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.
I’ve been thinking about Barbara Tuchman’s medieval history, A Distant Mirror, over the past couple of weeks. The book is a masterful work of anti-romance, a cold-eyed look at how generations of aristocrats and royalty waged one of the longest wars in recorded history, all while claiming the mantle of a benevolent God. The disabusing begins early. In the introduction, Tuchman examines the ideal of chivalry and finds, beneath the poetry and codes of honor, little more than myth and delusion.
Knights “were supposed, in theory, to serve as defenders of the Faith, upholders of justice, champions of the oppressed,” Tuchman writes. “In practice, they were themselves the oppressors, and by the 14th century, the violence and lawlessness of men of the sword had become a major agency of disorder.”
Three particular failures secure Trump’s status as the worst chief executive ever to hold the office.
President Donald Trump has long exulted in superlatives. The first. The best. The most. The greatest. “No president has ever done what I’ve done,” he boasts. “No president has ever even come close,” he says. But as his four years in office draw to an end, there’s only one title to which he can lay claim: Donald Trump is the worst president America has ever had.
In December 2019, he became the third president to be impeached. Last week, Trump entered a category all his own, becoming the first president to be impeached twice. But impeachment, which depends in part on the makeup of Congress, is not the most objective standard. What does being the worst president actually mean? And is there even any value, at the bitter end of a bad presidency, in spending energy on judging a pageant of failed presidencies?
The uncertain meaning behind a half-black, half-white, two-headed toy: An Object Lesson
The doll is two-headed and two-bodied—one black body and one white, conjoined at the lower waist where the hips and legs would ordinarily be. The lining of one's dress is the outside of the other’s, so that the skirt flips over to conceal one body when the other is upright. Two dolls in one, yet only one can be played with at a time.
The topsy-turvy doll, as it’s known, most likely originated in American plantation nurseries of the early 19th century. By the mid-20th century, they’d grown so popular that they were mass-manufactured and widely available in department stores across the country, but today, they’re found mostly in museums, privatecollections, and contemporaryart. In recent years, the dolls have seen a renewed interest from collectors and scholars alike, largely motivated by the ongoing question that surrounds their use: What were they supposed to symbolize?
Now, in the final hours of the Trump presidency, security forces have turned Washington, D.C., into a fortified encampment in an attempt to prevent further violence. The transformation of the U.S. Capitol into a Baghdad-style Green Zone is unlike anything Washington has seen since 9/11. Joe Biden, already physically isolated by COVID-19, will be further distanced from the American people, who have traditionally crowded onto the National Mall by the hundreds of thousands to witness a presidential swearing-in.
The proper response to these extremists isn’t counterterrorism. It is mental hygiene.
At noon tomorrow, our four-year experiment in being governed by the political equivalent of the Insane Clown Posse will finally end. It is ending in Juggalo style (some have called it “Trumpalo”), violently and pointlessly, with a handful of deaths, the smearing of various bodily fluids, and a riot on the way out. After any bacchanal of this magnitude, the sober dawn is almost as disorienting as the hysteria itself—and the most urgent task, after wiping the shit from the Capitol hallways, is to prevent a repeat performance.
First, the Senate must convict Donald Trump. I confess bewilderment that the Senate will have to deliberate at all: Inciting an insurrection that threatens to kidnap and possibly murder members of the Senate (including the vice president of the United States) seems to me the kind of activity the Senate should frown upon. Enemies of Ted Cruz like to point out that Trump called Cruz’s wife a hag and insinuated that his father killed John F. Kennedy, and Cruz cuddled up to Trump anyway. Any senator who excuses his own near lynching by a shirtless, horned shaman will make Cruz’s self-debasement look dignified by comparison.
The most concerning versions of the virus are not simply mutating—they’re mutating in similar ways.
For most of 2020, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 jumped from human to human, accumulating mutations at a steady rate of two per month—not especially impressive for a virus. These mutations have largely had little effect.
