We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily's quick takes on the happenings of this week.
The Taliban has conquered Afghanistan, is blocking evacuations
The Taliban, the extremist group allied with Al Qaeda, has taken over Afghanistan just weeks before the United States planned to remove all troops to end its “forever war” in the country. After working its way through Afghanistan this past week, the Taliban captured the capital city of Kabul on Sunday. The United States swiftly evacuated its embassy there.
The Taliban claim that the new regime will preserve women’s rights and forgive those who aided the United States in the past. There’s no evidence, however, that the group known for beheading dissidents and raping women has changed. The Taliban are also blocking fleeing Afghans from reaching the airport, according to the U.S. State Department.
The Wall Street Journal reports, “At Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, crowds of Afghans continued to gather along the perimeter, trying to flee the country. The Taliban once again repulsed these crowds with violence, beating and whipping families trying to get through the checkpoints and unleashing volleys of gunfire in the air, according to witnesses.”
Up to 15,000 Americans are still in Afghanistan, with the United States doing little to signal it has a plan for everyone’s safe removal. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden’s tepid response to the fiasco has been widely criticized. When an ABC News reporter pressed Biden for a response to footage of Afghans falling to their deaths after attempting to hop aboard planes leaving their country, Biden responded, “That was four days ago, five days ago!” (No matter that it was less than four days ago.)
Thousands of Afghan refugees are now looking for homes, and those hoping to help can reach out to local charities as well as national organizations working to bring endangered Afghans to safety. —Madeline Fry Schultz
American Idol’s Syesha Mercado decries having newborn baby taken away, sparking outrage
Syesha Mercado, an American Idol finalist, lost custody of her baby son a few months ago after what she thought was a routine trip to the doctor’s office for help with breastfeeding problems. Now, Mercado reports she was pulled over by police seeking to place her 16-day-old daughter in foster care, too.
The case has caused an uproar, with a GoFundMe campaign raising more than $400,000 for the family and Kim Kardashian West tweeting her support. It all began when Mercado and her partner brought their son, Amen’Ra, to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg in February. Mercado’s breast milk was drying up due to getting pregnant again, and she was struggling to get the little boy to accept a bottle or eat solid food.
“During this process I researched so much & we even saw a couple of physicians & a lactation specialist who encouraged me he was really healthy, keep going, & I’m doing a great job,” Mercado said on social media.
The family encountered Dr. Sally Smith, a notorious physician at All Children’s who has been sued for allegedly breaking up loving families with unfounded accusations of abuse. In Amen’Ra’s case, the doctor claimed that Mercado had neglected him to the point he was malnourished. He was removed from the family and put in foster care. USA TODAY Network previously reported about years of complaints from parents, attorneys, and child welfare workers about Smith’s aggressive tactics. One mother in a family Smith targeted died by suicide.
Atlanta Black Star reports that Mercado was permitted to pump a bottle of breast milk for her newest baby by the side of the road before the newborn, too, was taken away by authorities. The couple is now being assisted by prominent civil rights attorneys. —Margaret Brady
Docuseries on Playboy founder Hugh Hefner exposes him as a predator
Four years after Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner died, members of his inner circle are speaking out in a new documentary about “the dark reality” of his empire. Notorious for his hedonistic lifestyle and surrounded by an ever-changing crew of “bunnies” at Playboy mansion, Hefner helped to usher in the sexual revolution and the consequent normalization of pornography in mainstream culture.
But while celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, and Pamela Anderson sang his praises following his death, Secrets of Playboy spotlights a different side of Hefner. The former director of Playmate promotions insists in the trailer: “He really did believe he owned these women.” Former Playboy bunny Holly Madison is also featured, seen calling Hefner “dangerous.”
