—The U.S. military struck a Syrian airfield near Homs, the opening salvo in the Trump administration’s response to this week’s chemical-weapons attack by the Assad regime. More here
—Republicans changed the rules of the Senate on judicial nominations, invoking the so-called “nuclear option” to lower the threshold for such votes from a supermajority of 60 to a simple majority of 51. More here
—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).
UPDATE: Republicans Use 'Nuclear Option' After Democrats Filibuster Gorsuch Nomination
Updated at 1:08 p.m.
Republicans changed the rules of the Senate on judicial nominations, invoking the so-called “nuclear option” to lower the threshold for such votes from a supermajority of 60 to a simple majority of 51. The change came after Democrats filibustered the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court seat made vacant by the death last year of Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans, who have a 52-48 majority in the Senate, had the support of at least three Democratic senators, but fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the Democratic filibuster. The party-line vote on the rule change was 52-48. Democrats, still smarting over the GOP’s refusal to hold hearings for Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the same Supreme Court seat, have been unrelenting in their opposition of Gorsuch. They say if the president’s nominee cannot get the support of 60 U.S. senators, the White House should withdraw his nomination in favor of someone who can secure the support of a supermajority of senators. But it was always going to be an uphill effort, and Gorsuch is expected to be easily confirmed Friday by the Senate.
Devin Nunes Temporarily Recuses Himself From Russia Investigation
Representative Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, announced Thursday he would temporarily recuse himself from the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. Nunes said in a statement it was “in the best interests” of his committee and Congress for him to temporarily step aside, adding: “I will continue to fulfill all my other responsibilities as Committee Chairman, and I am requesting to speak to the Ethics Committee at the earliest possible opportunity in order to expedite the dismissal of these false claims” filed by left-leaning organizations. Nunes has faced mounting pressure to step down from the investigation after it was revealed last month he visited the White House before and after announcing he had significant information to support President Trump’s unsubstantiated claims his transition team was surveilled by the intelligence community. That resulted in allegations from Democrats he was too eager to do Trump’s bidding, especially after it was revealed the information was given to him by White House officials. Nunes said the investigation will be taken over by Republican Representative Michael Conaway, with assistance from Representatives Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney. As my colleague Russell Berman notes, though Speaker Paul Ryan reiterated his support for Nunes in a press conference following the announcement, “the chairman’s sudden move to quit the Russia probe raises questions about whether he misled the speaker about his handling of evidence that he viewed at the White House.”
North Korea Looms Over Meeting Between Trump, China's Xi
President Trump has called China a currency manipulator, he has criticized it on trade, and for, in his view, not doing enough to curtail North Korea’s activities. But while those issues loom over the meeting today between Trump and Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s estate in Florida, the two leaders are likely to discuss the one area where there could be a deal of some sort: North Korea. Their meeting comes a day after North Korea launched a ballistic missile off the coast of the Korean peninsula, the latest of several such tests the North has carried out in recent months. Last month U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ruled out talks with the North until it renounces its nuclear-weapons program, adding that when it came to the North, the U.S. kept all options on the table. The New York Timesnotes that Trump, behind closed doors, “intends to aggressively press his counterpart to more effectively use China’s economic leverage on North Korea to restrain its rogue leader, Kim Jong-un, from developing nuclear weapons.” Meanwhile, their discussions on trade could focus on the U.S. trade deficit with China, which stands at about $300 billion annually.
If you’ve tried to buy a home in the past two years, you have my most profound sympathies. Your experience has probably gone something like this: You found your dream home online; sent photos around to your family; visited the premises (or decided to buy, sight unseen); got your financial statements in order; smartly offered 10 percent over asking; and learned, several hours later, that no fewer than 831 other people had bid for the same house, which sold to a couple who paid 50 percent over asking, all cash, and cinched the deal with a contract amendment promising to name their firstborn child after the seller.
