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The European Union sanctions Russian gas, the US sells armed drones to Taiwan, and OpenAI’s founder ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
snowstorm Quito
sunny London
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June 20, 2024


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The World Today

  1. EU sanctions Russia gas
  2. Iran’s nuclear ambition
  3. US sells Taiwan drones
  4. Ecuador’s China migrants
  5. Sunak faces wipeout
  6. SAfrica president sworn in
  7. OpenAI founder’s new firm
  8. AI boosts bandwidth
  9. Staff reject office return
  10. Quake shaped Ganges

Rising CEO pay, and Flagship recommends Teju Cole’s new novel.


EU targets Russian gas

The European Union said it would impose new penalties on Russia’s gas sector. The measures ban onward shipments of liquefied natural gas from EU ports, target companies in non-EU countries helping Moscow evade sanctions, and, crucially, hit parts of Russia’s so-called shadow fleet. That collection of ships, by some estimates amounting to more than 1,000 aging vessels which lack international standards for insurance, has helped the Kremlin circumvent a Western-imposed price cap on Russian oil. The new rules could cut Russia’s energy income by hundreds of millions of dollars, Politico said, and force it to use longer, costlier routes to get its oil and gas to market.


Iran ramping up nuclear program

Inside the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility. Caren Firouz/Reuters

Iran may be significantly expanding its nuclear program. According to documents obtained by The Washington Post, Tehran could soon triple its output of enriched uranium, raising fears that it is “moving briskly toward becoming a threshold nuclear power.” Growing fears over Iran’s nuclear ambitions come with tensions already high in the Middle East, with Israel fighting one Iran-backed militant group in Gaza, Hamas, and in an increasingly worrying standoff with another in Lebanon, Hezbollah. Those conflicts have had an impact inside Iran, too: A majority of Iranians now support weaponizing their country’s nuclear program, a marked shift driven in part by conflicts in the Middle East, an expert wrote for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.


US sells Taiwan drones

Switchblade drone. WikimediaCommons

The US approved the sale of more than 1,000 armed drones to Taiwan, a move aimed at bolstering the island’s ability to see off the threat of invasion from China. The weapons transfer comes with tensions heightened following this year’s election of Taiwan’s new president, whom Beijing calls a separatist. Chinese leader Xi Jinping told the European Commission’s president last year that Washington was trying to goad Beijing into attacking Taiwan by providing Taipei with weapons, the Financial Times reported, but US officials point to Chinese military pressure against the island as evidence of Xi’s intent: “When a government… tells you what they’re planning, you should listen,” the outgoing US envoy to Taiwan told The New York Times.


Ecuador curbs Chinese migration

Ecuador reinstated visa requirements for Chinese travelers, citing an increase in irregular migration flows. Disillusioned by economic prospects at home, tens of thousands of Chinese migrants have attempted to reach the US, often starting their journeys in South America. Despite the perils of the route — which requires migrants to pass the Darien Gap, a stretch of dense jungle straddling Colombia and Panama that must be crossed by foot — more than 37,000 Chinese nationals were detained on the border with Mexico last year. Some, however, have decided to return home, after struggling to make ends meet in the US. “What I saw in real life was different from what I saw online,” a Chinese migrant who worked in New York told VOA.


UK PM’s seat at risk


Britain’s ruling Conservatives will suffer such a heavy defeat in next month’s election that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak may even lose his parliamentary seat, opinion polls projected. Three separate surveys had the Labour Party winning up to 516 seats in the 650-member House of Commons, with the Tories as few as 53, and even the best case for the Tories amounted to a historic wipeout. Ministers are typically ensconced in places with hefty majorities, meaning high-profile defeats are rare — no UK prime minister has ever lost their seat in a general election — but one poll said Sunak’s own northern English constituency was too close to call and that most of his cabinet would be booted from office.

For more from the world’s most interesting and important elections, check out Semafor’s Global Election Hub. →


Ramaphosa starts second term

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in for a second term. He will have to manage an unwieldy coalition after his party failed to win a majority for the first time since the end of apartheid. However investors seemed heartened by the new government — the Johannesburg Stock Exchange is up more than 6% this week — which for the first time includes the Democratic Alliance, a pro-business party. Ramaphosa warned, though, that unless South Africa can address its deep inequalities, the country will become unstable. “This is a moment when we must choose to either move forward together, or risk losing all we have built,” he said.


OpenAI founder sets up ‘safe’ AI firm

Amir Cohen/Reuters

Ilya Sutskever, co-founder of OpenAI, set up a rival artificial intelligence company focused on “building safe superintelligence.” Sutskever left OpenAI a month ago, having played a key role in the firm’s early dominance with ChatGPT. In November, he was part of a failed coup to remove CEO Sam Altman, apparently driven by fears that OpenAI was developing powerful artificial “general” intelligence in unsafe ways. Sutskever told Bloomberg that the new company, somewhat unimaginatively named Safe Superintelligence, will be unusual in that “its first product will be the safe superintelligence” — until then, the company will release nothing, which, he said, would insulate it from outside pressures.

For more on the latest advances and debates in the world of AI, subscribe to Semafor’s twice-weekly tech newsletter. →


Using AI to manage telecoms


Telecoms firms are turning to artificial intelligence to manage increasing data loads caused in part by artificial intelligence. An industry analyst told the BBC that British network operators are “using AI to manage the radio frequencies dynamically” to reduce the strain on bandwidth. Other countries are already using AI in telecoms: South Korea has an AI-enabled monitoring system that can fix network faults within a minute, while the US firm AT&T uses AI to predict when the system will overload. “AI has the potential to make networks greener,” one analyst said, “and the world a more efficient place.”


Dell staff reject RTO push

Almost half of Dell’s US workforce rejected the firm’s return-to-office push despite being told they would be ineligible for promotion if they worked from home. In February, the tech giant told staff to classify themselves as either hybrid or remote workers: Hybrid staff would have to come into the office roughly three days a week, while remote workers would no longer be able to change roles or move up the ranks. But months later, staff have largely rejected the move: One told Business Insider that remote working gave them time for hobbies, friends, and family, and “the more time I have to spend in the office, the less time, money, and personal space I have for all of that.”


Ancient quake rerouted Ganges

Wikimedia Commons

An earthquake 2,500 years ago likely diverted the course of the Ganges. Satellite imagery revealed an old waterway parallel to the great South Asian river, about 60 miles south of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. Course changes, “avulsions,” in rivers usually happen over decades or centuries, and are rare in rivers as huge as the Ganges, but sediment analysis showed that the ancient change had been caused by a single sudden movement. Bangladesh is prone to large earthquakes, and a future quake could cause a similar change, perhaps with devastating consequences: “A big earthquake by itself is damaging,” one researcher told Science. “A big earthquake suddenly moving an immense river is even more severe.”

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  • The summer solstice, the longest day in the year, falls in the northern hemisphere.
Semafor Stat

The rate at which median CEO pay at S&P 500 companies increased last year, the fastest increase for at least 14 years. According to data by ISS-Corporate, CEO pay growth far outpaced US wage growth, which rose by just over 4% last year. Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s $56 billion pay package of stock options — the largest such compensation in US history — is just another sign that executive pay “has gotten out of control,” a former CEO told the Financial Times.


Tremor, by Teju Cole. Cole’s third novel, released in 2023, is his “most sundry and vagrant” work to date, The New York Times wrote. It follows Tunde, a Nigerian photographer and university professor, as he navigates his marriage, friendships, work, and travels. The novel mostly forgoes plot, and its UK publisher described it as “a reckoning with human survival.” Cole himself described the novel as a work about “the texture of life” in a Times interview.

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