Alabama Governor Robert Bentley resigned Monday amid allegations he abused power and state resources to conceal an affair. As The New York Times’s Alan Blinder reports, the second-term Republican governor plead guilty Monday to two misdemeanor charges, including failing to file a major contribution report and converting campaign contributions to personal use—charges for which he was sentenced to 30 days in jail, though the sentence was suspended. Instead, he faces 12 months of probation, 100 hours of community service, and a $7,000 fine. Bentley, whose impeachment hearing began Monday, was confronted last week with allegations of “improper communications” with Rebekah Caldwell Mason, his senior political adviser with whom he is accused of having an affair, as well as abuse of power and violating state ethics and campaign finance laws. Though Bentley asked Alabama residents for forgiveness Friday, he said he had no plans to resign, adding that: “I have done nothing illegal. If the people want to know if I misused state resources, the answer is simply no. I have not.” Alabama Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey is expected to be sworn in to replace Bentley, but as my colleague David Graham notes, the transition may not be that seamless.
Even with the handwriting so clearly on the wall, Bentley might not choose to leave office gently. His office denied any negotiation on an exit, and Alabama Media Group’s John Archibald wrote, with understated wryness, “It is possible that Bentley, who has changed his mind often during his term, could change his mind.”
Three Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide at San Bernardino County Elementary School
Updated at 7:15 p.m. ET
Two adults and one child are dead in an apparent murder-suicide inside a classroom at North Park Elementary School, San Bernardino County Police Chief Jared Burguan said today. “We believe the suspect is down and there's no further threat,” Burguan said on Twitter. Lieutenant Mike Madden, a spokesman for the San Bernardino Police Department, said at a news conference that the shooter was Cedric Anderson and his victim was Karen Elaine Smith, a special education teacher. Later Monday, authorities said an 8-year-old boy, Jonathan Martinez, was killed in the gunfire. Madden said the shooter had a handgun and had visited the classroom. He said the injured students were in critical condition, adding they were not targeted; nor were they related to the adults who were killed, he said. Students at North Park Elementary were taken to Cajon High School for safety, Burguan said earlier. The San Bernardino City Unified School District said on Twitter that North Park, Cajon Elementary School, and Hillside Elementary School are on lockdown.
This is a developing story and we’ll update it as we learn more.
Tesla (Briefly) Becomes the Most Valuable U.S. Carmaker
Tesla became the most valuable carmaker in the U.S. on Monday after its shares rose to about $313 to make it worth $51 billion, enough to edge out General Motors. It didn’t last long, however, and after the crescendo shares dipped slightly, putting General Motors back on top. But it was a clear message that investors are confident Tesla, headed by CEO Elon Musk, will lead the electric-car industry in the future. Last week Tesla passed Ford in value, despite selling a small fraction of what Ford does. In the first three months of the year, Tesla has sold about 25,000 of its Model S and Model X cars, while Ford sold more than 600,000 vehicles; GM sells 690,000. Skeptics say Tesla is overvalued, but Musk has also been venturing into non-car markets, acquiring a solar panel installation company, and debuting a new home solar-panel design. Tesla has been in a crunch to pick up car production, especially after last year, when it debuted the Model 3. At $35,000 the sedan is the company’s cheapest car, and is meant for middle-income buyers. Musk has said he hopes to produce half a million vehicles by 2018.
Neil Gorsuch Is Sworn In as the Newest Supreme Court Justice
Neil Gorsuch was sworn in on Monday as the 113th U.S. Supreme Court justice, returning the court to its full complement of nine judges, as well as to its conservative tilt. Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee to fill the vacancy created last year by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, was confirmed last week by the Senate in a contentious vote that saw Republicans exercise the so-called “nuclear option” so a simple majority of senators could approve him. His appointment brings an end to a yearlong battle that saw Senate Republicans refuse to consider Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the same seat. The new justice will have an immediate impact, as this week the court will decide which cases to take up in the coming year. At the confirmation ceremony at the White House Rose Garden, the oath was administered by Justice Anthony Kennedy, for whom Gorsuch once clerked. Trump congratulated Gorsuch, and said the justice would rule “not on his personal preferences but based on a fair and objective reading of the law.” The confirmation fulfills Trump’s campaign promise to put a conservative on the bench, and on Monday the president reminded people of that: “I got it done in the first 100 days,” Trump said. “You think that’s easy?”
