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Senate border bill is ‘dead on arrival,’ Swift wins a record-breaking Best Album Grammy, and Bali im͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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sunny Hong Kong
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February 5, 2024


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The World Today

  1. Senate unveils border bill
  2. Gaza ceasefire talks stall
  3. Europe’s Trump win fears
  4. Grammys win for Swift
  5. Sinn Fein wins in N Ireland
  6. China death sentence
  7. Chile’s deadly wildfires
  8. Zambia copper discovery
  9. Bali imposes tourism tax
  10. Messi booed for no-show

The London Review of Substacks, and the Brazilian cocktail taking Carnival by storm.


US border bill faces House opposition

REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

The U.S. Senate unveiled a bipartisan border-control bill which would also provide funding for Ukraine and Israel. The legislation would attempt to close loopholes and allow the president to effectively shut the border when crossings are high. But the Republican House Speaker declared it “dead on arrival,” saying it would not end “the border catastrophe.” Despite concerns about migration levels, though, much of the U.S. still requires young workers as it struggles with population stagnation and an aging workforce. Topeka, Kansas — which has a low unemployment rate and thousands of unfilled jobs — is encouraging migrants to move there for work, even offering up to $15,000 a person to help with relocation costs, The Wall Street Journal reported.


Intense fighting across Gaza

REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Intense fighting across Gaza highlighted Israel’s difficulties taking control of the enclave from Palestinian militants. Nearly four months into the war triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, Israel was locked in battles in central and southern Gaza, and Hamas claimed to have reemerged in the north of the territory, which Israel believed it had cleared. The fighting came as ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas appeared to stall. One hurdle: The far-right Israeli cabinet member Itamar Ben-Gvir, who warned he would oppose any deal that ended the war before Hamas’ full defeat. Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, Ben-Gvir also directly criticized U.S. President Joe Biden, saying Donald Trump would give Israel greater freedom in its war.


Trump polling fuels Europe fears

REUTERS/Mike Segar

Persistent polling suggesting Donald Trump would defeat Joe Biden in a presidential election rematch this year is fueling fears in Europe. A new survey from NBC News puts Trump five percentage points clear of Biden. Our colleagues at Principals noted the caveats: The numbers flip if Trump is convicted of a felony, and the poll is just one data point. Still, Trump’s popularity doesn’t just pose an “obvious risk to NATO and the transatlantic order” if he wins: European leaders worry his success is hampering the flow of aid to Ukraine now, according to Politico. “Should Trump be reelected, the risks to Europe’s unity will be substantial,” a group of European experts wrote in Foreign Affairs.

Though the U.S. election is well underway, it doesn’t even make the Top 9 of Semafor’s Global Election Hot List. Check out which countries do feature in the latest edition, out today. →


Swift takes fourth Grammy album win

Taylor Swift won her fourth Album of the Year Grammy, the most of any artist, for 2023’s Midnights. The Beatles only ever won one, while Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, and Paul Simon have three. It cements Swift’s position as the biggest artist of her generation: She was also named Billboard’s most powerful person in music last week, and accounts for 2% of all U.S. record sales. Her success stands in contrast to that of the wider industry, which has seen slowing growth, the Financial Times reported. It was a good night for female artists, who took the four biggest prizes — record, album, song, and best new artist — while the inaugural Best African Music Performance award was taken by South African newcomer Tyla.


N Ireland elects Sinn Fein leader

Kelvin Boyes/Pool via REUTERS

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill was elected Northern Ireland’s first minister. Her victory is notable for many reasons. First, she will be the first Catholic leader of the U.K. region, which was deliberately created to have a Protestant majority and which saw decades of sectarian violence between the two communities. Second, Sinn Fein is pro-Irish union, making this a significant step towards the reunification of the island of Ireland. And third, it reveals how Sinn Fein, once the political wing of the terrorist Irish Republican Army, has made itself a mainstream, respectable center-left political party: Remarkably, O’Neill, on taking office, told British-identifying voters “your national identity, your cultures, your traditions are important to me.”


China death sentence for writer

REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

A Beijing court handed a suspended death sentence to a China-born Australian pro-democracy writer, a ruling slammed by rights advocates which threatened to upend improving relations between the two countries. Yang Hengjun was arrested in 2019 on espionage charges, although no details have been offered of the accusations against him. The sentence comes amid warming ties between China and Australia, after tensions peaked in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when Canberra backed calls for an inquiry into the virus’ origins. “Australia lost its fear of the Chinese Communist Party in the last few years,” The Sydney Morning Herald’s politics and international editor wrote. “Now Beijing is setting out to recondition us to be afraid once more.”


Deadly Chile wildfires

REUTERS/Sofia Yanjari

Wildfires in Chile killed at least 112 people while hundreds remained missing. President Gabriel Boric said the country faced a “tragedy of very great magnitude” as firefighters fought to control the fierce fires. The disaster in Chile — the country’s worst for more than a decade — has highlighted the risks of wildfires across South America as the continent grapples with a historic drought. Two-thirds of the region has much drier soil conditions than usual, data from NASA shows, as global warming and El Niño, a warm weather pattern, take their toll. The fires, meanwhile, have turned carbon sinks such as Colombia’s rainforests into CO2 emitters, feeding a vicious cycle.


Semafor launched in October of 2022 with a philosophy of presenting our sophisticated audience with reliable facts and diverse insights. Our Semaform story structure, which separates facts and analysis, embodies that approach. And you seem to like it!

So today, we’re announcing the launch of our biggest new product since then, a new, global multi-source breaking news feed called Signals. Our journalists, using research tools from Microsoft and OpenAI, will offer readers diverse, global insights on the biggest stories in the world as they develop on our gorgeous site, Semafor.com, as well as other platforms like this one.

