—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.
At the first rally of his 2024 campaign, the former president vowed vengeance. His fans loved it.
You’d think that, by now, Donald Trump’s fans would be tired of all this. The long lines and the self-indulgent speeches and the relentless blasting of Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” as they stand outside exposed to the elements. But they aren’t. Not at all.
After six years, the former president’s rallies still have summer-camp vibes—at least at first. At last night’s event in Waco, Texas—the first rally of his 2024 presidential campaign—Trump’s thousands of supporters seemed delighted simply to be together at the Waco airport hangar, wearing their ULTRA MAGA T-shirts and drinking lemonade in the hot sun. Sure, the vendors ran out of water at one point, and there was no shade to speak of, but nobody really complained. They were too busy singing along to the Village People and bonding with new friends over their shared interests (justice, freedom, theories about a ruling Deep State cabal).
The TV host and travel guide reflects on how travel has—and hasn’t—changed since COVID.
When the Washington State–based travel guide and TV host Rick Steves decided to return to Europe in early 2022, he wasn’t sure how many of his favorite local spots had survived two years of pandemic life. Steves, who has hosted Rick Steves’ Europe for the past two decades and operates tours aimed at introducing American travelers to the continent, was pleasantly surprised by what he found: Many of his beloved places—the kind of mom-and-pop places that have been owned by the same families for generations—had made it through, and the streets were alive anew. “They’re kissing cheeks with a vengeance in Paris right now,” he told me. “And I’m really thankful for that.”
Steves and I caught up to discuss the rebound in tourism and how travel has changed since the start of the pandemic. He also warned that this summer may be a particularly busy one—perhaps the continent’s busiest yet—and offered practical tips for traveling amid crowds. (Consider heading to less-popular destinations, and don’t bother checking a bag!)
The idea that we exercise to get thin may be more dangerous than ever.
In the summer of 2015, one of my best friends died at work. Shannon was 38, childless, single and thriving, and working as an executive at a global public-relations firm, where she handled a major client. She was set to take a family vacation—treating her nephews to a Disney trip or some such—when her boss sent down an edict that no one on her account was allowed to take time off. Saying no to your boss is hard, but disappointing your nephews is even harder, so Shannon stood her ground and refused to cancel her trip.
She then proceeded—in a conference room—to have a panic attack about how the decision might affect her career. The panic attack triggered a heart attack; the heart attack revealed a preexisting tear in a heart valve; the tear led to internal bleeding that, after a two-week-long coma, led to her death. You can see why, though it isn’t technically true, I say that Shannon “died at work.” You can also see how my 36-year-old self—also single, also childless, also stuck in a successful but frustrating career and in need of some time off—–was very messed up by this. Everyone who knew Shannon was. As the bench in Prospect Park we dedicated to our friend says: Shannon, she gave a lovely light.
Would President DeSantis be worse for American democracy than President Trump?
After Donald Trump sabotaged the 2022 midterm elections for Republicans by endorsing unelectable extremists, a comforting narrative took root among GOP elites. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis would offer a return to “normal” politics, continuing Trump’s aggressive, unapologetic defense of traditional American culture and values but without all that pesky authoritarianism. He would continue to wrap himself in an American flag, but he wouldn’t invite people to dinner who preferred wearing the Nazi one.
Many on the political left drew the opposite conclusion. DeSantis was the real threat, a smarter, more disciplined version of Trump. Whereas Trump believed in anyone or anything that believed in him, DeSantis was a dangerous ideologue. Trump would tweet like an autocrat; DeSantis would act like one.
Across Europe, some adoptees have had to face a dark realization about their origins.
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t the small elementary school in Jouy-sous-les-Côtes, in northeastern France, Gisèle Marc knew the rumor about her: that her parents were not her real parents, and her real mother must have been a whore. It was the late 1940s, just after the war, a time when whispered stories like this one passed from parents to children. Women who were said to have slept with occupying soldiers—“horizontal collaborators”—had their heads shaved and were publicly shamed by angry crowds. In the schoolyard, children jeered at those who were said to be born of “unknown fathers.”
A generation of Americans still can’t escape the threat of COVID.
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Last December, during a Christmas Eve celebration with my in-laws in California, I observed what I now realize was the future of COVID for older people. As everyone crowded around the bagna cauda, a hot dipping sauce shared like fondue, it was clear that we, as a family, had implicitly agreed that the pandemic was over. Our nonagenarian relatives were not taking any precautions, nor was anyone else taking precautions to protect them. Endive spear in hand, I squeezed myself in between my 94-year-old grandfather-in-law and his spry 99-year-old sister and dug into the dip.
These days, when I explain to a fellow parent that I write novels for children in fifth through eighth grades, I am frequently treated to an apologetic confession: “My child doesn’t read, at least not the way I did.” I know exactly how they feel—my tween and teen don’t read the way I did either. When I was in elementary school, I gobbled up everything: haunting classics such as The Witch of Blackbird Pond and gimmicky series such as the Choose Your Own Adventure books. By middle school, I was reading voluminous adult fiction like the works of Louisa May Alcott and J. R. R. Tolkien. Not every child is—or was—this kind of reader. But what parents today are picking up on is that a shrinking number of kids are reading widely and voraciously for fun.
The concern, as Edward Teller saw it, was quite literally the end of the world. He had run the calculations, and there was a real possibility, he told his Manhattan Project colleagues in 1942, that when they detonated the world’s first nuclear bomb, the blast would set off a chain reaction. The atmosphere would ignite. All life on Earth would be incinerated. Some of Teller’s colleagues dismissed the idea, but others didn’t. If there were even a slight possibility of atmospheric ignition, said Arthur Compton, the director of a Manhattan Project lab in Chicago, all work on the bomb should halt. “Better to accept the slavery of the Nazi,” he later wrote, “than to run a chance of drawing the final curtain on mankind.”
A massive new study of online dating finds that everyone dates aspirationally—and that a woman’s desirability peaks 32 years before a man’s does.
You’re at a party and you see someone cute across the room. They glance at you, maybe even smile for a second, then carry on with their conversation. You feel the room shrink, your heart rate quicken, your face go red: You’re crushing on this stranger, hard. But then the sensible part of your brain tells you to forget it: That person’s way, way out of your league.
Wait a second, you counter: Do dating “leagues” even exist?
At this point, Elizabeth Bruch, a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, crashes in to your thought process (and this news article). Yep, she says. Leagues do seem to exist. But you’re not alone in trying to escape yours: “Three-quarters, or more, of people are dating aspirationally,” she says. And according to a new study, users of online-dating sites spend most of their time trying to contact people “out of their league.”
What happens when everyone first gets immunity to the coronavirus as a very young kid?
To be a newborn in the year 2023—and, almost certainly, every year that follows—means emerging into a world where the coronavirus is ubiquitous. Babies might not meet the virus in the first week or month of life, but soon enough, SARS-CoV-2 will find them. “For anyone born into this world, it’s not going to take a lot of time for them to become infected,” maybe a year, maybe two, says Katia Koelle, a virologist and infectious-disease modeler at Emory University. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this virus will be one of the very first serious pathogens that today’s infants—and all future infants—meet.
Three years into the coronavirus pandemic, these babies are on the leading edge of a generational turnover that will define the rest of our relationship with SARS-CoV-2. They and their slightly older peers are slated to be the first humans who may still be alive when COVID-19 truly hits a new turning point: when almost everyone on Earth has acquired a degree of immunity to the virus as a very young child.