The Senate, in a bipartisan 66-32 vote on Monday evening, confirmed Mike Pompeo to be the next CIA director. Pompeo was in his fourth term in the House. The only Republican to vote against Pompeo was Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. The other 31 votes against Pompeo came from Democrats. As my colleague Russell Berman writes:
Pompeo’s harshest critic was Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a privacy hawk who delivered a lengthy speech criticizing the Kansas Republican’s “enthusiasm” for broad surveillance programs and what he said were Pompeo’s shifting positions on torture and on Russia’s interference in the November election. Other Democrats had said they were satisfied with Pompeo’s assertion during his confirmation hearing that he would not restart the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques in violation of the law, even if Trump ordered him to do so.
Snapchat Filter Not Responsible for Distracted Driver Claim, Judge Rules
A lawsuit claiming Snapchat was to blame for a high-speed car crash was dismissed by a Georgia court Friday, citing the social media company’s immunity under the Communication’s Decency Act. The case was brought against Snapchat in April by Wentworth and Karen Maynard, who claimed the application’s “speed filter,” which shows how fast the phone is moving at the time the photo or video is taken, caused 18-year-old Christal McGee to crash into Wentworth Maynard’s car while driving at 107 miles per hour (171 kilometer per hour), leaving Maynard with severe brain damage. McGee, who was also sued by the Maynards, claimed she was “just trying to get the car to 100 miles per hour to post it on Snapchat.” In his ruling Friday, Spalding County State Court Judge Josh Thacker said the social media company was exempt from liability under the CDA’s immunity clause, which states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Snapchat’s attorneys told the Associated Press Monday the ruling reaffirms the need for “responsible use of these technologies by the driver.”
The First Drone Strikes Under Trump Target Al-Qaeda in Yemen
The U.S. carried out several drone strikes in Yemen over the weekend targeting al-Qaeda leaders, marking the first drone strikes under the new Trump administration. The bombings hit the country’s southwestern Bayda province, and among the targets was Abu Anis al-Abi, a field commander with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. These strikes did not necessarily require Trump to sign off on them, because the Obama administration enabled the four-star commander of U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel, to oversee strikes. Drone strikes increased to unprecedented levels under Obama, much to the anger of human-rights groups, which decry their use because of the risk of collateral damage. On Thursday, U.S. intelligence officials released a report saying that under Obama as many as 117 civilians died in drone bombings. These numbers, however, are often viewed as extremely low by human rights groups.
Trump Signs Executive Order Withdrawing From the TPP
President Trump signed an executive order Monday to withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a longstanding campaign pledge. The TPP, a project initiated by the Obama administration, would have placed the U.S. and 11 Asia-Pacific countries in an unprecedented free-trade zone. Trump’s executive order pulls the U.S. out of that deal, an effort to refocus on putting “America first,” as the president repeated in his inauguration address Friday. The trade deal had been a tough sell for both major political parties, with former-President Obama struggling to convince even Democrats of its worth because it had been painted during the election campaign as detrimental to U.S. manufacturing. Until this election, trade deals had received mostly bipartisan support. Trump has also said he wants to renegotiation the NAFTA, which set up a free-trade zone from Mexico to Canada.
Trump Reinstates Mexico City Rule, Blocking U.S. Funding for Abortion Services Worldwide
President Trump, in one of his first acts since assuming office, reinstated Monday a policy blocking U.S. funding for health programs that provide abortions or related services overseas. Known commonly as the Mexico City policy or the “global gag rule,” the policy restricts foreign organizations receiving U.S. family-planning funding from conducting any abortion-related services, even if they are conducted with non-U.S. funds. Since it went into effect in 1984, the policy has routinely been enacted by Republican administrations and rescinded by Democratic ones. As my colleague Anna Diamond writes:
Now, the signing of the order is filled with symbolism. Always falling on or within days of the January 22nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it’s become a way for the incoming president to signal to his party and supporters an initial commitment for or against abortion rights.
A Violent California Storm Destroys an Iconic Concrete Ship
A harsh storm hit the California coast this weekend and set surf records, with wave heights reaching nearly 35 feet in some places. They were particularly violent near Santa Cruz, about 80 miles south of San Francisco, where the storm wrecked a local icon, a historic World War I concrete ship called the S.S. Palo Alto. Then-President Woodrow Wilson ordered a fleet of concrete ships built in 1917, and while other ships had been made of this material, none had ever been made so large—420 feet long. The S.S. Palo Alto was one of 24 others built at the time, and it came to rest near Santa Cruz in 1930, where it connected to a pier and became a famous icon of the beach. The ship’s hull had been crumbling for some time, and over the decades it served as a home for the area’s wildlife, like sea lions, fish, and sea birds. In the mid-2000s, a leak in the ship’s tank spilled old oil into the waters and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife spent $1.7 million to clean up the fuel. This weekend’s storm sent waves crashing against the hull and split off the stern. It’s unclear what will be done with the crumbling remains.
