—Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will face off this evening in Las Vegas for the third and final presidential debate. Chris Wallace, the Fox News host, will moderate the encounter, which starts at 9 p.m. ET. Our politics team is live-blogging the debate here.
—Brazil’s former House Speaker Eduardo Cunha has been arrested in connection with the country’s biggest corruption scandal. Cunha, dubbed the “Brazilian Frank Underwood,” led the impeachment process against former President Dilma Rousseff this year. More here
—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).
Wells Fargo Under Criminal Investigation in California
The state of California has put Wells Fargo under criminal investigation for creating millions of phony bank and credit-card accounts.
The California Department of Justice will investigate whether the San Francisco-based bank’s scheme constitutes identity theft. Kamala Harris, the state attorney general, alleges Wells Fargo violated two sections of state penal code. The violations, both felonies, could mean jail time. It is still unclear who the state will charge.
Harris’ office demanded the bank turn over a trove of information, including the identities of California customers who had unauthorized accounts opened in their names, information about fees related to those accounts, the names of the Wells Fargo employees who opened the accounts, the names of those employees’ managers and emails or other communication related to those accounts.
Her office is also requesting the same information about accounts opened by Wells Fargo workers in California for customers in other states.
The California state treasurer has already cut off its financial relationship with bank, which could cost Wells Fargo millions of dollars in fees. Federal and state regulators have also fined the bank $185 million for the scheme. Several top executives have resigned in recent weeks, including embattled CEO John Stumpf.
A Category 4 typhoon has touched down in the Philippines, just days after a similarly powerful one struck the island nation, flooding villages and displacing thousands of people.
Typhoon Haima, packing sustained winds of 140 miles per hour, made landfall over Peñablanca, in the northeast corner of the island of Luzon, around 11 p.m. local time Wednesday.
The Joint Typhoon Warning Center, based in Hawaii, downgraded Haima from a super typhoon before it came ashore, CNN reports. At its peak, it generated winds of 195 miles per hour, which made it a Category 5 storm. Here’s the storm as it made its approach:
Haima’s arrival prompted evacuations and flight cancellations in Luzon. Up to 2.7 million people could be affected by the storm before it heads north toward the coast of China.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte described his country as nervous but vigilant.
“We only pray that we be spared destruction such as in the previous past which brought agony and suffering to our people, but we are ready,” Duterte said at a press conference Wednesday.
Typhoon Sarika struck the northern Philippines on Sunday, killing at least three people, displacing nearly 15,000, and leaving hundreds of thousands more without power. The double typhoons are a rare occurrence: This will be just the third time the Philippines has been struck by back-to-back Category 4 storms, according to data going back to 1950, as CNN notes.
Croatia’s parliament approved a new conservative-led government on Wednesday, nearly four months after the previous government was dissolved after just five months.
The center-right Democratic Union party, more commonly known as the HDZ, received 91 out of 151 votes from parliamentary deputies. The confirmation of a new prime minister and his cabinet comes after Croatians voted in June against the piece-meal government that was formed in November 2015. That vote led to a snap election last month, during which all 151 parliamentary seats were up for grabs. The HDZ won 61 seats in that election.
“We will be the government that knows how to bring changes,” said Andrej Plenkovic, the new prime minister, Wednesday.
Plenkovic’s government, which consists of members from the HDZ and Most, Croatia’s populist party, seeks to implement tax reform and increase wages for public-sector workers. Analysts say the new government could give businesses and the economy a much-needed boost. They also expect it to last its four-year term, unlike the last government, according to Reuters.
Croatia has continued to be one of the weaker economies in the European Union since it became a member state in July 2013. The country is hampered by government-owed debt, which currently accounts for roughly 85 percent of the nation’s total GDP. In late 2012, the country received a speculative grade, or more commonly known as junk-bond status, by Standard and Poor’s, one of the three major ratings agencies. Junk bonds have higher default risk and are therefore less appetizing to investors.
NBA Star Derrick Rose Found Not Liable For Rape in Civil Case
A Los Angeles jury found New York Knicks player Derrick Rose and two other men not liable in a civil lawsuit accusing them of raping a woman in 2013.
