Wildfires Threaten Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Officials have had to close large sections of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as the area braces for potentially disastrous wildfires raging nearby. Air quality is already at hazardous levels. As the Southeast faces its worst drought in years and winds blow as strong as 70 mph, firefighters are struggling to quell 14 fires near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where some residents have been forced to evacuate. “We’ve had trees coming down, limbs coming down, and the fire is continuing to grow,” one National Park Service spokesperson said Monday. In recent weeks, wildfires have spread across the South, boosted by strong winds in Tennessee, Virginia, and north Carolina. Rain, though, is forecasted for the area in the coming days.
North Dakota Pipeline Protesters Ordered to Evacuate
The governor of North Dakota has ordered an emergency evacuation of all pipeline protesters camping on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land. All demonstrators protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, which they say goes through sacred Standing Rock Sioux land and could harm water sources, must leave their camps because of dangerous winter weather, Governor Jack Dalrymple said in the order signed Monday. A spokesman for the governor’s office told The West Fargo Pioneer, though, that the state would not forcibly remove people from the land, putting the burden on the federal government. The Corps said Friday that all protesters must leave the land north of the Cannonball River by December 5. The tribe, though, says it still plans to block the pipeline’s construction on reservation lands.
Texas Reports First Local Transmission of Zika Virus
The Zika virus has been transmitted by a mosquito in Texas for the first time, state health officials said Monday. The infected individual lives in Cameron County and has not traveled recently to countries where local transmission of the virus is common and well documented, officials said. She is also not pregnant. The Zika virus is most dangerous to pregnant women, and can cause a condition called microcephaly in babies born to infected women that results in smaller-than-normal heads. Officials say the virus was detected in the woman's urine and not her blood, which means the virus can no longer be spread through mosquito bites. Zika is primarily transmitted through Aedesaegypti mosquitoes, which thrive in warm climates, like in Texas and in South America, where the virus has led to thousands of cases of microcephaly since last year.
San Francisco's Transit System Is Back to Normal After a Ransomware Hack
San Francisco’s transit system returned to normal late Sunday after hackers hijacked its computer network over the weekend and granted tens of thousands of free fares. On Friday, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (Muni) payment screens read “OUT OF ORDER” in subway stations across the city. In agents’ booths the screens read: “You Hacked, ALL Data Encrypted.” The attackers, who were anonymous, also demanded through their message that Muni pay 100 Bitcoin, or about $73,000, to restore access to its software. The attack did not affect transit service other than rendering Muni’s payment system useless, so for much of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Muni was free. This type of hack is caused by ransomeware, in which hackers encrypt data until the owner pays a requested fee. Ransomware hacks have become increasingly common, and this past year several hospital computer systems were breached in similar attacks. Although Muni service had been restored, Hoodline, a local news site, reported that the hackers responsible claim to have accessed vital agency functions, like payroll, and are still demanding money.
Thousands of protesters demonstrated Monday against the Indian government’s decision to scrap 500-rupee and 1,000-rupee banknotes, the BBC reports. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who made the announcement earlier this month, said the move is an effort to fight corruption and to remove fraudulent notes from circulation. He added those still using the denominations would have until the end of the year to deposit them into banks. But critics say the move caused a “financial emergency” by removing 86 percent of the country’s cash overnight. Modi, meanwhile, has called on people to embrace digital, cashless forms of payment. More than 90 percent of India’s transactions are in cash.
German Court Upholds Former Nazi Guard's Conviction
A German federal court on Monday upheld the conviction of a former Nazi guard at the Auschwitz death camp. Oskar Gröning, now 95 years old, was convicted in July 2015 of being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Jews. He appealed the ruling because he said he was only responsible for gathering and sorting valuables at Auschwitz, and was not involved in any crimes. The decision sets a precedent for prosecuting Nazi criminals; the ruling marks the first time an appeals court has determined that helping a concentration camp operate—or as the judge put it, participating in the “machinery of death”—is enough to be convicted, even if prosecutors lack evidence of specific killings. Deutsche Wellereports that the decision could affect several other pending Nazi wartime cases.