Read more about our attempt to address the troubles of fragmented, polarizing internet breaking news in a memo from Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith and Executive Editor Gina Chua. →


Zambia copper find boosts US push

REUTERS/Hereward Holland

​​KoBold Metals, a mining start-up backed by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, said it had discovered Zambia’s biggest copper deposit in a century. According to the company, which uses artificial intelligence to find valuable deposits, the Mingomba could become one of the world’s top three high-grade copper mines. The discovery is part of a wider Washington-backed push for U.S. mining companies to compete with Chinese ones for control over key minerals, some of which are essential for electric vehicles, mobile phones, and the U.S. defense industry. The push has meant that Africa has “climbed up on Washington’s foreign policy priority list” after a decade of “utter neglect,” an expert at Stellenbosch University in South Africa told Politico.


Bali to introduce tourism tax

Bali will introduce a tourism tax this month, charging visitors to the Indonesian island $10 to enter. Around 80% of Bali’s economy is tourism-related, but the 5 million visitors it received last year contributed to growing degradation of the environment, notably plastic pollution, and tensions with locals have grown in recent years. The Straits Times reported foreigners “working illegally, disrespecting religious sites, [and] driving while intoxicated with alcohol.” Bali is not the only hotspot struggling with the tension between its need for tourist cash and preserving what makes it attractive: Venice plans to implement a tourism tax from this spring.


Messi booed for HK no-show


Lionel Messi was booed by fans when he stayed on the bench during Inter Miami’s exhibition soccer match in Hong Kong. The team’s manager said the 36-year-old had suffered a hamstring injury, but his failure to appear led to shouts of “refund, refund, refund” from the crowd. Even the Hong Kong government expressed disappointment, saying, “The event organiser owes fans an explanation.” The situation lays bare the tensions at the heart of Messi’s Inter Miami project: From a sporting perspective, an injured player, no matter how famous, should not play. But the club’s global exhibition games are not solely or even primarily a sporting event, but a celebrity vehicle more akin to a concert tour. Fans know what they paid for, and it wasn’t seeing DeAndre Yedlin.

Live Journalism

February 05 | Washington D.C.
Principals Live with Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi

An exclusive 1:1 interview with Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi on competing with China, the Democratic foreign policy argument, and the Select Committee’s focus for 2024.

  • U.S. National Security Council officials visit Colombia to discuss neighboring Venezuela.
  • Poland’s president makes a state visit to Kenya.
  • The U.K. marks the anniversary of women’s suffrage.

Tool of the regime

Machine tools are sometimes called “mother machines” — they’re the machines that make other machines. “Nearly every manufactured good is made using machine tools, or by machines which were made using machine tools,” writes the engineer Brian Potter in Construction Physics. For many years, the U.S. machine-tool industry was unparalleled — it was still the largest producer in the world until the 1980s. “But almost overnight, the industry collapsed.”

The development of “numerical control,” a sort of early computerization, changed the industry in the 1960s, writes Potter, and the U.S. was slow to keep up: Japan “jumped on the NC bandwagon” as early as the 1950s. It meant Japanese machine tools were faster, cheaper, and more reliable than U.S. ones, while American firms were unwilling to make the investments to remain competitive. A recession in the early 1980s all but killed the industry. It’s a real problem: A shortage of machine tools is hampering U.S. production of shells for Ukraine.

And that is called paying the Dane-geld

Everyone loves Denmark. It has “has long ranked high on the list of societies that American liberals dream about turning the United States into,” says the Danish writer David Heinemeier Hansson: State-funded education, healthcare free at the point of need, a robust social safety net. Copenhagen is a beautiful, safe city, full of culture and good food, and extremely fun to cycle around. But “these benefits are fenced by a myriad of compromises and obligations,” says Hansson.

Denmark has draconian laws on vagrancy, drugs, and begging. Mentally ill homeless people are often involuntarily committed. And immigration is highly restricted: 87% of Danes are ancestrally Danish. “The upside is a country that is remarkably safe,” says Hansson. But it is not a multicultural society like the U.S. “Almost any Dane, with the right will and gumption, could … become American,” writes Hanssen. “But almost no American … will ever be able to truly become a Dane in the eyes of the Danish.”

Future perfect

Most political pundits are rubbish at telling the future. The political scientist Phil Tetlock once had them make solid, time-limited, falsifiable predictions and found that most people do little better than chance. But a few people do much better, and the very best of them, the top 2%, that Tetlock discovered are called “superforecasters.” On his Substack Telling the Future, one superforecaster, Robert De Neufville, interviews another, Michael Story.

Story believes that the community of superforecasters has “not had as much impact as we could.” You’d think that people who are able to predict the future would be useful for decision-makers, but the forecasts are not always presented in ways that people can use. Story set up his own forecasting firm to try to improve that situation. He’s also a Russia expert, and told de Neufville of his heuristic for improving forecasts about Russia: When other forecasters put a probability on whether Russia “would take some kind of aggressive stance, I would just up that by 10%.”

Xeque Mate Bebidas/X

A cocktail a bartender made on a whim to help a friend in Brazil nearly a decade ago has exploded in popularity and is likely to be a staple at Carnival this month. Gabriel Rochael whipped up the Xeque Mate — rum, lemon, guaraná, which is a bitter Amazonian fruit, and a caffeinated herbal tea known as mate — in 2015 for a friend promoting a party. The lone batch he made sold out almost immediately, and soon Rochael was overwhelmed with requests from bars, and now sells them in ready-to-drink cans which are increasingly available nationwide. “Xeque Mate became the embodiment of [the Carnival] spirit, evolving from a hometown favorite to a viral sensation,” one Brazilian restaurateur told Punch.