Jurors deliberated for almost four hours before ruling in favor of the three men. The verdict concludes a two-week trial in which the accuser, referred to in court records as Jane Doe, and Rose’s defense team presented competing versions of events. Deadspinhas more:
Both sides agree she went over to Rose’s place in Beverly Hills with a friend where she had some shots of tequila. In Doe’s account, she got home, vomited, and passed out on her bed in her dress. She woke up with her dress around her neck and lube everywhere, trying to figure out what had happened to her. According to Rose and his friends, the woman let them in and then agreed to have sex with all three of them, even calling the shots as to how things would go in the bedroom, as lawyer Mark Baute said in closing arguments.
Accounts from witnesses varied too. Two of the woman’s roommates said she seemed off the next day, and a former co-worker was so worried by her account of what happened he told her to call a lawyer, who in turn told her to call the police. But a former friend called Doe a liar multiple times on the stand, and another ex-roommate who, in a video deposition played for the jury, said she purposely gave text messages to Baller Alert because she thought what Doe was doing was “morally wrong.”
Doe was reportedly devastated by the verdict. “She’s saddened the jury came back in this way. It’s hard for women to come forward like this,” her lawyer Waukeen McCoy told the New York Daily News. “She just didn't understand as well how the jury could come to this type of conclusion. There was evidence she didn't consent to this type of action."
A civil lawsuit is different from criminal charges, which could still be forthcoming. The LAPD said Wednesday its investigation into the allegations is still underway. Doe had sought more than $21 million in damages from Rose and his two co-defendants.
It’s unclear whether Rose will play in the Knicks’ season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers on October 25. His celebrity status as a professional basketball player followed him across the country. Outside the courtroom, some jurors took pictures with Rose shortly after finding him not liable for rape.
U.K. Rules Out 'Unethical' Dental Checks of Child Refugees
The British government has rejected calls from a Conservative member of Parliament to use dental X-ray checks to confirm the age of incoming child migrants.
Earlier this week, MP David Davies called for dental investigations or X-rays to verify the age of child refugees entering the country this week from France’s Calais refugee camp as part of a resettlement program for unaccompanied children.
“People in Britain want to help children but we don’t want to be taken for a free ride either by people who seem to have got to the front of the queue even though they clearly look in some cases a lot older than 18,” Davies said.
The Home Office, the department of the British government that oversees immigration, ruled out Davies’ suggestions on Wednesday. “We do not use dental X-rays to confirm the ages of those seeking asylum in the UK,” a Home Office spokesperson said. “The British Dental Association has described them as inaccurate, inappropriate and unethical.”
On the same day, several British publications, including the Daily Mail and the Sun, ran stories questioning whether incoming child refugees were in fact children.
The Home Office explained that migrants coming from Calais already undergo a vetting process that includes interviews and requests for documentation to ensure their eligibility for asylum as children.
“Where credible and clear documentary evidence of age is not available, criteria including physical appearance and demeanour are used as part of the interview process to assess age,” the spokesperson said.
Child refugees are an exceptionally vulnerable population in Europe, where anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise across the continent. There have been reports of young migrants being sexually assaulted in Italy and Greece, and videos have emerged of British soccer fans hurling coins at what appear to be refugee children in France.
Brazilian authorities have arrested former House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, the man nicknamed the “Brazilian Frank Underwood,” in the investigation of the country’s biggest corruption scandal.
Cunha was arrested Wednesday in Brasilia, the country’s capital, and taken into custody because authorities believe there is “a real possibility” he would flee “the country as he has resources hidden abroad," said federal judge Sergio Moro, who oversaw the bribery investigation. Cunha is accused, among other things, of taking as much as $5 million in bribes in exchange for awarding contracts with the state oil company, Petrobras. The Petrobras scandal has ensnared dozens of Brazilian politicians and business leaders since it was uncovered in 2014.
