2015 Paris attacks suspect: Deaths of 130 “nothing personal”

PARIS — The key defendant in the 2015 Paris attacks trial said Wednesday that the Islamic State network which struck the city was attacking France, and that the deaths of 130 people was “nothing personal.”

Wearing all black and declining to remove his black mask, Salah Abdeslam was the last of the 14 defendants present in the custom-built courtroom to speak.

Nine Islamic State group gunmen and suicide bombers struck within minutes of one another at several locations around Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, beginning at the national soccer stadium and ending with a bloodbath inside the Bataclan concert hall. It was the deadliest violence to strike France since World War II and among the worst terror attacks to hit the West.

Abdeslam is the only survivor of that cell, most of whose members were French or Belgian. He fled the city after discarding his malfunctioning suicide vest. The two people he called upon to drive through the night from Brussels to Paris and pick him up are among the 20 men on trial. Six are being tried in absentia.

Abdeslam said the attack was revenge for French airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.

“We fought France, we attacked France, we targed the civilian population. It was nothing personal against them,” Abdeslam said. “I know my statement may be shocking, but it is not to dig the knife deeper in the wound but to be sincere towards those who are suffering immeasurable grief.”

The same network struck the Brussels airport and subway system in March 2016, killing another 32 people. Mohammed Abrini, also on trial in Paris, left Paris the night before the attack in November 2015 but took part in the Brussels attack. He acknowledged his role on Wednesday.

“In this evil that happened in France, I am neither the commander nor the architect. I provided no logistical nor financial help,” Abrini said.

5 takeaways after California governor handily defeats recall

California Gov. Gavin Newsom ably fended off a recall attempt from Republicans on Tuesday, changing the stakes of the contest from a referendum on his own performance and into a partisan fight over Trumpism and the coronavirus.

Five takeaways from Newsom’s victory:

COVID PRECAUTIONS CAN HELP DEMOCRATS

Republicans intended the recall to be a referendum on Democrats’ rule of California, and the homelessness, crime, high housing costs and energy problems that accompanied it. But in a bit of political maneuvering — and with the help of the spreading delta variant — Newsom turned it into a referendum on Republicans’ opposition to precautions against the coronavirus.

The Republicans running to replace Newsom opposed mask and vaccine mandates, and the California governor was happy to highlight that. Newsom aired an ad calling the recall “a matter of life and death” and accusing the top Republican candidate, talk radio host Larry Elder, of “peddling deadly conspiracy theories.”

Ironically, the recall gained steam after Newsom was caught in November at a lobbyist’s birthday party at a swanky Napa Valley restaurant — unmasked and in a large party that violated his own social distancing orders. But his strategists have been arguing for weeks that his leadership during the pandemic is a plus for him — and that other Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to lead on the issue.

In his remarks after winning, Newsom kept the emphasis on the virus. “I want to focus on what we said yes to as a state: We said ‘yes’ to science, we said ‘yes’ to vaccines, we said ‘yes’ to ending this pandemic,” the governor told reporters.

GOP REVIVES BASELESS FRAUD CLAIMS

Republicans’ groundless claims of election fraud aren’t going away anytime soon.

Even while ballots were still being cast, Republicans were claiming the election was “rigged.” It was a baseless allegation — and a strange one considering Republicans performed relatively well under the same California election system in November, gaining four congressional seats.

But former President Donald Trump’s false election fraud rhetoric quickly has burrowed into Republican politics. The former president enthusiastically added his own voice to the claims. And, several days before the polls closed, the Elder campaign bizarrely began circulating a link to a petition demanding an investigation into his loss, alleging widespread fraud — which some Republicans feared was a message that his voters shouldn’t even bother to show up Tuesday.

The recall was always a long shot in a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by nearly 2-to-1 and where the GOP hasn’t won a statewide election since 2006. But Republicans’ turn to conspiracy theories and baseless fraud claims to explain a loss that polls had indicated was coming for months shows the party won’t walk away from those suspicions. That led to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol after Trump’s defeat.

Notably, Elder seemed to try to climb down from the inflammatory election allegations Tuesday night. In his concession speech he told supporters: “Let’s be gracious in defeat.”

Still, some Californians worry about what could happen in their state.

“This is going to be the second election in a row where there are going to be aggressive, emotional charges of voter fraud,” said Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the University of Southern California. “I cannot see a positive out of it.”

NO LIGHT AT END OF THE TUNNEL FOR CALIFORNIA GOP

The recall offered California Republicans their only plausible shot at statewide office in one of the bluest states in the nation. The recall is a way to dodge a head-to-head match that would send voters to their regular partisan corners.

That’s what happened in 2003 when Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger won a recall against Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. Schwarzenegger’s moderate politics never would have won a GOP primary but were appealing enough to voters fed up with the incumbent. Some Republicans hoped that would happen again this year, with former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a moderate, on the ballot.

But there were two problems for the GOP. First, California is very different now compared to 2003 — it’s more liberal and more diverse. There are more than 3 million more registered Democrats in the state now than during the last recall, but nearly 400,000 fewer Republicans.

Second, Faulconer never caught on. Instead, Elder’s bombastic style, honed during his decades on talk radio and echoing Trump, vaulted him to the top of the Republican pack. Newsom, sensing a favorable contrast, started pounding Elder on the airwaves.

Some Republicans had hoped the populist approach of Elder, who is African American, could appeal to California’s diverse electorate. But that doesn’t seem to have worked.

