—The 2016 presidential election is just two days away. Follow the news with our politics team here. The latest development: Donald Trump was temporarily rushed off stage at a campaign rally in Nevada Saturday night after fighting allegedly broke out in the crowd.
—Tens of thousands of South Koreans participated in protests this weekend demanding the resignation of President Park Geun-hye over a corruption scandal.
—U.S.-backed Iraqi forces continued their drive into the ISIS-held city of Mosul in Iraq, while U.S.-backed Syrian forces say they will begin an offensive to retake Raqqa, the terrorist group’s stronghold in Syria.
—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).
Yemeni Rebels Release Detained Ex-Marine After More Than a Year
An American held in Yemen for more than a year has been released and flown to Oman following diplomatic negotiations, and is expected to return to the United States.
The man was taken from Sanaa, Yemen's capital, to Oman, The New York Timesreported Sunday. U.S. State Secretary John Kerry was involved in the talks that led to his release.
The Times identified the man as Wallead Yusuf Pitts Luqman, a 37-year-old former Marine who was abducted in April 2015 as he tried to leave Yemen, where he had taught English for two years. Luqman was held by the Houthis, the Shiite rebel group that has controlled Sanaa since 2014 and which a Saudi-led coalition has been trying to dislodge with air strikes since March. Oman has claimed neutrality in the conflict, which has killed more than 10,000 people, according to the latest United Nations estimates.
Oman has been instrumental in facilitating the return of some Americans held by the Houthis during the conflict. In September 2015, two men who were held for six months were sent to Oman and then transported back to the U.S.
Syrian forces said Sunday they have begun a military operation to capture Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State in Syria.
The Syria Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab militias backed by the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, made the announcement at a press conference in Ain Issa, about 50 kilometers, or 30 miles, away from Raqqa, the BBC reported. The force, formed in early 2015, has made gains in areas north of Raqqa.
In Iraq, U.S.-backed Iraqi forces continued their offensive against ISIS fighters in Mosul, which has been under the terrorist group’s control since June 2014. The military campaign consists of about 100,000 troops from government security forces and Shiite and Kurdish militias, according to Reuters. ISIS fighters have fought back by targeting troops with car bombs and ambushes.
The simultaneous attacks could help decrease the number of safe havens for ISIS fighters. But the fight for Raqqa could prove more difficult than the one for Mosul, explained Sarah El Deeb in the AP last month:
Perhaps that’s because Syria is proving to be a more daunting terrain than Iraq. Going after ISIS-held Raqqa would mean moving deeper into an explosive mix of regional and international rivalries, including a proxy war that has pitted the United States against Russia and its allies.
The fight against ISIS in northeastern Syria also underlines a U.S. reliance on its one effective partner there—Syria’s Kurds. But such an alliance for a Raqqa campaign threatens to ignite a new conflict, with another U.S. partner, NATO member Turkey, and its allied Syrian rebels.
There are about 1 million people living in Raqqa, and nearly 200,000 in Mosul.
Thousands Protest South Korea's President Over Political Scandal
On Friday, Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s president, gave an emotional televised address to South Koreans, apologizing for her involvement in a political scandal that has captivated the nation. A day later, tens of thousands of protesters filled the streets in the heart of Seoul, demanding she resign.
Park admitted last week that she relied on the private counsel of a longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, in making decisions as head of state and allowed Choi to help edit presidential speeches. Police have arrested Choi, who has no official government position, for charges of attempted fraud and abuse of authority. Prosecutors say Choi used her close relationship with Park to collect money for her nonprofit foundations. One of Park’s top advisers, Ahn Chong-bum, is suspected of collaborating with Choi, and resigned last week.
Many South Koreans have expressed outrage over the possibility that Choi has influenced government decisions. Rallies against Park began last week and have grown steadily. Police estimated 50,000 people participated in Saturday’s protest, making it one of the largest held in the capital in recent years, according to Yonhap News Agency, South Korea’s largest news organization.
“I came out today because this is not the country I want to pass on to my children," Choi Kyung-ha, a protester, told the AP Saturday. “My kids have asked me who Choi Soon-sil was and whether she’s the real president, and I couldn’t provide an answer.”