Cunha, a member of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, led the impeachment process against former President Dilma Rousseff this year. A month after she was ousted, the same politicians he’d goaded along against Rousseff turned against him, and the Brazilian Congress expelled Cunha in September. Without his congressional seat, Cunha lost the immunityfrom prosecution granted to elected officials.
Here’s some background on how Brazil’s Frank Underwood found himself caught in the cogs of the political machine he so handily wielded against others, from my coverage of him last month:
Along with the $1.3 million Cunha is accused of stealing from Petrobras, he is also accused of receiving many more millions in bribes. Cunha came up through political ranks after hosting a radio show on an evangelical station. He became House speaker, and he enjoyed strong public support. But that support began to wane after prosecutors released his family’s credit-card statements. Amid the bribery allegations, Cunha claimed only to have made $120,000 each year. But his family’s spending habits suggest he’s accustomed to a much more extravagant lifestyle than that salary affords.
Cunha hasn’t gone down without a fight. After Congress kicked him out, he threatened to take other politicians down with him. His parting words to his colleagues were: “Tomorrow, it will be you.”
A gunman in an Afghan army uniform opened fire on a group of Americans near a military base six miles south of Kabul Wednesday morning, killing a soldier and a civilian.
The attack occurred near the entrance of Camp Morehead, the U.S. Department of Defense-funded headquarters for training Afghanistan’s elite commandos. Three others were wounded in the shooting. The assailant was shot dead by international troops responding to the scene.
NATO said in a statement that the two individuals killed were “conducting duties as part of the larger NATO mission to train, advise, and assist the Afghan security services.”
“Anytime we lose a member of our team, it is deeply painful,” General John W. Nicholson, Commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said. “Our sympathies go out to the families, loved ones, and the units of those involved in this incident.”
Officials don’t know whether the gunman was actually a member of the Afghan National army, according toThe Washington Post. The attack appears to be an instance of “green-on-blue,” or insider, violence by Afghani security personnel or soldiers against coalition forces. That would make it the third such incident this year, The New York Timesreports. Insider attacks have declined sharply since their peak in 2012, when 44 occurred.
About 13,000 international troops and several thousand more civilian contractors are currently stationed in Afghanistan to help the country’s security forces’ campaign against a resurgent Taliban.
The last time an American was killed in Afghanistan was August, when an improvised explosive device killed a Green Beret escorting Afghan troops in southern Afghanistan.
In May, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro went on television to tout the country’s health-care system. “I doubt there is anywhere in the world, with the exception of Cuba, with a better health system than this one,” Maduro said. Days later, when inflation reached 180 percent, Maduro declared a state of emergency. Since then, hospitals and medical facilities across the country have experienced shortages of medical supplies, a decrease in staff, and a rise in infant deaths
Venezuela was once Latin America’s richest country, but hyperinflation and plummeting oil prices in the region’s top producer have led to an economic downturn this year. The crisis has exacerbated what Maritza Landaeta, a researcher at the Venezuelan Health Observatory of the Central University of Venezuela, calls “a collapse in the public-health system.”
Fewer than 10 percent of emergency rooms and intensive care units are fully operational, according to estimates by the Health Observatory. At some facilities, doctors are operating without water, soap, or antibiotics.
Maternal mortality rate—one key health indicator used to measure the health of a population—has doubled in the last year. According to a government report provided to The New York Times, “death among babies under a month old increased more than a hundredfold in public hospitals” between 2012 and 2015.
Some now worry that diseases thought long gone may return. Venezuela eradicated diphtheria 20 years ago, but evidence that the infectious disease might be back surfaced when a patient came into a hospital with its symptoms. The resurgence of the disease, which has claimed 17 lives since the outbreak began, according to doctors, has further exacerbated the country’s months-long health-care crisis.
“We have to improvise like doctors at war,” said Pablo Alvarez, a Venezuelan doctor, in a recent interview with The Guardian.
Police Fatally Shoot 66-Year-Old Woman in New York City
Updated at 2:16 p.m.
A New York City police officer fatally shot a 66-year-old black woman in her apartment in the Bronx on Tuesday night, authorities said. The woman, identified as Deborah Danner, lived alone.
