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 The conviction was later repealed and a retrial ordered in January 2013, which resulted in the charges against the former president and other senior Egyptian officials being dropped.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.
Harry Reid may be the only person who can keep the Democrats from killing one another before selecting a nominee. But will he live long enough to do it?
LAS VEGAS—Swing past Caesars Palace; head up the Bellagio’s driveway, where its famous fountains are erupting to an auto-tuned Cher hit. Walk by the Dale Chihuly glass-flower ceiling above the check-in line, and the animatronic exhibit with the half-human, half-monkey figures. Head past the blackjack tables and the jangling slot machines and the chocolate fountain to the austere concrete corridors beyond them. There, getting wheeled around in a red metal-frame wheelchair is the 80-year-old man on whom the unity of the Democratic Party in 2020—if not the Democratic nomination—may hinge.
If he can stay alive that long.
Harry Reid, who retired in 2017 after representing Nevada for 30 years in the U.S. Senate—a dozen of them as chair of the Democratic caucus, eight of them as Senate majority leader—was supposed to be dead already; his pancreatic cancer was forecasted to prove fatal within weeks. But he’s still here, which is how I came to be talking with him, not long before Thanksgiving, in a conference room at the Bellagio, asking him why he remains the person to whom many of the Democratic presidential candidates come for advice and anointment.
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.)
MAGA nation should be outraged about President Trump’s personal attorney.
If the grassroots right wants to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C., it can’t ignore the suspicious behavior of Rudy Giuliani. Here’s one red flag: Wealthy, powerful people tend to pay their lawyers top dollar. But as Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Giuliani works for free. In fact, an attorney representing Giuliani’s wife in divorce proceedings told the New York Post that he’s losing money. “Not only does he work for free, but all of his expenses every time he goes down to Washington, D.C., every time he travels for the president, it comes out of his own pocket,” the divorce attorney explained, “and he won’t say how much it’s costing him.”
Why has the former New York City mayor taken on a billionaire as a charity case? It’s not clear, and neither is the nature of the work he’s done relating to Ukraine, a subject of interest in the House impeachment inquiry. At times, Giuliani has described his Ukraine meddling as heroically public-spirited, declaring that “I’m not acting as a lawyer.” He once told a Fox News host, “I wasn’t operating on my own; I was operating at the request of the State Department.” Yet on a different occasion he said, “This isn’t foreign policy,” but help for “my client.”
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.
Vladimir Putin has a fondness for the Soviet era. So do many Russians—but often not for the same reasons.
SOCHI, Russia—Gazing up at the bust of Joseph Stalin, the young boy listened silently as his mother squatted next to him, whispering the Soviet dictator’s story into his ear. The pair studied the black-colored sculpture, among many of Stalin in this city’s history museum (just one, apparently, is not enough). “He built this city,” the mother told the child, who stared admiringly at Stalin’s signature moustache. “He was like a czar.”
To some extent, that is true. Though Russian intellectuals and poets had long found refuge in this Black Sea port, it was Stalin who ordered its development, turning it into a resort city. His vision was to create a Soviet Riviera, replete with grand botanical gardens and enormous, well-equipped hotels.
GOP lawmakers used to oppose the president’s embrace of Putin and the Kremlin. Not anymore.
Just how far will Republicans go in following President Donald Trump’s embrace of Russia? An answer may be crystallizing as the GOP mobilizes its defense of the president against impeachment.
Both congressional Republicans and conservative commentators are defending Trump from impeachment partly by accusing Ukraine of intervening against him in the 2016 presidential election—despite repeated warnings from national-security and intelligence officials that those claims are not only baseless, but advance Vladimir Putin’s goal of discrediting Ukraine.
Earlier in Trump’s presidency, many Republicans sought to distance themselvesfrom his warm tone toward Putin. But just this week alone, a number of Republican lawmakers, the official House Republican report rebutting impeachment, and the Fox News host Tucker Carlson have repeated Kremlin lines on Ukraine.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Television in 2019 offered up sweet birthday babies and hot priests; exposed nuclear cores and examined injustices; giant octopuses and the king of edible leaves, His Majesty the Spinach. It was a year in which more than 500 original scripted series were estimated to air—a new record signaling a television landscape that’s more abundant but also more fragmented than ever.
With that in mind, this year’s “best of” list, like last year’s, tries to recognize shows that did specific things particularly well. Some were brand new; some have already been canceled. But most of them came into being because someone took a chance on an odd idea, a risky concept, or a distinctive voice. As the streaming wars heat up, none of these series feels like a safe bet, which is precisely what makes them so worthwhile to watch.
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.
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.”
It’s surprisingly common for men to start losing entire chromosomes from blood cells as they age.
In the 1960s, doctors counting the number of chromosomes in human white blood cells noticed a strange phenomenon. Frequently—and more frequently with age—the cells would be missing the Y chromosome. Over time, it became clear this came with consequences. Studies have linked loss of the Y chromosome in blood to cancer, heart disease, and other disorders.
Now a new study—the largest yet of this phenomenon—estimates that 20 percent of 205,011 men in a large genetic database called the UK Biobank have lost Y chromosomes from some detectable proportion of their blood. By age 70, 43.6 percent of men had the same issue. It’s unclear exactly why, but the authors think these losses might be the most glaring sign of something else going wrong inside the bodies of these men: They are allowing mutations of all kinds to accumulate, and these other mutations could be the underlying links to cancer and heart disease.