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 The conviction was later repealed and a retrial ordered in January 2013, which resulted in the charges against the former president and other senior Egyptian officials being dropped.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.
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.
Why we need to face the best arguments from the other side
Images above: A protestor holding a sign that reads “Abortion Is Freedom” and protestors holding anti-abortion signs
In 1956, twoAmerican physicians, J. A. Presley and W. E. Brown, colleagues at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine, decided that four recent admissions to their hospital were significant enough to warrant a published report. “Lysol-Induced Criminal Abortion” appeared in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. It describes four women who were admitted to the hospital in extreme distress, all of them having had “criminal abortions” with what the doctors believed to be an unusual agent: Lysol. The powerful cleaner had been pumped into their wombs. Three of them survived, and one of them died.
The fancy bike brand tried to depict a wellness journey. It didn’t go as planned.
The internet has some feedback on Peloton’s holiday ad campaign. The fitness-tech company, famous for its $2,400, Wi-Fi-enabled stationary bikes that let riders stream spin classes, debuted a new television commercial in mid-November, but it didn’t become infamous until earlier this week, when Twitter got ahold of it.
In the ad, a young mom gains confidence in the year after her husband buys her a Peloton for Christmas—or, at least, that’s what the ad seems to be aiming for. The commercial documents the woman (who is also documenting herself, via her phone’s front-facing camera) while she gets up early day after day to exercise or jumps on the bike after work. At the end, she presents the video of her exercise journey to her husband. “A year ago, I didn’t realize how much this would change me,” she tells him. “Thank you.”
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.
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.
In its third season, the series is stuck in a relentlessly cheery mode that’s cloying to watch.
The great irony of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s television shows is that the dialogue gushes forth with the insistence of a burst hydrant, and yet the most beguiling moments are the ones in which no one speaks at all. Midway through the third season of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a man and a woman whose chemistry has smoldered almost since the show’s inception find themselves alone, in the early hours of the morning, at a hotel. They gaze at each other. They each glance meaningfully through the open door toward a bed. They say nothing. The energy is so heightened and so loaded with expectation that I couldn’t have stopped watching if the room around me had suddenly caught on fire.
The five hours or so that preceded it, though, had mostly the opposite effect, where any scenes without Rachel Brosnahan’s unsinkable comic Midge Maisel—and even a few with her—were either inert or insufferable. What used to feel like Sherman-Palladino trademarks now come across as tics: the barrage of inane chatter; the superficial stereotyping; the overreliance on spectacle without substance, like a dinner composed entirely of cake pops. More vexing than anything, though, is how defiantly The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel refuses to have stakes. Everything plays out in the same major key. Everything—lost children, homelessness, divorce, social injustice—is just a joke, bedazzled and glib and gorgeous. This is a series so vacantly uplifting, it’s managed to transfigure Lenny Bruce into Prince Charming.
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.)
How I used the internet to find the man who saved my parents’ lives in a Budapest basement during World War II.
It all started with a question, one my parents had been unable to answer for 70 years.
What happened to the French doctor they had taken in during the Russian siege of Budapest? He was an escaped prisoner of war. They were just trying to hang on. Together, they hid in a cellar, beneath the feet of German soldiers who had made the home their headquarters.
My parents’ recollections of those times surfaced only rarely. But when they talked about the winter of 1944–1945, everything seemed more vivid. It was like their memories of the flare of the bombs lit up their lives. As a couple, that time was their beginning. When my father, who had deserted from the Hungarian Army, and my mother, who had refused to move to the ghetto and wear the yellow star, cast their lot together.
The city’s leaders believe a revamped education system will make its people more loyal to China and less likely to protest.
HONG KONG—After months of protests, an embarrassing rebuke at the ballot box, a pair of new laws in the United States targeting Hong Kong, and a worsening economic outlook, the territory’s leader, Carrie Lam, promised to do some soul-searching. It seemed an appropriate response: Her city looked to have changed, gripped by a suddenly politically engaged populace determined to face down the authorities.
And in recent days, it appears Lam has indeed emerged with a solution for how to quell unrest here: Faced with demands for greater freedoms, an end to police brutality, and full universal suffrage, she has determined that what Hong Kong’s people really need is more Chinese-style patriotic education instead.
The hugely popular 21-year-old rapper, who died after a reported seizure, captured inner instability with ingenious sing-alongs.
Juice Wrld’s star power was both very special and very familiar in music history. To borrow the title of one punk album that the rapper (born Jarad Anthony Higgins) could have had in rotation, he sang the sorrow. When his breakout single, “Lucid Dreams,” hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2018, it marked him as one of the young leaders of the influential “emo rap” wave. Trembling instability abounded in the song’s guitar sample, along with a seasick chorus and lyrics deconstructing heartbreak in anxious detail. But there was a tidiness to its construction. It made a bummer into something not only manageable but strangely uplifting.
The 21-year-old Higgins died this morning after a reported seizure at Chicago’s Midway Airport, according to TMZ and the Los Angeles Times, cutting short a hugely promising career and robbing a generation of one of its most fervently followed new icons. In quick time, heoffered up a trove of songs just as catchy, just as hypnotic, and just as himself as “Lucid Dreams” was. For all his brooding, the Chicagoan radiated geeky charisma with anime shout-outs and a video-game-themed album cover. In his vocal inflections and production choices, he called back to popular goth rock of the 2000s such as My Chemical Romance. His heartbroken, death-obsessed lyrics did that too, but amid rap-typical descriptions of drugs and sex. The results portrayed existential crises as concrete, lived-in things.