The U.S. Senate confirmed billionaire investor Wilbur Ross as the next commerce secretary Monday night. With a 72-27 vote, Ross enjoyed bipartisan support and will be a crucial voice in President Trump’s trade policy. During his confirmation hearings, Ross was questioned about his widespread investments around the world. As my colleague Russell Berman writes:
The investor ran the private equity firm he founded, Rothschild Inc., and specialized in turning around manufacturing firms. He was one of Trump’s first nominees to a top economic post, but like other wealthy picks, his confirmation was slowed by the complicated process of negotiating an ethics agreement in which Ross stipulated he would divest from most of his assets.
While he said he would sell of 80 of his business assets if confirmed, he would still hold on to some investments, including one with the Chinese government involving an oil-tanker operator.
Takata Agrees to Pay $1 Billion for Faulty Air Bags
Takata, the Japanese manufacturer responsible for the largest auto recall in U.S. history, pleaded guilty to fraud Monday and agreed to pay $1 billion. Air bags made by the company, which exploded with too much force, were blamed for the deaths of at least 16 people, 11 of whom lived in the U.S., and injured another 180 people worldwide. As part of the guilty plea, Takata admits to concealing evidence and providing false test data. Of the $1 billion in penalties, $850 million goes to automakers, $125 million to victims, and $25 million to the federal government. The recall, which occurred late last year, involved 42 million vehicles and 19 automakers. Announcing the plea, Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco said, “Takata abused the trust of both its customers and the public by allowing airbag inflators to be put in vehicles knowing that the inflators did not meet the required specifications.”
SpaceX Will Send Two Private Citizens to the Moon in 2018
We’re going back to the moon. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced Monday that his company would send two private citizens on a trip around the moon sometime in 2018. It will cost them a “significant amount of money.” Training will begin next year. As my colleague Marina Koren writes:
For the mystery passengers, the trip is a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. For Musk, the mission, if successful, could establish SpaceX as the state of the art in human spaceflight. NASA is still a few years away from testing its Space Launch System, which is supposed to carry astronauts into low-Earth orbit, and even further away from testing the system with humans on board.
The trip will last one week and use the Falcon 9 heavy rocket for the 400,000-mile trip.
Another Wave of Threats Targeting Jewish Community Centers and Schools
At least 19 Jewish community centers and day schools in nearly a dozen states received bomb threats Monday, marking the latest in a series of threats targeting the American Jewish community. Jewish day schools and community centers in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia received bomb threats, prompting some evacuations. No acts of violence have been reported and most institutions have resumed normal operations. The threats come a day after nearly 100 headstones were vandalized at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, and one week after a similar incident in which nearly 170 headstones were toppled at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. David Posner, the director of strategic performance at the JCC Association of North America, called on government leaders in a statement Monday to take forceful action, adding: “Actions speak louder than words. Members of our community must see swift and concerted action from federal officials to identify and capture the perpetrator or perpetrators who are trying to instill anxiety and fear in our communities.” According to this tracker by the Huffington Post, approximately 61 of the 166 JCCs nationwide have received threats since January.
11 Years in Prison for Israeli Who Mistook Fellow Jew for an Arab and Stabbed Him
An Israeli Jewish man was sentenced to 11 years in prison Monday for stabbing a fellow Jew he said he mistook for being a non-Jewish Arab. Shlomo Haim Pinto, who was convicted in December for attempted murder, told prosecutors he planned to stab an Arab when in October 2015 he entered the Supersol supermarket in Kiryat Ata, near Haifa, and stabbed Uri Razkan, a Jewish supermarket employee. Razkan said he could hear Pinto saying “You deserve it, you deserve it. You are bastard Arabs,” and condemned the attack as a hate crime. “We are all human beings, we are all equal,” Razkan said after the attack. “It does not matter if an Arab stabbed me or a Jew stabbed me, a religious, orthodox or secular person.” Pinto testified that an inner voice told him to commit the attack, which coincided with a spike in violent attacks by Palestinian attackers on Israelis and retaliatory attacks by Israelis on Palestinians. As Haaretz reports, the judges did not find Pinto’s attorney’s claim of his client suffering from a mental disorder or insanity to be credible.
