—European leaders are warning against a victory for Marine Le Pen, the French far-right candidate who finished second in yesterday’s presidential election. She faces Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist, on May 7.
—Government funding runs out Friday unless Republicans, who control the U.S. Congress and the White House, can strike a bipartisan deal with Democrats by April 28.
—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).
Le Pen Resigns as Head of Far-Right National Front to Focus on Presidential Bid
Updated at 3:46 p.m. ET
Marine Le Pen announced Monday she was stepping down as head of the far-right National Front to focus her attention on the presidential runoff on May 7. “Tonight, I am no longer the president of the National Front,” she said. “I am the presidential candidate.” It is unclear if the decision is permanent. The move comes a day after Le Pen finished second in the first round presidential election. She faces Emmanuel Macron, the independent centrist, in the runoff. Macron received 23.9 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 21.4 percent. Most polls show Macron, who has the backing of the French political establishment, winning by a wide margin. Le Pen has spent the past several years trying to clean up the image of her party as an anti-Semitic, racist organization.
U.S. Sanctions 271 Syrians Over Chemical-Weapons Attack
The Trump administration imposed sanctions on more than 200 Syrian government employees Monday in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of sarin gas this month on the rebel-held city of Khan Shaykhun, which resulted in the deaths of dozens of civilians. The move, said to be the largest sanctions action in the history of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, targets 271 employees of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center and freezes any property held by them within U.S. jurisdiction. It also prohibits any transactions between them and Americans. Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said the move sends a “strong message” that the U.S. “will relentlessly pursue and shut down the financial networks of all individuals involved with the production of chemical weapons used to commit these atrocities.” The sanctions mark the second response to the chemical-weapons attack by the Trump administration. The first took place two days after the attack, in which President Trump ordered missile strikes on a Syrian airfield from which the chemical-weapons launch took place. Despite evidence to the contrary, Assad has denied his government having any chemical weapons, calling the allegations “100 percent fabrication.”
Saudi Arabia Elected to UN Women's Rights Commission
Saudi Arabia and 12 other countries were elected last week to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, prompting criticism by some human-rights groups the Gulf monarchy shouldn’t be included on the panel because of its poor standing on women’s rights. The 45-member commission, which elects its members for four-year terms, had a total of 13 openings to be filled, including five seats for the Asia and Pacific region, five for the African region, and three for the Latin American and Caribbean region. According to UN Women, the Asia region nominated five candidates to fill the available slots: Iraq, the Republic of (South) Korea, Japan, Turkmenistan, and Saudi Arabia. While the nomination of five countries for five seats made the Gulf monarchy’s inclusion on the commission all but certain, the move sparked controversy. UN Watch, the Geneva-based human rights NGO, called Saudi Arabia’s inclusion “morally reprehensible” and antithetical to the panel’s aim of “promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.” Indeed, Saudi Arabia was ranked 141 out of 144 countries by the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap, and Human Rights Watch noted the country still maintains its restrictive male guardianship program—which mandates that women obtain permission from a male guardian to travel, marry, or exit prison—despite pledges to abolish it.