“Larry Elder was exactly what Gavin Newsom needed,” said Rob Stutzman, a veteran California GOP strategist.

NEWSOM STEPS BACK FROM THE BRINK

There’s no question that Newsom won the recall election. But he might not have emerged unscathed.

When he was elected in 2018, Newsom was riding an anti-Trump wave in a state that saw itself as the heart of the “resistance” to Republican power in Washington. The former San Francisco mayor was mulled as a possible future presidential candidate.

Three years later, his state is reeling from a brutal drought and accompanying wildfires. Heat waves trigger rolling blackouts. Homelessness continues to plague the state’s megacities as the cost of housing shows no signs of letting up.

The recall demonstrated that Republicans are unlikely to beat Newsom in a partisan race. And the governor can boast of a lopsided win on Tuesday, though the precise margin likely won’t be known for weeks when all the ballots are counted.

But California has a large bench of Democrats who may be itching to move up and the state’s problems aren’t going away anytime soon. “I think there are Democrats who are watching this thing with their bibs on and their forks and knives out,” Stutzman said.

Newsom’s political operation was able to keep any major Democrats from running as an alternative in the recall, freeing him up to paint the effort as a partisan Republican scam. Will he be able to keep challengers out in 2022?

MUDDLED SIGNS FOR THE MIDTERMS

The recall is the first significant election of Joe Biden’s presidency and served as something of a political stress test for both parties ahead of next year’s midterms.

Democrats showed they could turn out their voters even as their party held the White House — a traditionally tough feat that is why the party in power usually loses seats in Congress in midterm elections. Republicans are trying to win back the House and Senate. Turnout in the recall was expected to be high — some experts predicted it’ll be in the neighborhood of the more than 12 million who voted in 2018 in California.

The rejection of the recall — and Elder — shows that a candidate who is too aligned with Trump remains toxic in some areas, both Democratic ones and also current political battlegrounds like formerly Republican Orange County.

Finally, the recall was a referendum on Newsom and how Californians wanted their state governed, particularly in regards to the coronavirus — an issue the governor has a lot of influence over. The midterms will be a referendum on Biden. The power the GOP could win — control of Congress — is not the executive branch, where coronavirus regulations have come from to date.

It’s not clear Democrats can mount the same defense of Congress as they did of their governor in the nation’s most populous state.

DoorDash Files Suit Against New York City Over Order Privacy

DoorDash Inc. sued New York City over a law that forces third-party food delivery services to share customer information, in what the company says is a “shocking and invasive intrusion of consumers’ privacy.”The law requires companies that provide eateries with online order and delivery services to share monthly information with restaurants who request the information on customers who have placed orders, including names, phone numbers and email addresses.DoorDash filed its lawsuit Wednesday in a Manhattan federal court less than a week after joining Grubhub Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc.’s Uber Eats in a suit over a 15% limit the city placed on commissions charged by delivery services. In the earlier complaint, the companies said the law is “nothing more than unconstitutional, harmful, and unnecessary government overreach that should be struck down.”The measures imposed by the city are part of a package of bills aimed at regulating the food-delivery industry, which faced scrutiny during the pandemic as their business skyrocketed when restaurants were forced to close their dining rooms.In the latest suit, DoorDash says the information-sharing law “imposes virtually no restrictions” on what restaurants can do with the data and doesn’t require eateries to secure the information once they receive it.DoorDash said the law undermines the privacy of city residents who trust companies like it with “sensitive personal data that they would not entrust to small businesses that do not have similar robust data safety and security protocols.”
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When diners go to restaurants in person, they don’t expect to have to disclose “the kind of sensitive personal information that the ordinance requires DoorDash to disclose,” the company said. “Customers will face a serious risk of harm from their personal data being shared with every restaurant that fulfills their order on DoorDash’s platform.”

DoorDash is asking a federal judge to issue an order blocking the bill from going into effect, saying it was enacted to reduce DoorDash’s profitability and “to allow restaurants to free-ride on DoorDash’s confidential, commercially valuable data.”

The company said the city’s ordinance is likely to backfire.

“Restaurants will use DoorDash’s trade secret data to compete directly with DoorDash, forcing DoorDash to modify its services in a way that will result in fewer resources being offered to restaurants, fewer earnings opportunities for delivery couriers, and fewer choices for New York City customers.”

The city’s Law Department didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment on the suit.

The case is DoorDash Inc. v City of New York, 21-cv-7695, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.

U.N. Urges Moratorium on Use of Face-Scanning Technology and AI That Threatens Human Rights

GENEVA — The U.N. human rights chief is calling for a moratorium on the use of artificial intelligence technology that poses a serious risk to human rights, including face-scanning systems that track people in public spaces.

Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, also said Wednesday that countries should expressly ban AI applications which don’t comply with international human rights law.

Applications that should be prohibited include government “social scoring” systems that judge people based on their behavior and certain AI-based tools that categorize people into clusters such as by ethnicity or gender.

AI-based technologies can be a force for good but they can also “have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights,” Bachelet said in a statement.
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Her comments came along with a new U.N. report that examines how countries and businesses have rushed into applying AI systems that affect people’s lives and livelihoods without setting up proper safeguards to prevent discrimination and other harms.

“This is not about not having AI,” Peggy Hicks, the rights office’s director of thematic engagement, told journalists as she presented the report in Geneva. “It’s about recognizing that if AI is going to be used in these human rights — very critical — function areas, that it’s got to be done the right way. And we simply haven’t yet put in place a framework that ensures that happens.”

