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The European Union agrees a deal on aid for Ukraine, the FBI warns of Chinese cyber warfare, and gen͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
 
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February 1, 2024
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Flagship

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The World Today

  1. EU agrees Ukraine deal
  2. FBI blocks China hack
  3. CRISPR to treat disease
  4. More Red Sea strikes
  5. Rate cuts expected
  6. Nigeria devalues naira
  7. Mexico City faces drought
  8. France votes on abortion
  9. Account-sharing crackdown
  10. Google invests in wind

LeBron James’ longevity, and a Netflix hit set in a post-apocalyptic Seoul.

1

EU unlocks Ukraine aid

European Union leaders said they had overcome Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s veto over aid for Ukraine. Orbán had blocked a $55 billion aid package in December, but European Council President Charles Michel said just before Flagship hit your inbox that the bloc’s leaders had unanimously agreed a €50 billion support package for Kyiv. Details of the deal were not immediately released. Brussels had been considering both a carrot and a stick: Cash incentives if Hungary lifted its veto, and a threat of withholding all EU funding and even stripping Budapest of its voting rights if it didn’t. It was unclear what made Orbán — who has been “using this opportunity to blackmail” the bloc, one diplomat earlier told the Financial Times — lift his veto. The issue had been made more urgent by Washington’s deadlock over its own $60 billion package.

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2

US says disrupted China hack

FBI Director Christopher Wray. REUTERS/Leah Millis

U.S. officials said they disrupted a Chinese hacking operation targeting critical infrastructure. The announcement came as FBI Director Christopher Wray told a congressional hearing that hackers from China were “positioning … to wreak havoc” on U.S. sites. Companies including Microsoft have previously said that state-backed Chinese hackers were preparing to worsen disruption during future crises. Concerns have also grown over whether China — as well as other countries — will seek to influence the outcome of this year’s U.S. presidential election: CNN reported that Chinese leader Xi Jinping promised U.S. President Joe Biden that China would not do so, though intelligence officials were unpersuaded. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” Wray told lawmakers.

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3

CRISPR treats hereditary disease

A gene-editing therapy successfully treated sufferers of a debilitating disorder. Hereditary angioedema causes attacks of crippling swelling, and can be fatal, especially if it closes the throat and obstructs breathing. It is largely caused by a fault in a gene for a particular enzyme. The new treatment replaces the faulty gene in patients’ cells, and led to a 95% reduction in attacks in a preliminary trial. The gene-editing technique CRISPR, which the new treatment uses, has long been usable on embryos, but recent breakthroughs have seen it used in adults and children, which involves getting it into all the relevant cells in a body. In November, the U.K. became the first country to approve a CRISPR drug, targeting two blood diseases including sickle-cell anemia.

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4

Renewed Red Sea tensions

REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

U.S. forces carried out renewed strikes on Houthi militants in Yemen while the Iran-backed group claimed to have struck a merchant ship in the Red Sea. The tensions surrounding the waterway over the Israel-Hamas war have resulted in a 30% fall in container shipping through the Red Sea, an International Monetary Fund official said, disrupting the Suez Canal through which a huge amount of global commerce flows. The economic impact of the conflict on Israel has also been considerable, likely leading to a ramping up of defense spending and taxes, a potential dent to the country’s credit rating, reduced interest from startups, and an eventual brain drain, Haaretz’s economics editor warned.

Semafor’s Jay Solomon scooped the first of what is expected to be a flood of lawsuits tied to Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault on Israel. Read about what Jay says will likely be “an ugly — and protracted — period of legal recriminations.” →

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5

Western rate cuts forecast

Major Western central banks looked set to pivot to cutting interest rates amid signs of slowing inflation. The U.S. Federal Reserve made clear its benchmark rate had peaked, with banks including Goldman Sachs and ING projecting reductions beginning in May, while the Bank of England is expected to signal today it could begin lowering rates in the summer. The U.S. decision in particular has significant political implications — slowing inflation and lower rates will likely benefit President Joe Biden’s case that he has been an effective steward of the economy — and global fallout: Were borrowing costs to remain “higher-for-longer,” investors may flee riskier assets, “including emerging market stocks and bonds,” IMF economists warned in a blog post.

