—Dozens of women and girls living in camps for those displaced by the conflict with Boko Haram have faced rape and sexual exploitation by Nigerian officials. More here
—Thousands of people are using a Facebook “check in” feature to show solidarity to protestors opposed to a North Dakota pipeline, which they say threatens the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s sacred sites, as well as the tribe’s only water source. More here
—Iraqi forces entered Mosul for the first time since ISIS took the city in 2014. Capturing the city is expected to take months. More here
Audio of Police Exchanges With Orlando Shooter Released
The recordings of conversations between Omar Mateen, the man who killed 49 people in an Orlando gay nightclub in June, and police negotiators were released Monday.
While the transcripts of the conversations have been available for the last month, this is the first time the public can hear the recordings. The city of Orland released the recordings of Mateen and other 911 calls of the shooting after a court order from Margaret Schreiber, a judge in Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit.
In the 30 minutes of recordings, Mateen rants, sometimes with profanity, about U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. As USA Todaydescribes, “Mateen’s demeanor fluctuated from emotionless to frenzied and indignant,” hanging up with police negotiators several times and rejecting requests to resolve the situation peacefully. In one exchange, Mateen tells a negotiator:
You have to tell America to stop bombing Syria and Iraq. They are killing a lot of innocent people. What am I to do here when my people are getting killed over there. You get what I’m saying?
Later, he refers to Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev as his “homeboy,” and says, “now it’s my turn.”
Mateen, who in the recordings is heard demanding to be called an “Islamic Soldier,” was killed in a shootout with police at the Pulse nightclub. Dozens of others were injured.
Nigerian Officials Accused of Sexually Abusing Displaced Women and Girls
Dozens of women and girls living in camps for those displaced by the conflict with Boko Haram have faced rape and sexual exploitation by Nigerian officials, according to a report released Monday by Human Rights Watch.
The report documented 43 cases of sexual abuse since July in seven camps designated for internally displaced persons (IDP) throughout Maiduguri, the capital of the Borno state in northwest Nigeria. Of the documented cases, four of the women reported being drugged and raped by security forces or members of vigilante groups working with the Nigerian government. Thirty-seven women said they were coerced into sex with promises of marriage or money. And according to a July study by NOIPolls, a Nigerian research organization, a vast majority of these women lack proper access to food, clean water, and health care.
“It is bad enough that these women and girls are not getting much-needed support for the horrific trauma they suffered at the hands of Boko Haram,” Mausi Segun, the organization’s senior Nigeria researcher, said. “It is disgraceful and outrageous that people who should protect these women and girls are attacking and abusing them.”
Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian president, called the report’s findings “deeply worrying” and vowed to launch an immediate investigation.
We will protect the lives and wellbeing of these most vulnerable of Nigeria's citizens. And we will ensure they return safely to their homes
The women, ranging between the ages of 16 to 43, are among the more than 2.5 million people displaced as a result of the conflict between the Nigerian government and the Islamist militant group. The seven-year battle has resulted in the deaths of more than 10,000 civilians, as well as the kidnappings of thousands of others.
What Peter Thiel Said About the Gawker Case, Hulk Hogan, and 'Single-Digit Millionaires'
Peter Thiel, the billionaire investor who financed Hulk Hogan’s lethal lawsuit against Gawker, called the now-shuttered gossip-news website “a singularly sociopathic bully.”
Here are some of his remarks at an appearance Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.:
On why he financed Hulk Hogan’s case against Gawker: “If you’re a single-digit millionaire like Hulk Hogan, you have no effective access to our legal system. It costs too much.”
On Gawker: “Gawker was a pretty flimsy business. It was bad business. It didn’t make that much money. But they could have withstood all the lawsuits. They lost because of an enormous verdict that came in against them.”
On whether his actions set a dangerous precedent: “This is not about the First Amendment. It’s about the most egregious violation of of privacy imaginable, publishing a sex tape surreptitiously filmed in the privacy of someone’s bedroom and to hide behind the First Amendment, behind journalism. That is an insult to journalists. That’s why Gawker lost so catastrophically at the court in Tampa, Florida.”
On what the case was about: “I was very careful in the Hulk Hogan litigation, picking a lawsuit where the fight was over privacy. We did not even bring a libel action because that was sort of the way I wanted to make clear in the Hogan case that it was not about the media.”
