Jul 26, 2023

Special edition: International news round-up

Plus, a reader question about critical race theory.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, 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: 13 minutes.

Today, we're going to cover some international affairs and answer a reader question about Critical Race Theory.

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Quick hits.

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  1. The Education Department has opened a civil rights probe into Harvard's legacy admissions practice, examining whether it racially discriminates by prioritizing the children of alumni and donors. (The story)
  2. A federal judge in California blocked President Biden's newest immigration rule, which limits who can seek asylum at the border. The rule allows the federal government to quickly deport asylum seekers who have not sought out protections and been rejected in the countries they passed through to get to the border. (The ruling)
  3. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson donated a seven-figure sum to the relief fund for the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the actors’ union currently on strike in Hollywood. (The donation)
  4. UPS says it reached a tentative, five-year deal with 340,000 Teamsters to avoid a strike. The agreement increases starting wages for part-time workers, who comprise over half of all UPS employees, from $16.20 per hour to $21 per hour. (The deal)
  5. President Biden's son Hunter will appear in court on Wednesday to plead guilty to tax charges and avoid a gun charge. The plea agreement still needs to be approved by a judge. (The hearing)

Today's topic.

International affairs. Since we are a daily newsletter focused on U.S. issues and can't go deep on every single topic out there, we sometimes miss important things happening in the rest of the world. So today, we thought it'd be a good idea to mix it up: We're going to use this edition 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, this edition will not include the in-depth coverage or commentary from the right and left we provide 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 reply to this email saying so. As always, when there is strong interest from readers, we listen. With that in mind, 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. 

You can find our last international round-up, which coincidentally we published a year ago today, here

In Israel, street protests are ongoing after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu helped push through a judicial overhaul plan that would weaken the Supreme Court. The vote was boycotted by the opposition and passed parliament 64-0 out of 120 potential votes.

Before passage, Israel's Supreme Court was able to nullify a government decision it found "unreasonable in the extreme," a concept many right-wing lawmakers viewed as too nebulous. The bill had previously included a measure to allow the Knesset, Israel's legislative body, to overrule Supreme Court decisions by a simple majority. But that part of the overhaul was dropped.

Currently, the court is selected by a panel of three Supreme Court judges, two lawyers, two cabinet ministers and two members of the Knesset. Netanyahu and his coalition have also pushed a bill that would increase the number of Knesset seats on the panel, giving Knesset members a majority in picking judges. Those proposed reforms, which could change, will be voted on in the fall. Netanyahu’s opposition considers the changes to be more controversial than the bill passed on Monday.

Tens of thousands of Israelis have been protesting the reforms for months. Thousands of military reservists, union leaders, and medical professionals have threatened work stoppages if the legislation goes through. Now they face a decisive moment. The Wall Street Journal (paywall) has more

While Russian drones attacked grain storage infrastructure in Ukrainian ports, Russian authorities accused Ukraine of launching a drone strike of its own in Moscow. Just days after Russia pulled out of the grain deal that allowed the continued export of grain, a depot was destroyed in the Black Sea port city of Odessa. Then, Russian drones attacked Ukrainian ports on the Danube River, just across from Romania, a NATO member. The attacks on the Danube were described as the closest to Romanian territory since the war began.

Russia had previously suspended targeting of port locations when the deal to move grain freely was put in place. Officials said more than 60,000 tons of grain were destroyed in the past week, and the global price of grain has risen by 8% already.

Meanwhile, Russian authorities said a drone attack on Moscow early Monday resulted in one aircraft falling from the sky near the Ministry of Defense’s headquarters. No casualties were recorded after two of the drones struck nonresidential buildings in Moscow. Media reports suggested that one of the drones fell onto a highway near a Moscow city center, shattering shop windows and damaging the roof near the Defense Ministry building.

A Ukrainian drone also struck an ammunition depot in the Russian-annexed Crimea, which stopped traffic on a major highway. The Associated Press has the story of the drones in Moscow, while BBC has the attacks on the grain depot.

