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.
Brexit poses an existential dilemma for Northern Ireland’s communities.
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.
For some kids, the weekly trash pickup is a must-see spectacle. Parents, children, waste-management professionals, and experts on childhood all offer theories as to why.
For Ryan Rucker, a dad in Vacaville, California, the weekly summons comes on Wednesday mornings, usually around seven. For Rosanne Sweeting on Grand Bahama island, in the Bahamas, it’s twice a week—Mondays and Thursdays, anytime from 6 to 8:30 a.m.—and for Whitney Schlander in Scottsdale, Arizona, it’s every Tuesday morning at half-past seven.
At these times, the quiet of the morning is broken by the beep beep beeping of an approaching garbage truck—and broken further when their kids start hollering, begging to be escorted outside to wave or just watch in awe as the truck collects and majestically hauls away the household trash. Rucker’s daughter Raegan, 3, takes her stuffed animals outside with her to watch the pickup. Cassidy Sweeting, 4, enlists her mom’s help to deliver granola bars and water bottles to the three trash collectors. Finn Schlander, 3, invited the neighborhood garbage-truck driver to his birthday party. (Ultimately, he was unable to attend, but the party had garbage-truck decorations nonetheless.)
It’s time to abandon the dogma that’s driven our foreign policy and led to so much disaster in the region.
President Donald Trump’s October decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria produced a rare moment of bipartisanship in foreign policy. With a shared sense of alarm, Republicans and Democrats alike accused Trump of betrayal.
Certainly, it was a betrayal of the Kurdish partners who bled for us in the fight against the Islamic State. It was also a betrayal of process—leaving our military leaders and diplomats struggling to keep up with tweets, our allies in the dark, our messaging all over the map, and chaos on the ground.
If all this episode engenders, however, is a bipartisan dip in the warm waters of self-righteous criticism, it will be a tragedy—or worse, a mistake. We have to come to grips with the deeper and more consequential betrayal of common sense—the notion that the only antidote to Trump’s fumbling attempts to disentangle the United States from the region is a retreat to the magical thinking that has animated so much of America’s moment in the Middle East since the end of the Cold War.
I served as a career diplomat throughout most of this era, sharing in our successes as well as our failures. Despite important achievements, we all too often misread regional currents and mismatched ends and means. In our episodic missionary zeal, especially after the terrible jolt to our system on 9/11, we tended to overreach militarily and underinvest diplomatically. We let our ambitions outstrip the practical possibilities of a region where perfect is rarely on the menu, and second- and third-order consequences are rarely uplifting. The temptations of magical thinking, the persistent tendency to assume too much about our influence and too little about the obstacles in our path and the agency of other actors, led to indiscipline and disappointments—steadily diminishing the appetite of most Americans for Middle East adventures.
That leaves American policy at a crossroads. Our moment as the singular dominant outside player in the Middle East has faded, but we still have a solid hand to play. The key to playing it well will be neither restoration of the inflated ambition and over-militarization of much of the post-9/11 period nor sweeping disengagement. Instead, we need a significant shift in the terms of our engagement in the region—lowering our expectations for transformation, ending our habit of indulging the worst instincts of our partners and engaging in cosmic confrontation with state adversaries, finding a more focused and sustainable approach to counterterrorism, and putting more emphasis on diplomacy backed up by military leverage, instead of the other way around.
When the Russian national hockey team lost to Canada, seven to three, in the hockey quarterfinals of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, forward Alexander Ovechkin knew it would be bad. “Now the dirt will pour down on us,” he said at the time. The dirt poured down from the very top. “Because of disgraceful performance of our team I’m afraid to approach TV-set,” tweeted Dmitry Rogozin, then Russia’s ambassador to NATO. “How on earth could we have blown it so disastrously in hockey?” Then-president Dmitry Medvedev canceled his trip to the closing ceremony, and the Siberian city of Tomsk held a moment of silence. I was living in Russia at the time, and I had never seen any country take the Olympics so seriously. Everyone I spoke to was shocked and utterly humiliated: It was the first time in Olympic history that Russia didn’t even get to compete for a medal in hockey.
