—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.
The Lakers legend was fearless, driven, and excellent.
My first real interaction with Kobe Bryant started over a disagreement. The legendary Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard had made some dismissive comments in 2014 about the case of Trayvon Martin, the African-American teenager who had been shot to death in Florida by the neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmernan two years before.
Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal on second-degree murder charges incensed many black athetes—but not Bryant, who told The New Yorker, “if we’ve progressed as a society, then you don’t jump to somebody's defense just because they're African-American.” I was working at ESPN at the time, and criticized Bryant on camera as tone deaf, among other things.
The “crazy worms” remaking forests aren’t your friendly neighborhood garden worms. Then again, those aren’t so great either.
On a sweltering July day, I follow Annise Dobson down an overgrown path into the heart of Seton Falls Park. It’s a splotch of unruly forest, surrounded by the clamoring streets and cramped rowhouses of the Bronx. Broken glass, food wrappers, and condoms litter the ground. But Dobson, bounding ahead in khaki hiking pants with her blond ponytail swinging, appears unfazed. As I quickly learn, neither trash nor oppressive humidity nor ecological catastrophe can dampen her ample enthusiasm.
At the bottom of the hill, Dobson veers off the trail and stops in a shady clearing. This seems like a promising spot. She kicks away the dead oak leaves and tosses a square frame made of PVC pipe onto the damp earth. Then she unscrews a milk jug. It holds a pale yellow slurry of mustard powder and water that’s completely benign—unless you’re a worm.
Understanding the events of 1979 is crucial for those trying to figure out a better future for today’s Middle East.
What happened to us? The question haunts us in the Arab and Muslim world. We repeat it like a mantra. You will hear it from Iran to Syria, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, and in my own country, Lebanon. For us, the past is a different country, one not mired in the horrors of sectarian killings. It is a more vibrant place, without the crushing intolerance of religious zealots and seemingly endless, amorphous wars.
Though the past had coups and wars too, they were contained in time and space, and the future still held much promise. What happened to us? The question may not occur to those too young to remember a different world, whose parents did not tell them of a youth spent reciting poetry in Peshawar, debating Marxism in the bars of Beirut, or riding bicycles on the banks of the Tigris in Baghdad. The question may surprise those in the West who assume that the extremism and bloodletting of today have always been the norm.
“We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom.”
In April 1963, King was jailed in Birmingham, Alabama, after he defied a state court’s injunction and led a march of black protesters without a permit, urging an Easter boycott of white-owned stores. A statement published in The Birmingham News, written by eight moderate white clergymen, criticized the march and other demonstrations.
This prompted King to write a lengthy response, begun in the margins of the newspaper. He smuggled it out with the help of his lawyer, and the nearly 7,000 words were transcribed. The eloquent call for “constructive, nonviolent tension” to force an end to unjust laws became a landmark document of the civil-rights movement. The letter was printed in part or in full by several publications, including the New York Post, Liberation magazine, The New Leader, and The Christian Century. The Atlantic published it in the August 1963 issue.
The American inheritance and the American promise are both precious and precarious. If we don’t defend them vigorously, no one else will.
In August 1784, when the American merchant vessel Empress of China finally docked in Canton (modern-day Guangzhou) after six months at sea, Captain John Green of Philadelphia and his crew found a civilization at its height. The Qianlong emperor ruled 10 percent of the world’s land mass and 30 percent of its population. He controlled one-third of the global economy. He could look out on an empire of extraordinary political and cultural achievement, a civilization that had endured more than three millennia. The name China, Zhōngguó, means “Middle Kingdom”—the kingdom at the center of the cosmos, the kingdom at the heart of heaven and Earth—and he had no reason to doubt it.
In 2013, when Xi Jinping took power as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, he embarked China on a mission of “national rejuvenation” (guojia fuxing). Six years later, China is poised to become, once again, the largest economy in the world, overtaking the United States. China is home to six of the world’s 10 busiest shipping-container ports (seven, if you include Hong Kong), contributing to its increased control of global maritime trade routes. According to the World Bank, China is on pace to eliminate absolute poverty by the end of next year, completing a stunning process through which 850 million people have emerged from poverty since the early 1980s—the largest and fastest poverty reduction in human history, to accompany the largest and fastest economic expansion ever recorded. Meanwhile, Chinese political, economic, and military investments across the world intend to roll back American power, replacing a Pax Americana with a Pax Sinica (though it is not clear whether China intends to preserve the Pax part).
