Jul 26, 2022

SPECIAL EDITION: International affairs.

SPECIAL EDITION: International affairs.

We are doing something a little different today.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 8 minutes.

We jump into some international affairs. Plus, a reader question about the contraception bill in Congress.

Vladimir Putin and Ali Khamenei meet in 2017. Image: The Kremlin
Vladimir Putin and Ali Khamenei meet in 2017. Image: The Kremlin

Quick hits.

  1. The Justice Department is questioning top Pence aides about former President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the election. (The probe)
  2. The European Union agreed to a weakened emergency plan to cut gas use after striking deals which limit cuts for some countries. (The agreement)
  3. California's Oak Fire is now the state’s largest fire of 2022. It is still burning outside Yosemite Park and has already consumed over 16,000 acres. (The blaze)
  4. Russia says it plans to withdraw from the International Space Station in 2024, and will construct its own. (The decision)
  5. The Biden administration is considering declaring the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency. (The outbreak)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Today's topic.

International affairs. Since we are a daily newsletter and can't go deep on every single topic out there, we sometimes miss important things happening in the world. So we thought it'd be a good idea to mix it up with something a little different today: We're just going to use this newsletter to do a brief round-up of a few of the biggest stories from across the globe that we haven't had a chance to cover.

Since we’re hitting multiple topics, these will not include the typical in-depth coverage we do in our typical newsletter; but we’ve included some links in each round-up that you can click on to learn more if you’re interested. And, if you want us to give one story more expanded coverage, don't hesitate to say so. As always, when there is strong interest from readers, we listen. And please let us know what you think of the round-up. We hope it’s helpful in giving you a condensed but informative look at current world affairs.

One of the biggest international stories in the last few weeks got some space in our "Quick hits" section yesterday. Ukraine, Russia, the United Nations and Turkey worked to negotiate an agreement to release millions of tons of grain from Ukraine per month. Ukraine exports 8.5% of the world's grain, making it the fifth largest exporter on the planet. More than half of that grain has gone to countries like Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Lebanon; but after the war in Ukraine started, those exports slowed dramatically. Ukraine and many of the countries that rely on it for food are desperate to see exports resume before the grain stuck in Ukraine goes bad.

The deal would also allow wheat, fertilizer, sunflower oil and other essential food products to leave Ukraine. According to the U.N., some 47 million people have moved into a stage of "acute hunger" due to the war. But just hours after the deal was celebrated as a diplomatic victory, Russian missiles struck the port of Odessa through which much of the grain will pass.

"Russia agreed to some deal on grain export, but immediately after this attacked it -- showing they want to continue to threaten the world's food security," Ukrainian member of parliament Oleksiy Goncharenko said Saturday in an interview with CNN.

Russia claims the attack was targeted against military infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin visited Iran last week and met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It was Putin's first trip outside of Russia since he invaded Ukraine. On the way, Putin had a face-to-face meeting with Turkey's Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the aforementioned grain release.

Putin's trip to Iran was viewed as a strong signal from Russia that it plans to forge closer ties with Iran, China and India. Under the pressure of Western sanctions, Russia and Iran have stronger incentives to work together, and Khamenei even suggested at one point that more nations should refuse to do trade with the U.S. dollar. Iran is also betting that with increased oil prices, it could lean on Russia to help pressure the United States into concessions in order to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

The president of Sri Lanka has fled the country and resigned following months of unrest which culminated in protesters storming the presidential mansion. Since the beginning of the year, Sri Lankans have endured fuel rationing, school closures and shortages of necessities like food and medicine. Year-over-year inflation has risen over 50%, and following the island nation’s failure in May to pay interest on its foreign debt, its economy is in freefall.

The collapse has come as a surprise to a nation whose middle class has been growing over the past decade. In a massive display of unrest, protesters overran and occupied the offices and residences of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, a longtime former P.M. who had recently been appointed to the position following the resignation of the president’s brother — Mahinda Rajakapsa — in May. Two weeks ago, hundreds of protesters occupied the presidential mansion and used the private pool and gym equipment.

