3.15.2024

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Good morning. It's Friday, March 15, and we're covering Vladimir Putin's iron grip over the Russian presidency, another step forward for SpaceX, and much more. First time reading? Sign up here.

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Need To Know
 

Russian Election Begins

President Vladimir Putin is expected to claim a fifth presidential term as Russia begins its three-day election today. The vote will include inhabitants of regions of Ukraine occupied by Russia since 2022, a roughly 46,000 square mile area. The election comes a month after the death of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.  

 

Putin has led Russia as either prime minister or president since 1999. While Russia's 1993 constitution implemented term limits, referendums and amendments since have allowed Putin to keep power. The 71-year-old retains high approval ratings, and Russia's economy has withstood broad international sanctions initiated after the invasion. 

 

Observers claim the government's control of candidates and its ban on independent media have effectively neutralized opponents' ability to compete with Putin. While the three opposition candidates have levied criticisms against the regime, all support the Ukraine war. An antiwar candidate, Boris Nadezhdin, was barred from the ballot last month. See war updates here.

 

Starship Reaches Orbit

SpaceX launched its third and most successful test flight of its Starship rocket system yesterday morning from its Boca Chica, Texas-based facility, reaching orbit for the first time. The uncrewed spacecraft broke up upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

 

More than 1.5 million viewers tuned in to watch the livestream as the 400-foot tall rocket—the largest and most powerful ever developed with hopes to take humans to the moon and beyond—took flight. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced the rocket reached orbital velocity about 15 minutes after liftoff. The spacecraft then opened its payload door, demonstrating how future rockets could deploy Starlink satellites, and transferred liquid oxygen between tanks.

 

Company officials said yesterday's mission also provided insight into reentry of the vehicle at more than five times the speed of sound—a critical step as Starship is intended to ultimately be fully reusable. 

 

See photos here and watch the video of reentry here.  

 

AI Robocall Lawsuit

A leading voting rights organization filed suit yesterday against a Democratic political consultant accused of using AI-powered robocalls impersonating President Joe Biden in an effort to dampen turnout in the New Hampshire Democratic primary. The suit, led by the League of Women Voters, calls for thousands in fines for each of the five separate plaintiffs.

 

The scheme encouraged voters to skip the primary and instead “save [their] vote” for the general election. The defendant, Steve Kramer, admitted paying $150 for the impersonation, made using software by ElevenLabs in under 20 minutes. Records show Biden challenger Rep. Dean Phillips (MN-3)—who lost to Biden by over 40 points in the race—has paid Kramer over $250K in consultancy fees. Phillips nonetheless denies any prior knowledge of the robocalls. Kramer claims his intentions were to raise awareness of the dangers of AI.

 

The robocall is believed to be the first voter-suppression effort using AI to mimic a US president and prompted regulators to explicitly bar AI-cloned robocalls. Learn about how to protect against AI-powered scams here.  

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In The Know
 

Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

> NCAA basketball conference tournaments to wrap this weekend with March Madness selection shows slated for Sunday; see projected men's bracket (More) | ... and projected women's bracket (More)

> Coldplay, Dua Lipa, Shania Twain, and SZA tapped as headliners for UK's Glastonbury Festival (June 26-30); see full lineup of performers (More)

> Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, returns to Instagram for first time since 2018 to launch new lifestyle brand (More

 

Science & Technology

In partnership with Global Air Cylinder Wheels

> Scientists identify brain circuitry and chemistry responsible for translating stress into the sense of fear; findings may lead to treatments for conditions like PTSD (More)

> Three-decade-long study reveals link between teen pregnancy and increased risk of early death; Canadian teen mothers were twice as likely to die before the age of 31 (More)

> Undersea cable damage knocks out internet access to a number of countries across Africa; Ivory Coast reported as little as 4% connectivity throughout yesterday (More) | See map of the world's undersea internet cables (More)

From our partners: One of TIME Magazine’s “Best Inventions.” Global Air Cylinder Wheels (GACW) has “reinvented the wheel” to stop rubber pollution with a 100% recyclable wheel that doesn’t puncture or shed rubber like tires do. As one of TIME’s best sustainability inventions of 2023, it has the potential to transform $504B in markets including mining, construction, and automotive. Invest in GACW now to be part of their growth.*

 

Business & Markets

> US stock markets close lower (S&P 500 -0.3%, Dow -0.4%, Nasdaq -0.3%) following report showing higher-than-expected inflation (0.6%) in February for wholesale goods (More)

> Former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin working to form an investor group to buy TikTok from Chinese-based ByteDance (More) | See previous write-up on House vote to ban the app (More)

> Morgan Stanley names first head of artificial intelligence; company was previously the first Wall Street firm to implement OpenAI's ChatGPT into financial advisers' workflow (More)

 

Politics & World Affairs

> Biden administration sanctions Israeli settlers in the West Bank and outposts for ties to violence against Palestinians (More) | Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calls for Israeli elections to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (More) | Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appoints adviser as prime minister amid calls for reform (More)

> Trump administration reportedly authorized CIA effort on Chinese social media to drive antigovernment sentiment, according to new report (More) | Manhattan district attorney calls for up to 30-day delay in Trump hush money trial following receipt of 100,000 new documents from investigators (More

> James Crumbley, father of 2021 Oxford High School shooter in Michigan who killed four students, convicted of involuntary manslaughter; Crumbley had purchased the gun used in the shooting and failed to properly secure it (More)

 

In-Depth

> Why Are So Many Young People Getting Cancer?

Nature | Heidi Ledford. The rate of early-onset cancers in people under 50 years old is expected to rise by a third over the next decade. Dietary changes may be a partial driver, but a full explanation remains elusive. (Read)

 

> Sixty Songs that Explain the 1990s

The Ringer | Rob Harvilla. From "A Tribe Called Quest" to "Santana," explore 60 anthems of the last decade of the millennia, with links to podcast discussions of each song included. (Read)

> The Legend of Pope Joan

The Constant | Staff Legends tell of a woman who surreptitiously held the papacy during the ninth century, only to be discovered after giving birth in the middle of a city street. (Listen)

 

> A Total Spectacle

Science News | James Riordon. A relatively rare event on its own, April's total solar eclipse (as viewed in the US) will be the last full eclipse for two decades. (Read)

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Etcetera
 

Explore the life cycle of a circulating library book (w/video).

 

Explore the Sony World Photography Awards, from architecture to animals.

 

Celebrating the life of Paul Alexander, who lived seven decades in an iron lung.

 

Visualizing average age gaps for married couples.

 

Saudi Arabia's megacity skyscraper is officially under construction.

 

Mapping how much tax each state collects from cannabis sales.

 

Deep sea researchers meet and greet a pigbutt worm. (via YouTube)

 

The struggle is real for Donuts the farm dog. (w/video)

 

Clickbait: Tissues, testicles harvested to create giant hybrid sheep.

 

Historybook: The Ides of March: Julius Caesar assassinated by Brutus (44 BCE); President Andrew Jackson born (1767); Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg born (1933); Terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand kills 51 (2019).

"Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time."

- Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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