President Trump signed two executive orders on Friday, aimed at assessing the fairness of U.S. trade deals. The move represents a more cautious approach from when Trump, as presidential candidate, promised to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he called “the worst trade deal ever.” The first order Trump signed calls for a 90-day study to look country-by-country, product-by-product, at abuses that contribute to the U.S. trade deficit. The study would serve as a template for rule- and decision-making when the administration evaluates how to reorganize trade deals. The second order will step up duties collected from countries the U.S. finds to be dumping products at below production costs, often done with heavy subsidies from their governments. The orders come a week ahead of Trump’s meeting with President Xi Jinping of China, which Trump has accused of taking advantage of the U.S. Trump has called the U.S. trade deficit—more than $500 billion last year—a job-killer, and has said he will renegotiate deals like NAFTA to put American interests first. But more so than trade deals, economists have pointed to the increased robotization of factories as the major cause for lost factory jobs. At the signing ceremony Friday, after taking a few questions from the media, Trump abruptly left without actually signing the order. Vice President Mike Pence instead picked up the document and chased after the president.
The meeting next week with China will be a very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits...
Closing the 85-year-old facility will be a “long and arduous” process, de Blasio said in a statement, adding “our success in reducing crime and reforming our criminal justice system has paved a path off Rikers Island and toward community-based facilities capable of meeting our criminal justice goals.” De Blasio said the project would require cutting the jail’s nearly 10,000-person population in half, as well as constructing several smaller facilities to replace it. The announcement follows the formation last year of an independent panel commissioned to examine the facility, which, as The New York Times reports, recommended the jail be demolished and replaced with new jails built in each of the city’s five boroughs. More details from the commissions findings are expected to be announced Sunday.
A Federal Judge Approves a $25 Million Trump University Settlement
A federal judge on Friday approved a deal for President Trump to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits against him over Trump University, the defunct real-estate education program created by Trump. The ruling, by U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel in the Southern District of California, ends seven years of legal battles, with class-action suits in New York and California. The cases came to national attention during Trump’s election campaign, with plaintiffs saying they’d signed up to learn Trump’s real-estate investment secrets, but instead forked out thousands of dollars for worthless information that could be found free online. Trump had refused to settle the suits, and even promised to reopen the university once he won the court battle. At one point, he complained that Curiel could not possibly oversee the case impartially, because of the Indiana-born judge’s Mexican heritage. Trump later apologized for this comment, reversed his stance on the lawsuit, and after he won the election in November agreed to settle for $25 million. That figure comes to about 90 percent of the money his university took from customers. Not everyone is happy, and there were two plaintiffs who objected to the settlement, one on the grounds that Trump owed them an apology.
Germany Says NATO's Spending Target Neither 'Reachable nor Desirable'
Germany called the 2-percent spending goal for all NATO allies neither “reachable nor desirable” Friday in response to repeated calls by the U.S. for members of the military alliance to meet their financial commitments. “Two percent would mean military expenses of some 70 billion euros,” Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, said at a NATO meeting in Brussels, where U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in attendance. “I don’t know any German politician who would claim that is reachable nor desirable.” His remarks follow repeated demands by the U.S. that NATO members fulfill their treaty obligations and contribute 2 percent of their gross domestic product to defense spending by 2024—a goal that five of the NATO’s 28 members have met. Germany spends about 1.2 percent of its GDP on defense. Tillerson said Friday all allies should by May “either met the pledge guidelines or will have developed plans that clearly articulate how … the pledge will be fulfilled.” He also reaffirmed the U.S. government’s commitment to the alliance—one which President Trump has previously criticized as “obsolete,” having at one point appeared to suggest that U.S. commitment to the body should be predicated upon its members’s defense spending. But Trump reaffirmed his “strong support for NATO” this month during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also reaffirmed support for NATO and Germany’s commitment to the the 2 percent spending target. She said: “Last year we increased our defense spending by 8 percent, and we’re going to work together again and again on this.”
The Wall Street Journal and others reported last night that Mike Flynn, President Trump’s national-security adviser, old the FBI and congressional investigators he is willing to be interviewed in exchange for immunity from prosecution. As Matt Ford wrote: “Why does someone request immunity from prosecution before speaking with federal investigators? That question will likely consume Washington in the weeks ahead after Thursday night’s bombshell...” Robert Kelner, Flynn’s attorney, said: “General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit.” But The New York Times cited an unnamed congressional official as saying investigators are not willing to broker a deal “until they are further along in their inquiries and they better understand what information Mr. Flynn might offer as part of a deal.” But as Matt wrote last night: “A request for immunity isn’t an admission of guilt or wrongdoing. It may be sought by witnesses who fear that their words could be used against them, as a condition of their testimony. … But the move could also be a purely prophylactic measure.”