The ten-hour documentary series, set to premiere early next year, also promises exclusive interviews with others intimately acquainted with Hefner, including multiple former bunnies and his personal valet, bodyguard, and butler. As a logline for the show puts it, the program will explore how “the Playboy machine was a powerful force that, at its worst, manipulated women in a toxic environment, silencing their voices, pitting them against one another, and opening the door to sexual predators.” —Mariel Lindsay
Bob Dylan is sued for alleged 1965 assault of 12-year-old girl
Eighty-year-old singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, who rose to fame in the 1960s thanks to his revolutionary blend of rock n’ roll and poetic lyrics, is facing his own #MeToo allegations after a Connecticut woman filed a lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault when she was a child.
Now nearly 70, the plaintiff filed the suit with the New York Supreme Court, just one day before New York's Child Victims Act expired. According to official court documents, Dylan, then 23 years old, met and groomed the then-12-year-old girl over the course of six weeks. The plaintiff, referred to in court documents only by her initials JC, claims much of the abuse occurred in the singer’s Manhattan apartment. JC described Dylan’s brand of establishing an “emotional connection” with her as “evil,” telling how he used his overwhelming fame, physical threats, and drugs and alcohol to keep her compliant. As a result, JC is legally claiming “allegations of assault, battery, false imprisonment, and emotional distress.”
Bob Dylan and his camp, meanwhile, vehemently deny the allegations and vow to “vigorously” defend the rock legend’s honor. On Twitter, fans were quick to point out that the lawsuit’s timeline doesn’t seem to match Dylan’s travel records. But Dylan’s love life has been murky since he first shot to fame surrounded by the “super groupies” of the ‘60s and ‘70s. English singer Dana Gillespie has written about her romance with Dylan that began in London when she was 16 (the age of consent is 16 in the United Kingdom). Gillespie also says that starting at age 15, she was sexually involved with other high-profile celebrities of the time: David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Michael Caine, and Sean Connery, to name the most prominent.
The seemingly endless tide of accusations against aging rock stars and other celebrities for crimes committed in the past indicates the profound impact of the #MeToo movement as women continue to speak out about their long-hidden pain. —ML
Hope Solo says Megan Rapinoe bullied the U.S. Women’s National Team into kneeling during the National Anthem
Former U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team member Hope Solo claims Megan Rapinoe would bully her teammates into kneeling during the national anthem before games.
“I think the rhetoric surrounding this team has been both divisive and inclusive. I guess it’s kind of where we are in politics in this day and age,” Solo said in an interview with Goal.com. “I think the kneeling thing can be very divisive. I’ve seen Megan Rapinoe almost bully players into kneeling because she really wants to stand up for something in her particular way. But it’s our right as Americans to do it whatever way we’re comfortable with and I think that’s really hard being on the main stage right now with so many political issues for athletes. There’s a lot of pressure and ultimately at the end of the day our number one focus should and has always been to win first.”
While Solo, a former goalie, has not played professional soccer since 2016, she was Rapinoe’s colleague for 10 years. She left the USWNT team after the Rio Olympics, when she controversially called Sweden’s team “a bunch of cowards.” The month after Solo’s departure, Rapinoe began kneeling to call attention to social justice causes.
Rapinoe and several USWNT teammates have kneeled before games. Carli Lloyd, one of the USWNT’s most well-known players, has not. —Melanie Wilcox
Scarlet Johansson and Colin Jost welcome first child
Scarlett Johansson and husband Colin Jost just announced the birth of their first baby, a boy named Cosmo. “Oh ok we had a baby,” Jost said on Instagram on Wednesday. “We love him very much.”
The actress and SNL star, who married in October after dating for three years, are still keeping the news somewhat private, with no photos of the newborn yet. Before the Instagram announcement, however, Jost confirmed the pregnancy rumors during a stand-up routine. “We’re having a baby,” he said last weekend. “It’s exciting.” Johansson already has a 6-year-old daughter, Rose, with her ex-husband.
Johansson and Jost are part of a mini celebrity baby boom. Last month, Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson and her husband Andrew East had their second child. “Welcome to the world little man!” she posted to Instagram. “We love you so much!” Also last month, pop star Halsey welcomed her first child, and Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot had her third daughter. And, of course, the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, had her second, and reportedly last, child with Prince Harry in June. (Here’s hoping that if they do want more kids, they won’t be held back by climate change activists who say three kids is too many.) —MFS
R. Kelly federal sex crimes trial gets underway
R&B singer R. Kelly was confronted in court this week by one of his alleged abuse victims as his trial on racketeering charges began in New York.
