Start your day smarter with the most important world news, plus intriguing and offbeat stories.
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Start your day smarter with a dossier on the most important world news, rounded off with a shot of intriguing and offbeat stories. Like the president, you deserve no less.
May 19, 2022
President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to tackle the nationwide baby formula shortage. The World Bank offered $30 billion to ease the global food crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine. Belarus is threatening opposition leaders with the death penalty for “attempted terrorism” against its authoritarian regime. And U.S. stock markets had their worst day since 2020, as retailers struggle with rising costs and slumping sales. All this and more in today’s PDB.
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Biden Invokes Defense Act to Boost Baby Formula Production
President Joe Biden used the Defense Production Act on Wednesday to address the ongoing nationwide baby formula shortage. The Korean War-era law will boost domestic manufacturing by requiring suppliers to prioritize getting key ingredients to formula producers. Biden also authorized using Defense Department planes to speed imports of formula from overseas. Congress took its own steps toward resolving the situation that’s had American parents in a panic. The House overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan bill expanding access to formula for low-income Americans, while Democrats advanced a bill granting the Food and Drug Administration $28 million in emergency funding to tackle the issue. (Sources: WaPo, The Hill, NYT)
Put the Money Where the Mouths Are
World Bank Offers $30 Billion to Stem Global Food Crisis
The United Nations has warned that the war in Ukraine could lead to a yearslong global food crisis, plunging poorer nations into long-term famine. Most exports have been disrupted from Ukraine and Russia, which together account for 30% of the world’s wheat supply, and Africa is already feeling the effect as prices skyrocket. “Food price increases are having devastating effects on the poorest and most vulnerable,” said World Bank President David Malpass. The bank vowed Wednesday to help alleviate the crisis by making $30 billion available for new projects to boost food production and support vulnerable households. (Sources: The Guardian,BBC, Reuters)
Belarus Introduces Death Penalty for ‘Attempted Terrorism’
President Alexander Lukashenko signed a bill Wednesday expanding the use of the death penalty to include cases of “attempted terrorism” — the same charge the authoritarian government has levied against exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Belarus, the only European country to still use capital punishment, began cracking down on dissent after Lukashenko’s disputed election win over Tsikhanouskaya in 2020. Recent terror charges have been levied against so-called “railway partisans,” who are accused of sabotaging Belarusian railways to disrupt supplies to Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. Tsikhanouskaya called the law “a direct threat to activists opposing the dictator and the war.” (Sources: AFP, AP)
Dow Drops 1,160 Points as US Retailers Report Disappointing Quarter
U.S. stocks fell sharply Wednesday as the Dow Jones and S&P 500 recorded their worst declines since June 2020. The ongoing slump was worsened by disappointing earnings from major retailers like Target and Walmart, which said they’d been hit hard by high fuel costs, supply chain issues and sluggish sales. Target saw shares plunge 25% in the company’s worst day since Black Monday in 1987. Dollar Tree, Dollar General and Costco Wholesale also suffered their worst single-day declines in years. Meanwhile, investors are calling for drastic action from the Federal Reserve, pushing for a three-quarter-point rate hike in June. (Sources: WSJ, NPR, CNN)
Here are some things you should know about today:
Go, bro. “Pharma bro” Martin Shkreli, who gained notoriety for jacking up the price of lifesaving anti-malarial medicine by 4,000%, was released early from prison after serving five years for securities fraud. (Source: ABC News) Polio returns. Mozambique has reported its first wild polio case since 1992 — Africa’s second case this year after Malawi reported one in February. Both cases are linked to a strain that circulated in Pakistan in 2019. (Source: DW) Freudian slip. During a speech in Dallas on Wednesday, former President George W. Bush decried “the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq.” After an awkward silence Bush corrected, “I mean, of Ukraine.” (Source: SCMP)
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Ancient Tooth Could Explain Missing Piece of Human History
When researchers extracted a tooth from a cave wall in Laos in 2018, they weren’t sure what they’d found. “We knew it looked kind of human, but not quite right for a modern human,” said University of Illinois paleoanthropologist Laura Shackelford. Her team has now identified it as belonging to a Denisovan — making it the first fossil evidence of the mysterious hominins in Southeast Asia. While previous research placed Denisovans in Siberia and Tibet, their DNA persists in modern humans much farther south. This tooth, however, would put Denisovans right in the path of modern humans when they arrived in Southeast Asia. (Sources: Science, Smithsonian, NYT)
Engineering Students Invent ‘Tastee Tape’ to Seal Burritos
That’s a wrap! A team of chemical and biomolecular engineering students from Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering have finally cracked a culinary conundrum: How to stop your burrito from falling apart. Tastee Tape comes in 2-inch rectangular strips affixed to waxed paper and must be activated with water to become sticky. The students won’t reveal their ingredients beyond describing the snack-sealing product as “a food-grade fibrous scaffold and an organic adhesive,” but they plan to patent their invention. Team Tastee Tape insists the adhesive “has the tensile strength you can trust to hold together a fat burrito.” (Source: Gizmodo)
Study Finds Cats Know Each Other’s Names
A recent Kyoto University study suggests domestic cats know not only their own names but those of their companions. To test the theory, researchers relied on a method often used to study human babies: the fact that they stare at unfamiliar things for longer. Researchers tested the kitties by showing them pictures of their friends while a human voice said a name. The cats stared for longer, suggesting they were confused, when the name didn’t match the feline face. Author Saho Takagi explained, “Felines do not appear to listen to people’s conversations, but as a matter of fact, they do.” (Sources: Salon, IFLScience)
Marvel Signs 20-Year Licensing Deal for Stan Lee’s Likeness
The beloved co-creator of Spider-Man will be returning to Marvel Studios — despite the fact that he died in 2018. Marvel has reached a deal with Stan Lee Universe, a venture between Genius Brands International and POW! Entertainment, to license the comic writer’s name and likeness for use in movies, TV and theme parks. While it’s uncertain if he’ll be digitally resurrected for MCU cameos (the way some deceased Star Wars actors have been), that’s not the only problematic element of the deal: Lee sued POW! shortly before his death, claiming the company tricked him into signing away his likeness. (Sources: The Hollywood Reporter, ScreenRant)
Balancing the Scales
US Soccer Will (Finally) Pay Women and Men Equally
The U.S. Soccer Federation reached separate collective bargaining agreements with the unions for both national teams Wednesday, becoming the sport’s first national governing body to promise equal pay. Players will get matching game fees and teams will pool their World Cup prize money, as well as revenues from TV and sponsorship. The change comes after years of struggle from the more successful women’s team, which won the World Cup in 2019 and filed a gender discrimination lawsuit demanding equal pay. U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone said the decision has “the potential to change the game around the world.” (Sources: AP, ESPN, BBC)
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