Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said in a pre-recorded statement Wednesday that he rejects President Trump’s plan to build a wall along the border between the two countries. “Mexico does not believe in walls,” he said. “I have said it over and over again: Mexico will not pay for any wall.” Peña Nieto is scheduled to travel to Washington next week to meet with Trump. Earlier Wednesday, aides to the Mexican president said Peña Nieto was considering scrapping the trip after Trump signed an executive order which put into motion the construction of a border wall. There are still several questions remaining about his proposed border wall, including the cost of the project. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Mexico would eventually pay for the wall. Peña Nieto, in the video statement, did not mention whether he would still travel to the U.S.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard Meets With Syria's Assad
Representative Tulsi Gabbard revealed Wednesday that she met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a four-day fact-finding trip to Syria and Lebanon, and reaffirmed her opposition to U.S. funding for rebel groups opposing the Syrian leader. In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, the two-term Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii said though she did not initially plan to meet with Assad, she did so because “we’ve got to meet with anyone that we need to if there is a possibility that we could achieve peace, and that’s exactly what we talked about.” She later added in a statement: “This regime change war does not serve America’s interest, and it certainly isn’t in the interest of the Syrian people.” Gabbard has long supported Assad maintaining power. Conversely, both the Obama administration and its Western allies had repeatedly called for the ouster of Assad—who has been accused of war crimes—and have thrown their support behind some of the rebel groups opposing his regime during Syria’s nearly six-year civil war. President Trump has called for a different approach, arguing that the U.S. should focus instead on ISIS—a stance which Gabbard supports. As my colleague Krishnadev Calamur noted, Gabbard’s trip to Syria may constitute a violation of the Logan Act, which restricts unauthorized individuals from contacting foreign governments engaged in a dispute with the U.S. No one has ever been prosecuted under the act, though, and Gabbard is not even the first U.S. leader to make such a trip. Virginia state Senator Dick Black met with Assad government officials on a trip to Damascus in April, and has expressed hopes to return this year. Like Gabbard, Black has been a vocal opponent of regime change in Syria, and has previously praised Assad as “heroic.”
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 20,000 for the first time Wednesday, after hovering around that figure since the election of President Trump and boosted by several positive economic numbers over the past month. The Dow was at 10,000 in March 1999 and has more than recovered the ground lost during the Great Recession. But, as my colleague Adrienne LaFrance noted: “There’s nothing magic about the Dow hitting 10,000—or 11,000, or 15,000, or 19,000 for that matter. The number is just a calculation based on the sum of stocks from 30 major companies… .” Still, it does hold psychological significance among traders.
Mary Tyler Moore, the actress who captivated television audiences first on TheDick Van Dyke Show and then on TheMary Tyler Moore Show, has died, her representative told several news organizations. Moore, who was hospitalized earlier this month in Connecticut, was 80 years old. Moore is perhaps best known for her role in the eponymous show in which she played Mary Richards, a local news producer in Minneapolis, from 1970 to 1977. During the course of her career, Moore won six Emmys and received a Best Actress Oscar nomination in 1980 for her work in Ordinary People. As my colleague David Sims notes, “Mary was a liberated woman in an era of television where such characters were scarce.”
Russia Arrests Kaspersky Lab Department Head for Alleged Treason
Ruslan Stoyanov, the head of computer-incidents investigation at Kaspersky Lab, was arrested over charges of treason, Russian media reported Wednesday. Kaspersky, the Moscow-based cybersecurity and anti-virus firm, issued a statement confirming the investigation, but said it concerned “a period predating [Stoyanov’s] employment at Kaspersky Lab.” Previous jobs listed on Stoyanov’s LinkedIn profile include a position at the Russian Interior Ministry’s cybercrime unit. As Sputnik, the state-run Russian news agency, reports, Stoyanov was arrested in December alongside an employee with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), who has also been charged with treason, though the details of the investigation into either person remains unknown. Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist and security services expert, told the Associated Press that such an arrest was “unprecedented” for intelligence agencies and companies like Kaspersky, adding: “Intelligence agencies used to ask for Kaspersky's advice, and this is how informal ties were built. This romance is clearly over."
Usain Bolt Loses Gold Medal After Teammate Tests Positive for Doping
Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt was forced to hand one of his gold medals back Wednesday after his teammate Nesta Carter tested positive for doping during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said Carter, 31, was found to have taken methylhexaneamine, a prohibited performance-enhancing substance, ahead of competing in the first leg of the Men’s 4x100 meter relay, for which he earned the Jamaican team first place alongside sprinters Michael Frater, Asafa Powell, and Bolt—all of whom were stripped of their medals. The loss of the medal for the Jamaican team propelled Trinidad and Tobago to gold, Japan to silver, and Brazil to bronze.