Park said she takes responsibility for the scandal, calling it a “mistake.”
“I put too much faith in a personal relationship and didn't look carefully at what was happening," she said at Friday’s public address. "Sad thoughts trouble my sleep at night. I realize that whatever I do, it will be difficult to mend the hearts of the people, and then I feel a sense of shame and ask myself, 'Is this the reason I became president?'"
Park is in her fourth year of a five-year term. Her approval rating has plummeted to 5 percent since the scandal emerged, the lowest for any leader of the country in nearly 70 years.
The president is failing, and Americans are paying for his failures.
“I don’t take responsibility at all,” said President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden on March 13. Those words will probably end up as the epitaph of his presidency, the single sentence that sums it all up.
Trump now fancies himself a “wartime president.” How is his war going? By the end of March, the coronavirus had killed more Americans than the 9/11 attacks. By the first weekend in April, the virus had killed more Americans than any single battle of the Civil War. By Easter, it may have killed more Americans than the Korean War. On the present trajectory, it will kill, by late April, more Americans than Vietnam. Having earlier promised that casualties could be held near zero, Trump now claims he will have done a “very good job” if the toll is held below 200,000 dead.
Critics are letting their disdain for the president blind them to geopolitical realities.
When a new coronavirus emerged in China and began spreading around the world, including in the United States, President Donald Trump’s many critics in the American foreign-policy establishment were quick to identify him as part of the problem. Trump had campaigned on an “America first” foreign policy, which after his victory was enshrined in the official National Security Strategy that his administration published in 2017. At the time, I served in the administration and orchestrated the writing of that document. In the years since, Trump has been criticized for supposedly overturning the post–World War II order and rejecting the role the United States has long played in the world. Amid a global pandemic, he’s being accused—on this site and elsewhere—of alienating allies, undercutting multinational cooperation, and causing America to fight the coronavirus alone.
The U.S. may end up with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the industrialized world. This is how it’s going to play out.
Three months ago, no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country, infecting at least 446,000 people whom we know about, and many more whom we do not. It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.
A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”
The coronavirus pandemic and a chapter of history that should have expired long ago
In a large windowlessroom in the bowels of the CIA, there is a sign that reads Every day is September 12th. When I first saw those words, during a tour of the agency’s operations, I felt conflicted. As a New Yorker who witnessed the 9/11 attacks, I once felt that way myself, but by the time I saw the sign, during the second term of the Obama administration, it seemed to ignore all the things that our country had gotten wrong because of that mindset. Now, as COVID-19 has transformed the way that Americans live, and threatens to claim exponentially more lives than any terrorist has, it is time to finally end the chapter of our history that began on September 11, 2001.
I say that as someone whose life was shaped by 9/11. I was a 24-year-old graduate student working on a city-council campaign when I watched the second plane curve into the World Trade Center and then saw the first tower collapse. Everything that I’d done in my life up to that point suddenly seemed trivial. I walked several miles to my apartment, as my fellow New Yorkers came out into the streets to be near one another (as we can’t be today). In the days that followed, my Queens neighborhood was the setting for a number of funerals for firemen. I will never forget the image of one devastated widow sitting in a lawn chair in her front yard, receiving condolences from a line of the toughest—but most broken—men I had ever seen.
What is actually known about hydroxychloroquine, the medication that Trump is fixated on recommending for COVID-19
Two weeks ago, French doctors published a provocative observation in a microbiology journal. In the absence of a known treatment for COVID-19, the doctors had taken to experimentation with a potent drug known as hydroxychloroquine. For decades, the drug has been used to treat malaria—which is caused by a parasite, not a virus. In six patients with COVID-19, the doctors combined hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin (known to many as “Z-Pak,” an antibiotic that kills bacteria, not viruses) and reported that after six days of this regimen, all six people tested negative for the virus.
