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.
Three predictions for what the future might look like
In March, tens of millions of American workers—mostly in white-collar industries such as tech, finance, and media—were thrust into a sudden, chaotic experiment in working from home. Four months later, the experiment isn’t close to ending. For many, the test run is looking more like the long run.
Google announced in July that its roughly 200,000 employees will continue to work from home until at least next summer. Mark Zuckerberg has said he expects half of Facebook’s workforce to be remote within the decade. Twitter has told staff they can stay home permanently.
With corporate giants welcoming far-flung workforces, real-estate markets in the superstar cities that combine high-paid work and high-cost housing are in turmoil. In the San Francisco Bay Area, rents are tumbling. In New York City, offices are still empty; so many well-heeled families with second homes have abandoned Manhattan that it’s causing headaches for the census.
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.
How I got co-opted into helping the rich prevail at the expense of everybody else
From my parents’ teenage years in the 1930s and ’40s through my teenage years in the 1970s, American economic life became a lot more fair and democratic and secure than it had been when my grandparents were teenagers. But then all of a sudden, around 1980, that progress slowed, stopped, and in many ways reversed.
I didn’t really start understanding the nature and enormity of the change until the turn of this century, after the country had been fully transformed. One very cold morning just after Thanksgiving in 2006, I was on the way to Eppley Airfield in Omaha after my first visit to my hometown since both my parents had died, sharing a minivan jitney from a hotel with a couple of Central Casting airline pilots—tall, fit white men around my age, one wearing a leather jacket. We chatted. To my surprise, even shock, both of them spent the entire trip sputtering and whining—about being bait-and-switched when their employee-ownership shares of United Airlines had been evaporated by its recent bankruptcy, about the default of their pension plan, about their CEO’s recent 40 percent pay raise, about the company to which they’d devoted their entire careers but no longer trusted at all. In effect, about changing overnight from successful all-American middle-class professionals who’d worked hard and played by the rules into disrespected, cheated, sputtering, whining chumps.
The Biden vice-presidential-nominee finalist discusses Trump’s pandemic response, Benghazi, and her family’s politics.
A few days before Donald Trump’s inauguration, then-National Security Adviser Susan Rice held a press briefing in her office to talk about the threats she saw on the horizon as Barack Obama’s presidency drew to a close. “What keeps you up at night? one reporter asked toward the end of the meeting. Her answer: a pandemic that spirals out of control.
Yesterday afternoon, I asked Rice how the past five months have compared to what she’d been worried about in the early days of 2017. “This is about in the realm of my worst nightmare,” she told me. That’s why, Rice said, she worked to put together plans, and why she oversaw the creation of the pandemic-preparedness office that Trump famously closed. “We knew it was going to happen. We just couldn’t know when.”
Which is too bad because we really need to understand how the immune system reacts to the coronavirus.
Updated at 10:36 a.m. ET on August 5, 2020.
There’s a joke about immunology, which Jessica Metcalf of Princeton recently told me. An immunologist and a cardiologist are kidnapped. The kidnappers threaten to shoot one of them, but promise to spare whoever has made the greater contribution to humanity. The cardiologist says, “Well, I’ve identified drugs that have saved the lives of millions of people.” Impressed, the kidnappers turn to the immunologist. “What have you done?” they ask. The immunologist says, “The thing is, the immune system is very complicated …” And the cardiologist says, “Just shoot me now.”
The thing is, the immune system is very complicated. Arguably the most complex part of the human body outside the brain, it’s an absurdly intricate network of cells and molecules that protect us from dangerous viruses and other microbes. These components summon, amplify, rile, calm, and transform one another: Picture a thousand Rube Goldberg machines, some of which are aggressively smashing things to pieces. Now imagine that their components are labeled with what looks like a string of highly secure passwords: CD8+, IL-1β, IFN-γ. Immunology confuses even biology professors who aren’t immunologists—hence Metcalf’s joke.
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.
The comedian’s employees say that fame has enabled callousness and abuse on her show. The warm testimonies of her superstar friends highlight their point.
Famous people want the world to know that Ellen DeGeneres is nice to famous people. Addressing media reports alleging a culture of harassment and bullying at DeGeneres’s talk show, the singer Katy Perry tweeted Tuesday that she’s “only ever had positive takeaways from my time with Ellen.” Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Hart, Jay Leno, Diane Keaton, and the superstar agent Scooter Braun have all recently made similar declarations about DeGeneres’s kindness, so as to push back against claims painting her as callous toward staffers, fans, and other entertainment-industry figures. “Looking forward to the future where we get back to loving one another,” Hart wrote, blasting those who have criticized DeGeneres and called for her to step down. “This hate shit has to stop.”
As activists move closer to their goal of making abortion illegal, they have started planning for the infrastructure needed for a world with more babies—and recruiting major CEOs to bankroll their cause.
In most circles, abortion does not make for polite dinner-table conversation, especially if you happen to be running a billion-dollar global franchise. So for years, Cheryl Bachelder kept quiet. She stood out professionally as the rare female CEO of a major corporation, overseeing Popeyes while chasing after three daughters and, eventually, four grandsons. As a Christian, she watched with distaste as her fellow business leaders indulged the decadence and money-fueled antics of the 1980s and ’90s, posing on magazine covers with jets and girls. She and her husband donated to candidates for political office whom they knew and personally trusted. But because she oversaw a large, publicly traded company, Bachelder mostly kept her views on one particularly controversial issue secret. “If I go to lunch with a good friend, and they find out I’m pro-life, I can tell you the look on their face,” she told me. “‘You’re kidding me. You are an educated, CEO woman and you’re pro-life. What’s wrong with you?’”
Schools are essential to the functioning of our society, and that makes teachers essential workers.
The other day my husband, a public-school teacher in New York City, got a string of texts from a work friend. After checking in on our family and picking up their ongoing conversation about books and TV shows, she wrote, “So, are we going on a teacher strike in the fall?”
“What!? No!” My husband is adamantly against a strike, because he understands on a deep, personal level his duty to serve his country in the classroom.
We have two young children, one of whom is developmentally disabled, and I’m an intensive-care nurse. Through the spring, I took care of COVID-19 patients at the hospital while he toggled between teaching on Zoom and helping our daughters through their own lessons. He knows that I did my part for society, and that now he should, too.
A year ago, I published a piece in the print magazine about that long-standing object of American fascination, the Roman Empire. Usually, and usefully, Americans have over the centuries looked to Rome for guidance on how their nation could avoid the predictable slide from republic to empire to conquest and dissolution. My favorite in this genre is the wonderful 2007 book Are We Rome?, by my friend (and Atlantic colleague) Cullen Murphy.
But for last year’s piece I discussed some other books, arguing that what happened to Rome after the fall of the Western empire is what Americans should be studying. Especially in this era when central government—leadership on the imperial scale, you might say—was faltering, and when our counterparts to the Roman provinces (that is, our cities and states and regions) were by comparison so much more practical-minded and functional.