—Rex Tillerson was confirmed to head the Department of State. More here
—President Trump took to Twitter to lambast an Obama-era deal with Australia that would send 1,250 refugees staying in Pacific island camps to the U.S. More here
—Members of Parliament voted 498-114 to grant Prime Minister Theresa May approval to trigger Brexit, a process to launch two years of talks with the European Union on the U.K.’s future relationship with the bloc. More here
—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
The tweet came soon after a report from The Washington Post that described an intense phone call on Saturday between Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. After Trump reportedly ended the phone call only 25 minutes into a planned hour-long conversation, he said that “this was the worst call by far” he’s had with foreign leaders.
Violent Protests Against Milo Yiannopoulos Erupt at UC Berkeley
The University of California, Berkeley campus is on lockdown after violent protests broke out in response to an event hosting alt-right activist Milo Yiannopoulos. As a result of the protests, the event was canceled and there’s a shelter-in-place order. Protesters started fires, threw rocks, and tore down barriers. In a statement on Facebook, Yiannopoulos, who serves as an editor at conservative website Breitbart, said he had to be evacuated from the campus. In his usual defiant tone, he continued by saying that “the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down.” Police fired tear gas in the crowds, as well.
Dozens of Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters Arrested
Police in North Dakota arrested 76 protesters on Wednesday demonstrating against the Dakota Access oil pipeline. The protesters, authorities say, refused to leave the “Last Child” camp set up on private land owned by the pipeline developer. Protesters say the land rightfully belongs to Native Americans. Police have made nearly 700 arrests in the last six months, as protesters continue to object to a proposed pipeline they say may contaminate the drinking water of the nearby Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The pipeline goes under a section of the Missouri River. On January 24, President Trump signed an executive order paving the way for the Army Corps of Engineers to approve the pipeline within days. The crude oil pipeline will cost $3.8 billion and span 1,200 miles from North Dakota to Illinois. Trump, in a recent executive order, also gave new hope to the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring tar sands oil from Canada.
U.S. Military Confirms Civilians Were 'Likely Killed' in Yemen Raid
The U.S. military confirmed Wednesday that civilians were “likely killed” in a raid against al-Qaeda militants on Sunday in southern Yemen. William “Ryan” Owens, a Navy Seal, was also killed in the raid, becoming the first service member killed in combat during the Trump administration. Three other service members were injured. In a statement, the United States Central Command said the raid, which included heavy firefight, said that “casualties may include children.” Civilians, the U.S. military says, may have gotten “caught up in aerial gunfire,” which was called in when service members were “receiving fire from all sides.” Combatants, which included armed women, had small arms and grenades. The U.S. military, though, says they successfully obtained intelligence. Previous reports indicate that as many as 10 civilians and 14 militants may have been killed in the operation. On Wednesday afternoon, Trump visited Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to “honor the remains” of Owens.
Senate Confirms Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State
Rex Tillerson was confirmed Wednesday to head the Department of State. The Senate voted largely on party lines, handing the 64-year-old former Exxon Mobil CEO a final vote of 56 to 43, well above the 51 votes he needed. Doubt over Tillerson’s confirmation was laid to rest last week after Florida Senator Marco Rubio pledged to support him despite some reservations. Still, as my colleague Russell Berman notes, “the vote was closer than for any secretary of state in decades, reflecting a polarized political environment that is playing out in the Capitol on a daily basis.”
U.K. MPs Criticize May Over Response to Trump's Travel Ban
British Prime Minister Theresa May faced harsh criticism Wednesday for her initial silence on President Trump’s executive order banning travelers from seven Muslim or predominately Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days. Jeremy Corbyn, the head of the opposition Labour Party, led the charge during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions, first quoting May’s previous commitment to “speak frankly” to Trump before asking, “What happened?” Other members of Parliament joined in. “The leaders of Canada and Germany were able to respond robustly,” Jonathan Reynolds, a Labour MP, said. “Your response was to jump on a plane as soon as possible and to hold his [Trump’s] hand.” In response, May said she did eventually release a statement on the executive order Saturday night, a day after it was signed, which read, in part: “[W]e do not agree with this kind of approach and it is not one we will be taking.” May also stressed the importance of the U.K. maintaining a close relationship with the United States, citing Trump’s commitment to NATO as an important outcome of her visit. This did little to quiet her detractors, who want her to strongly condemn both the U.S. president and his actions.
