Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said in a pre-recorded statement Wednesday that he rejects President Trump’s plan to build a wall along the border between the two countries. “Mexico does not believe in walls,” he said. “I have said it over and over again: Mexico will not pay for any wall.” Peña Nieto is scheduled to travel to Washington next week to meet with Trump. Earlier Wednesday, aides to the Mexican president said Peña Nieto was considering scrapping the trip after Trump signed an executive order which put into motion the construction of a border wall. There are still several questions remaining about his proposed border wall, including the cost of the project. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Mexico would eventually pay for the wall. Peña Nieto, in the video statement, did not mention whether he would still travel to the U.S.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard Meets With Syria's Assad
Representative Tulsi Gabbard revealed Wednesday that she met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a four-day fact-finding trip to Syria and Lebanon, and reaffirmed her opposition to U.S. funding for rebel groups opposing the Syrian leader. In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, the two-term Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii said though she did not initially plan to meet with Assad, she did so because “we’ve got to meet with anyone that we need to if there is a possibility that we could achieve peace, and that’s exactly what we talked about.” She later added in a statement: “This regime change war does not serve America’s interest, and it certainly isn’t in the interest of the Syrian people.” Gabbard has long supported Assad maintaining power. Conversely, both the Obama administration and its Western allies had repeatedly called for the ouster of Assad—who has been accused of war crimes—and have thrown their support behind some of the rebel groups opposing his regime during Syria’s nearly six-year civil war. President Trump has called for a different approach, arguing that the U.S. should focus instead on ISIS—a stance which Gabbard supports. As my colleague Krishnadev Calamur noted, Gabbard’s trip to Syria may constitute a violation of the Logan Act, which restricts unauthorized individuals from contacting foreign governments engaged in a dispute with the U.S. No one has ever been prosecuted under the act, though, and Gabbard is not even the first U.S. leader to make such a trip. Virginia state Senator Dick Black met with Assad government officials on a trip to Damascus in April, and has expressed hopes to return this year. Like Gabbard, Black has been a vocal opponent of regime change in Syria, and has previously praised Assad as “heroic.”
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 20,000 for the first time Wednesday, after hovering around that figure since the election of President Trump and boosted by several positive economic numbers over the past month. The Dow was at 10,000 in March 1999 and has more than recovered the ground lost during the Great Recession. But, as my colleague Adrienne LaFrance noted: “There’s nothing magic about the Dow hitting 10,000—or 11,000, or 15,000, or 19,000 for that matter. The number is just a calculation based on the sum of stocks from 30 major companies… .” Still, it does hold psychological significance among traders.
Mary Tyler Moore, the actress who captivated television audiences first on TheDick Van Dyke Show and then on TheMary Tyler Moore Show, has died, her representative told several news organizations. Moore, who was hospitalized earlier this month in Connecticut, was 80 years old. Moore is perhaps best known for her role in the eponymous show in which she played Mary Richards, a local news producer in Minneapolis, from 1970 to 1977. During the course of her career, Moore won six Emmys and received a Best Actress Oscar nomination in 1980 for her work in Ordinary People. As my colleague David Sims notes, “Mary was a liberated woman in an era of television where such characters were scarce.”
Russia Arrests Kaspersky Lab Department Head for Alleged Treason
Ruslan Stoyanov, the head of computer-incidents investigation at Kaspersky Lab, was arrested over charges of treason, Russian media reported Wednesday. Kaspersky, the Moscow-based cybersecurity and anti-virus firm, issued a statement confirming the investigation, but said it concerned “a period predating [Stoyanov’s] employment at Kaspersky Lab.” Previous jobs listed on Stoyanov’s LinkedIn profile include a position at the Russian Interior Ministry’s cybercrime unit. As Sputnik, the state-run Russian news agency, reports, Stoyanov was arrested in December alongside an employee with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), who has also been charged with treason, though the details of the investigation into either person remains unknown. Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist and security services expert, told the Associated Press that such an arrest was “unprecedented” for intelligence agencies and companies like Kaspersky, adding: “Intelligence agencies used to ask for Kaspersky's advice, and this is how informal ties were built. This romance is clearly over."
Usain Bolt Loses Gold Medal After Teammate Tests Positive for Doping
Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt was forced to hand one of his gold medals back Wednesday after his teammate Nesta Carter tested positive for doping during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said Carter, 31, was found to have taken methylhexaneamine, a prohibited performance-enhancing substance, ahead of competing in the first leg of the Men’s 4x100 meter relay, for which he earned the Jamaican team first place alongside sprinters Michael Frater, Asafa Powell, and Bolt—all of whom were stripped of their medals. The loss of the medal for the Jamaican team propelled Trinidad and Tobago to gold, Japan to silver, and Brazil to bronze.
