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A fourth Trump indictment is expected, a far-right outsider wins Argentina’s primary, and the cost o͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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sunny Buenos Aires
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August 14, 2023


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The World Today

  1. Trump indictment expected
  2. Argentina primary surprise
  3. Chinese firms’ troubles
  4. What shopping shifts mean
  5. Ruble plummets past 100
  6. Niger threatens ousted leader
  7. Questions mount over Hawaii
  8. Zuck-Musk fight called off
  9. How heavy cars hurt
  10. A new DNA coating

PLUS: The London Review of Substacks, and the poetry of mathematics.


Trump faces fourth potential indictment

REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Former U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to be indicted in a fourth case this week, this one over allegations he worked to overturn the state of Georgia’s 2020 election results. Trump’s mounting legal issues risk becoming a financial burden — about 30% of his campaign expenses have been on legal-related costs, according to The New York Times — yet they have done little to dent his status as the Republican presidential frontrunner. At the state fair in the early-nominating state of Iowa, Trump and his celebrity backers sought to drown out his rivals. The strategy suggests he isn’t taking Iowa, where his polling lead is smaller than it is nationally, for granted, our colleagues at Principals noted.

— For more on Trump, the campaign in Iowa, and U.S. politics, subscribe to Principals, out shortly. Sign up here.


Outsider wins Argentina primary

REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

Javier Milei, a radical libertarian candidate, won Argentina’s presidential primary, surprising pollsters and plunging October’s election into uncertainty. Milei — a lawmaker who has vowed to abolish the country’s central bank, thinks climate change is a hoax, and believes the sale of human organs should be legal — leveraged widespread anger over the mismanagement of the economy and against the political establishment in his favor. Argentina’s inflation rate is running at 115%, while the peso has lost more than half its value in the last year. “I’m very happy, we’re looking for a change. We’re tired of living like this,” a Milei supporter told the Associated Press.


Chinese economic troubles magnify

The struggles of two massive real estate and financial companies drove renewed worries over China’s economic prospects. Investors dumped shares in the property developer Country Garden after it suspended trading in some of its bonds, a sign that it may seek additional time to repay its huge debts. Meanwhile, three companies said one of China’s biggest wealth management firms failed to make payments on multiple products, underlining the fragility of the country’s so-called shadow banking sector. The announcements came amid a Chinese economic slowdown, battering companies worldwide that depend on the country’s historically supercharged growth: Western firms closely tied to China’s industrial, construction, and export sectors are reporting weaker sales and cutting their financial outlooks, The Wall Street Journal reported.


Inflation spurs strategic shifts

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Companies in the West are increasingly shifting their strategies to account for what may be a permanent change in spending patterns driven by stubbornly higher prices. In the U.S., supermarkets and restaurants are battling each other for Americans’ food spending with the former offering a wider variety of prepared meals and the latter debuting new menu items that aren’t easily made at home, according to The Wall Street Journal. In the U.K., a greater proportion of shoppers are choosing cheaper options at grocery stores. So-called AB consumers — who tend to be wealthier and more highly educated — are ordering fewer home-delivery meals, while apparel retailers, airlines, and other companies worry that customers will start prioritizing saving over spending.


Ruble’s fall accelerates

Russia’s ruble fell below 100 to the dollar, its lowest level since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. A growing reliance on imports, falling exports, and surging military spending pushed the currency down, a long-running drop that has accelerated in recent weeks. The ruble plummeted following the February 2022 invasion, but recovered thanks to a spike in prices for Russia’s energy exports. Goldman Sachs economists warned that the combination of factors driving the ruble lower would also constrain Russian economic growth, while the economist Joseph Politano wrote in his newsletter that the country had “survived the initial wave of sanctions, but as the war continues it is becoming a larger draw on Russia’s limited pool of economic resources.”


Niger leader may face treason charges

General Abdourahamane Tiani. REUTERS/Balima Boureima

Mohamed Bazoum, Niger’s deposed president, could be prosecuted for “high treason,” the military coup’s leaders said. Bazoum and his family have been held in a basement within the presidential compound since last month’s coup, with concerns growing over their well-being. The latest threat appears to close the door on a resolution to the coup, with regional and Western leaders demanding Bazoum be reinstated. Still, in response to a threat of military intervention from a bloc of West African nations, the coup’s leader, General Abdourahamane Tiani, said he was open to exploring “diplomacy and peace in resolving the matter.”