Top Afghan Officials Step Down After Taliban Attack
Afghan Defense Minister Abdullah Habibi and Qadam Shah Shahim, the army chief of staff, both stepped down on Monday after a Taliban attack last week at a base in the country’s north left more than 100 people dead. The news comes as U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis travels to the country to reassess the strategy in the fight against the Taliban, which controls 40 percent of Afghanistan. His visit will now likely be overshadowed by an investigation into the attack on the base in Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Afghanistan’s Balkh Province. The region has been the epicenter of the fight against the Taliban, and the attack Friday was a major blow, partly because the militants were waved into the base. They drove a military truck and dressed in military uniforms, and unleashed an assault as soldiers gathered for afternoon prayers. The ease of the attack, along with the recent arrest of eight army personnel, has led to suspicions the Taliban may have had inside help. Mattis is expected to meet with Afghan officials and top U.S. military leaders, both of whom are expected to request more troops. At present there are 9,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
The Trump administration could face a government shutdown this week if Congress is unable to strike a bipartisan spending deal to keep the federal government running through the end of the fiscal year. The stop-gap spending bill that lawmakers passed in December to avoid a government shutdown and continue funding of federal agencies is set to expire Friday, which also marks the eve of President Trump’s first 100 days in office. Though the White House has signaled it wants the spending bill to be framed around Trump’s chief campaign promises—such as the $1.4 billion needed to begin construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall and the $18 billion in cuts to domestic programs—there’s no indication Democrats, who wield the eight votes Republicans need to avoid a filibuster, will support it. While both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have reaffirmed their desire to avoid a shutdown, as my colleague Russell Berman notes, “there’s good reason to be skeptical about the prospects for a deal.”
The Republican Congress has had a sputtering start to the year, falling short on a health-care bill for which they needed no help from Democrats. Schumer and Trump have spent more time insulting each other than bargaining, and the Democratic leader has little to gain politically from sparing the new president a nightmare on his 100th day in office.
New Orleans Begins Removal of Confederate-Era Memorials
Workers in New Orleans removed Monday the monument to the Battle of Liberty Place, the first step in the city’s move to take down Confederate-era monuments in the Crescent City. Mayor Mitch Landrieu, in a statement, said: “The removal of these statues sends a clear and unequivocal message to the people of New Orleans and the nation: New Orleans celebrates our diversity, inclusion and tolerance.” Critics of the memorials view them as racist; their supporters call them a historic part of the South’s legacy. The monument to the Battle of Liberty Place marks the battle in 1874 when the all-white Crescent City White League attacked the mixed-race Municipal Police in an attempt to topple city’s government. The monument was removed Monday before sunrise because of reported death threats against the crews who are dismantling them. Workers wore masks to protect their identities. Many places in the South have removed Confederate-era memorials following the killing in South Carolina of nine parishioners in a historically black church in June 2015. Confederate symbols have also been taken down in South Carolina and Mississippi amid controversy and protests.
European Leaders Welcome Macron's Election Performance in France
The European establishment is cheering Emmanuel Macron’s performance in Sunday’s French presidential election. Macron, an independent centrist, will face Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front, who finished second, in the runoff on May 7. Steffan Seibert, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, said on Twitter: “It’s good that Emmanuel Macron was successful with his course for a strong EU and social market economy. All the best for the next two weeks.” Peter Altmaier, Merkel’s chief of staff, tweeted: “The result for Emmanuel Macron shows: France AND Europe can win together! The middle is stronger than the populists believe!” Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, “wished him all the best for the next round,” Juncker’s spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Twitter. Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign-policy chief, said: “The result is the hope and future of our generation.” Most polls show Macron comfortably ahead of Le Pen, but the National Front candidate has seized on the anti-establishment wave that has rocked the West and could still pull off an upset on May 7.
“It’s street cred—the more sponsors you have, the more credibility you have.”
Tapping through Palak Joshi’s Instagram Stories recently, you might have come across a photo that looked like standard sponsored content: a shiny white box emblazoned with the red logo for the Chinese phone manufacturer OnePlus and the number six, shot from above on a concrete background. It featured the branded hashtag tied to the phone’s launch, and tagged OnePlus’s Instagram handle. And it looked similar to posts from the company itself announcing the launch of its new Android phone. Joshi’s post, however, wasn’t an ad. “It looked sponsored, but it’s not,” she said. Her followers are none the wiser. “They just assume everything is sponsored when it really isn’t,” she said. And she wants it that way.
