kelly as homeland security secretary, and Representative Mike Pompeo as CIA director. Elaine Chao, the nominee for transportation secretary, could also win Senate approval on Friday. So could Ben Carson, Trump’s pick for housing secretary, though he is considered less likely to get a Friday vote. None of the five have generated significant opposition from Democrats, and all of them more or less sailed through their confirmation hearings last week. Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, told reporters on Tuesday that Trump planned to swear in some members of his Cabinet on Friday, “if and when they are confirmed by the Senate.”
ERBIL, Iraq—There’s no welcome sign at this U.S. military base discreetly tucked into the corner of the Kurdistan International Airport in northern Iraq. It doesn’t even have a name. But it’s here. Thousands of troops are here, including Americans, Germans, Italians, Finns, and Brits. And this time, it seems the U.S. military is in Iraq to stay.
The temporary tents and dining hall erected to house U.S. forces—including special operators, CIA agents, and private military contractors who hunt, kill, and interrogate for America—are being replaced with permanent buildings. At least five types of U.S. military helicopters crisscross the bright September skies over Kurdistan’s peaceful, bustling capital city, some ferrying generals up from Baghdad, others heading north into Syria with bearded special operators’ feet dangling from Black Hawk doors, or banking west toward Mosul, bringing Americans to the front lines of war.