Several officers responded to a call of an “emotionally disturbed person” around 6 p.m. Tuesday, said Assistant Chief Larry Nikunen, the patrol borough’s commanding officer. Police allege Danner wielded scissors that Sergeant Hugh Barry persuaded her to drop. She then picked up a bat and attacked him with it, police said. Barry then shot her twice in the chest. She was taken to Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx where she was pronounced dead. Barry was carrying a stun gun when the fatal shots were fired, but it was not deployed.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took to Twitter saying:
At a news conference Wednesday, he said: “Deborah Danner should be alive right now, period. If the protocols had been followed, she would be alive. It’s as simple as that.”
At a news conference, police Commissioner James O’Neill echoed that sentiment: “That's not how it's supposed to go,” he said. “It's not how we train; our first obligation is to preserve life, not to take a life when it can be avoided.”
This is the latest high-profile police shooting in New York City. In February, former NYPD officer Peter Liang was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years’ probation in the 2014 shooting of Akai Gurley.
China announced Wednesday that its economy grew 6.7 percent in the third quarter, fulfilling its growth targets and matching the pace at which it grew in the first two quarters of the year.
On the surface, it appears that the world’s second-largest economy is remarkably stable, especially following the volatility it experienced in its currency and stock markets as recently as the beginning of this year.
Still, China’s economy is on track to grow more slowly than last year, which was its weakest year of growth in a quarter century. Stability at lower growth rates is likely a best-case scenario, as most of the forces driving the Chinese economy have analysts concerned that the current pace of growth is unsustainable.
Much of China’s recent growth is being fueled by risky expansion of credit for housing development and infrastructure investment. “Credit growth continues to outstrip nominal GDP growth, building on an already enormous base of outstanding debt,” Eswar Prasad, a China finance expert at Cornell University, told the Financial Times. “The cost of hitting short-term growth targets is becoming a rising burden for the financial system, with stresses periodically erupting in different parts of the system. The housing market is the latest pressure point.”
The price of housing across urban China has soared in the past year, but local governments are stepping in to manage the bubble with more stringent lending regulations and limits on housing purchases by nonresidents.
Last month, the Bank for International Settlements, a federation that brings central bank chiefs together from around the world, estimated that the gulf between China’s outstanding credit and its pace of growth “had widened to a record and was well above the historical level that indicates a financial crisis is likely, The New York Timesreports.
The population of operational spacecraft on the surface of Mars is now three—scientists hope.
The Schiaparelli lander was scheduled to touch down on the planet Wednesday after a seven-month journey as part of a joint mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency. The Giant Metrewave Radio, located in Pune, India, detected signals from Schiaparelli during its descent, but the lander later went silent. Scientists waited for the ESA’s Mars orbiter, which has been orbiting the planet since 2008, to relay information about Schiaparelli back to Earth. But hours after Schiaparelli began its descent at the top of the planet’s atmosphere, its fate remains unknown:
ESA says it’s investigating what happened, and will provide an update Thursday morning.
Schiaparelli was launched together with the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) from Kazahkstan in March. The spacecraft separated Sunday as they approached Mars, and Schiaparelli began free-falling toward the planet. The TGO successfully entered Mars’s orbit Wednesday, where it will study the planet’s atmosphere. And Schiaparelli—well, the space agencies just want to successfully land a spacecraft on the surface of Mars. The ESA sent a lander to Mars in 2008, but the spacecraft lost contact with Earth during descent and wasn’t heard from again. In 2015, images from a NASA orbiter showed the lander intact on the surface.
Here’s an artist’s rendering of Schiaparelli’s descent:
Schiaperelli will join NASA’s two rovers, Opportunity and Curiosity.
The Syrian First Lady's First Interview in 8 Years
Russian media released a rare interview with Syria’s first lady—her first since the Syrian civil war began more than five years ago.
In a 30-minute interview, aired Tuesday in English with Arabic subtitles by Russian state-broadcaster Russia 24, Asma al-Assad discussed the state of the country, condemned Western sanctions against Syria, and the Western media’s portrayal of the conflict.