Video Shows Police Drag Man Off an Overbooked United Airlines Flight
Updated at 3:38 p.m. ET
A man was forcibly removed from a United Airlines aircraft by police Sunday because the flight was overbooked, according to eyewitnesses. Video of the incident, which took place Sunday on United Flight 3411 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, shows a an unidentified male passenger screaming as three police officers forcibly removed him from his window seat. The man’s screams stopped after one of the officers pulled him to the ground and dragged him down the aisle. One passenger can be heard in the background saying, “Oh my God, look at what you did to him.” The Chicago Police Department said in a statement that the 69-year-old man struck his head on an armrest and was later treated at the Lutheran General Hospital for non-life threatening injuries. Tyler Bridges, a passenger on the plane, told the Washington Post the airline asked four passengers to voluntarily give their seats to stand-by United employees who needed to be in Louisville, Kentucky, where the flight was headed. Bridges said the airline began selecting passengers when no one volunteered and that when the man was asked to leave, he refused, noting he was a doctor and had patients to see the next day. Bridges said the man also accused the airline of choosing him because he is Chinese. Charlie Hobart, a United Airlines spokesman, said in a statement that law enforcement was asked to get involved after no one volunteered to leave the aircraft, adding “we apologize for the overbook situation.” In a separate statement, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz said the airline would work with law enforcement to review the incident and apologized “for having to re-accommodate these customers.” The Chicago Department of Aviation said the officer who dragged the man off the flight has been placed on leave.
Wells Fargo Takes Back $75 Million From Top Execs in Sales Scandal
Wells Fargo said Monday it would take back $75 million from two top executives accused of downplaying and ignoring aggressive policies that prompted thousands of employees to create fake accounts to meet sales goals. The announcement came as the company released a scathing 110-page report that found the bank’s management pressured employees to push unwanted or unneeded products on customers. This led to a wide practice of fraud, and thousands of employees created up to 2 million fake accounts and lines of credit without customer knowledge. Much of the blame for the scandal has been leveled on former CEO John Stumpf, and former head of community banking, Carrie Tolstedt. The report found that when presented with the problem, Stumpf refused to hear the criticism or change practices, and Tolstedt actively worked to downplay the issue. Wells Fargo has already paid $185 million in fines. It also settled a class-action lawsuit for $110 million. Both Stumpf and Tolstedt will have their compensation taken, as well as stock options.
Marine Le Pen Denies France's Role in the Holocaust
Marine Le Pen, the National Front (FN) presidential candidate, sparked outrage Sunday when she denied France’s responsibility for the wartime deportation of thousands of French Jews to the Nazi concentration camps. “I don’t think France is responsible for the Vel d’Hiv,” the far-right leader said Sunday in reference to France’s round up of more than 13,000 Jews at the Vélodrome d'Hiver indoor cycling track in 1942, adding: “I think that generally speaking if there are people responsible, it's those who were in power at the time. It's not France.” Both President François Hollande and former President Jacques Chirac have apologized for France’s role in the incident, though Le Pen argued the Vichy regime that ruled France during World War II was an “illegal” authority, noting Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French Forces, lived in exile in London at the time. Such comments are not unusual for the FN. Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s father and the FN’s founder, has repeatedly dismissed the Holocaust as a minor “detail” of history and defended Vichy government collaborators—rhetoric that prompted the younger Le Pen to expel her father from the FN in 2015 as part of her effort to rebrand the historically fringe party. Le Pen’s comments come less than two weeks ahead of the French presidential election’s first round of voting that polls project her to win.
Egypt's State of Emergency Takes Effect After ISIS Attacks on Coptic Churches
Egypt’s three-month state of emergency went into effect Monday, a day after ISIS claimed responsibility for attacks on two Coptic churches that killed more than 40 people. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi declared a state of emergency Sunday following the attacks. The Egyptian Cabinet, which must approve the move, did so today. “The state of emergency allows both the armed forces and the police to execute those procedures necessary to combat the threats of terrorism and its financing, maintain security around the country and protect public and private property, as well as preserving the lives of citizens,” the Cabinet said in a statement. Yesterday’s attacks in the northern city of Tanta and in Alexandria targeted worshippers who had gathered for Palm Sunday.
U.S. Steps Up Pressure on Russia Over Its Support of Syria
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is meeting today with his colleagues from the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized nations, ahead of a meeting this week with his Russian counterpart. The G-7 is hoping to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his military and diplomatic support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Tillerson’s visit to Moscow comes days after the U.S. struck a Syrian airbase following what the U.S. says is Assad’s use of chemical weapons last week in Idlib province. The U.S. strike marked an apparent turning point in the U.S. view toward Assad: Just days ahead of the chemical-weapons attack, U.S. officials, including Tillerson and Nikki Haley, the U.S. envoy to the UN, said Assad’s removal from power was not a U.S. priority. After the strike, however, U.S. officials said they wanted Assad gone—but through a political process. Tillerson, speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, said: “I think the issue of how Bashar al-Assad’s leadership is sustained, or how he departs, is something that we’ll be working with allies and others in the coalition. But I think with each of those actions, he really undermines his own legitimacy.” Haley, appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, said: “In no way do we see peace in that area with Russia covering up for Assad. And in no way do we see peace in that area with Assad at the head of the Syrian government.” The U.S. has emphasized though that fighting ISIS remains its priority in Syria.