The conflict in Sudan is fueling an escalating humanitarian crisis. The numbers are staggering: 3.1 million people have been displaced in Sudan, 1.4 million of whom remain in the country while an estimated 750,000 have fled into neighboring nations in Africa. About a third of Sudan's population of 16 million already relied on some form of assistance before fighting broke out, and more food and medical supply shortages are expected. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 20,000 people have fled into Chad alone just this past week.

"We can see that they have suffered, many lost family members, and we don’t even dare ask them, ‘Where are the men?’ The answer from the mothers is often that they were killed. So, you just see many women, many children,” WFP Chad Country Director Pierre Honnorat said in a call with journalists, which CNN reported. According to WFP, one in 10 displaced Sudanese children is malnourished. The region of Darfur is still recovering from the genocide of the 2010s, and the capital of Khartoum has been described by residents as a "living hell."

The conflict stretches back to April 15, when fighting erupted between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a powerful paramilitary group led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti. The competing militaries are a legacy of former dictator Omar al-Bashir's fracturing of the nation's security apparatus as part of his 'coup-proofing' strategy, which failed when al-Bashir was ousted by the military following mass protests in 2019. Al-Burhan and Hemedti shared power with civilian leaders in a transitional government meant to democratize Sudan, but the two teamed up to push out the civilian leaders in 2021. 

Since then, Al-Burhan and Hemedti maintained an unsteady partnership, and amid unrest had said that they planned to oversee the transfer of power to a democratic government and to integrate the RSF into the SAF. The process failed, and eventually the two generals went to war — a foreseeable outcome that was largely ignored by the international community. Al Jazeera has a timeline on the conflict. 

The Mediterranean region of southern Europe and northern Africa is engulfed in a prolonged heat wave, with temperatures in Spain, Greece, and Italy reaching 104 degrees. Italy has experienced high temperatures in Sardinia of up to 47 Celsius (118 Fahrenheit), which it is expected to surpass in the coming weeks. The Greek islands of Corfu and Rhodes have endured wildfires for about a week, resulting in the evacuation of 19,000 people from Rhodes, the largest evacuation in the country's history. In Algeria, 30 have already died from wildfires, while 1,500 more have been evacuated. Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Spain have also been experiencing sweltering heat and wildfires.

The European Centre for Mid-Range Weather Forecasts has said that the heat wave is the result of a 'heat dome' over the region, a high-pressure circulation of the atmosphere over a large area that acts like a lid to trap heat in place. The area of high pressure has resulted from the 'Cerberus' and 'Charon' anticyclones, which moved heat from the Sahara across northern Africa and into the Mediterranean. The current conditions are reminiscent of the 2022 European heatwaves that killed an estimated 62,000 people.

CNBC has more on the heat and CBS News has more on the wildfires.

In May, a series of local and regional elections in Spain resulted in losses for the left-wing governing coalition. That coalition was led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and the Socialist Workers' Party. The conservative movement gained ground through the Popular Party, led by Alberto Nuñez Feijóo, and the far-right Vox party, led by Santiago Abascal. Sánchez, who has earned a reputation as a political gambler, decided to call for a "snap vote" — a national re-election of the legislature in parliamentary democratic systems that occurs immediately, outside of the regular national election schedule.

In the parliamentary system, a government can only be formed by a party with a majority of the seats in parliament, or by a coalition of parties whose votes total a majority. Pundits expected the Populist Party and Vox to win the 176 seats required to form a majority, but in a surprise result earned 169. Despite the Popular Party winning a 136-seat plurality, the Vox party won only 33 seats, down from 52.

The election has been widely cast as a repudiation of far-right nationalism in Spain, and could be a sign to other conservative movements in Europe. The Vox party had been vocal in its contempt for gay marriage, push to restrict abortion access, denial of climate change, and ambitions to centralize government power by rejecting Catalan independence and regional police control in autonomous regions within Spain. 