Assad, a 41-year-old London-born former investment banker, married Bashar al-Assad in 2001—the same year he assumed the presidency, succeeding his father, Hafiz al-Assad. In the interview, she said that since then her goal has been to support Syria’s local communities.
“My priorities today are helping martyrs’ families, helping injured soldiers, and people who have been displaced or affected by this war,” she said. “It is because of these people that Syria is standing today, and we owe it to them to honor their sacrifice.”
The Syrian civil war has claimed the lives of almost half a million people and displaced millions of others. The conflict, which pits Syrian forces of the Assad regime (backed by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah) against several rebel groups (backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar), has seen some of its heaviest fighting in the past month, particularly in rebel-controlled eastern Aleppo. This latest offensive by Russian and Syrian forces to retake the last major rebel stronghold has resulted in the deaths of approximately 740 civilians and prompted accusations by Western nations that Moscow and Damascus are committing war crimes.
In the interview, Assad blamedWestern sanctions against Syria for the suffering, likening it to the sanctions placed on Iraq in the 1990s.
“The only difference is that today nobody can claim—and especially those that enforce the sanctions—they cannot claim that they did not foresee the consequences on ordinary Syrian people,” she said.
She also criticized the Western media’s coverage of the war, which she accused of serving Western political agendas.
“Ironically, Western media organizations have chosen to solely focus on the plight of refugees and those caught up in rebel-held areas, whereas in fact the vast majority of people displaced are living across the rest of the country,” she said.
She added: “As a Syrian, I’m personally saddened by the loss of every single child, whether it’s Aylan or Omran or the many, many others whose names did not reach western headlines.”
Assad’s last major media appearance came in the form of a glowing magazine article by Vogue in February 2011, which characterized the first lady as “a rose in the desert.” Published just a month before the civil war broke out, the profile was criticized for characterizing the Assad family as “glamorous” and “wildly democratic,” and was later taken off the internet entirely (though you can read excerpts of it here).
Air Force Released Toxic Chemicals Into Colorado City’s Sewer System
There has been another wastewater spill in Colorado. U.S. Air Force officials disclosed Tuesday that 150,000 gallons of wastewater, laced with toxic chemicals linked to several health issues, spilled from Peterson Air Force base into the Colorado Springs sewer system, and Fountain Creek—a tributary of the Arkansas River.
“We take all environmental concerns seriously and have opened an investigation to determine the cause of the discharge,” Colonel Doug Schiess, 21st Space Wing commander at Peterson Air Force Base, said in a statement.
Air Force officials said the spill occurred several days ago, and that it was discovered while the tank was being inspected October 12. The wastewater contains perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, which are used in firefighting foams and have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, among other ailments.
While it does not affect the city’s drinking water, according to both Colorado Springs and neighboring Pueblo officials, some people are still concerned.
“We don’t use any groundwater or surface water from Fountain Creek,” Paul Fanning, spokesman for the Pueblo Board of Water Works told the Denver Post. “But it is not a good thing to have those contaminants anywhere in our water. There are some health effects. It is in our interest to protect the public.”
In the groundwater just south of Colorado Springs, PFCs already exceed the federal limit, and many suspect Peterson AFB to be the culprit.
The latest spill comes on the heels of last year’s Gold King Mine spill in Colorado where the EPA released more than 3 million gallons of wastewater into the Animas River.
In a written statement, Colorado Department of Public Health spokeswoman Meghan Trubee said, “The Air Force has demonstrated its commitment to identifying and addressing PFC contamination at Peterson Air Force Base and nationwide.” She added that the state is waiting for more information from the Air Force.
Saudi Arabia executed a prince on Tuesday convicted three years ago of shooting and killing a man during a mass brawl near Riyadh.
Although it is not uncommon for the Saudi government to execute people—134 people have been executed this year—it is rare that the death penalty is carried out against a member of the royal family; it happened last in 1975 when Prince Faisal bin Musaid was beheaded for assassinating King Faisal.