The Father of the Navy SEAL Killed in Yemen Refused to Meet With Trump
The father of a Navy SEAL killed in a recent raid in Yemen said he wants an investigation into his son’s death, and that he refused to meet with President Trump. Bill Owens, who is also a veteran, said in an interview published Sunday in The Miami Herald that shortly after he learned of his son’s death on January 28, a chaplain said Trump wished to meet with his family during a ceremony at Dover Air Force Base, in Delaware. Owens declined the offer, he told the Herald, saying, “I told them I didn’t want to make a scene about it, but my conscience wouldn’t let me talk to him.” Owens’s frustration stems from what he believes was a hastily assembled mission, signed-off by Trump just a week into his presidency. The anti-terrorism raid in Yemen was meant to be a quick and covert operation to gather intelligence on phones and computers, but it turned into an hour-long firefight that killed a dozen civilians as well as Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, Owens’s son. Trump, who has called the mission a success, lamented the death. “For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen—everything was missiles and drones,” Owens told the Herald, “because there was not a target worth one American life. Now, all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?’’
George W. Bush Says Answers Needed on Trump Aides' Contacts With Russia
Former President George W. Bush said “we all need answers” on the extent of contacts between Donald Trump’s aides and Russian intelligence officials. Bush, appearing on NBC’s Today show, was asked whether he believed a special prosecutor was needed to investigate the alleged contacts. He replied he had great faith in Senator Richard Shelby, the Alabama Republican who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, and would defer to his judgment on the matter. But, Bush added, “I am sure, though, that that question needs to be answered.” President Trump has called the allegations “fake news,” and Bush’s comments are the most direct criticism by a former president of the current administration. In their wide-ranging conversation, Matt Lauer, the show’s host, asked Bush about Trump’s immigration order that bans travel from seven Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries. The former president, whose words about Islam were widely praised after the September 11 attacks, said he was for “an immigration policy that is welcoming and upholds the law.” When Lauer asked Bush, who was harshly criticized in the media during his eight years in office, whether he thought, as Trump has asserted, the media are “the enemy of the American people,” the 43rd president replied the media are “indispensable to democracy.” He said he spent years trying to get Russian President Vladimir Putin to embrace a free press. “Power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive,” Bush said. “And it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse power.” Bush was on the Today show to promote his new book of portraits being sold for charity. You can watch the interview below:
As you probably know by now, Moonlight was awarded Best Picture at last night’s Academy Awards, but only after a gigantic mistake that resulted in La La Land being named the winner. Watch the moment here:
Our Culture team’s full coverage of the Oscars here
Islamists Militants Behead Abducted German Tourist in the Philippines
Abu Sayyaf, the ISIS-linked Islamist group based in southern Philippines, says it beheaded Jurgen Kantner, a 70-year-old German hostage who was abducted last November from his yacht off Malaysia's Sabah state; his partner, Sabine Merz, was killed at the time. A video of Kantner’s killing Sunday appears to show the beheading; a deadline for about $600,000 in ransom for Kantner’s freedom passed Sunday. Kantner and Merz were previously taken hostage in 2008 by Somali pirates who held them for nearly two months. They were freed after a ransom payment. Abu Sayyaf has been behind some of the worst terrorist attacks in the Philippines, including the bombing of a ferry in 2004 that killed more than 100 people.
Report: Trump to Seek Boost in Defense Spending, Steep Cuts Elsewhere
The Trump White House plans to seek a marked increase in defense spending and sharp budget cuts to domestic agencies, but will leave Social Security and Medicare alone, The New York Times is reporting. Here’s more:
Preliminary budget outlines are usually little-noticed administrative exercises, the first step in negotiations between the White House and federal agencies that usually shave the sharpest edges off the initial request. But this plan … is intended to make a big splash for a president eager to show that he is a man of action.
The sources for the story are four unnamed administration officials. Targeted for major budget cuts, the Times reports, are the U.S. State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. The priorities are in line with Donald Trump’s promises on the campaign trail. They are likely to be supported by Republicans, who control Congress, but opposed by Democrats.
Most cases are not life-threatening, which is also what makes the virus a historic challenge to contain.
Updated at 7:43 p.m. on Feb. 25, 2020.
