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To start off, we're looking into:
US chip grants
The backstory: In the ongoing technology competition between the US and China, one major focus has been on advanced chips. In 2022, the US tightened tech exports of advanced semiconductors and the machines used to make them to Chinese companies. China hit back by launching an investigation into US chip giant Micron and placing export restrictions on materials crucial for producing electronics, like germanium and gallium.
To boost its semiconductor industry, the US introduced the CHIPS and Science Act in 2022, which set aside a little over US$52 billion for investing in domestic research, development, manufacturing and workforce development.
More recently: In December, the US gave out its first semiconductor grant under the CHIPS Act. US$35 million went to the US subsidiary of British aerospace firm BAE Systems, aiming to enhance military-grade chip production. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo hinted that around 10-12 more awards could be announced in 2024.
The development: Recent reports indicate that the much-anticipated chip grants might be officially revealed before US President Joe Biden's State of the Union address on March 7. Click the link here for more.
Vince McMahon resigns
The backstory: Vince McMahon, a big name in wrestling with a legacy dating back to the 1950s, played a vital role in turning WWF (World Wrestling Federation), now WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), into a global entertainment giant. He eventually changed the game with scripted matches, famous wrestlers and mega-events like "WrestleMania." WWE hit a billion in sales in 2022 and recently struck a 10-year, US$5 billion deal with Netflix.
But in 2022, McMahon faced trouble when he stepped down as WWE's CEO over accusations of misconduct. After a quick investigation, he surprisingly returned to the board in January of last year and got back his position as executive chairman. In a major move last year, WWE joined forces with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), forming TKO Group in a US$21.4 billion deal, securing its place in both wrestling and entertainment.
More recently: Last Thursday, Janel Grant, a former WWE employee, filed a lawsuit against McMahon, accusing him of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault and trafficking. The lawsuit, filed in a Connecticut court where WWE is based, alleged McMahon pressured Grant into a "sexual relationship" and engaged in explicit behavior. Grant's lawyer, Ann Callis, has said she wanted the lawsuit to stop further harm, saying WWE knew about McMahon's alleged wrongdoing.
The development: McMahon has again resigned as executive chairman of TKO after this most recent lawsuit. Click the link here for more.
Singapore’s wealth gap
The backstory: Since 1990, the Singapore government has controlled the number of cars on the road. To do this, the city-state created its certificate of entitlement (COE) system. A COE is essentially a permit that lets you own and drive a car in Singapore for 10 years. The cost of a COE is set at auction every two weeks, and it’s climbed higher over the past few years, with prices surpassing S$100,000 (US$74.5,000) in recent months. In 2018, the government also enforced a zero-growth policy for the vehicle population.
More recently: The number of households that own cars has fallen from 40% in 2013 to one-third in recent years. But the price of COEs has soared, with small cars costing more than double from 2018 to 2023. To put that in context, the median monthly income rose by only 2.4% in 2023, which means that a worker on a median salary of S$5,197 (US$3,875) a month would have to spend three years’ wages to buy a Toyota sedan. For many Singaporeans, owning a car is not essential as the island state has a great public transport network. But car ownership is still seen as a symbol of wealth, which many strive toward.
The development: Singapore has become known as a wealth haven, boosted in status with more and more mega-rich families and talent coming into the country. Due to the high cost of living from increased rent, inflation and this influx of wealthy foreigners, the wealth gap in Singapore has continued to grow extensively. This is only underscored by recent skyrocketing prices of even mid-range cars. Click the link here for more.
To end, we'll look into:
“Pokémon with guns”
Gotta shoot ‘em all? Video game maker Pocket Pair has created the ideal video game, bringing together some of the most popular genres – shooter, survival and multiplayer – while also tapping into the vast Pokémon fanbase with what some are calling lookalikes in its viral new video game, Palworld. But the game, which many refer to as “Pokémon with guns,” has sparked outrage among fans of Japan’s legendary monster franchise for what they see as similarities between the Pals and Pokémon characters.
Gamers have taken to social media to debate these similarities, with Pocket Pair CEO Takuro Mizobe even stating on X that developers at the company are receiving “slanderous comments against our artists” and “tweets that appear to be death threats.” Click the link here for more.
In other news ...
📰Middle East update: The Houthis have been launching attacks on ships in the Red Sea since November. Their latest target over the weekend was the Marlin Luanda flying under a Marshall Islands flag and operated by a multinational company with offices in the UK. The Houthis said the attack was in response to "American-British aggression," referring to recent strikes in Yemen. The attack caused a fire that took Friday night and Saturday morning to get under control. All the crew members are now safe, and the fire has been extinguished.
