—Bob Dylan broke his cryptic silence about receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature two weeks ago in an interview with a British newspaper. Will he attend the ceremony? “Absolutely,” he said. “If it’s at all possible.”
—Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rojay received a narrow mandate from parliament to form a new government, ending 10 months of paralysis after two inconclusive elections.
—Icelandic voters are poised to hand the Pirate Party, a populist civil-libertarian party, the most seats in the Althing in Saturday’s parliamentary elections.
—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).
Spain’s parliament re-elected Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Saturday, ending 10 months of paralysis following two inconclusive elections last December and this June.
Neither Rajoy’s center-right People Party nor the opposition Socialist Party mustered a simple majority of seats in either general elections, forcing both sides into a protracted stalemate as they struggled to build coalitions with smaller parties to govern.
The stalemate ended when Ciudadanos, a centrist regional party from Catalonia, threw its support—and its 32 seats—behind Rajoy. The New York Timeshas more:
The Popular Party won the most votes in June’s election but, with just 137 of the 350 seats in Parliament, fell well short of a majority. The Socialists came in second, with 85 seats, their worst-ever result, but still sufficient for them to remain the largest left-wing political group, ahead of the far-left Podemos party.
In the coming weeks, Mr. Rajoy will present a budget for 2017 that will be the first major test of his ability to pass legislation without a parliamentary majority. He will be under pressure to make budgetary concessions to regional and left-wing parties, but his spending will be curtailed by deficit targets imposed by the European Union.
Mr. Rajoy is also under pressure to defuse a territorial dispute with Catalonia. Separatist parties control the Catalan regional Parliament and have pledged to hold an independence referendum by September, despite fierce opposition from Madrid and the courts.
Had legislators not granted Rajoy a slim mandate to govern, Spain would have been forced to call its third election in a year in an attempt to break the deadlock.
Icelandic voters are heading to the polls Saturday as the country holds its first parliamentary elections since the resignation of Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson in April.
Gunnlaugsson’s fall from power followed revelations in the Panama Papers, a cache of leaked documents from the corporate law firm Mossack Fonseca, that linked him to foreign creditors who profited from the collapse of Iceland’s banking sector.
Leading the latest opinion police is Iceland’s Pirate Party, a civil-libertarian party founded in 2012. It currently holds three seats in the Althing, Iceland’s parliament, but could emerge with the most seats of any party after the election. The Guardianhas more:
Riding a wave of public anger at perceived political corruption in the wake of the 2008 financial crash and the Panama Papers scandal in April, the Pirate party campaigns for direct democracy, full government transparency, individual freedoms and the fight against corruption.
Its radical platform, which also includes decriminalising drugs, offering asylum to whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and relaxing restrictions on the use of the bitcoin virtual currency, has the backing of 21% of Icelanders, polls suggest, making it the country’s second-biggest party.
Its figurehead is Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a 49-year-old MP, poet and former WikiLeaks collaborator who has said she has no ambition to be prime minister but wants to sweep away a “corrupt and dysfunctional system.”
The election results will be announced Sunday morning local time.
Bob Dylan, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature earlier this month, finally acknowledged the honor on Friday. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, the American folk bard said he might attend the awards ceremony in Stockholm in December.
“Absolutely,” he replied. “If it’s at all possible.”
Dylan cryptically did not elaborate on why he wouldn’t be able to attend. The Nobel Foundation subsequently released a statement that said Dylan had called the Nobel committee last week. “The news about the Nobel Prize left me speechless,” he said, according to the foundation. “I appreciate the honor so much.”
The Nobel committee announced Dylan had won literature’s most prestigious honor on October 13 for “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” He is the first musician to receive the prize. The choice caused a minor controversy within the literary world, with some praising the selection’s novelty while others dissented that a more traditional writer or poet was not honored instead.
Then followed silence. Dylan made only a brief, fleeting reference to the award on his website that day. To the foundation’s frustration, he also did not answer or return numerous calls from them. A committee member last week described his silence as “arrogant and impolite.”
The Supreme Court vacancy will surely inflame an already-angry nation.
Updated on September 18, 2020, at 8:47 p.m. ET.
A furious battle over a Supreme Court vacancy is arguably the last thing the United States needs right now.