On the internet’s “flash mobs”: “I’m generally in favor of the Internet. I generally think it’s been a good thing, but I think there are some parts of it where things have gone wrong: And one kind of phenomenon that’s very new that can take place on the internet is … we have these flash mobs that get directed at specific individuals. That’s a very new phenomenon and Gawker in some ways perfected it where you’d pick on people and destroy their lives.”
Thiel, Silicon Valley’s most public supporter of Donald Trump, also defended his backing of the GOP presidential nominee. You can read our coverage of his comments on Trump here.
Watch Thiel’s complete remarks here (the Gawker comments start at around the 35:00 mark):
For the First Time Since ISIS Captured Mosul, Iraqi Security Forces Have Entered the City
Iraqi troops entered Mosul on Monday, the first time since the battle for the Islamic State’s stronghold began more than two weeks ago.
Since October 17, troops have cleared the surrounding suburbs of insurgents and forced ISIS militants into a smaller territory in the city. On Monday a force commander told Reuterssoldiers had broken an ISIS defense line in an eastern suburb of Mosul, called the Karama district, which makes it the first time troops, backed by U.S. airstrikes, have entered the city since militants captured it in 2014.
The fight for Mosul was expected to be particularly intense. If ISIS loses, it would represent the militant group's most critical loss in Iraq. About 1.5 million people still live in Mosul, and minimizing the humanitarian cost of the battle has weighed heavily on the operation.
In its retreat, ISIS has lit oil fields on fire to create cover; used snipers, and detonated car bombs to take out advancing Iraqi security forces, as well as Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. There are also reports that ISIS insurgents have executed hundreds of civilians, even using them as human shields. The fighting has claimed on unknown amount of Iraqi and ISIS fighters, and at least one U.S. soldier. So far the battle has displaced more than 17,500 civilians—a figure that could top 1 million before fighting ends.
Why Are People Checking In at Standing Rock, North Dakota?
Facebook users may have noticed Monday that some of their friends, seemingly all at once, said they were at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
But they weren’t actually there.
Thousands of Facebook users used the website’s “check-in” feature to say they are at the Indian reservation where the Dakota Access Pipeline is set to be built—an area that has been the site of recent clashes between protesters who oppose the pipeline and police who say the protesters are standing on private land. Those checking in at the reservation followed the instructions of a viral Facebook message, which called on the pipeline’s opponents to check in on Facebook in order to “overwhelm and confuse” the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, which allegedly uses social media to track the protesters.
Here’s one variation of the post, which users are encouraged to copy and paste on their own timelines:
Though it is unclear if the claim that law enforcement uses social media to track protesters’ movements is true, the post has prompted thousands of users to check-in in solidarity—as of Monday, more than 4,500 people were checked-in at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation on Facebook. Last week, authorities arrested 141 protesters at the pipeline’s construction site, which opponents say threatens the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s sacred sites, as well as the tribe’s only water source.
The clowns started showing up months before Halloween this year.
In August, some residents of Green Bay, Wisconsin, called police after spotting someone in clown makeup carrying balloons and wandering around town. A few weeks later, residents of an apartment complex in South Carolina told police that people wearing clown makeup had waved to them in the street or beckoned their children into the woods. In the months since, clown sightings have been reported in more than 20 states, prompting panic among parents, concern from law enforcement, and goosebumps.
Now that Halloween has arrived, some parents are worried for the safety of young trick-or-treaters. Kimberly Kersey, a resident of Palm Bay, Florida, told CBS News she will be carrying a gun Monday night when she takes her sons out.
“I’ll be carrying for sure,” Kersey said. “I’m terrified of clowns already and if one messes with me or my kids it’ll be to the hospital or morgue they go.”
Palm Bay police urged people against dressing up as clowns. “The problem is that someone dressed like a clown could scare someone and there’s a possibility—a possibility—you could end up with someone getting shot,” Palm Bay Police Lieutenant Mike Bandish told CBS News.
Police departments in cities across the United States have issued similar warnings, citing the recent creepy clown sightings. A school district in New Jersey banned clown costumes on school grounds on Halloween. A Mississippi city council made it illegal for clowns to appear in public until the day after Halloween, imposing a $150 fine for violators. Earlier this month, Target removed some clown masks from its stores nationwide.
