Catch up on all the news you might have missed with our handy summary of the week’s top stories.
The “Leonardo da Vinci” of cake-baking has died
Sylvia Weinstock, who won accolades for her culinary creativity, has died in New York at age 91. Best known for her amazing wedding cakes, she was compared to the original Renaissance man by Bon Appétit magazine.
Her client list included Whitney Houston and LeBron James, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Kennedys, and even Martha Stewart herself. For Ivanka Trump’s 2009 wedding, she designed a cake six feet high; but her tallest creations reached as high as fifteen feet. The New York Times reported she once made a 3,000 serving cake for the Saudi royal family, who had it flown to the Middle East on the royal plane. On other occasions, she flew commercial, buying a seat for her cake and putting it together once she arrived at the wedding.
Amazingly, Sylvia Weinstock did not become a baker until she was in her fifties. She was a happily married mother of three daughters who discovered a midlife talent for dessert-making. Her husband, an attorney, threw himself into helping his wife’s work, building contraptions for her to use in the bakery and delivering the cakes with a t-shirt emblazoned “cake schlepper.” Mrs. Weinstock retired in 2016 to care for her Mr. Weinstock when he became ill.
One of her daughters told the Times that her mother once refused to bake a cake for a bride who wanted it to taste like a Twinkie. “She was a real New York broad who let you know what she thought,” a friend recalled fondly. We can readily imagine grateful couples all over the world raising a glass—or a fork—in Sylvia Weinstock’s memory. —Margaret Brady
Supreme Court hears case that could reverse Roe v. Wade
On Wednesday, oral arguments began in the Supreme Court case that could very well overturn 1973’s Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion rights nationwide. The current case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, centers on a controversial Mississippi law that bans abortions after fifteen weeks gestation despite Roe v. Wade’s standard of 24 weeks after conception.
While all members of the Court’s current conservative supermajority (6-3) appear to argue to maintain the state’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks, only Chief Justice Roberts refrained from questioning abortion’s legal standing on a wider scale. Recently appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett argued that ‘safe haven’ and adoption laws remove the “burden” of parenthood. Justice Kavanaugh reminded the Court that "If you think about some of the most important cases, the most consequential cases in this Court's history, there's a string of them where the cases overruled precedent . . .”
Justices Alito and Thomas, meanwhile, argued strongly to legally recognize and protect fetal personhood, in which “the fetus has an interest in having a life . . . That doesn’t change from the point before viability and after viability.”
Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, representing the Biden administration’s pro-abortion stance, presented her plea for the procedure to remain federally legalized until 24 weeks, stating that abortion rights “must be left up to [women] based on their beliefs and their conscience and their determination about what is best for the course of their lives."
As for what happens next in this historic legal battle, the Justices will convene again this week to go over the details of the case and present their votes and reasoning. Each side will choose one Justice to write the opinion, a months-long process including multiple drafts and revisions and back-and-forths between the jurists. By the end of June, however, the nation should have the Court’s decision as to whether or not Roe v. Wade will be dismantled at the federal level, —Mariel Lindsay
Christmas trees will be scarcer, cost more this year
With inflation already taking a toll on lower-income families, the recently announced supply chain shortage of Christmas trees, both real and artificial, is adding another layer of stress to the holiday season. With most American households opting for artificial trees rather than live ones, that shortage will be felt particularly strongly, as the majority of artificial trees are manufactured overseas in China and shipped on weeks-long journeys to the California coast where products currently wait extended periods to be unloaded.
Indeed, with China as the largest exporter in the world of not only artificial Christmas trees but of Christmas decorations in general, the pandemic-fueled breakdown of supply chains will be felt domestically. At the same time, real trees, the majority of which are grown in the Pacific Northwest, will also be scarcer this season due in part to last year’s devastating wildfires that tore through great swathes of the region. Also affecting distribution and cost of trees is a national trucker shortage precipitated in part by record numbers of unemployed Americans following the pandemic.
Rising shipping costs caused by pandemic-related shortages will likewise affect American consumers as economists predict skyrocketing prices for trees. Indeed, according to a report by CBS News, “American shoppers should expect to have fewer choices and pay up to 30 percent more for both [live and artificial trees] this Christmas.”
The American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA) likewise spoke up on the subject, advising Americans in a published statement that “this is not the year to find a tree last-minute, or to wait for a retailer sale. . . . Plan ahead, and buy early.” —ML
Omicron coronavirus variant officially arrives in the United States
Public health authorities have announced that the first detected case of the new Omicron coronavirus variant has been found in California.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a White House news briefing the case was in a person who tested positive for COVID-19 on November 29 after traveling from South Africa on November 22. South Africa is where the Omicron variant, which has a concerning number of mutations on the virus’s spike protein, was first noticed by scientists.
Fauci said the individual, who was fully vaccinated, is self-quarantining. The person is experiencing “mild symptoms, which are improving at this point,” Fauci said. Although it is too soon to know how COVID-19 vaccinations will perform against the variant, scientists have expressed worry that Omicron is different enough from the original COVID-19 virus that it could escape the immune system’s defenses.
