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 idea that we exercise to get thin may be more dangerous than ever.
In the summer of 2015, one of my best friends died at work. Shannon was 38, childless, single and thriving, and working as an executive at a global public-relations firm, where she handled a major client. She was set to take a family vacation—treating her nephews to a Disney trip or some such—when her boss sent down an edict that no one on her account was allowed to take time off. Saying no to your boss is hard, but disappointing your nephews is even harder, so Shannon stood her ground and refused to cancel her trip.
She then proceeded—in a conference room—to have a panic attack about how the decision might affect her career. The panic attack triggered a heart attack; the heart attack revealed a preexisting tear in a heart valve; the tear led to internal bleeding that, after a two-week-long coma, led to her death. You can see why, though it isn’t technically true, I say that Shannon “died at work.” You can also see how my 36-year-old self—also single, also childless, also stuck in a successful but frustrating career and in need of some time off—–was very messed up by this. Everyone who knew Shannon was. As the bench in Prospect Park we dedicated to our friend says: Shannon, she gave a lovely light.
The most crucial element of the fake Trump-arrest images is not that they are misleading. It is that they are cinematic.
The former president is fighting with the police. He’s yelling. He’s running. He’s resisting. Finally, he falls, that familiar sweep of hair the only thing rigid against the swirl of bodies that surround him.
When I first saw the images, I did a double take: The event they seem to depict—the arrest of Donald Trump—has been a matter of feverish anticipation this week, as a grand jury decides whether to indict the former president for hush-money payments allegedly made on his behalf to the adult-film star Stormy Daniels. (Trump, that canny calibrator of public expectation, himself contributed to the fever.) Had the indictment finally come down, I wondered, and had the arrest ensued? Had Trump’s Teflon coating—so many alleged misdeeds, so few consequences—finally worn away?Pics or it didn’t happen, people say, and, well, here were the pics.
The former president is warning of “death & destruction” if he’s indicted.
Donald Trump is back in his presidential—or at least modern-day-presidential—form, posting unhinged threats on social media in the middle of the night. Early today, he posted on his Truth Social site:
What kind of person can charge another person, in this case a former President of the United States, who got more votes than any sitting President in history, and leading candidate (by far!) for the Republican Party nomination, with a Crime, when it is known by all that NO Crime has been committed, & also known that potential death & destruction in such a false charge could be catastrophic for our Country? Why & who would do such a thing? Only a degenerate psychopath that truely hates the USA!
Nearly every phrase in this message is disturbing, but the most rattling part is his threat of “death & destruction.” This is classic Trumpian mob-boss talk: He doesn’t make a specific threat against anyone, and he doesn’t specifically incite any acts. He might even note in his defense that some of his own critics have fretted that arresting him might produce a violent backlash. And yet the intent is unmistakably to intimidate Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and anyone else who might try to charge him with crimes. It’s a threat against the American justice system as a whole.
The TV host and travel guide reflects on how travel has—and hasn’t—changed since COVID.
When the Washington State–based travel guide and TV host Rick Steves decided to return to Europe in early 2022, he wasn’t sure how many of his favorite local spots had survived two years of pandemic life. Steves, who has hosted Rick Steves’ Europe for the past two decades and operates tours aimed at introducing American travelers to the continent, was pleasantly surprised by what he found: Many of his beloved places—the kind of mom-and-pop places that have been owned by the same families for generations—had made it through, and the streets were alive anew. “They’re kissing cheeks with a vengeance in Paris right now,” he told me. “And I’m really thankful for that.”
Steves and I caught up to discuss the rebound in tourism and how travel has changed since the start of the pandemic. He also warned that this summer may be a particularly busy one—perhaps the continent’s busiest yet—and offered practical tips for traveling amid crowds. (Consider heading to less-popular destinations, and don’t bother checking a bag!)
A generation of Americans still can’t escape the threat of COVID.
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Last December, during a Christmas Eve celebration with my in-laws in California, I observed what I now realize was the future of COVID for older people. As everyone crowded around the bagna cauda, a hot dipping sauce shared like fondue, it was clear that we, as a family, had implicitly agreed that the pandemic was over. Our nonagenarian relatives were not taking any precautions, nor was anyone else taking precautions to protect them. Endive spear in hand, I squeezed myself in between my 94-year-old grandfather-in-law and his spry 99-year-old sister and dug into the dip.