Beheading is the most-common form of execution in Saudi Arabia, though authorities did not say how Prince Turki bin Saud al-Kabir was killed.
Prince Turki was convicted of murdering a young Saudi man after a group fight on the outskirts of Riyadh, the country’s capital. The prince was from a prominent royal family, directly linked to the country’s founder, King Abdulaziz. Saudi Arabia adheres to strict and literal interpretation of Sharia law, and after his conviction, the victim’s family refused a blood-money payment, instead demanding execution, Al Arabiyareported.
On social media the decision was hailed as proof of the country’s equitable justice system. One prominent Saudi lawyer, Abdul-Rahman al-Lahim, wrote on Twitter:
Philippines Police Crack Down on Violent Anti-U.S. Riots
A police van patrolling an anti-U.S. rally outside the American embassy in Manila repeatedly rammed protesters and sent several people to the hospital.
The rally outside the embassy turned violent Wednesday, and footage shows protesters pushing on police vehicles and officers with shields and clubs striking people. The activists were part of a left-wing group that has organized protests in past years against what they say is U.S. imperialism, but those demonstrations have been peaceful. On Wednesday, a fire truck shot a stream of water at protesters, riot police marched and lobbed teargas at the crowd. TV crews caught much of the scene on camera. One image shows protesters surrounding a police van and pushing against it when the van backs into a crowd, ramming several people, then jolts forward at more protesters, and runs at least one person over.
"There was absolutely no justification for it," activist Renato Reyes said of the police violence. "Even as the president avowed an independent foreign policy, Philippine police forces still act as running dogs of the U.S."
Here is footage of some of the protest—as a warning, the clip is graphic:
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterete, who was in China during the protest, has said he wants to kick U.S. forces out of the country. His visit to Beijing is an attempt to, among other things, find financing for infrastructure projects.
Indonesia's President Wants Pedophiles Chemically Castrated
Joko Widodo, the leader of the world’s most-populous Muslim nation, told the BBC the procedure would help rid his country of pedophiles.
“In my opinion … chemical castration, if we enforce it consistently, will reduce sex crimes and wipe them out over time,” he said.
Indonesian lawmakers approved measures earlier this month to authorize chemical castration, minimum sentences, and execution for those convicted of sexually abusing children, the BBC reported. The measures were prompted by the gang rape and killing in May of a 14-year-old girl.
The Indonesian Doctors Association and human-rights groups have criticized the procedure, but the Indonesian president told the BBC they’d find other doctors who are willing to carry out chemical castration of convicted pedophiles.
Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, says there should be “no revenge, retaliation, or retribution” against civilians fleeing Iraq’s second-largest city, which is controlled by ISIS. There are fears that Shia militias, fighting alongside the Iraqi military and Kurdish Peshmerga, will target Sunnis in Mosul. Human-rights groups have chronicled such attacks in other Iraqi cities from which ISIS was pushed out.
Here’s the UN’s assessment of the challenges in Mosul and what humanitarian agencies are doing:
"Residents of #Mosul seeking sanctuary must not be prevented from fleeing"
The UN estimates some 900 people have left Mosul over the past 24 hours and crossed the border into northeastern Syria where they have arrived at the Al Hol camp. Save the Children estimated that 5,000 people have arrived at the camp over the past 10 days; 1,000 more are waiting at the border, the group said.
About 6,000 ISIS fighters are still believed to be in the city of approximately 1.5 million people.
Here are headlines about the state of the fight for Mosul, which entered its third day Wednesday:
Critics are letting their disdain for the president blind them to geopolitical realities.
When a new coronavirus emerged in China and began spreading around the world, including in the United States, President Donald Trump’s many critics in the American foreign-policy establishment were quick to identify him as part of the problem. Trump had campaigned on an “America first” foreign policy, which after his victory was enshrined in the official National Security Strategy that his administration published in 2017. At the time, I served in the administration and orchestrated the writing of that document. In the years since, Trump has been criticized for supposedly overturning the post–World War II order and rejecting the role the United States has long played in the world. Amid a global pandemic, he’s being accused—on this site and elsewhere—of alienating allies, undercutting multinational cooperation, and causing America to fight the coronavirus alone.
