—Police say five people, including the alleged assailant, were killed in a terrorist attack in London. Forty others were injured. More here
—At Wednesday’s hearing, Democratic senators adopted a new strategy to press Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch on abortion and campaign finance. More here
—House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes turned quite a few heads on Capitol Hill when he announced he’s learned that the Intelligence Community “incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.” More here
—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes turned quite a few heads on Capitol Hill Wednesday when he announced he’s learned that the Intelligence Community “incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.” He said he received this information through an unnamed source. The vague statement from the congressman and Trump ally did note that the intelligence was gathered legally and that there was no evidence of wiretapping at Trump Tower. But the news does throw a lifeline to President Trump after weeks of alleging his predecessor “wiretapped” him. As my colleague David A. Graham writes:
Nunes’s vague statements raised a host of questions, and his decision to announce them publicly and then go to the White House to brief President Trump, having not informed Democrats on the committee about his new findings, cast a pall of politics over the proceedings.
Trump said felt “somewhat vindicated” by the announcement, as former intelligence officials and Democrats on the Hill said the statement from Nunes was inappropriate.
Possible U.S. Airstrike Kills 33 Civilians in Syria
A possible U.S. airstrike killed 33 civilians in Syria, a monitoring group said Wednesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based network trusted by many news organizations, said the U.S.-led coalition airstrike hit a school in northern Syria in a region controlled by ISIS. The school, located in the town of Mansoura, some 15 miles southwest of Raqqa, was being used as a shelter for displaced families from Raqqa, Aleppo, and Homs. Only two people survived the airstrike. U.S. officials have not confirmed whether the airstrike took place. U.S. military personnel were in the area that day airlifting around 500 U.S.-trained Syrian fighters. Fighting remains intense the northern city of Raqqa, the last ISIS stronghold and self-declared capital.
The U.K. Parliament was placed under lockdown Wednesday after reports emerged of gunfire outside Westminster Palace in central London, according to local media. Details about what exactly happened are not yet known.
This story is developing. For more updates, follow our live blog here.
More Allegations About Manafort's Russia Links, But Trump's Former Campaign Manager Rejects Them
Paul Manafort, who was chair of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, worked secretly a decade ago for Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire, to further Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interests, the Associated Press is reporting this morning, citing documents that laid out Manafort’s plan to hurt opponents of Russia across the former Soviet Union. For this work, the AP adds, Manafort received a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006. Manafort and the Trump White House have repeatedly denied that Manafort, who previously worked for Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president, worked to further Russian government interests. Manafort’s repeated that assertion today in response to the AP’s story, acknowledging he worked for Deripaska, but noting his “work did not involve representing Russian political interests.” Here’s more from the AP: “Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. … Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.” The allegations come a day after Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker, said he had evidence Manafort tried to hide about $750,000 as payment in 2009 from a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine; at the time, Manafort was an adviser to Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president who was close to Moscow. Manafort called that claim “baseless.” On Monday, FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers the bureau was “investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” including “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
Judge Gorsuch Prepares for the Third Day of His Confirmation Hearings
Judge Neil Gorsuch will face questions for the third day from lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee, a day after he went before the panel and defended the independence of the judiciary, but refused to be drawn into more controversial issues such as abortion rights and gun control. As my colleague Matt Ford wrote last night, “attempts by the Democratic senators … to reveal new dimensions of Gorsuch’s ideological beliefs were largely unsuccessful.” Gorsuch is President Trump’s nominee to fill the position on the U.S. Supreme Court made vacant by the death last year of Justice Antonin Scalia. Democrats were angered that President Obama’s nominee for the position, Judge Merrick Garland, was not given a hearing by Republicans, who control the Senate. The fourth and final day of the hearings are scheduled for Thursday. Despite some public opposition from Democrats and their supporters, Gorsuch, a widely respected jurist, is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate.
More than two centuries after it was designed to empower southern white voters, the system continues to do just that.
Is a color-blind political system possible under our Constitution? If it is, the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 did little to help matters. While black people in America today are not experiencing 1950s levels of voter suppression, efforts to keep them and other citizens from participating in elections began within 24 hours of the Shelby County v. Holder ruling and have only increased since then.
In Shelby County’s oral argument, Justice Antonin Scalia cautioned, “Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get them out through the normal political processes.” Ironically enough, there is some truth to an otherwise frighteningly numb claim. American elections have an acute history of racial entitlements—only they don’t privilege black Americans.
Describing neutrino oscillations is notoriously tricky. The search for a shortcut led to unexpected places.
After breakfast one morning in August, the mathematician Terence Tao opened an email from three physicists he didn’t know. The trio explained that they’d stumbled across a simple formula that, if true, established an unexpected relationship between some of the most basic and important objects in linear algebra.
The formula “looked too good to be true,” says Tao, who is a professor at UCLA, a Fields medalist, and one of the world’s leading mathematicians. “Something this short and simple—it should have been in textbooks already,” he said. “So my first thought was, no, this can’t be true.”
Then he thought about it some more.
The physicists—Stephen Parke of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Xining Zhang of the University of Chicago, and Peter Denton of Brookhaven National Laboratory—had arrived at the mathematical identity about two months earlier while grappling with the strange behavior of particles called neutrinos.
A tectonic demographic shift is under way. Can the country hold together?
