From a rocky start at the US-Pacific summit to Lizzo’s mad flute-playing skills – Here’s your September 29 news briefing

To start off, we’re looking into:

The US Pacific summit is off to a rocky start

As China and the US compete for power in the Pacific, diplomatic activity has become a flurry. This past June, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi went on a high-profile tour of the region that lasted 10 days. Soon after his return, the US announced a Pacific summit, which kicked off today. In July, US Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke at the Pacific Islands Forum and announced that the country was interested in playing a bigger role in the region.

So far, there have been some hiccups at the start of the summit. The Soloman Islands rejected a draft of a diplomatic agreement with the US, and Micronesian leaders said they’re concerned about the US’ “insufficient” funding to the Pacific. Plus, the Marshall Islands suspended talks with the US last week because it doesn’t think America has properly addressed the consequences of its nuclear weapons testing around the atolls from 1946 to 1958, when the country lit up the islands with enough firepower to equal the energy yield of 7,000 Hiroshima bombs.

Influence campaigns strike again

influence campaign
FILE PHOTO: Woman holds smartphone with Meta logo in front of a displayed Facebook’s new rebrand logo Meta in this illustration picture taken October 28, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Over the past few years, spam accounts on social media used to influence elections have (alarmingly) become the norm. When it comes to American elections, this phenomenon seems to repeat itself again and again. Back in 2014, Russia developed a so-called “troll farm" to spread false and offensive messages on social media to influence the 2016 presidential election. Russia also baited American voters into following accounts that broadcast bogus stories to stir up political views.

Now, Meta says it’s brought down the first-known Chinese propaganda operation, targeting US users with political content ahead of the midterm elections this November. And there was another entirely unrelated influence campaign coming from Russia that Meta shut down. The Chinese network carried little clout, but the Russian campaign was pretty major, with over 2,000 Facebook accounts and pages. Meta says it’s on high alert for foreign interference in the elections and is notifying Twitter of suspicious accounts.

Insta takes down Pornhub

When you think of free speech on social media, you’re probably thinking about political or even hate speech. But what about porn?

Well, Instagram (which doesn’t allow nudity) just banned Pornhub’s account permanently. To be clear, it’s not like Pornhub was posting explicitly pornographic content on Instagram, and it argues that this time was no different. But, earlier this month, Meta took the account down for what it said was a temporary review before coming out now to say the ban is permanent.

Meta, Instagram’s umbrella company that also owns Facebook, said that Pornhub has repeatedly broken Insta’s rules. The most recent incident that sparked this whole debacle was a post where the account committed “sexual solicitation” by suggesting users visit a porn site (presumably, well, Pornhub). But Pornhub argues that its content hasn’t been any worse than what we see come from celebrities like Kim Kardashian and that Meta is discriminating against the adult film industry.

To end, we’ll look into:

WNBA players can’t outsource their pay as easily anymore – but should they need to?

WNBA players
FILE PHOTO: U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, sits inside a defendants’ cage before the court’s verdict in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia August 4, 2022. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool

Professional basketball in the US has a pay equity problem. The median pay for a man in the NBA is more than US$4.3 million for an eight-month season; women in the WNBA have a season that’s half as long, but their average pay is between US$130,000 and US$228,000, which is far lower than half. As a result, WNBA players often spend the offseason playing in other countries like Russia, China and South Korea to earn more money.

But that’s a lot more complicated now. You may have heard about Brittney Griner, a WNBA star detained in Russia for accidentally “smuggling" in her weed pen around the time of the Russian invasion of Ukraine back in February. After watching that play out, American basketball players are unsurprisingly deciding not to spend their offseasons in Russia anymore, which means they’re missing out on that extra paycheck.

So what about China and South Korea? Well, the thing is that those are two countries with really strict COVID guidelines, and neither one is open to WNBA players right now on that basis. On top of that, the tense relationship between the US and China makes it notoriously hard for Americans to get work visas in China – and even if WNBA stars were allowed to play there, it’s unlikely they’d get the visa in time.

To be clear, it isn’t like those are the only three places where WNBA stars can spend their offseason to help offset that gender pay gap. But in places like Turkey, for example, the pay isn’t even close to what it used to be. See, because the fat cats in the offseason industry are off the market, like the Chinese and Russian teams, a team in Turkey doesn’t have to pay nearly as much to stay competitive.