Bachelet didn’t call for an outright ban of facial recognition technology, but said governments should halt the scanning of people’s features in real time until they can show the technology is accurate, won’t discriminate and meets certain privacy and data protection standards.

While countries weren’t mentioned by name in the report, China has been among the countries that have rolled out facial recognition technology — particularly for surveillance in the western region of Xinjiang, where many of its minority Uyghers live. The key authors of the report said naming specific countries wasn’t part of their mandate and doing so could even be counterproductive.

“In the Chinese context, as in other contexts, we are concerned about transparency and discriminatory applications that addresses particular communities,” said Hicks.

She cited several court cases in the United States and Australia where artificial intelligence had been wrongly applied..

The report also voices wariness about tools that try to deduce people’s emotional and mental states by analyzing their facial expressions or body movements, saying such technology is susceptible to bias, misinterpretations and lacks scientific basis.

“The use of emotion recognition systems by public authorities, for instance for singling out individuals for police stops or arrests or to assess the veracity of statements during interrogations, risks undermining human rights, such as the rights to privacy, to liberty and to a fair trial,” the report says.

The report’s recommendations echo the thinking of many political leaders in Western democracies, who hope to tap into AI’s economic and societal potential while addressing growing concerns about the reliability of tools that can track and profile individuals and make recommendations about who gets access to jobs, loans and educational opportunities.

European regulators have already taken steps to rein in the riskiest AI applications. Proposed regulations outlined by European Union officials this year would ban some uses of AI, such as real-time scanning of facial features, and tightly control others that could threaten people’s safety or rights.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has voiced similar concerns, though it hasn’t yet outlined a detailed approach to curtailing them. A newly formed group called the Trade and Technology Council, jointly led by American and European officials, has sought to collaborate on developing shared rules for AI and other tech policy.

Efforts to limit the riskiest uses of AI have been backed by Microsoft and other U.S. tech giants that hope to guide the rules affecting the technology. Microsoft has worked with and provided funding to the U.N. rights office to help improve its use of technology, but funding for the report came through the rights office’s regular budget, Hicks said.

Western countries have been at the forefront of expressing concerns about the discriminatory use of AI.

“If you think about the ways that AI could be used in a discriminatory fashion, or to further strengthen discriminatory tendencies, it is pretty scary,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo during a virtual conference in June. “We have to make sure we don’t let that happen.”

She was speaking with Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s executive vice president for the digital age, who suggested some AI uses should be off-limits completely in “democracies like ours.” She cited social scoring, which can close off someone’s privileges in society, and the “broad, blanket use of remote biometric identification in public space.”

———-

O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island.

President Biden to Meet With Business Leaders Over COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates

President Joe Biden was meeting Wednesday with the CEOs of Walt Disney and Columbia Sportswear, and other business executives and leaders to discuss his recently announced vaccine requirement for companies that employ at least 100 people.

The White House meeting comes less than a week after Biden announced that the Labor Department is working to require businesses with 100 or more employees to order those workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or show a negative test result at least weekly.

Some 100 million workers would be subject to the requirement, Biden said. The Labor Department is working to issue an emergency rule to implement the mandate.
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Biden announced the new mandate and several other steps last Thursday as part of a tougher effort by the administration to curb the surging delta variant of the coronavirus, which is responsible for sharp increase in U.S. infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

Just over half, or 54%, of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, data show.

Announcing the new steps last week, Biden sharply criticized the tens of millions of people who remain unvaccinated, despite the fact that the shots are free of charge and widely available.

“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” Biden said.

The business leaders and CEOs Biden is meeting with at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, part of the White House complex, either have put in place vaccine requirements or are working to implement such rules, the White House said.

Some business groups, including the Business Roundtable, welcomed the president’s announcement, while some Republicans accused Biden of overstepping his authority and have threatened to sue the administration over the vaccine mandate.

Numerous corporations, including Amtrak, Microsoft, United Airlines and Walt Disney issued vaccine mandates for their workforces before Biden’s announcement last week.

Also scheduled to attend Biden’s meeting are representatives from health insurer Kaiser Permanente, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream and Louisiana State University.

Josh Bolten, president and CEO of the Business Roundtable, was also scheduled to attend. The Roundtable represents more than 200 businesses that employ some 20 million people. Last week it issued a statement welcoming Biden’s announcement.

“America’s business leaders know how critical vaccination and testing are in defeating the pandemic,” Bolten said in a statement.

Norway’s ‘Climate Election’ Showed Voters Want Change. But Are They Ready to Give Up Oil?

Norwegian voters delivered a clear result when they went to the polls Monday in what has been dubbed the “climate election.” Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s right-wing coalition government will be out of power after eight years, and the climate crisis is firmly on the agenda.

Jonas Gahr Støre’s center-left Labor Party came away with 48 of 169 seats, meaning he will likely be leading the next government. Støre celebrated what he called voters’ desire for “change.” But, it’s less clear exactly what form that change will take for western Europe’s largest oil and gas producer.
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Støre now faces complex discussions with other left-leaning parties to form a coalition government. Climate policy is set to be a major point of contention between Labor’s preferred coalition partners. While the Socialist Left have campaigned to end further oil exploration, the more free-market Center Party wants to uphold the status quo.

