Things were looking good for Joe Biden for a while. A big economic relief package passed in March, coupled with a stellar vaccine rollout in the spring and summer, helped boost his approval ratings, which almost reached 55 percent in late May. But since then, a spike in inflation as the economy tries to rebound has hurt Biden's poll numbers, which took a further hit amid the chaotic and widely-criticized withdrawal from Afghanistan last month. Excluding Donald Trump, Biden currently has an approval rating lower than his five predecessors during this same period in their presidencies. We take a look at Biden's approval and disapproval ratings against the backdrop of relevant milestones.

Afghanistan has been mired in conflict — spanning the Soviet invasion, civil war, and the US occupation — since the late 1970s, prompting a decades-long refugee crisis. In 2020, after the Trump administration announced the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and inked a subsequent deal with the Taliban, Afghans began leaving the country in droves, fearing exactly what we are seeing today: a Taliban takeover. Most have gone to neighboring Pakistan, as well as Iran. We take a look at which countries hosted the most Afghan refugees as of December 2020, and how that compares to their broader refugee populations.

The Taliban (officially) banned opium cultivation before 9/11 and the subsequent US invasion that ousted them from power in Afghanistan. But in the 20 years since, the group has taken over most of the country's vast poppy fields, becoming the Pablo Escobars of the global opium trade. The drug has been so lucrative for the Taliban that without it, they may not have had the longevity and military capacity to make the decisive territorial gains seen in Afghanistan in recent weeks. We look at opium cultivation since 1994, spanning the Afghan civil war, Taliban rule, and the US occupation.

The Taliban have made massive territorial gains in Afghanistan since the Biden administration announced that it would withdraw all US forces by September of this year. In many instances, Afghan security forces have abandoned their bases and handed over territory rather than confront Taliban fighters directly. Recently, Taliban militants gained control of major crossings, including the Islam Qala crossing between Afghanistan and Iran, which generates $20 million in monthly revenue for the Afghan government, as well as the critical Wesh-Chaman border crossing with Pakistan. With the US withdrawal already more than 90 percent complete, the Taliban already control more than half of all Afghan districts. So as the last few US forces prepare to leave, we take a look at who controls what in Afghanistan. Spoiler: it's a significantly different state of play from when we last mapped it out two years ago.

There's a lot of doom and gloom in the world these days, and much cause for pessimism. Still, the advent of new technologies and scientific advancements has lifted billions out of poverty and increased quality of life for many over the last half century. Since 1990, global average life expectancy has increased by eight years to 73, while GDP per capita has also grown exponentially, doubling over the past decade alone. We take a look at how life expectancy and GDP per capita have evolved globally from 1960-2019.

In countries with access to COVID vaccines, the main challenge now is to convince those hesitant about the jab to roll up their sleeves, and this has become even more urgent given the spread of the more contagious delta variant. So, where are there more vaccine skeptics, and how do they compare to total COVID deaths per million in each nation? We take a look at a group of large economies where jabs are available, yet (in some cases) not everyone wants one.

A recent spate of extreme heat waves has killed scores of people around the world. But, why is this happening? According to a recent study, 37 percent of all global deaths from heat can be attributed directly to climate change, as a rapidly warming planet caused by industrial pollution makes heat waves more frequent, intense... and deadly. We take a look at where climate-linked scorchers kill the most people, as well as carbon dioxide emissions per capita in those places.

It's been 50 years since President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs in the United States, a campaign underscored by punitive policies aimed at eradicating everything to do with illicit drug use. Since then, the US government has spent over $1 trillion on the campaign, roughly a 1,090% increase in spending in just 39 years. But all this money hasn't stopped drug use from surging in recent decades, along with overdose deaths. In fact, the war on drugs' main legacy is that of mass incarceration; severe penalties for drug-related offenses resulted in mostly Black and Latino Americans being thrown into prison. We take a look at government spending on drug control and the prison population size in recent decades.

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