A new biography squares the decorous legal figure with the feminist gladiator.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not just having a “moment” in American feminist culture. She has rapidly become—in a time that craves heroines—the American ideal of power and authority for millions of women and girls. Beyond the movies (RBG, released in May, and On the Basis of Sex, out in December) and the biographies, not to mention the memes and T-shirts and mugs that proliferate like lace-collared mushrooms, Ginsburg at 85 is also the closest thing America has to the consummate anti–Donald Trump. Today, more than ever, women starved for models of female influence, authenticity, dignity, and voice hold up an octogenarian justice as the embodiment of hope for an empowered future.
Last winter, a recipe for salted chocolate-chunk shortbread cookies spread through my social circle like a carbohydrate epidemic. One of my friends kept seeing the cookies pop up on Instagram and, relenting to digital peer pressure, eventually made them. She brought half the batch to a dinner party, and then it was off to the races. For months, it felt as if every time I showed up to a party, someone else was pulling a Tupperware container out of a tote bag, full of what was eventually known among us as just The Cookies.
The particular look of The Cookies—chunky and squat, with a right-angled edge rolled in Demerara sugar, finished with flaky salt—made them distinctive in a way that few recipes are, which in turn made the recipe, from the chef Alison Roman’s Dining In cookbook, an easy shorthand. As each subsequent friend made and presented their cookies, they’d note how the process went. It was as if everyone I knew had taken up baking. Via the social-media response to her book, Roman noticed the same thing. “It seemed to be a lot of first-time bakers making the cookies, like it was a fun, social art project,” she says. Beyond The Cookies, people I follow on Instagram and Twitter had also started turning out pies, cakes, tarts, and breads.
The New York senator still hears criticism for saying her Minnesota colleague needed to resign, but many women have thanked her, and she’s got millions in the bank.
George Soros is mad. Susie Tompkins Buell hasn’t forgiven her. Other Democratic mega-donors are still burning with anger over Al Franken, too. But Kirsten Gillibrand is doing just fine without them.
The New York senator, who’s expected to launch a presidential campaign soon, can’t go anywhere without hearing the noise about her decision—now more than a year ago—to call for Franken to go in a #MeToo scandal. But the numbers tell a different story: Gliding to another term in November, she put $17.5 million in the bank in the past two years, more than any other potential presidential contender in the Senate aside from Elizabeth Warren. Gillibrand is finishing the year with $10.5 million in the bank that can be transferred right into a 2020 run, only $2 million behind Warren. She raised $5.5 million in low-dollar donations, behind only Warren and Bernie Sanders.
It used to be normal for candidates to accept corporate money. Now it’s seen as shameful.
Earlier this month, a revealing spat broke out on Twitter. David Sirota, a left-leaning journalist who once worked for Bernie Sanders, announced that he had uncovered something while mining campaign-finance data: “Beto O’Rourke is the #2 recipient of oil/gas industry campaign cash in the entire Congress.” Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress and a former domestic-policy adviser to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, pushed back. “Oh look,” she tweeted, “A supporter of Bernie Sanders attacking a Democrat. This is seriously dangerous.”
The dispute escalated three days later when The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Bruenig wrote a column declaring that she “can’t get excited about Beto O’Rourke” as a presidential candidate, because, among other things, he lacks a “well-attested antipathy toward Wall Street, oil and gas.” To which Tanden replied, “Bruenig’s piece in the Post on Beto is just the latest attack by a supporter of Senator Sanders.” Then, on December 10, the journal Sludge, which investigates money in politics, defended Sirota’s charge and noted that the Center for American Progress itself “has in the past accepted donations from multiple fossil fuel companies.”
If there’s no penalty for going without insurance, there’s no injury. That should be obvious.
Are you ever tempted to believe that right-wing judges are just passive umpires who call balls and strikes? That they only “enforce the Constitution” or “read the statute”? Judge Reed O’Connor of Texas should cure you of that misimpression. On Friday, when he declared the entire Affordable Care Act invalid, he said he was only doing what the Constitution requires. But in deciding the case, he violated the very document he claimed to be applying. And he did it without any plausible justification at all, in defiance of basic legal principles.