Breaking up with oil and gas was always going to be difficult for the owner of the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund—valued at $1.4 trillion. North Sea oil and gas, which accounts for 14% of Norway’s GDP, 40% of exports, and employs 7% of its workforce, has made the country one of the richest in the world, by GDP per capita.

Yet, Norwegians also pride themselves on being environmentally conscious. How they choose to deal with this contradiction—and balance the needs for economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic—will offer clues about whether European voters are willing to make the hard choices on climate change.

“Oil and gas have always been the elephant in the room,” Fay Farstad, senior research fellow at CICERO Center for International Climate Research, a Norwegian climate research center, says. “This level of public debate on oil and gas in Norway is new in itself.”

Climate policy: Not just for Greens anymore

The release on Aug. 9 of the 2021 U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which predicted “unprecedented” and “irreversible” changes to the planet as a result of human activity, forced Norwegian voters to confront the consequences of their multi-billion-dollar industry.

In the month leading up to the September election, climate dominated the agenda on televised debates and national news. Along with inequality, the climate crisis was one of the top two priorities for voters, according to a poll by Aftenposten, Norway’s largest print newspaper. Shortly after the publication of the IPCC report, the anti-oil Green Party experienced a membership increase of nearly one-third.

“What’s interesting is that that hasn’t automatically translated into a massive increase [in vote share] for the Greens,” Farstad says. Exit polls show the Greens won three seats, up from one in the previous election.

“But precisely because it’s been high on the agenda, a lot of parties have been competing on the issue of climate change and they’ve been taking it seriously,” he adds. “Climate change voters have spread out more, not just voting for the Green Party or Socialist Left Party.”

A survey by Ipsos MORI into public perception of climate change, which conducted 1,000 interviews in four major European countries, found that climate change is not seen as a left-right issue in Norway, unlike in countries such as the U.S. and Australia.

The issue is less whether voters care enough about climate change, but more the effect of winding down oil production on quality of life, Farstad says.

“Inequality, and the urban-rural divide, are very bound up in the climate change question,” she says. “Stricter climate change measures could disproportionately hit poorer families, particularly people in rural areas who are more dependent on employment in the fossil fuel industry.”

According to the Norwegian government​​, the proportion of Norwegian children living in low-income households grew from 3.3% in 2001 to 11.7% in 2019. Salaries have failed to increase at the rate of house prices, which have risen sixfold in 30 years.

Støre carried Labor to victory campaigning on tax increases for the wealthiest Norwegians and tax relief for low and middle income families.

Norway’s ‘cognitive dissonance’

A 2021 survey of 30,000 people in Europe, the U.S. and China by the European Investment Bank found that European respondents believed COVID-19 has surpassed climate change as the biggest threat to their countries.

Yet, climate remains a pressing issue. At the U.N. COP26 conference in November this year, countries will be expected to strengthen their commitment to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to keep the rise in mean global temperature below 2°C.

Other European countries are facing a political reckoning with the climate crisis. On Sept. 26, Germany will choose a new government. The Green Party, which put forward its first ever candidate for chancellor, is expected to jump from the sixth to third largest party in the Bundestag, Germany’s federal legislature. While the Greens are not expected to win, their rise in popularity is a sign of a shift in climate discourse similar to that seen in Norway.

Experts say Norway has a complicated relationship with the environment. The Ipsos survey found that Norwegians value their image of their country as nature-oriented and sustainable—57% of the respondents agreed that being environmentally friendly is an important part of being Norwegian. A leader in green energy, 98% of electricity production in the country comes from renewable energy sources.

Yet, while Norway produces close to zero emissions from power production, it is responsible for high emissions from oil and gas extraction in the North Sea. Of course, those fossil fuels also produce enormous emissions when they are used by other countries—Norway is the third largest exporter of natural gases in the world, behind Russia and Qatar. The Ipsos survey describes Norwegians’ simultaneous support for the fossil fuel and renewable energy industries as “cognitive dissonance.”

In Norway’s case, it could be the smaller, more radical parties that may influence the new government’s climate strategy. The communist Red party with eight seats, up from one, and the Greens with three, could offer major support to the Labor party in an extended coalition government.

“They’ll be breathing down the Socialist Left Party’s neck and pushing them hard [on climate],” Farstad said.

The campaign group Greenpeace Norway is hopeful the election will yield positive results for the country’s climate change policy. “Of course, we would have hoped for an even greener parliament,” Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway, told TIME. “The Labor Party and the center party by and large want to continue business as usual, so it depends how powerful the Socialist Left pocket in the coalition will become.”

A 2020 U.N. Human Rights Council report on Norway said there was no room for further oil exploration and called for a complete overhaul of the emission-producing fossil fuel industry.

“The stage is now set for Norway to take further steps to cut emissions, these steps have so far been too small, too few and consistently too late,” Pleym said. “As a major oil producing nation, Norway has a great responsibility to the world.”

How We Chose the 2021 TIME100

The year I started in journalism, 1992, was “the end of history” or so claimed a famous book by that title with a remarkably sunny view of human progress. Today—as I near my 30th year in this business, and as the many crises of 2020 hurtle toward 2022—it’s clear that we are still very much living history. But I find reason for optimism, as I hope you will, in our 18th annual TIME100 list of the world’s most influential people. It features extraordinary leaders from around the world working to build a better future, from entertainers striving to make Hollywood more inclusive to activists fighting for sustainability and human rights.

