—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.
Three Atlantic writers discuss the HBO epic’s divisive series finale, which tries to break the wheel one last time.
Every week for the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, three Atlantic staffers have been discussing new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners were made available to critics in advance this year, we’ll be posting our thoughts on the series finale in installments.
It was a blockbuster discovery at the time. The team found that a less active version of the gene was more common among 454 people who had mood disorders than in 570 who did not. In theory, anyone who had this particular gene variant could be at higher risk for depression, and that finding, they said, might help in diagnosing such disorders, assessing suicidal behavior, or even predicting a person’s response to antidepressants.
Back then, tools for sequencing DNA weren’t as cheap or powerful as they are today. When researchers wanted to work out which genes might affect a disease or trait, they made educated guesses, and picked likely “candidate genes.” For depression, SLC6A4 seemed like a great candidate: It’s responsible for getting a chemical called serotonin into brain cells, and serotonin had already been linked to mood and depression. Over two decades, this one gene inspired at least 450 research papers.
Credentialed authorities are comically bad at predicting the future. But reliable forecasting is possible.
The bet was on, and it was over the fate of humanity. On one side was the Stanford biologist Paul R. Ehrlich. In his 1968 best seller, The Population Bomb, Ehrlich insisted that it was too late to prevent a doomsday apocalypse resulting from overpopulation. Resource shortages would cause hundreds of millions of starvation deaths within a decade. It was cold, hard math: The human population was growing exponentially; the food supply was not. Ehrlich was an accomplished butterfly specialist. He knew that nature did not regulate animal populations delicately. Populations exploded, blowing past the available resources, and then crashed.
In his book, Ehrlich played out hypothetical scenarios that represented “the kinds of disasters that will occur.” In the worst-case scenario, famine rages across the planet. Russia, China, and the United States are dragged into nuclear war, and the resulting environmental degradation soon extinguishes the human race. In the “cheerful” scenario, population controls begin. Famine spreads, and countries teeter, but the major death wave ends in the mid-1980s. Only half a billion or so people die of starvation. “I challenge you to create one more optimistic,” Ehrlich wrote, adding that he would not count scenarios involving benevolent aliens bearing care packages.
To save the Church, Catholics must detach themselves from the clerical hierarchy—and take the faith back into their own hands.
To feel relief at my mother’s being dead was once unthinkable, but then the news came from Ireland. It would have crushed her. An immigrant’s daughter, my mother lived with an eye cast back to the old country, the land against which she measured every virtue. Ireland was heaven to her, and the Catholic Church was heaven’s choir. Then came the Ryan Report.
Not long before The Boston Globe began publishing its series on predator priests, in 2002—the “Spotlight” series that became a movie of the same name—the government of Ireland established a commission, ultimately chaired by Judge Sean Ryan, to investigate accounts and rumors of child abuse in Ireland’s residential institutions for children, nearly all of which were run by the Catholic Church.
The German chancellor has shown how to win and keep power in a man’s world.
To the six women currently running in the 2020 presidential race, I offer this advice: Study German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the world’s most successful living politician, on the basis of both achievement and longevity. Now in her 14th year as chancellor of Europe’s powerhouse, Merkel has upended the rules of the male-dominated German political culture, and transformed her country along the way.
Without fanfare, Merkel made German society friendlier to the ambitions of women. Merkel’s handpicked successor to lead the Christian Democratic Union is a woman, there are six other women in her cabinet, and women abound in her circle of advisers. Alexander Gauland, the leader of Germany’s far-right political party AfD, recently asked, “Are there no men left in the CDU?” The party still has quite a few men; they just don’t run it any longer.
No president I know of has asserted a blanket power to reject any request that doesn’t suit him—until Donald Trump.
In my long career as an academic jack-of-all-trades, I sometimes teach law students Jurisprudence—that is, Philosophy of Law. The course begins with the question “What is law?” and its corollary, “What is lawlessness?”
The latter comes in two flavors. The first is anarchy—Hobbes’s “war of all against all,” a Mad Max moonscape in which only stealth and brute force provide even a semblance of safety. Such situations existed for millennia and, though relatively rare, exist in remote parts of the globe today.
