—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.
A classic meme about being radicalized is now so absurd that it means almost nothing at all.
Have you fallen for a famous great ape, the most lovable star of something called the “MonsterVerse”? You’re Kong-pilled. Have you been convinced by a local restaurateur that an imported Italian oil is actually worth the expense? You’re truffle-pilled. Have you inadvertently become entranced by Marxist perspectives on mass media and popular culture? You’re Horkheimer and Adorno–pilled.
All over the internet, people are claiming to be “pilled” by anything you can imagine. Like lots of memes, this one comes from pop culture. In the 1999 movie The Matrix, the protagonist is presented with a choice: Take a red pill or a blue pill. The red pill will wake you up to all the horrors of reality, and the blue pill will let you stay clueless and happy in a simulated dreamworld. But unlike lots of memes, this one didn’t start as a neutral joke about a famous movie. About eight years ago, boys who were spending too much time on the internet—usually on 4chan or Reddit—began to use taking the red pill as code for “choosing to realize that feminism is destroying society and my life.” The phrase was adopted by other far-right political subcultures and slowly came to mean that a person had been radicalized in some way.
The CDC has finally said what scientists have been screaming for months: The coronavirus is overwhelmingly spread through the air, not via surfaces.
Last week, the CDC acknowledged what many of us have been saying for almost nine months about cleaning surfaces to prevent transmission by touch of the coronavirus: It’s pure hygiene theater.
“Based on available epidemiological data and studies of environmental transmission factors,” the CDC concluded, “surface transmission is not the main route by which SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and the risk is considered to be low.” In other words: You can put away the bleach, cancel your recurring Amazon subscription for disinfectant wipes, and stop punishing every square inch of classroom floor, restaurant table, and train seat with high-tech antimicrobial blasts. COVID-19 is airborne: It spreads through tiny aerosolized droplets that linger in the air in unventilated spaces. Touching stuff just doesn’t carry much risk, and more people should say so, very loudly.
Misperceptions and rage are blinding Republicans—and their voter-suppression measures may backfire.
It’s not only Georgia.
In every state where Republicans control a chamber of the legislature, bills to restrict voting are advancing fast. Arizona and Texas Republicans have acted especially aggressively to choke off unwanted voters in time for 2022.
Arizona Republicans propose to reduce the number of days for early voting. They want to purge voter rolls of people who missed the previous election. They want to cut off mail-in balloting five days before Election Day. And they want to require that affidavits of identity accompany any ballot that is mailed in.
Texas Republicans are pushing a bill to limit early voting, prohibit drive-through voting, limit the number of ballot drop-off locations, and restrict local officials’ ability to publicize voting by mail.
The recent wave of anti-trans legislation follows a decades-long pattern of the GOP targeting those they think lack the numbers or votes to properly fight back.
Ken Mehlman wanted to apologize. Speaking with The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder in 2010, the former Republican National Committee chair came out as gay, and acknowledged that, despite being a party leader, he had not worked against the GOP’s strategy of setting up anti-marriage-equality referendums in key states prior to the 2004 election.
“Mehlman said at the time that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus,” Ambinder wrote. He added that Mehlman “often wondered why gay voters never formed common cause with Republican opponents of Islamic jihad, which he called ‘the greatest anti-gay force in the world right now.’”
The interview represented a shift in conservative politics, as the Republican Party moved from demonizing one group of Americans to another. The time for blaming the nation’s problems on gay people was over; now was the time to come together as a country and blame our problems on Muslims. For the past 30 years, the GOP has pursued a consistent strategy: Find a misunderstood or marginalized group, convince voters that the members of that group pose an existential threat to society, and then ride to victory on the promise of using state power to crush them.
A pause is just that—a pause—in which health officials can reevaluate the data at hand.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has entered regulatory purgatory. This morning, the CDC and FDA jointly recommended, “out of an abundance of caution,” a nationwide halt to the single shot’s rollout. The two agencies are investigating a rare blood-clotting disorder: In the six cases reported so far, all in the United States, women ages 18 to 48 developed an unusual type of blood clot within about two weeks of receiving the company’s inoculation.
Experts haven’t yet conclusively determined whether J&J’s vaccine is directly causing these strange clots, or how frequently the condition might be occurring, because they’re relying largely on people reporting their health conditions to federal agencies. Roughly 7 million doses of the vaccine have been administered so far in the United States; among them were about 1 million women under the age of 50. “I think it’s reasonable to say it is a rare event, but I don’t think we should go into false precision in this kind of situation,” Saad Omer, a vaccine expert at Yale, told me. “Our numerators and denominators are still emerging.”