Several people were killed and wounded Wednesday after two explosions rocked the Dayah hotel in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. Death toll estimates have ranged from at least eight to 15 people. Somali police said a group of attackers affiliated with al-Shabaab, an Islamist group, detonated a car bomb into the gate of the hotel before storming inside and opening fire. It is unclear how many attackers were involved in the attack, though Colonel Mohamoud Abdi, a senior Somali police officer, told the Associated Press that four militants were killed. A second blast was also reported outside the hotel, injuring some people in the area, including journalists. Al-Shabaab controlled much of Somalia before it was driven out by African Union and Somali forces in 2011l the group remains an active threat and is known for targeting hotels and other public places.
Economist Intelligence Unit Downgrades U.S. to 'Flawed Democracy,' Citing Longstanding Problems
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the Economist’s data arm, has downgraded the United States from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy.” The move, the EIU said, wasn’t a result of President Trump’s election victory, but rather “the election of Mr Trump as US president was in large part a consequence of the longstanding problems of democracy in the US.” EIU counts 19 “full” democracies—down from 20—57 “flawed” democracies, including 17 of the EU’s 28 members; 51 “authoritarian” regimes; and 40 “hybrid” ones. Globally, the EIU said populist backlashes against the ruling elites in the U.S., U.K., and other Western countries “were an expression of deep popular dissatisfaction with the status quo and of a desire for change.” Norway tops the EIU’s Democracy Index; North Korea is last. Full index here
President Trump is expected Wednesday to announce his border wall with Mexico, fulfilling a longstanding campaign pledge that he believes will keep stop the flow of people crossing the border illegally. This morning he also said he’d order an investigation into voter fraud. Trump says he believes voter fraud cost him the popular vote, but most credible elections experts dismiss that such fraud exists on a large scale. Our Politics team will have more on Trump’s announcements.
Beware the lidless toilet, even if one won’t give you COVID-19.
In the dark early days of the pandemic, when we knew almost nothing and feared almost everything, there was a moment when people became very, very worried about toilets. More specifically, they were worried about the possibility that the cloud of particles toilets spew into the air when flushed—known in the scientific literature as “toilet plume”—might be a significant vector of COVID transmission. Because the coronavirus can be found in human excrement, “flushing the toilet may fling coronavirus aerosols all over,” The New York Timeswarned in June 2020. Every so often in the years since, the occasional PSA from a scientist or public-health expert has renewed the scatological panic.
In retrospect, so much of what we thought we knew in those early days was wrong. Lysoling our groceries turned out to not be helpful. Masking turned out to be very helpful. Hand-washing, though still important, was not all it was cracked up to be, and herd immunity, in the end, was a mirage. As the country shifts into post-pandemic life and takes stock of the past three years, it’s worth asking: What really was the deal with toilet plume?
Blaming the housing crisis on hedge funds and private equity may be easy, but it’s dead wrong.
In reporting on the housing crisis, I often hear some version of a simple story purporting to explain why so many Americans struggle to afford a place to live. The story goes like this: Housing costs are unaffordable because [INSERT BAD COMPANY HERE] is greedy and jacking up prices. The villain can be Airbnb or developers; it can be deep-pocketed foreigners or iBuyers. The story is compelling because it does not directly implicate regular people, sympathetic institutions, or elected officials.
To state the obvious, stories can be compelling without being true. Especially suspect are stories that scapegoat a group or an entity that is impossible or at least very difficult to defend: banks or oil companies or criminals, say. The scapegoat takes the blame for a complex problem. The trick is to cast a villain such that the surrounding facts become irrelevant. Who cares whether criminals have actually destroyed American cities? Attempting to stress-test theories like this just makes you look pro-crime and puts you on the same side as people who have committed terrible acts. But false narratives are dangerous because they distract attention from real problems, and plausible solutions.
Professional hockey claims to want greater diversity but won’t stand up to criticism.
The National Hockey League showed recently that there’s a big difference between wanting inclusiveness and being willing to fight for it.
Earlier this month, the NHL began promoting its Pathway to Hockey Summit, a job fair in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on February 2 in advance of the NHL All-Star weekend. The point of the career fair was to broaden the hiring pool for staff positions in professional hockey. On LinkedIn, the NHL posted, “Participants must be 18 years of age or older, based in the U.S., and identify as female, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, Indigenous, LGBTQIA+, and/or a person with a disability. Veterans are also welcome and encouraged to attend.”
Directly targeting diverse job candidates was a sound strategy. The NHL’s own demographic study last year revealed that 83.6 percent of its workforce is white. Men hold nearly 62 percent of the league’s jobs.
Identifying as someone who categorically rejects books suggests a much larger deficiency of character.
This article was featured in One Story to Read Today, a newsletter in which our editors recommend a single must-read from The Atlantic, Monday through Friday. Sign up for it here. It was updated at 2:10 p.m. ET on January 25, 2023.
