Happy Tuesday! Two words: Justin Fields.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- Russia’s defense ministry doubled down yesterday on claims it made over the weekend, alleging once again that Ukrainian forces are preparing to detonate a “dirty bomb” and blame Moscow for the resulting radiation. The ministry said it had activated a special military unit equipped to protect against chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, but Western governments—including the United States—continue to view the Kremlin’s comments as a potential false flag or as a pretext to escalate the conflict.
- As demonstrations over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody entered their sixth week on Monday, Iranian law enforcement officials announced charges against hundreds of people who allegedly had significant roles in organizing the protests. As many as 516 people will be brought to trial this week, and four reportedly face charges that carry the death penalty. “These individuals will be punished and this punishment will be a disincentive,” said Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, Iran’s chief justice.
- One day after North and South Korea exchanged warning shots at their disputed western sea boundary, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol told members of the country’s National Assembly on Tuesday that his administration believes North Korea has completed preparations for what would be its seventh nuclear test, and first since 2017. White House spokesman John Kirby offered the same warnings, telling reporters Kim Jong-un “could conduct a nuclear test at any time.”
- The Justice Department on Monday unveiled three criminal cases involving covert activity by alleged Chinese Communist Party operatives, charging 13 people in total—two of whom were arrested this week—for “alleged efforts to unlawfully exert influence in the United States.” Seven Chinese nationals were indicted for their participation in a scheme “to cause the forced repatriation of a [Chinese] national residing in the United States,” two Chinese intelligence officers were charged with “attempting to obstruct a criminal prosecution in the Eastern District of New York,” and four Chinese nationals—including three intelligence officers—were charged “in connection with a long-running intelligence campaign targeting individuals in the United States to act as agents of the PRC.” The two officers charged with obstructing a criminal prosecution were reportedly working on behalf of Huawei Technologies to unearth information about an investigation into the Chinese telecommunications giant, and unwittingly paid bribes to an FBI agent in the process.
- Rishi Sunak will formally be appointed British prime minister later today after his last remaining rivals for the role dropped out of the running on Monday. Sunak, who is of Indian descent, will be the first nonwhite prime minister in U.K. history. “The United Kingdom is a great country but there is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge,” he said Tuesday in brief remarks. Sunak, who served as chancellor of the exchequer in Boris Johnson’s government and lost this summer’s leadership race to outgoing Prime Minister Liz Truss, added: “We now need stability and unity and I will make it my utmost priority to bring our party and our country together.”
- S&P Global on Monday released its U.S. Composite PMI Output Index for October, finding business activity in the manufacturing and service sectors contracted for a fourth consecutive month. Any reading below 50 on the index reflects an economic reduction, and October’s tally of 47.3—down from 49.5 in September—represented one of the fastest monthly rates of contraction since the financial crisis in 2009.
- The National Center for Education Statistics released its latest National Assessment of Educational Progress reports for mathematics and reading this week, finding the average scores in both subjects—among both 4th- and 8th-grade students nationwide—declined over the course of the pandemic. Not a single state saw average scores improve on either of the standardized exams—billed as the “nation’s report card”—and the backsliding was particularly acute in mathematics, which saw the steepest score declines since the tests began being administered more than thirty years ago. “I want to be very clear: the results in today’s Nation’s Report Card are appalling and unacceptable,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said. “They are a reminder of the impact this pandemic had on our learners, and the important work we must do now for our students.”
- Justice Clarence Thomas issued an order Monday granting an administrative stay that will temporarily block an Atlanta grand jury subpoena seeking testimony from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham as part of an investigation into potentially criminal efforts to overturn the 2020 election from former President Donald Trump and his allies. Graham asked the Supreme Court to intervene on Friday after a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit declined to step in, and the request went to Thomas because he has jurisdiction over emergency appeals from the 11th Circuit.
- A shooter armed with a long gun and multiple high-capacity magazines killed a teacher and a student at a St. Louis high school on Monday, wounding several others as well before being shot and killed by police. Law enforcement officials identified the suspect as a recent graduate of the school—Central Visual and Performing Arts High School—and said the tragedy could have been a “whole lot worse” had his gun not jammed and police not been so quick to arrive at the scene.
Xi Consolidates Power
Everyone knows hard work is a lot more fun when you’re doing it with friends, so who can really blame Chinese leader Xi Jinping for stocking China’s highest governing body with loyalists? Together, the members of the newly reconstituted Politburo Standing Committee are sure to have a great time on their quest to do whatever Xi thinks will make China the world’s premier superpower—all while systematically quashing dissent and repressing ethnic and religious minorities at home.
China watchers fully expected Xi to walk away from the Chinese Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress last week with an unprecedented third term as top political leader, and he didn’t disappoint on that score. But many were surprised by just how thoroughly Xi swept the field of CCP power. A Sunday photo op showing off the new membership lineup of the Politburo Standing Committee—the upper echelon of officials responsible for running China—featured Xi flanked by six allies smiling for the cameras.