But there is an authoritarian lawlessness that is far more common in the 21st century, and next time I teach the course, I will have the most precise example of this second version I have ever seen: the dispute over 26 U.S. Code § 6103(f)(1), which reads: “Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary [of the Treasury] shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request,” subject only to a requirement that the return be considered in closed session.
It expands by 10,000 times in a fraction of a second, it’s 100,000 times softer than Jell-O, and it fends off sharks and Priuses alike.
At first glance, the hagfish—a sinuous, tubular animal with pink-grey skin and a paddle-shaped tail—looks very much like an eel. Naturalists can tell the two apart because hagfish, unlike other fish, lack backbones (and, also, jaws). For everyone else, there’s an even easier method. “Look at the hand holding the fish,” the marine biologist Andrew Thaler once noted. “Is it completely covered in slime? Then, it’s a hagfish.”
Hagfish produce slime the way humans produce opinions—readily, swiftly, defensively, and prodigiously. They slime when attacked or simply when stressed. On July 14, 2017, a truck full of hagfishoverturned on an Oregon highway. The animals were destined for South Korea, where they are eaten as a delicacy, but instead, they were strewn across a stretch of Highway 101, covering the road (and at least one unfortunate car) in slime.
The send-off to Season 44 might end up functioning as a send-off to a particularly toothless era for the show.
Saturday Night Live opened the last episode of its 44th season with a sketch featuring Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, sitting in the Oval Office, telling a few jokes, and then singing a song with a coterie of characters from his administration. That might sound like par for the course for this show, but it was actually Baldwin’s first appearance in character sinceMarch, when SNL mocked the president’sreaction to the Mueller report. Almost three years into a presidency one could charitably describe as newsworthy, the best this show could come up with for a season finale was Trump singing Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” and shimmying behind his desk, as if daring the audience to, well, stop him.
The brewing news going into last night’s episode was that Kate McKinnon, the indisputable star of this era of SNL, might be departing for greener pastures. Her contract is up as of now and she may be ready to move on to movie stardom like countless breakout actors before her. But if this was her last hurrah, there was little sign of it, and certainly no grand send-off like the ones Kristen Wiig or Bill Hader got. Instead, there was the same slightly lackluster mix of topical material and unmemorable goofy sketch writing that has defined the show in recent years. SNL has survived for so many decades by knowing when to pull the trigger on a revamp, and Baldwin’s dismal karaoke work last night was the surest sign yet that something needs to change.
The French and Italian politicians see different futures for the continent. Both face tests in this week’s European Parliament elections.
PARIS—French President Emmanuel Macron and Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and interior minister, are from the same generation, but more than the Alps divides them.
Macron always wears a suit and tie, and has a penchant for lofty rhetoric and formal ceremonies. Salvini likes sweatshirts that say Italia, rails against illegal immigration, and tweets pictures of himself eating Nutella. The differences go beyond style. Their dueling visions for the future of Europe will be tested in elections for the European Parliament this week.
The Parliament has limited powers and the vote, to be held across the bloc’s 28 countries May 23–26, is generally seen as a test of voter sentiment across member states. But this time more than ever—after Brexit and with Trump rattling the transatlantic alliance—it’s also a test of which Europe will prevail: Macron’s call for a more top-down union that shares responsibilities for borders, defense, and the environment, and maybe more; or Salvini’s euroskeptic one, a “Europe of nations” in which each country retains more sovereignty.
The endless flow of content doesn’t need to make sense to create engagement.
YouTube is designed to catch you and not let go. Sometimes I access the site just to watch one thing, but then one of the related videos catches my eye. I watch that one, then another and another, and soon a five-minute visit has stretched far longer. If it’s half an hour of movie trailers, then I’m just indulging in a guilty pleasure. But what if I followed a link to “Q—The Plan to Save the World” and wound up staying for one outlandish conspiracy video after another? YouTube’s associative linking is designed to keep me clicking and watching. It has turned into a mechanism for political indoctrination, suggesting through sheer repetition that an international cabal is threatening to take over the world.