UPDATE: Sessions to Recuse Himself From Any Investigation Into Presidential Campaign
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday he would recuse himself from any federal investigation into the 2016 presidential campaign. The decision came after The Washington Post and others reported that Sessions had met with met with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to Washington, twice during the U.S. presidential campaign. At a news conference at the Justice Department, Sessions said: “I have followed the right procedure just as I promised [to the Senate Judiciary Committee] I would.” Sessions was until recently a U.S. senator who served on the Armed Services Committee; he was also a prominent member of Donald Trump’s campaign for president. Sessions was asked twice during his Senate confirmation hearings if he had any contacts with Russia; he denied any such contact. The Post reported Sessions spoke with Kislyak in July 2016 at an event that also included about 50 other ambassadors; and then again on September 8 in a private meeting. “I don’t recall having met him” on other occasions, Sessions said at the news conference. Democrats and Republicans have urged Sessions to appoint an independent, special prosecutor in the case. Contacts between members of Trump’s campaign and Russian officials have plagued the administration. It already cost Michael Flynn, Trump’s national-security adviser, to resign following revelations he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his conversations with Kislyak.
Egypt's Mubarak Acquitted in 2011 Protest Killings
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was acquitted Thursday by Egypt’s highest court of charges he ordered the killing of protesters involved in the mass demonstrations against his rule in 2011. The landmark ruling marks the end of a case dubbed “the trial of the century.” Mubarak, now 88, was sentenced first in 2012 to life in prison (the equivalent of 20 years under Egyptian law) for his alleged complicity in the killings of hundreds of demonstrators during the 18 days of protests that ultimately ended his three-decade rule. Mubarak denied involvement. The conviction was later repealed and a retrial ordered in January 2013, which resulted in the charges against the former president and other senior Egyptian officials being dropped. Another appeal was filed, leading to Mubarak’s latest retrial that resulted in Thursday’s decision. There is no option for appeal or retrial. Mubarak, who has convicted of corruption charges in May 2015, has been confined to Maadi Military Hospital since 2012. The decision could mean freedom for Mubarak.
Syrian Army Recaptures Palmyra From ISIS for Second Time
Syrian government forces retook control of Palmyra from the Islamic State Thursday, marking the second such recapture of the historic city from ISIS control within the last year. The Syrian army said it recaptured the city after military operations, which included Russian airstrikes and help from other forces. The Syrian government last wrested control of the city from ISIS militants last year, only to have it claimed by ISIS 10 months later. Since then, the UNESCO heritage site has faced extensive destruction. As my colleague J. Weston Phippen reported, Russian drone video released last month revealed damage to the facade of the Roman-era amphitheater and to the Tetrapylon, the set of four-columned monuments arranged in a square. ISIS previously destroyed several of the ruins it deemed un-Islamic, including the Temple of Baalshamin and the Arch of Triumph. UNESCO condemned the destruction of the ancient ruins as a “war crime.”
Marine Le Pen Loses Parliamentary Immunity Over Graphic Tweets
The European Parliament voted Thursday to lift French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s parliamentary immunity over an investigation into graphic images the far-right leader tweeted of Islamic State violence. In December 2015, Le Pen posted three graphic ISIS photos in response to a journalist who likened her far-right National Front party to the militant group. One of the images showed the body of James Foley, the American journalist who was beheaded by ISIS militants in August 2014. Foley’s parents, John and Diane Foley, condemned Le Pen for tweeting the “shamefully uncensored” image, and asked the photos be taken down. Le Pen, who claimed she did not know the photo was of Foley, deleted the image, but left the remaining two. The tweet got Le Pen into legal trouble. Under French law, “publishing violent images” is an offense that can carry up to three years in prison and a 75,000-euro ($78,746) fine. By lifting her immunity, the European Parliament is opening up the possibility of legal action against Le Pen, though only for this particular case (she faces separate allegations of misusing European Parliament funds to pay her staff—a charge she denies). Le Pen, who has denied any wrongdoing, dismissed the move as an attempt to undermine her run for the French presidency; polls project she’ll advance to the second-round run-off. This is not the first time the European Parliament has lifted Le Pen’s immunity. In 2013, she lost her immunity after she was charged with “incitement to discrimination over people’s religious beliefs” after she likened Muslim public prayer to the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. Those charges were eventually dropped.