But recently, three distinct versions of the virus seem to have independently converged on some of the same mutations, despite being thousands of miles apart in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil. (A mutation is a genetic change; a variant is a virus with a specific set of mutations.) The fact that these mutations have popped up not one, not two, but now three times—that we know of—in variants with unusual behavior suggests that they confer an evolutionary advantage to the virus. All three variants seem to be becoming more common. And all three are potentially more transmissible.
Polarization, anger, division—French history offers a warning for what might come after Donald Trump.
A Jewish military officer wrongfully convicted of treason. A years-long psychodrama that permanently polarized an entire society—communities, friends, even families. A politics of anger and emotion designed to insult the very notion of truth. A divide that only grew with time. A reconciliation that never was. A frenzied right wing that turned to violence when it failed at the ballot box.
This was the Dreyfus affair, the signature scandal of fin de siècle France, aspects of which Americans might recognize as we arrive at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency: After decades of cascading political crises, debilitating financial scandals, and rising anti-Semitism, the Dreyfus affair saw the emergence of political surreality, an alternate universe of hateful irrationality and militarized lies that captured the minds of nearly half the population.
Until last week, too many in the Republican Party thought they could preach the Constitution and wink at QAnon. They can’t.
Eugene Goodman is an American hero. At a pivotal moment on January 6, the veteran United States Capitol Police officer single-handedly prevented untold bloodshed. Staring down an angry, advancing mob, he retreated up a marble staircase, calmly wielding his baton to delay his pursuers while calling out their position to his fellow officers. At the top of the steps, still alone and standing just a few yards from the chamber where senators and Vice President Mike Pence had been certifying the Electoral College’s vote, Goodman strategically lured dozens of the mayhem-minded away from an unguarded door to the Senate floor.
The leader of that flank of the mob, later identified by the FBI as Douglas Jensen, wore a T-shirt emblazoned with a red-white-and-blue Q—the insignia of the delusional QAnon conspiracy theory. Its supporters believe that a righteous Donald Trump is leading them in a historic quest to expose the U.S. government’s capture by a global network of cannibalistic pedophiles: not just “deep state” actors in the intelligence community, but Chief Justice John Roberts and a dozen-plus senators, including me. Now Trump’s own vice president is supposedly in on it, too. According to the FBI, Jensen “wanted to have his T-shirt seen on video so that ‘Q’ could ‘get the credit.’”
Supporters are recoiling from some Republican politicians, not because they betrayed their campaign-trail promises, but because they fulfilled them.
They never saw it coming.
Ben Goldey resigned as Representative Lauren Boebert’s communications director after the January 6 attempted coup. Lauren Blair Bianchi quit the same job in Senator Ted Cruz’s office. George Erwin Jr. had rallied local law-enforcement backers for Representative Madison Cawthorn and was preparing to take a job working for him, but has now disavowed him. Charles Johnson, the owner of the San Francisco Giants, maxed out to Boebert’s campaign but now wants his money back.
There’s a story as old as politics: A leader comes to power promising one thing, then does another, leaving behind a disappointed crew of supporters. From Brutus’s misgivings about Julius Caesar’s nascent dictatorship to Adolphe Thiers’s misjudgment of Louis Napoleon to David Stockman’s realization that Ronald Reagan wasn’t completely sincere about shrinking government, the same thing has happened time and again. Mentors, supporters, financial backers, and eager young aides have become disillusioned and complained that their hero has changed.
On the eve of Biden’s inauguration, the pandemic’s toll has reached nearly 24 million cases and 400,000 deaths.
Tomorrow, America inaugurates a new president. With the transfer of power comes the transfer of responsibility for the COVID-19 pandemic. On the eve of Joe Biden’s inauguration, the toll of the pandemic stands at 23.9 million cases and 392,428 deaths, according to the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. There are 123,820 people hospitalized. Today alone, states reported 144,047 cases and 2,141 deaths.
Ron Klain, the incoming president’s chief of staff, has warned that, by the end of February, COVID-19 may have taken 500,000 American lives. To reach that marker, the country would have to average 2,689 deaths every day until then, all too plausible a scenario. The seven-day average of deaths in the U.S. first surpassed that number on January 7. It’s currently at 2,988.