The report caught the eye of the celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, who has since appeared on Fox News to talk about hydroxychloroquine 21 times. As Oz put it to Sean Hannity, “This French doctor, [Didier] Raoult, a very famous infectious-disease specialist, had done some interesting work at a pilot study showing that he could get rid of the virus in six days in 100 percent of the patients he treated.” Raoult has made news in recent years as a pan-disciplinary provocateur; he has questioned climate change and Darwinian evolution. On January 21, at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in China, Raoult said in a YouTube video, “The fact that people have died of coronavirus in China, you know, I don’t feel very concerned.” Last week, Oz, who has been advising the president on the coronavirus, described Raoult to Hannity as “very impressive.” Oz told Hannity that he had informed the White House as much.
Widespread social-distancing measures have produced some jarring effects across land, air, and sea.
From inside her living room in London, Paula Koelemeijer can feel the world around her growing quieter.
Koelemeijer, a seismologist, has a miniature seismometer sitting on a concrete slab at the base of her first-floor fireplace. The apparatus, though smaller than a box of tissues, can sense all kinds of movement, from the rattle of trains on the tracks near Koelemeijer’s home to the waves of earthquakes rolling in from afar. Since the United Kingdom announced stricter social-distancing rules last month, telling residents not to leave their home except for essential reasons, the seismometer has registered a sharp decrease in the vibrations produced by human activity.
With fewer trains, buses, and people pounding the pavement, the usual hum of public life has vanished, and so has its dependable rhythms: Before the spread of COVID-19 shut down the city, Koelemeijer could plot the seismometer’s data and see the train schedule reflected in the spikes, down to the minute. Now, with fewer trains running, the spikes seem to come at random.
Defenders of the president seem to have settled on the excuse that the White House botched its pandemic preparations because it was too distracted by the drama on Capitol Hill.
“The White House was focused on addressing the threat to its survival,” argued the columnist Henry Olson in The Washington Post, “not on preparing for a threat from China that might not even materialize.”
Senator Tom Cotton has also adopted the theory, telling Politico, “It’s unfortunate that during the early days of a global pandemic, the Senate was paralyzed by a partisan impeachment trial.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been pushing this theory too, telling the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that the Senate impeachment trial “diverted the attention of the government” from the virus, “because everything every day was all about impeachment.”
The president is inescapable right now. That’s by design.
When she finishes her 12-hour shift in the intensive-care unit at Riverside Community Hospital, Katherine Montanino stuffs her clothes into a dirty-linen bag and swaps out her soiled shoes for a fresh pair. Arriving home, she takes a shower before she hugs her family. Then she might flip on the television to see what President Donald Trump is saying about the virus she’s straining to avoid.
The 44-year-old nurse from Riverside, California, voted for Trump and might do it again. Yet with her colleagues rationing masks and the number of COVID-19 cases growing, Trump’s digressions into partisan politics leave her cold. “It’s one of the things I wish he would just stop,” she told me. “I understand he’s trying to build for the presidential campaign coming up. But it’s not the time right now. It’s not about him. Honestly, it’s about life and death.”
The country has reasserted its foundational stability, and in doing so made real change more likely once this is all over.
Perhaps a testament to how close Britain has come to losing its way is the fact that it took a pandemic, an emergency of foggy complexity, for the country to get back on its path. This was a weekend that felt defining, not just for the immediate story, the coronavirus, but for British politics—and for Britain itself.
It was not a good weekend. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized, and Britain’s death toll jumped as another 621 people died over 24 hours. The gravity of the situation moved the Queen to deliver an emergency address to the nation, something she has done only a handful of times in her 68-year reign. This was not a weekend in which Britain reached, or even caught a glimpse of, the peak of the coronavirus outbreak—never mind found a route back down from it and off the mountain.
How does it work? And will it infringe on privacy rights?
It’s a cool fall evening in September 2020. With a bottle of wine in hand, you slide into the front seat of your car to drive to a dinner party with close friends. It’s been eight months since you’ve seen most of them, at least outside of a computer screen.
As you’re pulling out of the neighborhood, you feel your phone buzz. It’s an alert from the new agency overseeing the coronavirus outbreak. On the lock screen, you can read the words “BE ADVISED.” Your heart sinks as you unlock the phone to read the rest of the message:
We have determined that in the past few days, you may have interacted with somebody who has recently tested positive for COVID-19. There is no need to panic. But for the sake of your family, friends, and neighbors, we are relying on your support. As soon as you can, please …