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 The conviction was later repealed and a retrial ordered in January 2013, which resulted in the charges against the former president and other senior Egyptian officials being dropped.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.
Approximately half of the luxury-condo units that have come onto the market in the past five years are still unsold.
In Manhattan, the homeless shelters are full, and the luxury skyscrapers are vacant.
Such is the tale of two cities within America’s largest metro. Even as 80,000 people sleep in New York City’s shelters or on its streets, Manhattan residents have watched skinny condominium skyscrapers rise across the island. These colossal stalagmites initially transformed not only the city’s skyline but also the real-estate market for new homes. From 2011 to 2019, the average price of a newly listed condo in New York soared from $1.15 million to $3.77 million.
But the bust is upon us. Today, nearly half of the Manhattan luxury-condo units that have come onto the market in the past five years are still unsold, according to The New York Times.
Policing correct female behavior keeps all women in their place.
Are you Team Kate or Team Meghan? If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to pick a side—and you don’t think there should be “sides” at all. Yet ever since Meghan Markle married Prince Harry, parts of the media have pitted the former actor against her sister-in-law.
Where Kate Middleton was once depicted as a dull social climber, she is now presented as the epitome of female virtue: a respectable, silent, discreet, and selfless mother. Meghan must therefore be her opposite—a political, manipulative, “woke” careerist.
Essentially, the two duchesses have been assigned to opposite sides of the culture war. All kinds of seemingly unrelated items have become symbols of one side or the other—quinoa, avocados, the English flag, attitudes toward the death penalty—and now Kate and Meghan have been conscripted too.
A class developed in Duluth, Minnesota, has heavily influenced how domestic abusers are rehabilitated across the U.S. But critics question whether it works.
The photograph above shows Andrew Lisdahl and his fiancée, Theresa, at their home, along with Andrew's daughter with his ex-wife (left) and one of Theresa's daughters (right).
Andrew Lisdahl was mad. His wife, Gretchen, had smoked a cigarette, a habit he detested. They fought, and Gretchen spent the night at a friend’s house. The next day, Andrew drank a bottle of tequila and hitched a ride to the stained-glass studio where Gretchen, an artist, gave lessons. When Andrew found her, he grabbed her left hand and tried to remove her wedding ring, but Gretchen fought him off. As Andrew stumbled away, he took Gretchen’s car keys and phone.
After work, Gretchen’s father drove her back home to retrieve her things. Inside, Andrew had been passed out on the couch, but he woke up and yelled at Gretchen, “Get the fuck out!” When she didn’t, he grabbed her by the hair, dragged her into the living room, threw her on the carpet, kicked her in the chest, and pinned her to the ground. As Gretchen’s father approached the house, Andrew let her go and she was able to escape.
The president, however inadvertently, may be reminding the world of the reality of international relations.
A year and a half into Donald Trump’s presidency, Henry Kissinger set out a theory. “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretences,” he told the Financial Times. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that he knows this, or that he is considering any great alternative. It could just be an accident.”
A term has been coined to describe this notion: Ryan Evans of War on the Rocks calls them “Trumportunities.” It is the idea that, whether by accident or design, Trump creates chances to solve long-running international problems that a conventional leader would not. His bellicose isolationist agenda, for instance, might already be forcing Europe to confront its geopolitical weakness; China, its need for a lasting economic settlement with the U.S.; and countries throughout the Middle East, the limits of their power.
His sometimes-goofy bid has been a surprise success. But can he make voters take the idea of Commander in Chief Yang seriously?
BURLINGTON, Iowa—Not long ago, Andrew Yang would have considered his presidential campaign a success just for having injected a discussion of job automation into the race. He was a novelty candidate, a single-issue candidate, known as much for joking around on the debate stage and for viral videos (like the one that shows him squirting whipped cream into the mouths of two kneeling volunteers) as for his signature policy position, the “freedom dividend,” a universal basic income of $1,000 a month.
