Also: Saudi Aramco surges to the top.

Friday, 13 May  |  Read online

Hi Intriguer. Marilyn Monroe is in the news again this week because Andy Warhol’s iconic portrait of the 50s icon sold for an eye-watering $195m. That makes it the most expensive piece of 20th-century art ever sold. The previous record ($179.4m) was held by Picasso’s ‘Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O)’. Which would you prefer hanging on your living room wall?

Today's briefing is a ~4.5 min read:

  • 💰 Trade war: the US is considering cutting its tariffs on China.
  • Plus: Costa Rica is crippled by a cyberattack, the UN calls for an investigation into a journalist's death, and sorry Apple stans, Saudi Aramco just became the world’s most valuable company.

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Haaretz (Tel Aviv)

"Israel's Credibility 'Not Very High,' Minister Says on Killing of Al Jazeera Journalist. Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai says that 'based on the past,' Israel's credibility is lacking in such incidents."

Moldova Suverană (Chișinău)

"Russian aggression in Ukraine: Heavy fighting in Donbas'. The Ukrainian Government announced that it would liberate the Kherson region in the south of the country before it was joined to Russia."

Daily Mirror (Colombo)

"Ranil Wickremesinghe sworn in as PM. Meanwhile, military vehicles patrol the streets of Colombo City as the country came under a curfew over the last two days."

The Namibian (Windhoek)
"Former president Nujoma supports a female president. Nujoma threw his weight behind a female president during an interview published in New Era on the eve of his 93rd birthday, which is today."

El Tiempo (Bogota)
"National Police hunt for the hitmen of anti-mafia prosecutor. Paraguayan anti-mafia prosecutor Marcelo Pecci was shot dead on Tuesday on a beach in Colombia, where he was on honeymoon."


Biden ponders lifting China tariffs

In two sentences: Plagued by persistently high inflation, the US is mulling whether it's time to axe Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports. The move might help lower inflation in the short to medium term, but would also hand Beijing a foreign policy win that Washington would rather avoid.

Decisions, decisions…

The Biden administration is considering whether to lift Trump-era tariffs on Chinese imports to combat domestic inflationary pressures.

The tariffs in question: In 2019, then-President Donald Trump announced the imposition of a 10% levy on $300 billion worth of Chinese imports in retaliation for alleged unfair trade practices.

For its part, Beijing is urging Washington to drop the tariffs because it wants to deliver a sliver of good economic news to many of its still-locked-down citizens.

  • China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian said: “There is no winner in a trade war [...] the US’ unilateral tariffs imposed against China do not help us, nor do they benefit the US or the world”.

Getting inflation under control

US inflation reached a 40-year high in March, and President Biden is sporting a disapproval rating of 50% ahead of the mid-term elections in November.

  • Biden told Americans on Tuesday that fighting inflation was his “top domestic priority” and all options were “on the table”.

So far, the US has increased interest rates and released huge quantities of oil from its strategic reserves in an effort to curb inflationary pressure.

  • The result: Last month’s inflation rate decreased to 8.3% from 8.5% in March, but this figure was smaller than expected.

Could a cut in tariffs help? Lawrence Summers, former US Secretary of the Treasury, says yes:

  • A reduction in import levies will decrease manufacturing costs for firms, which should lead to a decrease in costs for consumers.

  • By lowering the costs of imports, domestic producers will be forced to decrease their prices to remain competitive.

Handing China a win

Much to the US's chagrin, Beijing has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is offering rhetorical (and perhaps more) support to Moscow.

That means the White House won't want to do anything to help Xi Jinping or risk being seen as “soft” on China.

  • Advocates of the Trump tariffs say that his policies opened the eyes of the world to the ‘real China’. Removing the tariffs now would therefore be handing China a considerable foreign policy win.

  • Removing the tariffs could also undermine Biden’s rhetoric and policies on human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Competing interests: With mid-term elections just around the corner, Biden will have to carefully balance US domestic economic policy (inflation) with US foreign policy (maintaining a hard line on Russia and China) to avoid getting punished at the ballot box. 

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Find out more about the TaPP Network here.


Africa & the Middle East

🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire

EU lawmakers want the European Commission to hold negotiations with the Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana to agree on a cocoa economic pact.