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“Springing into action is not the easy choice,” chef and humanitarian José Andrés, a two-time TIME100 honoree, writes in his tribute to Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Their actions this year not only prompted deep re-appraisals of British society and the monarchy’s place within it, but have also catalyzed essential conversations on topics from mental health to misinformation. Our cover portrait, taken by Pari Dukovic, marks the first time the world-famous couple has formally posed together for a magazine cover shoot. “It captures their powerful dynamic as equal partners,” says Dilys Ng, who has photo-edited our TIME100 covers for the past four years.

This instinct to “run toward the struggle,” as Andrés puts it, is characteristic of nearly everyone on this year’s list, though of course results may vary depending on whom you ask. They are disrupters, fixers, doers, iconoclasts, problem solvers—people who in a year of crisis have leaped into the fray. And nowhere more so than in the realm of science, where advances in vaccines have put a deadly pandemic on defense, even as millions continue to aid and abet the virus by refusing them and as the global community struggles to distribute them as broadly and as desperately needed. As biochemist and Nobel laureate Jennifer Doudna writes, all of us who received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines owe an enormous debt to Hungarian scientist Katalin Kariko, who spent decades defying skeptics in dogged pursuit of mRNA as a tool to fight disease.

Science won another crucial victory in the climate arena. The work of European scientists Friederike Otto and Geert Jan van Oldenborgh has made it possible for the first time to determine almost immediately the role that global warming plays in extreme weather—meaning, as environmentalist Bill McKibben puts it, that “people reading about our accelerating string of disasters increasingly get the most important information of all: it’s coming from us.” Otto and van Oldenborgh are among a record number of climate leaders on the list, more than 10 in all. These include environmental activist Phyllis Omido, whose work made possible a landmark settlement for lead-poisoning victims in Kenya, and General Motors CEO Mary Barra, who this year announced the company would phase out gas-powered cars by 2035.

SEE THE FULL LIST

For the second year in a row, TIME journalists assembled this project working apart, across time zones and continents. It was overseen for the fifth year by Dan Macsai, editorial director of the TIME100, working with Ng, as well as Jennifer Duggan, Merrill Fabry, Lucy Feldman, Cate Matthews, Nadia Suleman and designer Katie Kalupson. Though COVID-19 prevented us from hosting our annual gala (back next year!), we are bringing the list to life once again through a TIME100 TV special (Monday, Sept. 20, at 10 p.m. E.T. on ABC).

At TIME, we see the TIME100 as far more than a list. It is a community of leaders whose energy and commitment we hope inspires others to spring into action as well.

In her TIME100 tribute to business leaders Kenneth C. Frazier and Kenneth I. Chenault, who are working to galvanize corporate America to oppose restrictions on voting rights, former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns writes that when the pair call, people pick up, knowing they might get “to stand on the shoulders of giants and help create a better world for future generations.”

This year, we are all receiving that call. We all have an opportunity to help create a better world. And we can choose to be among those who pick up the phone and—in the words of José Andrés—run toward the struggle.

Chinese Leader Xi Jinping Reportedly Declined President Biden’s Suggestion to Meet in Person

U.S. President Joe Biden suggested the possibility of an in-person meeting with Xi Jinping during a phone call last week, but the Chinese president declined to commit to one as he continues to avoid leaving his country even for major gatherings amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Biden suggested the two leaders meet at some point in the next few months, according to people familiar with the conversation who were granted anonymity to discuss it. When asked late Tuesday at the White House whether he was disappointed that Xi didn’t want to meet with him, Biden told reporters “not true.”

Xi hasn’t left China for more than 600 days, the longest stint of any Group of 20 leader. Instead, he’s made virtual appearances at events including a summit of leaders from the BRICS nations. He isn’t expected to appear at next week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York either, though Chinese presidents seldom attend those gatherings.
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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian avoided answering questions at a regular news briefing Wednesday in Beijing on whether Xi had interest in meeting Biden soon. He repeated earlier Chinese statements about the importance of the two sides communicating frequently.

Biden and Xi spoke for about 90 minutes on Sept. 10, their first discussion since February. On the call, Biden urged Xi to cooperate on key issues even as they continue to disagree on other topics, according to a statement from the White House. But the offer of a summit wasn’t disclosed by the White House.

The U.S. has sought to separate issues like climate change from more contentious ones like trade, human rights and democracy in places like Hong Kong, while Beijing has insisted that they must not be separated.

The offer of a meeting was reported earlier by the Financial Times. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan disputed the FT’s characterization of the conversation, saying in a statement that it was “not an accurate portrayal of the call. Period.”

“As we’ve said, the presidents discussed the importance of being able to have private discussions between the two leaders, and we’re going to respect that,” Sullivan added.

—With assistance from Jenny Leonard, Sophia Cai and Philip Glamann.

Democrats Won the California Recall by Invoking Trump. There’s More of That Coming

This article is part of the The DC Brief, TIME’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to get stories like this sent to your inbox every weekday.

He wasn’t on the ballot, but ex-President Donald Trump lost Republicans their hopes of recalling California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom.