Dylann Roof Can Represent Himself at His Death-Penalty Trial
A federal judge in South Carolina ruled Monday that Dylann Roof, who is charged in the killing of nine black churchgoers last year, can represent himself in his death-penalty trial. Judge Richard Gergel of the Federal District Court in Charleston, speaking directly to Roof, called the decision “strategically unwise” but that “it is a decision you have the right to make." Roof made the last-minute request Monday morning as jury selection in his case was set to begin. Roof is accused of shooting and killing nine people at Emanuel AME church in June 2015. Federal authorities say he targeted the individuals because they were black. Roof offered to plead guilty last week in exchange for a life sentence, but prosecutors refused the deal. If Roof does represent himself, it will allow the self-avowed white supremacist to interview witnesses and family members called to testify.
At least 11 people were injured in an attack at the Ohio State University Monday morning. The suspect was shot and killed by police. Nine people sustained stab wounds wounds. One person is in critical condition. Earlier, OSU said there’s an active shooter on campus, and urged students to shelter in place—but it’s unclear if a gun was used in the attacks.
Buckeye Alert: Active Shooter on campus. Run Hide Fight. Watts Hall. 19th and College.
Japanese Amusement Park Shuts Down Its Ice Rink Filled With Thousands of Frozen Fish
A Japanese theme park was closed Sunday after widespread complaints about its new ice-skating rink, an attraction that featured thousands of dead fish frozen in ice. The rink in the southwest city of Kitakyushu opened two weeks ago and advertised its “Freezing Port” as a world first. It featured about 5,000 dead mackerel, sprats, crabs, and other fish bought from a local market entombed in the ice, some with their mouths open. CNN reported that a Facebook ad for the park featured photos of the frozen fish with caption: “I am d... d... drowning, s ... s... suffocating" (the post has since been deleted). Space World’s manager told CNN the park would unfreeze the fish and hold an “appropriate religious service"; then reuse them as fertilizer.
Syrian Government Troops Take a Key Rebel-Held Part of Aleppo
Syrian government troops have captured Sakhour, a district in the rebel-controlled portion of Aleppo, effectively dividing the city in two, according to state media and the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group. Russian state-run news sources say the government now controls 40 percent of eastern Aleppo, the last major rebel stronghold; the BBC puts that figures at about one-third. The development is a boost to President Bashar al-Assad, who with the help of Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, now appears more firmly in charge of Syria than at any point since the civil war began more than five years ago. About 250,000 civilians live in rebel-held eastern Aleppo; the Syrian government’s assault on the divided city has been criticized by human-rights groups who have called it a war crime.
President-elect Donald Trump is expected to reveal more members of his Cabinet this week. Among those positions likely to be announced is secretary of state. Mitt Romney—the former Massachusetts governor, 2012 GOP presidential nominee, and leading Republican critic of Trump—is said to be a contender, though Kellyanne Conway, a Trump adviser, appeared to dismiss that idea on ABC. Separately, responding to efforts by Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee, to seek a recount in several states Trump won, the president-elect, in a series of tweets, suggested—with no evidence—that voter fraud had denied him the popular vote, which Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival, is leading by about 2 million votes. As my colleague Adam Serwer noted this morning: “The source of Trump’s claim that ‘millions’ of votes were cast illegally appears to be a report from the conspiracy theory website InfoWars, itself based on a tweet from an anti-vote fraud activist who provided no evidence for his claim.” Separately, Trump said Monday: “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.”
Paul Nuttall has been elected the new leader of the U.K. Independence Party. He takes over from Nigel Farage, who had stepped in as interim leader after Diane James, the previous winner, quit the post after 18 days on the job. Nuttall, 39, was UKIP’s deputy leader. He defeated Suzanne Evans, a former deputy chair of the party, and John Rees-Evans. “We must hold the government’s feet to the fire on leaving the EU,” Nuttall said after his victory. “Brexit must mean Brexit.” Although UKIP wasn’t an official part of the “Leave” campaign, the far-right party championed the U.K.’s exit from the EU.
Democratic Chairman Jerry Nadler virtually lost control of today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.
