Nothing for Free
WHAT’S THIS? The Stringer publishes a semi-regular news roundup.
War Crimes and Well-Placed Friends
A little more than a year into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova. The pair are responsible for abducting children from Ukraine, according to a release from the court.
It’s a provocative move by ICC, taking on a sitting leader, and it harkens back to previous arrest warrants for Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s deposed autocrat, and Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya’s former despot. But Putin is not likely to be perp-walked anytime soon — not the least because Russia is not beholden to the ICC — though this probably limits Putin’s vacation options.
Meanwhile, in the dueling diplomacy concerning the war, things have remained tense. On Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Putin in Moscow. A day later, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took a surprise trip to Ukraine.
WORLD and POLITICS
BY A THREAD: French President Emmanuel Macron survived a “no confidence” vote following nationwide protests over his government’s plan to lift the retirement age from 62 to 64. But the administration is hardly out of troubled waters. Wait, people are still allowed to retire? That can’t be right.
THE GREAT THEORETICAL LOCKUP: Former U.S. President Donald Trump predicted his own indictment, in connection to hush money he funneled to the porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign. (Remember that scandal?) Trump allegedly misclassified the money as a business expense. True to style, Trump demanded protests, causing the New York Police Department to erect barricades. So far, there’s been no arrest.
MAKEOVER: San Quentin is getting a remodel. The infamous California prison will become a rehab center, California Governor Gavin Newsom has said. The prison, the oldest in the state with a reputation for being one of the roughest in the country, was home to the nation’s biggest death row, and its change speaks to the increasing staying power of “rehabilitative” justice theories. Still, the mortifying 422 executions that took place there leave a legacy that will be hard to feng shui out.
HUMAN SACRIFICE: Saudi Arabia is still execution happy, this time that included killing Hussein Abu al-Khair, a Jordanian citizen who was convicted of a nonviolent drug crime (something that’s against international codes). Speaking of which, to return stateside, Idaho is looking to bring back the firing squad. They’re having a hard time sourcing the poisons they use for lethal injections, partly because it’s viewed as barbaric internationally.
REPATRIATION: In a win for repatriation, the Oglala Sioux finally secured the return of Lakota items from the “Founders Museum” in Barre, Mass. They are debating whether to bury the items as part of funeral rites.
THE HOOVER CULT: Historian Adam Hochschild reviewed a pair of new biographies about the U.S.’s favorite racist, cross-dressing, scare-mongering G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover. Hochschild found that the unelected power wielded by Hoover had a lot to do with the FBI director’s knack for self-promotion, the true American virtue.
BIG MONEY, BIG TROUBLE: UBS will buy Credit Suisse for $3 billion, in a deal arranged by the Swiss government. The deal has drawn criticism, in part because investors clutching Credit Suisse’s additional tier-one bonds saw their holdings evaporate. The purchase is part of the continued fallout from Silicon Valley Bank’s crumple. Relatedly, Flagstar Bank, a subsidiary of New York Community Bancorp, will walk away with Signature Bank’s loans and deposits after reaching an agreement with U.S. regulators. The big-picture fallout from SVB is also prompting more scrutiny of how American bank regulations got diluted in the first place. Hint: lobbying.
NOTHING FOR FREE: The Internet Archive’s fight to keep the dream of easy access to free information alive is facing a challenge by a number of publishers in a widely covered copyright suit, Hachette v. Internet Archive, in a New York District court. Reporting on the case suggests that U.S. District Judge John Koeltl seems skeptical that “controlled digital lending,” the practice of lending scanned versions of books, actually falls under fair use.
WOKE AIN’T BROKE — YET: U.S. President Joe Biden, in the first veto of his presidency, knocked down a bill that sought to prevent asset fund managers from considering environmental-social governance (ESG) factors when picking investments. It’s Biden’s attempt to shield socially conscious investing. There’s been some dissent on the Republican side about ESG investments, as we’ve seen before, but many mainstream conservatives still think ESGs are “woke” pablum.
THE AI RACE: The rush to plant flags in the artificial intelligence race continues: OpenAI published the follow-up to its headline-capturing chatbot, ChatGPT-4; Google published Bard; and Stanford researchers were able to replicate OpenAI’s performance on the cheap, for about $600, with Alpaca AI.
SCHOOL’S OUT: School support staff in Los Angeles, the second-largest district in the U.S., started a three-day strike on Tuesday. My bias is in favor of unions — you may know that I very briefly worked for a small teacher’s union in Louisiana years ago — and schools are facing staffing shortages, burnout and nasty political fights. The support staff finds itself overworked and woefully underpaid. Lately, strikes have been able to force wage increases in places like Minneapolis and Columbus. Let’s hope school doesn’t stay out too long.
CLIMATE and HEALTH
CLIMATE BOMB: The brief moment in which the world can reduce Co2 is passing us by, according to a UN-backed report. The information in the report is mostly a retread, but it paints an ugly picture: To reach the current goals for greenhouse gases, the world needs to bring gases down by about half by 2030. It’s not on track. “The climate time bomb is ticking,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warns.
A STEALTH CLIMATE FOE: Globally, the rush to finance green infrastructure is under threat by various forms of corruption. The result? Corruption in finance, even more than normal, is a threat to the future.
COVID’S ORIGIN: U.S. President Joe Biden declassified information about COVID-19’s origins. As we’ve noted before, there’s no conclusive theory. But at least now we’ll get to see what’s got the American intelligence agencies so inconclusively tangled up.
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