—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 rumors began with a video depicting a black-clad figure in the group’s signature Guy Fawkes mask. “Greetings, citizens of the United States,” the figure said in a creepy, distorted voice. “This is a message from Anonymous to the Minneapolis Police Department.” The masked announcer addressed Floyd’s killing and the larger pattern of police misconduct, concluding, “We will be exposing your many crimes to the world. We are legion. Expect us.”
The clip generated a wave of renewed enthusiasm for Anonymous, particularly among young people. Twitter accounts associated with the group saw a surge of new followers, a couple of them by the millions.
Something fundamental has changed about the ways Americans vote.
As polling places closed on November 6, 2018, the expected “blue wave” looked more like a ripple. Not only had some of the highest-profile Democratic candidates lost, but the party’s gains in the House and the Senate looked smaller than anticipated.
The wave, it turned out, simply hadn’t crested yet. Over the ensuing weeks, as more ballots were counted, Democrats kept winning races—eventually netting 41 House seats. In Arizona, the Republican Martha McSally conceded the Senate race to the Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who picked up more than 70,000 votes in post–Election Day counting. Democrats narrowed deficits in races in Florida and Georgia too. Republicans were stunned.
The ads are everywhere. You can learn to serve like Serena Williams or write like Margaret Atwood. But what MasterClass really delivers is something altogether different.
Image above, clockwise from top left: MasterClass instructors Serena Williams (who teaches tennis on the platform); Natalie Portman (acting); Gordon Ramsay (cooking); Malcolm Gladwell (writing)
Sometimes an advertisement is so perfectly tailored to a cultural moment that it casts that moment into stark relief, which is how I felt upon first seeing an ad for the mega-best-selling writer James Patterson’s course on MasterClass a few years ago. In the ad, Patterson is sitting at a table, reciting a twisty opening line in voice-over. Then an overhead shot of him gazing out a window, lost in thought like a character in a movie. A title card appears: “Imagine taking a writing class from a master.” It didn’t matter that I’d never read a book by Patterson before—I was hooked. What appealed to me was not whatever actionable thriller-writing tips I might glean, but rather the promise of his story, the story of how a writer becomes a mogul. Any hapless, hand-to-mouth mid-lister can provide instructions on outlining a novel. MasterClass dangled something else, a clear-cut path out of the precariat, the magic-bean shortcut to a fairy-tale ending—the secret to ever-elusive success.
Saudi leaders have figured out what makes the president tick like few others have.
The joke, a throwaway quip, somehow captured the man and the moment—the end of one era, and the beginning of another. It was January 2017, and then–British Prime Minister Theresa May was in the White House, the first foreign leader to visit the new president of the United States, Donald Trump. For May, the trip had gone well: Pleasantries had been exchanged, faux pas avoided, commitments to NATO and the special relationship gleaned. Then came the press conference.
“Mr. President,” the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, called on by May, began, “you’ve said before that torture works; you’ve praised Russia; you’ve said you want to ban some Muslims from coming to America; you’ve suggested there should be punishment for abortion. For many people in Britain, those sound like alarming beliefs. What do you say to our viewers at home who are worried about some of your views and are worried about you becoming the leader of the free world?” A momentary silence followed. Smiling, Trump turned to his guest: “This was your choice of a question?” The room burst into laughter. Then came the punch line: “There goes that relationship.”
No matter what happens now, the virus will continue to circulate around the world.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has sickened more than 16.5 million people across six continents. It is raging in countries that never contained the virus. It is resurgingin manyof the ones that did. If there was ever a time when this coronavirus could be contained, it has probably passed. One outcome is now looking almost certain: This virus is never going away.
The coronavirus is simply too widespread and too transmissible. The most likely scenario, experts say, is that the pandemic ends at some point—because enough people have been either infected or vaccinated—but the virus continues to circulate in lower levels around the globe. Cases will wax and wane over time. Outbreaks will pop up here and there. Even when a much-anticipated vaccine arrives, it is likely to only suppress but never completely eradicate the virus. (For context, consider that vaccines exist for more than a dozen human viruses but only one, smallpox, has ever been eradicated from the planet, and that took 15 years of immense global coordination.) We will probably be living with this virus for the rest of our lives.
Trump is utterly unsuited to deal with this crisis, either intellectually or temperamentally.
