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.
Colonizing the red planet is a ridiculous way to help humanity.
There’s no place like home—unless you’re Elon Musk. A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship, which may someday send humans to Mars, is, according to Musk, likely to launch soon, possibly within the coming days. But what motivates Musk? Why bother with Mars? A video clip from an interview Musk gave in 2019 seems to sum up Musk’s vision—and everything that’s wrong with it.
In the video, Musk is seen reading a passage from Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot. The book, published in 1994, was Sagan’s response to the famous image of Earth as a tiny speck of light floating in a sunbeam—a shot he’d begged NASA to have the Voyager 1 spacecraft take in 1990 as it sailed into space, 3.7 billion miles from Earth. Sagan believed that if we had a photo of ourselves from this distance, it would forever alter our perspective of our place in the cosmos.
When the polio vaccine was declared safe and effective, the news was met with jubilant celebration. Church bells rang across the nation, and factories blew their whistles. “Polio routed!” newspaper headlines exclaimed. “An historic victory,” “monumental,” “sensational,” newscasters declared. People erupted with joy across the United States. Some danced in the streets; others wept. Kids were sent home from school to celebrate.
One might have expected the initial approval of the coronavirus vaccines to spark similar jubilation—especially after a brutal pandemic year. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the steady drumbeat of good news about the vaccines has been met with a chorus of relentless pessimism.
Adam Kinzinger says he’ll fight to take his party back from Donald Trump.
adam Kinzinger is a liberated individual—liberated from his party leadership, liberated from the fear of being beaten in a primary, liberated to speak his mind. The 43-year-old representative was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump for inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“I don’t have a constitutional duty to defend against a guy that is a jerk and maybe says some things I don’t like,” Kinzinger told me, explaining what had pushed him to finally break with the president. “I do when he’s getting ready to destroy democracy—and we saw that culminate on January 6th.”
This was the sort of language a number of Republicans used in the immediate aftermath of the riot. “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on January 13. But by the end of the month, McCarthy was traveling hat in hand to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Trump.
We’ll never know for sure how contagious people are after they’re vaccinated, but we do know how they should act.
Every day, more than 1 million American deltoids are being loaded with a vaccine. The ensuing immune response has proved to be extremely effective—essentially perfect—at preventing severe cases of COVID-19. And now, with yet another highly effective vaccine on the verge of approval, that pace should further accelerate in the weeks to come.
This is creating a legion of people who no longer need to fear getting sick, and are desperate to return to “normal” life. Yet the messaging on whether they might still carry and spread the disease—and thus whether it’s really safe for them to resume their unmasked, un-distanced lives—has been oblique. Anthony Fauci said last week on CNN that “it is conceivable, maybe likely,” that vaccinated people can get infected with the coronavirus and then spread it to someone else, and that more will be known about this likelihood “in some time, as we do some follow-up studies.” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky had been no more definitive on Meet the Press a few days before, where she told the host, “We don’t have a lot of data yet to inform exactly the question that you’re asking.”
The Danish series John Dillermand makes a very big deal about a very big body part.
The world of Danish children’s television is not for the prudish. Kids who turn on the tube in Denmark might be greeted by gratuitous flatulence, cursing, casual nudity, or cross-dressing puppets. One show centers on a pipe-smoking pirate who wallops ninjas and flirts with Satanism. In another, an audience of 11-to-13-year-olds asks probing questions about the bodies of adults who disrobe before them. As Christian Groes, an anthropologist at Denmark’s Roskilde University, told me, Danish children’s television is not unlike an LSD trip: “Everything is possible in that universe,” he said, loosely quoting a friend, “and people won’t complain about it.”
But people did complain when the Danes debuted a kids’ animated series in January featuring a protagonist with an absurdly long, prehensile penis.