Raoul Wallenberg Is Declared Dead By Swedish Tax Agency
Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II and whose fate at the hands of the Soviet Union became an enduring Cold War mystery, has officially been declared dead by Sweden’s tax authority.
A spokeswoman for Skatteverket, the Swedish Tax Agency, confirmed that Wallenberg was declared dead on October 26. His date of death, the agency said, was July 31, 1952—five years after Soviet authorities said he died of a heart attack in a Russian prison. Under Swedish law, a person can be declared dead only five years after his or her disappearance. SVT Nyheter reported that Wallenberg’s trustees requested the declaration.
Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat in Budapest, gave Hungary’s Jews Swedish travel papers or moved them to safe houses, almost certainly saving them from death. He was arrested by the Soviet Red Army in 1945, in the war’s final days. The Soviets denied until 1957 that Wallenberg was in their custody. That year, they said he died in prison July 17, 1947, of a heart attack.
In 2000, Russian officials acknowledged that Wallenberg was killed in Lubyanka prison upon the orders of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader. That year, Moscow also said Wallenberg was wrongfully persecuted and rehabilitated him as a victim of political repression.
Geert Wilders, the Far-Right Dutch Politician, Boycotts His Hate-Speech Trial
Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch politician, has refused to attend his trial, which began Monday, on charges of racial discrimination and inciting hatred.
In 2014, Wilders, head of the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV),told supporters he would reduce the number of Moroccans, who make up 2 percent of the country’s population. Wilders denounced Monday’s trial as a “kangaroo court,” reaffirming his right “to speak about the problems in our country.”
NL has huge problem with Moroccans.
To be silent about it is cowardly.
43% of Dutch want fewer Moroccans.
Wilders’ criticized the charges against him as a “double standard,” noting similar remarks made byother Dutch politicians, including Dutch Prime Minster Mark Rutte, who said a group of Dutch-Turkish protesters should “go back to Turkey,” and Labour Party leader Diederik Samsom, who declared “Moroccans have an ethnic monopoly on street crime.”
Wilders’s anti-Moroccan rhetoric has not slowed since his indictment in March. He has campaigned on an anti-immigration platform, promising to close refugee centers, shutter mosques and Islamic schools, and institute a ban on the Quran. A September poll shows Wilders’s PVV to be losing popularity, dropping from 26 percent at the beginning of the year to between 16 and 19 percent—on par with the ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).
If convicted, Wilders faces up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 7,400 euros ($8,100).
Venezuela's President Meets With the Opposition in Vatican-Mediated Talks
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, met on Sunday for the first timein two years with opposition leaders who want him removed from power. The Vatican convened the talks after violent nationwide protests.
Members of the Democratic Unity coalition met with Maduro at a Caracas Museum; on hand to mediate the talks was Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, the papal envoy.
The situation in Venezuela is bleak. As my colleague Siddhartha Mahanta pointed out this weekend, global oil prices collapsed shortly after Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s leader, died in 2013. It was a ruinous turn for Venezuela, because by 2014 the country relied on oil for 95 percent of its export earnings. This resulted in hyperinflation, an almost worthless currency, and shortages of basic goods. Maduro has taken much of the blame. He is highly unpopular—about 80 percent of Venezuelans would like to see him removed, and the opposition organized a recall referendum that looked like it would pass. Then last week, a court blocked the referendum process, leading to violent protests, which grew so bad Pope Francis asked Maduro and opposition leaders start a dialogue.
Both sides have dug in deeply, and it’s unclear what arrangement they’d be willing to come to. Maduro has called the recall vote part of an international coup to have him removed. The opposition has said the court’s rejection of their recall referendum is proof of Maduro’s meddling, and that he’s a dictator.
After Fireworks to Mark Festival of Lights, New Delhi Wakes to Smog
Hindus across India celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights, over the weekend. Fireworks are big feature of the holiday, and though they might have seemed like a good idea at the time, the smoke did not help the city Monday morning.