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6

Naira collapse adds to Nigeria’s woes

Nigeria devalued its naira currency to a record low, the second major devaluation in eight months, bringing the official exchange rate close to the black-market rate. The move was part of a wider package of market-friendly reforms from President Bola Tinubu, part of efforts by the country to address “one of its worst socioeconomic crises in decades,” a columnist in Punch, Nigeria’s biggest newspaper, wrote. Slow growth and high inflation are exacerbating poverty. Surveys indicate that, with unemployment at record levels and tens of thousands kidnapped for ransom money each year, most Nigerians would leave if they could. But the collapse of the naira has made that unaffordable: Nigerian students abroad are finding themselves unable to pay university fees.

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7

Mexico City’s water crisis

REUTERS/Raquel Cunha

Mexico City residents protested after water shortages reached dangerous levels, leading to cutoffs for thousands of residents. Water levels in the main reservoir the city relies on have fallen more than 60% below capacity, largely due to outdated infrastructure after decades of underinvestment, experts said. According to forecasts, if the reservoirs aren’t replenished or consumption doesn’t drop significantly, the city — Latin America’s second-biggest — may run out of water by June, Reforma reported. The issue has taken national significance, as Mexico City’s former mayor is the front-runner in this year’s presidential election. In response, authorities have proposed drilling wells in the city itself.

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8

France votes for abortion rights

REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

France’s National Assembly voted overwhelmingly to enshrine abortion rights in the constitution, the first step toward what would be a historic move. Support for the measure — approved by 493 of 577 lawmakers — was galvanized after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn the right to abortion. “While this freedom is not directly threatened” in France, the bill’s text read, “this is not the case in other countries.” The measure will now be voted in the French Senate, where a conservative majority makes its passage uncertain. However the government heralded yesterday’s vote as a major victory: The National Assembly and the government “did not miss their rendezvous with women’s history,” France’s justice minister told Le Monde.

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9

Account-sharing crackdown expands

Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ will follow Netflix’s footsteps and start banning password-sharing. Hulu said it would start “adding limitations” to accounts from March 14, while ESPN+ and Disney+’s latest user agreements include explicit restrictions on using other people’s logins. Netflix’s shift in June led to an explosion in subscribers as password-sharers had to get their own accounts. It’s perhaps a sign of the competitiveness of the streaming market: Companies could be lax about sharing when subscribers were easy to come by, but now have to fight for each one. The increasing prevalence of ads in streaming services is another indicator: Prime and Netflix both have ad-supported tiers, to some creators’ chagrin, The Hollywood Reporter said.

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10

Google backs Dutch wind farms

Google agreed a deal to back two major wind farms off the coast of the Netherlands as part of its plan to power its data centers entirely with clean energy. It previously announced smaller solar and onshore wind deals in Italy, Poland, and Belgium. Data-center servers are energy-intensive — in 2022, Google’s used twice as much electricity as all of San Francisco — and the tech giant is supporting local renewable production to meet its goals. The two new farms will provide about 6% of Dutch electricity consumption, and are a welcome boost to the struggling offshore wind industry, The Verge reported, which has seen major projects shuttered in the U.S. and Europe thanks to rising costs and falling subsidies.

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  • Finnish workers begin two days of strikes to protest against proposed labor reforms and welfare cuts.
  • King of Denmark Frederik X is in Poland as part of a three-day visit to promote businesses and his country’s climate policies.
  • Battle for Sky Kingdom, the latest installment of Remi Blackwood’s Future Hero series, is released.
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Semafor Stat

Proportion of all the players that have ever played in the National Basketball Association that LeBron James has played against. Having made his debut in 2003, James is — through both his talent as well as his longevity — ascending to the top of several categories in professional basketball: He has already amassed the most points in league history, and is closing in on all-time leaders in games and minutes played, as well as assists. Yet for a league that has been in existence since 1946, the latest stat, compiled by ESPN, is in some ways the most remarkable.

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Curio
Netflix

A new South Korean action film set in post-apocalyptic Seoul soared to the top of Netflix’s most-watched list. Badland Hunters tells the story of a man who embarks on a mission to rescue a teenager from cultists in a city left lawless after an earthquake. The action sequences are “the greatest highlight of the film,” according to a review in Screen Rant, which was perhaps to be expected given the film is the feature directorial debut of martial-arts choreographer Heo Myeong-haeng.

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Hot on Semafor
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WES 2024

Semafor’s 2024 World Economy Summit, on April 17-18, will feature conversations with global policymakers and power brokers in Washington, against the backdrop of the IMF and World Bank meetings.

Chaired by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein, and in partnership with BCG, the summit will feature 150 speakers across two days and three different stages, including the Gallup Great Hall. Join Semafor for conversations with the people shaping the global economy.

Join the waitlist to get speaker updates. →

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