From Brittney Griner’s Russian prison sentence to Jeff Bezos’ billionaire blunder – Here’s your August 5 news briefing

From Brittney Griner’s Russian prison sentence to Jeff Bezos’ billionaire blunder – Here’s your August 5 news briefing
U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, is escorted in a court building in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia August 4, 2022. Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool via REUTERS

To start off, we’re looking into:

US Senate approves Finland and Sweden for NATO

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 28, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo

In the past, Nordic countries have generally sidestepped major military alliances. With Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine, though, we’re starting to see some exceptions to this. One big alliance that’s changing is NATO, the Western defense bloc made up of 30 democratic ally countries. About three months ago, Sweden and Finland both applied for NATO membership. For them to become members, all of the current NATO nations must approve, and, so far, more than half already have.

Yesterday, the US Senate almost unanimously approved Sweden’s and Finland’s membership to NATO. The vote won 95 to 1. Usually, the Senate’s NATO approval process takes longer, but it’s been sped up because of the war in Ukraine. Finland will probably exceed NATO’s 2% GDP defense spending target in 2022, and Sweden has committed to meet the goal, so the US sees them as “security providers” that can strengthen NATO’s position, especially in the Baltics.

Still, the countries may face some trouble getting approval from Turkey. Although Turkey supports the two countries’ entry, it has threatened to “freeze” the NATO process because of how the countries have handled Turkish Kurdish exile groups. As of last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Finland and Sweden had yet to meet Ankara’s demands for extraditing group members on terrorism-related charges in Turkey in exchange for approving their entry into the bloc. The three countries are set to meet in August to check in on the progress of the agreement.

Zelenskiy wants to talk to President Xi

Ukraine China
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gives a press conference at the end of an EU-Ukraine Summit at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium, October 6, 2020. Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via REUTERS

Since Russia invaded Ukraine last February, Putin has spoken to Chinese President Xi at least twice. Allegedly, Xi expressed respect for Russia’s actions. This isn’t that surprising since Russia and China renewed their pact against Western influence like three weeks before the invasion. They’re both permanent members of the UN’s security council and see themselves on the same side fighting Western influence and representing developing economies.

China might begin to withdraw from this agreement, though. After a couple of months of Ukrainian President Zelenskiy trying to get Xi on the phone, he appealed to SCMP. Zelenskiy said he wants to talk to Xi directly. He wants China to use its economic and political influence on Russia to stop the fighting. Beijing hasn’t yet responded to Zelenskiy’s invitation to speak.

Griner gets 9 years in a Russian jail

Brittney Griner, the American WNBA star detained in Russia at the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, was found guilty in a Russian court of bringing drugs illegally into the country and was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony. The judge also fined her 1 million rubles (about US$16,300).

The context here is that Griner was arrested, at least in part, because of US support of Ukraine in the war. There have been ongoing negotiations for a prisoner exchange, with the US offering to release a Russian arms dealer in exchange for Griner and another American detained in Russia named Paul Wheelan. Moscow has said that there could be no agreement on a prisoner exchange until after the verdict.

Griner’s legal team plans to appeal the decision, and the US says it’s still looking into getting the two home. But in the meantime, US officials have called the ruling a “miscarriage of justice” and “unacceptable.”

To end, we’ll look into:

A new telescope will tell us about the collision of neutron stars

Neutron stars
Source: BBC News, Kevin Church

When a star reaches the end of its life, it turns into a neutron star, collapsing in on itself and crushing the atoms that made it emit light before. These neutron stars are incredibly heavy (one teaspoon of its matter weighs about four billion tons), and eventually, two of them crash into each other because of the strong pull of their gravity. When this neutron star collision happens, there’s a huge flash of light, a strong gravitational wave gets shot out, and the building blocks of planets like our own are created.

And with a new telescope, we might be able to learn a lot more about these collisions. See, when the gravitational wave that gets shot out is detected, scientists at the Gravitational Wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) in Spain know that they should be on the lookout for a neutron star collision. So they start filtering through all the noise to find it, essentially taking a picture of the night sky and getting rid of any speck that was there the previous night.

Once they’ve found the collision, they turn all the available telescopes towards it because there’s a limited amount of time – usually only days – where they can actually observe that explosion.