The Dow Jones stock index fell more than 400 points on Wednesday as concern over the Omicron variant fueled volatility in the markets. —Melanie Wilcox
For the first time ever, Cyber Monday spending takes a dip
Feel like holiday deals this year are anti-climactic? You’re not alone. Consumers are holding back on opening their wallets as the traditional shopping season gets underway, according to research from Adobe Analytics.
CNBC reports that data shows holiday shoppers spent $10.7 billion on Cyber Monday, which is about $100 million less, or a 1.4 percent drop, from levels recorded in 2020. Adobe Analytics began reporting on e-commerce in 2012 and generates its statistics by analyzing more than 1 trillion visits to retailers’ websites.
Spending during so-called Cyber Week—from Thanksgiving until November 29—also dropped 1.4 percent to $33.9 billion. Meanwhile, the outlay on the biggest traditional shopping day of the year, Black Friday dropped by 1.3 percent, or $8.9 billion, compared to 2020.
“With early deals in October, consumers were not waiting around for discounts on big shopping days like Cyber Monday and Black Friday,” said Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights. “This was further fueled by growing awareness of supply chain challenges and product availability.” —MW
CNN anchor Chris Cuomo is indefinitely suspended for advising Andrew Cuomo on sexual harassment allegations
Chris Cuomo, CNN anchor and brother to disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, was indefinitely suspended this week after revelations surfaced that he used his influence to advise his brother on how to handle the sexual harassment allegations against him this year.
On Monday, New York Attorney General Letitia James released documents exposing Chris’ involvement in helping Andrew minimize the scandal. While it was known that Chris had attempted to help his brother, these documents showed his efforts to be far more aggressive than previously known, including looking for evidence to discredit Andrew’s accusers.
“When Chris admitted to us that he had offered advice to his brother’s staff, he broke our rules and we acknowledged that publicly,” a CNN spokesperson said. “But we also appreciated the unique position he was in and understood his need to put family first and job second. However, these documents point to a greater level of involvement in his brother’s efforts than we previously knew. As a result, we have suspended Chris indefinitely, pending further evaluation.”
Some see the suspension as a mere slap on the wrist. “Anything short of firing Chris Cuomo reflects a network lacking morals and a backbone,” said Charlotte Bennett, one of Andrew’s accusers.
This isn’t the first resignation prompted by the Andrew Cuomo scandal. In August, the chairwoman of the feminist Time’s Up organization resigned after it came out that she had helped edit a letter from the Cuomo team attacking his accusers. —Madeline Fry Schultz
Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell, claims she was never part of sex-trafficking ring
The trial of Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell began this week. Last summer, Maxwell was charged “with enticement and conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, transportation and conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity for allegedly grooming and recruiting underage girls from 1994 through 1997,” according to CNN. Two sex-trafficking charges have been added as well.
Maxwell has been accused of helping make Epstein’s alleged sex abuse scheme a reality by soliciting young and vulnerable girls. In 2019, Epstein died in prison while facing federal charges for sex trafficking minors.
Maxwell’s defense team, apparently lacking a stronger argument, went to bat for her with an appeal against sexism: “Eve was accused of tempting Adam with the apple,” defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim said. “Women have been blamed for the bad behavior of men and women are often villainized and punished more than the men ever are. The charges against Ghislaine Maxwell are for things that Jeffrey Epstein did. But she is not Jeffrey Epstein.”
Though Maxwell has denied the charges against her, the prosecution argues she’s not the innocent she pretends to be. CNN reported that prosecutor Lara Pomerantz “began her opening statements by describing Maxwell as the lady of the house, running Epstein's homes for over a decade and sharing in his luxurious lifestyle, all while aiding and abetting his abuse of minor girls.” —MFS
Good News of the Week
Facebook will no longer allow targeted ads based on race, health, and more
Facebook’s parent company Meta has announced that advertisers on its social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger, will no longer be allowed to target ads based on user’s affinity to race, religion, health, sexual orientation, and politics.
The issue is not advertisers tailoring content to users’ demographic data. Instead, Facebook’s ads pivoted on whether users interacted with other related content. Thus, if you commented on a post about cancer, it might lead to you later seeing ads related to relevant prescription drugs or screening.
Meta’s past marketing rules have led to lawsuits as it emerged advertisers were allegedly using characteristics like race to only show employment opportunities and real estate and credit offers to certain groups. The company says it has decided to make the change after learning more about how targeted advertising can cause a harmful experience for users.
The new policy is not without its drawbacks; NPR reports that advocacy groups, for instance, will find it more difficult to reach people who could benefit from their messages. On the whole, however, a social media advertising experience that is less invasive, less intimate, and less of an echo chamber could deliver significant improvements over the somewhat unsettling algorithm Facebook currently uses. —MB
Watch of the Week
How’s this for an epic proposal story: Getting engaged, by surprise, on-stage at an Adele concert. Spoiler alert: She said yes!