President Trump flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware Wednesday afternoon to “honor the returning remains” of a U.S. Navy Seal killed earlier this week, reports the Associated Press. William “Ryan” Owens, 36, of Peoria, Illinois, was the first combat casualty of Trump’s nascent presidency. He died in Yemen, in a raid targeting an al-Qaeda affiliate group called al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Thirty other people were killed in the raid, including an 8-year-old American girl.
According to a White House pool report, first daughter Ivanka Trump traveled to Delaware with her father on Marine One, and for a brief time their destination was unknown. Trump had previously offered gratitude and condolences to Owens’ family. “The sacrifices made by the men and women of our armed forces, and the families they leave behind, are the backbone of the liberty we hold so dear as Americans, united in our pursuit of a safer nation and a freer world,” he said in a statement Sunday. Three of Owens’ fellow service members were wounded in the operation.
U.S. Says It's Putting Iran 'On Notice' for Missile Test
Michael Flynn, President Trump’s national-security adviser, said Wednesday the U.S. is “officially putting Iran on notice” for the Islamic republic’s recent missile test, as well as an attack on a Saudi vessel by Tehran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. In a statement, which he read at the White House, Flynn said Iran’s missile launch violated UN Security Council Resolution 2231. In Yemen, a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran pits the Iran-backed rebels against the Saudi military and its allies. Flynn said the Obama administration had “failed to respond adequately to Tehran’s malign actions,” and cited President Trump’s view that the nuclear deal struck between Iran and global powers, including the U.S., was “weak and ineffective.” It’s unclear what Iran being put “on notice” means. Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, said the comment meant “We aren't going to sit by and not act on those actions.”
UPDATE: Israel to Build First New Settlement in 20 Years
Updated at 1:52 p.m.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has established a panel to build an entirely new settlement in the West Bank—the first in more than two decades—to house those evicted from the Amona outpost, which the Israeli Supreme Court labeled illegal because it was set up on private Palestinian land. Haaretz reported that the panel would include representatives of Amona's residents, the Israeli defense minister’s adviser on settlements, and the chief of staff of the Prime Minister's Office. It’s unclear where the new settlement would be built. The announcement, which is likely to prove controversial, came after Israel announced late Tuesday it’s building 3,000 new homes in the occupied West Bank. The dismantling of the Amona settlement, which is also in the West Bank, was been met with protests by Jewish settlers who believe the West Bank and Gaza, which they refer to by their biblical names, Judea and Samaria, belongs to them in their entirety. Palestinians, who control Gaza and much of the West Bank, want the areas to be part of a future state with east Jerusalem as its capital. Israel claims all of Jerusalem. The Israeli government’s announcement comes just days after Israel approved 2,500 new homes in the West Bank and 550 units in east Jerusalem. The status of Jerusalem, the settlements on occupied land, and the contours of a future Palestinian state are all subject to negotiations between Israel and Palestinians as part of the two-state solution. But those talks have been dormant for years, the peace process itself is all but dead, and the Israeli government now has a sympathetic ally in the White House, making a resumption of negotiations appear unlikely.
As Cease-Fire Violations Flare, NATO Chief Urges Calm in Eastern Ukraine
Updated at 3:02 p.m. ET
NATO’s chief says there have been more than 5,600 violations of the fragile cease-fire in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian rebels are battling the Ukrainian government. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, called it the “most serious spike in violations in a long time.” He urged Russia to use its influence with the rebels to reduce tensions, and urged the sides to abide by the Minsk agreement, which was signed in September 2014 to stop the fighting in Ukraine’s Donbass region. The fighting has prompted Ukrainian authorities to prepare to evacuate the government-controlled town of Avdiivka, which is now without water or electricity. The town has come under heavy shelling from the rebels, leading to civilian casualties. In Moscow, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said the escalation is “probably just another reason for a swift resumption of a dialogue and cooperation between Russia and the United States.” Relations between the two countries had been frosty after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, but President Trump has said he’s willing to work with Russia and has previously praised its leader, Vladimir Putin. Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, said Wednesday: “The president has been kept aware ... of what's going on in Ukraine.”