While public attention is focused on the Senate, the president is making controversial policy moves.
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff, said days after Barack Obama was elected in 2008. Emanuel’s point was that a moment of cataclysm meant a chance for big structural reforms that wouldn’t be possible in moments of calm.
But there are other ways to take advantage of a crisis, as the Trump administration is demonstrating right now. Even as the president’s impeachment trial moves forward, the White House is acting aggressively on a range of policy proposals that are politically, legally, or morally suspect, wagering—probably correctly—that the press and the people will mostly overlook them amid the drama in the Senate.
It isn’t, as has sometimes been claimed, that Trump wanted to be impeached, or that the impeachment is somehow a brilliant Machiavellian distraction he has orchestrated. The president has made clear that he wants the trial over as quickly as possible. But as long as it’s going on, the White House is using the crisis as best as it can.
The question facing the country 70 years after it became a republic is similar to that from decades prior.
India houses more democratic citizens than any other country in the world. But for weeks, it has been in the throes of an intense argument over who those citizens should be. The passage of a new citizenship law that treats non-Muslims from three neighboring countries differently from Muslim ones has sparked much outrage. Yet even though this law is new—and arguably the single largest blow to India’s secular character—debates over the country’s religious and ethnic diversity, over how its people should be defined and identified, have been part of India’s history for more than a century. Seventy years on from the implementation of its constitution, a central question continues to vex the country: Who is an Indian?
The newly revealed comment is one of the former president’s strongest known critiques of his successor.
Barack Obama’s private assessment of Donald Trump: He’s a fascist.
That is, at least, according to Tim Kaine, the Democratic senator from Virginia and a friend of the former president. In a video clip from October 2016, Kaine is seen relaying Obama’s comment to Hillary Clinton. The footage is part of the new Hulu documentary Hillary, which was obtained by The Atlantic ahead of its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival today.
“President Obama called me last night and said, ‘Tim, this is no time to be a purist,’” Kaine tells his then–running mate. “‘You’ve got to keep a fascist out of the White House.’”
Clinton replies: “I echo that sentiment.”
A representative for Obama declined to comment on the conversation. A representative for Kaine did not respond to requests for comment.
China’s attempt to curb a viral outbreak is a radical experiment in authoritarian medicine.
A construction team is racing to build a new, 1,000-bed hospital in the next six days. As a virus spreads through one of the world’s largest cities, no one is allowed to leave. When the count of the dead in Wuhan, China, reached 15 yesterday, government officials declared a quarantine. Trains and public transit came to a halt, and air travel was canceled. Residents were urged to stay at home, and to wear masks if they must go out. The state told people not to spit, and “not to spread alarmist rumors.”
In short order, infections were also confirmed in multiple other parts of China. Travel was also banned in the cities of Huanggang and Ezhou. As of today, the state has essentially quarantined an area estimated to encompass 35 million people—a population greater than the 10 largest U.S. cities combined.
A writer who’s afraid to tell people what they don’t want to hear has chosen the wrong trade.
Christopher Hitchens and I weren’t close friends—I was a lesser planet in his orbit. Every so often I felt the rhetorical lash of his published words on my back, and then I tried to make him feel mine, and you can guess who got the better of those exchanges. They usually had to do with Iraq. We both supported the war, but I supported it in an ambivalent, liberal way, while Christopher supported it in a heroic, revolutionary way. The more I saw of the war, the deeper my despair became. Christopher made it a point of honor never to call retreat.
I know of many friendships that ended in those years, including a few of mine. But something strange happened between Christopher and me. For every time he called me a split-the-difference bien-pensant, and for every time I called him a pseudo–Lord Byron, we seemed to become better friends. We would say rude things about each other in print, and then we’d exchange tentatively regretful emails without yielding an inch, and then we’d meet for a drink and the whole thing would go unmentioned, and somehow there was more warmth between us than before. Exchanging barbs was a way of bonding with Christopher.