During Kanye West’s spectacular plummet last fall, my friends and I would often marvel at the latest outrageous thing he’d said. And we would send around clips of what were, in hindsight, terribly suspect comments he’d previously made. One such example was “I am not a fan of books,” which Ye told an interviewer upon the publication of his own book, Thank You and You’re Welcome. “I am a proud non-reader of books,” he continued. That statement strikes me as one of the more disturbing things he’s ever said. Ye’s patently reprehensible anti-Semitic tirades rightly drew the world’s scorn. But his anti-book stance is disturbing because it says something about not only Ye’s character but the smugly solipsistic tenor of this cultural moment.
One of the world’s most prominent queer entertainers thrives at playing to the middle.
Sam Smith’s music defines the word inoffensive—so why does the singer inspire so many arguments? For more than a decade, Smith’s distinctive voice has soaked through the collective consciousness like the syrup in a rum cake. But that success has also triggered annoyance from across the cultural spectrum. As a nonbinary person, Smith has been treated as a punch line by right-wing media. Earlier in their career, they also ticked off the queer commentariat by misstating gay history and tsk-tsking about Grindr. All along, critics have made sport of Smith for formulaic songwriting, mannered vocals, and a tendency to hire church choirs as if they’re available on Taskrabbit to install soul on demand.
Too much has been lost already. The glue that holds humanity’s knowledge together is coming undone.
Sixty years ago the futurist Arthur C. Clarke observed that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The internet—how we both communicate with one another and together preserve the intellectual products of human civilization—fits Clarke’s observation well. In Steve Jobs’s words, “it just works,” as readily as clicking, tapping, or speaking. And every bit as much aligned with the vicissitudes of magic, when the internet doesn’t work, the reasons are typically so arcane that explanations for it are about as useful as trying to pick apart a failed spell.
Underpinning our vast and simple-seeming digital networks are technologies that, if they hadn’t already been invented, probably wouldn’t unfold the same way again. They are artifacts of a very particular circumstance, and it’s unlikely that in an alternate timeline they would have been designed the same way.
This afternoon, Meta announced that it will soon reinstate Donald Trump’s account after a two-year suspension from Facebook and Instagram. The former president was deplatformed after his posts were deemed to have incited, or at the very least encouraged, the January 6 insurrection. But according to Nick Clegg, the company’s president of global affairs, the public-safety risk that triggered the punishment “has sufficiently receded.” The poster in chief can post once again.
Any story that involves Facebook, Donald Trump, and the context of a failed coup attempt is, by nature, controversial. Giving Trump this megaphone back for his 2024 campaign is particularly thorny: The former president has offered zero evidence that he changed during his social-media exile. He may still use Facebook and Instagram to lie for reasons big and small, as well as to whip up partisan resentment and even violence, should it suit his needs. If anything, his posts on his own network, Truth Social, seem to suggest a man whose online engagement has become more erratic, angry, and conspiratorial; one report shows that he has amplified QAnon-promoting accounts more than 400 times since launching the platform.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development has established a strong correlation between deep relationships and well-being. The question is, how does a person nurture those deep relationships?
This article was featured in One Story to Read Today, a newsletter in which our editors recommend a single must-read from The Atlantic, Monday through Friday. Sign up for it here.
Turn your mind for a moment to a friend or family member you cherish but don’t spend as much time with as you would like. This needn’t be your most significant relationship, just someone who makes you feel energized when you’re with them, and whom you’d like to see more regularly.
How often do you see that person? Every day? Once a month? Once a year? Do the math and project how many hours annually you spend with them. Write this number down and hang on to it.
The “every family for itself” approach to child care in the U.S. means parents’ options for three months of the year are shelling out for expensive camps, fighting for limited slots in affordable programs, or nothing.
New Year’s resolutions had barely been resolved before parents across the nation started thinking ahead to summer. The scramble to sign kids up for summer camp begins in January, because limited slots and huge demand have led to a highly competitive environment that verges on absurd. Case in point: Rachael Deane, a mother in Richmond, Virginia, has a summer-camp spreadsheet. She joked to me that it is “more sophisticated than a bill tracker” she uses to follow legislation in her work at a children’s-advocacy nonprofit; the spreadsheet is color-coded, and registration dates are cross-posted onto her work calendar so she can jump into action as soon as slots open.
Deane’s intense approach reflects the state of modern parenthood. The lack of universal child care is a pain point for parents throughout the year, but the summer is a unique headache. As with after-school care, parents have to navigate a confusing patchwork of options, but in the summer, they need a plan for all day, every day, for three months. And society leaves them largely on their own to figure it out: A 2019 survey from the Center for American Progress found that for three-quarters of parents, securing summer care was at least a little bit difficult. The system is essentially a competition that has winners and losers, and rests upon a willful ignorance of the reality of most American families—only one-fifth of all parents are stay-at-home. Change is long overdue.