The European Union is suggesting a “phased approach” to Brexit in which it will discuss a trade deal with the U.K. only when there’s sufficient progress made on the nature of their separation. The EU’s draft plan, which was released today in Brussels, must now be approved by the bloc’s 27 other members (the U.K. remain the 28th member until its separation from the EU is final; the process is expected to take at least two years). The release of the plan comes two days after the U.K. invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, the process by which Brexit negotiations formally begin. The U.K. wants talks on its exit and trade relations to be discussed simultaneously. Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said in Malta that “will not happen.” “Only once we have achieved sufficient progress on the withdrawal can we discuss the framework for our future relationship,” he said.
The U.S. may end up with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the industrialized world. This is how it’s going to play out.
Three months ago, no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country, infecting at least 446,000 people whom we know about, and many more whom we do not. It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.
A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”
The coronavirus outbreak may last for a year or two, but some elements of pre-pandemic life will likely be won back in the meantime.
The new coronavirus has brought American life to a near standstill, closing businesses, canceling large gatherings, and keeping people at home. All of those people must surely be wondering: When will things return to normal?
The answer is simple, if not exactly satisfying: when enough of the population—possibly 60 or 80 percent of people—is resistant to COVID-19 to stifle the disease’s spread from person to person. That is the end goal, although no one knows exactly how long it will take to get there.
There are two realistic paths to achieving this “population-level immunity.” One is the development of a vaccine. The other is for the disease to work its way through the population, surely killing many, but also leaving many others—those who contract the disease and then recover—immune. “They’re just Teflon at that point,” meaning they can’t get infected again and they won’t pass on the disease, explains Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at the University of California at Irvine. Once enough people reach Teflon status—though we don’t yet know if recovering from the disease confers any immunity at all, let alone lifelong immunity—normalcy will be restored.
Trump is utterly unsuited to deal with this crisis, either intellectually or temperamentally.
For his entire adult life, and for his entire presidency, Donald Trump has created his own alternate reality, complete with his own alternate set of facts. He has shown himself to be erratic, impulsive, narcissistic, vindictive, cruel, mendacious, and devoid of empathy. None of that is new.
But we’re now entering the most dangerous phase of the Trump presidency. The pain and hardship that the United States is only beginning to experience stem from a crisis that the president is utterly unsuited to deal with, either intellectually or temperamentally. When things were going relatively well, the nation could more easily absorb the costs of Trump’s psychological and moral distortions and disfigurements. But those days are behind us. The coronavirus pandemic has created the conditions that can catalyze a destructive set of responses from an individual with Trump’s characterological defects and disordered personality.
China warned Italy. Italy warned us. We didn’t listen. Now the onus is on the rest of America to listen to New York.
In the emergency-department waiting room, 150 people worry about a fever. Some just want a test, others badly need medical treatment. Those not at the brink of death have to wait six, eight, 10 hours before they can see a doctor. Those admitted to the hospital might wait a full day for a bed.
I am an emergency-medicine doctor who practices in both Manhattan and Queens; at the moment, I’m in Queens. Normally, I love coming to work here, even though in the best of times, my co-residents and I take care of one of New York City’s most vulnerable, underinsured patient populations. Many have underlying illnesses and a language barrier, and lack primary care.
“The thought of simply breathing in and out without coughing and reuniting with my children ... is goal enough. To—literally—live and let live will be enough.”
I can pinpoint the exact moment I started feeling off. My partner, Will, and I were on a bike ride on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 18, to escape our apartment and get some exercise. This was back when leaving a New York City apartment to get some exercise was still okay, or at least that’s what we’d read, or at least that’s what we thought? If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that what is considered dogma today might change tomorrow.
Ten minutes into our bike ride, I was overcome by an intense fatigue. “I think I have to go back,” I said.
Back home, I felt chilled. Took my temperature: 99.1. I’m normally 97.1, but still, not a huge deal. We’d been so careful about wiping down doorknobs, washing our hands, and keeping everyone except for our family out of our apartment. I’d been ambiently worried enough that my 13-year-old son could be a silent carrier of the virus that I’d yanked him out of his public middle school and off the crowded subways four days before Mayor Bill de Blasio pulled the plug– (far too belatedly, in my opinion). I was getting over a urinary-tract infection, so my fever, I thought, must be from that.