The GOP has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
We are living in a time of bad metaphors. Everything is fascism, or socialism; Hitler’s Germany, or Stalin’s Soviet Union. Republicans, especially, want their followers to believe that America is on the verge of a dramatic time, a moment of great conflict such as 1968—or perhaps, even worse, 1860. (The drama is the point, of course. No one ever says, “We’re living through 1955.”)
Ironically, the GOP is indeed replicating another political party in another time, but not as the heroes they imagine themselves to be. The Republican Party has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
I can already hear the howls about invidious comparisons. I do not mean that modern American Republicans are communists. Rather, I mean that the Republicans have entered their own kind of end-stage Bolshevism, as members of a party that is now exhausted by its failures, cynical about its own ideology, authoritarian by reflex, controlled as a personality cult by a failing old man, and looking for new adventures to rejuvenate its fortunes.
The public’s emotional connection to big-money athletics has been grossly overestimated.
The night that sports began shutting down was the night that the United States began shutting down. On March 11, 2020, an announcer at the Oklahoma City Thunder’s home arena told fans just before tip-off that the evening’s game had been postponed. Within an hour, the visiting Utah Jazz revealed that a player—soon identified as the center Rudy Gobert—had tested positive for COVID-19, and the NBA also declared that it was indefinitely suspending the season. Suddenly, Americans were forced to accept that the coronavirus pandemic was going to completely disrupt everyday life.
Although the NBA eventually resumed its season by creating a playoff bubble, and other professional and college leagues figured out a way to return in some form, the sports world is still struggling for normalcy nearly a year after widespread shutdowns began and fans turned their attention to matters of life and death.
Side effects are just a sign that protection is kicking in as it should.
At about 2 a.m. on Thursday morning, I woke to find my husband shivering beside me. For hours, he had been tossing in bed, exhausted but unable to sleep, nursing chills, a fever, and an agonizingly sore left arm. His teeth chattered. His forehead was freckled with sweat. And as I lay next to him, cinching blanket after blanket around his arms, I felt an immense sense of relief. All this misery was a sign that the immune cells in his body had been riled up by the second shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and were well on their way to guarding him from future disease.
Side effects are a natural part of the vaccination process, as my colleague Sarah Zhang has written. Not everyone will experience them. But the two COVID-19 vaccines cleared for emergency use in the United States, made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, already have reputations for raising the hackles of the immune system: In both companies’clinical trials, at least a third of the volunteers ended up with symptoms such as headaches and fatigue; fevers like my husband’s were less common.
An uncertain spring, an amazing summer, a cautious fall and winter, and then, finally, relief.
Updated at 10:12 a.m. ET on February 24, 2021.
The end of the coronavirus pandemic is on the horizon at last, but the timeline for actually getting there feels like it shifts daily, with updates about viral variants, vaccine logistics, and other important variables seeming to push back the finish line or scoot it forward. When will we be able to finally live our lives again?
Pandemics are hard to predict accurately, but we have enough information to make some confident guesses. A useful way to think about what’s ahead is to go season by season. In short: Life this spring will not be substantially different from the past year; summer could, miraculously, be close to normal; and next fall and winter could bring either continued improvement or a moderate backslide, followed by a near-certain return to something like pre-pandemic life.
It’s not just one problem—and we’re going to need a portfolio of approaches to solve it.
Why wouldn’t someone want a COVID-19 vaccine?
Staring at the raw numbers, it doesn’t seem like a hard choice. Thousands of people are dying of COVID-19 every day. Meanwhile, out of the 75,000 people who received a shot in the vaccine trials from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax, zero died and none were hospitalized after four weeks. As the United States screams past 500,000 fatalities, the choice between a deadly disease and a shot in the arm might seem like the easiest decision in the world.
Or not. One-third of American adults saidthis month that they don’t want the vaccine or are undecided about whether they’ll get one. That figure has declined in some polls. But it remains disconcertingly high among Republicans, young people, and certain minority populations. In pockets of vaccine hesitancy, the coronavirus could continue to spread, kill, mutate, and escape. That puts all of us at risk.