  • The two West African countries produce ~60% of the world’s cocoa, but their economies have been plagued by persistently low crop prices.
  • Low cocoa prices are a key driver of deforestation and child labour, which European officials are concerned about.

🇵🇸 Palestine

The UN and EU are calling for an independent investigation into the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

  • According to members of her crew present at the scene, Abu Akleh was shot by the Israeli Defense Forces during a raid in Jenin.

  • The Israeli military asserts it is unclear whether the journalist was killed by Israeli or Palestinian fire.

🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia

It's a happy day for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Aramco has just pipped Apple to become the world’s most valuable company.

  • When official trading stopped on Wednesday, the Saudi state-owned oil giant was valued at $2.42 trillion, while Apple came a close second at $2.37 trillion.

  • Aramco’s shares have benefitted from high oil prices, while Apple’s investors are worried supply chain disruptions will dent the company’s future revenues.

🇹🇬 Togo

Eight Togolese soldiers were killed during a pre-dawn attack on an army outpost in what the government has called a terrorist attack.

  • Analysts believe the perpetrators are linked to local Al-Qaeda groups.

  • If confirmed, the attack could mean that insurgent groups currently active across the Sahel region are expanding southward.

🇿🇼 Zimbabwe

Authorities in Zimbabwe have taken the drastic measure of stopping all lending to curb inflation and steady the Zimbabwe dollar.

  • The country is attempting to avoid another round of dollarisation. Back in 2009, Harare stopped printing its own money and started relying primarily on the US dollar.
  • According to analysts at BancABC, “banning lending activities will threaten the survival of banks as this will wipe out 20-50% of their incomes."


Live footage of government offices in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Costa Rica got hacked bad

Sound the alarm: Costa Rica has declared a state of national emergency following sustained cyberattacks by hacking group Conti.

  • And it's serious - the attacks have frozen the country’s administrative capabilities and exposed citizens’ personal information.

Why it matters: The cyberattack has thrown Costa Rica's government into complete disarray:

  • Costa Ricans are currently unable to pay taxes.

  • The country’s treasury can’t process any paperwork.

  • ~672 GB of data collected from government agencies has been leaked.

In a conversation with Threatpost, Cybersecurity expert Chris Clements states that governments must come to see cybersecurity investments “as a critical strategic defensive shield”.

Who is Conti? The cyberattack is being attributed to the notorious Conti hacking group who are believed to be… you guessed it, Russian.

  • Conti is infamous for employing ransomware to “double extort” their victims, meaning the gang threatens to release stolen data if victims don't pay by a deadline.

Conti has requested a payment of $10 million in exchange for not releasing data from the Ministry of Finance, but Costa Rica has declined to pay the ransom.

Suspicious relations: Like several other hacker groups, Conti is widely believed to have ties to the Kremlin, benefitting from Moscow’s protection in return for not attacking Russian organisations. A modern Godfather-esque arrangement.

The US announced a bounty of $10 million for any information that could lead to the identification or location of the group.


The art of speechwriting

While the best speeches in history are indisputably art, there's a lot of science behind their brilliance. We invited the Mateo from SimpleSpeaker back on to explain another of our favourites...

Intrigue: We all know what Julius Caesar meant when he boasted “Veni, Vidi, Vici” in a letter to the Roman Senate after yet another decisive military victory. Did the clever old dog just stumble on a beautiful turn of Latin phrase, or was he doing something more deliberate?

Mateo:  While it's nice to imagine these brilliant phrases being off-the-cuff, Caesar was actually deliberately using a rhetorical device known as the tricolon, a list of three consecutive concepts where each concept possesses the same number of words or syllables.

The concepts embodied in a tricolon will often escalate in significance or grandeur, as they do in Caesar’s famous exhortation. The tricolon is a specific class of the broader isocolon, which can generally have two, three or four parallel elements.

Honest Abe Lincoln was also fond of tricolon. Examples include, “we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow” from the Gettysburg Address and his masterly (and apparently off-the-cuff!) analysis of political demagoguery:

  • "you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time."

Intrigue: Fascinating, but no comment on that last bit 😉

Have a big speech, presentation or project coming up and want to knock it out of the park? Get in touch with Mateo and the team at SimpleSpeaker and they'll help you find your best voice.

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