But now that Yang has outlasted a number of more conventional and better-known rivals—and achieved surprisingly robust poll numbers and fundraising totals—his campaign has started to dream about what could happen if their candidate could transcend his novelty status. So when Yang’s top staff gathered at the end of December, his campaign chief, Nick Ryan, made clear that the strategy for the final weeks before voting starts would be to “present our guy as President Yang, Commander in Chief Yang.” How do you do that when Yang is the $1,000-a-month guy—not the bilateral-summit guy or the Situation Room guy? He’s the candidate who loves to crowd-surf, whose fans meme him into Obi-Wan Kenobi robes (“He is our only hope”), who wears his thick blue-and-red campaign scarf everywhere he goes. Can he convince voters he’s commander-in-chief material while continuing to indulge in the oddball routine to which he ascribes much of his success so far?
The new film starring Robert Downey Jr. as a doctor who talks to animals is transfixing at times, if only because it’s such a disaster.
Hollywood makes bad movies all the time. Sometimes they’re highly enjoyable pieces of schlock that divert your attention for 90 minutes before vanishing from memory. Sometimes they’re unwatchable slogs, similarly not worth remembering. Then there are the debacles of the release calendar: genuine catastrophes such as Dolittle, the likes of which are rarer than a talking dragonfly. The newest adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s whimsical 1920s stories about a doctor who can commune with animals stars Robert Downey Jr. and a boatload of CGI critters, and clearly no expense has been spared in bringing it to the big screen. But that doesn’t keep it from being one of the worst cinematic fiascos I’ve seen in years.
Successful marriages are defined not by improvement, but by avoiding decline.
There’s an elegant symmetry to traditional wedding vows: for better or for worse. But love is not symmetrical, and most of us don’t realize how lopsided it can be. The worse matters far more than the better in marriage or any other relationship. That’s how the brain works.
Our thoughts and feelings are skewed by what researchers call the negativity effect, which is our tendency to respond more strongly to negative events and emotions than to positive ones. When we hear a mix of compliments and criticism, we obsess over the criticism instead of enjoying the praise. This imbalance, also known as the negativity bias, evolved in the brain because it kept our ancestors alert to deadly threats, but too often it warps our perspective and behavior. A slight conflict can have ruinous consequences when the power of bad overwhelms your judgment, provoking you to actions that further alienate your partner. You’d fare better by using your rational brain to override your irrational impulses, but to do that you need first to understand just how powerful bad can be.
Not with Trump, not with the Green New Deal, and not with the Democrats running for president
SANTA MONICA, Calif.—In another world, Arnold Schwarzenegger might be an elder statesman in his party. The former Republican governor of California might even be a top ally of the entertainment president: They used to be friendly, and Schwarzenegger was Donald Trump’s successor on Celebrity Apprentice.
In Trump’s world, though, Schwarzenegger is a GOP apostate. Fresh off of playing the president of the United States in a new movie—the upcoming Kung Fury 2, which has a plot about “Thundercops,” time travel, and the Miami Kung Fu Academy—Schwarzenegger is coming into 2020 trying to sort out his role in politics in the year ahead. He thinks Republicans should follow his lead on environmentalism and redistricting reform. He thinks the whole country should follow California’s lead on integrating economic growth into environmental protection.
The president’s habit of shooting the messenger is going to prove costly.
The Trump administration has placed civil servants and nonpolitical government employees in a terrible position. Their job is to provide accurate, nonpartisan information and make decisions grounded in law; sometimes that involves providing testimony to Congress, which legally must be truthful. Yet if they tell the truth, President Donald Trump and his allies will publicly crucify them. Bureaucrats, of course, are not viewed by most people as terribly sympathetic victims, but if you shoot these messengers, you end up wounding citizens. Taxpayers send money to the government so it can develop accurate information, not partisan pabulum—but Trump is doing all he can to change that.
Yesterday, the Government Accountability Office, an independent watchdog within the federal government, released a decision on whether the Trump administration violated the law by freezing millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine. The GAO found that it wasn’t even a close call.