Friday, 21 Jun 2024

Your Wednesday Briefing

An economic partnership between Russia and China

President Vladimir Putin of Russia and China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, declared an enduring economic partnership yesterday, promising to bring more Russian energy to China and more Chinese companies to Russia as the two leaders sought to insulate their countries from Western sanctions and other consequences of the war in Ukraine.

Embattled economically and isolated on the world stage, Russia has leaned heavily on China to make up for lost business since its economy has been severed from the West. Putin’s economic outreach this week was a clear sign that Beijing was gaining leverage over Russia, according to experts.

As the two leaders met, Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, visited Kyiv in a show of support that put the geopolitical fault lines created by Russia’s invasion into even sharper relief. Japan has joined with other Group of 7 nations to impose sanctions on Russia and provide billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine.

Warfare: Ukraine’s Western allies have warned that Beijing may provide Moscow with arms for its invasion, but neither Putin nor Xi has made any reference to military assistance. The leaders instead focused on economic cooperation and casting the West as the obstacle to peace in Ukraine.

Related: China has shipped more than $12 million in drones and drone parts to Russia since the start of the invasion, another indication that the countries are growing closer than ever.

What went wrong with Silicon Valley Bank?

The failure of Silicon Valley Bank has prompted intense scrutiny of the Fed’s oversight as many wonder why the bank’s vulnerabilities, obvious in hindsight, were not promptly fixed.

An outsize share of the bank’s deposits were over the $250,000 insurance limit and left it susceptible to runs. Silicon Valley Bank had also grown rapidly, and its depositors were heavily concentrated in the volatile technology industry. It held a lot of long-term bonds, which lose market value when interest rates rise. Still, the bank had done little to protect itself against an increase in borrowing costs.

Governors at the Fed Board in Washington allowed the bank to merge with a small one in June 2021, after the first warning signs had surfaced. In 2022, the Fed repeatedly flagged problems to executives and barred the firm from growing through acquisition, but it did not react decisively enough to prevent the bank’s problems from leading to its demise.

Questions: Jerome Powell, the Fed chair, will face multiple questions: What went wrong? Did the Fed’s board fail to follow up on noted weaknesses? Or was the lapse indicative of a broader problem — that is, did existing rules and oversight make it difficult to quickly address important flaws?

For more: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the Biden administration was prepared to take additional action to help smaller banks.

Macron to address pensions crisis

President Emmanuel Macron, facing turmoil over his plan to raise the retirement age in France, will today try to address the crisis. He will, officials say, portray the standoff as a battle between democratic institutions and the chaos of the street. He will stick with his current government and not dissolve Parliament or call new elections, they say.

No apology appears to be forthcoming for using a legal tool, Article 49.3 of the Constitution, to avoid a full parliamentary vote on a change that has split the country. This approach appears consistent with his chosen tactics on the pension overhaul.

While he has made some concessions, Macron has remained remote from France’s rolling anger. Most conspicuously, and to many inexplicably, after the government consulted extensively with unions up until January, he refused to negotiate with the union leader Laurent Berger, who had supported his earlier attempt at pension changes in 2019 but opposes him now.

Analysis: Macron knows three things: He will not be a candidate for re-election because a third consecutive term is not permitted; the opposition in Parliament is strong but irreconcilably divided between the far left and extreme right; and a large slice of French society supports his pension overhaul.


Around the World

Israeli lawmakers approved a first step toward resettling evacuated areas in the West Bank amid spiraling Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

A damning report found the culture within London’s police force to be sexist and racist and called for change.

In Sweden, the central bank’s fight against inflation is crimping economic growth and has contributed to a 15 percent drop in home prices.

After years of extreme economic hardship, some Venezuelans lead lives of luxury as others scrape by.

Other Big Stories

To try to convict Donald Trump of a felony, prosecutors might attempt to connect state election law to a federal election.

Boris Johnson, Britain’s former prime minister, admitted that he misled lawmakers over lockdown parties but said any misinformation was not intentional. He will testify today before Parliament’s privileges committee.

Google released its chatbot, Bard. It will be available to a limited number of users in the U.S. and Britain.

The International Monetary Fund approved a $3 billion loan for Sri Lanka.

Science Times

A long-awaited report analyzing a swab from Wuhan strengthens the case that illegally traded wild animals ignited the coronavirus pandemic, scientists say.

This visual investigation tracked a Chinese spy balloon’s journey from its launch in China to being shot down off the U.S. coast.

A deadly fungus that is considered an urgent public health threat spread in the U.S. at an “alarming rate” during the pandemic, according to health officials.

X-ray technology has allowed researchers a glimpse at the reaches of Obsidian Cliff, a mountain of black glass in Yellowstone National Park, and its importance to Indigenous people.

A Morning Read

On a trip through northern India, the writer Michael Benanav was guided by the age-old epic folk story of “Rajula Malushahi,” which led him to a series of unexpected places through the Himalayas.

“Everyone I would meet who knew the story line,” he writes, “spoke of it as though it was based on actual events, while well aware that it is a folk tale. It occupies a liminal space in the collective imagination, somewhere between fiction and fact, fantasy and reality.”


Why “Ted Lasso” has yet to take off across the Atlantic: While popular in the U.S., the show has found nothing more than a niche audience in Britain.

An altercation with an official ruined a special season: Fulham was in cruise control at Manchester United before self-destructing in spectacular fashion. The consequences could be dire.

Paris St.-Germain is at a crossroads. Will Lionel Messi stay? Messi’s contract expires this summer, and it’s not certain where he will play next season.

From The Times: “No, I don’t play basketball.” For the very tall, every day of the year means standing out. But March can be particularly maddening.


Scone song

This month, Sarah Merker completed an unusual, decade-long quest: sampling scones at 244 National Trust historic sites across Britain. The journey, which led to a popular blog and the book “The National Trust Book of Scones,” has transformed her into a kind of national celebrity.

Scones have deep roots in Britain. Recipes for them have been printed as early as 1669, and the word scone appears in customs paperwork from 1480. But it wasn’t until the early 19th century that the country’s “slight irrational obsession” with them developed in earnest and they came to be associated with the custom of “afternoon tea,” according to food historians.

Fractious disputes about scones rage on: Do you say “skon” or “skohn”? Is it acceptable to serve fruit scones at a cream tea, or only plain ones? And which goes first, the jam or the clotted cream? (Merker long avoided weighing on the jam-or-cream debate before admitting this month that she is “jam-first” to avoid making a mess.)

Recipe: These classic English scones taste best straight out of the oven.


What to Cook

Make hilib sambuus, a Somali samosa. (Find more Ramadan recipes.)

What to Listen to

Depeche Mode is embracing the darkness with the group’s 15th album.


George Town, a port city on the Malaysian island of Penang, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is full of color and spice.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: “Stupid is as stupid ___” (four letters).

And here are today’s Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me. — Natasha

P.S. In our new music newsletter, “The Amplifier,” Lindsay Zoladz, a pop critic, recommends tracks she hopes will surprise and delight listeners.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is on Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia.

You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].

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