This kind of approach to finding events is relatively new, explained Dr. Kendall Ackley, GOTO’s instrumentation scientist, saying that the old model of astronomy mostly involved being lucky enough to point a telescope at the right place at the right time. “Now we’re not hoping for new discoveries anymore. Instead, we’re being told where to find them, and getting to uncover, piece-by-piece what lies out there in the Universe.”

In other news …

📈Stocks: MSCI’s gauge of stocks worldwide gained 0.23%.

📰Some specifics:

  • Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.26% to 32,726.82.
  • S&P 500 fell 0.08% to close at 4,151.94.
  • Nasdaq Composite rose 0.41% to 12,720.58.
  • Hang Seng Index rose 2.06% to 20,174.04.

🧠Quick factors to bear in mind:

  • Bank of England worsened moods on Thursday after hiking rates by half a percentage point and expecting a long recession. The hike was anticipated. The comments, though, were more downbeat than anticipated.
  • Weekly jobless claims in the US showed that the strength in the labor market is dwindling. But the main thing everyone’s grabbing the edge of their seats waiting for is the jobs report being released on Friday (US time) that will show how employers hired last month.
  • Next week, investors will get a fresh report on inflation from July.
  • Coinbase’s shares soared over 16% after a partnership with the world’s largest asset manager, Blackrock, was announced to offer its institutional customers access to crypto services. The announcement didn’t really lift Bitcoin’s price, though.
  • Alibaba’s reported a revenue of 205.6 billion yuan (US$30.4 billion) in the June quarter, slightly beating projections of 204 billion yuan.

👄Some comments and chatter:

When talking about the Friday job report … “I would certainly consider today one of those wait-and-see days while we wait for the most important piece of data that comes out this week," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B. Riley Financial.

“Other indicators of economy activity — payroll employment, real personal income net of government transfer payments, and industrial production — grew in the first half of this year. I think it would be strange to classify the first half of the year, a period of significant labor market progress, as a recession.

That’s not to say that we’re in the clear — solving the inflation problem without a recession is still going to be challenging — but I don’t think we’ve fallen into a recession yet," said David Mericle, chief US economist at Goldman Sachs Research.

“With the earnings season in full swing, companies are expected to post strong results or a turnaround in the outlook. It’s a good time to build positions now given the low valuations of the broader market," said Ping An Securities in a report.

🛢Oil: Worries over an impending recession as well as an unexpected increase in US crude oil stockpiles hit oil prices hard, with oil prices dropping to levels that were last seen before the Ukraine invasion. WTI settled down US$2.34 at US$88.54 per barrel, and Brent lost US$2.66 to US$94.12 per barrel.

👛Bitcoin: Bitcoin eased 0.82% to US$22,638.

🙊Monkeypox declared a public health emergency: Yesterday, President Biden officially declared monkeypox a public health emergency in the US. This means that the national government can use more money and resources to respond to the outbreak.

Rescue mission for Mexican miners continues: On Wednesday, 10 miners got trapped in a collapsed and flooded coal mine in Mexico. Yesterday, more people joined the rescue mission, and now there are hundreds involved.

💣China fires missiles into Taiwan Strait: Yesterday, China fired waves of missiles into the Taiwan Strait following Pelosi’s departure. Five of the missiles landed in waters that Japan oversees and claims economic rights over, which risks bringing Japan into the conflict. These military exercises won’t be over until Sunday.

👉The US accuses Russia of planting fake evidence: After the deaths of over 50 POWs last week, Ukraine claims that its investigation led straight to Russia. Now, the US has discovered Russia’s plan to plant fake evidence of Ukraine’s guilt in the disaster. And an anonymous Western official said that the explosion came from inside the prison, not via an outside strike.

😷CEOs demand quarantine-free travel: Hong Kong is hosting a big business conference in November, inviting heads of companies worldwide. According to some, some of these hotshots will only make the trip if they can skip the city’s current seven-day quarantine.

🌊The Great Barrier Reef is recovering: Although the world’s largest coral reef is still in danger because of climate change, parts of it are starting to heal. Two-thirds of the reef now has more coverage than it did nearly 40 years ago. The southern part is experiencing more bleaching than ever before, though.

Jeff Bezos’ yacht got towed away: After drawing lots of controversy, Bezos’s megayacht was towed away from the Dutch shipyard where it was built. Earlier this year, the shipbuilding company asked for a historic bridge to be dismantled so the yacht could pass through. This request pissed off locals, who made plans to pelt the yacht with eggs if anything happened to the bridge. The yacht was towed away quietly in the middle of the night, and the bridge stayed intact.