Today’s impeachment hearing was supposed to be a check-the-box session for House Democrats—a formality, really: Its purpose was to televise the evidence against President Donald Trump that party lawmakers presented in a voluminous written report released last week.
What it turned into, however, was the weirdest, most chaotic hearing of the entire impeachment saga so far.
The witnesses were not exactly household names: two staff lawyers for Democratic House committees, Barry Berke and Daniel Goldman, and one serving Republicans, Stephen Castor. They were there to discuss the findings of the House Intelligence Committee, a necessary but decidedly anticlimactic step ahead of the introduction of official articles of impeachment. Democrats could unveil those charges by the end of the week, and the full House could vote on them before Christmas.
He returned home a year ago feeling sad and anxious. We tried to be supportive, but he felt slighted and he’s not over it.
About 10 months ago, my young adult son returned home, appearing distraught over a broken relationship. Before this, he had moved back to his university city to be with his girlfriend, who was entering her final year, and he spent four months trying to get a job and develop social networks, and being committed to the relationship.
It appears he was unsuccessful on all fronts, and my previously sunny, gregarious kid slumped into a mood matching the cold, dark winter weather in which he was living. He returned to sunny California just prior to Christmas, but struggled with sadness, anxiety, and generally feeling lost. It was clear to me that the issue was not simply a breakup and he should have come home much sooner. My other two sons returned home for the holidays, and we tried to make the best of a difficult situation. My other sons are several years older, one is married, and both live far away and are established in their careers.
Trump’s defenders suggest that White House aides could exculpate the president—but the evidence suggests otherwise.
Speaking with George Stephanopoulos on ABC this weekend, Representative Matt Gaetz—one of President Donald Trump’s most relentlessly enthusiastic congressional supporters—had an unexpected suggestion for how the president should proceed in the impeachment inquiry. Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting White House chief of staff, should testify before Congress, Gaetz argued—along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and perhaps even the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. All three men have so far refused to cooperate with House requests for information. But, said Gaetz, “I think it would inure to the president’s advantage to have people testify who could exculpate him.”
Don’t let his butt-dials distract from his cunning.
It can sometimes seem as if Donald Trump has outsourced the defense of his presidency to an erratic buffoon. Rudy Giuliani is the self-styled security expert who can’t stop butt-dialing. He is the trusted attorney whom journalists routinely bait into damning admissions. The man once hailed as America’s mayor is now widely viewed as a walking gaffe.
In the pages of Adam Schiff’s impeachment report, however, an entirely different character emerges. That Giuliani is a savvy operator who rolls his bureaucratic opponents with ruthlessness and ease. He is the master of what Ambassador William Taylor branded the “irregular channel,” which appears to have been a very profitable piece of turf. Giuliani’s unofficial perch in the Trump administration seems to be the basis for a booming business. Butt-dials aside, he should be regarded as one of the most outrageously effective influence peddlers of all time.
The University of North Carolina agreed to pay the Sons of Confederate Veterans $2.5 million—a sum that rivals the endowment of its history department.
On the eve of Thanksgiving, the University of North Carolina Board of Governors agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the North Carolina division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) over a Confederate monument that had stood for more than a century on the university’s flagship campus, in Chapel Hill, before demonstrators toppled it in August 2018.
The settlement might, at first glance, appear to be a workmanlike solution to a vexing issue. It ensures that the monument, commonly referred to as Silent Sam, will no longer adorn the university campus. Under the terms of the consent decree, the SCV will take custody of the monument and receive $2.5 million in “non-state funds” for a “charitable trust” to care for it. In a statement to the UNC community, which for more than a decade has been riven by the controversy over the monument, UNC Interim Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz applauded the Board of Governors for “resolving this matter.”
Brexit poses an existential dilemma for the region.
BELFAST—I’m driving across Europe’s most divided city, where politics is existential and fear often only a few streets away.