Sweden Reintroduces Conscription Amid Russian Military Drills in the Baltics
Sweden is reintroducing military conscription in apparent response to Russian military drills in the Baltics. The BBC, citing Marinette Radebo, a Swedish Defense Ministry spokeswoman, reported 4,000 people, selected from 13,000 men and women born in 1999, will be called up for service from January 1, 2018. “Russian military activity is one of the reasons,” she told the BBC. The move restores a practice that was suspended in 2010; only men were previously selected. Russian activity in the region, combined with its invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea, has many countries worried. Sweden is not a member of NATO, but it cooperates closely with the U.S.-led military alliance.
The GOP is best understood as an insurgency that carried the seeds of its own corruption from the start.
Updated at 1:44 p.m. ET on December 14, 2018.
Why has the Republican Party become so thoroughly corrupt? The reason is historical—it goes back many decades—and, in a way, philosophical. The party is best understood as an insurgency that carried the seeds of its own corruption from the start.
I don’t mean the kind of corruption that regularly sends lowlifes like Rod Blagojevich, the Democratic former governor of Illinois, to prison. Those abuses are nonpartisan and always with us. So is vote theft of the kind we’ve just seen in North Carolina—after all, the alleged fraudster employed by the Republican candidate for Congress hired himself out to Democrats in 2010.
And I don’t just mean that the Republican Party is led by the boss of a kleptocratic family business who presides over a scandal-ridden administration, that many of his closest advisers are facing prison time, that Donald Trump himself might have to stay in office just to avoid prosecution, that he could be exposed by the special counsel and the incoming House majority as the most corrupt president in American history. Richard Nixon’s administration was also riddled with criminality—but in 1973, the Republican Party of Hugh Scott, the Senate minority leader, and John Rhodes, the House minority leader, was still a normal organization. It played by the rules.
The untold story of how anger became the dominant emotion in our politics and personal lives—and what we can do about it.
I. An Angry Little Town
Soon after the snows of 1977 began to thaw, the residents of Greenfield, Massachusetts, received a strange questionnaire in the mail. “Try to recall the number of times you became annoyed and/or angry during the past week,” the survey instructed. “Describe the most angry of these experiences.” One woman knew her answer: Recently, her husband had bought a new car. Then he had driven it to his mistress’s house so she could admire the purchase. When the wife found out, she was livid. Furious. Her rage felt like an eruption she couldn’t control.
The survey was interested in the particulars of respondents’ anger. In its 14 pages, it sought an almost voyeuristic level of detail. It asked the woman to describe the stages of her fury, which words she had shouted, whether punches had been thrown. “In becoming angry, did you wish to get back at, or gain revenge?” the survey inquired. Afterward, did you feel “triumphant, confident and dominant” or “ashamed, embarrassed and guilty”? There were also questions for people like her husband, who had been on the receiving end: “Did the other person’s anger come as a surprise to you, or did you expect that it would occur?”
Research suggests that elite colleges don’t really help rich white guys. But they can have a big effect if you’re not rich, not white, or not a guy.
This year, more than 2 million Americans will apply to college. Most will aim for nearby schools without global brands or billion-dollar endowments. But for the tens of thousands of families applying to America’s most elite institutions, the admissions process is a high-cost, high-stress gantlet.
American parents now spend almost half a billion dollars each year on “independent education consultants,” and that’s not counting the cost of test prep or flights and hotels for campus visits. These collegiate sweepstakes leave a trail of frazzled parents and emotionally wrecked teens already burdened with rising anxiety, which raises a big question: Does it really matter whether you attend an elite college?
The case for a new term that describes all sexual minorities
Frank Kameny, the last century’s greatest gay-rights activist, filed the first-ever Supreme Court petition challenging discrimination against homosexuals. He led some of the first gay-rights demonstrations. He was the first openly gay congressional candidate. He spearheaded the challenge to the psychiatric establishment’s categorization of homosexuality as a mental illness. He fought tirelessly against sodomy laws. He did a lot more than that. But there is one thing he never did—at least to my own recollection and that of associates of his whom I consulted. He did not use the term LGBTQ, or any of its variations.
This is partly because he was a creature of his era, born in the 1920s and active in an age when the whole argot was different. But he lived until 2011, well into the age of LGBTQ. He had plenty of time to make peace with the term, but his friends say he abjured it. “My recollection is LGBT or its derivatives were expressly disliked by Frank,” one of them told me. “He would use gay to cover the full range; or gay and lesbian.” Another said: “Frank was quite indignant about the alphabet soup. When it started in the ’80s with gay and lesbian, he correctly predicted that there would be no end of it.”
