White House Is Said to Prepare Order to Withdraw U.S. From NAFTA
The Trump administration is preparing an executive order to withdraw the U.S. from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a senior White House official tellsThe Atlantic’s Rosie Gray. As presidential candidate, Donald Trump pledged to pull the U.S. out of the trade agreement that allows for the free flow of goods and services between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada—an agreement he called the “worst trade deal in history.” In an interview last week with the Associated Press, Trump reaffirmed he would “either renegotiate it or ... terminate it,” clarifying that “If [Canada and Mexico] don't treat fairly, I am terminating NAFTA.” This would not be the first trade actions conducted by his administration. In addition to withdrawing the U.S. from Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, Trump imposed a 24 percent tariff on Canadian softwood lumber imports, a move some say could mark the start of trade dispute with the U.S.’s second-largest trading partner. More from Rosie’s story:
It’s still unclear what form this executive order will take by the time it is released. And the executive orders in which Bannon has had the largest hand haven’t had a great success rate; the first and second iterations of the travel ban targeting mostly Muslim nations did not stand up to legal challenges.
It’s also unclear whether Trump really can unilaterally pull out of NAFTA without Congressional approval; a recent study by a Canadian think tank concluded that he cannot. But politically, the order could be a signal that Bannon is not a spent force, the nationalist wing remains influential in the White House.
Reversing Course, U.S. Says It's 'Open to Negotiations' With North Korea
The Trump administration says it’s “open to negotiations” with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, just weeks after saying—and restating—the era of “strategic patience” with the North Korean regime was over. Here’s part of the statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats: “The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We remain open to negotiations towards that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies.” The statement was a considerable softening of the Trump administration’s rhetoric toward the North’s regarding its nuclear and missile tests, which are in violation of its treaty obligations, and it came after the White House in an unusual closed-door meeting briefed U.S. senators, all 100 of whom were invited, on the threat posed by the North. Earlier today, Admiral Harry Harris, the head of U.S. Pacific Command, told the House Armed Services Committee the U.S. should act appropriately “in order to bring Kim Jong-Un to his senses, not his knees.” Six weeks ago, Tillerson said the U.S. would not talk to North Korea, adding “all options” were on the table regarding how the U.S. would deal with the country. That was followed by Vice President Mike Pence saying the era of “strategic patience was over.”
President Trump signed Wednesday an executive order to review national-monument designations made by previous administrations in an effort to return certain federal lands to private use. “The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time that we ended this abusive practice,” Trump said Wednesday ahead of the order’s signing. Under the 110-year-old Antiquities Act, presidents have the authority to unilaterally establish national monuments to protect cultural, historic, and natural resources on federal land—one which the Obama administration used more than any of his predecessors, creating the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and expanding the Papahānaumokuākea National Monument in the Pacific. Under Trump’s latest order, both monuments, as well as any national monument designated after January 1, 1996, that spans at least 100,000 acres, could be subject to revision or lose their designation altogether. But rescinding a national monument could prove difficult. Such a move is unprecedented and would likely face legal challenges.
The Trump administration unveiled a plan it said would overhaul the U.S. tax code by reducing the number of tax brackets and deductions while providing tax cuts to corporations and individuals. One of the highlights of the plan is a reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, which President Trump has argued would make U.S. companies more competitive. (Gillian White wrote about it here). The plan would eliminate most deductions except for mortgage interest and charitable donations, and double the standard deduction that individuals can claim. Read more here.
Conservative Commentator Ann Coulter Cancels Berkeley Speech
Ann Coulter, the conservative commentator, announced Wednesday she was canceling her talk at the University of California, Berkeley, after she lost the backing of campus groups sponsoring the event. In an email to Reuters, Coulter said “there will be no speech,” adding: “I looked over my shoulder and my allies had joined the other team.” The event was postponed last week by university officials amid safety concerns, citing the violent protests that broke out last month when former Breitbart editor Milo Yianopoulos visited the campus. Though school officials suggested to the event’s organizers that it be rescheduled for a later date, Coulter reaffirmed her plans to move forward with the event as planned, telling Fox News, “What are they going to do, arrest me?” The Young America’s Foundation and the Berkeley College Republics, which sponsored the event, announced Tuesday they could no longer sponsor the speech. The groups, in a lawsuit filed that same day, accused the university of trying “to restrict conservative speech.”
