The U.S. at a glance ...
Winter storms: Parts of California were pummeled by heavy rain and snow this week, triggering flash floods and dumping up to 10 feet of muchneeded powder on the Sierra Nevada. The storms caused a mudslide to close Interstate 80 in the Truckee area and sent roughly 350 billion gallons of water pouring into California’s biggest reservoirs— boosting their storage to levels not seen since the start of the state’s six-year drought. High winds also felled an iconic sequoia tree at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The bottom of the 100-foot-tall tree was carved into a tunnel following a lightning strike in the 1800s; it was one of the last hollowed-out sequoia trees in the state. It collapsed through a combination of weather and root decay, said park officials. “The storm was just too much for it,” said the Calaveras Big Trees Association.
Facebook beating: Four young black adults from Chicago were charged with hate crimes last week after they allegedly assaulted and tortured a mentally challenged white teenager in an attack streamed over Facebook Live. Jordan Hill, the 18-year-old victim’s acquaintance at school, allegedly met the victim at a McDonald’s and drove him in a stolen van to an apartment on the west side, where Hill, Tesfaye Cooper, and Brittany Covington—all 18—and Tanisha Covington, 24, tied him up and taped his mouth shut. In the video, the group is then seen kicking and hitting him repeatedly, cutting his scalp, and yelling “F--- white people!” and “F--- Donald Trump!” They also allegedly forced him to drink water from a toilet. The youth eventually escaped, and was later found wandering down a street, bloodied and wearing just a tank top, shorts, and sandals.
Mexican wall: President-elect Donald Trump last week urged Republican lawmakers to use U.S. taxpayer money to quickly move ahead on building a southern border wall—but insisted that Mexico would eventually repay the construction costs. “We’re going to get reimbursed,” Trump said. “I don’t want to wait that long. But you start, and then you get reimbursed.” Trump repeatedly promised during his campaign to make Mexico pay for the wall, but has told congressional Republican leaders they should use money included in this year’s spending bills to fund the project, which could cost as much as $10 billion. Trump said he could extract the funds from Mexico during future negotiations over NAFTA. “There is no way that’s going to happen,” said Mexico’s foreign relations secretary, Luis Videgaray Caso, in response. “It’s not a matter of how much does it cost…. It’s a matter of dignity and national sovereignty.”
Roof gets the death penalty: A federal jury this week sentenced Dylann Roof to death for the June 2015 massacre of nine black parishioners at a Charleston church. Roof, 22, had largely represented himself during the sentencing phase of his trial and had shown no remorse for gunning down the Bible-study class at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, telling jurors, “I still feel like I had to do it.” Roof opposed attempts by his legal team to mount a defense on the premise he is mentally ill, calling psychology a “Jewish invention.” In his closing statement, he said that he wanted to ask jurors “to give me a life sentence, but I’m not sure what good that would do.” The jury, which had found Roof guilty of all 33 charges related to the massacre, handed down the death penalty after three hours of deliberation. Roof has the right to appeal.
New York City Trump nepotism?
Donald Trump’s sonin- law, Jared Kushner, will be named senior adviser to the president, Trump’s transition team announced this week—a move that tests an anti-nepotism law passed in 1967. Kushner, 36, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, has emerged as one of president-elect’s most trusted confidants, and Trump’s team has told the Obama White House to relay foreign policy matters through the young real estate developer, whose family is worth an estimated $1.8 billion. Kushner will reportedly receive no salary and will divest some of his assets to get around the law, which was passed after President John F. Kennedy appointed his 35-year-old brother, Robert, as attorney general. The law prohibits the president from appointing relatives as Cabinet members, but is murkier on the issue of whether they can serve as White House staff. Kushner has a number of ties to foreign companies, including a major Chinese financial group.
Airport shooting: Five people were killed and eight others wounded at Fort Lauderdale– Hollywood International Airport last week when an Iraq War veteran allegedly pulled a handgun from his checked luggage and opened fire on travelers in the baggage claim hall. The suspected gunman, Esteban Santiago, has a history of mental illness, according to family members. Police in his hometown of Anchorage had confiscated his gun in November after he walked into the local FBI office and told agents his mind was being controlled by U.S. intelligence and ISIS. But the firearm—a 9 mm handgun that Santiago used in last week’s attack, according to reports—was given back to Santiago a month later. Santiago’s deadly rampage ended when he ran out of ammunition and lay spread-eagled on the floor, awaiting arrest. Two of the three charges he faces over the shooting carry the death penalty.