Democracy depends on the consent of the losers. For most of the 20th century, parties and candidates in the United States have competed in elections with the understanding that electoral defeats are neither permanent nor intolerable. The losers could accept the result, adjust their ideas and coalitions, and move on to fight in the next election. Ideas and policies would be contested, sometimes viciously, but however heated the rhetoric got, defeat was not generally equated with political annihilation. The stakes could feel high, but rarely existential. In recent years, however, beginning before the election of Donald Trump and accelerating since, that has changed.
As age factors more urgently in politics, a simple test could evaluate who remains fit for office.
Remember these numbers. You’ll be asked about them at the end of the test: 70, 73, 76, and 78.
These are the ages of the leading candidates in the 2020 presidential election: Elizabeth Warren, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders, respectively. In most any other line of work, people in their eighth decade are usually retired. For most of human history—and still in most of the world today—people of this age were usually dead.
Last month, Jimmy Carter, the 95-year-old former U.S. president, said that the office requires a person “to be very flexible with [one’s] mind,” and that by age 80 he wouldn’t have felt able to do the job. He joined the growing ranks of those suggesting they would support an upper age limit for the office, either for purposes of breaking up the gerontocracy or to ensure a person has the physical and cognitive capacity. “You have to be able to go from one subject to another and concentrate on each one adequately and then put them together in a comprehensive way,” Carter said.
President Trump’s pardons for three service members accused of war crimes will have lasting consequences.
None of the services seems happy with President Donald Trump’s decision to pardon two service members accused of war crimes, and reverse the demotion of a third. The Navy’s reply, however, sets some kind of record of disdain. The Twitter account of the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Information Office wrote on November 15: “As the Commander in Chief, the President has the authority to restore Special Warfare Operator First Class Gallagher to the pay grade of E-7. We acknowledge his order and are implementing it.”
Those icy words breathe the mood of the admonition from Band of Brothers: “We salute the rank, not the man.”
To understand why the Navy—and the other services, too—reacted so negatively to the pardons, here’s a story I heard on a visit to Germany a couple of months ago. I had the chance to talk with a senior U.S. officer in that country.
He can’t help but go after women, even when doing so hurts his cause.
On the second day of the impeachment proceedings, President Donald Trump couldn’t control himself on Twitter: He lashed out at Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine who was subjected to a smear campaign, and who testified to that effect before the House Intelligence Committee. Trump’s lack of control, in itself, was not unusual. But, for some reason, Trump showed more restraint 48 hours earlier, when William Taylor and George Kent went before the Committee. It was almost as if the president found himself triggered by Yovanovitch, the 61-year-old career diplomat. But why was the president’s response so different to witnesses who were roughly saying the same thing? What was the big difference between Kent and Taylor and Yovanovitch? All three are career diplomats, all three are Ivy League graduates, all three have worked in the State Department, all three are experts in Ukraine. But only one of them is a woman. Could that be why the president singled out Yovanovitch? It is almost as if the president is unable to control his rage against women. It is almost as if the president thinks he can bully women and silence them.
A record-setting acqua alta has left much of Venice submerged, following stormy conditions blowing in from the Adriatic Sea.
Yesterday, strong winds and rainstorms pushed water levels in Venice, Italy, to the second-highest levels ever recorded. The high-water mark hit 74 inches (187 centimeters), just short of the record set in 1966. This exceptional acqua alta has flooded businesses and historic structures, sank boats, and been blamed for one death so far.
HONG KONG—For months now, I’ve been told that Hong Kong’s protests would end soon. They’ll end when school starts, I heard during the summer. School did start, but the protests wore on, only now I saw high-school students in crisp school uniforms joining the protesters’ ranks. Next, the mask ban of early October was supposed to slow protesters down, but the very first day after that ban, I watched streams of protesters in masks and helmets make their way to their usual haunts on Hong Kong Island.
The government shut down many of the subway lines that day, a practice that has become a de facto curfew, because Hong Kong’s über-efficient subway system is the way most people get around. No matter; the protesters ended up walking, sometimes a lot, and I walked with them, asking some of the same questions I had asked for months: Do you think you will continue protesting? What would it take for you to stop?
Suppose that the biblical story of Creation were true: God created the universe in six days, including all the laws of physics and all the physical constants that apply throughout the universe. Now imagine that one day, in the early 21st century, God became bored and, just for fun, doubled the gravitational constant. What would it be like to live through such a change? We’d all be pulled toward the floor; many buildings would collapse; birds would fall from the sky; the Earth would move closer to the sun, reestablishing orbit in a far hotter zone.
Let’s rerun this thought experiment in the social and political world, rather than the physical one. The U.S. Constitution was an exercise in intelligent design. The Founding Fathers knew that most previous democracies had been unstable and short-lived. But they were excellent psychologists, and they strove to create institutions and procedures that would work with human nature to resist the forces that had torn apart so many other attempts at self-governance.
The GOP will not be a great or good party until those who lead it straighten their backbone.
The first day of public hearings into the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump included an explosive revelation. William B. Taylor Jr., the senior American diplomat in Ukraine, tied Trump even more directly than we previously knew to the effort to pressure Ukraine to probe his political opponent.
But as damaging as Taylor’s testimony proved, it was merely another massive boulder in the avalanche of evidence against the president. We are well beyond the point that any disinterested person can deny that the president abused his power and acted in a corrupt manner, in ways the American founders explicitly warned against.
That the president acted the way he did should surprise exactly no one, given his disordered personality and Nietzschean ethic, his pathological lying and brutishness and bullying, and his history of personal and professional depravity. The president is a deeply damaged human being—and therefore a deeply dangerous president.