The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg today represents a devastating loss for feminists who held up the 87-year-old as an icon of women’s rights, and as a bulwark protecting abortion rights and a wide range of other progressive ideals on a conservative Supreme Court. The Brooklyn-born jurist became one of the nation’s foremost advocates against gender discrimination as a lawyer for the ACLU, decades before President Bill Clinton appointed her to be the second woman to sit on the high court.
But her passing less than two months before the presidential election also tosses one more lit match into the tinderbox of national politics in 2020: It will surely inflame a deeply polarized country already riven by a deadly pandemic, a steep economic downturn, and civil unrest in its major cities.
Changing voters’ minds is famously difficult, but a recent progressive effort found real success.
No state has haunted the Democratic Party’s imagination for the past four years like Wisconsin. While it was not the only state that killed Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes in 2016, it was the one where the knife plunged deepest. Clinton was so confident about Wisconsin that she never even campaigned there. This year, it is one of the most fiercely contested states. The Democrats planned to hold their convention in Milwaukee, before the coronavirus pandemic forced its cancellation. Donald Trump is also making a strong play for Wisconsin.
Trump’s weaknesses with the electorate are familiar: Voters find him coarse, and they deplore his handling of race, the coronavirus, and protests. One recent YouGov poll found that just 42 percent of Americans approved of his performance as president, while 54 percent disapproved. But when the pollsters asked about Trump’s handling of the economy, those attitudes reversed: 48 percent approved and 44 percent disapproved, despite the havoc wreaked by the pandemic.
Climate change is killing Americans and destroying the country’s physical infrastructure.
The federal government spends roughly $700 billion a year on the military. It spends perhaps $15 billion a year trying to understand and stop climate change.
I thought about those numbers a lot last week, as I tried to stop my toddler from playing in ash, tried to calm down my dogs as they paced and panted in mid-morning dusk light, tried to figure out whether my air purifier was actually protecting my lungs, tried to understand why the sky was pumpkin-colored, and tried not to think about the carcinogen risk of breathing in wildfire smoke, week after week.
The government has committed to defending us and our allies against foreign enemies. Yet when it comes to the single biggest existential threat we collectively face—the one that threatens to make much of the planet uninhabitable, starve millions, and incite violent conflicts around the world—it has chosen to do near-nothing. Worse than that, the federal government continues to subsidize and promote fossil fuels, and with them the destruction of our planetary home. Climate hell is here. We cannot stand it. And we cannot afford it either.
The coming months of the pandemic could be catastrophic. The U.S. still has ways to prepare.
On April 13, Robert Redfield, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, appeared on the Today show and assured viewers that the worst was nearly behind us. It had been a month since the last gathering of fans in an NBA arena; a month since the fateful week when Americans began panic-buying bottled water and canned beans. The segment’s host, Savannah Guthrie, was broadcasting from home in upstate New York. With the light of a makeshift camera reflecting in her glasses, she asked Redfield to address reports that we could be facing another three weeks of social distancing. “We are nearing the peak right now,” Redfield told her. “Clearly we are stabilizing in terms of the state of this outbreak.”
Coffee plants were supposed to be safe on this side of the Atlantic. But the fungus found them.
In the southern corner of Guatemala, outside the tiny mountain town of San Pedro Yepocapa, Elmer Gabriel’s coffee plants ought to be leafed-out and gleaming. It is a week before Christmas, the heart of the coffee-harvesting season, and if his bushes were healthy, they would look like holiday trees hung with ornaments, studded with bright-red coffee cherries. But in a long row that stretches down the side of his steeply sloped field, the plants are twiggy and withered. Most of their leaves are gone, and the ones that remain are drab olive and curling at the edges. There are yellow spots, brown in the center, on the leaves’ upper surfaces. On the underside they are pebbly, and coated with a fine orange dust.
Reports of a vote-by-mail apocalypse are greatly exaggerated.
President Donald Trump stood on a North Carolina tarmac earlier this month, Air Force One idling behind him, and urged his supporters to commit a crime. He said they should cast the ballots they received in the mail—just as he has done many times in the past—and then they should go to their polling place on Election Day and test the system by trying to vote again. “Let them send it in, and let them go vote,” Trump said. “If their system’s as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote.”