I’m trying to construct an alternative theory of myself in which I’m a tidy person. It’s not going well. Walking my recycling from my apartment to the trash room down the hall takes me anywhere from two minutes to a month. I hate looking at broken-down boxes and empty LaCroix cans in my apartment, but studies say humans are bad at prioritizing long-term goals over instant gratification, and I apparently find doing anything else much more gratifying.
It doesn’t take a scientist to explain why I might put off other things, such as doing my dishes. Those are annoying and kind of gross, and the primary reward is just being able to use them in the future. Still, at a certain point, the anxiety of not having done these tasks surpasses the annoyance of doing them in the first place. That’s an entirely predictable cycle that many otherwise productive people find themselves in when it comes to simple household jobs: A chore that I could feel good about completing in 10 minutes instead stresses me out for days or weeks.
The White House again wants to expel certain groups of protected immigrants, a reversal after backing away from the policy months ago.
Updated at 10:20 a.m. on December 13, 2018.
The Trump administration is resuming its efforts to deport certain protected Vietnamese immigrants who have lived in the United States for decades—many of them having fled the country during the Vietnam War.
This is the latest move in the president’s long record of prioritizing harsh immigration and asylum restrictions, and one that’s sure to raise eyebrows—the White House had hesitantly backed off the plan in August before reversing course. In essence, the administration has now decided that Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in the country before the establishment of diplomatic ties between the United States and Vietnam are subject to standard immigration law—meaning they are all eligible for deportation.
From seizing control of the internet to declaring martial law, President Trump may legally do all kinds of extraordinary things.
In the weeks leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, President Donald Trump reached deep into his arsenal to try to deliver votes to Republicans.
Most of his weapons were rhetorical, featuring a mix of lies and false inducements—claims that every congressional Democrat had signed on to an “open borders” bill (none had), that liberals were fomenting violent “mobs” (they weren’t), that a 10 percent tax cut for the middle class would somehow pass while Congress was out of session (it didn’t). But a few involved the aggressive use—and threatened misuse—of presidential authority: He sent thousands of active-duty soldiers to the southern border to terrorize a distant caravan of desperate Central American migrants, announced plans to end the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship by executive order, and tweeted that law enforcement had been “strongly notified” to be on the lookout for “ILLEGAL VOTING.”
The interior secretary’s departure shows the extent of the new Democratic power—and also its limits.
In politics, you need a good villain. It is far easier for environmentalists to rail against Donald Trump for weakening the Clean Water Act than it is to rail against Proposed Rule 83 FR 32227. And it was far easier for Democrats to criticize Scott Pruitt—the former Environmental Protection Agency administrator who resigned in June under not so much a cloud of corruption as a thundering cumulonimbus of it—than it has been for them to focus attention on Andrew Wheeler, his quieter and more effective replacement.
In the new year, Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the interior, seemed certain to catapult into that top tier of political nemeses for Democrats. Like Pruitt, Zinke excels at generating bizarre scandals; also like Pruitt, his own heroic vision of himself seems to survive any amount of bad press. House Democrats, salivating over their new oversight power, had already promised to subpoena Zinke over a number of issues, including a sweetheart $300 million contract for electricity in Puerto Rico that he allegedly gave to a small power company based in his home state of Montana.
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.
Convincing Putin that further attacks will trigger automatic, severe responses is the best path to deterrence.
A series of explosive Department of Justice filings—outside the special counsel’s probe—makes clear that Russia is a rogue state in cyberspace. Now the United States needs a credible system to take action, and to sanction Russia for its misdeeds.
Consider what we learned from last month’s criminal charges filed by the Department of Justice against the “chief accountant” for Russia’s so-called troll factory, the online-information influence operations conducted by the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg. The indictment showed how Russia, rather than being chastened by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s detailed February indictment laying out its criminal activities, continued to spread online propaganda about that very indictment, tweeting and posting about Mueller’s charges both positively and negatively—to spread and exacerbate America’s political discord. Defense Secretary James Mattis later told the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, that Vladimir Putin “tried again to muck around in our elections this last month, and we are seeing a continued effort along those lines.”