The U.S. at a glance...
Legal weed: California’s law permitting sales of recreational marijuana went into effect this week, making the state the sixth to legalize pot and creating the nation’s largest legal marijuana marketplace. Eager buyers lined up in the early hours of Jan. 1 outside dispensaries in cities, including San Diego and Berkeley, that have embraced the voters’ decision last year to legalize pot sales for adults over 21. But it could be some time before legal weed becomes widely available throughout the state, with pot sellers facing substantial bureaucratic hurdles as the state refines how to regulate sales. Many municipalities have yet to finalize their own rules for marijuana businesses, and others have banned sales outright. The new law is expected to generate at least $1 billion a year in tax revenue for the state. More than 1 in 5 Americans now live in a state where they can legally buy recreational marijuana.
Anti-harassment campaign: A coalition of powerful Hollywood women this week unveiled a campaign to fight sexual harassment in the entertainment industry and beyond. Time’s Up is backed by more than 300 high-profile actresses, agents, and other entertainment figures, including Ashley Judd, Reese Witherspoon, Natalie Portman, Kerry Washington, the producer Shonda Rhimes, and chairwoman of Universal Pictures Donna Langley. In an open letter, the group listed goals including working for legislation to punish companies that tolerate systemic sexual harassment, discouraging nondisclosure agreements that silence victims, and pressuring Hollywood studios and talent agencies to reach leadership gender parity by 2020. The initiative also includes a $13 million donor-funded legal defense fund to aid women working in blue-collar jobs, such as home health-care aides, farmworkers, and wait-staff, with sexual-harassment complaints.
‘Swatting’ death: Police in Wichita shot an unarmed man to death at his home last week while responding to a false report of a hostage situation phoned in by a prank caller in Los Angeles. Andrew Finch, a 28-year-old father of two, was shot after he went outside to investigate suspicious noises, only to find his home surrounded by officers ordering him to put his hands up. An officer opened fire when Finch didn’t immediately comply, believing that he was reaching for a weapon. It’s believed to be the first fatal incident of “swatting,” in which hoaxers report false crimes in hopes of getting a SWAT team deployed to someone’s house. Some reports have suggested a dispute in the online video game Call of Duty was behind the hoax, with one player falsely listing Finch’s address as his own. Tyler Barriss, 25, who was arrested in California for making the prank call, has served jail time for false bomb threats.
Salt Lake City
Senate retirement: Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in history, announced this week that he would retire at the end of the year, possibly opening the door for Mitt Romney to run for his Senate seat in Utah. President Trump had doggedly lobbied the 83-year-old Hatch to seek an eighth term amid rumors that Romney, who has sometimes sharply criticized Trump, would run if Hatch stepped down. Although most of Romney’s political career was spent in Massachusetts, where he was governor, he’s now a Utah resident and remains popular there for his successful management of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He’s also a Mormon, like the majority of Utah residents. Hatch’s retirement is the latest in a wave of Republican departures from Congress ahead of this year’s midterms, including Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake. In the House, 29 Republicans have resigned or announced their retirements, compared with 16 Democrats.
Extreme cold: At least 12 people died cold-related deaths this week, as frigid temperatures and dangerous windchills gripped much of the continental U.S. Forty states were under alerts for bitter cold, with chill advisories from South Texas to Canada and from Montana to Maine. In Florida, unusually frigid conditions turned water fountains to ice and prompted the closure of Orlando water parks; Tallahassee saw measurable snow for the first time since 1989. New Orleans reported lower temperatures than Anchorage, and in Aberdeen, S.D., the mercury plunged to minus 32, breaking a 99-year record. Along the Eastern Seaboard, residents in more than a dozen states braced for the arrival of snow and hurricane-force gusts from a “bomb cyclone” winter storm. Punishing cold was expected to follow, with temperatures 20 to 40 degrees below normal.
Bannon bombshell: Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, stunned the White House with an explosive interview made public this week in which he branded a 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Kremlin-linked Russians and the Trump campaign as “treasonous.” In interviews with Michael Wolff, whose book on Trump’s White House will be published next week, the Breitbart News chief took aim at Donald Trump Jr., who organized the meeting— predicting that special counsel Robert Mueller would “crack Don Jr. like an egg on national TV.” Bannon also said there was “zero chance” the younger Trump had not told his father about the Russian overtures, and predicted the Mueller investigation—which he described as a “Category 5” hurricane— would focus on “money laundering” by Trump’s family and businesses. The president dismissed Bannon’s comments. “When he was fired,” Trump said, “he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”