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Israel’s Netanyahu dissolves the war cabinet, Greek authorities threw migrants overboard to their de͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
sunny Athens
sunny Canberra
thunderstorms Tegucigalpa
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June 17, 2024


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The World Today

  1. Israel war cabinet dissolved
  2. Migrants thrown overboard
  3. Biden’s SCOTUS warning
  4. Aus boosts China trade
  5. China spy hat fears
  6. Honduras megaprison plans
  7. Green energy boost
  8. Broadway British invasion
  9. Military robot dogs
  10. Voyager back on line

The London Review of Substacks, and Flagship recommends a 1985 Martin Scorsese comedy.


Netanyahu dissolves war cabinet

Amir Cohen/Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dissolved the country’s war cabinet. The move was expected after the centrist former general Benny Gantz quit last week over what he called Netanhyahu’s failure to form a strategy for the Gaza war. Netanyahu was also facing pressure to include hardline religious politicians in the cabinet. The news followed the Israeli military declaring a temporary pause in fighting in southern Gaza to allow humanitarian aid to enter, a pause which highlighted divisions between the armed forces and Netanyahu: “We have a country with an army, not an army with a country,” Netanyahu said. Israel has come under international pressure in recent months — including from the US and other allies — to do more to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.


Migrants thrown to their deaths

The Greek coast guard threw migrants overboard to their deaths, a BBC investigation revealed. Over a three-year period, more than 40 people are alleged to have died as a result of being forced out of Greek waters, including the death of nine who were deliberately thrown into the sea. According to witnesses, some migrants were taken from land — where they were seeking asylum — placed back on boats, and then pushed into the Mediterranean where they drowned. The allegations add to mounting criticism of the Greek coast guard, which has long faced accusations of disregard for migrants found at sea. With migrant crossings of the Mediterranean expected to rise this year to the highest level since 2016, thousands more could be at risk.


Biden’s Supreme Court warning

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

US President Joe Biden warned that Donald Trump could nominate two more justices to the Supreme Court should he be elected for a second term. Speaking at a Los Angeles event, Biden said Trump’s power over the judiciary was “one of the scariest parts” of his potential reelection, saying there has never been a court “so far out of step” with public opinion. The event raised $28 million, a record for a Democratic event. Meanwhile business leaders are “flocking to meet” with Trump, The Wall Street Journal reported: The CEOs of JPMorgan and Bank of America were among those at a meeting last week where Trump promised a reduction in corporate taxes, and several corporate elites have made positive noises about his proposed business policies.


China boosts trade but raises tensions

Trade between Australia and China reached record levels last year, even as tensions rose in the South China Sea between Beijing and the Philippines. Chinese Premier Li Qiang is visiting Canberra, the first such trip in seven years, to boost ties after relations had soured in recent years. Australia had called for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 in 2020, leading to punitive Chinese tariffs, but tensions have thawed since. Meanwhile, though, a collision between Chinese and Philippine ships near an island claimed by both nations strained already poor relations. Tensions in the region “have heightened considerably over the past year,” wrote Timothy McLaughlin in The Atlantic, as Beijing’s expansionist policies continue: The Philippines’ mutual defense pact with the US makes it a potential international flashpoint.


Spying fears delay British army badges


The British military delayed rolling out new cap badges in honor of King Charles III for fear the redesigned insignia may contain Chinese-installed tracking devices. The British company contracted to make the new badges outsources some manufacturing to China, and a defense official told the Financial Times that “tracking devices or a GPS transmitter could be embedded.” Western countries are unsure whether to treat China as “a friendly trading partner or an implacable foe,” the FT said. Britain banned the use of Huawei equipment in its new 5G networks in 2021, and espionage fears are not unfounded — two British men were charged with spying for China in April. But one lawmaker said: “To say ‘all China is bad’ is poor policy.”


Honduras cracks down on gangs

Honduras announced a series of measures intended to crack down on organized crime, including the building of a new megaprison that could house as many as 20,000 inmates. The plans — which include mass trials and designating gang members as terrorist organizations — echo El Salvador President Nayib Bukele’s own efforts, which have led to murder rates plummeting, but which rights groups say have also led to widespread human rights abuses. Honduras has been in a state of emergency since December 2022 in a bid to stymie the gangs that control swaths of the country, which has one of the highest murder rates in the world.


Global good news on green energy

Green energy continues to make progress around the world. Spain’s solar generation had increased eightfold since 2008 and wind generation has doubled: The BBC reported that the country is now facing an oversupply, sometimes driving prices negative. Over a third of Ireland’s electricity this year has been generated by wind power. And an International Energy Agency analyst told Caixin that China is on course to meet its 2030 target of installing 1,200 gigawatts of solar and wind power six years ahead of schedule: The milestone is set to be reached within the next two months.


British wins behind Broadway scenes

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Daniel Radcliffe won his first Tony Award for his role in Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. It’s the Harry Potter star’s first win after five Broadway shows. Behind the scenes, a British theater company, backed by private equity, is moving to take over Broadway: For decades, most of the Manhattan theater district’s 41 houses have been owned by three operators. But last year, ATG, which owns a quarter of London’s West End theaters, began an “expansionist” drive into New York, Sherwood reported, buying five houses in an estimated $300 million deal, bringing its total to seven. It began its push for Broadway domination with a high-budget production of Cabaret starring Eddie Redmayne, which left critics cold but has so far brought in large sums.


