North and South Korea trade barbs and missile tests: Just hours after North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea on Wednesday, the South responded by conducting its own first successful test of a submarine-launched ballistic projectile, with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in boasting that it would deter the North's "provocations." Then Kim Yo Jong, the fiery sister of North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, responded to the South's response by threatening to cut all bilateral ties. Although bombastic statements by the Kims are nothing new, things are heating up. With US-led denuclearization talks stalled, Pyongyang carried out its first weapons test in six months a few days ago. Kim may be upping the ante deliberately right now, betting that after the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Joe Biden is keen to avoid another foreign policy embarrassment on his watch. Maybe this time Joe will pick up the phone?

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The world's fifth largest economy votes: Voters in the US state of California will vote Tuesday on whether to fire the state's Democratic Governor, Gavin Newsom, and replace him with someone else. Some 46 candidates have put their names on the ballot to take the governor's mansion from Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor who has been broadly criticized for his pandemic policies — in particular his decision to keep many public schools closed last year, as well as dining out at an exclusive restaurant while telling Californians to stay home. But while the recall effort initially had steam, low projected turnout and an uninspiring group of replacement options — including right wing shock-jock Larry Elder and Caitlyn Jenner of Kardashian fame — mean that Newsom will likely survive. The vote has national implications: there is increasing pressure on the state's 88-year old Senator Diane Feinstein to retire before her term is up in 2024, and it would be up to the governor to appoint her replacement. With the Senate currently divided 50-50, a Republican governor could flip control back to the GOP. But that's a long-shot: Republicans only make up 24 percent of the electorate, compared to 35 percent in 2003, the last time the state recalled its Democratic governor. Who took over after that? The Terminator.

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COVAX comes up short. Who's to blame? The World Health Organization revealed Wednesday that the COVAX scheme would fall half a billion doses short of its target to deliver 1.9 billion COVID vaccine doses to low- and middle-income ex countries by the end of 2021. Several factors have contributed to this shortfall, including India's decision to halt vaccine exports earlier this year amid a catastrophic COVID outbreak, and mixed messaging from the WHO and national governments about the safety and scaling of certain vaccines that disrupted COVAX's supply chain. The WHO has long taken aim at rich countries rolling out booster shots before developing states dole out first and second shots to their populations. But US President Joe Biden hit back in recent days saying that the argument of boosters vs donating shots is "a false choice," saying the US can, and has, done both. So far, COVAX has delivered 245 million doses, but just 0.4 percent of all jabs administered globally have been in low-income states.

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As pivotal as they were, there was certainly nothing inevitable about the September 11th attacks — or their aftermath. Here we imagine five separate scenarios for how things might have gone differently.

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In the narrowest sense, the 9/11 attacks were something that happened only in New York, Washington, and a field in Pennsylvania. But how the US responded — unleashing an open-ended Global War on Terror, launching wars and nation-building occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and dramatically reshaping the government's powers of surveillance at home — sent shockwaves around the world.

In many places, the effects are still felt: in the shattering of the MIddle East, in the rise of China, in the upheavals of South Asia, or in the newly complicated relationships between Washington and old allies in Europe and Turkey. And remember when the US and Russia were — for a few weeks there — seemingly the closest of friends?

We asked analysts at Eurasia Group, our parent company, to give us a quick recap of how 9/11 and its aftermath have affected the regions they cover. Enjoy.

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What do you do when the thing that has helped to make you a rich, prosperous, and healthy democracy is also destroying the planet that you want to save? That's the choice before the roughly five million people of Norway as they head into a pivotal election on September 13.

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Thai PM under pressure: Thousands of Thais took to the streets of Bangkok on Thursday to call for the resignation of embattled PM Prayuth Chan-ocha, who faces a no-confidence vote — his third in 18 months — on Saturday. For over a year, the retired general and 2014 coup leader — who's popular among older Thais, cozy with the business elite, and ultra-loyal to the king — has stared down a youth-led movement demanding broad democratic reforms, including, for the first time ever, curbing the powers of the monarchy. Now, the protesters want Prayuth out because Thailand has been badly hit by COVID while barely 11 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated — perhaps because the government is relying heavily on domestic jab production by a company owned by the royal family that has no previous experience in manufacturing vaccines. Prayuth will survive because he has enough votes in parliament, but the pressure on him from Thailand's emboldened youth won't go away.

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SCOTUS lights the fuse on a culture war bomb: Texas imposed a near complete ban on abortion on Wednesday, hours after the US Supreme Court declined to rule on whether a law that prohibits the procedure after doctors can detect a fetal "heartbeat" is constitutional. Pro-choice Americans say the law, written by the Republican-controlled Texas legislature, violates the provisions of the landmark 1973 Roe vs Wade, in which the Supreme Court ruled that abortion is, with some caveats, a constitutional right. The law would make it illegal to abort as early as six weeks into pregnancy, in effect outlawing some 85 percent of elective abortions in the state. Although President Biden says he opposes the law and would protect Roe v Wade, he has yet to take any concrete action. SCOTUS could still rule on the law, but the debate around it is certain to be a major third-rail issue in US politics as the 2022 midterms approach. A majority of Americans say abortion should be legal in almost all cases, but the split is sharply partisan: 80 percent of Democrats agree, compared to only 35 percent of Republicans.

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