The U.S. may end up with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the industrialized world. This is how it’s going to play out.
Three months ago, no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country, infecting at least 446,000 people whom we know about, and many more whom we do not. It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.
A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”
The president is failing, and Americans are paying for his failures.
“I don’t take responsibility at all,” said President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden on March 13. Those words will probably end up as the epitaph of his presidency, the single sentence that sums it all up.
Trump now fancies himself a “wartime president.” How is his war going? By the end of March, the coronavirus had killed more Americans than the 9/11 attacks. By the first weekend in April, the virus had killed more Americans than any single battle of the Civil War. By Easter, it may have killed more Americans than the Korean War. On the present trajectory, it will kill, by late April, more Americans than Vietnam. Having earlier promised that casualties could be held near zero, Trump now claims he will have done a “very good job” if the toll is held below 200,000 dead.
The coronavirus pandemic and a chapter of history that should have expired long ago
In a large windowlessroom in the bowels of the CIA, there is a sign that reads Every day is September 12th. When I first saw those words, during a tour of the agency’s operations, I felt conflicted. As a New Yorker who witnessed the 9/11 attacks, I once felt that way myself, but by the time I saw the sign, during the second term of the Obama administration, it seemed to ignore all the things that our country had gotten wrong because of that mindset. Now, as COVID-19 has transformed the way that Americans live, and threatens to claim exponentially more lives than any terrorist has, it is time to finally end the chapter of our history that began on September 11, 2001.
I say that as someone whose life was shaped by 9/11. I was a 24-year-old graduate student working on a city-council campaign when I watched the second plane curve into the World Trade Center and then saw the first tower collapse. Everything that I’d done in my life up to that point suddenly seemed trivial. I walked several miles to my apartment, as my fellow New Yorkers came out into the streets to be near one another (as we can’t be today). In the days that followed, my Queens neighborhood was the setting for a number of funerals for firemen. I will never forget the image of one devastated widow sitting in a lawn chair in her front yard, receiving condolences from a line of the toughest—but most broken—men I had ever seen.
The country has reasserted its foundational stability, and in doing so made real change more likely once this is all over.
Perhaps a testament to how close Britain has come to losing its way is the fact that it took a pandemic, an emergency of foggy complexity, for the country to get back on its path. This was a weekend that felt defining, not just for the immediate story, the coronavirus, but for British politics—and for Britain itself.
It was not a good weekend. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized, and Britain’s death toll jumped as another 621 people died over 24 hours. The gravity of the situation moved the Queen to deliver an emergency address to the nation, something she has done only a handful of times in her 68-year reign. This was not a weekend in which Britain reached, or even caught a glimpse of, the peak of the coronavirus outbreak—never mind found a route back down from it and off the mountain.
What is actually known about hydroxychloroquine, the medication that Trump is fixated on recommending for COVID-19
Two weeks ago, French doctors published a provocative observation in a microbiology journal. In the absence of a known treatment for COVID-19, the doctors had taken to experimentation with a potent drug known as hydroxychloroquine. For decades, the drug has been used to treat malaria—which is caused by a parasite, not a virus. In six patients with COVID-19, the doctors combined hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin (known to many as “Z-Pak,” an antibiotic that kills bacteria, not viruses) and reported that after six days of this regimen, all six people tested negative for the virus.
The report caught the eye of the celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, who has since appeared on Fox News to talk about hydroxychloroquine 21 times. As Oz put it to Sean Hannity, “This French doctor, [Didier] Raoult, a very famous infectious-disease specialist, had done some interesting work at a pilot study showing that he could get rid of the virus in six days in 100 percent of the patients he treated.” Raoult has made news in recent years as a pan-disciplinary provocateur; he has questioned climate change and Darwinian evolution. On January 21, at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in China, Raoult said in a YouTube video, “The fact that people have died of coronavirus in China, you know, I don’t feel very concerned.” Last week, Oz, who has been advising the president on the coronavirus, described Raoult to Hannity as “very impressive.” Oz told Hannity that he had informed the White House as much.