A devastating incident in Afghanistan shows the perils of relying on Special Operations alone to fight the nation’s battles.
Both the Trump and Obama administrations relied heavily on highly trained Special Forces units to keep Afghanistan from collapse. The strategy has kept recent episodes of the 21-year Afghan War out of the public eye, but it is failing to stabilize the country and is straining the United States military’s elite troops, who serve back-to-back combat tours without an end in sight and disproportionately give their lives in service of a war the public knows almost nothing about.
When Kunduz, a major city in northern Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban in 2015, U.S. Special Forces were dispatched on a secret mission to help Afghan commandos recapture it. Under-resourced and unprepared, the soldiers found themselves in the midst of a pitched battle with conflicting orders. The story of how it led to one of the U.S. military’s worst disasters in Afghanistan shows the perils of relying on Special Operations alone to fight the nation’s wars.
After growing up in a family that never lied, I spent decades being off-puttingly truthful.
When I was a child, my dad invented a game that I loved. Wherever we went, he’d predict what strangers were about to say or do. We’d walk into a store and he’d point at the salesman and say something like, “Watch this. When I tell him how much I’m willing to spend, he’ll immediately show me something more expensive.” The salesman did exactly as Dad had prophesized. When Dad took me to my first concert, he told me the musician would ask the audience how they were feeling tonight and, when everyone cheered wildly, would respond, “I can’t hear you!” It wasn’t long before the musician spoke those exact words.
It felt like magic, like Dad was telling the future or reading minds, so I asked how he did it. Most people follow a script, he said. I asked him why and I remember him replying, “Because they’re afraid that if they say what they really feel, people won’t like them. And they’d rather be liked than be honest.” I knew then that I wanted to be honest, regardless of the consequences. I stuck to that for the next 25 years. And there were consequences.
The uncertain meaning behind a half-black, half-white, two-headed toy: An Object Lesson
The doll is two-headed and two-bodied—one black body and one white, conjoined at the lower waist where the hips and legs would ordinarily be. The lining of one's dress is the outside of the other’s, so that the skirt flips over to conceal one body when the other is upright. Two dolls in one, yet only one can be played with at a time.
The topsy-turvy doll, as it’s known, most likely originated in American plantation nurseries of the early 19th century. By the mid-20th century, they’d grown so popular that they were mass-manufactured and widely available in department stores across the country, but today, they’re found mostly in museums, privatecollections, and contemporaryart. In recent years, the dolls have seen a renewed interest from collectors and scholars alike, largely motivated by the ongoing question that surrounds their use: What were they supposed to symbolize?
A new study proves that half of people are correct. The other is also correct.
This is a time of much division. Families and communities are splintered by polarizing narratives. Outrage surrounds geopolitical discourse—so much so that anxiety often becomes a sort of white noise, making it increasingly difficult to trigger intense, acute anger. The effect can be desensitizing, like driving 60 miles per hour and losing hold of the reality that a minor error could result in instant death.
One thing that apparently still has the power to infuriate people, though, is how many spaces should be used after a period at the end of an English sentence.
The war is alive again of late because a study that came out this month from Skidmore College. The study is, somehow, the first to look specifically at this question. It is titled: “Are Two Spaces Better Than One? The Effect of Spacing Following Periods and Commas During Reading.”
Quarantine is turning you into a stiff, hunched-over, itchy, sore, headachy husk.
The first time my hips locked up, the reason was at least a little bit glamorous. It was 2018, and I was returning from vacation in Sicily, which was the fanciest thing I’d ever done by several orders of magnitude. As I went through the motions—and, perhaps more important, the lack of motion—of international flight, my gait began to stiffen, and my stride contracted to a fraction of its former self. My body, settling into its mid-30s, rebelled against the hours spent in airplane seats, the nights in unfamiliar beds, the constant, awkward physicality of travel.
The same thing happened a few more times over the next year and a half, always after long-haul flights. I began to think of it as “airplane hip,” and the condition was annoying but temporary; I don’t spend much time on planes, and a yoga move called “pigeon pose” would stretch my stiff waddle back into a walk in a day or two. Usually, the discomfort was worth it—a small musculoskeletal price to pay for the occasional privilege of seeing parts of the world still new to me.
Israel has vaccinated six times more of its population than the United States. Can others learn from its success?
