—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.
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.
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-BioNTech, 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 said this 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.
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.
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.
A global pandemic doesn’t give us cause to treat the aged callously.
Crises can elicit compassion, but they can also evoke callousness. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve witnessed communities coming together (even as they have sometimes been physically forced apart), and we’ve seen individuals engaging in simple acts of kindness to remind the sick and quarantined that they are not forgotten. Yet from some quarters, we’ve also seen a degree of cruelty that is truly staggering.
Earlier today, a friend posted on Facebook about an experience he’d just had on the Upper West Side of Manhattan: “I heard a guy who looked to be in his 20s say that it’s not a big deal cause the elderly are gonna die anyway. Then he and his friend laughed … Maybe I’m lucky that I had awesome grandparents and maybe this guy didn’t but what is wrong with people???” Some have tried to dress up their heartlessness as generational retribution. As someone tweeted at me earlier today, “To be perfectly honest, and this is awful, but to the young, watching as the elderly over and over and over choose their own interests ahead of Climate policy kind of feels like they’re wishing us to a death they won’t have to experience. It’s a sad bit of fair play.”
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.
Chloé Zhao’s Oscar contender about one woman’s itinerant life speaks volumes about this country’s myths of self-sufficiency.
Fern (played by Frances McDormand), the hardscrabble hero of Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland, is the kind of resolute, independent protagonist that has dominated American movies since the dawn of the Western genre. She drives around the country in her van, living as self-sufficiently as possible, and carries a flinty affect with people, revealing little about herself and the turmoil that has led to her life on the road. But Fern is not a bullheaded cowboy fighting on the frontier. She’s a newly widowed woman in her early 60s searching for meaningful existence in a nation that’s become hostile to ordinary citizens in need of help.
Zhao’s epic sweep of a movie, which travels the American West from Nevada to South Dakota, is crammed with beautiful photography of some of the country’s most dramatic landscapes. It’s also overflowing with Zhao’s empathetic style of storytelling, and the ensemble largely features nonactors playing themselves, relaying stories of survival on the road in the aftermath of 2008’s Great Recession. As the United States weathers another seismic economic and humanitarian crisis, Zhao’s film offers insightful perspective on how terrifying and tenuous the American dream can be.
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.”
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.