What was once a solid structure, is now in 2 pieces. The S.S. Palo Alto's stern has taken enough beating and gave-in to Mother nature. pic.twitter.com/ljRytxwpf7
Syrian Government, Rebels Meet for Talks in Kazakhstan
Representatives of the Syrian government and rebel groups are meeting in Astana, the Kazakh capital, for the first time in more than a year for talks on ways to end the more than five-year-long civil war. Russian, Turkish, and Iranian officials are also attending; the three countries brokered a cease-fire between the fighting factions December 30. Bashar Ja’afari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, and military officials are representing the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Mohammad Alloush of the Army of Islam is leading the rebel delegation. Talks are scheduled to continue until Tuesday.
The Trump Administration's War of Words With the Media
President Trump was inaugurated in Washington, D.C., Friday. A day later, a women’s march in the city, and others across the country and the world, vowed to oppose some of the Trump administration’s policies. Photographs from both events, coupled with crowd estimates, suggested more people turned out to the march in Washington than the inauguration. Trump and his aides apparently disagreed. At an appearance Saturday before the CIA, the president railed against the media, calling it “dishonest.” Later, Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, repeated those claims, adding: “This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe”—a demonstrably false claim. On Sunday, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s counselor, went on NBC’s Meet the Press, and countered the view Spicer was lying, adding “our press secretary gave alternative facts to that.” When Chuck Todd, the show’s host, asked Conway why Spicer had said something that was clearly not true, she replied: “If we're going to keep referring to the press secretary in those types of terms, I think we're going to have to rethink our relationship here.” Trump himself initially criticized Saturday’s protest march, saying on Twitter he “was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn't these people vote?” He later tweeted out a more conciliatory message:
Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don't always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views.
The story of the coronavirus in the state is one of government inaction in the name of freedom and personal responsibility.
IOWA CITY, IOWA—Nick Klein knew the man wasn’t going to make it through the night. So the 31-year-old nurse at the University of Iowa ICU put on his gown, his gloves, his mask, and his face shield. He went into the patient’s room, held a phone to his ear, and tried hard not to cry while he listened to the man’s loved ones take turns saying goodbye. When they were finished, Klein put on some music, a muted melody like you might hear in an elevator. He pulled up a chair and took the man’s hand. For two hours that summer night, there were no sounds but soft piano and the gentle beep beep beep of the monitors. Klein thought about how he would feel if the person in the bed were his own father, and he squeezed his hand tighter. Around midnight, Klein watched as the man took one last, ragged breath and died.
Even works of escapism are reckoning with waning national myths.
Last month, the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia published its most recent survey of American political life. One of its findings: 66 percent of Americans view their country to be in a state of decline. The survey arrived just after the publication of the latest Social Progress Index, which found that the United States is one of only three countries where citizens are worse off than they were in 2011, when the index started tracking quality of life. The deterioration is all the more perverse because the failures, in a country as rich as the U.S., are not material, but cultural. They are abdications of moral imagination. As one of the index’s advisers put it, in an observation both evergreen and newly acute: “We are no longer the country we like to think we are.”
On Wednesday, the United States broke 100,000 coronavirus hospitalizations for the first time ever.
Today the United States blew by two grim pandemic milestones. The country recorded a record 195,695 coronavirus cases and reported 100,226 hospitalizations, passing the 100,000 mark for the first time, according to the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. While the 2,733 deaths today did not break the all-time record, this was the first day since May with more than 2,500 deaths, as well as the day with the second-most deaths so far. (By TheNew York Times’ methodology, today’s was the highest daily coronavirus death toll on record.)
These shocking numbers came on the same day that CDC Director Robert Redfield warned that this winter could be “the most difficult time in the public-health history of this nation” and as public-health experts await signs of a post-Thanksgiving surge. Some of today’s increase can be attributed to the numbers catching up after an expected holiday data lag, but it’s also reflective of a bad reality that is poised to get a lot worse as pandemic winter comes into view.
The pop star’s career is a case study in courting public expectations by rebelling against them.
“I’m everything they said I would be,” Miley Cyrus sings, her voice dewy with disappointment, on her new album, Plastic Hearts. She’s apologizing to a lover she let down. But who’s the “they”? It’s you, the listener. It’s the imagined audience of Hannah Montana, the fictional pop star Cyrus portrayed in her early teens on the Disney Channel. It’s the actual audience of Hannah Montana who tracked Cyrus into adulthood. It’s the casual fan and casual hater, the pundits and influencers, and the friends and rivals. It’s basically everyone—because for the general public, people like Cyrus exist as examples of what fame does to a human life.
Cyrus knows by now that the concept of Miley Cyrus can’t be separated from the expectations that have followed her since tweendom (and maybe even before, as the daughter of the country star Billy Ray Cyrus). As she morphed from kid’s TV idol into tongue-wagging pop provocateur in the early 2010s—and then, across the decade, spent time as art punk, queer activist, and demure folkie—she has been ridiculed as excessive, desperate, fickle, insensitive, immature, and bad at twerking. She has never really bothered with countering the criticism. She has, instead, seemed to become more Miley with every phase, and by flipping her finger to the public, she’s only drawn more interest. Cyrus’s rowdy new album, out last Friday, is one of her stronger provocations.