The result signals bad fortune for the GOP in statewide elections coming this year in Virginia and New Jersey. It may also hint at how Democrats may yet survive the 2022 midterms that even the most optimistic party loyalists anticipate will be very difficult. A toxic Trump could give Democrats an unlikely CPR lesson. And maybe the outcome could warn ambitious Republicans that maybe only Trump himself can rock the MAGA hat with any confidence of success.
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A small but very vocal group of Republicans in California had hoped to boot Newsom from power before his current term ends in early 2023. Newsom’s leadership through COVID-19 led to his vulnerability, and Republicans had hoped to make the most populous state in the country into an early referendum on Democrats’ aggressive policies to mask, vaccinate and regulate in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Newsom’s own flubs—especially ignoring his own mask mandate at swanky Napa restaurant the French Laundry—did little to help what should have been an easy brushback of GOP ambition. As The New York Times’ L.A.-based restaurant critic put it, a meal there is “like macaroni and cheese served in a giant golden egg.”

Ultimately, though, Democrats in the deep-blue state delivered a dodge for Newsom. During the 2020 presidential campaign, only the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and Vermont could claim stronger Democratic support than California, a state that sends 42 Democrats and 11 Republicans to the House of Representatives. Initial fears of complacency among Democrats eventually subsided. And sheer math made it impossible for Republicans to prevail in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican to statewide office since Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steve Poizner in 2006.

That’s not to say Newsom ran a stellar campaign. Here in D.C., there were grumbles early that Newsom wasn’t taking the recall effort seriously. Even his defenders were quick to remind him that then-Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 similarly assumed the state’s liberal hue was powerful enough to reject a recall, and that resulted in Schwarzenegger becoming the state’s 38th governor. Newsom’s allies spent at least $36 million to help him survive—money that no donors had expected to need when the year began and now is unavailable to efforts to hold the governor seats in Pennsylvania and Kansas—or to compete in Arizona, New Hampshire, Florida or Wisconsin. After all, donors aren’t renewable resources.

Democrats ultimately prevailed in California by acknowledging a truth that many old-school Republican Party activists have spent years denying: Trump and the GOP are the same brand these days. The man who identifies himself as “the 45th President of the United States”—and never the former or ex-Commander in Chief—has an iron grip on the Republican Party at the moment. He has made the GOP in his image—so much so that CNN polling released this week shows 59% of Republicans believe that endorsing the very wrong idea that Trump is the rightful president is central to what it means to be a Republican. In other words, as CNN’s Chris Cillizza observes, endorsing The Big Lie is central to the GOP’s political identity.

And there were already signs that Republicans were also prepared to replicate Trump’s sore-loser mentality. Larry Elder, a talk-radio host and the leading candidate in the recall effort, even started to blame election fraud before the first votes were tabulated Tuesday night. It was similar to Trump refusing to accept the results of the 2020 campaign that made him a one-termer. The Big Lie fueled a failed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and that belief is going to bring protesters back to Washington this weekend for its potential sequel. There’s no telling what the results will be in Sacramento, where Newsom and a Democratic legislature continue their work even after Elder’s concession.

While Democrats gnash their teeth about Republicans’ continued efforts to undercut faith in legitimate elections, they can find some comfort in this fact: Trump continues to be a disqualifying figure at the polls. In California, Democrats branded Elder as the heir to Trump, and Elder took on the sheen of extremism. Democrats are doing the same in other states right now and are laying the groundwork to deploy the strategy against more Republicans next year. Trumpist candidates may have the imprimatur of Trump—he’s endorsing plenty of them, for sure—but none is as talented as the carnival barker himself. It’s one thing to wear the red MAGA hat, but it’s another to know how it was made. In California, Elder knew how to order it, but he didn’t know how to wear it. If Democrats run this playbook again, there will be a whole lot of Republican candidates on the ballots next year wearing MAGA hats without fully understanding the stench it brings with them.

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The Untold Story of How Afghanistan’s Fighting Female Governor Salima Mazari Escaped the Taliban

For the past few weeks, the world has believed Salima Mazari to be a prisoner of the Taliban—and possibly dead.

One of only three female district governors in Afghanistan, and the leader of a pro-government militia, the 39-year-old had an international reputation as a fearless fighter. The Guardian profiled her at length. She was interviewed by the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and other international news outlets, fascinated by her courage in the defense of her district, Charkint, which lies about 230 miles north of Kabul.

Mazari had survived several ambushes and believed herself to be on a Taliban hit list. When the provincial capital, Mazar-i-Sharif, fell to the Taliban in mid-August, she went missing in the commotion and didn’t surface in the days following. The fighting in Charkint had been fierce.

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“Before the collapse of Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, the Taliban attacked Charkint district more than 30 times from different directions,” she tells TIME.

Several media outlets, including People magazine and Insider, reported Mazari as possibly captured. On Twitter, supporters worldwide adopted the hashtag #FreeSalima in a campaign demanding her release. Some began to wonder if she was even alive. As stories began to filter in of the Taliban settling old scores—killing a pregnant police officer, and shooting senior security officials—many assumed the worst.

But we can report that Mazari is alive. She was never captured. After a harrowing escape from Afghanistan, she is now at an undisclosed location in the United States.

We know this because one of the authors of this piece was involved in her escape.

We are two journalists—Zakarya is an Afghan and Robyn a Canadian—who have reported from the strife-torn country in the past. Zakarya was based in Afghanistan but able to leave for Paris during the evacuation. He kept in touch with Mazari after the Taliban seized power and she went into hiding. Together in a joint rescue effort by Afghans, Americans and Canadians, he helped to play a part in getting her to safety.

This is what happened.