Yes, the American real-estate market really has been historically hellish, or historically hot, depending on whether you were trying to buy a home or sell one. Within the past year, just about every housing statistic you could imagine set some kind of berserk record. Home prices hit a record high, the share of homes that sold above asking hit a record high, and the number of available homes for sale hit a record low.
A new viral outbreak is testing whether the world has learned anything from COVID.
Yesterday afternoon, I called the UCLA epidemiologist Anne Rimoin to ask about the European outbreak of monkeypox—a rare but potentially severe viral illness with dozens of confirmed or suspected cases in the United Kingdom, Spain, and Portugal. “If we see those clusters, given the amount of travel between the United States and Europe, I wouldn’t be surprised to see cases here,” Rimoin, who studies the disease, told me. Ten minutes later, she stopped mid-sentence to say that a colleague had just texted her a press release: “Massachusetts Public Health Officials Confirm Case of Monkeypox.”
The virus behind monkeypox is a close relative of the one that caused smallpox but is less deadly and less transmissible, causing symptoms that include fever and a rash. Endemic to western and central Africa, it was first discovered in laboratory monkeys in 1958—hence the name—but the wild animals that harbor the virus are probably rodents. The virus occasionally spills over into humans, and such infections have become more common in recent decades. Rarely, monkeypox makes it to other continents, and when it does, outbreaks “are so small, they’re measured in single digits,” Thomas Inglesby, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told me. The only significant American outbreak occurred in 2003, when a shipment of Ghanaian rodents spread the virus to prairie dogs in Illinois, which were sold as pets and infected up to 47 people, none fatally. Just last year, two travelers independently carried the virus to the U.S. from Nigeria but infected no one else.
The conservative majority is likely to overturn major precedents this term—not just Roe.
Following the Supreme Court’s leak of a draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade, many Court-watchers and pundits have pointed to same-sex marriage and access to contraceptives as rights now potentially at risk. And while in the long run the logic set forth in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization could undermine those precedents, the Court may eviscerate other major areas of law far sooner—in fact, with cases on its docket this current term. Notably, the Court may soon declare the use of race in college admissions—affirmative action—illegal, and it may also massively constrain the power of the federal government to protect the environment.
The questions at hand in each case—Dobbs, Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, and West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency—differ. But they all raise issues that have been the targets of conservative legal scholars for decades, and they will now be decided by a right-wing Court with seemingly little commitment to its own precedents.
Hundreds of thousands of deaths, from either tobacco or the pandemic, could be prevented with a single behavioral change.
It’s suddenly become acceptable to say that COVID is—or will soon be—like the flu. Such analogies have long been the preserve of pandemic minimizers, but lately they’ve been creeping into more enlightened circles. Last month the dean of a medical school wrote an open letter to his students suggesting that for a vaccinated person, the risk of death from COVID-19 is “in the same realm, or even lower, as the average American’s risk from flu.” A few days later, David Leonhardt said as much to his millions of readers in the The New York Times’ morning newsletter. And three prominent public-health experts have called for the government to recognize a “new normal” in which the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus “is but one of several circulating respiratory viruses that include influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and more.”
Facing the painful parts of life head-on is the only way to feel at home with yourself.
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his podcast series on all things happiness, How to Build a Happy Life.
Some years ago, a friend told me that his marriage was suffering because he was on the road so much for work. I started counseling him on how to fix things—to move more meetings online, to make do with less money. But no matter what I suggested, he always had a counterargument for why it was impossible. Finally, it dawned on me: His issue wasn’t a logistics or work-management problem. It was a home problem. As he ultimately acknowledged, he didn’t like being there, but he was unwilling to confront the real source of his troubles.
Images of Lake Mead, which has reached its lowest water levels since the 1930s
Lake Mead, North America’s largest artificial reservoir, formed on the Colorado River between Nevada and Arizona, has shrunk to historic lows—dropping to about 30 percent of its capacity. The reservoir is a major source of water for Arizona, Nevada, and California, as well as part of Mexico, serving nearly 25 million people and huge agricultural areas. A combination of drought, climate change, and growing regional demand for water have driven the reservoir to its lowest levels since the 1930s; its water level is now 1,050 feet (and falling), down from an all-time high of 1,225 feet in 1983.
