What’s Behind the Latest Strategic Petroleum Reserve Release?

Happy Monday! About 6 percent of Americans think they could beat a grizzly bear in hand-to-claw combat, but college wrestler Kendell Cummings tested the question earlier this month when he tackled a grizzly mauling his friend. Cummings didn’t so much “win” as “survive by playing dead,” but both young men are expected to make a full recovery.

“Before this attack, I had thought that I could take on a bear easily,” Cummings warned that 6 percent. “Now I know that a bear is pretty legit.” 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu this weekend called defense leaders from several NATO countries—including U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, their second conversation in three days—to warn without evidence that Ukraine might detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb.” Russian forces have stepped up attacks on Ukraine’s power infrastructure in recent days, triggering blackouts, while Ukrainian troops have been shelling river crossings near occupied Kherson. Russian officers and medics have reportedly withdrawn from a nearby city, suggesting preparation for a retreat, while other troops are reportedly preparing for urban combat in Kherson.
  • The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday temporarily blocked the Biden administration’s student debt cancellation plan while it considers a motion from six Republican-led states to scrap the program. Missouri District Court Judge Henry Autrey had ruled Thursday that the states failed to establish standing for their suit, while Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett on Thursday rejected a request by a Wisconsin taxpayers group to block the program. The White House said 22 million borrowers have already applied for relief and encouraged others to follow suit, promising the administration would continue reviewing applications.
  • North and South Korea exchanged warning shots early Monday at their disputed western sea boundary, though no direct clash was reported. North Korea has launched more than 40 ballistic and cruise missiles this year, and South Korea is currently conducting annual defense exercises with the United States off the peninsula’s west coast.
  • As expected, Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Sunday received an unprecedented third term as general secretary of China’s Communist Party. Xi also emerged from the weeklong party congress having stocked the Politburo Standing Committee—China’s top governing body—with proteges and allies. Xi has signaled his intention to keep China’s “Zero COVID-19” policy and accompanying lockdowns despite China’s growing economic weakness amid a struggling housing market, rising debt, and sinking exports.
  • Iranian labor unions have called for strikes at oil facilities, schools, and factories amid ongoing protests over the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, detained in September for violating the country’s religious dress code. So far, scattered workers’ protests haven’t been economically crippling but have become more political than previous, economically focused workers’ protests—on Sunday, teachers began a two-day strike to protest the deaths and detainments of students. Security forces have killed at least 23 children during the protests, according to Amnesty International.
  • Traders estimate Japan’s government spent more than $30 billion to prop up the yen Friday after it hit a new 32-year low against the dollar—just weeks after Japan spent $20 billion on a similar intervention, its first since 1998. The yen has weakened against the dollar in part because Japan’s central bank has kept interest rates comparatively low while the United States’ Federal Reserve has hiked rates to combat inflation, attracting investors to the dollar for higher returns. Unless the Bank of Japan changes course, Japan’s interventions are unlikely to keep the yen strong.
  • Boris Johnson on Sunday pulled out of the race to replace short-lived Prime Minister Liz Truss, who resigned Thursday after her quickly withdrawn tax cut and spending plan wreaked havoc on markets. The former prime minister’s dropout strengthens former chancellor Rishi Sunak’s already commanding lead in the race, which could end as soon as today if challenger Penny Mordaunt—leader of the House of Commons—can’t earn enough nominations from members of parliament to officially enter the race.
  • The Department of Homeland Security announced Saturday that the number of Venezuelans found illegally crossing the southern border each day has dropped more than 85 percent since the administration on October 12 began immediately expelling illegal Venezuelan immigrants to Mexico without asylum proceedings. The administration also announced it would allow 24,000 Venezuelans to enter the U.S. via humanitarian parole—the program includes rigorous requirements for sponsorship, and migrants expelled after illegal crossing attempts aren’t eligible.
  • Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson—chair of the House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol attack—on Friday subpoenaed former President Donald Trump to testify about efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The subpoena is a largely symbolic step, since Trump is unlikely to testify before the panel dissolves at the end of this year. Also Friday, District Court Judge Carl Nichols—a Trump appointee—sentenced longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon to four months in jail and a $6,500 fine for defying his own subpoena to testify before the committee.

Don’t Call it Politics

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve storage at the Bryan Mound site in Freeport, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

When the White House announced yet another release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve last week, Republicans immediately cried foul, declaring it a politically motivated move. 

“No, it’s not,” President Joe Biden insisted at a press conference. “It’s not politically motivated at all.” 

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