Here’s what it looked like:
India's Central Pollution Control Board said the levels of pollutants that can cause severe respiratory ailments were at 750 micrograms per cubic meters in the worst-affected parts of the capital—a number that is 30 times the level set by the World Health Organization. Indian officials said about 65-70 percent of that came from fireworks, which are set off on Diwali to make the triumph of good over evil. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi said the levels of pollutants had exceeded what it regards as “hazardous.”
New Delhi, home to 16 million people, is already one of the world’s most polluted cities. The government’s attempts to reduce pollutions have had mixed results.
NASA's Asteroid-Spotting Software Predicted a Close Call
A massive asteroid flew past Earth late Sunday. It was first spotted last week, and because of Scout, NASA’s new asteroid-monitoring system, astronomers could carefully predict its size and flight path, part of a program to give the world more advanced warning in case an asteroid were headed directly for Earth.
A telescope in Hawaii first picked up the asteroid, named 2016 UR36, and the data was quickly loaded into NASA’s projection software. The program, which is still in testing, determined the asteroid was about 16 to 80 feet across (5 to 25 meters), and would fly within 310,000 miles of Earth. That’s a relatively safe distance—about 1.3 times the distance of the moon—but in terms of proximity in space, it’s pretty close. By predicting early on the flight path and size of Near Earth Objects, scientists hope to avoid a large-scale asteroid impact on the level that wiped out the dinosaurs.
NASA already has a flight-path prediction program called Sentry for asteroids at a size that could cause mass extinction. In the future, astronomers say they believe they can use these two programs to spot asteroids years, even decades off. Ed Lu, the CEO of an asteroid-threat organization called B612, told NPR that if scientists can predict an asteroid’s flight path 10, 20, or even 30 years before it strikes, “then you can divert such an asteroid by just giving it a tiny nudge when it's many billions of miles from hitting the Earth."
Lebanon Has a New President After More Than 2 Years
Michel Aoun, the Maronite Christian leader and former army chief, was elected Lebanon’s president Monday, ending more than two years of political deadlock in the country.
Aoun, 81, who is backed by Hezbollah, the Shia militia group that is a major political party in Lebanon, struck a deal earlier this month with the Future Movement, the Sunni-dominated party that was his biggest rival. Al-Jazeeraadds Aoun’s ascendancy is a victory for Iran and a blow to Saudi Arabia. He may have also been helped by the declining business fortunes of Saad Hariri, the former prime minister, who heads Future Movement.
Daily Star, the Lebanese newspaper, reported Aoun was elected Monday with a simple majority in the second round of voting. The BBCadds it was lawmakers’ 46th attempt to elect a president. Lebanon has not had a head of state since Michel Suleiman stepped down in May 2014 at the end of his single six-year term. In that time, the country of 4 million people has taken in more than 1 million refugees fleeing the civil war in neighboring Syria, the former power broker in Lebanon.
Aoun is perhaps previously best known for his role in Lebanon’s bloody 1975-1990 civil war. He led the Lebanese army against Syrian and rival Christian troops, but when his forces were defeated, Aoun fled to Paris. He returned to Lebanon in 2005, allied himself with political figures close to Damascus, as well as Hezbollah.
Under Lebanon’s power-sharing structure, the presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian, the prime minister for a Sunni Muslim, and the speakership for a Shia Muslim.
Authorities arrested Monday the editor and several writers of Cumhuriyet, the oldest secular Turkish newspaper, for their alleged links to the Gulenist movementand the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the latest such action following last July’s failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Anadolu, the Turkish news agency, reported that police arrested Murat Sabuncu, the newspaper’s editor in chief, as well as 10 other staffers who work for the paper. They include: Hikmet Cetinkaya, the author of a book critical of Fethullah Gulen, who heads the Gulenist movement; Aydin Engin and Guray Oz, the columnists; Hakan Kara; Mustafa Kemal Gungor; Bulent Utku, the lawyer; Musa Kart, the cartoonist; Mustafa Kemal Gungor, Onder Celik, and Bulent Yener, members of the Cumhuriyet Foundation's managing board; and Turhan Gunay, who edits the daily books supplement. A warrant was also issued, Anadolu reported, for Akin Atalay, Cumhuriyet’s executive board chairman, and Can Dundar, the newspaper’s former editor in chief, who fled overseas earlier this year after he appealed a five-year prison sentence for revealing state secrets in the newspaper of Turkey’s operations in Syria.