For his entire adult life, and for his entire presidency, Donald Trump has created his own alternate reality, complete with his own alternate set of facts. He has shown himself to be erratic, impulsive, narcissistic, vindictive, cruel, mendacious, and devoid of empathy. None of that is new.
But we’re now entering the most dangerous phase of the Trump presidency. The pain and hardship that the United States is only beginning to experience stem from a crisis that the president is utterly unsuited to deal with, either intellectually or temperamentally. When things were going relatively well, the nation could more easily absorb the costs of Trump’s psychological and moral distortions and disfigurements. But those days are behind us. The coronavirus pandemic has created the conditions that can catalyze a destructive set of responses from an individual with Trump’s characterological defects and disordered personality.
A virus has brought the world’s most powerful country to its knees.
How did it come to this? A virus a thousand times smaller than a dust mote has humbled and humiliated the planet’s most powerful nation. America has failed to protect its people, leaving them with illness and financial ruin. It has lost its status as a global leader. It has careened between inaction and ineptitude. The breadth and magnitude of its errors are difficult, in the moment, to truly fathom.
In the first half of 2020, SARS‑CoV‑2—the new coronavirus behind the disease COVID‑19—infected 10 million people around the world and killed about half a million.
A conversation with Ariel Sabar about the stranger-than-fiction story of a Harvard professor, a con artist, and a papyrus fragment that made front-page news
At a September 2012 academic conference in Rome, Karen King, a historian at Harvard Divinity School, made a major announcement. She had discovered a fragment of papyrus that bore a shocking phrase: “Jesus said to them, My wife.” If the scrap was authentic, it had the potential to upend centuries of Roman Catholic tradition.
The journalist Ariel Sabar covered King’s 2012 presentation for Smithsonian magazine, and revisited the mystery of the papyrus’s origins in a 2016 article for The Atlantic, “The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife,” in which he tracked down the owner of the papyrus—a man whose identity King adamantly refused to share with the press. Could this man have forged the explosive text? Was King’s discovery too good to be true?
In attacking her record on crime policy, her critics are ignoring how politics actually works.
The racial-justice movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd has had two quite different effects on Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. It has intensified the pressure on Biden to choose a Black woman as his running mate. And it has also intensified the pressure on him to choose a running mate with a history of challenging police brutality. Those two political imperatives are now colliding in the debate over whether Biden should pick Senator Kamala Harris—a former prosecutor whom some progressives in California have characterized as too deferential to police.
Biden had previously vowed to choose a female running mate, and the typical vice-presidential pick is a senator or governor. Harris is the sole Black woman in either category. In one sense, therefore, she clearly benefits from the new political reality that the Black Lives Matter movement has created. But that new political reality has also amplified criticism from progressives. In yesterday’s New York Times, the reporters Danny Hakim, Stephanie Saul, and Richard A. Oppel Jr. quoted David Campos, a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who argues that when Harris “had the opportunity to do something about police accountability” as the city’s district attorney, “she was either not visible, or when she was, she was on the wrong side.” Criticisms like these, the Times notes, have led progressives to ask: “Is Ms. Harris essentially a political pragmatist, or has she in fact changed?”
The electorate is split into separate information bubbles. But unconventional messengers, appeals to patriotism, and even jokes can reach voters who don’t want to listen.
A few weeks ago, I went to a political rally in a farmyard. The Polish presidential candidate Rafał Trzaskowski was speaking; in the background, a golden wheat field shimmered in the late-afternoon sun. The audience was enthusiastic—the host, a local farmer, had spread news of the candidate’s visit only the day before—but the juxtaposition of Trzaskowski and the wheat field was odd. He is the mayor of Warsaw, speaks several languages, has degrees in economics, and belongs to the half of Poland that identifies as educated, urban, and European. What does he know from wheat?
But Trzaskowski was running for president in a country whose other half lives in an information bubble that teaches people to be suspicious of anyone from Warsaw who is educated, urban, and European. Polish state television, fully controlled by the ruling Law and Justice party, was sending aggressive messages into that bubble, warning its inhabitants that Trzaskowski was dubious, foreign, in hock to “LGBT ideology”—which the incumbent president, Andrzej Duda, called “worse than communism”—and beholden to Germans and Jews. The messages, constantly repeated on a wide array of radio stations and television channels, were designed to reinforce tribal loyalties and convince Law and Justice voters that they are “real” Poles, not impostors or traitors like their political opponents.