One nation has already provided more than a quarter of its people with at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, outpacing every other country in the world and more than sextupling the percentage in the United States. During one recent three-day period, in fact, it administered a dose of the vaccine to a higher percentage of its population than the U.S. has altogether. Nearly three-fourths of those over age 60 have gotten their first shot. And most of the population could be vaccinated by the end of March, which would be earlier than any nation except, perhaps, tiny Palau and the Vatican. The government is now preparing “passports” for the twice-jabbed that will exempt them from quarantines.
It’s the kind of standout success one would expect from the now-familiar stars of the global response to COVID-19—Taiwan, South Korea, or New Zealand. But it’s actually been achieved by Israel, in several respects a surprising country to be the world’s front-runner on vaccine distribution. A 2019 Johns Hopkins study ranked Israel an unspectacular 54th among 195 countries in terms of preparedness for a pandemic. After initially appearing to vanquish the coronavirus, Israel has since suffered some of the world’s worst outbreaks—something that remains true as it celebrates its vaccine advances. And during a pandemic in which public trust in government has emerged as arguably the most consistent ingredient across countries for success in combatting the virus, public confidence in Israel’s political leaders is dismally low. The Israeli government currently has the distinction of being one of the most unstable in the democratic world.
“You can understand the predator wanting to be near the prey, but not really the other way around.”
To watch a bald eagle raid a nesting colony of great blue herons is a gut-churning experience. “The herons have a progression of alarms,” explains Ross Vennesland, a researcher with Environment and Climate Change Canada. “They start with a chortle, and quickly move to really hideous screaming as the eagle swoops in and lands on the nest.” The adult herons are usually forced to flee, while the eagle cracks open an egg or flies away with a chick. “It’s a pretty horrible scene to witness,” he says.
You’d think the herons would want to build their nests as far away from bald eagles as possible. But you’d be dead wrong. Research on the southwest coast of British Columbia shows that herons are deliberately seeking out nesting pairs of eagles—and building right next to them.
History suggests that Joe Biden and the Democrats are going to have a tough two years and a disaster in the midterms. Here’s their plan to avoid that.
Joe Biden’s team is planning a party. His inauguration on Wednesday, held under threat from the coronavirus and pro-Trump extremists, wasn’t much of a celebration. But the Biden administration hopes that January 20, 2022—a year from now—will mark what some aides are describing as a “renewing of the vows,” an anniversary that could be a genuinely happy moment.
By then, Biden hopes, he will have made Americans feel like they’ve put the horrors of 2020 behind them. More than anything, that depends on whether he can dig the country out from the COVID-19 crisis. Vaccine distribution and economic recovery will be key.
Basic competence of government could go a long way: Imagine the political boost Biden could earn when people start going to the movies again, or children start seeing their grandparents. Biden is already planning to push ahead on an additional $1,400 in relief checks (a disappointment to those who wanted another $2,000) and a $15-an-hour minimum wage—both part of a $2 trillion relief package. He’s also planning an infrastructure bill that would create new green jobs, and include other measures to help fight climate change.
The handover of power was a solemn affair. There was no mistaking the new administration for the old one.
At dawn this morning, workers loaded couches and tables into a moving truck parked outside the West Wing. Men wearing white coveralls and carrying roller brushes and paint cans walked across the north driveway. Inside the White House, pictures of the 45th president had been removed from the walls. Only the hooks remained, ready for a new set of portraits of the 46th.
A lone Donald Trump press deputy, Judd Deere, sat in his small office, writing a note on a piece of stationery to whoever would be taking over his desk in a few hours. Deere was attempting to describe what it’s like to work in the building. When I looked in at noon, after the Trump presidency had officially ended, he was gone, his desk cleared. Even the magazine racks hanging on the wall had been emptied.
The best shows of the 45th presidency captured the essence of an unprecedented leader by seeing past his act.
Late last year, at the end of my parental leave, I finally caught up with The Comey Rule, Showtime’s stolid adaptation of former FBI Director James Comey’s memoir about—among other things—being fired by Donald Trump. A cluster of TV stars play the civil servants elevated by the MAGA internet into almost mythological characters: Jeff Daniels as Comey, Holly Hunter as Sally Yates, Steven Pasquale and Oona Chaplin as the text-crossed lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. But the real draw is Brendan Gleeson playing Trump. The Irish actor gives a fantastic performance that dances between impersonation and interpretation: Physically, Gleeson has the lunatic bronzer, the grimace, the sagging tie. More crucially, he captures the former president’s pettiness and malice in a way that communicates how dangerous those qualities can be, in tandem and totally unchecked. Gleeson’s Trump seethes and crawls around the White House like a swamp creature in a Brioni suit. It’s one of the most striking TV performances of the past four years. And I watched it and felt nothing at all.