900 State Department Officials Reported to Have Signed Dissent Memo
Nine-hundred officials at the U.S. State Department have reportedly signed a memo that protests President Trump’s executive order on immigration. The order stops travelers from seven Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days; stops all refugees from entering for 120 days; and bars all Syrian refugees from coming until further notice. Trump says the order is meant to keep the U.S. safe from potential terrorists. As I reported Monday, the memo signed by the State Department officials questions the order’s effectiveness, adding “this ban stands in opposition to the core American and constitutional values that we, as federal employees, took an oath to uphold.” The memo, Reuters reported, has been submitted to Tom Shannon, the acting secretary of state, through the State Department’s “dissent channel,” which was established in 1971 during the Vietnam War as a venue for diplomats to freely express their concerns with U.S. policy, and has been used frequently since then to express opposition to an administration’s policies. When asked Monday about the memo, Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, said of the officials who signed it: “They should get with the program or they should go.”
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard to 'Personally Reimburse' Her Trip to Syria
Representative Tulsi Gabbard said she will “personally reimburse” the cost of her trip to Syria last month, which included a visit with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In a statement Tuesday, the Hawaii congresswoman said she would repay the Cleveland-based Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services (AACCESS-Ohio) for the cost of the trip “because it became a distraction,” adding she is “beholden to no one in the region, her views on the situation are her own, and her determination to seek peace is beyond question." The trip caused controversy after Gabbard revealed she met with Assad. Gabbard said the meeting was unplanned. Still, it could constitute a violation of the Logan Act, which prohibits U.S. lawmakers from meeting with foreign governments that are in dispute with the U.S., like the longtime Syrian leader. (No one has ever been prosecuted under the law.) Gabbard did not reveal how much the trip cost—only that it was financed by Bassam and Elie Khawam, AACCESS members who organized several trips to Syria for former Representative Dennis Kucinich. AACCESS has been linked to the Assad government and a controversial Syrian political party—charges Bassam Khawam has denied in an interview with The Atlantic.
Members of Parliament voted 498-114 Wednesday to grant Prime Minister Theresa May approval to trigger Brexit, a process to launch two years of talks with the European Union on the U.K.’s future relationship with the bloc. The approval came despite vocal opposition from some MPs from the Labour Party, who defied their leadership with the vote, as well as from the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party. May’s Conservatives voted in favor. May is expected to unveil her strategy for Brexit on Thursday. Britons voted last summer to withdraw from the EU, but the country’s Supreme Court ruled MPs must have a say before Article 50 of the Lisbon Charter, the formal trigger for Brexit, is invoked.
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In the course of a single month this year, the following news reports emanated from Florida: A gun enthusiast in Tampa built a 55-foot backyard pool shaped like a revolver, with a hot tub in the hammer. A 32-year-old from Cutler Bay was arrested for biting off the head of his girlfriend’s pet python during a domestic dispute. A 40-year-old man cracked open a beer during a police traffic stop in Cape Coral. A father from East Orlando punched a bobcat in the face for attacking his daughter’s dog.
In headlines, all of these exploits were attributed to a single character, one first popularized in 2013 by a Twitter account of the same name: “Florida Man,” also known as “the world’s worst superhero,” a creature of eccentric rule-breaking, rugged defiance, and unhinged minor atrocities. “Florida Man Known as ‘Sedition Panda’ Arrested for Allegedly Storming Capitol,” a recent news story declared, because why merely rebel against the government when you could dress up in a bear suit while doing it?
The U.S. requires parents to work in order to receive aid but does very little to enable parents to work—or workers to parent.
In the midst of the pandemic, hundreds of dollars began to appear each month in the bank accounts of American parents. The deposits were an expansion of the child tax credit, meant to help families cope with the pressures of lockdown, and recipients no longer needed to earn a minimum income to be eligible. Unlike before, unemployed parents could benefit too. Reaching many of the families left out by other cash-aid programs, the expanded child tax credit lifted millions of kids out of poverty, reducing food insecurity and anxiety among low-income parents along the way. But amid concerns frompoliticiansand pundits that the credit would discourage parents from working outside the home, Congress allowed it to expire at the end of 2021. The decision reflected a position toward needy families that has dominated policy making for decades: The government doesn’t just give money away. If parents want help, they’re going to have to work for it.
If the pandemic ought to have given us anything, it should have been a more universal empathy toward the condition of illness.