It remains unclear how Sánchez and the Socialist Workers' Party, with its 122 seats, will form the majority coalition required to govern. Left-wing party Sumar gained 31 votes, but Sánchez will likely need to form agreements with nationalist parties in Catalonia and the Basque region to reach a majority. In the meantime, the Spanish government is in a deadlock that may not be resolved until the regularly scheduled election in December. CNN has more.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup kicked off this past week, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. The month-long tournament has in recent decades been the largest women’s sporting event in the world, and has been dominated by the success of the United States national team. So far, the 2023 edition has pushed its popularity to new heights. 1.3 million tickets have already been sold, and the host nations expect the final number to surpass 1.5 million, which would set a new record. Further, the tournament has expanded from 24 to 32 teams, while funding for the event has tripled from $40 million in 2019 to $152 million this year.

The trend of American dominance, however, is in jeopardy. While the United States scored a convincing 3-0 victory over Vietnam in its opening round, other championship hopefuls dazzled. Japan notched a 5-0 victory over Zambia, Brazil scored a 4-0 win over Panama (and the goal of the tournament so far), and Germany dominated Morocco in a 6-0 first-round blowout. Elsewhere in the standings, however, the theme of the tournament has been parity. Underdogs are challenging, drawing, and sometimes even defeating heavy favorites, including host nation New Zealand’s opening day victory over Sweden. Then, to kick off the second round, New Zealand was itself upset by the Philippines. All the action has made the first round of this year’s tournament one of the most captivating in recent memory.

As with last year’s men’s World Cup, this year’s tournament had not yet started before meeting its first controversy. Underpayments and accusations of wage theft have been issues in the women’s game in the past, and this year FIFA is reportedly reneging on its commitment to ensure each athlete is compensated at a minimum of $30,000 for their participation.

Just Women’s Sports has a breakdown of the competition, and The New Zealand Herald has an editorial on the “crowd pleasing” start.

The mayor of Ecuador’s third-largest city, Manta, was slain Sunday in a shooting that killed one other person and wounded four more, including two suspected attackers, officials said. The mayor, Agustín Intriago, was a 38-year-old lawyer who belonged to the local Better City movement and was recently re-elected to a term that began in May. Manta has become a key city for exporting drugs in the past decade, during which Ecuador has seen a steep increase in crime, including a recent surge of armed attacks, kidnappings, robberies, and extortion. Elsewhere in the country, over 90 prison guards in five different prisons are being held hostage. Five have died in the recent violence in prisons, and hundreds of inmates have died in Ecuadorian prisons in recent years.

The recent violence is part of a concerning trend in the South American country. Inequality and civil unrest have increased under current President Guillermo Lasso, with the president being accused of corruption, including ties to organized crime, tax evasion, and backroom dealing in the energy industry. Lasso has never had an approval rating over 20% and is widely seen in the country as serving corporate interests over the wellbeing of the Ecuadorian people. In May, Lasso was impeached by the National Assembly. In June, Lasso dissolved the assembly and called for a snap election, then announced he would not run in that election, which is set to take place in August.

This summer's tumultuousness comes after a decade of debt defaults, which resulted in Lasso implementing policies of price control, debt forgiveness, and increased investment in the oil and mining industries. These policies sparked a summer of protest last year, led by the nation's indigenous groups. It is too early to predict what the results of the upcoming election could be, though experts expect a rise of leftist populism, and further violence. The Associated Press has more.

A wave of deadly protests has hit Kenya as citizens express their anger over tax hikes and an unreasonable cost of living. At least 30 people have died in the protests, while opposition parties say they are filing charges against the ruling government for "police atrocities."

The protests started after the government, led by President William Ruto, signed unpopular tax hikes into law. Taxes on petroleum products, which caused a spike in the cost of transportation and living staples, were particularly unpopular. 

Ruto ran on a campaign dedicated to prioritizing the poor, and entered office ten months ago facing a battered economy, soaring inflation, and a high debt burden. Shortly after entering office, he announced a pause on food subsidies and said the country would instead focus on food production to stabilize prices. He also eliminated subsidies for food and electricity, saying they were unsustainable. Then, he proposed the taxes as a way to create domestic revenue and jobs. Despite these policies, the cost of living has continued to rise.

