PLUS: The London Review of Substacks, and a city named for Taylor Swift.
US moves against banking spiral
U.S. regulators fully guaranteed the deposits at two banks that collapsed over the weekend, part of efforts to allay worries of a financial crisis. Signature Bank’s fall followed that of Silicon Valley Bank last week. U.S. officials insisted the moves did not amount to a bailout, noting that their moves would “wipe out” the banks’ equity and bondholders. American officials were also still looking to auction SVB to another financial institution. U.S. President Joe Biden will deliver a speech today, while traders increased bets that the Fed, which has relentlessly raised interest rates for a year to battle inflation, would break from its pattern this month.
The SVB collapse is the second-biggest in U.S. history. The bank is a major node in the American startup financial infrastructure, with offshoots in the U.K. and China, and the fallout has sparked fears of a wider meltdown. First Republic Bank, a focus of recent concerns, said it had secured additional funding from the Federal Reserve and JPMorgan Chase. Still, experts warned against complacency: “This could be the first cockroach in the cellar,” the head of one investment fund told The Wall Street Journal, while Jason Furman, a former economic adviser to Barack Obama, noted that the consequences of the initial moments of the 2008 financial crisis “are obvious in retrospect but were not at the time.”
Asian actors and films won milestone victories at the Oscars, highlighted by Michelle Yeoh’s Best Actress win. The Malaysian’s success was one of seven awards won by Everything Everywhere All at Once, which chronicles a Chinese immigrant laundromat owner’s turn as a superhero. The Telugu-language film RRR also won an Academy Award for Best Original Song with its hit Naatu Naatu, while the Tamil documentary The Elephant Whisperers won Best Documentary Short Film. Yeoh’s success, in particular, is “a celebration for Asian actors and actresses battling for their presence in Hollywood,” a Hong Kong-based film expert told CNN.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping promised a strengthened military, while his premier repeated warnings against “suppression” by the U.S., the latest sign of worsening Sino-American ties. Beijing and Washington have marshaled their diplomatic clout in recent weeks. China mediated a resumption of relations between arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, illustrating the “vast differences between China and the United States in diplomacy,” as one Chinese expert put it. The U.S., meanwhile, opened its biggest joint military exercises with South Korea in years, as President Joe Biden today hosts Australia and Britain’s leaders to bolster a defense technology-sharing pact. Highlighting the stakes, Britain’s prime minister told The Wall Street Journal that China poses an “epoch-defining systemic challenge” to the West.
The U.S. would destroy Taiwan’s sophisticated semiconductor industry if China successfully invaded, a National Security Advisor to former U.S. President Donald Trump told Semafor’s Steve Clemons. Speaking at the Global Security Forum, Robert O’Brien said that were Beijing’s forces to take control of Taiwan, the U.S. and its allies would respond as Britain did in World War II when France surrendered to Germany, destroying the French naval fleet. Though O’Brien is not a current official, his prior post gave him access to the highest level of U.S. state secrets. Referring to Taiwan’s chipmaking facilities, O’Brien said: “I can’t imagine they’d be intact.”
Cyclone Freddy made landfall in Mozambique for the second time. It first developed in the southern Indian Ocean 33 days ago, and is now probably the longest-lasting tropical cyclone in recorded history, Forbes reported. It is very rare for storms to intensify more than three times, but Freddy has rapidly intensified seven times, twice reaching Category 5, the highest classification. Freddy has now expended more energy than most Atlantic hurricane seasons. Climate change is expected to make cyclones more frequent and more powerful: Whether that’s happened so far is unclear, but Freddy certainly suggests it has changed their behavior.
Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said that “history will hold Donald Trump accountable” for the Jan. 6, 2021 riots in Washington. Pence was in the Capitol Building when thousands of people stormed it, hoping to prevent Congress from ratifying Trump’s 2020 election defeat. Trump tweeted baseless claims of fraud and criticized Pence for not blocking the result in his role as Senate president. Speaking in Washington, Pence said “President Trump was wrong … his reckless words endangered my family.” Pence is reportedly considering running for president in 2024 but, unlike other likely Republican candidates, isn’t sticking close to Trump’s legacy.
Moscow and Kyiv both reported inflicting heavy losses on each other’s forces in Bakhmut. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed 1,100 Russian troops were killed and 1,500 incapacitated in a week. Russia’s defense ministry said “more than 220 Ukrainian servicemen” died. The Institute for the Study of War said most of Russia’s casualties were from the Wagner mercenary group, and that the Kremlin may be deliberately putting them in harm’s way to reduce its leader’s influence. Ukraine seems to be fighting for Bakhmut despite near-encirclement so as to wear down Russia’s troops, but Rob Lee, a defense analyst, argued they could do so more effectively by withdrawing to more defensible positions.
