The Final Victory In The Battle Against ISIS Is Now In Sight (HBO)

From gun trenches in the hills overlooking the Syrian town of Baghuz, US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF rain down automatic weapons fire on what’s left of the Islamic State caliphate.

After being driven out of Mosul in 2017, ISIS has been pushed back – mile-by-mile, through fierce fighting – from nearly all the territory it used to control in Syria into a tiny patch of land on the Euphrates river near the border with Iraq.

SDF commanders like Adnan Afrin say the full territorial victory they’ve spent years fighting for is finally now in sight: “this sprawling organization that stunned the world has crumbled and is close to being defeated. It’s been painful, and difficult – from the day Isis started to this moment…but it’s ending now.”

The SDF advance has been slowed by the number of women and children that have streamed out of ISIS-controlled areas since the bombardment started. More than 60,000 people have left during the course of the siege.

On Wednesday, SDF officials said they were in control of most of the encampment with just a small group of ISIS fighters left inside, surrounded and outnumbered. But from rooftops on the outskirts of Baghuz, SDF snipers continue to take out targets, while 50-caliber machine guns rain down fire from above and US jets patrol the skies overhead.

The battle is almost over, but for now ISIS fighters are still refusing to stop clinging on to their last tiny piece of territory.

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Is Finland Really The Happiest Country In The World?

Finland has been declared the happiest country in the world for the second year in a row. On Wednesday, the United Nations released its annual World Happiness Report and confirmed the Nordic country as the reigning champion of joy.

But in many ways, the land of frigid temperatures and dark winter days seems like the most unlikely of choices.

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Some Muslims In The U.S. Want To Arm Their Mosques (HBO)

In the wake of the New Zealand mosque massacre, some American Muslims believe they should arm themselves to better protect their communities. Vice founder Suroosh Alvi embeds with Muslim activist Hassan Shibley as he urges his Florida community to not fear this type of white nationalism, but to fight back.

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Decoding The Racist Memes The New Zealand Shooter Used To Communicate (HBO)

The night before 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant allegedly opened fire on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, he posted a Facebook link where he would broadcast his deadly attack. The title of the post was “Screw Your Optics,” a reference to the words posted on Gab by a Pittsburgh gunman before he killed 11 people at a synagogue in October.

The coded reference to a massacre thousands of miles away is an example of the communication system used by modern white supremacists, who employ a shared language of memes and trolling, and who often lionize acts of hatred by domestic terrorists.

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Why Teens Are Taking To The Streets To Fight Climate Change (HBO

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Decoding The Racist Memes The New Zealand Shooter Used To Communicate (HBO)

That idea that there’s a quiet genocide against white people is at the heart of the manifesto of New Zealand shooter Brenton Tarrant. There is nothing original about it. What’s most striking is his clear desperation to be adored by the people on alt right message boards, where the white genocide conspiracy theory thrives. His manifesto is packed with memes from those boards.

And these memes are important to understand, because they’re central to online radicalization. They make becoming an extremist into a game, a game that rewards following these message boards super closely, and impressing others by making up variations on those memes. Those message boards valorize mass killers who were motivated by racism. From his manifesto, it’s clear Tarrant wanted to be celebrated too.

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What Beto O’Rourke’s 2020 Bid Means For The Democratic Primary (HBO)

Beto O’Rourke, the U.S. congressman who gave Ted Cruz a surprising challenge in the Texas Senate race, has backtracked on his pledge not to run for president.

“I haven’t made any decisions about anything,” O’Rourke told TMZ on Tuesday.

In November — on the very day before the midterm election he narrowly lost to Cruz — O’Rourke said he would not be a candidate for the 2020 presidential election.

“I will not be a candidate for president in 2020,” O’Rourke told MSNBC. “That’s, I think, as definitive as those sentences get.”

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Why This Florida Mayor Thinks He Has A Real Shot At The Presidency (HBO)

This is a city of around 140,000 people nestled between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. On Tuesday, the city held municipal elections — incumbent mayor Wayne Messam, a Democrat, cruised to a second term. Votes cast totaled around 6,795, and as expected Messam won around 86% of them.

Messam is a first generation American a former Florida State University wide receiver. He almost went to the NFL but he didn’t make the cut. So he came home and started a successful construction business. At 44, he’s Miramar’s first black mayor. He celebrated his second term with a 4-mile run in the early morning hours of Wednesday with his regular running group.

A few hours later, he filed the necessary paperwork to launch an exploratory committee to pursue becoming the next president of the United States.

It’s crazy, but it’s not that crazy. Messam’s team sees a pathway for a young, black progressive southerner after the surprising rise of candidates like Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia. South Carolina is the third stop on the Democratic nomination calendar, and Messam supporters say a strong early showing could make him a contender there.

But there’s not much time. The first Democratic primary debate is in June, and to make the stage candidates need to create a grassroots fundraising army or start showing results in national polls. Messam starts both efforts from basically zero. But he says he’s making this run for all the right reasons.

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The Youth-Led Protests That Forced Algeria’s President To Not Run Again (HBO)

Packed shoulder to shoulder, hundreds of thousands of Algerian men and women, young and old overtook Algiers last Friday, calling for the ouster of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has held onto power for 20 years, and whose party, the FLN, ruled for 56. “There will be no fifth term, oh Bouteflika!,” they chanted, marching hand in hand. Some broke into song and dance, others stood draped in the familiar green, red and white of their nation’s flag.

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How Broken The College Admissions Process Is (HBO)

The Justice Department charged 33 parents on Tuesday in a massive cheating and bribing scheme to get their kids into elite colleges. Federal investigators charged 50 people in all, indicting test administrators, athletic coaches and a number of wealthy parents from across the country, including actresses Lori Loughin from Full House and Felicity Huffman from Desperate Housewives. So far, they have not made a comment about the charges.

According to investigators the scam, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues by the FBI, revealed a wide-ranging web of bribery and fraud, including cheating on admissions exams, faking involvement in sports by photoshopping students onto the bodies of athletes and even falsifying learning disabilities.

The pressure to get into elite institutions is high, and the main gatekeepers to these competitive universities are admissions officers.

Sara Harberson, a former Associate Dean of Admissions for UPENN and former Dean of Admissions at Franklin and Marshall College told us, “What would always helps students if they were tagged and their family had a lot of financial resources. You were really looking at seven figure donations 8 figure donations. But sometimes six figures plus a connection with someone on the board was even more powerful.”

VICE News spoke to five of them to find out what it’s really like behind a process that remains closed to most people.

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