Officials in North Carolina were aghast. The executive director of the state’s board of elections, Karen Brinson Bell, issued a statement the next day explicitly warning North Carolinians not to follow the president’s advice. “It is illegal to vote twice in an election,” she said. “Attempting to vote twice in an election or soliciting someone to do so also is a violation of North Carolina law.”
Millions of coronavirus tests may be happening without their results being made public.
President Donald Trump has never hidden his ambivalence about testing for the coronavirus. In June, when he told an arena of supporters in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that he had instructed “his people” to “‘slow the testing down, please,’” the disclosure prompted one of the more dire news cycles of the pandemic. The president said repeatedly that he wanted the United States to reduce its testing. But in the weeks that followed, testing increased.
Not so now. In the past month, the number of tests conducted in the United States has actually drifted down—and that may be partly because of Trump-administration policy.
The United States now reports about 100,000 fewer daily tests than it did in late July, according to the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. Some of this decline is due to reduced demand: The surge of infections across the South and West has subsided, and when fewer people are sick, fewer people seek out tests. Yet this cannot explain all of it. In the Midwest, the number of confirmed cases is growing faster than the number of tests, which has been a sign of a growing outbreak throughout the pandemic.
A new biography squares the decorous legal figure with the feminist gladiator.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not just having a “moment” in American feminist culture. She has rapidly become—in a time that craves heroines—the American ideal of power and authority for millions of women and girls. Beyond the movies (RBG, released in May, and On the Basis of Sex, out in December) and the biographies, not to mention the memes and T-shirts and mugs that proliferate like lace-collared mushrooms, Ginsburg at 85 is also the closest thing America has to the consummate anti–Donald Trump. Today, more than ever, women starved for models of female influence, authenticity, dignity, and voice hold up an octogenarian justice as the embodiment of hope for an empowered future.
The kitschy celebrations of the justice have always insisted, in their way, that the personal is judicial.
In 2014, Kate Livingston created a quirky Halloween costume for her 12-week-old son. It featured a black, sleeved onesie. And a white silken collar. And a pair of large, plastic-rimmed glasses. Livingston snapped a picture of the cosplaying infant—he provided the cool scowl—and then added a caption, in blunt all-caps, to the photo she took: “I DISSENT.” Ruth Baby Ginsburg was born.
Justices of the Supreme Court have traditionally existed above the fray. They wear body-obscuring black robes, stay stoic at the State of the Union address, and prioritize a long-view approach to human events. But Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died today at age 87, changed that model, because Ruth Bader Ginsburg lived within the fray: Particularly in her later years, she was a justice who was also a celebrity. There was Notorious RBG, the meme and the Tumblr and the book. There was On the Basis of Sex, the 2018 biopic telling the story of Ginsburg’s early years as a professor and a litigator. There was RBG, the documentary. There were Kate McKinnon’s swaggering impressions on Saturday Night Live (“You’ve been Ginsburned!”). And there was the array of RBG-themed goods: the prayer candles, the dolls, the coloring books, the jewelry. There are the collections of RBG-inspired collars. Hers is a visible fandom.
Some of the year’s best new movies are about American soul-searching.
David Byrne has long been a master of perfectly designed worlds. The 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense, with his band Talking Heads, captured how carefully he stages his shows, bringing in band members one by one to emphasize how each contributes to the harmonies of a song. Byrne’s latest tour, “American Utopia,” was documented by Spike Lee in a film of the same name, due out October 17 on HBO. In it, Byrne again tries to construct a new musical universe, making jolly music and dancing in lockstep with shoeless artists in natty gray suits. But as the film’s title suggests, he wants to create a better world beyond the concert venue too.
American Utopia was the opening-night feature at this month’s Toronto International Film Festival, which kicks off the fall movie season every year with big premieres and awards-friendly projects. Thanks to the coronavirus and the general hibernation of the industry, TIFF screened just 50 new films this year (compared with more than 300 in 2019). But even in its compact form, the festival offered a preview of what moviegoers can expect in the next few months as Hollywood navigates the pandemic. Given that the United States is in the midst of a fraught election season, it’s unsurprising that some of the most compelling new films confront the idealistic notion of America—and how promises of progress and justice are so often blunted by the grim realities of racism, poverty, and polarization.