What We’re Watching: Standoffs in Sudan and the Persian Gulf

Persian Gulf dangers growing by the day – Iran-backed Houthi rebels used drones to attack two oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia yesterday, just two days after a mysterious attack on Saudi oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. Tensions are flaring dangerously: a Saudi daily led its Tuesday edition with the headline "On the Verge of War?", while Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif tweeted that these recent "accidents" were authored by the US and Israel to trigger a conflict. Hanging over all of this: the Times reported that the Pentagon is exploring plans to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East. What could possibly go wrong?

Sudan Standoff – Following mass demonstrations that began in December, thousands of protesters in Khartoum have occupied the square outside Sudan's national military headquarters since April 6. First, they demanded the end of strongman Omar Bashir's 30-year dictatorship. They got that on April 11, but they refused to go home until the army promised to form a civilian-led government. Last weekend, it seemed like progress was being made in talks between army generals and protest organizers. But on Monday gunfire erupted. At least five protesters and one soldier were killed. We're watching to find out whether someone, perhaps in the military, is trying to prevent the generals and protesters from making a deal.

What We're Ignoring: North Korean virtues & Chinese officials' feelings

North Korean Wisdom and Honesty – For the first time ever, the US last week seized a North Korean cargo ship that was flouting international sanctions on the North's coal exports. Pyongyang, which depends on a vast network of clandestine ships to trade in international markets, wasn't pleased. Yesterday, it called on the US to "carefully reconsider" its "daylight robbery" of the ship, called the Wise Honest, saying the move violated the spirit of cooperation between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. We're ignoring North Korea's complaints, because its neither Wise nor Honest to invoke cooperation just days after firing off a volley of ballistic missiles.

Irreparable Harm to China's Feelings – On Monday, a man was arrested in eastern China for giving his dogs "illegal" names. Apparently, the man thought it would be funny to name his dogs "Chengguan," a word that refers to city officials who fight petty crime, and "Xieguan," which is an informal community worker. The man then publicized his joke on social media. State officials explained the arrest by claiming the man had "caused great harm to the nation and the city's urban management, in terms of their feelings." We're ignoring this story because this man has failed at the relatively easy task of giving dogs funny names, but also because we're confident his offense poses no real threat to China or its urban management.

The scientific consensus is clear. The world confronts an urgent carbon problem. The world's climate experts agree that the world must take urgent action to bring down emissions. Ultimately, we must reach "net zero" emissions, meaning that humanity must remove as much carbon as it emits each year.

While the world will need to reach net zero, those of us who can afford to move faster and go further should do so. That's why last week we announced an ambitious goal and a new plan to reduce and ultimately remove Microsoft's carbon footprint. By 2030 Microsoft will be carbon negative, and by 2050 Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975. We are also launching an initiative to use Microsoft technology to help our suppliers and customers around the world reduce their own carbon footprints and a new $1 billion climate innovation fund to accelerate the global development of carbon reduction, capture, and removal technologies.

Read more on the Official Microsoft Blog.

A potentially deadly new coronavirus that can be transmitted from one person to another is now spreading across China. Chinese state media say it has infected about 300 people and killed six, but the number of undetected or unreported cases is certain to be much higher. Complicating containment efforts, millions of people are on the move across the country this week to celebrate the Chinese New Year with family and friends.

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Norway's government breaks up over ISIS returnee – Norway's right-wing Progress Party said it will resign from the country's four-party coalition government over the prime minister's decision to bring home a Norwegian woman affiliated with the Islamic State in Syria. The woman, who left Norway for the conflict zone in 2013, was arrested shortly after arriving in Oslo with her two children, on suspicion of being a member of ISIS. Prior to her return, she had been held in the Al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria, along with thousands of other family members of ISIS fighters. The defection of Norway's anti-immigrant Progress Party undercuts Prime Minister Erna Solberg's parliamentary majority, likely making it hard for her to pass laws in parliament. This case reflects an increasingly common problem for European countries: the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate has largely collapsed but what should countries do about the return of former fighters and their families to societies that don't want them?

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20,000: Sri Lanka's president has acknowledged for the first time that some 20,000 people who disappeared during the country's brutal civil war are dead, dashing the hopes of families who had held out hope that their relatives were alive and in military custody. The conflict, which ended in 2009, split the country according to ethnicities, killing around 100,000 people, mostly Tamil rebels.

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Since Martin Luther King Jr delivered his iconic "I have a dream" speech in August 1963, the number of Black Americans elected to the United States Congress has dramatically increased. Still, it wasn't until last year, more than half a century later, that the share of Black members serving in the House of Representatives reflected the percentage of Black Americans in the broader population —12 percent. To date, only six states have sent a Black representative to serve in the US Senate, and many states have never elected a Black representative to either house of Congress. Here's a look at Black representation in every US Congress since 1963.