Article III of the United States Constitution says that the federal courts can hear only “Cases and Controversies.” The Supreme Court has read that to mean that you can’t bring any old political gripe into court. You’ve got to suffer a concrete injury if you want to make a federal case out of it. Otherwise, courts would have the power to resolve abstract disputes that should be left to the political process.
The chief justice is responsible for the Obamacare mess out of Texas.
Friday’s decision striking down the Affordable Care Act, Texas v. United States, is wrong and should be reversed on appeal for reasons ably explained by its many critics. Yet in focusing their wrath on the Texas decision, the critics overlook the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts put us in this mess by making a bad choice in the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision upholding Obamacare, NFIB v. Sebelius. Roberts erred—and opened the door to the Texas debacle—by failing to follow a famous and well-established 200-year-old precedent set by Chief Justice John Marshall.
In his 2012 opinion, Roberts provided the deciding fifth vote for two rulings on the law’s individual mandate—the requirement that most Americans either purchase health insurance or pay a tax—which was considered the linchpin of the 2010 law. Joining the four conservatives, Roberts maintained that the mandate could not be sustained as an exercise of Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce. But he joined the four liberals to uphold the mandate under the taxing power.
Global warming may have turned an already historic dry spell into the third-worst drought of the past 1,000 years.
Every so often, the American West seems to lurch into something called a “mega-drought.” The rains falter, the rivers wither, and the forests become tinder boxes waiting for a spark. Mega-droughts are notoriously hard to study—the last one happened in the 16th century—but what we do know is worrisome. In the 1540s, a few wet years in the middle of a mega-drought may have triggered one of the worst disease epidemics ever recorded.
According to research unveiled last week, mega-droughts may no longer be history. On Thursday, a team of climate scientists argued that the American West may currently be experiencing its first mega-drought in more than 500 years. A record-breaking period of aridity set in around the year 2000 and continues to this day, they said.
One of Beijing’s top goals is transforming China into a technology powerhouse, so what happens to Huawei matters beyond China’s own borders.
As Ken Hu, the “rotating” chairman at Huawei Technologies, made the case during a briefing in southern China that his company’s telecom equipment was trustworthy and above board, he did something mundane for many global executives, yet remarkable for the embattled Chinese giant: He took questions from foreign journalists.
Hu’s press conference on Tuesday was an all-too-rare attempt by Huawei’s top brass to engage with the world—and it comes at a critical moment. This month, Hu’s colleague and the company’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada, accused by Washington of misleading financial institutions to break U.S. sanctions on Iran. Meng’s arrest is the latest front in a multipronged standoff between Washington and Beijing, one that encompasses disputes over trade, intellectual property, naval lanes, and much else.
Weighted blankets began as a coping device in the special-needs community. Now the Instagram-shopping masses can’t get enough of them.
Donna Chambers first heard about weighted blankets when her grandson was diagnosed with autism. It was just before his third birthday, and someone Chambers knew recommended giving him a heavy quilt with plastic pellets sewn in to help him relax and fall asleep. “It was like somebody’s grandma was making them,” Chambers remembers. “They said, ‘You can talk to this lady, and she can make you one.’” She looked online and found a few other options; mostly, though, she saw an opportunity. She contacted a friend from her church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who could sew: “I was like, ‘I want to make one of these blankets. Do you think you could help me?’”
So when Chambers started her weighted-blanket company, SensaCalm, in 2008, she knew she hadn’t invented the device. Rather, she’d joined a tiny cottage industry of weighted-blanket makers—many of them small companies with names such as Therapy Shoppe, DreamCatcher, and Salt of the Earth Weighted Gear that sold blankets alongside products such as weighted vests, shoulder wraps, and lap pads. Research suggests that deep pressure on the body can calm the nervous system. One parent of a 12-year-old with Asperger’s wrote in a heartfelt product testimonial that her son’s first night with a weighted blanket was his best night of sleep ever.