He stands accused of sexual exploitation of a child, forced labor, kidnapping, and more. One of his accusers, Jerhonda Pace, took the stand to explain that she was a 16-year-old child when Kelly invited her to his house and began grooming her for abuse. Prosecutors say that Pace and at least five others were imprisoned and physically and sexually tormented by Kelly, with the singer demanding “absolute obedience” to his controlling whims, CBS News reports. Kelly allegedly led a criminal network of loyal employees who lured future victims at concerts around the world.
In 2008, Kelly beat a child pornography charge after a key witness declined to testify. In 2019, the Lifetime show Surviving R. Kelly sparked outrage as it highlighted his accusers’ stories. In the aftermath, Kelly gave an unhinged interview to CBS News’ Gayle King, and was indicted in federal court in both New York and Chicago. He faces a potential life sentence if he is convicted in New York. He also is in legal jeopardy in Minnesota, where he’s been charged with soliciting a minor. The singer has pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys have risibly sought to portray his accusers as bitter former groupies. —Margaret Brady
Belgian teen seeks to break women's solo flight record
A Belgian-British teenager is trying to become the youngest woman in history to fly around the world by herself.
Zara Rutherford, 19, is attempting to break the world record set by American aviator Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 when she circled the globe via plane in 2017.
“I am very nervous, I think. I am also in a bit of disbelief. I think my next step is to check the weather again,” she told the Associated Press before takeoff. “Normally, I am reaching Scotland tonight. I am not sure that will work. But I will try my best, while staying safe, of course.” Rutherford, who comes from a family of pilots, will fly her Shark sport aircraft over five continents and 52 countries in two to three months.
“This is her dream. It’s what she wants to do,” Rutherford's father, Sam, said. “I am very, very proud that she wants to try and attract more young women and girls into STEM and aviation. Because 5 percent of pilots in the world are women. That’s really not a statistic in which we should be proud.”
Because the Shark is too small to fly over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, Rutherford will fly through Europe and over Greenland and then to the United States. She’ll fly to Alaska to cross the Pacific and then across Asia back to Europe.
Rutherford acknowledged she will face mental fatigue and loneliness. “These are things I am keeping in mind. I will also be on the phone with my parents often and just friends and family,” Rutherford said. ”Sadly, I cannot watch movies. But I have music lined up, I have podcasts lined up. So hopefully, that should keep me busy whilst I am up in the air for five, six hours at a time.” —MW
Good News of the Week
Formerly conjoined twin has a baby of her own—at the same hospital where she and her sister were treated
Charity Lincoln Gutierrez-Vazquez is the proud mom of new baby girl Alora. She welcomed her daughter at University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, the same hospital where she was separated from her conjoined twin sister Kathleen, 21 years ago.
Charity and Kathleen were born joined from the breastbone to the pelvis, sharing a leg and several internal organs. When they were seven months old, doctors at UWMC undertook the complicated surgery separating them. The procedure was successful and both girls thrived with one leg each.
Charity called Dr. John Waldhausen right away when she found out she was pregnant. He, along with an operating room team numbering in the dozens, had helped perform the twins’ surgery. Waldhausen had some worries about whether Charity’s body would be able to support her baby, but in the end, Alora was born safely via C-section at almost 34 weeks gestation.
“God's really blessed me with all the doctors in my life and everything," she said. "I think it's important that people see that we're still doing good, and living the best life we can,” Charity told the TODAY show.
“When you're involved with an operation like that, you're really hoping that you can create a whole lifetime for somebody," Waldhausen. "And then to see this happening, this really comes full circle, so this is a great day for all of us." —MB
Watch of the Week
Legendary quarterback Brett Favre has partnered with the Concussion Legacy Foundation to share a powerful public service message about his sport and CTE, the brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head. Bottom line: little kids and tackle football don’t mix. Here’s the video, called “A Warning from the Future.”