Widespread social-distancing measures have produced some jarring effects across land, air, and sea.
From inside her living room in London, Paula Koelemeijer can feel the world around her growing quieter.
Koelemeijer, a seismologist, has a miniature seismometer sitting on a concrete slab at the base of her first-floor fireplace. The apparatus, though smaller than a box of tissues, can sense all kinds of movement, from the rattle of trains on the tracks near Koelemeijer’s home to the waves of earthquakes rolling in from afar. Since the United Kingdom announced stricter social-distancing rules last month, telling residents not to leave their home except for essential reasons, the seismometer has registered a sharp decrease in the vibrations produced by human activity.
With fewer trains, buses, and people pounding the pavement, the usual hum of public life has vanished, and so has its dependable rhythms: Before the spread of COVID-19 shut down the city, Koelemeijer could plot the seismometer’s data and see the train schedule reflected in the spikes, down to the minute. Now, with fewer trains running, the spikes seem to come at random.
New York’s Bill de Blasio seems irritated by the need to fight the coronavirus.
Bill de Blasio has long been spoiling for a fight, just not the one now before him and his city. When he became the 109th mayor of New York, on a colorless winter day in 2014, he promised to lead a struggle against “injustice and inequality.” Although he has had some genuine successes, he has failed to turn the city into a Copenhagen-on-the-Hudson. He hasn’t turned it into Caracas, either. New York is pretty much the same global metropolis it was when he took over.
Aware that his progressive ambitions have been frustrated, de Blasio has complained that legions of enemies—conservatives, capitalists, newspaper headline writers—are arrayed against his vision for the city.
However determined these forces have been to undo him, they are not responsible for whatNew York magazine called, on March 26, “his worst week as mayor.” Worse than the week in 2014 when two police officers were shot and killed, degrading his relationship with the department. Worse than the many weeks in 2016 of overlapping ethics investigations, which threatened to ensnare the mayor and his top aides.
The president belatedly acknowledged how dire a threat COVID-19 is, but many of his enablers in right-wing media refuse to take his cue.
Mainstream news descriptions of the right-wing media’s approach to COVID-19 typically go something like this: At first, prominent conservatives on television and radio downplayed the threat; only when Donald Trump himself acknowledged that the coronavirus was likely to kill large numbers of Americans did his enablers on Fox News and talk radio reverse course.
On March 31, the New YorkTimes contributing opinion writer Kara Swisher asserted that Fox News had “dished out dangerous misinformation about the virus in the early days of the crisis” and had only recently gotten “much more serious in its reporting on the coronavirus, as has Mr. Trump.” On April 1, the Times reporter Jeremy Peters described an initial “denial among many of Mr. Trump’s followers” in the press about the seriousness of the COVID-19 threat, followed by a “sharp pivot” to acknowledging its severity but “blaming familiar enemies in the Democratic Party and the news media” for the destruction the virus has brought.
The president’s hands-off approach to the coronavirus is in keeping with the Founders’ original vision—and comes at precisely the wrong time.
President Donald Trump has sometimes used the executive powers of the American presidency with ruthless aplomb. In an administration not conspicuously adept at working the machinery of government, he has effectively circumvented it. He has moved money appropriated by Congress to unauthorized purposes, paid no heed to proscriptions against emoluments, peopled the government with acting department heads unconfirmed by the Senate. He has revealed how many perceived constraints on the presidency are normative rather than statutory or constitutional—thereby dramatically increasing the powers of the executive branch.
Yet in the first real crisis to befall his presidency, Trump is utilizing virtually none of the powers of his office. Rather than bring the slippery inventiveness his team took when building the border wall or enacting the travel ban, he’s settled for ineffectual bluster. In an ironic turn, Trump is now acting much more like the kind of tightly constrained executive whom the authors of the Constitution had in mind. The United States could use a vigorous president right now—if not necessarily the imperial president that historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. famously described—but the incumbent suddenly retreated at the worst possible time.