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.
I can go just about anywhere with my German passport. But almost no one wants to let in Americans these days.
Becoming a United States citizen was meaningful to me for a great number of reasons. German by birth, I had come to feel at home in America, and to love it. For all the deep injustices that shape this country, I remained convinced that the United States was more likely than just about any other place in the world to build a thriving, diverse democracy. And when I wrote about the danger that right-wing populists like Donald Trump pose to the American republic, I cherished being able to speak about his assault on our, as opposed to your, values and institutions.
Alongside all these serious reasons, I also had a very practical one: the power of the U.S. passport. It granted access to just about everywhere, and escape from just about anywhere. Which country—Germany or the United States—would be more likely to rescue me if I got stuck in some foreign country in the middle of a perilous political crisis? Would the last plane to evacuate foreigners from Chad or Chile or Canada before that country devolved into civil war be sent by the Bundeswehr or the U.S. Air Force?
The U.S. has never had enough coronavirus tests. Now a group of epidemiologists, economists, and dreamers is plotting a new strategy to defeat the virus, even before a vaccine is found.
Michael Mina is a professor of epidemiology at Harvard, where he studies the diagnostic testing of infectious diseases. He has watched, with disgust and disbelief, as the United States has struggled for months to obtain enough tests to fight the coronavirus. In January, he assured a newspaper reporter that he had “absolute faith” in the ability of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to contain the virus. By early March, that conviction was in crisis. “The incompetence has really exceeded what anyone would expect,” he told The New York Times. His astonishment has only intensified since.
Many Americans may understand that testing has failed in this country—that it has been inadequate, in one form or another, since February. What they may not understand is that it is failing, now. In each of the past two weeks, and for the first time since the pandemic began, the country performed fewer COVID-19 tests than it did in the week prior. The system is deteriorating.
Social gatherings provoke moral indignation—but bringing in law enforcement will promote injustice, not reduce infections.
State and local officials across the country are unleashing a new weapon in America’s war against the coronavirus: the cops. Citing parties as the cause of recent clusters of infections in Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker recently authorized state and local police to crack down on public and private gatherings that violate social-distancing guidelines. The sheriff’s office in New York City took on new coronavirus duties, including the enforcement of party bans. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the city will shut off power and water to residences where large gatherings take place, and the county public-health department, in what it described as a “legally binding order,” declared that party hosts will be subject to fines, imprisonment, or both.
Biden’s running mate is two decades younger than he is; the potential vice presidency seems like merely a first step.
If Joe Biden is elected in November, his presidency will likely be defined by history-shaping decisions made after long, deliberative, some might say operatic processes. Biden’s selection of Senator Kamala Harris of California as his running mate—the first woman of color to appear on a major-party ticket—was precisely that sort of careful, drawn-out decision.
Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, says that Biden’s selection of a Black woman with Indian and Jamaican parents shows that Biden is running a very different campaign than Donald Trump. “In the selection of a vice president, he’s created a deep contrast between the pettiest of men and a man who obviously has no pettiness within him,” Tanden told me, minutes after Harris was announced.
No matter what Trump says, the USPS has the money and the capacity to handle a huge surge in mail-in ballots. But new restrictions could disrupt the election.
President Donald Trump and his allies might well succeed in undermining the United States Postal Service’s ability to handle an expected surge in mail-in ballots this fall. But the biggest immediate threat to voting by mail isn’t blocked funding.
Trump acknowledged yesterday that he opposes a major stimulus deal with Democrats in part because he wants to stop an infusion of $25 billion to the Postal Service ahead of the election. “They need that money in order for the Post Office to work, to take in these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo. But the president doesn’t want more voting by mail, and he doesn’t want the Postal Service to have any more money to help with it. “If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. That means they can’t have it.”
The president has dramatically accelerated the pace of his efforts to weaponize the federal government to his advantage.
President Donald Trump’s open admission yesterday that he’s sabotaging the Postal Service to improve his election prospects crystallizes a much larger dynamic: He’s waging an unprecedented campaign to weaponize virtually every component of the federal government to partisan advantage.
Trump is systematically enlisting agencies, including the Postal Service, Census Bureau, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security, that traditionally have been considered at least somewhat insulated from political machinations to reward his allies and punish those he considers his enemies. He is razing barriers between his personal and political interests and the core operations of the federal government to an extent that no president has previously attempted, a wide range of public-administration experts have told me.
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.
Communities that worked hard to beat the coronavirus should reap the benefits of doing so.
Because the coronavirus is still spreading rapidly in much of the country, not every school district can bring children and teachers back safely and equitably this fall. But among those that can is Somerville, Massachusetts—the city of about 80,000 just northwest of Boston where my family and I live. After a biotech conference in late February spread the coronavirus in the Boston area, public officials in Somerville reacted quickly. The city shut down bars and required masks before most other communities did. Residents stayed home. Playgrounds closed. “Avoid playdates,” urged Mayor Joe Curtatone, a progressive who prides himself on making data-driven decisions about the problems that test the city and its residents. We knew our children felt lonely and confused, and still we buckled down.
The Great Depression permanently altered many people’s behavior. Could COVID-19 do the same?
During the past five months, many prognosticators have prognosticated about how the coronavirus pandemic will transform politics, work, travel, education, and other domains. Less sweepingly, but just as powerfully, it will also transform the people who are living through it, rearranging the furniture of their inner life. When this is all over—and perhaps even long after that—how will we be different?
For one thing, we’ll better understand the importance of washing our hands. When I interviewed roughly 20 people from across the country about their pandemic-era habits, most of them planned to keep aspects of their new hygiene regimen long into the future, even after the threat of the coronavirus passes. “I will more regularly wash my hands throughout my life and I will never be anywhere without hand sanitizer and a mask,” Leah Burbach, a 27-year-old high-school teacher in Omaha, Nebraska, told me.
Zvikorn, whose bio on the site describes an Israeli teen into sports history, has made more than 2,300 edits to Wikipedia articles over the past few years. “The main reason I edit Wikipedia is a strong belief that every person on the planet has the right to access the accumulated knowledge of humanity,” he wrote. “Today it is only getting more important for mankind to find out the truth and not be exposed to believe fake news.”