The government is showing how not to handle a pandemic.
By now, the global timeline of the coronavirus’s development has been well established: The first case reportedly appeared in mid-November; in December, the Chinese government was still attributing hospitalizations to a peculiar form of pneumonia; through January and February, the outbreak began spreading around the world; and its epicenter is today firmly in Europe and the United States.
Throughout, another set of events were occurring here in India. Late last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government introduced and passed a controversial new law, ostensibly in support of minorities in neighboring countries, that in fact openly discriminated against Muslims and undermined India’s secular foundations. Then, early this year, protests over that new law snowballed into a pogrom in which dozens of people—mostly Muslims—have been killed.
Hospitals are poised to face the kind of life-and-death decisions that industrialized countries typically encounter only in times of war and natural disaster.
Two weeks ago, a man came to an emergency room in New York with pain in the lower-right quadrant of his abdomen. A CT scan showed inflammation around a fingerlike projection at the base of his colon. Combined with a fever, this was a classic case of appendicitis. Surgeons took the man to the operating room and removed his appendix.
The next day, recovering upstairs, the man still had a fever. Doctors ordered a test for the coronavirus. A day later, his results came back positive.
Under usual circumstances, a person with a dangerous, infectious respiratory disease such as COVID-19 requires special precautions in a hospital. Everyone who enters the patient’s room—even to ask how they’re doing or to pick up a lunch tray—is required to don a fresh gown, gloves, and a mask. If the worker must get in close contact with the patient, the mask has to be an N95 respirator, and a face shield is required to guard the eyes. Without exception, every piece of this gear must be discarded in a biohazard dispenser upon leaving the room. An errant mask or glove or gown, coated in virus, can become lethal.
You live in a cramped apartment and you’re scared. But escape is selfish.
Hello fellow New Yorkers. You want to leave. So badly. I know. Me too. But don’t. Don’t do it.
It is absurd at this point that it’s even your choice. The bridges should be closed to all but essential traffic. The airports should be shuttered. Instead, Hertz is still renting cars at its 17 Manhattan locations, AirBnB is listing “Corona free” homes in New Jersey, and airlines are offering (apocalyptically cheap) tickets from all three New York airports to Anywhere But Here.
I know all that because I spent one morning this week Googling a dozen possible escapes, in a moment of claustrophobia and panic. I share 900 square feet with two kids and a dog. My wife is a physician who is still seeing patients. And even though I trust her precautions and protocols, I can’t shake the feeling of dread. Mixed in with the uncertainty is the certainty that everything is going to get much, much worse, as the cases spike and people I love or know or admire begin to die. My impulse is to do something—to move, to flee. I’m sure virtually everyone else in the city feels the same way.
Unless the country does dramatically more to provide them with the equipment they need to do their job safely, it risks disaster.
The morning before my shift, I try to stay busy with emails, writing, cleaning the house, anything really. If I sit and think about it too long, undisturbed, I get nervous. I’m afraid to go to work, and yet I’m told I must. The flitting anxiety swells as I pull on my scrubs and head to the car. The streets are empty. I drive alone into the epicenter. It peaks when I first step through the door into the jumble of patients in chairs, stretchers, and beds crowded around our cramped workstation, staff jammed together discussing care, writing notes, calling reports. Then I start, surrounded by my colleagues, and am too busy to think about it. The fear is as much for my family and friends as for me. Probably more. I’m a physician who works in an emergency department in Washington, D.C., and the coronavirus is spreading.
The coronavirus is making me experience what Germans poetically call heimweh, the hurt of being far from your native land.
In times of upheaval or natural catastrophe, the State Department often advises Americans to avoid some of the world’s poorest nations. When ISIS took over large parts of Syria and Mali descended into civil war, the federal government implored Americans not to go to those countries. One of the pieces of advice it offers to those who insist on visiting them anyway is rather blunt: “Draft a will.”
These warnings speak to a set of assumptions so obvious, they seem almost silly to spell out. America is a rich and stable country. So long as U.S. citizens stay home—or restrict their travel to other developed nations—they are likely to remain safe. Travel warnings tend to flow from north to south, rich to poor, democracy to dictatorship.