Vladimir Putin has a fondness for the Soviet era. So do many Russians—but often not for the same reasons.
SOCHI, Russia—Gazing up at the bust of Joseph Stalin, the young boy listened silently as his mother squatted next to him, whispering the Soviet dictator’s story into his ear. The pair studied the black-colored sculpture, among many of Stalin in this city’s history museum (just one, apparently, is not enough). “He built this city,” the mother told the child, who stared admiringly at Stalin’s signature moustache. “He was like a czar.”
To some extent, that is true. Though Russian intellectuals and poets had long found refuge in this Black Sea port, it was Stalin who ordered its development, turning it into a resort city. His vision was to create a Soviet Riviera, replete with grand botanical gardens and enormous, well-equipped hotels.
The surreal story of how a comedian who played the Ukrainian president on TV became the president in real life—then found himself at the center of an American political scandal
Last May, in the weeks leading up to his presidential inauguration, Volodymyr Zelensky learned that a man named Rudy Giuliani wanted to meet with him. The name was only distantly familiar. But the former mayor of New York City was the personal attorney of the president of the United States, and he apparently wanted to make the case that certain investigations deserved the full attention of the new Ukrainian administration. Zelensky understood that it might be hard to say no.
Zelensky had won his country’s highest office despite having been a politician for little more than four months. Even as he prepared to assume the presidency, he remained a professional comedian and a fixture on television shows, including League of Laughter. Unsure of whether he should agree to meet Giuliani, Zelensky gathered advisers in the headquarters of his entertainment company.
Suppose that the biblical story of Creation were true: God created the universe in six days, including all the laws of physics and all the physical constants that apply throughout the universe. Now imagine that one day, in the early 21st century, God became bored and, just for fun, doubled the gravitational constant. What would it be like to live through such a change? We’d all be pulled toward the floor; many buildings would collapse; birds would fall from the sky; the Earth would move closer to the sun, reestablishing orbit in a far hotter zone.
Let’s rerun this thought experiment in the social and political world, rather than the physical one. The U.S. Constitution was an exercise in intelligent design. The Founding Fathers knew that most previous democracies had been unstable and short-lived. But they were excellent psychologists, and they strove to create institutions and procedures that would work with human nature to resist the forces that had torn apart so many other attempts at self-governance.
An unusual confluence of events after World War II led to America’s bitter rivalry with the U.S.S.R. That pattern is not repeating.
Anyone looking for evidence of a growing economic and ideological conflict between China and the United States will have no trouble finding something—the trade war now roiling both countries’ economies, the standoff between police and pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, Beijing’s swift retaliation against the NBA over a single Houston Rockets executive’s tweet in support of those same protesters. President Donald Trump seems to think a new cold war is at hand. His national-security strategy statement identifies China as an adversary bent on dismantling a U.S.-centered global order and forging a new one in its own favor. This point of view is catching on outside the administration, too. Earlier this year, the Committee on the Present Danger relaunched once again. First organized in the late 1940s to push for a massive military buildup and revived in the 1970s to promote a more confrontational approach toward the Soviet Union, the group now seeks to mobilize Americans for an existential struggle against China.
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.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Television in 2019 offered up sweet birthday babies and hot priests; exposed nuclear cores and examined injustices; giant octopuses and the king of edible leaves, His Majesty the Spinach. It was a year in which more than 500 original scripted series were estimated to air—a new record signaling a television landscape that’s more abundant but also more fragmented than ever.
With that in mind, this year’s “best of” list, like last year’s, tries to recognize shows that did specific things particularly well. Some were brand new; some have already been canceled. But most of them came into being because someone took a chance on an odd idea, a risky concept, or a distinctive voice. As the streaming wars heat up, none of these series feels like a safe bet, which is precisely what makes them so worthwhile to watch.