Winter is over, and what a wretched one it was. There came a point in the season when everyone in our house was sick. I stood at the top of the stairs one cold morning, gazing down blearily at the pile of mail and magazines that had accumulated by the door, knowing there were dishes dumped in the sink to match and laundry heaped in the hampers as well. I thought of Henry Knighton, a medieval cleric who witnessed the Black Death’s scouring of Europe. I once read his firsthand account of the sheep and cattle that went wandering over fields where the harvest had rotted on the vine, crops and livestock returning to wilderness amid the great diminishing of human life. I now reigned over my own plagued realm, having lost this latest confrontation with nature.
Almost 30 years after a cult leader caused a disaster in Waco, Trump rallied his own political cult—and the location cannot be a coincidence—in that same Texas city. The Waco tent revival featured the usual Trumpian cast of grifters, carnies, and misfits, including the fan favorites Mike Lindell and Ted Nugent. Most of the former president’s speech was, of course, about himself and his many grievances, and the crowd reportedly began to thin out somewhat early.
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 Israeli prime minister and his radical allies pushed the country to the brink—and inspired the greatest mass movement in its history.
Last night, hundreds of thousands of Israelis poured into the streets, believing their country’s democracy to be in peril. The immediate precipitant for this popular protest was the firing of Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister. A former general tasked with overseeing the Jewish state’s security, Gallant had called for his own coalition to pause its attempted overhaul of the Israeli judicial system, arguing that division around the plan was undermining national cohesion. Rather than accede to Gallant’s proposal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired him. But although this removal provided the spark for Israel’s extraordinary explosion of civil dissent, the tinder had been building for months.
My boyfriend and I have been dating for about a year and a half. About six months in, I could tell he was uncomfortable with the subject of marriage—he is divorced and a bit jaded by the experience. A year into dating, we sat down and talked. He said he didn’t know whether he wanted to get married again, whereas I knew I wanted to get married one day. We agreed that two people should know whether or not they want to get married after two years of dating, so one year from that conversation was going to be our deadline.
Since then, we have tried to determine if we are suited to marriage with each other. There is so much that is going well. He treats me very well, and does romantic, kind things that I imagine only someone who truly cares about me would do. We were friends before we started dating, and I treasure this friendship and love the time we spend together.
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.
The machines may change the world as you know it. But first, they’ll write a sonnet based on your favorite cereal.
If you believe in the multibillion-dollar valuations, the prognostications from some of tech’s most notable figures, and the simple magic of getting a computer to do your job for you, then you might say we’re at the start of the chatbot era. Last November, OpenAI released ChatGPT into the unsuspecting world: It became the fastest-growing consumer app in history and immediately seemed to reconfigure how people think of conversational programs. Chatbots have existed for decades, but they haven’t seemed especially intelligent—nothing like the poetry-writing, email-summarizing machines that have sprouted up recently.
Yes, machines—plural. OpenAI has defined the moment, but there are plenty of competitors, including major players such as Google and Meta and lesser-known start-ups such as Anthropic. This cheat sheet tracks some of the most notable chatbot contenders through a few metrics: Can you actually use them? Do they contain glaring flaws? Can they channel the spirit of Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Atlantic’s co-founder? And what Oreo flavor do they think they would be? Ultimately, it’s about determining whether the chatbots are actually distinct—and whether they might genuinely be useful.
Your data helped build ChatGPT. Where's your payout?
Silicon Valley churns out new products all the time, but rarely does one receive the level of hype that has surrounded the release of GPT-4. The follow-up to ChatGPT can ace standardized tests, tell you why a meme is funny, and even help do your taxes. Since the San Francisco start-up OpenAI introduced the technology earlier this month, it has been branded as “remarkable but unsettling,” and has led to grandiose statements about how “things will never be the same.”
But actually trying out these features for yourself—or at least the ones that have already been publicly released—does not come cheap. Unlike ChatGPT, which captivated the world because it was free, GPT-4 is currently only available to non-developers through a premium service that costs $20 a month. OpenAI has lately made other moves to cash in on its products too. Last month, it announced a partnership with the consulting firm Bain & Company to help automate marketing campaigns and customer-service operations for its clients. And just a few weeks ago, the start-up announced a paid service that would allow other companies to integrate its technology into their own products, and Instacart, Snapchat, and Shopify have already done so.