Tens of thousands of people have been arrested or have lost their jobs since the July 15 coup attempt against Erdogan. Over the weekend, 15 media organizations were closed and 10,000 government officials fired for their alleged links to the coup plotters. Turkey’s government, which imposed a state of emergency after the failed coup, blames Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric, of masterminding the coup attempt and of creating a parallel state within the country. They also want the U.S. to extradite the cleric, who denies the charges against him.
Erdogan’s critics say he is using the coup attempt to silence the opposition to him and end dissent in Turkey.
Eric Holder Criticizes James Comey's Email Decision
Eric Holder, the former attorney general, has called FBI Director James Comey’s announcement Friday of possible new emails related to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, a “stunning breach of protocol.”
Writing in the The Washington Post, Holder, who was President Obama’s attorney general from 2009 to 2015, said Comey’s “decision was incorrect. It violated long-standing Justice Department policies and tradition. And it ran counter to guidance that I put in place four years ago laying out the proper way to conduct investigations during an election season.”
Director Comey broke with these fundamental principles. I fear he has unintentionally and negatively affected public trust in both the Justice Department and the FBI. And he has allowed — again without improper motive — misinformation to be spread by partisans with less pure intentions.
Comey’s Friday-afternoon bombshell, just days before the presidential election, has come under scrutiny—celebrated by supporters of Donald Trump, the GOP presidential nominee, and excoriated by Democrats, including Clinton. Indeed, Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said that Comey, by his actions, may have violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits government officials from using their positions to influence elections.
Our Politics team will have more on this story, and we’ll provide a link to their reporting later in the day.
Polished, soft-spoken, and a self-styled moderate, Jared Kushner has become his father-in-law’s most dangerous enabler.
Jared Kushner, the second-most-powerful man in the White House, is quite a bit smarter than the most powerful man, his father-in-law, the president. Donald Trump possesses a genius for the jugular, but he evinces few other signs of intelligence. He certainly displays no capacity, or predisposition, to learn. His son-in-law, by contrast, appears to have sufficient analytic acumen to comprehend that the country has been brought to its knees by the coronavirus pandemic. Kushner might not be the brightest public servant in American history—he is a Harvard graduate who is also a leading symbol of college-admissions corruption, and a businessman with a substantial record of failure—but he has shown flashes of effectiveness in his time at the White House. Because he projects a facsimile of capability and because he shows, at irregular intervals, a seemingly genuine interest in governing, he is also an exasperating mystery.
Zvikorn, whose bio on the site describes an Israeli teen into sports history, has made more than 2,300 edits to Wikipedia articles over the past few years. “The main reason I edit Wikipedia is a strong belief that every person on the planet has the right to access the accumulated knowledge of humanity,” he wrote. “Today it is only getting more important for mankind to find out the truth and not be exposed to believe fake news.”
The first daughter (though not the only daughter), wearing a fitted black mockneck and black pants, her golden hair fastened in a low twist, glided across the Oval Office. It was a Tuesday afternoon, and it was apparently vital to inform Trump, at that very moment, that Siemens had pledged to expand its education and training opportunities to more workers as part of Ivanka’s workforce-development initiative. She also wanted to remind him that tomorrow would be the inaugural session of the program’s advisory board, and that Tim Cook would be joining the meeting.
The pandemic is bringing the sport face-to-face with its deepest flaws.
This week, the bottom fell out of college football. The future of the fall season had been wavering for more than a month as the coronavirus continued to burn through much of the United States, and on Tuesday, the Big 10, the conference that comprises the Midwest’s major football programs, was the first to topple. It canceled its fall season, and a few hours later, the Pac-12, which represents major programs on the West Coast, made the same call.
Forgive me for trying to put these cancellations in their bizarrely complicated context. The Big 10 and Pac-12 are two of the five regional conferences that make up college football’s top tier as the Power 5, which together play for the sport’s most prestigious, but certainly not its only, national championship. (Central Florida fans, please don’t email me.) The schools of the SEC, Big 12, and ACC, which cover the Southeast, Great Plains, and East Coast, respectively, are moving ahead with football for now, game schedules redrawn.
American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase.
If you were an adherent, no one would be able to tell. You would look like any other American. You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive denizens of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world.