The protests are being led by Raila Odinga and the coalition Azimio la Umoja (One Kenya). Odinga ran against Ruto in August but lost, and then rejected the results of the election, saying they were manipulated. CNN has the story

India has decided to ban exports of non-basmati rice to ensure sufficient domestic supply, which has sparked panic-buying and stockpiling of rice in many communities around the world. The decision comes at a time when production scarcity is driving up the price of rice, which is only further increased by panic-buying. In Canada, due to increased demand for all rice varieties, including high-grade basmati rice that was not included in the export ban, stores that serve South Asian communities have implemented purchasing caps.

India has taken the extraordinary step in an attempt to ensure its domestic supply and bring down prices, which have soared due to excess rains and drought in rice-producing regions. "According to government data, the domestic price of non-basmati rice has increased by almost 10 per cent this month. In September of last year, a metric tonne of non-basmati rice in India would cost about $330 US. Today it tops $450, according to pricing in the most-traded Indian rice futures contract," according to a CBC report. India is second only to China in global rice exports, accounting for 23.5% of the global market. CBC has the story

On Monday, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea in an apparent response to the arrival of a nuclear-propelled U.S. submarine  — the USS Annapolis — at a South Korean military base. While the U.S.’s Indo-Pacific Command said the missile launches posed no threat to its personnel or allies, it also referred to the act as part of the “destabilizing impact” of North Korea’s weapons program.

In recent weeks, North Korea has increased the cadence of its weapons testing while the U.S. military has built up its assets in South Korea, including the first arrival of a nuclear-armed submarine to the country since the 1980s. North Korea’s defense minister said the submarine’s arrival could be grounds for the use of nuclear weapons, and the country conducted a series of ballistic and cruise missile tests shortly thereafter. 

Further adding to tensions is the status of U.S. Army Private Travis King, who was detained in North Korea last week after entering the country from the south. King was being escorted back to the U.S. after serving time in South Korean prison for an assault conviction. After evading his escort, he reportedly joined a group in South Korea that was touring the Korean Demilitarized Zone. During the tour, he broke off from the group and ran across the border, then was later apprehended by North Korean authorities.

The U.S. said it has started “a conversation” with North Korea about King, but little more is known about his condition. King is the first American to be detained in North Korea in nearly five years. CBS News has the story.

Qin Gang, China’s foreign minister and the country’s highest ranking diplomat, was ousted from his role on Tuesday after a month-long absence from public view. No explanation has been given for his removal.

Once viewed as an ascendant figure in China’s Communist Party, Qin was a close ally of President Xi Jinping, who reportedly handpicked him for the foreign minister role. Now, Qin will be replaced by his predecessor Wang Yi, a career diplomat who held the foreign minister position for about a decade before Qin’s six-month tenure. 

Qin was last seen in public on June 25, one week after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and days after meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko. Shortly after, Qin disappeared from China’s foreign affairs schedule and was subsequently absent from a high-profile meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Indonesia and a gathering of representatives from BRICS countries in South Africa. China had cited “health reasons” for his absence, and has declined to share further information.

While the shakeup is unlikely to have any immediate impact on President Xi’s rule, it could reflect poorly on his judgment within the party, as he backed Qin for the foreign minister role over a number of more experienced candidates. Reuters has the story.

On Monday, the cryptocurrency and digital ID project called Worldcoin was launched. The company is being led by Sam Altman, the head of OpenAI, which popularized ChapGPT. The product is being built to verify users' identification and distinguish real humans navigating the internet from computers.

Core to the project’s implementation is an eye-scanning "orb," which must be used in-person, to verify that users are real human beings. Once a user is verified, they can access the company’s cryptocurrency, which is also called Worldcoin. Users can then make payments and transfers with the coin or other digital assets through an app.

