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.
Support for Confederate symbols and monuments follows lines of race, religion, and education rather than geography.
Several years ago, I was driving on a rural road when I came up behind a pickup truck with a Confederate-flag sticker on the back window. This isn’t such an unusual sight in some parts of the United States, but this instance surprised me: The truck had Pennsylvania plates, and the road was in Gettysburg, where an invading force of tens of thousands of Confederates, formed to defend Black slavery, arrived in summer 1863 on a pillaging expedition.
But though the Civil War was a battle between two regions of the country, sympathy for the Confederacy is no longer confined to states that seceded and border states. Support for Confederate symbols and monuments now exists across the country, following lines of race, religion, and education rather than geography. This is one of many ways in which the South is no longer simply a region: A certain version of it has become an identity shared among white, rural, conservative Americans from coast to coast. That’s one takeaway from a new survey about Confederate symbols from the Public Religion Research Institute and E Pluribus Unum.
Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of RT and one of Russia’s top propagandists, has in the space of seven months gone from supreme confidence that Kyiv would fall in days to something like despair at Russia’s shambolic mobilization and battlefield defeats. In addition to confessing to “terrible grief,” she admits that she now sings Russia’s national anthem using the old Soviet lyrics. That choice is appropriate, because Moscow now specializes in Soviet-style bluster and hysteria. Nowhere is this more evident than in the nuclear threats issued by President Vladimir Putin.
In his speeches announcing the annexation of four Ukrainian oblasts that his battered army does not fully control, Putin raised the specter of nuclear war. In the finest tradition of Soviet whataboutism, he spoke of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, calling them an American precedent for … what, he did not exactly say, but the meaning was clear. Since then, the menace has been amplified by subordinates like Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s security council, as well as panicky tub-thumpers like Simonyan’s colleague Vladimir Solovyov.
With a bit of science, maybe someday we will all eat pawpaws.
By the time I arrived at Brooklyn’s Park Slope farmers’ market in search of a pawpaw one morning last week, it was already too late: The weird green fruit had sold out within an hour. “You have to get here early,” Jeff Rowe of Orchard Hill Organics, the market’s lone pawpaw vendor, told me. The day before, I had struck out in Manhattan’s expansive Union Square Greenmarket, where a seller told me pawpaws were extremely rare. The most upscale grocery stores—the kind that sell black garlic and cotton-candy grapes—also had none to offer.
I yearned to taste the enigmatic fruit that so many people seem to be talking about lately. Food writers marvel at how “magical” it is. Bartenders mix rum-and-pawpaw cocktails. At pawpaw festivals across the country, chefs whip up dishes such as pawpaw chicken wraps and pawpaw curry puffs. The pawpaw is having a moment, perhaps because it is a mass of contradictions: Its custardy flesh, ranging in color from butter yellow to sunset orange, tastes like a mix of banana, mango, and pineapple (or so I’d heard). But unlike those fruits, pawpaws are not native to the tropics; instead, the fruit grows across the Eastern United States and up into Canada. Pawpaw trees thrive along creeks and rivers, and there’s a good chance you’ve passed one without even knowing it.
Yesterday, the world got a look inside Elon Musk’s phone. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO is currently in litigation with Twitter and trying to back out of his deal to buy the platform and take it private. As part of the discovery process related to this lawsuit, Delaware’s Court of Chancery released hundreds of text messages and emails sent to and from Musk. The 151-page redacted document is a remarkable, voyeuristic record of a few months in the life of the world’s richest (and most overexposed) man and a rare unvarnished glimpse into the overlapping worlds of Silicon Valley, media, and politics. The texts are juicy, but not because they are lurid, particularly offensive, or offer up some scandalous Muskian master plan—quite the opposite. What is so illuminating about the Musk messages is just how unimpressive, unimaginative, and sycophantic the powerful men in Musk’s contacts appear to be. Whoever said there are no bad ideas in brainstorming never had access to Elon Musk’s phone.
How the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a trio of Gen X rockers, made radical sincerity cool
We Millennials can feel it in our hips: our coolness curdling. Jokes about our fashions and facial expressions have proliferated, and they don’t just mock the idea of circa-40-year-olds hissing yas while squeezing into skinny jeans. They paint a caricature of a generation as business-casual incarnate, careerists in a failing corporation, who have been deluded into thinking that individuality consists of peppiness, baby-speak, and indie. Squad, how’d we get this way?
