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.
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 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.
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.”
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.
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?”
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.
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.
American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase.
If you were an adherent, no one would be able to tell. You would look like any other American. You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive denizens of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world.
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.