The fall of Mazar-i-Sharif

With a population of around 32,000, Charkint is a mountainous area of small hilltop villages and grazing lands in Balkh province, near the border with Uzbekistan. When she became governor in 2018, Mazari was determined to bring better outcomes for her community, but the job was never easy.

In her early days in office, she organized the recruitment and training of local militia and government forces to fight against the Taliban. When conflict broke out, she picked up a gun and joined her men on the front line, earning respect as a staunch, outspoken commander. In 2020, she fearlessly negotiated the surrender of over 100 Taliban insurgents.

As the Taliban campaign intensified over the summer, Mazari and her militia held out—inflicting, she says, “large numbers of casualties” on the enemy. But when Mazar-i-Sharif—Afghanistan’s fourth largest city—fell on Aug. 14, and the Afghan National Army surrendered Balkh to the Taliban, pro-government fighters were forced to face the inevitable.

For Mazari, the capitulation marked both a devastating end to life as she knew it, and the unwelcome start of a new one.

She belongs to the Hazara, an ethnic minority persecuted for its Shia faith and Eurasian ancestry by Afghanistan’s majority Sunni population. The last time the Taliban seized Mazar-i-Sharif, in 1998, the insurgents massacred some 2,000 Hazara, mostly men and boys.

It seemed that nothing much had changed in the intervening years. Amnesty International reported that the Taliban tortured and killed nine Hazara men in Ghazni province, about 90 miles southwest of Kabul, in July. It was also reported that they had shot 14 Hazara—12 surrendered soldiers and 2 civilians—in Daykundi province at the end of August.

Mazari believed that death or escape were her only choices.

Farshad Usyan—AFP/Getty ImagesMazari, center, on July 14.

On the run from the Taliban

When the news of Balkh’s surrender broke, Mazari was in the office of Mohammad Farhad Azimi, the provincial governor. His guards ran into the office shouting that government forces had surrendered, and the Taliban were entering Mazar-i-Sharif from all directions. She recalls feeling suffocated as the reality of defeat started to sink in. There were frantic phone calls from militia leaders in Charkint, about 45 miles to the south, telling her that the roads to her district were blocked and the Taliban were planning to ambush anyone who passed through. Mazari commended her men and told them to stand down.

“Continuing to fight would be against the interests of our people,” she says.

Azimi suggested finding a way to the border with Uzbekistan and the town of Hairatan, a 75-minute drive from Mazar-i-Sharif. From there, the Afghanistan-Uzbekistan Friendship Bridge, spanning the Amu River, could take them to safety.

“We set off in a convoy together with my husband and guards. Several high-profile leaders, including former vice-president and warlord, Abdul Rashid Dostum, and former Balkh governor and mujahideen commander Atta Mohammad Noor, joined us on the way. Many Afghan military units also followed the exodus,” Mazari says.

By the time they arrived at Hairatan, the Afghan side of the bridge was crowded with top officials. Everyone was in a panic. To her despair, Mazari was not allowed to make the crossing. Only Azimi, Dostum, Noor and some legislators were permitted into Uzbekistan. Mazari and many others were pushed back and left on the banks of the Amu, pleading in vain.

Read more: These Women Fought for Afghanistan’s Future. Now They Don’t Want to Leave It Behind

Knowing the Taliban would soon arrive in Hairatan, too, Mazari says she briefly sought refuge at a relative’s house in the town. Then she donned a burqa—known as a chadari in Afghanistan—and made a swift dash by car to a quiet highway junction in the desert. There, other relatives were waiting to smuggle her back to Mazar-i-Sharif.

“We hid for two days in relatives’ houses in the city, then decided to make a run for Kabul,” she says. There was no knowing what would happen on the road, but reaching the Afghan capital’s airport, and boarding an evacuation flight, was her only hope. Mazari says she had heard from others crossing the country that the Taliban was less likely to question larger groups of civilians at checkpoints, especially if there were many chadari-clad women present. She slipped the garment on again, and together with her husband and several relatives set off in a battered old vehicle.

They clutched each other’s hands nervously as they approached each checkpoint. But luck was on their side. “Fortunately, we were not recognized by any Taliban fighters,” Mazari tells TIME. “They let us through easily. It was the first day of the collapse of the country, and they were celebrating.”

They made it to Kabul, where they would begin the “saddening” process of continually moving from safe house to safe house to ensure they could not be tracked. Mazari was unsure what to do next and who to trust. She knew she was too high profile to make an open dash for an embassy or the airport, so she sent her documents to friends who had connections to foreign governments, including those of the U.S., U.K., Germany, and the Netherlands.

Map by Lon Tweeten for TIME

Organizing Mazari’s rescue

One of the people Mazari sent her documents to was Zakarya.

On Aug. 20, Zakarya, who had been had been airlifted to Paris earlier that week, sent a text message to Mazari, looking to confirm whether or not she was alive. We had been working on a story together about Afghan women, including Mazari, and Zakarya had given his number to her when he interviewed the governor in July. “I’m worried—please let me know where you are,” he wrote.

Fearing traps, Mazari had not been responding to messages from unfamiliar numbers, but she recognized Zakarya’s. She told him that she was in hiding and, with few options remaining, sent him the identity information of all her family members and asked for help.

Zakarya immediately relayed the news to Robyn: “I just heard from Salima Mazari. She is in Kabul.”