Cool It Down, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ first album in nine years, sheds some light on that question. Life-affirming and eclectic dance-rock with apocalyptic themes, the music is lovely, and a reminder of how long the 21st century has been. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a trio of Gen Xers, accidentally helped create one of the dominant youth aesthetics—idealistic, scruffy, sellable—of the past two decades. Perhaps the band even foresaw where their listeners would end up today. “It’s our time … to be hated,” Karen O sang lovingly in 2001, on the band’s first EP.
Scandals once sunk campaigns. Now, for many voters, winning isn’t everything—it’s the only thing.
Southern Democrats, Rockefeller Republicans, campaign-ending disasters: Some things that used to be staples of American politics don’t really exist anymore. That’s the result of an era in which nothing means as much as the letter next to a candidate’s name. With voters viewing the other party as an existential threat to their lives or the republic, they seem willing to overlook nearly any personal failing in the name of partisanship.
A good test of this new rule is coming up in Georgia’s race for U.S. Senate. Herschel Walker, the Republican nominee, is facing yet another uproar after a Daily Beastreport last night alleging that Walker encouraged a girlfriend to have an abortion, and paid for it, in 2009. Walker denies the report and threatened to sue, but the woman provided the Beast with a copy of a check from Walker, a receipt from the abortion clinic, and a get-well card signed by Walker. Speaking to Sean Hannity last night, Walker offered vague excuses. “I send money to a lot of people,” he said. “I believe in being generous.”
Without strong fair-use protections, a culture can’t thrive.
In the late 1970s and early ’80s, Lynn Goldsmith, a polymath skilled as a photographer and a musician, took pictures of many of the period’s prominent rock stars, including the Rolling Stones, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, the Police, Talking Heads, and Prince. Some images are in vivid color, and others in black and white. Some were taken in unrecognizable, decontextualized spots; others were shot on rooftops in the heart of Manhattan, with New York City’s architecture providing the backdrop. All of them have the lush, analog softness of film, and, especially if viewed together as an entire collection, evoke a specific era in music and in the city.
Goldsmith’s prolific and historically significant output has deservedly been archived in various institutions. One of her images was also enshrined by Andy Warhol, who used a photograph she took of Prince as the basis for his illustrations of the musician. But at least in some legal and art circles, Goldsmith may end up being remembered not so much for her beautiful photographs, but for her legal dispute with the custodians of Andy Warhol’s art, which the Supreme Court will hear on October 12.
Boats on roofs; cars out to sea; coastal towns underwater. The sand from Naples Beach now chokes Naples streets. Hurricane Ian’s 150-mph winds yanked houses off of their foundation in Fort Myers, a pretty town once known for its avenues of royal palms. As many as 50 people reportedly are dead in Florida. In some of our glossiest, most affluent, most densely populated communities, survivors now sift through the ruins of their slice of paradise.
Up north in Tallahassee, where I live, we were just beyond Ian’s western reach, but a few days ago it looked as if the storm was heading straight for us. Like most everyone else in Florida, we prepped for it: filling our gas tanks, anchoring our patio furniture, trotting through the grocery store buying batteries, toilet paper, cans of tuna, bags of ice, six-packs of beer. City-power crews geared up. Florida State and Florida A&M universities geared down, canceling classes.
What Russian trolls can teach us about American voters
In June 2014, Aleksandra Krylova and Anna Bogacheva arrived in the United States on a clandestine mission. Krylova was a high-ranking official at the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia, an ostensibly private company that was connected with Russian intelligence. Bogacheva, her road buddy, a researcher and data cruncher, was more junior. Their trip had been well plotted: a transcontinental itinerary, SIM cards, burner phones, cameras, visas obtained under the pretense of personal travel, and, just in case, evacuation plans.
The women made stops in California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Texas, according to a federal indictment issued years later. Beyond that, their activities are not well known. Their mission, however, is now public knowledge: to gather evidence of conditions in the United States for a project to destabilize its political system and society, using the rather improbable weapon of millions of social-media posts.