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Category: 1440_news

UK Energy Increases

Millions across the UK will see energy costs increase starting tomorrow, as the cap on domestic energy bills for typical households will be guaranteed at an average of 2,500 pounds ($2,870) annually for the next two years. The guarantee was announced by Prime Minister Liz Truss to replace the original price cap, set by industry regulator Ofgem, of 3,549 pounds ($4,189).

Households will also receive a 400-pound reduction in their energy bills, spread over six months, as part of the 150B-pound ($162B) public support package. In comparison, the average UK energy bill last year was 1,971 pounds ($2,182). About 85% of UK households use gas boilers for heat, with the war in Ukraine helping drive gas prices prices up by 400% over the past year.

The news comes as many citizens are already struggling to afford essentials due to rising inflation, with year-over-year inflation running at a 40-year high of 9.9%. The Bank of England announced Wednesday it would purchase long-term UK bonds over the next two weeks to ease bond market concerns.

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Florida Assesses Damage

At least 12 people have been reported dead, with hundreds remaining unaccounted for, as Florida officials began assessing the damage caused by Hurricane Ian yesterday. Authorities expect the number of fatalities to rise, with thousands of residents in areas that remain difficult to access.

The system arrived as a powerful Category 4 storm Wednesday afternoon, bringing high winds, torrential rain, and record storm surge as it passed over the central peninsula. More than 2 million people were without power as of this morning. See photos of the aftermath here.

Fort Myers and towns along the peninsula’s Gulf Coast suffered the brunt of the damage, with heavy flooding swamping the city and high winds having collapsed a causeway connecting Sanibel Island to the mainland. Early estimates suggest the cost of the storm will be in the tens of billions. 

Ian weakened as it moved across the state—but strengthened again once reaching the Atlantic Ocean. It is expected to make landfall in South Carolina today as a Category 1 hurricane.

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Annexation Begins

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to formally sign orders today annexing four territories in the east and south of Ukraine, a move anticipated since occupying Russian forces oversaw referendums over the weekend. The declaration will make the regions part of Russia under Russian law but has been condemned as illegitimate by Ukraine and the West.

The Kremlin reported each area—Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson (see map)—voted to support the move by tallies of 99%, 98%, 93%, and 87%, respectively. Western officials called the results rigged, noting armed troops accompanied election officials to collect ballots door-to-door. Still, analysts say Russia may use the move as a pretext to escalate the conflict as fighting moves into what the Kremlin would likely consider sovereign Russian land. 

Separately, NATO joined EU officials in describing damage to the Nord Stream gas pipelines as sabotage—though investigating the alleged attack may prove challenging. 

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‘A Deliberate Act’ of Sabotage

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Damage to the Nord Stream pipelines observed Monday was likely a deliberate act of sabotage, European Union officials alleged yesterday. Officials did not explicitly name who they believed caused the damage to the separate pipes, triggered by multiple underwater explosions on the same day in international waters between Poland and Denmark (see map). Some European leaders individually pointed to Russia, though both lines are majority owned and operated by Russia’s state-owned Gazprom.

The 750-mile pair of steel-and-concrete pipes lie under the Baltic Sea and can deliver over 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually from Russia to Germany (see construction). Russia had cut supply via Nord Stream 1 since August amid the war in Ukraine, while Nord Stream 2 never began operation as a result of sanctions. Both were filled with methane prior to the damage, now currently leaking into the atmosphere.

The statement came as Russia pushed forward with its attempt to formally annex four occupied territories of Ukraine’s east and south following Kremlin-led referendums.

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Porsche Goes Public

Volkswagen-owned sports carmaker Porsche begins publicly trading today in what is Germany’s second-largest initial public offering, behind Deutsche Telekom’s $13B IPO in 1996. The IPO is also the third biggest in Europe, valuing Porsche at about $73B. Porsche expects to raise more than $9B. A portion of the funds may be used toward investments in electric vehicles, observers say.

Approximately 114 million shares, or 12.5% of Porsche’s total 911 million shares—an ode to its popular 911 sports car—are for sale to the public at about $80 per share. The sovereign wealth funds of Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Norway, along with Baltimore, Maryland-based mutual fund firm T. Rowe Price, have together committed to taking up as much as $3.5B of the IPO. Volkswagen bought Porsche in 2012 after a takeover struggle between the two automakers. Last year, Porsche earned nearly $4B in profit on revenue of $32B.

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Ian Slams Florida

More than 2.5 million people are without power this morning in Florida after Hurricane Ian made landfall as a powerful Category 4 storm along the state’s Gulf Coast yesterday afternoon. The system reached maximum sustained wind speeds of 155 mph—two miles per hour short of Category 5 status—before arriving just north of Fort Myers. No US deaths had been reported as of this morning, though search and rescue teams have been slowed by weather conditions. 

The storm’s counterclockwise spin pulled water out of Tampa Bay (see video) while inundating areas along Florida’s southwestern coast, with between 12 and 16 feet of storm surge in some locations. The effect, generated by the force of the wind pushing excess water onto land, caused dislodged a number of buildings in the Fort Myers area. As of this morning the storm had been downgraded to a tropical storm.