Looking at the long views from the Hubble space telescope might be good for you.
In December of 1995, astronomers around the world were vying for a chance to use the hottest new tool in astronomy: the Hubble space telescope. Bob Williams didn’t have to worry about all that. As the director of the institution that managed Hubble, Williams could use the telescope to observe whatever he wanted. And he decided to point it at nothing in particular.
Williams’s colleagues told him, as politely as they could, that this was an awful idea. But Williams had a hunch that Hubble would see something worthwhile. The telescope had already captured the glow of faraway galaxies, and the longer Hubble gazed out in one direction, the more light it would detect.
So the Hubble telescope stared at the same bit of space, nonstop, for 10 days—precious time on a very expensive machine—snapping exposure after exposure as it circled Earth. The resulting image was astounding: Some 3,000 galaxies sparkled like gemstones in the darkness. The view stretched billions of years back in time, revealing other cosmic locales as they were when their light left them and began coasting across the universe.
The show treats domestic violence like a striptease.
Updated at 9:46 p.m. ET on December 2, 2020.
This article contains spoilers through the series finale of The Undoing.
The Sunday finale of The Undoing was the most-watched episode of any HBO show since the last episode of Big Little Lies. The Undoing is a whodunit about the murder of a woman found, by her fourth-grade son, with her décolletage displayed and her face in pieces. Sex sells, according to the old advertising adage. Clearly violence does too. And the intermingling of sex and violence is a winning formula for HBO.
Art depicting intimate violence has found an audience since ancient times. Take the third-century-B.C. sculpture of Gaul killing his wife, or the two miniseries released in 2016 about O. J. Simpson’s role in the murder of his ex-wife.* Despite the A-listers who star in it, The Undoing is no more than a costly, glossy, schlocky melodrama. But perhaps because of its cast, and the enviable lifestyle reproduced on camera, the show is attracting a lot of attention.
Americans will soon grow tired of the president, despite his efforts to stay in the limelight.
President Donald Trump has made one thing painfully clear: After he grudgingly leaves the White House, he will keep doing what he can to stay in the news. He will tweet insults and conspiracy theories. He may start his own television channel. And according to members of his inner circle, he may even run for president in 2024.
After half a decade under his spell, many pundits and political observers assume that Trump will succeed in keeping the nation’s attention. I can see why. A sizable minority of Americans believe that the election was stolen and remain deeply devoted to the outgoing president. Even now that Trump’s loss has liberated the GOP from its captor, elected Republicans seem to be suffering from a bad case of Stockholm syndrome. And the 45th president has proved, again and again, that he has a real talent for staying in the limelight.
Justices’ drive to promote “religious liberty” may only become more intense.
Updated at 12:45 p.m. ET on December 3, 2020
The Supreme Court’s decision last week overturning New York State’s limits on religious gatherings during the COVID-19 outbreak previewed what will likely become one of the coming decade’s defining collisions between law and demography.
The ruling continued the conservative majority’s sustained drive to provide religious organizations more leeway to claim exemptions from civil laws on the grounds of protecting “religious liberty.” These cases have become a top priority for conservative religious groups, usually led by white Christians and sometimes joined by other religiously traditional denominations. In this case, Orthodox Jewish synagogues allied with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn to oppose New York’s restrictions on religious services.
Are you a Mad Scientist, a Cheerleader, a Sober Judge, or a Poet?
“How to Build a Life” is a biweekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
On a scale of 0 to 10, I’d say my happiness ranks at about a 6. I’d guess my wife’s is at least a 9. I try not to envy her natural Spanish alegría, but sometimes it’s hard.
Still, I’m glad to know I’m a 6, because, as a famous management maxim puts it, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” This is generally used in reference to business operations, but as a social scientist, I can assure you that it works for life operations as well. If you want to improve an aspect of your life, you need to be able to assess progress toward your goal—and that means measuring it.
The goal of this column is to help you manage and improve your happiness. No surprise, then, that I make frequent reference to studies and surveys that measure happiness. A number of people have asked me whether quantitative happiness measures are really accurate and reliable—and it’s a reasonable question. So let’s take a look behind the curtain. But not just for intellectual curiosity; as you will see, understanding the measurement of happiness can itself make you better at improving your own well-being—and avoid some critical errors.
Three visions for a hypothetical pandemic memorial
Memorial designs by Rael San Fratello, Refik Anadol Studio, and Sekou Cooke
Unlike a war, a pandemic is invisible and diffuse. It’s everywhere and nowhere. Its death toll is ultimately unknowable. That makes a virus difficult to mark with physical tributes. Few memorials mark the 1918 Spanish flu; one is a modest granite bench built in Vermont two years ago, underwritten by a local restaurant also marking its own centennial.
The coronavirus pandemic is not over, either. Not even close. A third wave of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths is lashing the nation from coast to coast. More than 12 million Americans have contracted COVID-19, and more than 250,000 of them have died. Early vaccine tests are promising, but a broad rollout is months away at minimum. Even after it wanes, the long-term effects of the virus could continue to debilitate people who have “recovered.”