Mexico expects to receive record remittances this year. The chief economist of the country’s largest bank estimates remittances will grow by between 7% and 9% to over $60 billion in 2023. Despite rising prices, remittances to low- and middle-income countries grew 5% to $626 billion last year, almost a quarter of which went to Latin America and the Caribbean. The World Bank recently estimated that increasing pressures from climate change will continue to fuel migration, further driving up international remittances. “National and regional development strategies should be viewed through a climate migration lens,” the study’s lead author said.
The BBC is embroiled in a row about government influence and freedom of expression after accusing its star soccer broadcaster of breaching social media guidelines. Gary Lineker, a former England football hero, compared the government’s new immigration plans to language “used by Germany in the 1930s” in a tweet last week. Ministers accused him of betraying BBC impartiality. Lineker was taken off air, but many colleagues walked out too, leaving the world’s largest broadcaster’s coverage of the world’s most popular sport without any commentary or analysis. The BBC was accused of hypocrisy: Other presenters have expressed political views without censure, and the BBC chairman has donated funds to the ruling Conservative Party.
The U.S. began Daylight Savings, perhaps for one of the final times. A bill to end it is before the House of Representatives, with Senator Marco Rubio calling the practice “antiquated” and “stupid”. The U.S. began changing clocks in 1908, to align waking hours with daylight, and still does, despite cheap electric light and the mechanization of agriculture largely removing the point. The European Union also voted in 2018 to end hour changes, but has not yet done so. Europe’s change comes later than the U.S.’s: The U.K. remains on winter hours for two more weeks, a point of considerable annoyance to email newsletter staff publishing to early-morning U.S. schedules.
Columbia University has dropped the SAT, formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, a standardized test for high school students. Most universities use SATs alongside grade-point averages (GPAs) for admissions. But the tests have been criticized for, like IQ tests, showing racial differences: White and Asian students systematically do better than Black and Latino ones. Critics suggest that this is a reason to remove them, as several U.S. universities have.
Freddie deBoer, a writer and former teacher, points out that, yes, SATs are racially stratified. But then “all educational data is racially stratified [because] we have a racially unequal country.” If you remove SATs, most universities are left just with GPAs, which are even more stratified and easier to game. “The people who stand to gain the most from getting rid of the SAT,” says deBoer, “are not poor Black kids but affluent white kids whose parents have the sway in the local school district.”
It’s been 10 years since the first lab-grown burger was cooked and eaten. It cost $325,000, but still provoked huge excitement and major investment in cultivated meat: Real animal cells, formed into steaks or burgers, but which have never seen an animal. Over the last decade, though, skepticism has grown. Timelines have been pushed back as, year after year, cultivated meat failed to reach the shelves.
Robert Yaman, writing in Asterisk, says the challenges are real — it’s hard to scale up from lab-size bioreactors to industrial processes, and even a single microbe can contaminate entire batches, so sterility is vital. But cautious optimism is still possible. Solar power was pronounced dead several times since its invention in the 1960s. But long-term investment, and short-term hybrid business models, meant it never went away, and now it’s on a relentless upward curve. Perhaps in a few decades, we’ll say the same about lab-grown burgers.
New Delhi, new tensions
For the West, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the most important story in the world right now. Away from the European Union and the U.S., that’s not quite so true, says the Cairo-based Indian journalist Rohan Venkataramakrishnan. “In terms of morality and having to pick sides,” he writes, it has not “permeated the world quite as much as they wish it had.”
But even those countries that didn’t see it as an “epochal event” are finding that the war can’t be ignored. India was looking forward to its moment in the international spotlight, as host of the G20 this year. New Delhi has realized that “tensions between the West and Russia/China over the Ukraine war are threatening to overshadow all the messages that it had hoped to bring to the fore.”
The city of Glendale in Arizona will change its name to Taylor Swift in honor of the U.S. singer launching her Eras Tour in its City Farm Stadium this week. The mayor of Glendale will announce the temporary name change later today, and it will go into effect on Friday and Saturday, Swift’s two concert dates in the city. “We know all too well that she’s one of the most influential artists of her generation,” Glendale’s public affairs department said in a statement. “We are writing our own love story for her and greeting every Swiftie in style!” The 33-year-old Grammy winner’s highly anticipated tour follows the release of her 10th studio album, Midnights.