In May 1997, a 3-year-old boy developed what at first seemed like the common cold. When his symptoms—sore throat, fever, and cough—persisted for six days, he was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong. There his cough worsened, and he began gasping for air. Despite intensive care, the boy died.
Puzzled by his rapid deterioration, doctors sent a sample of the boy’s sputum to China’s Department of Health. But the standard testing protocol couldn’t fully identify the virus that had caused the disease. The chief virologist decided to ship some of the sample to colleagues in other countries.
At the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the boy’s sputum sat for a month, waiting for its turn in a slow process of antibody-matching analysis. The results eventually confirmed that this was a variant of influenza, the virus that has killed more people than any in history. But this type had never before been seen in humans. It was H5N1, or “avian flu,” discovered two decades prior, but known only to infect birds.
The old but newly popular notion that one’s love life can be analyzed like an economy is flawed—and it’s ruining romance.
Ever since her last relationship ended this past August, Liz has been consciously trying not to treat dating as a “numbers game.” By the 30-year-old Alaskan’s own admission, however, it hasn’t been going great.
Liz has been going on Tinder dates frequently, sometimes multiple times a week—one of her New Year’s resolutions was to go on every date she was invited on. But Liz, who asked to be identified only by her first name in order to avoid harassment, can’t escape a feeling of impersonal, businesslike detachment from the whole pursuit.
“It’s like, ‘If this doesn’t go well, there are 20 other guys who look like you in my inbox.’ And I’m sure they feel the same way—that there are 20 other girls who are willing to hang out, or whatever,” she said. “People are seen as commodities, as opposed to individuals.”
Citizens of a once-prosperous nation live amid the havoc created by socialism, illiberal nationalism, and political polarization.
Last month, Juan Guaidó appeared in Washington in the role of political totem. Venezuela’s main opposition leader—the man who is recognized by that country’s National Assembly, millions of his fellow citizens, and several dozen foreign countries as the rightful president of Venezuela—was one of the special guests at the State of the Union address. President Donald Trump welcomed Guaidó as living evidence that his own administration was “standing up for freedom in our hemisphere” and had “reversed the failed policies of the previous administration”; he called Venezuela’s current leader, Nicolás Maduro, an illegitimate ruler whose “grip on tyranny will be smashed and broken.” He gave no details of how that would happen. Trump, who has never been to Venezuela or shown any prior interest in it—or, for that matter, shown any interest in freedom anywhere else —presumably knows that the country matters to some voters in South Florida. To their credit, members of Congress gave a bipartisan standing ovation to Guaidó nevertheless.
Why has Erin Pizzey, once a pioneer of the women’s movement, been written out of its history?
Erin Pizzey ought to be a feminist hero. In 1971, she founded the first women’s refuge in Britain, with no money and no official support beyond the use of a run-down public-housing block with four rooms, a galley kitchen, and a toilet. At that house in Chiswick, West London, hundreds of women received help to escape abusive partners and rebuild their lives. It was also a community center where women could get help with claiming welfare benefits, starting divorce proceedings, and dealing with alcohol and drug abuse.
By 2017, there were 276 such sites in England, with 3,798 beds. Pizzey’s work in Chiswick led to the creation of Refuge, which is now the largest charity of its kind in England. It has an annual income of £13.3 million ($17 million) and employs more than 200 people.
The family structure we’ve held up as the cultural ideal for the past half century has been a catastrophe for many. It’s time to figure out better ways to live together.
The scene is one many of us have somewhere in our family history: Dozens of people celebrating Thanksgiving or some other holiday around a makeshift stretch of family tables—siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, great-aunts. The grandparents are telling the old family stories for the 37th time. “It was the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen in your life,” says one, remembering his first day in America. “There were lights everywhere … It was a celebration of light! I thought they were for me.”
The oldsters start squabbling about whose memory is better. “It was cold that day,” one says about some faraway memory. “What are you talking about? It was May, late May,” says another. The young children sit wide-eyed, absorbing family lore and trying to piece together the plotline of the generations.
Last year, I published a thriller set on a cruise. A few weeks ago, I found myself quarantined on the Diamond Princess.
