All of Washington — and much of America — was glued to the news this week, watching the scandal surrounding President Donald Trump’s interactions with the president of Ukraine that kicked off a full-fledged impeachment inquiry in Congress.
But it turns out that the world didn’t actually stop spinning on its axis just because Trump is once again embroiled in a crisis.
In fact, a whole bunch of really important news happened this week — from an uprising in Egypt to a dire new climate change report, from a dramatic reduction in the number of refugees allowed into the US to the downfall of an eccentric CEO that has sent shivers through the tech economy.
And there’s a lot more.
So if you — like many of us — were too busy paying attention to the political chaos in Trumpworld to notice the rest of the world, don’t worry: We’ve got you covered. (Oh, and if you missed some of the Trump-Ukraine scandal details, we’ll catch you up on that, too.)
A new report finds humans have caused irreversible changes to the Earth’s oceans and icy places
Undoubtedly the biggest story of the week, in terms of sheer volume, is about the oceans. This week, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a massive report on how climate change is impacting the world’s oceans and cryosphere (i.e. the icy places of the Earth). The picture is bleak.
In all, “over the 21st century, the ocean is projected to transition to unprecedented conditions,” the report warns. The ocean will be warmer, more acidic, hold less oxygen, and be more greatly stratified (i.e. the top and bottom layers won’t mix as much). Ocean heat waves are growing more common, and it’s likely more extreme El Niño and La Niña systems will form, leading to more extreme weather around the globe. All of these changes make the ocean less hospitable for many forms of life and more dangerous for human societies.
Meanwhile, the two largest ice sheets on Earth — the Greenland ice sheet and the Antarctic ice sheet — are losing mass at an accelerating rate. That, in turn, is causing oceans to rise at an accelerating rate.
A lot of these changes — both in the cryosphere and in the oceans — the report warns, will not be reversed if global emissions are halted. Some of the damage is already done.
But the report underscores how we’re not powerless to avoid the worst-case scenario. All of the changes to our oceans and ice will be much worse if we do not reduce emissions.
The UK’s Supreme Court thwarts Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit ploy
In case you haven’t been following, Johnson suspended — or “prorogued” — Parliament back in September for five weeks, which severely narrowed the time frame members of Parliament had to deliberate on Brexit before the impending October 31 deadline.
Proroguing Parliament itself isn’t illegal, but in an unprecedented assertion of power the UK Supreme Court basically said Johnson’s move was because he tried to frustrate Parliament “without reasonable justification.” That brought Parliament back to work immediately, with opposition lawmakers calling for Johnson to resign.
Things have only gotten worse for Johnson since then, mostly of his own doing. But even if you missed all this political chaos, keep in mind that one thing still hasn’t changed: The UK is supposed to break up with the European Union in a month and it still can’t figure out how it’s going to pull that off.
The Trump administration slams the door on refugees
The United States will accept fewer than ever refugees over the coming year: 18,000 at most, down from a cap of 110,000 just two years ago. And a new executive order from President Donald Trump will allow state and local authorities to block refugees from settling in their areas.
The annual cap on refugees will be set at 18,000, down from 30,000 this year, in the coming fiscal year, which starts October 1. Local governments that do not have the resources to support refugees in becoming “self-sufficient and free from long-term dependence on public assistance” will be able to turn them away.
The reduction in refugee admissions and the new restrictions on where they may resettle represent another blow to the US’s ability to aid the world’s most vulnerable populations. And the policy comes as the number of refugees worldwide has soared: approximately doubling between 2012 and 2018 to more than 20 million, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The WeWork implosion is sending shockwaves across Silicon Valley
What was supposed to be one of the biggest tech IPOs of the year ended up tatters. WeWork CEO Adam Neumann stepped down this week amid reports of poor corporate governance, a struggling business model, and general bad behavior.
Not only is WeWork postponing its IPO, but rumors are flying that the company is going to shed everything but its core business and lay off thousands. The whole situation is casting a pall on We’s biggest investor, SoftBank, a Japanese venture fund that has transformed Silicon Valley with massive bets on emerging companies.
Why should you care if a tequila-pounding, private-jet-flying, weed-smoking, hot-shot “tech” CEO gets his comeuppance? Because, after the lousy year that tech darlings Uber, Lyft, and Slack have had after going public, there’s a new chill in the IPO world. (Peloton, which went public yesterday, is currently trading at 9 percent below where it opened.) That could rattle the entire tech industry and the wider economy.
The fight over Joker rages on — before the movie has even arrived in theaters
Joker, a glimpse into the life and origin story of Batman’s psychotic arch-nemesis, has already become one of the most reviled and defended movies of the year, weeks before its upcoming release in theaters.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix in the titular role and directed by Todd Phillips, the film has come under fire from critics who believe it not only glamorizes the iconic villain but might also encourage disturbed young men to follow in his footsteps and potentially commit violent acts.