Militaries turn to armed robot dogs


The Chinese and US militaries are experimenting with robot “dogs” to work alongside infantry. A state-run Chinese news agency released footage of a quadrupedal robot armed with an assault rifle being used in urban-combat training scenarios. Earlier videos showed similar dogbots being dropped from drones or launching smoke grenades and other munitions: Chinese researchers claimed one has marksmanship as good as top human sharpshooters. Meanwhile the Pentagon has also outfitted experimental robots with rifles and anti-tank weapons. Semi-autonomous dogs are already used in base security and other non-combat applications, but “robotics companies have had an eye on weaponization” for some time, WIRED reported.


Voyager 1 fully back online

An artist's impression of Voyager 1's view of the Solar System
Wikimedia Commons

Voyager 1, the furthest man-made object from Earth, is fully back online and sending data from all four of its instruments. The space probe, 15 billion miles — or 22 light-hours — from home, suffered a glitch in November and started sending back nonsense. NASA managed partial fixes in April and May, and achieved full science operations over the weekend. The Voyagers launched in 1977 on a planned five-year mission, but after 47 years are still working, now outside the solar system’s boundaries and sending info about interstellar space. Sadly, Ed Stone, who directed the Voyager project for 50 years from 1972 to 2022, did not live to see it: He died on June 9, aged 88.

  • New Zealand’s Prime Minister Christopher Luxon visits Tokyo.
  • The US Food and Drug Administration is expected to make a decision on approval for Merck’s pneumococcal vaccine for adults.
  • US tennis superstar Venus Williams turns 44.
London Review of Substacks

I am the great Cornholio

Recently, the long-running US late-night comedy staple Saturday Night Live ran a sketch. In fact it runs several every week, but for some reason this one attracted remarkable levels of attention. In it, Ryan Gosling and Mikey Day dressed up as Beavis and Butthead from Beavis and Butthead, the 1990s cartoon, and appeared in the audience, putting off the presenter. It was, says the culture blogger Vince Mancini, “everywhere … The amount of digital ink being devoted to … this sketch is nothing short of mind-boggling.”

But why? It wasn’t, Mancini wrote in The #Content Report (and Flagship’s Tom agrees), particularly funny. It was okay, “kind of half-assed,” which is fine — lots of comedy is stupid and all the better for it — but not exactly groundbreaking. Does it need a 5,000-word Vanity Fair oral history? The only explanation, he says, is that it’s a psy-op by a foreign government. The whole thing is made even weirder by the fact that according to a HuffPost “scoop,” the sketch was six years in the making: “If I’d been sitting on an ‘actor wears funny wig’ concept for six years, you couldn’t beat that information out of me with a wet bamboo cane.”

Booked out

There’s been a big uproar in the literary scene over the sponsorship of book festivals. Hay and Edinburgh, two of the biggest British literary festivals, were both partly sponsored by an investment firm called Baillie Gifford. But activists complained that BG’s portfolio includes some fossil fuel firms, and after weeks of pressure, both festivals removed the company as a sponsor.

That sounds like a win for the climate, but it’s not, argues Hannah Ritchie on Sustainability by Numbers. For one thing, while BG does have about $6 billion invested in fossil fuels, that’s only about 2% of its total portfolio, well below the industry average of 11%, and overall its climate record is pretty good. But for another, the world still needs fossil fuels, and will do for some decades. “I want to see the world massively increase its investments in clean energy, and I want us to transition away from fossil fuels,” writes Ritchie. “But the black-and-white ‘fossil fuels are evil’ narrative is not helping us to have grown-up conversations.”

The fifty-first state

The British general election draws near — it’s barely two weeks before what is expected to be a thorough trouncing for the incumbent Conservative Party. And as so often happens in British politics, British political commentators have got it all confused with American politics, writes the Oxford political scientist Ben Ansell. “Once upon a time you could just blame The West Wing,” he writes on Political Calculus. But that’s been off air for almost 20 years.

Nonetheless, it keeps happening. To take one example: The Conservatives are warning that the opposition Labour Party could win a “supermajority” — but there’s no such thing in British parliamentary politics, which in all cases just requires a simple majority. “Just ask [former Prime Minister] Jim Callaghan, who lost a vote of no confidence by a single vote.” Labour could indeed win a very big majority, but that is not the same thing. It’s not Jed Bartlet et al any more, though: Britain’s political classes “have absorbed so much online US content” that they have started developing “America-brain.”


Flagship recommends After Hours, Martin Scorsese’s 1985 comedy noir about a New York yuppie whose life takes a strange turn. It’s a movie which at the time felt “more generic and less auteurist” than the director’s usual work, wrote The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw upon its re-release this year. But “time has lent interest” to the film, its “strangeness and anxiety” more obvious behind the farce: “It is not like a nightmare exactly,” said Bradshaw, “but a strange dream that’s difficult to shake on waking.”

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