Protesters hold the Rajapaksa family responsible for the country’s economic crisis, and accuse the former president of government theft and civil rights abuses. Rajapaksa denies the accusations, but has resigned his position and appointed Wickremsinghe as interim president after fleeing to Singapore. Wickremisnghe has declared Sri Lanka to be in a state of emergency, and has been left to respond to civil unrest while lobbying the IMF for relief funds. Check out the BBC's explainer for more information.

Almost simultaneously with the events in Sri Lanka, the unstable coalition within the Italian government reached a crisis. Then on Thursday, the government dissolved.  Following the resignation of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, his second attempt to resign in a week, President Sergio Mattarella dissolved parliament, triggering a snap election in the fall.

Draghi, who as the head of the European Central Bank garnered acclaim for his management of the 2010 European sovereign debt crisis, was appointed Prime Minister in January of 2021 following the resignation of his predecessor amid frustration with the government’s Covid-19 response. Draghi had no party affiliation, and was chosen by a broad coalition to be a steady hand to guide Italy’s Covid response and secure relief funds from the European Union.

Instead, he has been unable to satisfy the diverse political leanings of the coalition government, leading to its dissolution. An early election to form a new government is scheduled for September 25th; but in the meantime Italy cannot access the needed EU relief funds, reform its upcoming budget or maintain its position as a leader in the response to Russia and as a vocal ally of Ukraine. CNN has the story, and The Conversation has the context on Italian politics.

Elsewhere in Europe and earlier in the month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned amid economic turmoil and political scandal. Johnson’s decision comes on the heels of an ethics scandal involving one of his government appointees, outrage over parties he held during the UK’s Covid lockdown, and finally the resignation of nearly 60 members of his Conservative Party.

Johnson won in a landslide 2019 election campaigning on “Getting Brexit Done,” but has since lost popular support. While Johnson reluctantly announced his resignation, he has also expressed his desire to remain as leader of the majority party until its regular election this fall, despite opposition from both outside and within his party. Unlike in Italy, this situation is not expected to result in a general election or governmental crisis. The political landscape in the UK, however, has been cast into uncertainty. The BBC has the story, and The Washington Post has the context on British politics.

While Tangle has reported on economic uncertainty and record inflation domestically, the dollar has gained strength globally. During the European political unrest, the U.S. Dollar reached parity with the Euro for a moment. This meant that at that time, one euro could be exchanged for one dollar, compared to $1.19 a year earlier, before falling slightly back to $1.02. The dollar has also been trading more favorably with the Japanese Yen, seeing an increase of over 20% in exchange value over the past year.

These events suggest that, for as bad as the perception of the domestic situation has been, the U.S. economic response to Covid turmoil and global inflation is well ahead of its democratic peers. Much of the strength of the dollar has been credited to the Fed’s handling of inflation, but much credit is also due to its use internationally. The dollar is a popular reserve currency that’s been bolstered by its global popularity, while the euro has been weakened by inflation concerns and energy price spikes instigated by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Since many smaller countries have adopted USD as their legal tender, the recent surge will have a global impact.  The Wall Street Journal has more on the story.

There’s more bad news out of Britain, but on the climate front, as the country set a new record high temperature of 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit (40.3 Celsius) in the past week, part of a global trend of major weather events and record-breaking heat waves in the northern hemisphere. In northern Europe, the UK, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and France, all saw temperatures of 20°F above average, which can become a major health crisis in a region where most homes do not have air conditioning. In southern Europe, Madrid set a record for a nighttime high at 79°, while wildfires continue to engulf parts of Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece.

In China, Shanghai matched its 2017 record high of 105.7°, prompting “red alerts” across the region. And while the northern hemisphere is experiencing a hot summer, in the south, extreme flooding rocked Sydney, Australia. Roughly 50,000 people faced evacuation orders as parts of the country’s eastern shore received as much rainfall in three days as they normally do in a year.

These major weather events are attributed by experts to climate change, and are expected to become even more frequent. “Heatwaves that used to be rare are now common; heatwaves that used to be impossible are now happening and killing people,” said Friedericke Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London. Scientific American has more information.

In Yemen, a ceasefire continues as negotiators try to move toward a lasting peace deal. Yemen's civil war began in 2014 after Houthi insurgents with links to Iran and a track record of fighting Sunni governments took control of Yemen's capital Sana'a. President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi had to resign when the rebels took control of the palace. Since then, gulf states led by Saudi Arabia — with the help of U.S. funding — have economically isolated Yemen and conducted airstrikes there.

