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Joe Biden angrily rejects a report criticizing his memory, Putin hints that Evan Gershkovich could b͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
 
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February 9, 2024
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The World Today

  1. Biden rejects age claim
  2. Hopes for Gershkovich
  3. Khan allies up in Pakistan
  4. US warns Israel over Rafah
  5. US firms backed China
  6. Kenya’s Ruto courts Japan
  7. $7B Brazil oil move
  8. Greece same-sex marriage
  9. Fusion record broken
  10. AI for London rail crime

The cost of a 30-second Super Bowl ad slot, and an Indian art fair brings together artists from South Asia and beyond.

1

DoJ report questions Biden’s memory

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Joe Biden reacted angrily after an investigation into his handling of confidential documents questioned his mental faculties. The Department of Justice inquiry reported that Biden could not remember when he was vice president, or when his son Beau died. The findings were “a political grenade disguised as a 345-page report,” the BBC’s North America correspondent wrote, while one pollster said that “voters think he’s simply too old to run.” Biden pushed back strongly: “I know what the hell I’m doing.” But the report is badly timed, coming days after Biden confused French President Emmanuel Macron and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel with their long-dead predecessors and mixed up Egypt and Mexico while discussing the Israel-Hamas war.

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2

Putin hints at Gershkovich deal

Sputnik/Gavriil Grigorov/Kremlin via REUTERS

Russian President Vladimir Putin said an agreement to free imprisoned Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich “may be reached.” The comment came during a two-hour interview with former Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson. The interview “was never going to be a hard-hitter,” Politico noted: Putin answered the first question with a 36-minute soliloquy about Ukrainian history. He also used the opportunity to rail against U.S. intervention in the war, saying if Washington were to “stop supplying weapons” it would be “over within a few weeks.” But Carlson did get one actual news line out of the conversation: Gershkovich, a U.S. citizen imprisoned last year in Russia on espionage charges the Journal strenuously denies, could potentially be swapped for a Russian FSB agent jailed for murder in Germany.

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3

Khan dominates vote from jail

REUTERS/Ariba Shahid

A bloc allied to Imran Khan appeared to be ahead in Pakistan’s general election, despite myriad restrictions on the popular former prime minister. Candidates tied to Khan — who was jailed ahead of the vote on charges supporters said were politically motivated, and whose party was barred from the election entirely — ran as independents, and were ahead of other major parties in early counting. The election was mired in controversy as authorities delayed the vote for months and suspended mobile-phone services on voting day. Officials’ “actions worsened political polarisation,” the editorial board of Dawn, a major Pakistani newspaper, said. “Crisis and instability will likely continue to plague the nation, with dissent kept in check through the use of fear tactics.”

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4

Biden says civilian deaths have ‘to stop’

REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

U.S. President Joe Biden issued his strongest public criticism of Israel yet, condemning its Gaza offensive as “over the top” and insisting that the killing of innocent people has “got to stop.” Biden’s comments were a step up from previous remarks in which Washington called for Israeli restraint and urged greater humanitarian access, and reiterated criticism from his secretary of state, who had been visiting Israel. The row between the two allies came as Israel readied a ground offensive into the Gazan border town of Rafah, despite calls for caution from the U.S. and U.N., and amid tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border after Israel’s killing of a top Hezbollah commander.

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5

US firms’ China genocide claims

A U.S. congressional investigation accused five venture-capital firms of facilitating genocide and supporting the Chinese military. The firms invested $3.1 billion in entities that boost Chinese artificial intelligence and chip development and further its “military, genocidal, and techno-totalitarian ambitions,” the bipartisan report said. U.S. President Joe Biden has made “a battle between democracy and autocracy” a key theme of his presidency, and placed stringent sanctions on exports to China. The U.S. Treasury is also expected to prohibit investment in various Chinese tech sectors. The issue is likely to gain more attention as the U.S. election looms: One speaker at a forum about U.S.-China relations said the congressional report “scared the hell” out of China-facing companies, the Financial Times reported.