We’re heading west toward the River Lagan from the largely Protestant east, the flags of illegal paramilitary groups hanging limply from lampposts. Sitting beside me in the car is someone who describes himself as “an active loyalist”—loyal to the British Crown and state and opposed to a united Ireland—but, like other unionists I spoke with, asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. He is a member of the city’s Protestant working class, which has united in anger at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s prospective Brexit deal with the European Union, principally because of the de facto customs border that it proposes between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, in order to avoid one with the Republic of Ireland.
A “safe” alternative to opioid painkillers turns out to be not so safe.
Gabapentin was supposed to be the answer. Chronic pain afflicts about a fifth of American adults, and for years, doctors thought it could be treated with prescription painkillers like Oxycontin. But as the drugs began killing the equivalent of three planeloads of Americans every week, opioid prescriptions fell off precipitously. Many doctors embraced gabapentin, an anticonvulsant drug traditionally used to prevent seizures, as a way to treat neuropathic pain while avoiding triggering life-threatening addiction.
From 2012 to 2016, prescriptions for gabapentin increased 64 percent. It’s now the 10th-most-commonly-prescribed medication in the United States. Baclofen, a muscle relaxant, has become another popular opioid replacement. Though gabapentin and baclofen can cause a boozelike “high” for some people, they’re far less addictive and less likely to be fatal when taken in large quantities than opioids are.
A conversation with the evangelical pastor and theologian
Shortly after I met my wife, Cindy, in 1989—she was living in New York City at the time, while I was living in Northern Virginia—she told me about a new church she was attending in Manhattan: Redeemer Presbyterian. The young minister, she told me, was “the best pastor in America.”
His name was Timothy J. Keller.
Since that time Keller, 69, has become one of the most consequential figures in American Christianity. When he founded Redeemer in the fall of 1989, fewer than 100 people attended; in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, Keller was preaching in multiple services in three different venues each Sunday to about 5,000 people—mostly young, single, professionally and ethnically diverse. He has written about two dozen books, several of them best sellers. And unlike that of many popular ministers, his reach extends farbeyond the Christian subculture.
Afghanistan has long been the overshadowed war, eclipsed in public attention by the invasion of Iraq and a dozen other stories. Even so, the American occupation of Afghanistan grinds on, with an end seeming remote and any kind of positive resolution even more so.
It’s bitterly appropriate, then, that on Monday—with more hearings in the impeachment of Donald Trump and the release of a long-awaited Justice Department inspector-general report into the Russia investigation sucking up attention—The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock delivered a devastating suite of articles about Afghanistan.
Based on a tranche of thousands of documents obtained by the Post in litigation, as well as some previously released memos, the report shows that for nearly two decades, America’s leaders—Democrat and Republican; civilian and military; elected, appointed, and career civil servant—have lied to us about how the war in Afghanistan is going. Yet while this story risks being overshadowed by the fresher stories coming out of Washington, there’s a straight line between the years-long dissembling about Afghanistan and the chaos of the Trump administration today.
The making of Bombshell and the eerie similarities between Roger Ailes and Harvey Weinstein
Charlize Theron received the script for Bombshell, the new drama about the women who exposed sexual harassment at Fox News and brought down Roger Ailes, in the summer of 2017. Two months later, the first Harvey Weinstein story broke. In certain Hollywood circles, people had been aware that a Weinstein investigation might finally make it into print, but nobody could have foreseen the magnitude of the fallout or the movement it would ignite. “There was something in the air,” Theron recalled one morning in October, tucked into a corner table at a Hollywood restaurant. “I didn’t have an inkling of how big it was going to be or how long it was going to last.”
Among the things that ultimately drew Theron to the Ailes story—what led her to sign on to star and produce Bombshell—were the women at the center of it: the formidable blond protagonists of Fox News. There was Gretchen Carlson (played by Nicole Kidman), the former Miss America and longtime anchor who filed the initial lawsuit against Ailes, accusing the Fox News chairman of making sexual advances and then retaliating against her after she rebuffed them. There was Megyn Kelly (Theron), the network’s biggest star, who came forward with allegations against Ailes in the weeks that followed. And there was a young female producer (a composite character played by Margot Robbie) who seeks out Ailes in hopes of landing an on-air position, only to be cowed into showing him her underwear during a one-on-one meeting, among other indignities.