The eight years of civil war have left hundreds of thousands dead, and millions displaced and/or starving. Many international observers are hoping Biden and U.S. negotiators can push Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi Crown prince, to lift a blockade on Yemen and make the current truce — the first since 2016 — permanent.

Across the globe, journalists are continuing to pore over the Xinjiang police files, a massive trove of data that goes back to 2018. The hacked files contain police photographs and documents that shine a bright light on Beijing's treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. An estimated one million Uyghurs, a muslim minority, have been detained in Xinjiang. In October, the Associated Press said Chinese authorities have begun to scale back the detainment, noting that “The panic that gripped the region a few years ago has subsided considerably, and a sense of normality is creeping back in."

Earlier this month, Amnesty International published testimony from 48 ethnic Uyghur and Kazakh people who’ve been detained in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Those families anxiously await a highly-anticipated United Nations report on the detainment, which is yet to be released. The Xinjiang police files are expected to play a heavy role in providing evidence of a systematic campaign of mass detention by Chinese authorities.

Speaking of the United Nations, it will also hear the case of Rohingya genocide in Myanmar. Judges at the U.N. high court dismissed preliminary objections by Myanmar, setting up hearings to air evidence of atrocities against the ethnic Rohingya. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the repression of the Rohingya population in Myanmar (formerly Burma) amounts to genocide.

The president of the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK, Tun Khin, said 600,000 Rohingya are "facing genocide" and one million encamped people in Bangladesh are awaiting justice.

Unfortunately, that is not the only case of alleged genocide unfolding right now. In Tigray, a region of northern Ethiopia, there is a genocide very few people are talking about. A civil war in Tigray began in 2020, and it has left the region in Africa's second most populous country in crisis. Thousands have died, two million people have fled their homes, and parts of the country have been pushed to famine.

The New York Times has a helpful explainer about the war, and Human Rights Watch published a damning report on human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing against the Tigrayan ethnic group by Amhara authorities and forces, with the help of Ethiopian federal authorities.

In Tunisia, democracy groups are warning about the country falling into one-man rule. President Kais Saieg, who was legitimately elected in 2019, is now working to ratify a new constitution that could cement his power in office. The Washington Post explained where things stand in a helpful editorial that addresses the complexities of the moment:

Mr. Saied dismissed the prime minister and suspended parliament, citing presidential emergency powers and the need to deal with Tunisia’s undeniable political and economic crisis. Troops blocked legislators from entering parliament, a signal that Mr. Saied enjoyed military support. Indeed, many Tunisians, frustrated with corruption and partisan gridlock, applauded his move. Since then, however, economic and social problems have persisted. The president has resorted to rule by decree and cracking down on those who push back against his power grab — including the elected parliament, which he purported to dissolve March 30 in retaliation for attempting to reassert its constitutional powers.

In Israel, a fifth election in three years now appears to be around the corner. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced in June that his governing coalition will be disbanded and the country will hold new elections. He had previously united eight parties in order to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu, but now a new election in October or November could once again see Netanyahu, or a new face rise to power.

We covered how Israel has struggled to form a coalition government in June of 2021, which you can read here. Bennett seemed to make a breakthrough, but now that coalition too is disbanding.

And, finally, Mexican authorities recently announced the capture of an infamous drug lord who killed a DEA agent. Rafael Caro Quintero had served 28 years in prison, but his sentence was overturned by a Mexican judge in 2013 who said he had already served his time for other charges. Later that year, in a surprising twist, a Mexican appeals court  ruled that his case should have been heard by a state court, not a federal court. Mexico's government then reissued a warrant for his arrest, and has been on a decade-long manhunt for him ever since.

The U.S. offered a $20 million reward for his capture, the most ever for a drug trafficker, and put him on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. Members of a U.S. task force set up to find him have known where he was for some time, but were repeatedly foiled when they tried to apprehend him, alleging leaks from within the Mexican government. Now that he has been captured, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the U.S. will seek the immediate extradition of Quintero to be tried in the United States.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Why are Republicans voting against contraception? It is one of the most effective ways to reduce the number of abortions. Was there some type of poison pill in the bill the house Democrats just passed? I haven’t seen a whole lot of reporting on it.

