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.
Approximately half of the luxury-condo units that have come onto the market in the past five years are still unsold.
In Manhattan, the homeless shelters are full, and the luxury skyscrapers are vacant.
Such is the tale of two cities within America’s largest metro. Even as 80,000 people sleep in New York City’s shelters or on its streets, Manhattan residents have watched skinny condominium skyscrapers rise across the island. These colossal stalagmites initially transformed not only the city’s skyline but also the real-estate market for new homes. From 2011 to 2019, the average price of a newly listed condo in New York soared from $1.15 million to $3.77 million.
But the bust is upon us. Today, nearly half of the Manhattan luxury-condo units that have come onto the market in the past five years are still unsold, according to The New York Times.
The downing of a plane showed citizens what’s wrong with the Iranian government, but the regime has no plans to change.
When Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led prayers at Tehran’s Grand Mosque for the first time in eight years on Friday, Iran’s supreme leader described the downing of Ukrainian Airlines Fight 752 by his military as a “bitter accident”—one that enemies abroad were exploiting as an excuse to discredit the Islamic Republic. But the real threat to the regime, which has spent decades trying to cement its rule, is the discontent of the Iranian public. Both the plane crash on January 8 and the cover-up that followed struck at the heart of the grievances that shape Iranians’ anger toward and alienation from their government. And if the demise of Flight 752 revealed the government’s malign disregard for its own citizens, its relentless suppression of the subsequent protests has only underscored its imperviousness to any meaningful accountability.
As a black American woman married to a member of Britain’s upper class, I have caught just a glimpse of Meghan Markle’s world.
The world Meghan Markle entered when she married Prince Harry is unlike any other. But, as a black American woman married to a member of Britain’s upper class, I have caught just a glimpse of it, from a roughly similar perspective.
For a while I lived in London and, through the man who would become my husband, I was introduced to some of the ancient class dynamics that permeate British society. He went to Eton, the elite boys’ boarding school attended by Prince William, Prince Harry, and many prime ministers.
Once, I went with him to the christening of an old classmate’s child. At the event, I sat across from David Cameron, an Old Etonian—or OE, as Eton’s former students are called—who was then the Tory party leader. His wife and my partner were both godparents to the new baby. If I were British, the christening and subsequent lunch with a gaggle of OEs and their equally posh wives would likely have made me nervous, angry, and uncomfortable. But I was somewhat insulated by the fact that, as an outsider, I didn’t have negative associations—or really any associations—with their traditions and ways of expressing themselves.
Somewhere near the heart of the Ukraine scandal is the oligarch Dmytro Firtash. Evidence has long suggested this fact. But over the past week, in a televised interview and in documents he supplied to Congress, Rudy Giuliani’s former business partner Lev Parnas pointed his finger at the Ukrainian oligarch. According to Parnas, Giuliani’s team had a deal with Firtash. Giuliani would get the Justice Department to drop its attempt to extradite the oligarch on bribery charges. In return, according to Parnas, the oligarch promised to pass along evidence that would supposedly discredit both Joe Biden and Robert Mueller.
Parnas’s account, of course, is hardly definitive. Throughout his career, he has attempted to inflate his importance to make money. (Firtash apparently paid him $1 million for his services, though it’s still not totally clear what those services were.) And his description of Firtash’s involvement raises as many questions as it settles. Still, the apparent centrality of Firtash should inform any assessment of Giuliani’s escapades and the entire Ukraine story.
The streaming service has turned the star’s controversial e-commerce brand into a series. Soft-lit chaos ensues.
In an episode of the new Netflix series The Goop Lab, a young woman, Ana, gets a reading from the psychic medium Laura Lynne Jackson. Things do not go well. Jackson tells Ana, a Goop employee who is skeptical about clairvoyance, that she senses a twin in her family. Ana can’t think of any twins. “I have a female figure coming in, and I feel like it’s your grandmother’s sister,” Jackson says. “My grandmother didn’t have a sister,” Ana replies. Jackson asks whether Ana might be planning a trip to Mexico. (No.) “Is there, like, a funny story or a picture about a donkey? Or is there something with Shrek?” (Also no.) The reading, staged for the show’s cameras, quickly spirals from gauzy mysticism to blunt awkwardness. Even Ana seems surprised at how correct she was to distrust the premise of the exercise—which is also, as it happens, the premise of Goop as a lifestyle brand: that the physical world is, to some extent, a faith-based initiative.
As Trump’s impeachment trial looms, much of the relevant evidence remains just out of Americans’ sight.
This week’s allegations by Lev Parnas—a federally indicted associate of Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani—render downright quaint the debate over whether the Senate should call live witnesses in the president’s impending impeachment trial. Of course the American public deserves to hear from witnesses at the trial, and not just the four whose testimony Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is requesting (thus far to no avail).