What’s the solution? Well, fixing the gender pay gap in the US might be a good start.

In other news …

📈Stocks: MSCI’s global gauge of stocks jumped 1.45% to 2,438.78.

📰Some specifics:

  • S&P 500 is up 1.97% to 3,719.04.
  • Nasdaq Composite has boosted 2.05% to 11,051.64.
  • Dow Jones lifted 1.88% to 29,683.74.
  • Hang Seng Index dropped down 3.41% to 17,250.88.

🧠Some quick factors to bear in mind:

  • Today, we’re seeing a global equity comeback as stocks surged around 2%, partially caused by the Bank of England stepping into its bond market. Specifically, the BoE said it would buy government bonds from Wednesday to mid-October to stabilize the market.
  • The rally was pretty broad, with the only notable exception being Apple after a Bloomberg report said that people familiar with the matter said the company was giving up on plans to increase its new iPhone production because of lower-than-expected demand.
  • But some on Wall Street are a lil worried that investors haven’t considered an earnings slowdown or the impact of the Federal Reserve’s recent rate hikes.
  • Investors are putting money in the safety of mainland blue chips as China’s Communist Party Congress looms, waiting for signs China will address problems hanging over the economy.

👄Some comments and chatter:

  • “Our central case is a hard landing by the end of ’23. I will be stunned if we don’t have recession in ’23. I don’t know the timing but certainly by the end of ’23. I will not be surprised if it’s not larger than the so-called average garden variety," billionaire investor Stanley Druckenmiller said at CNBC’s Delivering Alpha Investor Summit in New York City Wednesday.
  • “We are quite defensive and cautious on China this year, still underweight China, but what we are monitoring are more of the positive signposts that are coming through," said Robert St Clair, a strategist at Fullerton Fund Management in Singapore.

🛢Oil: Oil prices jumped, rebounding from recent losses as the US dollar slowed its gains and fuel inventory figures showed drawdowns and higher consumer demand. US crude went up 4.5% to US$82.06 per barrel, and Brent ended at US$89.22, up 3.4%.

👛Bitcoin: At the time of writing, Bitcoin was up 2.1%, settling at US$19,482.40.

😦Japanese diplomat restrained in Russia: Japan is accusing Russia’s security services of blindfolding and restraining diplomat Motoki Tatsunori in the city of Vladivostok. On Tuesday, Tatsunori was released from Russian custody and told to leave the country within 48 hours. The Kremlin accused Tatsunori of espionage.

💔Deadly West Bank raid: Yesterday, at least four Palestinian men were killed and 44 wounded in Jenin after a clash during an Israeli military raid. This makes it one of the deadliest clashes this year.

🩺Haitian hospitals prepare to close: In Haiti, gangs are blocking fuel to the country’s main fuel terminal, protesting the government’s announcement that it would cut fuel subsidies because of the high costs. Now, hospitals needing more fuel supplies to power their generators warn that they’ll soon have to close.

💻Fast Company magazine hacked: Biz and tech mag Fast Company says its Apple News account was hijacked, and the hacker sent subscribers racist notifications. Apple wrote: “An incredibly offensive alert was sent by Fast Company, which has been hacked. Apple News has disabled their channel.”

💣Russian missiles stopped by Ukraine: Ukrainian officials have claimed on their social media accounts that they have repelled Russian air strikes directed toward cities in central and southern Ukraine.

New Norway-Poland gas pipeline opens: The new “Baltic Pipe” has opened to get European countries less dependent on Russian energy, which could be just what Europe needs with winter approaching. It will transport natural gas from the Norwegian shelf through Denmark and the Baltic Sea to Poland.

😷Canada to remove COVID restrictions: Canada is ready to remove the last of its COVID travel restrictions. Starting October 1, all COVID entry restrictions, including testing, quarantine and isolation, will be fully lifted for foreign arrivals.

🎵History rocks: At her concert in Washington DC, Lizzo played a crystal flute once owned by US former president James Madison. This flute has actually never been played and was lent to her by the Library of Congress. It’s over 200 years old!

Written and put together by Jake Shropshire, Vanessa Wolosz, Christine Dulion and Krystal Lai