Robyn’s partner, the Canadian photojournalist Matt Reichel, had already been working on helping colleagues and friends get out of Afghanistan. Reichel was in contact with everyone he knew who could possibly help and was aware of a few U.S. officials who might look at Mazari’s case. He fired off several pleas to contacts in the State Department and Department of Defense, hoping one would work.

“We prepared all her documents with a cover letter explaining Salima Mazari is alive, incredibly high risk, and will likely be murdered if she is found. She has no idea what to do and is hiding in a safe house,” he says.

“Eventually, one of my friends at the State Department, who wishes to remain unnamed, but has been instrumental in helping countless vulnerable Afghans escape, was able to forward her information to the Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) and a high-level figure in the Secretary of State’s office. This individual replied within hours offering help.”

Salima’s information had already been provided to JIATF through another connection, Khadim Dai, a Hazara filmmaker in Los Angeles who had been running a parallel operation through his own State department contact. Her name pinged across many channels and was gaining momentum and support. Reichel’s contact helped to escalate the request for an emergency evacuation.

Dai’s friend in London, the British Hazara activist Homira Rezai, also shared news of Mazari’s status and asked him for help. “I didn’t know her personally, but knew of her story and wanted to help her. She’s a woman who is fighting, trying so hard to change things, and can be a role model for our generation of Hazaras growing up in the West,” explains Dai.

The day before the rescue, his own contact at the State Department told him “something will happen soon.”

Escape from Kabul

Mazari was afraid that the Taliban would close in on her location in a matter of days, but she followed Zakarya’s advice and waited. He was checking in on her frequently to make sure she was safe and to offer hope and reassurance—but Mazari’s extraction wouldn’t take place without a last-minute scare.

On Aug. 24, just after dawn, Mazari received Signal messages in English, sent via an unknown Afghan number, claiming to be from an American rescue coordination cell. In a lapse of anxious excitement, she says she shared all her family information and the precise coordinates of her overnight location. She followed instructions after the sender told her to attach a picture of herself making the peace sign. But when she told Zakarya what had happened, he became alarmed because, after a brief English introduction, the rescue instructions were supposed to be in Dari—an Afghan dialect of the Persian language. He and Mazari suspected that Pakistani agents were running interference.

“I knew that Pakistan had been cooperating with the Taliban, and that some of the group’s most famous leadership councils are based in Pakistan. I worried that it could be the Taliban or ISI [Pakistani intelligence] accessing our chat,” Zakarya says.

“We were scrambling to figure out if we could confirm the identity of this person,” says Reichel. “We have an Afghan phone number, and don’t know if this is a legitimate operation or a trap. My friend at State told me to immediately instruct Salima to change her hijab, and prepare to possibly change locations while we figured out what to do next.”

Read more: What the U.S. Owes to Afghanistan’s People Has No Expiry Date

Reichel decided to call the number on Signal. No one picked up, but Robyn noticed the user also had a WhatsApp account, and that the app was showing them as being online. Reichel dialed again on WhatsApp. This time, the call was answered. It was a U.S. Army major. Several Americans could be heard talking energetically in the background.

“Naturally, he was confused as to why a random number from Canada was calling him,” says Reichel. “He asked who I was. I introduced myself as a journalist and Salima’s point of contact. I told him his number reached out to Salima, she gave away all her identifying information and location, and we were concerned.”

Luckily, the State Department was quickly able to confirm the Army officer’s identity. “I got a call back from my friend at State saying, ‘It’s confirmed. This is a real operation, make sure she is on time at the rescue point and knows how to get there.’”

The plan was to extract Mazari and her family by helicopter, and then chopper them into Hamid Karzai International Airport. At 7:00 p.m. that evening, Mazari received a call telling her to meet at the rendezvous point.

She remembers scrambling to figure out the location (fortunately she had been well versed in map reading as a military commander) and then hastily setting out on foot with all 13 of her family members, a number of them children. Zakarya was waiting in tense anticipation for news. She messaged him at 7:22 pm minutes later to say that she was at Kabul airport.

The next day, Mazari and her family boarded a U.S. military flight to Qatar, and they are now at an undisclosed location in the U.S. awaiting resettlement.

She had made it.

Salima Mazari’s fight ‘will never end’

Leaving Afghanistan saved Mazari from almost certain death, but it is also, in a way, her worst nightmare. She never wanted to leave a country she fought so hard to defend—and she feels betrayed by her government.

“At Kabul airport, I witnessed the fall of a nation,” she says. “I saw families fleeing and leaving everything behind … It was difficult to see my people in that situation. Everyone I spoke to is dealing with the weight of sadness on their shoulders.”

She continues: “I have cried a lot. I have thought about all those youth who were sacrificed in the past 20 years for the evils of politics. I thought about the aspirations of a generation that are heading towards destruction. I feel a lump in my throat when thinking of my people and fellow soldiers’ struggles, sacrifices and deaths. Every time I think of these things, I feel like I am dying.”

Today, the outlook for women in Afghanistan is particularly bleak. While a Taliban spokesperson has communicated that women can continue to work in government, they are not permitted to hold cabinet or other senior positions.

The Taliban recently announced the formation of their new government, and there were no women or Hazaras included. Women continue to be turned away from their jobs across the country. And the Taliban’s opponents are scattered and in shock.

“At the moment, armed fighting is no longer the solution—we need to figure out a different way to help the country,” Mazari concedes. But she remains no less determined to help. “My fight for the freedom and pride of my people will never end.”

With reporting by Leslie Dickstein and Nik Popli