Criticism mounts over Hawaii response

Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources/Handout via REUTERS

The death toll from wildfires in Hawaii rose to 96, as questions mounted over the response by local, state, and federal authorities to the deadliest U.S. blaze in more than a century. It was still unclear what precisely caused the disaster, but the fire was likely exacerbated by a combination of a nearby hurricane and dry conditions. Officials were criticized for not taking more aggressive safety measures: a respected and tested siren warning system lay silent, some recommendations from a 2014 wildfire-protection plan were reportedly not implemented, and parts of the water system collapsed, forcing firefighters to undertake terrifying rescue missions. “What do we learn from this?” one resident asked.


Zuck-Musk cage fight called off

REUTERS/Andreas Gebert

Meta Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg called off a potential cage fight with Tesla and Twitter boss Elon Musk, arguing the latter “isn’t serious” and taunting him over a series of delays. The much-publicized bout appeared to proceed in fits and starts. Most recently, Musk claimed to have spoken to Italian officials to host the battle, but said that the ultimate date would need to be revised because he needed checkups on his neck and back. Zuckerberg’s announcement ostensibly puts an end to the bizarre episode — for now. The Meta founder said in a post on Threads, his new rival to Twitter-turned-X, that “If Elon ever gets serious about a real date and official event, he knows how to reach me.”


Heavier cars layer on risks

The fast-rising weight of American cars is hampering efforts to make them more energy efficient and eroding road safety. The average weight of a new vehicle sold in the U.S. last year was more than 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) higher than in 1980, and up 175 pounds compared to 2019, driven in part by growing safety regulations but also by consumer preferences for larger vehicles. “It’s not good for the environment, it’s not good for resources, it’s not good for efficiency,” said the chief technology officer at Stellantis, the carmaker which includes the Jeep and Chrysler brands, arguing that cutting vehicle weight was his biggest engineering challenge.


Super-strong, super-light material found

Coating DNA with glass creates a material that is four times stronger than steel but one-fifth the weight. Scientists in the U.S. said the new material is the strongest-known for such a density. They found that layers of incredibly pure glass just a few hundred atoms thick placed over self-assembling structures of DNA and formed into the shape desired created a material that was largely empty space but nonetheless very strong. Lightweight materials are important for many things: For instance, if electric vehicles were much lighter, they could travel further on the same battery charge.

  • China concludes three days of military exercises in the East China Sea.
  • Pakistan marks its Independence Day.
  • Billion Dollar Heist, a documentary about a cyber heist targeting Bangladesh’s central bank, is released.

Making reservations

The late chef and food documentarian Anthony Bourdain visited Ukraine in 2011, before not only this latest full-scale invasion but the annexation of Crimea that preceded it. Then, a visit to Kyiv showcased “borsch, vodka, and nostalgia for the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany,” The Counteroffensive’s Tim Mak writes. “Whether through music, language, and food, Ukraine today defines itself on its own terms, rather than in relation to Russia and its colonial history.”

Of the three places Bourdain visited, two are closed. But if he could re-record in Kyiv today, “it is safe to say this hypothetical new episode would reflect the Ukrainian identity surging throughout the country.”

Tech developments

Generative AI has captured so much attention, it can be easy to ignore powerful developments triggered by more mundane technology. In Pakistan, what is commonplace in richer countries is helping villages connect to what can feel like a faraway government. Patients get access to more specialized medical care by connecting to doctors online and schools teach students about climate change, thanks to the building of better internet infrastructure.

Less cutting-edge technology is also proving pivotal in advancing development around the world,” Interweave, a newsletter focused on the use of tech in government, noted.

Risky business

The recent release of Oppenheimer has spurred multiple comparisons between the nuclear moment and efforts to corral and regulate artificial intelligence. But while similarities between the two technologies are instructive, so are their differences, Robert Wright notes in Nonzero.

AI is “much harder to control than nuclear weapons,” Wright argues, its destructive outcomes “are less obviously devastating but are more complex,” and research, development, and deployment is largely being handled by private companies and nonstate actors. “This unruliness, combined with the amount of destructive potential AI does have, gives it a uniquely disturbing risk profile.”

Pedro Poitevin/Instagram

A new book of poetry by a mathematics professor has won strong reviews. Described as containing a series of reflections on everyday life, Pedro Poitevin’s Nowhere at Home combines traditional poetry with more innovative forms of writing: One poem has only three-letter airport codes, while another is filled with mathematical symbols. “An impressive, eye-catching poetry collection unafraid to experiment and take risks,” a reviewer said.

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