Several people were killed and wounded Wednesday after two explosions rocked the Dayah hotel in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. Death toll estimates have ranged from at least eight to 15 people. Somali police said a group of attackers affiliated with al-Shabaab, an Islamist group, detonated a car bomb into the gate of the hotel before storming inside and opening fire. It is unclear how many attackers were involved in the attack, though Colonel Mohamoud Abdi, a senior Somali police officer, told the Associated Press that four militants were killed. A second blast was also reported outside the hotel, injuring some people in the area, including journalists. Al-Shabaab controlled much of Somalia before it was driven out by African Union and Somali forces in 2011l the group remains an active threat and is known for targeting hotels and other public places.
Economist Intelligence Unit Downgrades U.S. to 'Flawed Democracy,' Citing Longstanding Problems
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the Economist’s data arm, has downgraded the United States from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy.” The move, the EIU said, wasn’t a result of President Trump’s election victory, but rather “the election of Mr Trump as US president was in large part a consequence of the longstanding problems of democracy in the US.” EIU counts 19 “full” democracies—down from 20—57 “flawed” democracies, including 17 of the EU’s 28 members; 51 “authoritarian” regimes; and 40 “hybrid” ones. Globally, the EIU said populist backlashes against the ruling elites in the U.S., U.K., and other Western countries “were an expression of deep popular dissatisfaction with the status quo and of a desire for change.” Norway tops the EIU’s Democracy Index; North Korea is last. Full index here
President Trump is expected Wednesday to announce his border wall with Mexico, fulfilling a longstanding campaign pledge that he believes will keep stop the flow of people crossing the border illegally. This morning he also said he’d order an investigation into voter fraud. Trump says he believes voter fraud cost him the popular vote, but most credible elections experts dismiss that such fraud exists on a large scale. Our Politics team will have more on Trump’s announcements.
Despite the easing of taboos and the rise of hookup apps, Americans are in the midst of a sex recession.
These should be boom times for sex.
The share of Americans who say sex between unmarried adults is “not wrong at all” is at an all-time high. New cases of HIV are at an all-time low. Most women can—at last—get birth control for free, and the morning-after pill without a prescription.
If hookups are your thing, Grindr and Tinder offer the prospect of casual sex within the hour. The phrase If something exists, there is porn of it used to be a clever internet meme; now it’s a truism. BDSM plays at the local multiplex—but why bother going? Sex is portrayed, often graphically and sometimes gorgeously, on prime-time cable. Sexting is, statistically speaking, normal.
The president was unusually specific in his attacks against the special counsel.
With his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen meeting with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team this week, and with his son, Donald Trump Jr., speculating that he himself will soon be indicted, President Donald Trump apparently couldn’t contain himself anymore.
“The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess,” he tweeted on Thursday morning. “They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts.” He added, without providing evidence, that Mueller’s team was “screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want,” and called the investigators “thugs,” “a disgrace to our Nation,” and “highly conflicted.”
It isn’t clear what prompted Trump’s early-morning tirade. After all, the outburst was not exactly out of character: Trump has attacked Mueller and the Russia investigation on Twitter nearly 50 times this year alone. But it could be a sign that he received negative news from his legal team or that new indictments against his family or associates are coming down the pike.
So long as the GOP stays loyal to President Trump, its prospects on the electoral map will be sharply restricted.
In last week’s election, the bill came due on the defining bet placed by congressional Republicans during the Donald Trump era.
Led by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House and Senate Republicans made a strategic decision to lock arms around Trump over the past two years. They resolutely rejected any meaningful oversight of his administration; excused, or even actively defended, his most incendiary remarks; buried legislation to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller; and worked in harness with the president to pass an agenda aimed almost entirely at the preferences and priorities of voters within the GOP coalition, including tax cuts and the unsuccessful attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Even as Trump’s presidency careened through daily storms, many of his own making, they lashed themselves to its mast.
Polarization. Conspiracy theories. Attacks on the free press. An obsession with loyalty. Recent events in the United States follow a pattern Europeans know all too well.
On December 31, 1999, we threw a party. It was the end of one millennium and the start of a new one; people very much wanted to celebrate, preferably somewhere exotic. Our party fulfilled that criterion. We held it at Chobielin, the manor house in northwest Poland that my husband and his parents had purchased a decade earlier, when it was a mildewed ruin. We had restored the house, very slowly. It was not exactly finished in 1999, but it did have a new roof. It also had a large, freshly painted, and completely unfurnished salon—perfect for a party.
The guests were various: journalist friends from London and Berlin, a few diplomats based in Warsaw, two friends who flew in from New York. But most of them were Poles, friends of ours and colleagues of my husband, who was then a deputy foreign minister in the Polish government. A handful of youngish Polish journalists came too—none then particularly famous—along with a few civil servants and one or two members of the government.