France Says There's 'No Doubt' Assad Regime Made Sarin Gas Used in Syria Chemical-Weapons Attack
A French intelligence report released Wednesday concludes the sarin gas used in a chemical-weapons attack in Syria earlier this month “bears the signature” of the Assad regime. The report says the nerve agent matched samples taken during another chemical-weapons attack launched by Bashar al-Assad’s military in 2013, and came from the same stockpile of weapons the Assad regime was supposed to have destroyed under a deal brokered that year by the U.S. and Russia. “There’s no doubt that sarin was used,” Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Wednesday after presenting the report to the French defense council. “Now there’s no longer any doubt that the Syrian regime was responsible.” The April 4 attack in Idlib province killed dozens of people, prompting the Trump administration to launch missile strikes against a Syrian airbase from which the planes that carried out the chemical attack reportedly took off. Syria and Russia, Assad’s main backer, say Syrian rebels are responsible for the attack—despite evidence to the contrary.
United Airlines said Wednesday it’s investigating the circumstances behind the death of a large rabbit on one of its transatlantic flights. Annette Edwards, a rabbit breeder, toldThe Sun Tuesday that Simon, the 10-month old continental giant rabbit, was confirmed to be healthy three hours ahead of his flight from London’s Heathrow Airport to Chicago’s O’Hare, where he was traveling to meet a new owner. It is unclear when Simon died during the more than eight-hour journey, during which he was traveling in the cargo section of the plane, as is common with animals. Continental giants are considered one of the largest rabbit breeds, and Edwards said Simon, who was three feet long, was expected to grow to be the world’s largest. She added: “I’ve sent rabbits all around the world and nothing like this has happened before.” United Airlines said it was “saddened” by the news and would review the matter, adding in a statement “the safety and wellbeing of all animals that travel with us is of the utmost importance to United Airlines and our PetSafe team.” The incident follows weeks of global backlash against the airline after video surfaced of a passenger being forcibly removed off one of United’s flights by law enforcement—an event that left the 69-year-old traveller with a concussion, a broken nose, and two lost teeth.
Turkish Airstrikes Kill 6 Kurdish Militants in Iraq
Turkey struck targets Wednesday in northern Iraq, killing six Kurdish fighters in its second day of cross-border fire. The air strikes come a day after the U.S. expressed deep concern the strikes were being conducted “without proper coordination” with the U.S. and its coalition partners. In a press briefing Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the Turkish airstrikes “were not approved by the coalition and led to the unfortunate loss of life of our partner forces in the fight against ISIS that includes members of the Kurdish Peshmerga.” Iraq also condemned the Turkish strikes in its Sinjar region as a violation of its sovereignty. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Reuters Ankara informed the U.S., Russia, and Iraq ahead of its operations Wednesday, adding he would not allow the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey, the U.S., and the EU regard as a terrorist organization, to operate in Sinjar.
China launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier Wednesday at the northeastern port of Dalian—a move that comes amid rising tensions over its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea. The country’s second aircraft overall, the new carrier joins the Liaoning, a Soviet-era carrier China bought secondhand from Ukraine in 1998. The launch of the new aircraft carrier, which is expected to be operational by 2020, comes amid ongoing tensions in the South China Sea, which China claims. Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, told China’s state-run Xinhua news agency the aircraft “will help to strengthen our capability to safeguard national sovereignty, territorial integrity, as well as major and core interests.”
Here’s what the aircraft looks like:
Nearby ships blow their horns to salute China's newly-launched aircraft carrier at Dalian Port Wed morning pic.twitter.com/aCUuvINbmz
Turkey Arrests More Than 1,000 People in Latest Crackdown
Turkish authorities have arrested 1,000 people and are seeking more than 2,000 others in connection with last year’s failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The move comes weeks after Erdogan, who has governed Turkey since 2003, was granted sweeping powers in a closely contested national referendum. Critics of the president say he has crushed dissent following the coup attempt, but Erdogan and his supporters allege the existence of a “deep state” that includes followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric. Indeed, today’s arrests were targeted at what authorities said was a secret setup within the police force. Hundreds of thousands of people have been arrested or lost their jobs since the June 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan.
U.S. Moves Part of THAAD Anti-Missile System to South Korea, Prompting Criticism
The U.S. military began moving parts of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to South Korea. The earlier-than expected deployment of the anti-missile defense system drew a sharp response from China, prompted protests in South Korea, and criticism from the leading candidate in the upcoming South Korean presidential election. It is also likely to provoke North Korea, which views any such move as an act of aggression. The U.S. and South Korea say THAAD is meant to deter North Korea, which routinely fires missiles that are capable of hitting targets in the South. But China, whose help the U.S. needs to influence North Korea over its aggressive military posture, says the anti-missile system compromises its own security. Geng Shuang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the move worsens “regional tensions and harm[s] China’s strategic security interests,” adding: “China will resolutely take necessary steps to defend its interests.” Local residents in Seongju, South Korea, protested the arrival of the system Wednesday. Moon Jae-in, the center-left candidate who is expected to win the May 9 election, also criticized the move, saying the next government should have had a say when and whether THAAD would be deployed. The U.S. and South Korea agreed to deploy THAAD last year. The system is expected to be operational by the end of this year.
“Our boyfriends, our significant others, and our husbands are supposed to be No. 1. Our worlds are backward.”
Kami West had been dating her current boyfriend for a few weeks when she told him that he was outranked by her best friend. West knew her boyfriend had caught snatches of her daily calls with Kate Tillotson, which she often placed on speaker mode. But she figured that he, like the men she’d dated before, didn’t quite grasp the nature of their friendship. West explained to him, “I need you to know that she’s not going anywhere. She is my No. 1.” Tillotson was there before him, and, West told him, “she will be there after you. And if you think at any point that this isn’t going to be my No. 1, you’re wrong.”
If West’s comments sound blunt, it’s because she was determined not to repeat a distressing experience from her mid-20s. Her boyfriend at that time had sensed that he wasn’t her top priority. In what West saw as an attempt to keep her away from her friend, he disparaged Tillotson, calling her a slut and a bad influence. After the relationship ended, West, 31, vowed to never let another man strain her friendship. She decided that any future romantic partners would have to adapt to her friendship with Tillotson, rather than the other way around.
As society gets richer, people chase the wrong things.
“How to Build a Life” is a biweekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
One of the greatest paradoxes in American life is that while, on average, existence has gotten more comfortable over time, happiness has fallen.
According to the United States Census Bureau, average household income in the U.S., adjusted for inflation, was higher in 2019 than has ever been recorded for every income quintile. And although income inequality has risen, this has not been mirrored by inequality in the consumption of goods and services. For example, from 2008 to 2019, households in the lowest income quintile increased spending on eating out by an average of about 22 percent after correcting for inflation; the top quintile increased spending on eating out by an average of just under 8 percent. Meanwhile, domestic government services have increased significantly: For example, federal spending on education, training, employment, and social services increased from 2000 to 2019 by about 30 percent in inflation-adjusted terms.
Cases are rising in all but nine states. Unlike the past two waves, this one has no epicenter.
The United States is sleepwalking into what could become the largest coronavirus outbreak of the pandemic so far. In the past week alone, as voters prepare to go to the ballot box, about one in every 1,000 Americans has tested positive for the virus, and about two in every 100,000 Americans have died of it.
This third surge is far more geographically dispersed than what the country saw in the spring or summer: The coronavirus is at risk of careening out of control, and it can be found in every kind of American community, from tiny farm towns to affluent suburbs to bustling border cities. This is the first of the American surges with no clear epicenter: From North Carolina to North Dakota, and Colorado to Connecticut, more Americans are contracting COVID-19.
The president of the United States poses a threat to our collective existence. The choice voters face is spectacularly obvious.
In 1973, a United States Air Force officer, Major Harold Hering, asked a question that the Air Force did not want asked. Hering, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, was then in training to become a Minuteman-missile crewman. The question he asked one of his instructors was this: “How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?”
The writer Ron Rosenbaum would later call this the “forbidden question.” Missile officers are allowed to ask certain sorts of questions—about the various fail-safe systems built to prevent the accidental launching of nuclear weapons, for instance. But the Air Force would not answer Hering’s question, and it moved to discharge him after determining that officers responsible for launching nuclear weapons did not “need to know” the answer. “I have to say I feel I do have a need to know because I am a human being,” Hering said in response.
In targeting Hunter Biden, the president is waging psychological warfare against the Democratic nominee.
After 18 months of flogging the Hunter Biden story, what does President Donald Trump have to show for his efforts? His opposition research on former Vice President Joe Biden’s son culminated in his own impeachment. Despite railing against the scion’s alleged swampiness at nearly every rally, Trump’s convoluted narrative about Biden family corruption has taken root only on Fox News. At the very least, the accusation that Hunter leveraged his father’s high office to enrich himself has failed to measurably move the polls. Even Trump’s ardent supporters are now encouraging him to change the subject. Yet he remains obstinate in his obsession.