Some bad outcomes, you half expect: This time the mammogram will detect an abnormality; this time the cop will notice you were 10 miles over the speed limit; this time the IRS is serious about a total audit. But you don’t expect that your luxury cruise from Japan will harbor a killer virus resulting in your being returned to the U.S. in a cargo plane that lands at a remote Air Force base where you are ordered into federal quarantine for a minimum of two weeks, leaving you without rights, without agency, and on the wrong side of a heavily guarded fence.
At least, I didn’t expect any of this, even though I wrote a thriller set on a cruise ship—or perhaps in part because I wrote a thriller set on a cruise ship, and figured my imagination was more fevered than reality. I had imagined a murder mystery with medical clues, but I had not imagined this. I had prepared for everything, but I had not prepared for this.
China’s use of surveillance and censorship makes it harder for Xi Jinping to know what’s going on in his own country.
China is in the grip of a momentous crisis. The novel coronavirus that emerged late last year has already claimed three times more lives than the SARS outbreak in 2003, and it is still spreading. More than 50 million people (more than the combined metro populations of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco) remain under historically unprecedented lockdown, unable to leave their city—and in many cases, even their apartment. Many countries no longer accept visiting Chinese nationals, or if they do, quarantine them for weeks. Big companies are pulling out of trade shows. Production is suffering. Profound economic consequences are bound to ensue, not just in China but around the world.
The price of Bernie Sanders’s agenda could be his biggest general-election weakness. But his rivals haven’t yet forced him to explain how he’d cover the full cost.
Bernie Sanders faced more pointed attacks last night over his potential vulnerabilities than he ever has at a debate. But the blustery and disorderly session once again failed to fully explore what could be the Vermont senator’s greatest general-election weakness: the massive size and scope of his spending and tax proposals, which, depending on the estimate, would cost $50 trillion to $60 trillion over the next 10 years. That would roughly double the size of the federal government, an unprecedented increase outside of wartime.
More so than in any previous session, Sanders at times seemed rattled and tentative as his rivals subjected him to a crossfire of criticism—over his record on gun control; my colleague Edward-Isaac Dovere’s report that he seriously considered a primary challenge to Barack Obama in 2012; his praise for aspects of Fidel Castro’s record in Cuba; and his success, or lack thereof, at getting things done in Washington. The evening showed “the first sign of uneasiness” for Sanders on a debate stage in this election cycle, says Lily Adams, the former communications director for Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign. “For the first time, we saw moments where he was not 100 percent sure of what his rebuttal was going to be.”
We need a clarion call to hold the line against a tyranny from within.
On February 27, 1860, Abraham Lincoln stood before a simple wooden lectern in New York City’s Cooper Union and delivered one of the most consequential speeches of his life. He offered a ringing condemnation of slavery, an unapologetic appeal to the righteous position of the free states, and a clear-eyed assessment of the dark and dangerous years ahead.
When the tall, prairie lawyer delivered this speech, he was to many little more than a failed candidate for U.S. Senate. By the end of his 56-minute oration before New York’s GOP grandees, Lincoln was on track to win the 1860 Republican presidential nomination.
For Lincoln, and the Republican Party of his day, there was no moral compromise to be sought or attained on slavery. It was wrong. It was evil. It was un-American. By the acts and deeds of the Founding Fathers, the Federal government had the authority to, at the very least, forbid the spread of involuntary servitude, whether the South liked it or not. Lincoln sought not to mollify the South or to compromise with the culture of slaveholding, but to draw a clear line.
The cuts to the National Security Council have less to do with making government better than with making it purer.
When it comes to the National Security Council, even a deeply divided Washington has generally agreed on two things. The first is that the staff serves at the president’s pleasure. The second is that the NSC has grown far too large over the past 20 years, bloated by the demands of presidents and forever war. Despite this agreement, however, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien’s recent downsizing of the staff has rightly caused unease.
Critics worried not just about the timing of the cuts but their targets, which suggest that O’Brien’s reforms had less to do with making government better than with making it purer. The NSC’s downsizing appears to be part of Donald Trump’s wider revenge campaign against what the president has reportedly called “snakes” in Washington, and it reveals not just how much and how long the president has been intent on purifying the government, but also how much Trump has changed the way Washington works.