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6

Kenya’s Ruto secures Japan investment

Kenyan President William Ruto secured more than $2 billion in financial commitments from Japanese investors during a state visit to Tokyo, government officials said. Kenya has long relied on Chinese investment to power its economy and develop its infrastructure, including a train project that is quickly turning into a white elephant. However, mounting unpaid debts to creditors in Beijing and a weakening of China’s economy have meant that Chinese financing has all but dried up, affecting Kenya and much of Africa. According to a report by the International Monetary Fund, a one-percentage-point decline in China’s growth could reduce average growth in Africa by about 0.25% a year.

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7

Brazil to expand oil exploration

Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned oil company, plans to spend more than $7 billion on oil exploration in a bid to make the country one of the world’s five largest oil producers. The plans, which include a controversial proposal to prospect for oil in waters just off the mouth of the Amazon river, have called into question the country’s commitment to a green agenda, a key issue in President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s election campaign. The dueling ambitions have caused a rift within the government, with the country’s influential environment minister calling for oil production caps. The head of Greenpeace Brazil said the contradiction was “unacceptable.”

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8

Greece to legalize same-sex marriage

Greece is set to become the first Christian Orthodox country to legalize same-sex marriage. Although more than 80% of the country identifies as Greek Orthodox, wide support among parliamentarians and Greece’s center-right prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, makes the bill’s passage likely despite opposition from the Church and members of Mitsotakis’ own party. The decision stands in stark contrast with other Orthodox nations, including Russia, where LGBTQ+ groups are banned. Mitsotakis attempted to play down the contrast with Orthodox nations, deciding instead to compare Greece to the rest of the EU. The bill is “not something radically different from what applies in other European countries,” Mitsotakis said.

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9

Fusion record set as reactor shuts down

WikimediaCommons

Scientists set a new record for energy produced by nuclear fusion. The Joint European Torus facility in Oxford, England, sustained a fusion reaction for five seconds, generating 69 megajoules, “enough to boil about 70 kettles,” according to the Financial Times. The experiment still consumed far more energy than it produced, but it’s another step along the road to viable fusion energy. JET will be decommissioned this year, replaced by a newer, larger U.K.-based program as well as, in France, the enormous ITER, which will be the world’s largest fusion reactor at its much-delayed opening. Its developers hope it will produce its first plasma next year, and full fusion within a decade of that.

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10

London metro tests AI surveillance

Creative Commons

The London Underground is testing artificial-intelligence-based surveillance tools to detect crime, fare-dodging, and dangerous situations. The metro rail service tested 11 algorithms at one station in northwest London between October 2022 and September 2023, monitoring live video feeds and alerting staff if something seemed amiss. That could be minor rule-breaking such as carrying a bike or more worrying things like weapons, or flagging people at risk of falling onto the tracks, WIRED reported. Privacy campaigners have concerns, but the 151-year-old London Underground is surprisingly forward-thinking: It adopted contactless payment years ago, and uses phone data to predict passenger movements and smooth out services, the tech reporter James O’Malley noted.

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Flagging
  • Farmers in Poland and Hungary are set to stage protests along their Ukraine borders.
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meets U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House.
  • Millions of people around the world will celebrate the Lunar New Year on Saturday, marking the Year of the Dragon.
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Stat

The cost of a 30-second advertising slot during the Super Bowl. The showpiece of the National Football League season is the biggest TV event of the year, expected to attract 110 million viewers. The ads are a spectacle in themselves: “They’re like mini-movies,” one marketing professor told NPR. “They hire these big celebrities. The production value is insane.” The cost of the advertising slot, she said, is a fraction of what they spend on the ad as a whole. But advertisers think it’s worth the money: Market researchers believe the average Super Bowl ad saw $4.60 in returns for each dollar spent, Axios reported.

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Curio
IAF India

India Art Fair Parallel, a series of exhibitions and events that expand on the country’s annual arts festival, is underway in New Delhi. Highlights include an archival collection from acclaimed Indian photographer Raghu Rai and images by Homai Vyarawalla, India’s first woman photojournalist. The program also brings together artists from other parts of South Asia and beyond, STIRpad reported, pointing to Polish visual artist Alicja Kwade’s first India show, a sculptural installation focusing on commonplace household items, and surreal works by Sri Lankan artist Anoli Perera.

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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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