Parnas maintains that the scheme to force Ukraine to announce an investigation into Joe Biden’s family was widely known in Trump’s circle and that, as The New York Times put it, “the president was fully aware of the efforts to dig up damaging information on his behalf.” In an ideal world, the entire impeachment trial would be put on hold pending a thorough investigation of the new claims. Americans need to know the full story before their representatives in the Senate decide what—if anything—to do about it.
Why boys crack up at rape jokes, think having a girlfriend is “gay,” and still can’t cry—and why we need to give them new and better models of masculinity
Updated at 9:30 p.m. ET on December 20, 2019.
I knew nothing about Cole before meeting him; he was just a name on a list of boys at a private school outside Boston who had volunteered to talk with me (or perhaps had had their arm twisted a bit by a counselor). The afternoon of our first interview, I was running late. As I rushed down a hallway at the school, I noticed a boy sitting outside the library, waiting—it had to be him. He was staring impassively ahead, both feet planted on the floor, hands resting loosely on his thighs.
My first reaction was Oh no.
It was totally unfair, a scarlet letter of personal bias. Cole would later describe himself to me as a “typical tall white athlete” guy, and that is exactly what I saw. At 18, he stood more than 6 feet tall, with broad shoulders and short-clipped hair. His neck was so thick that it seemed to merge into his jawline, and he was planning to enter a military academy for college the following fall. His friends were “the jock group,” he’d tell me. “They’re what you’d expect, I guess. Let’s leave it at that.” If I had closed my eyes and described the boy I imagined would never open up to me, it would have been him.
Houston’s dominance once looked like the sport’s biggest success story. Now their whole legacy is in doubt.
Late into the night of October 30, 2019, the Houston Astros looked like baseball’s team of the decade. They had a two-run lead on the Washington Nationals in the winner-take-all seventh game of the World Series, potential future Hall of Famer Zack Greinke on the mound, and an offense that seemed capable of generating runs on command.
Then it all came crashing down. It wasn’t simply that they lost the game, and with it, what would have been their second championship in three years. No, the team’s real problem didn’t hit until two weeks later, when a much deeper scandal broke: The Astros, it turned out, had been cheating.
On November 12, The Athleticreported that Mike Fiers, who pitched for Houston from 2015 to 2017, had revealed that, during his tenure with the team, the Astros secretly “stole signs” from visiting teams, intercepting communications between opposing pitchers and catchers and relaying them to the batter. The setup was surprisingly simple: A camera in the Astros’ home stadium relayed a feed of the catcher to a monitor situated in a recessed area where an Astros player was sitting near home plate. That player decoded the opposing team’s signals, then banged on a large trash can to inform the hitter what the next pitch would be.
The left is more energized than ever. So what happens if Joe Biden is the nominee?
“Please don’t make me vote for Joe Biden!” a flock of teenagers pleaded in a series of videos posted to the social-media app TikTok earlier this month.
But as the Iowa caucuses draw closer, a Biden nomination is looking more likely by the day. Lefty groups are worried—and warning that a Biden win could crush the activist enthusiasm they’re counting on to win in November.
The thousands of Americans who wait for hours in line to snap a photo with Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts or who fill arenas for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont simply will not be as enthusiastic about the former vice president, leaders at nine progressive organizations, all of which are involved with organizing and get-out-the-vote efforts, told me in interviews this month. “I can’t imagine having Biden on the ticket is going to be the thing that energizes these folks to get out and do the door-knocking and have the conversations we need them to have,” said Natalia Salgado, who runs civic engagement at the Center for Popular Democracy, a left-wing advocacy group. “It’s incredibly concerning to me.”
The Iranian people are, for the first time in decades, worried about whether the leaders who have been their captors are not also their protectors.
Yesterday Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, delivered his first Friday sermon in eight years, a fulminating but boring rant against America after the death of Qassem Soleimani. The rant brought back memories for me, like hearing a familiar Beatles song.
Sixteen years ago, as an unwashed backpacker, I went to Friday prayers at the University of Tehran. I can pass as Afghan or Turkmen, and no one questioned me as I approached, walking in a large crowd. Delivering the sermon was Khamenei, then 64 years old and 15 years into his reign. Minutes before prayers, I turned off into an alley and watched the streets full of people drain into the university, until I was the only one left outside; I listened to Khamenei’s sermon through the loudspeakers within. I remember little of it, other than the hammy and perfunctory sign-off, which was “Death to America, death to Israel”—but delivered without the venom I expected, and instead with the casual tone of a Catskills comedian at his thousandth performance (“You’ve been a lovely audience”).