—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.
When you stick ink-filled needles into your skin, your body’s defenders respond accordingly. Scientists aren’t sure if that’s good or bad for you.
In 2018, I paid a man a couple hundred dollars to repeatedly jam several needles into the skin of my right wrist. I felt as if I were being attacked by a microscopic cavalry of crabs. Into every jab went black ink, eventually forming the shape of double quotation marks. It was my first tattoo, and likely not my last.
In the thousands of years that tattoos have been around, not much has changed. The practice still involves carving wounds into permanent, inked-in shapes that we find aesthetically pleasing. But much of tattooing remains mysterious: Scientists still aren’t sure what makes certain tattoos fade fast, why others stick around when they’re supposed to disappear, or how they react to light. One of the strangest and least-studied enigmas, though, is how tattoos survive at all. Our immune system is constantly doing its darndest to destroy them—and understanding why it fails could clue us in to one of our bodies’ most important functions, even when we leave the skin blank.
Intelligence can make you happier, but only if you see it as more than a tool to get ahead.
“How to Build a Life” is a 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.
“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know,” an unnamed character casually remarks in Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Garden of Eden. You might say that this is a corollary of the much more famous “Ignorance is bliss.”
The latter recalls phenomena such as the Dunning-Kruger effect—in which people lacking skills and knowledge in a particular area innocently underestimate their own incompetence—and the illusion of explanatory depth, which can prompt autodidacts on social media to excitedly present complex scientific phenomena, thinking they understand them in far greater depth than they really do.
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.
Traditional notions of the intellectual were never meant to include people who looked like me or who had a background like mine.
In 2017, I was trying to write How to Be an Antiracist. Words came onto the page slower than ever. On some days, no words came at all. Clearly, I was in crisis.
I don’t believe in writer’s block. When words aren’t flowing onto the page, I know why: I haven’t researched enough, organized the material enough, thought enough to exhume clarity, meticulously outlined my thoughts enough. I haven’t prepared myself to write.
But no matter how much I prepared, I still struggled to convey what my research and reasoning showed. I struggled because I was planning to challenge traditional conceptions of racism, and to defy the multiracial and bipartisan consensus that race neutrality was possible and that “not racist” was a definable identity. And I struggled because I was planning to describe a largely unknown corrective posture—being anti-racist—with long historical roots. These departures from tradition were at the front of my struggling mind. But at the back of my mind was a more existential struggle—a struggle I think is operating at the front of our collective mind today.
Gender, rather than race or age or immigration status, has become the country’s sharpest social fault line.
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On the days she’s feeling most generous toward men—say, when she sees a handsome man on the street—Helena Lee can sometimes put her distaste aside and appreciate them as “eye candy.” That’s as far as she goes: “I do not want to know what is inside of his brain.” Most of the time, she wants nothing at all to do with men.
“I try to have faith in guys and not to be like, ‘Kill all men,’” she says. “But I’m sorry, I am a little bit on that side—that is, on the extreme side.”
Her father, she says, was abusive and moved out when she was 6, and she has lived with her mother and grandmother ever since, a mini-matriarchy that suits her fine. She wears her hair in a bob, and on the day we met, she had on a black-denim button-down and a beige trench coat. In college, male classmates told her she’d be cuter if she “fixed her gay style.” The worst part, she said, was that they were surprised when she was offended—they thought they’d paid her a compliment. She is 24, studying for civil-servant exams, and likes reading Andrea Dworkin, Carl Sagan, and the occasional romance novel, which she considers pure fantasy.
The Fed, among others, is blameworthy. But the ultimate culprit is COVID-19.
When the Federal Reserve board last met, at the end of January, its main concern was whether it needed to continue hiking interest rates aggressively in order to bring down inflation. When it met yesterday, it had a whole new pile of concerns, including, most importantly, whether further interest-rate hikes would destabilize more banks and aggravate the mini banking crisis we’ve been living through since the failure of Silicon Valley Bank on March 10. Those concerns help explain why, even with inflation still high, the Fed chose to raise rates only a quarter of a point.
The fact that six weeks ago almost no one was talking about banks’ balance sheets, let alone bank runs, and today everyone is makes it seem as though this crisis came out of nowhere. But its true origins go back almost exactly three years, to spring 2020. The banking system’s current woes are in a real sense a product of the pandemic.
His statements have been hotly disputed, but not refuted.
“While the U.S. has many vital national interests,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis wrote recently, “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.”
The comments inspired a wave of disapproval from conservatives and Republicans, including The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and the Washington Post columnist George Will, who quipped, “If that is his settled view after the dust settles and he elaborates on this, then he’s not fit to be president, period.”
As an inveterate critic of Woodrow Wilson, Will should know better. DeSantis was merely taking a realist foreign-policy stance at a time when elites in both parties have gotten into a dangerously Wilsonian frame of mind. With support for Ukraine aid falling among Republicans, DeSantis’s comments were also more in tune with where GOP voters are, and are likely to be in the months ahead.
The timelines, the issues at stake, and the threat they pose to the former president
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If you’re finding it hard to keep track of all of former President Donald Trump’s legal woes, don’t feel bad: He can’t get it straight, either. Last weekend, he announced that he’d be arrested in Manhattan on Tuesday. It’s now Thursday, and Trump remains a free man, with no indictment from a grand jury yet. Public indications still seem to point toward charges against Trump in Manhattan, but what and when are still a mystery. And several more cases loom beyond that.
Assuming Trump is eventually charged, whether in Manhattan or elsewhere, the result will be a spectacle no one alive has seen before: a former U.S. president under arrest. We likely won’t see a classic perp walk, with officers holding him by each arm and escorting him. The process would instead be arranged and negotiated beforehand, and he’s reportedly been debating whether to smile for the cameras on his way to being booked. Trump would have to be fingerprinted like any other defendant, and then he’d be released. But that would be just the start of a long process toward a trial or plea, and then a verdict.
Here is a story I have heard from more than one professional philosopher, though it has never, at least not yet, happened to me: You are sitting on a plane, the person next to you asks what you do, you tell them you are a philosopher, and they ask, “So, what are your sayings?” When a philosopher opens their mouth, people expect deep things to come out of it. Philosophers don’t always enjoy this; to avoid it, they might even say instead, “I am a professor” or “I teach Plato” or “I am in academia.”
When I was an undergraduate pondering what to do next, a professor of mine—not a philosopher—advised me, “Even if you get a Ph.D. in philosophy, don’t ever call yourself a philosopher. Kant, Socrates—those people were philosophers; you’re someone who reads or thinks about philosophy.” He felt that by calling myself a philosopher, I would be putting on airs, claiming to be deeper than I was. I did get a Ph.D. in philosophy, and I do call myself a philosopher, and that does, just as the professor feared, sometimes lead to disappointed expectations.
Anti-Jewish bigots steal the show in the revived musical. And that’s why it works.
There’s a moment in Parade, the musical revival that opened last week on Broadway, that encapsulates the show’s subversiveness. It’s also the moment that seals the demise of the drama’s protagonist, Leo Frank.
Frank, played by Ben Platt, is on trial for the murder of Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old girl who was found dead in the Atlanta factory where he served as superintendent in 1913. (The plot is based on a true story.) A nerdy northern Jew in Georgia, Frank is an easy target for the ire of the public and the prosecution. In a taut and tense courtroom scene, he is implicated by a succession of coached but compelling witnesses. The most damning testimony comes from a janitor, Jim Conley (Alex Joseph Grayson), who claims that the Jew stereotypically attempted to buy his silence, recalling Frank’s words in a sinister song: