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.
Polished, soft-spoken, and a self-styled moderate, Jared Kushner has become his father-in-law’s most dangerous enabler.
Jared Kushner, the second-most-powerful man in the White House, is quite a bit smarter than the most powerful man, his father-in-law, the president. Donald Trump possesses a genius for the jugular, but he evinces few other signs of intelligence. He certainly displays no capacity, or predisposition, to learn. His son-in-law, by contrast, appears to have sufficient analytic acumen to comprehend that the country has been brought to its knees by the coronavirus pandemic. Kushner might not be the brightest public servant in American history—he is a Harvard graduate who is also a leading symbol of college-admissions corruption, and a businessman with a substantial record of failure—but he has shown flashes of effectiveness in his time at the White House. Because he projects a facsimile of capability and because he shows, at irregular intervals, a seemingly genuine interest in governing, he is also an exasperating mystery.
Zvikorn, whose bio on the site describes an Israeli teen into sports history, has made more than 2,300 edits to Wikipedia articles over the past few years. “The main reason I edit Wikipedia is a strong belief that every person on the planet has the right to access the accumulated knowledge of humanity,” he wrote. “Today it is only getting more important for mankind to find out the truth and not be exposed to believe fake news.”
WhatsApp diplomacy seems to have worked for the Trump administration.
This morning, Donald Trump announced the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Israel is also committing to not annexing the West Bank. The agreement will shock those who thought the portion of the Jared Kushner portfolio devoted to peace in the Middle East consisted of a single briefing folder filled with printouts of Wikipedia articles. But there were signs that this agreement was coming, and that the Trump administration would be uniquely suited to making it happen.
Saudi Arabia is not officially party to the agreement, but its relationship with the UAE is so fraternal that we should assume that it eagerly approved, and that the UAE will represent its interests in Israel as if they were its own. The Trump administration deals with these countries through the same personal channels, which look opaque and corrupt to us because they are. A few months ago, a Saudi academic told me that Trump was easier for him to understand than for me, because I live in a country where nepotism is a crime, and he lives in one where it is the system of government. The idea that a president would appoint his son-in-law to manage the most sensitive aspects of his administration offends me. To a Saudi, he said, it is just how things get done, and there is nothing mysterious about it at all.
Why having a woman vice-presidential candidate is historic—and painful for young feminists
The morning before Kamala Harris became the Democratic nominee for vice president, I met Amanda Litman at the Javits Center in New York City, a mammoth building near the Hudson River made almost entirely of glass. Four years ago, Litman spent Election Night here, waiting excitedly in a holding area with other staffers on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The intended metaphor was not subtle: Clinton was to declare her victory as America’s first woman president beneath a literal glass ceiling, shattering the most notorious gender barrier in politics.
When Clinton lost, Litman, who served as Clinton’s email director, felt more than just professional defeat. She believed the election was about proving that a woman similar to herself—often described as too ambitious, too much, or too loud—could succeed in America. “If you had asked me the next morning, ‘Will we ever have a woman president?’ I would have stopped crying hard enough to tell you to fuck off,” Litman told me. “It felt unimaginable.”
Short of an outright constitutional crisis, a lot could still go horribly wrong.
A brazen refusal by the president to leave office is surely a nightmare scenario. But even if President Donald Trump were to lose and accept the results on November 3 or soon thereafter, he could nevertheless wreak significant damage during the period between the election and the inauguration of Joe Biden—endangering the incoming administration, at best, and actively sabotaging it, at worst.
Presidential transitions are perilous even in normal times. With each inauguration of a new president every four to eight years, the executive branch undergoes a massive overhaul; more than 4,000 new political appointees flood into federal departments and agencies, including 1,200 senior officials who require Senate confirmation. The minute a new president is sworn in, his administration assumes responsibility for everything from nuclear launch codes to pandemic response, economic policy, and counterterrorism—at the very moment when the government’s capacity is most diminished. At the Defense Department alone, the nation’s largest employer and perhaps the world’s most complex organization, the top 59 senior civilian leaders, from the secretary of defense on down, are political appointees requiring Senate confirmation. A private-sector company would be crazy to emulate this approach, yet the security, the health, and the prosperity of Americans depend on its success.
American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase.
If you were an adherent, no one would be able to tell. You would look like any other American. You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive denizens of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world.
India’s and Turkey’s leaders are turning buildings into battlegrounds for nationalists.
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has acted on his yearlong quest to restore the historic Hagia Sophia, once a Byzantine-era cathedral and museum, as a functioning mosque. Three thousand miles away, in India’s northeastern city of Ayodhya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has fulfilled a similar promise, last week laying the foundation for a new Hindu temple on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque where Hindus believe an ancient temple once stood.
Yet the transformation of these sites marks more than a simple manifestation of religious adherence. At its core, it represents a concerted effort by Turkey’s and India’s leaders to galvanize support from their religious and nationalist bases, even if doing so comes at the expense of their countries’ religious minorities. Even more fundamentally, it is changing how these two countries see themselves, demonstrating a simultaneous recasting of once-secular republics into fully fledged ethnonationalist states.
A dangerous wildfire driven by hot, windy conditions has prompted hundreds of evacuations.
Just north of Los Angeles, a wildfire near Lake Hughes grew to 10,000 acres within merely a few hours yesterday. The rapidly growing blaze prompted the evacuation of hundreds of nearby homes as firefighters rushed to contain it. High winds, hot and dry conditions, and steep terrain have driven the fire’s growth in the Angeles National Forest.
A virus has brought the world’s most powerful country to its knees.
How did it come to this? A virus a thousand times smaller than a dust mote has humbled and humiliated the planet’s most powerful nation. America has failed to protect its people, leaving them with illness and financial ruin. It has lost its status as a global leader. It has careened between inaction and ineptitude. The breadth and magnitude of its errors are difficult, in the moment, to truly fathom.
In the first half of 2020, SARS‑CoV‑2—the new coronavirus behind the disease COVID‑19—infected 10 million people around the world and killed about half a million.
When we think of our identities as fixed and unchanging—I am this kind of person; I am not that kind of person—we’re shutting ourselves off from many of life’s possibilities.
“How to Build a Life” is a biweekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
In the Bible, there is a curious story about a man named Nicodemus. He is a Pharisee and one of the religious elders with whom Jesus is in constant conflict. Nicodemus approaches Jesus alone at night, saying, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God,” and proceeds to ask a series of sincere questions.
It is clear that Nicodemus is a seeker, attracted to Jesus’s unconventional teaching. It is just as clear that he does not want anyone to witness this meeting. A powerful, successful man, Nicodemus is embarrassed—or perhaps afraid—to be seen questioning his own religious beliefs and considering something new.