Your Wednesday Briefing

We’re covering the Taliban’s new acting leadership, the lagging vaccination rate in Eastern Europe and China’s commitment to narrow the wage gap.

The Taliban announce government posts

The Taliban chose people to fill several cabinet positions on an acting basis, stopping short of formally announcing a permanent government in Afghanistan.

Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, a founding member of the Taliban and former deputy prime minister, was named the acting leader of the council of ministers — a surprise to those who thought that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who led negotiations with the U.S., would assume the top spot. Baradar was instead named acting deputy.

Taliban leaders will face immediate challenges, especially if American officials continue to withhold aid. Basic services like electricity are already under threat, and the U.N. warned that food aid would run out by the end of the month for hundreds of thousands of Afghans.

The announcement came just hours after the Taliban used force to break up a demonstration by hundreds of women and men in Kabul. The protesters called for the Taliban to respect the rights that women gained over the past 20 years. It was a remarkable public display by women, who suffered brutal subjugation the last time the Taliban were in charge.

Context: Since coming to power last month, the Taliban has sought to rebrand itself as more moderate, including on women’s rights. But early signs from around the country have not been promising. The Taliban warned women to stay home until the rank and file of fighters could be taught not to hurt them and have so far only asked female health workers to return to work.

Evacuations: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking from Qatar, said that roughly a hundred American citizens remained in Afghanistan and that the U.S. was working with the Taliban to get them home safely.

Vaccinations highlight E.U.’s East-West divide

Many countries in Western Europe overcame sluggish starts to become vaccination leaders, and more than 70 percent of adults in the European Union have been fully vaccinated. But some Eastern European countries have struggled to keep up.

Bulgaria and Romania have fully vaccinated less than a third of their adult populations, compared with rates of 80 percent in Denmark and Portugal. Those Eastern countries, along with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, also have some of the highest excess mortality rates across the European Union.

Scarcity of doses is no longer an issue. Instead, misinformation, distrust of authorities and ignorance about the benefits of inoculation seem to be behind the low uptake in Central and Eastern Europe.

The W.H.O. warned last month that 230,000 people in Europe could die of the coronavirus by December, in part because of slowed vaccination rates and a lack of proactive government measures.

Go deeper: The bloc has promised to supply its neighbors with vaccine doses. Just 23 percent of Albania’s population has been fully vaccinated; that number falls to 11 percent in Georgia and 3 percent in Armenia.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

A group of activists called for international climate talks scheduled for November in Scotland to be postponed.

The U.S. surpassed 40 million recorded coronavirus infections.

Australians criticized their prime minister for traveling to see his family while much of the country was under lockdown.

Xi pushes for ‘common prosperity’

President Xi Jinping of China announced the Communist Party’s intention of pursuing a strategy of “common prosperity,” in which affluent businesses and entrepreneurs will be pushed to help narrow the country’s wealth gap and expand the middle class.

Xi and his allies believe that China is now rich enough to shift closer to his party’s longstanding ideal of wealth sharing. Party officials have vowed to make schooling, housing and health care less costly and more evenly available outside big cities, and to increase wages for workers.

Some of China’s biggest companies, which have also felt the sting of the government’s antitrust crackdown, have lined up pledges. Alibaba, the e-commerce company co-founded by Jack Ma, will invest $15.5 billion in common prosperity projects, as will the country’s biggest internet company, Tencent.

Data: The country’s top 1 percent own nearly 31 percent of the country’s wealth, up from 21 percent in 2000.

Context: Xi currently faces little opposition as he lays the groundwork for a likely third term beginning next year, but that could change if economic grievances continue to pile up.


News From Asia

Chinese authorities released a former Alibaba manager who had been accused of rape by a co-worker after prosecutors declined to charge him, deepening the country’s #MeToo debate.

The main opposition group in Myanmar called for a nationwide revolt against the country’s military government, The Associated Press reported.

Japan’s Covid vaccine minister, Taro Kono, a top candidate to be the country’s next prime minister, got a boost when a rival party’s faction splintered, Reuters reported.

Around the World

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil convened large rallies across the country on Tuesday, which critics fear could be a prelude to a power grab.

Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that making abortion a crime was unconstitutional.

With her party polling at record lows before the election to replace her, Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, entered the political fray despite plans to avoid it. Annalena Baerbock, the 40-year-old Green Party candidate, is likely to have sway in the next coalition government no matter who wins.

El Salvador became the first country to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender.

A Morning Read

Decades of population loss and divestment by state governments have left many rural American communities without the resources to educate their children. Here’s the story of Harvey Ellington, a teenager from rural Mississippi who grew up in a failing public school system.


Two decades of oddball TV

No one expected Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s nighttime adult programming block, to be a success. But over the past 20 years, it has become a home for bizarro humor, with shows like “Rick and Morty” and “Tuca & Bertie” enjoying cult followings.

Cartoon Network executives knew a third of their audience were adults, but the network didn’t have much of a budget to make original content aimed at them. The result was simple, lo-fi animation that attracted out-of-the-box ideas, including a show starring a talking wad of meat (“Aqua Teen Hunger Force”) and a cheesy talk show hosted by a Hanna-Barbera superhero (“Space Ghost Coast to Coast”).

The production wasn’t glamorous: The editor of Adult Swim’s first original series worked from a closet. A celebrity guest on that series, unaware of the strangeness he had signed up for, walked out mid-taping. But the audience grew, and the shows stayed weird.

“There were moments we’d laugh so hard we’d literally cry because we loved our work so much,” Eric Wareheim, a show creator, said. “We were doing things we’d never seen before in comedy or on TV.” To go behind the scenes at Adult Swim, read Sarah Bahr’s article.


What to Cook

This sheet-pan salmon is topped with a pantry-friendly version of rich, sweet-salty XO sauce.

What to Watch

These five science-fiction movies investigate what makes us human.

What to Listen to

“Máscaras,” the new album from the Nicaraguan Canadian producer Mas Aya, demonstrates that political expression can be found in immersive moments of stillness.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Zig’s opposite (three letters).

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Matthew

P.S. Here’s how your reader comments improve our journalism.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about what the Taliban’s rule might look like.

You can reach Matthew and the team at [email protected].

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