WhatsApp diplomacy seems to have worked for the Trump administration.
This morning, Donald Trump announced the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Israel is also committing to not annexing the West Bank. The agreement will shock those who thought the portion of the Jared Kushner portfolio devoted to peace in the Middle East consisted of a single briefing folder filled with printouts of Wikipedia articles. But there were signs that this agreement was coming, and that the Trump administration would be uniquely suited to making it happen.
Saudi Arabia is not officially party to the agreement, but its relationship with the UAE is so fraternal that we should assume that it eagerly approved, and that the UAE will represent its interests in Israel as if they were its own. The Trump administration deals with these countries through the same personal channels, which look opaque and corrupt to us because they are. A few months ago, a Saudi academic told me that Trump was easier for him to understand than for me, because I live in a country where nepotism is a crime, and he lives in one where it is the system of government. The idea that a president would appoint his son-in-law to manage the most sensitive aspects of his administration offends me. To a Saudi, he said, it is just how things get done, and there is nothing mysterious about it at all.
People are power scrubbing their way to a false sense of security.
As a COVID-19 summer surge sweeps the country, deep cleans are all the rage.
National restaurants such as Applebee’s are deputizing sanitation czars to oversee the constant scrubbing of window ledges, menus, and high chairs. The gym chain Planet Fitness is boasting in ads that “there’s no surface we won’t sanitize, no machine we won’t scrub.” New York City is shutting down its subway system every night, for the first time in its 116-year history, to blast the seats, walls, and poles with a variety of antiseptic weaponry, including electrostatic disinfectant sprays. And in Wauchula, Florida, the local government gave one resident permission to spray the town with hydrogen peroxide as he saw fit. “I think every city in the damn United States needs to be doing it," he said.
Why having a woman vice-presidential candidate is historic—and painful for young feminists
The morning before Kamala Harris became the Democratic nominee for vice president, I met Amanda Litman at the Javits Center in New York City, a mammoth building near the Hudson River made almost entirely of glass. Four years ago, Litman spent Election Night here, waiting excitedly in a holding area with other staffers on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The intended metaphor was not subtle: Clinton was to declare her victory as America’s first woman president beneath a literal glass ceiling, shattering the most notorious gender barrier in politics.
When Clinton lost, Litman, who served as Clinton’s email director, felt more than just professional defeat. She believed the election was about proving that a woman similar to herself—often described as too ambitious, too much, or too loud—could succeed in America. “If you had asked me the next morning, ‘Will we ever have a woman president?’ I would have stopped crying hard enough to tell you to fuck off,” Litman told me. “It felt unimaginable.”
Short of an outright constitutional crisis, a lot could still go horribly wrong.
A brazen refusal by the president to leave office is surely a nightmare scenario. But even if President Donald Trump were to lose and accept the results on November 3 or soon thereafter, he could nevertheless wreak significant damage during the period between the election and the inauguration of Joe Biden—endangering the incoming administration, at best, and actively sabotaging it, at worst.
Presidential transitions are perilous even in normal times. With each inauguration of a new president every four to eight years, the executive branch undergoes a massive overhaul; more than 4,000 new political appointees flood into federal departments and agencies, including 1,200 senior officials who require Senate confirmation. The minute a new president is sworn in, his administration assumes responsibility for everything from nuclear launch codes to pandemic response, economic policy, and counterterrorism—at the very moment when the government’s capacity is most diminished. At the Defense Department alone, the nation’s largest employer and perhaps the world’s most complex organization, the top 59 senior civilian leaders, from the secretary of defense on down, are political appointees requiring Senate confirmation. A private-sector company would be crazy to emulate this approach, yet the security, the health, and the prosperity of Americans depend on its success.
A virus has brought the world’s most powerful country to its knees.
How did it come to this? A virus a thousand times smaller than a dust mote has humbled and humiliated the planet’s most powerful nation. America has failed to protect its people, leaving them with illness and financial ruin. It has lost its status as a global leader. It has careened between inaction and ineptitude. The breadth and magnitude of its errors are difficult, in the moment, to truly fathom.
In the first half of 2020, SARS‑CoV‑2—the new coronavirus behind the disease COVID‑19—infected 10 million people around the world and killed about half a million.