Sixty years ago, Helen Gurley Brown’s best-selling book promised women sexual freedom. Today, it reads like an omen.
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In 1991, as the SupremeCourt hearings of Clarence Thomas were turning sexual-harassment allegations into television, Helen Gurley Brown, the editor and muse of Cosmopolitan magazine, was asked whether any of her staffers had been harassed. “I certainly hope so!” she replied.
The sentiment would not have come as a surprise to readers of the book that had, roughly three decades earlier, shot Brown to fame and infamy. Sex and the Single Girl, first published in 1962, is part memoir and part advice manual, offering tips about careers, fashion, beauty, diet, hobbies, self-care, travel, home decorating, and, yes, dating. The book—like its author, both ahead of its time and deeply of it—often reads as resolutely backward. But it is best remembered, today, for one of the arguments it put forward: Sex, as Brown summed it up in her introduction to the book’s 2003 reissue, “is enjoyed by single women who participate not to please a man as may have been the case in olden times but to please themselves.”
Payton Gendron’s violence was not an isolated incident but one thread in a web of anti-Black hatred.
One evening about seven years ago in St. Andrews, Scotland, I was walking home from a long day of doctoral research. Most people out that night were not concluding studies. A scattered few exited the ancient city’s meager collection of pubs and restaurants.
That ordinary night shifted when a drunken man stumbled out of one of those bars and spotted my Black body. He presented no manifesto. I have no access to the soul-distorting experiences that led him to look upon me with contempt, but seconds after he saw me, he blurted out that most famous of anti-Black racial slurs. I had never been verbally accosted in a British accent and didn’t know that word was international.
I performed the assessment that Black folks have performed for centuries. How much danger am I in? Then I remembered I was in Scotland, and therefore the person probably did not have a gun. So I gave him my best cold stare, ready to defend myself if needed. He apparently performed a similar assessment, thought better of it, and moved on. There was nothing particularly special about that day. I had done nothing to antagonize him. I had simply been Black on what may have been a Tuesday, and for that reason alone I was a target of someone else’s rage.
The shortage is a calamity—not a victory for breastfeeding.
The baby was just two weeks old, and hungry. Elizabeth Hanson tried to breastfeed, but didn’t have enough milk. With terror, she watched as her daughter lost weight, tiny bones protruding from her skin.
In America, in modern times, most parents can count on multiple safe, healthy options for feeding an infant: breast milk or formula. That is, unless they are experiencing the impacts of the current formula shortage, as thousands of families across the United States are.
But in 1724, Elizabeth Hanson couldn’t turn to formula when her milk dried up. Her story illustrates the nightmarish realities that confronted families before the development of modern commercial formula in the mid-20th century.
The movement spent 40 years at war with secular America. Now it’s at war with itself.
“Before I turn to the Word,” the preacher announces, “I’m gonna do another diatribe.”
“Go on!” one man yells. “Amen!” shouts a woman several pews in front of me.
Between 40 minutes of praise music and 40 minutes of preaching is the strangest ritual I’ve ever witnessed inside a house of worship. Pastor Bill Bolin calls it his “diatribe.” The congregants at FloodGate Church, in Brighton, Michigan, call it something else: “Headline News.”
Bolin, in his mid-60s, is a gregarious man with thick jowls and a thinning wave of dyed hair. His floral shirt is untucked over dark-blue jeans. “On the vaccines …” he begins.
For the next 15 minutes, Bolin does not mention the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, or the life everlasting. Instead, he spouts misinformation and conspiratorial nonsense, much of it related to the “radically dangerous” COVID-19 vaccines. “A local nurse who attends FloodGate, who is anonymous at this time—she reported to my wife the other day that at her hospital, they have two COVID patients that are hospitalized. Two.” Bolin pauses dramatically. “They have 103 vaccine-complication patients.” The crowd gasps.