On Sunday morning, Iran successfully launched three satellites into space using its domestically-produced Simorgh rocket. The West has heavily criticized Iran's rocket program, and the US has said that this satellite launch defies a UN Security Council resolution. And, further stoking fears of a wider regional conflict spreading from the war in Gaza, three US service members were killed, and more than 30 were injured at an outpost in Jordan. US President Joe Biden has said the attack was carried out by "radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq" and vowed to hold them responsible.
🗞️Russia/Ukraine update: Ukraine has been trying to crack down on corruption inside its government to speed up its NATO and EU membership entry. Security officials said that a current investigation dating back to August 2022 has found that employees from a Ukrainian arms firm allegedly conspired with defense ministry officials to embezzle almost US$40 million that was supposed to be used to buy 100,000 mortar shells for the war with Russia. Five people have been charged, and one was detained while trying to cross the border. If found guilty, they'll face up to 12 years in prison. Meanwhile, Hungary's far-right Our Homeland party said on Saturday that if Ukraine lost the war with Russia, it would claim a western region of the country that's home to about 150,000 ethnic Hungarians.
💣North Korea fires missiles: North Korea has been testing missiles repeatedly in recent months, and last Wednesday, it test-fired a new strategic cruise missile. On Sunday, the country also fired several cruise missiles in waters off its east coast, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap. Earlier this month, Kim Jung Un declared that South Korea was its "principal enemy" and his nation was no longer interested in reunification, raising concerns that North Korea is preparing for war. China and North Korea have also vowed to "strengthen strategic communication at all levels" after a meeting with Chinese foreign vice-minister Sun Weidong and his North Korean counterpart, Pak Myong-ho, in Pyongyang on Friday.
📩Finland vote for new president: Last April, Finland joined NATO after Russia's invasion of Ukraine raised security concerns, as it shares a 1,340-kilometer border with Russia. On Sunday, Finns voted to elect a new president. According to the nation's Ministry of Justice, center-right Alexander Stubb was in the lead with 27% of the vote (with 96% of votes counted), and liberal Green Party member Pekka Haavisto is right behind with about 26%. A second round of voting will take place on February 11.
🍲Mona Lisa gets souped: In recent years, environmental activists have targeted famous artworks, for example, soup being thrown on Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" in 2022. Their most recent target was Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" in the Louvre in Paris. The protesters splattered the painting with tomato soup in a call for the right to healthy and sustainable food, but it wasn't damaged because it's protected by a glass case.
✈️China-Thailand visa-free entry: On January 2, Thailand's prime minister announced plans for a mutual deal for visa-free entry of up to 30 days with China. On Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Thai counterpart, Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara, signed the deal in Bangkok. The visa-free travel will begin in March.
🚢South China Sea: There have been issues between China and the Philippines over a disputed reef in the South China Sea when the Philippines attempted to deliver supplies to troops on a transport ship (now a military outpost) grounded there. But, the Chinese Coast Guard announced on Saturday through WeChat that it had made "temporary special arrangements" with the Philippines to allow it to deliver necessary supplies.
🎞️"Expats" centers on Hong Kong: "Expats," based on the novel "Expatriates" by Hong Kong-born Korean author Janice Y.K. Lee and starring Nicole Kidman, just hit Amazon's Prime streaming service. The show is set in Hong Kong in 2014, and it showcases several iconic spots in the city, including the private housing estates of Mei Foo Sun Chuen, Mong Kok's Fa Yuen Street, the famous and nostalgic cha chaan teng Mido Cafe and, of course, the Victoria Harbour skyline.
📄Amsterdam wants to regulate cocaine?: Last week, the Dutch government revealed that its customs authorities seized nearly 60 metric tons of cocaine last year, up from 51 in 2022. Amsterdam's Mayor Femke Halsema has called for the regulation of the sale and use of cocaine in order to undermine the criminal enterprises making billions in profit from black market sales, calling the fight against drugs "perverse and counterproductive."
🎾Wen loss: After making it to the final of the Australian Open, Zheng Qinwen lost to Aryna Sabalenka on Saturday. Qinwen has been referred to as the "hope for Chinese tennis" on social media platforms, and people believe that she will make a comeback in her pursuit to win a grand slam title.
🎇Lunar New Year fireworks: After four years, Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour Lunar New Year fireworks show is set to return on February 11. The display will last 23 minutes, with 23,888 fireworks lighting up the skyline "to shower all citizens with a glittering mass of blessings," according to the show's sponsor, The Hong Kong Celebrations Association.
When is the US reportedly expected to announce a new batch of chip grants?
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