—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.
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.
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?”
Far from making Americans crave stability, the pandemic underscores how everything is up for grabs.
Fear sweeps the land. Many businesses collapse. Some huge fortunes are made. Panicked consumers stockpile paper, food, and weapons. The government’s reaction is inconsistent and ineffectual. Ordinary commerce grinds to a halt; investors can find no safe assets. Political factionalism grows more intense. Everything falls apart.
This was all as true of revolutionary France in 1789 and 1790 as it is of the United States today. Are we at the beginning of a revolution that has yet to be named? Do we want to be? That we are on the verge of a major transformation seems obvious. The onset of the next Depression, a challenge akin to World War II, a national midlife crisis—these comparisons have been offered and many more. But few are calling our current moment a revolution, and some have suggested that the coronavirus pandemic—coinciding as it has with the surge in Joe Biden’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and the decline of Bernie Sanders’s—marks the end of any such possibility. “The Coronavirus Killed the Revolution,” declared the headline of a recent essay in The Atlantic by Shadi Hamid, who argued that the COVID-19 crisis makes people crave “normalcy” over deep structural change. As a historian of 18th- and 19th-century France, I think claims like these are mistaken.
How the coronavirus travels through the air has become one of the most divisive debates in this pandemic.
Updated at 7:22 p.m. ET on April 4, 2020.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, many people are now overthinking things they never used to think about at all. Can you go outside? What if you’re walking downwind of another person? What if you’re stuck waiting at a crosswalk and someone is there? What if you’re going for a run, and another runner is heading toward you, and the sidewalk is narrow? Suddenly, daily mundanities seem to demand strategy.
Much of this confusion stems from the shifting conversation around the pandemic. Thus far, the official line has been that the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, could be transmitted only through close contact with infected people or contaminated surfaces. But recently, news reports have suggested that the coronavirus can spread through the air. After 60 choir members in Washington State rehearsed together, 45 fell sick, even though no one seemed symptomatic at the time. Now people who were already feeling cooped up are worrying about going outside. Many state guidelines are ambiguous, and medical advice can muddy matters further. When the writer Deborah Copaken came down with COVID-19 symptoms, her doctor chided her for riding her bike through New York City a week earlier. Going outside in the city wasn’t safe, the physician implied, with “viral load everywhere.”
More young people in the South seem to be dying from COVID-19. Why?
In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus has gone from a novel, distant threat to an enemy besieging cities and towns across the world. The burden of COVID-19 and the economic upheaval wrought by the measures to contain it feel epochal. Humanity now has a common foe, and we will grow increasingly familiar with its face.
Yet plenty of this virus’s aspects remain unknown. The developing wisdom—earned the hard way in Wuhan, Washington, and Italy—has been that older people and sicker people are substantially more likely to suffer severe illness or die from COVID-19 than their younger, healthier counterparts. Older people are much more likely than young people to have lung disease, kidney disease, hypertension, or heart disease, and those conditions are more likely to transform a coronavirus infection into something nastier. But what happens when these assumptions don’t hold up, and the young people battling the pandemic share the same risks?
The Trump administration has just released the model for the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic in America. We can expect a lot of back-and-forth about whether its mortality estimates are too high or low. And its wide range of possible outcomes is certainly confusing: What’s the right number? The answer is both difficult and simple. Here’s the difficult part: There is no right answer. But here’s the simple part: Right answers are not what epidemiological models are for.
Epidemiologists routinely turn to models to predict the progression of an infectious disease. Fighting public suspicion of these models is as old as modern epidemiology, which traces its origins back to John Snow’s famous cholera maps in 1854. Those maps proved, for the first time, that London’s terrible affliction was spreading through crystal-clear fresh water that came out of pumps, not the city’s foul-smelling air. Many people didn’t believe Snow, because they lived in a world without a clear understanding of germ theory and only the most rudimentary microscopes.
Trump is utterly unsuited to deal with this crisis, either intellectually or temperamentally.
For his entire adult life, and for his entire presidency, Donald Trump has created his own alternate reality, complete with his own alternate set of facts. He has shown himself to be erratic, impulsive, narcissistic, vindictive, cruel, mendacious, and devoid of empathy. None of that is new.
But we’re now entering the most dangerous phase of the Trump presidency. The pain and hardship that the United States is only beginning to experience stem from a crisis that the president is utterly unsuited to deal with, either intellectually or temperamentally. When things were going relatively well, the nation could more easily absorb the costs of Trump’s psychological and moral distortions and disfigurements. But those days are behind us. The coronavirus pandemic has created the conditions that can catalyze a destructive set of responses from an individual with Trump’s characterological defects and disordered personality.
The shutdowns happened remarkably quickly, but the process of resuming our lives will be far more muddled.
Get your battle rhythm, I keep telling myself, as I put on my oversize sweatpants for the third day in a row. Staying inside, away from our offices, routines, and community, feels jarring even for those who, on a rational level, understand the need for extreme social distancing. The good side is having more family time. But everything seems upended, even to homeland-security professionals who argued for upending everything to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Just as seasickness abates once you can see the shore, the disruptions that the country is now experiencing would be easier to manage if we knew they would end soon. The community-isolation effort happened remarkably fast—within days, whole communities all but closed down, and earlier this week the federal government finally recommended the same. On Thursday, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered the entire state of California to stay home “until further notice.” But the way the crisis ends will be far more muddled. There isn’t going to be one all-clear signal—and certainly not one anytime soon.
The coronavirus outbreak may last for a year or two, but some elements of pre-pandemic life will likely be won back in the meantime.
Updated at 4:40 ET on March 30, 2020.
The new coronavirus has brought American life to a near standstill, closing businesses, canceling large gatherings, and keeping people at home. All of those people must surely be wondering: When will things return to normal?
The answer is simple, if not exactly satisfying: when enough of the population—possibly 60 or 80 percent of people—is resistant to COVID-19 to stifle the disease’s spread from person to person. That is the end goal, although no one knows exactly how long it will take to get there.
There are two realistic paths to achieving this “population-level immunity.” One is the development of a vaccine. The other is for the disease to work its way through the population, surely killing many, but also leaving many others—those who contract the disease and then recover—immune. “They’re just Teflon at that point,” meaning they can’t get infected again and they won’t pass on the disease, explains Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at UC Irvine. Once enough people reach Teflon status—though we don’t yet know if recovering from the disease confers any immunity at all, let alone lifelong immunity—normalcy will be restored. (It may also turn out to be the case that people who are immune to the disease can still pass it on under certain circumstances.)*