Ian is expected to traverse the peninsula to the Atlantic Ocean, then bend back over the Carolinas and head toward the Midsouth and Midwest over the weekend. See its trajectory here.

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Chess Cheating Scandal

Five-time world chess champion Magnus Carlsen has formally accused fellow chess grandmaster and Twitch streamer Hans Niemann of cheating. Carlsen’s allegations, released through a public statement via Twitter this week (see here), are at the center of one of the chess world’s biggest scandals in recent decades.

Carlsen, 31, is the best chess player in the world and has ranked No. 1 for more than a decade. Without offering details, Carlsen alleges that 19-year-old Niemann, an up-and-coming chess player who ranks No. 49 in the world, has cheated more recently than he has publicly admitted, adding that his progress in chess has been unusual. The accusation comes after Carlsen abruptly withdrew for the first time in his career from the annual Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis upon losing to Niemann. A week later, Carlsen resigned from an online match against Niemann after playing one move.

Chess officials have neither accused Niemann of cheating nor is an investigation underway, though theories of foul play have run rampant online.

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Oath Keepers Trial Begins

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Jury selection began yesterday in the trial against Oath Keepers-founder Stewart Rhodes for his alleged role in the storming of the US Capitol Jan. 6, 2021. Rhodes and four other members are charged with seditious conspiracy for allegedly seeking to disrupt the transfer of presidential power. Each faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper, established the antigovernment Oath Keepers militia group in 2009 (see overview). Prosecutors claim Rhodes organized military-style units to reject the results of the November 2020 election far in advance of Jan. 6, including by purchasing weapons and gear and mapping out access points to the Capitol grounds. Rhodes and his codefendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Seventeen of the 870 individuals charged in connection to Jan. 6 are accused of seditious conspiracy, while the majority of others face disorderly conduct charges. See a running list of charges here.

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Hurricane Ian Approaches Florida

Hurricane Ian is expected to make landfall between Tampa and Naples in Florida this evening as a Category 4 storm, with maximum sustained winds reaching 130 mph. Ian is projected to produce rainfall amounts of up to 24 inches in west central Florida and could bring dangerous storm surges along Florida’s west coast that may raise water levels as much as 12 feet in some areas.

Ian is the first major hurricane to make landfall in the US mainland this year. As of this writing, Ian was located over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, after hitting Cuba early Tuesday as a Category 3 and leaving the entire island of 11 million people without power (see photos). In contrast, Hurricane Fiona reached Puerto Rico as a Category 1 storm last week, which is still dealing with the aftermath.

Nearly 2.5 million people in coastal Florida are under an evacuation order. See the storm’s trajectory here.

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Russia School Shooting

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

A gunman killed at least 15 people, including 11 children, and wounded dozens in a school in Izhevsk, Russia, 600 miles east of Moscow. While wearing a shirt with a red swastika, 34-year-old Artyom Kazantsev opened fire at his alma mater, which teaches children ages six to 17. 

The gunman, who died by suicide, was registered with a psycho-neurological clinic. No official motive has been disclosed; however, two guns near his body contained the words Columbine, Dylan, and Eric, a suggested reference to the 1999 Columbine school shooting in the US. President Vladimir Putin, who has continued to frame the war in Ukraine as a fight against neo-Nazism, blamed the gunman’s neo-fascist views and Nazi ideology.

The shooting is not believed to be connected to recent violence spurred by Putin’s partial military mobilization order, including at least 17 attacks on military recruitment offices since the announcement. Russia has seen at least 13 mass shootings since 2020.

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Shinzo Abe Funeral

Photo courtesy of Chambre des Députés

Thousands of people, including former and current world leaders, are expected to gather today in Japan as the country holds a rare state funeral for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated in July while campaigning for a candidate. Public opinion about the state funeral for the longest-serving prime minister has been split, with criticism against the estimated $12M cost for the ceremony as households grapple with rising food and fuel prices. 

Before World War II, state funerals in Japan traditionally had been reserved for members of the imperial family and those who made exceptional contributions to the country (see history). Since then, only one other prime minister, Shigeru Yoshida, was honored by a state funeral in 1967. Yoshida is widely credited for setting Japan’s postwar trajectory, including ending the US occupation of Japan. His funeral cost about $400K, adjusting for inflation. 

See an overview of Abe’s career here and a guide to the state funeral here.

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Hurricane Ian To Hit In Florida This Week

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) declared a state of emergency over the weekend, preparing for the looming landfall of Tropical Storm Ian later in the week. The system is currently on track to move through the Gulf of Mexico and arrive near the state’s panhandle by Wednesday while bringing rain and heavy winds to Florida’s southern tip beginning tomorrow (see trajectory). As of early this morning, Ian was on the verge of becoming a Category 1 hurricane.

Ian is the ninth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season and has the potential to be the first major hurricane—those classified as Category 3 and above—to make US landfall this year. As of this writing, Ian was located roughly 300 miles southwest of Cuba as a Category 1 storm and is expected to intensify as it moves across the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Projections have Ian making landfall along the Florida coast overnight Thursday as either a Category 3 or Category 4 hurricane. See updates here.

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