Worldcoin has already amassed 2 million users during its beta launch and aims to begin operations in 35 cities across 20 countries. Because of regulatory issues, Worldcoin cryptocurrency is not currently available in the U.S., and there are no indications for when it might be. Critics have raised questions about Worldcoin's collection of biometric data and the privacy risks involved with doing so. Some have also said tying the project to a cryptocurrency effectively acts as a bribe, trading people's biometric data for access to the coin. Forbes has the story.

Your questions, answered.

Q: For real, what is critical race theory? Why has it become so divisive in schools? What exactly is it that makes it controversial?

— Saarah from Singapore

Tangle: Hello to Singapore! Thanks for reading Tangle.

Answering your question is a little bit difficult because — like so many other things that have gone through the political meat grinder — "critical race theory" is now a catch-all term referring to different things depending on who is using it. I've heard "critical race theory" used to describe just about anything that touches race, racial tension, the justice system, or critical lenses for teaching American history.

The original definition of Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is an academic movement that recognizes systemic racism in American society and examines how that racism has impacted the law, institutions, and outcomes. In essence, it is the study of America, its history, and its law through a lens that prioritizes race. The movement began in the 1970s, and was led by many niche academic heavyweights.

What is controversial about CRT is that it supports the argument that racism is still an everyday experience for people of color while white supremacy maintains its power through systems of government and law. Advocates for teaching CRT argue that it helps privileged groups understand how they benefit from these systems, while critics say its teaching is inherently divisive and regularly assigns racial significance to innocuous concepts or outcomes.

CRT has become particularly controversial in the U.S. because of the way some teachers have taught it in K-12 schools, especially among elementary- and middle school-aged children. Conservative activists like Christopher Rufo have shared lesson plans, firsthand accounts, and footage from classrooms where teachers try to teach ideas popularized by CRT that many Americans find deeply offensive or counterproductive.

We've covered the issue a few times so far in Tangle, and you can find that coverage here.

Blindspot report.

Once a week, we present the Blindspot Report from our partners at Ground News, an app that tells you the bias of news coverage and what stories people on each side are missing.

The right missed a story about a federal court ruling that Florida violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by institutionalizing children with disabilities.

The left missed a story about Hunter Biden's gallery selling his art to a Democratic donor who was then appointed to a prestigious commission.


  • 3,000. The number of cars that are onboard a cargo ship that has caught fire off the coast of the Dutch island Ameland.
  • 30. The length, in minutes, of an evacuation order in Japan after North Korea launched one of its most sophisticated missiles yet.
  • 40. The number of confirmed deaths in the Mediterranean wildfires so far.
  • 3%. The estimated growth forecast for the global economy in 2023, according to the International Monetary Fund.
  • 1,500. The approximate number of developers who have joined a lawsuit against Apple accusing its 30% App Store fees of being anticompetitive.
  • 124. The number of countries that have now abolished the death penalty worldwide after Ghana passed a new law prohibiting capital punishment.

The extras.

New video.

Can "degrowth" work? In our newest YouTube video, I sat down with Dave Gardner, the co-host of the GrowthBusters podcast and the filmmaker behind the GrowthBusters documentary. We talk about his far-reaching proposals for how we should reshape the world in a sustainable fashion, and whether they are actually realistic.  

Have a nice day.

A paramedic has become one family's personal guardian angel. Six years ago, Kristi Hadfield saved John Cunningham's life when he was having a heart attack. "When he went into cardiac arrest, I remember being in the back of the ambulance and I was like, 'Not today John, not today,'" Hadfield recalled. She performed chest compressions which helped sustain Cunningham, who was later revived at the hospital. Over the years, Hadfield stayed in touch with Cunningham through social media, as she often does with former patients. That's where she discovered that John's daughter, Molly Jones, needed a kidney transplant. Cunningham again stepped up for the family, this time offering her own kidney. "She said to me, 'Listen, kid, I saved your dad and I'm going to save you too'," Jones said. "It was amazing. I felt like I was alive again. The difference is just unbelievable. Kristi gave me back my life." Sunny Skyz has the story.

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