Millennials popularized bulky, super-cushioned shoes. Then Millennials got old.
My mom has been warning me that I’m going to ruin my feet for almost as long as I’ve been able to walk. She has her reasons: I spent much of my childhood refusing to wear shoes more substantial than soccer slides. In high school, she wouldn’t buy me high heels, so I got an after-school job and bought them myself. During college, I added slipperlike ballet flats and Ugg boots to my repertoire. When I was 25, a physical therapist who was treating my ankle, destroyed years prior during rec-league soccer, told me that he’d never before had a client with a leg injury show up in flip-flops.
Now I am 37, and if you already have been 37, you probably know where this is going. I’ve cleaned up my worst shoe habits, but a moderate concession to podiatric health wasn’t enough to save me. Recently, I developed plantar fasciitis, a common, nagging injury to a band of connective tissue in the foot that most acutely afflicts people who spend a lot of time on their feet—nurses, bartenders, distance runners, seemingly everyone in the NBA. It is also possible to acquire plantar fasciitis by being a dumbass who loves traipsing around in terrible shoes, which was my method.
When you stick ink-filled needles into your skin, your body’s defenders respond accordingly. Scientists aren’t sure if that’s good or bad for you.
In 2018, I paid a man a couple hundred dollars to repeatedly jam several needles into the skin of my right wrist. I felt as if I were being attacked by a microscopic cavalry of crabs. Into every jab went black ink, eventually forming the shape of double quotation marks. It was my first tattoo, and likely not my last.
In the thousands of years that tattoos have been around, not much has changed. The practice still involves carving wounds into permanent, inked-in shapes that we find aesthetically pleasing. But much of tattooing remains mysterious: Scientists still aren’t sure what makes certain tattoos fade fast, why others stick around when they’re supposed to disappear, or how they react to light. One of the strangest and least-studied enigmas, though, is how tattoos survive at all. Our immune system is constantly doing its darndest to destroy them—and understanding why it fails could clue us in to one of our bodies’ most important functions, even when we leave the skin blank.
Intelligence can make you happier, but only if you see it as more than a tool to get ahead.
“How to Build a Life” is a column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his podcast series on all things happiness, How to Build a Happy Life.
“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know,” an unnamed character casually remarks in Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Garden of Eden. You might say that this is a corollary of the much more famous “Ignorance is bliss.”
The latter recalls phenomena such as the Dunning-Kruger effect—in which people lacking skills and knowledge in a particular area innocently underestimate their own incompetence—and the illusion of explanatory depth, which can prompt autodidacts on social media to excitedly present complex scientific phenomena, thinking they understand them in far greater depth than they really do.
These days, when I explain to a fellow parent that I write novels for children in fifth through eighth grades, I am frequently treated to an apologetic confession: “My child doesn’t read, at least not the way I did.” I know exactly how they feel—my tween and teen don’t read the way I did either. When I was in elementary school, I gobbled up everything: haunting classics such as The Witch of Blackbird Pond and gimmicky series such as the Choose Your Own Adventure books. By middle school, I was reading voluminous adult fiction like the works of Louisa May Alcott and J. R. R. Tolkien. Not every child is—or was—this kind of reader. But what parents today are picking up on is that a shrinking number of kids are reading widely and voraciously for fun.
Yes, love requires some labor. But that shouldn’t define the relationship.
Marriage is work: I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard that saying. In my personal life, I heard it from youth pastors at Bible camp, from well-meaning aunts at bridal showers, even from the woman who threaded my eyebrows the week before my wedding. In popular culture, I’ve seen the adage espoused on Martha Stewart’s website and by Ben Affleck on the Oscars stage. The idea has the sheen of a proverb, timeless and true.
So after my wedding a few years ago, I attempted to be the best marriage worker I could be. I scheduled biweekly budget meetings and preached the benefits of the “I” statement in an argument. I analyzed my husband’s working style to optimize how we could divide unloading the dishwasher and vacuuming the kitchen. At its best, this attitude gave our marriage the clean hum of a caffeinated, productive morning at the office—every task checked off, every email replied to. At its worst, I felt resentful, exhausted, and miserly with my affection, like I could dole it out only after one of us had completed a job. Viewing marriage as labor never made me feel more connected to the man I had chosen to partner with.