Forget the face that launched a thousand ships; it’s the boat that blocked a thousand ships. The Ever Given remained stuck in the Suez Canal Friday after days of failed attempts to dislodge it. But blocking the crucial waterway is having a sinking effect on the global economy, with some estimating it’s costing $400 million an hour. Shipping rates for oil tankers have nearly doubled, while the global supply chain, already hit by pandemic-related delays, has been badly affected. Experts say the vessel could be stuck for weeks, prompting some ships to consider a lengthy detour around Africa’s southern tip.
2. Democrats Compare Georgia Voting Bill to Jim Crow Laws
“Sick” and “un-American.” That’s how President Joe Biden described Republican efforts to limit voting rights during his first major press conference Thursday, while Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a sweeping voting bill that includes removing drop boxes and imposing new ID requirements for mail-in ballots. Democrats blasted the bill as targeting minorities, with some comparing it to Jim Crow-era laws. Former President Donald Trump made unsupported allegations of widespread voter fraud after Georgia turned blue in November’s election. Biden has urged the Senate to pass voting rights legislation, but will struggle to do so given GOP resistance.
The row between the EU and AstraZeneca escalated Thursday as the European Commission asked the company to honor its commitments to countries that have seen a sluggish vaccine rollout. But the bloc is also under pressure from Britain and the World Health Organization, which have called its export controls vaccine nationalism. German Chancellor Angela Merkel argued the EU “not only supplies itself, but also exports to the world — in contrast to the U.S. and Great Britain." Mud-slinging from all sides will likely continue, with one U.K. government source saying tussles over vaccines “could go on for months.”
4. Amazon and Critics in Pissing Contest Over Workers’ Rights
It’s a pee-culiar spat. Amazon is denying reports that overstretched workers resort to urinating in bottles, but critics are taking to Twitter with evidence. The argument started when Rep. Mark Pocan tweeted the allegations and Amazon replied, “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.” That unleashed a flood of tweets from employees and reporters who have covered working conditions at the $1 trillion company. The Intercept published an email from Amazon telling drivers not to “poop, or leave bottles of urine” in their vans.
Men are being forced to rape their own family members in Ethiopia’s confict-stricken Tigray region, the U.N. has said, adding that hundreds of rape cases are being reported at local clinics. China has placed sanctions on nine people and four organizations in the U.K. for spreading “lies” about abuses in Xinjiang. And South Africans are outraged after a man dressed in traditional Ndebele attire was made to leave a Johannesburg shopping mall for dressing “indecently.”
Coronavirus Update: Doctors are worried that lack of exercise and weight gain during the pandemic has made millions of Americans less healthy. And at least 10 people died when a fire broke out at a private COVID-19 hospital in Mumbai.
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To sleep, perchance to dream? New research shows that octopuses sleep in a way similar to mammals — though like everything the alien creatures do (like taste with their arms) their sleep patterns are much cooler. Dozing octopuses alternate between two stages of sleep, with quiet periods interrupted by “active sleep” when their suckers contract, their eyes dart around and their skin rapidly changes color. Researchers in Brazil report they may even dream briefly. All the more reason why humans are endlessly fascinated with cephalopods, with South African film My Octopus Teacher up for an Oscar this year.
2. Congress Grills Tech Bros on Misinformation and Capitol Riot
Yes or no? That was a poll Twitter founder Jack Dorsey posted Thursday as Big Tech bosses were questioned by Congress. He was poking fun at lawmakers, who because of limited time demanded yes or no answers to complicated and nuanced questions. The House also grilled Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai about the role of misinformation in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Asked by one GOP representative if their companies were partly to blame, only Dorsey said yes. The tech leaders haven’t seen the last of Congress: A raft of competition bills are expected in the coming weeks.
3. No Elephant in the Room: African Pachyderms Now Endangered
Elephants may never forget, but they are being forgotten. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has listed African elephants as endangered as their numbers dwindle due to poaching and habitat decline. The organization has now divided the pachyderms into two species: the savanna elephant, which is endangered, and the forest elephant, which is critically endangered. Both have seen huge population drops, with the forest species falling by 86 percent over three decades, and savanna elephants decreasing by 60 percent over the past 50 years. IUCN’s director said, “We must urgently put an end to poaching.”
4. Europe Tries to Right Historical Wrongs by Repatriating Art
Benin wants its bronzes back. Thousands of striking metal statues were pilfered from Benin city in Nigeria by British soldiers in the 1800s, and now some countries have finally agreed to return the stolen treasures. Scotland’s University of Aberdeen said Thursday it would return a sculpture depicting a king of Benin acquired under “reprehensible circumstances,” while Germany announced this week it will send back hundreds of artifacts held at a Berlin museum. However, the British Museum in London has resisted pressure to return looted sculptures, saying the collection benefits millions of visitors from around the world.
5. Arkansas Bans Trans Athletes From Women’s School Sports
Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a bill Thursday banning transgender girls and women from playing on K-12 or college teams that align with their gender identity, saying the move would “promote and maintain fairness in women's sporting events.” The American Civil Liberties Union was quick to condemn the legislation as discriminatory, but at least 20 other states are looking at similar bans, and Mississippi passed a similar law earlier this month. More than 500 college athletes responded with a letter urging the NCAA not to hold championships in states that ban transgender participation in sports.