— Nathan, San Diego, California

Tangle: For those who missed it, last week, House Democrats passed a bill that protects access to any contraceptive device or drug approved by the FDA. Intrauterine devices known as IUDs and emergency contraceptives like plan B were included in the legislation. The bill passed 228-195, with eight Republicans joining every Democrat in voting in favor, and all 195 "no" votes coming from Republicans.

There were basically two reasons that emerged from Republicans for voting against the bill. The first was the argument that contraceptive rights are not under threat, and therefore the entire process was just a political charade intended to make Republicans look bad — so they simply weren't going to play ball. This also explains the roughly 100 abstentions.

The second is that many anti-abortion groups actually opposed the bill, and asked Republican politicians to hold their ground and vote against it. The reasoning for that opposition falls into a few different camps. For some, contraception access is simply linked to abortion rights, and there is a view that a bill like this could ultimately be used to justify federal legalization of abortion-inducing pills. Even though many Republicans support contraception in practice, that crosses the threshold into legalizing abortion.

For others, the language of the bill is a bit of a "slippery slope," and could eventually permit federal regulations of certain future abortion medicines and abortifacient birth control if they get approved by the FDA. Some have also raised the prospect that the bill could force medical workers to provide contraceptive access against their religious beliefs.

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA), who is a physician, said the legislation “eliminates conscience protection laws and singles out that all providers would be required to administer contraceptives despite their moral or religious beliefs,” because the bill lacks language protecting physicians, according to The Wall Street Journal. Democrats have countered that the bill forces the government, not individual providers, to enforce the right to contraceptives.

Meanwhile, Republicans like Nancy Mace (R-SC) have introduced bills to improve access to contraceptives and voted with Democrats to protect that access. Mace showed up to the House wearing a jacket that said, "My state is banning exceptions, protect contraception," on the back.

So, that's basically where things stand. I don't think there is a "poison pill" so much as some fear about what doors Republicans and anti-abortion groups say it opens. And either way, I do not see 10 Republican votes for this legislation in the Senate.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

A story that matters.

President Biden and Democrats in Congress are hoping to push through (and gearing up to promote) a series of bills to better fund police departments and promote a plan to address a rise in violent crime. Before Biden tested positive for Covid-19, he had planned to announce a "Safer America Plan" to allow the training of 100,000 police officers for what the administration calls “accountable community policing,” according to The Washington Post. Biden is also hoping to ride momentum from the gun control package passed in Congress to get "$3 billion to help communities clear court backlogs and solve homicides; a $15 billion grant program to prevent violent crime and reroute police resources in nonviolent cases; and $5 billion for community violence intervention programs." You can read more here.


  • 67%. The percentage of Americans who favor term limits for Supreme Court justices, according to a new AP/NORC Center poll.
  • 3.9 million. The number of people between June 29 and July 11 who said they didn't report to work because they were sick with Covid-19 or taking care of a sick loved one, according to the Census Bureau.
  • 1.8 million. The number of people who said they missed work for those reasons during the same period last year.
  • 3,400. The number of known monkeypox cases in the U.S., the most of any country.
  • $280 billion. The estimated price tag of the "CHIPS" bill package in Congress, which includes $52 billion in subsidies and is expected to move forward in the Senate this week.

Have a nice day.

With all the news of political turmoil across different countries, we figured we’d share some good news in the spirit of international cooperation. In June, members of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Council met in person for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began. The ITER is an international consortium of 35 countries closing in on proving a truly revolutionary scientific breakthrough: nuclear fusion. ITER has been building a massive tokamak reactor in southern France that, if successful, will be a magnetic fusion reactor “designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy based on the same principle that powers our Sun and stars.” If achieved, nuclear fusion would provide energy at four times the efficiency of our current nuclear fission reactors, with none of the risks of chain reaction meltdowns (and four million times the efficiency of petroleum, with none of the carbon emissions). The fusion reactor will be the most complex machine ever produced by humans. And now, it’s 78% complete. To learn more about it, visit the ITER website.

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