This week, a group of people who lost loved ones in the 2012 mass shooting at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, sent an open letter to Warner Bros. voicing their concerns and asking the studio to donate to charities that help victims of gun violence.
In response, Phillips defended his film: “Quite frankly, if you do your own research about Aurora, that gentleman wasn’t even going in as Joker,” he told the Associated Press. “That was misreported — his hair was dyed red. He was having, obviously, a mental breakdown and there’s something horrifying about that but it wasn’t related to it outside of the fact that it happened at a movie theater.”
Phillips has also complained that he’s being treated unfairly by the “far left” and that his movie’s violence isn’t that different compared to that of the John Wick franchise. Those comments haven’t gone over well, fueling ongoing debate over the film.
Joker comes out in theaters on October 4. Read more about the conversation surrounding the film at Vox.
GM workers strike for second week
Nearly 50,000 GM auto workers are on strike for the second week in a row as they argue with the company over wages, benefits, and the use of temporary workers. GM employees, who are represented by the United Auto Workers union, also want the company to reopen idled factories to keep jobs in the US.
From Georgia to Michigan, GM workers have been picketing around the clock, closing 30 factories and suspending work at more that two dozen warehouses. It’s already the longest auto strike in nearly 50 years, and the stoppage is costing the company about $75 million a day. When the new four-year contract is finalized, it will likely serve as a template for Ford and Fiat Chrysler’s new labor contracts.
If workers succeed in getting GM to reopen factories, that would be an embarrassment for Trump, who has so far failed to revive manufacturing jobs on his own. It could even hurt his support among union workers who voted for him in 2016.
—Alexia Fernández Campbell
Protesters in Egypt rise up against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
Egyptians have taken to the streets around their country to protest President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a dictator who took power in a 2013 military coup. This is the second Friday in a row that demonstrations have popped up around the country, though the regime has already arrested nearly 2,000 people and set up many barricades and checkpoints. Sisi mostly wants to keep his critics out of Tahrir Square, the symbolic hub of the Arab Spring, to impede a replay of the dramatic scenes which in 2011 brought down a decades-long autocrat.
It’s a brave move by Egyptians who once again have chosen to confront brutal rule with nonviolence (at least for now). The worry, though, is that the regime will crack down on protesters with force, potentially leading to bloodshed over the coming days and weeks. Which means the Middle East, unfortunately, may yet see another democratic upswell crushed by an oppressive government.
Greta Thunberg versus Trump and some right-wing trolls
On Monday night, in response to the teen climate activist Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speech to the UN, President Trump tweeted sarcastically, “[s]he seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” (Thunberg promptly edited her Twitter bio to read: “A very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.”)
The attack came amid a torrent of often misogynist and ableist abuse hurled at Thunberg this week, with conservatives attacking her demeanor, her looks, her mental health (she has autism), and above all her autonomy, claiming she is “brainwashed” or a victim of child abuse. What’s remarkable is how ineffective it’s been and how little it has affected Thunberg’s growing influence as a champion of science and immediate action on climate change. You can read more about it here.
Hate speech online is apparently fine, so long as it’s only from politicians
Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have long struggled with defining the boundary between free speech and abusive behavior on their platforms. And nowhere has the line been grayer than for politicians. This week, we finally got some alignment between the major tech platforms: Facebook and YouTube effectively said that they would let politicians say whatever they want, as long as the content was “newsworthy.” Of course, if “newsworthy” means the media covering an outrageous, vile, racist, or downright untruthful statement a politician makes on social media, that in and of itself blurs the line about newsworthiness.
Ahead of the 2020 election — when politicians seem eager to test that line — it’s an important clarification, and one that aligns with the policy at Twitter, which has long let politicians pop off without any punishment. In a sense, the platforms have realized that it’s near impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. And yes, Donald Trump is going to keep saying whatever he likes. But have they just abdicated any responsibility for upholding the boundaries of civil discourse?
Spider-Man returns to the Marvel Cinematic Universe
If you haven’t been paying attention to insidery Hollywood news, you might not even know that Spider-Man was ever on his way out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
After Marvel and Sony co-produced two hugely successful films in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming and this year’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, an off-screen financial dispute between the two studios in August put Tom Holland’s Spider-Man future in the MCU in doubt — no more crossovers, no more Zendaya, no more Aunt May. Marvel was reportedly asking for too much financial compensation from Sony. But this week, the two announced that they’ve brokered a new deal to let Spidey remain in the MCU, with Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige producing an upcoming third Spider-Man film — slated to arrive in theaters on July 16, 2021. Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is safe, for now.
Listen to Today, Explained
In just one week, she inspired global protests, mean-mugged President Trump, and chastised world leaders at the United Nations. David Wallace-Wells, editor at New York magazine, explains the rise of Greta Thunberg.
Looking for a quick way to keep up with the never-ending news cycle? Host Sean Rameswaram will guide you through the most important stories at the end of each day.