Canada has universal health care and millions of doses on order. So why are so few of its citizens vaccinated?
By the time you read this, at least a quarter of Americans will have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. It’s a stunning turnaround for a country where a bungled early response, inadequate financial support to keep people home, and a mishmash of mask requirements have led to more than 30 million infections and more than 554,000 deaths.
Just north of the border, Canadians—usually so smug about our universal health care—are looking on with jealousy. “Here, vaccine envy has turned into a national psychosis, another reason to beat ourselves up for some fatal national flaw,” wrote Alan Freeman, a journalist turned public servant and academic on iPolitics, a Canadian news website. In The Globe and Mail, the columnist Ian Brown retells an encounter with a vaccinated person: “I immediately wanted revenge. Nothing serious: steal his car, maybe, or his wallet.”
In 1975, he failed to see what America owed the Vietnamese who had bet their lives on American promises.
If the purpose of the Afghan War was to prevent terrorists from using Afghanistan to stage attacks on the United States, America could have declared victory and gone home years ago. But if the purpose was also to help build a durable state—to prevent the Taliban from taking power again, destroying the hard-won progress made by millions of Afghan citizens, and perhaps allowing radical Islamists to regain a base on Afghan soil—then the longest war in U.S. history is ending in defeat. President Joe Biden’s announcement that all American forces will be withdrawn by September 11—a neat two decades after the attacks that propelled the U.S. into Afghanistan—simply gives a date after which the clock on the demise of the Afghan government will begin to tick.
My son does an average of five or six hours of homework every night. Is this normal?
Editor’s Note: Every Tuesday, Abby Freireich and Brian Platzer take questions from readers about their kids’ education. Have one? Email them at email@example.com.
Dear Abby and Brian,
My son, who is in ninth grade, is a really good student, but I’m worried he’s working far too much. He does an average of five or six hours of homework every weeknight, and that’s on top of spending most of the weekend writing essays or studying for tests. His school says that each of his five main classes (English, history, math, language, and science) can assign no more than 30 minutes a night and that electives can assign no more than one hour a week. That should look like something around three hours a night, which is a lot but at least more manageable.
The singer’s rerecording of her second album makes a statement about her past—and delivers a blow to her rivals.
At 18, Taylor Swift had some regrets. Across her smash second album, Fearless, Swift sang about moments she wanted to relive and, in some cases, rewrite. “Wish you could go back / And tell yourself what you know now,” she said on “15,” a reminiscence about her freshman year of high school. On “White Horse,” she chided, “Stupid girl, I should’ve known,” as she thought back to a breakup. The album captured the act of painting over naïveté with experience—a common process in adolescence, when a couple of months of aging can feel like a lifetime of education.
The Taylor Swift who’s now 31 does not sound like she wants to change her past. Her new rerecording of Fearless, titled Fearless (Taylor’s Version), simply affirms who she was in 2008. Her voice has deepened, she sometimes emphasizes fresh syllables, and her team has tweaked some instrumentation and sonic mixing, but the compositions are fundamentally the same. If notes, lyrics, or tempos have shifted, you can isolate how only with careful use of the pause button. “You Belong With Me” remains one of the best songs in pop history, and the pre-chorus simile in “Breathe” is still kind of clunky. Swift’s faithfulness to her teenage vision is unexpectedly moving. Think back to something you expended a lot of effort on 13 years ago. Does it make you cringe? She’s telling you to go easier on your past self.
Image above: Glacier National Park, in Montana, as seen from the Blackfeet Reservation, near Duck Lake.
This article was published online on April 12, 2021.
In 1851, members of a California state militia called the Mariposa Battalion became the first white men to lay eyes on Yosemite Valley. The group was largely made up of miners. They had been scouring the western slopes of the Sierra when they happened upon the granite valley that Native peoples had long referred to as “the place of a gaping mouth.” Lafayette Bunnell, a physician attached to the militia, found himself awestruck. “None but those who have visited this most wonderful valley, can even imagine the feelings with which I looked upon the view,” he later wrote. “A peculiar exalted sensation seemed to fill my whole being, and I found my eyes in tears.” Many of those who have followed in Bunnell’s footsteps over the past 170 years, walking alongside the Merced River or gazing upon the god-rock of El Capitan, have been similarly struck by the sense that they were in the presence of the divine.