The president encouraged Britain to leave the EU—but now that things are falling apart, he’s abdicating his responsibility to help.
President Trump commits outrage after outrage that no previous U.S. president has done before. But, at the same time, he also omits to do things that every previous president has done or would do.
America’s close friend, Great Britain, has thrust itself into desperate trouble. In a tight referendum marred by aggressive disinformation and violations of campaign-finance law, the United Kingdom voted in summer 2016 to exit the European Union.
That vote triggered a negotiating process that yesterday reached its perverse but inevitable outcome. The U.K. and the EU have committed to negotiate a new trade accord. Pending that treaty—which could take many years—Britain will remain within many EU structures, subject to EU rules but lacking any voice in the making of those rules. Meanwhile, in order to avoid redrawing a hard boundary across the island of Ireland, the Northern Irish part of the United Kingdom will face different rules from the rest of the United Kingdom. In other words, a vote to affirm the sovereignty of the British state has instead dissolved the unity of the British state.
“Rich people don’t get their own ‘better’ firefighters, or at least they aren’t supposed to.”
As multiple devastating wildfires raged across California, a private firefighting crew reportedly helped save Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s home in Calabasas, TMZ reported this week. The successful defense of the $50 million mansion is the most prominent example of a trend that’s begun to receive national attention: for-hire firefighters protecting homes, usually on the payroll of an insurance company with a lot at risk.
The insurance companies AIG and Chubb have publicly talked about their private wildfire teams. AIG has its own “Wildfire Protection Unit,” while Chubb—and up to a dozen other insurers—contract with Wildfire Defense Systems, a Montana company that claims to have made 550 “wildfire responses on behalf of insurers,” including 255 in just the past two years. Right now in California, the company has 53 engines working to protect close to 1,000 homes.
The billionaire is drilling for futuristic transit under Los Angeles. He didn’t have to ask the neighbors first.
Vicky Warren feels like she’s been attacked from all sides lately. Across the street from her rental apartment in the working-class Los Angeles County city of Hawthorne, noisy planes take off and land at all hours, diverted to the local municipal airport from wealthier Santa Monica, where neighbor complaints have restricted air traffic. On the other side of her apartment, cars on the 105 Freeway sound the frustration of L.A. traffic. She’s even getting assailed within her walls: Termites have invaded so completely that she can’t keep any food uncovered. Flea bites cover her legs; rats are aggressively attacking the boxes she has stored in her garage.
So Warren was disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that invaders are coming from underground, too. She lives on 120th Street, where 40 feet underground Elon Musk’s Boring Company is building a 14-foot-wide, mile-long tunnel to pilot a futuristic transit system untested anywhere in the world. When it’s finished in December, the tunnel will start at the nearby headquarters of SpaceX, Musk’s aerospace company, and end a few blocks past Warren’s apartment. “We’re just sandwiched in between so much already,” Warren told me, shaking her head.
The industry’s fall from grace may feel unprecedented, but we have a model for what happens when a beloved industry fails us.
Think back a few years, before the Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes, before Susan Fowler’s viral blog post, before the #MeToo movement, before the 2016 election. Across the nation, Silicon Valley was the crown jewel of the economy. The companies were youthful and ambitious. The culture was loose and exciting. The capabilities they put into the world’s pockets were astonishing: talk to anyone, know everything, buy anything, all with a few little taps on glass. Yes, this had unleashed unprecedented surveillance possibilities, as Edward Snowden revealed, but these were still the most beloved companies in the country. Their founders were legends.
The past several weeks have been like the past two years in miniature. First, The New York Times released a blockbuster article about Google’s sexual-harassment problems that placed the blame both on the institution itself and on the co-founder and current CEO, Larry Page. Then, Amazon selected its new headquarters, releasing a torrent of criticism of the deals: Why were municipalities subsidizing the richest man in the world in their race to the bottom? And finally, yesterday, the Times put out a 50-source story about Facebook’s obliviousness to its own platform’s darker possibilities. (In a statement today, Facebook’s board of directors called the story “grossly unfair.”)
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
Law enforcement has better tools available now than when Ted Kaczynski was caught in 1996. But Kaczynski was also much more sophisticated than the latest mail bomber.
The man law enforcement believes briefly terrorized the country with a series of mail bombs appeared in court on Thursday, pleading not guilty to a 30-count indictment including charges of mailing weapons of mass destruction. What he’s accused of was perhaps the largest attempted mass political assassination through the mail since anarchists mailed more than 30 bombs to public figures in 1919.
What it wasn’t, however, was sophisticated. None of the bombs actually went off; more than one were incorrectly addressed; the packages were nearly identical, with the word “Florida” conspicuously misspelled as “Florids” on all of them. The Justice Department alleges that Cesar Sayoc’s fingerprints were on two of the envelopes. Within five days, he was in custody.