Without a coherent message or an affirmative vision for a second term, Trump has clearly been betting his reelection on what military planners would call a “psyop,” or a psychological operation. That is, he hopes to use gamesmanship to destabilize the mind of his adversary, forcing him into a moment of anger or incoherence that illustrates his lack of fitness for the office. (“Too old and out of it” is how Trump puts it.) His attacks on Hunter Biden should be understood as the pillar of this strategy.
An overlooked corner of the Constitution hints at a right to be protected from infection.
Ever since state governors began implementing stay-at-home orders to contain the coronavirus pandemic, protesters have resisted such safety measures under the belief that they violate constitutionally guaranteed liberties. Proposals to mandate mask wearing have collided with allegations of First Amendment violations. Orders to close gun stores have clashed with concerns about Second Amendment freedoms. But a profound historical counter-vision to these ideas about “individual liberty” can be found in one of the most neglected and underappreciated corners of the Bill of Rights: the Third Amendment.
“No soldier,” the amendment reads, “shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.” Federal courts have rarely invoked it, and in 2015 even rejected a Third Amendment claim against police officers’ occupation of a house. Now the subject of memes, the amendment, in the words of the legal historian Morton Horwitz, is an “interesting study in constitutional obsolescence.”
The Commission on Presidential Debates is choosing the appearance of civility over an honest, open display of the two men’s characters.
The Commission on Presidential Debates has announced that it will employ mute buttons during tonight’s debate, cutting off President Donald Trump or Vice President Joe Biden if either attempts to interrupt the other’s two-minute speaking time. On the surface, this might seem like an excellent idea: We’ll get to hear more of the candidates’ answers to questions, and less crosstalk, than we did four weeks ago.
But the decision to mute the candidates is a mistake. In choosing the appearance of civility over an honest, open display of the two men’s characters, the commission has failed in the way so many institutions have failed over these past four years: by giving a sheen of normalcy to an utterly dangerous moment and man.
Levels of trust in this country—in our institutions, in our politics, and in one another—are in precipitous decline. And when social trust collapses, nations fail. Can we get it back before it’s too late?
American history is driven by periodic moments of moral convulsion. The late Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington noticed that these convulsions seem to hit the United States every 60 years or so: the Revolutionary period of the 1760s and ’70s; the Jacksonian uprising of the 1820s and ’30s; the Progressive Era, which began in the 1890s; and the social-protest movements of the 1960s and early ’70s.
These moments share certain features. People feel disgusted by the state of society. Trust in institutions plummets. Moral indignation is widespread. Contempt for established power is intense.
A highly moralistic generation appears on the scene. It uses new modes of communication to seize control of the national conversation. Groups formerly outside of power rise up and take over the system. These are moments of agitation and excitement, frenzy and accusation, mobilization and passion.
If America descends into civil war, at least we’ll know what channel was on when it began.
As early voting began in Atlanta, Georgia, last week, members of the local Security Force Three Percent, a self-styled military group composed of roughly 400 members, were smoking Marlboro 100s and waxing apocalyptic about the state of America.
“Well, I think the coronavirus is a scam, first and foremost,” declared Chris Hill, the commanding officer of the militia, who goes by the nom de guerre General BloodAgent. “Two, I think that watching all of the videos of people’s civil liberties being infringed upon—being arrested for sitting in your empty business, being arrested for sitting in your car looking at the ocean, having cops or security guards tasing women that are watching their kid play football—these are things that I would not suffer.”
Adding more justices to the bench might be the only way to stop them.
For a judge with a brilliant legal mind, Amy Coney Barrett seemed oddly at a loss for words.
Does a president have the power to postpone an election? Senator Dianne Feinstein of California asked. Barrett said she would have to approach that question—about a power the Constitution explicitly grants to Congress—“with an open mind.”
Is voter intimidation illegal? Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota asked. “I can’t apply the law to a hypothetical set of facts,” Barrett replied. Klobuchar responded by reading the statute outlawing voter intimidation, which exists and is, therefore, not hypothetical.
Should the president commit to a peaceful transfer of power? Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey asked. Barrett replied that, “to the extent this is a political controversy right now, as a judge I want to stay out of it.”