Oil has stopped greasing the wheels. Investors worldwide sent stock markets south today on fears that lower oil prices — which have now fallen by 75 percent since mid-2014 to under $28 a barrel — and China’s slowdown are hurting economic growth. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 3.8 percent, the Shanghai Composite 1 percent, and Japan entered a bear market, with the Nikkei 225 falling another 3.7 percent. European markets also had a rough day, with the FTSE 100, Germany’s Dax and France’s Cac 40 all down roughly 2.5 percent, and the Dow has already plummeted 500 points.
The Presidential Daily Brief
They climbed in over the back wall. At least 19 people were killed and dozens were injured in a terrorist assault on Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, less than 25 miles from the Peshawar school where the Taliban killed 145 in December 2014. One Taliban commander claimed responsibility, though another told media they had nothing to do with the “un-Islamic” attack. As OZY contributor Daniel-Dylan Boehmer explains, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has dedicated himself to defeating terrorism — and this morning he released another statement swearing to finally “wipe out the menace.”
Will this help or hurt him? The Republican front-runner had teased a big announcement for an event in Iowa yesterday, and he delivered: The 2008 vice-presidential nominee and former Alaska governor read a prepared statement endorsing the billionaire. As the GOP campaign has turned nastier, Trump has found himself with fewer allies in conservative bastions like talk radio. Palin’s support could bolster him with Iowa’s social conservatives — particularly women — and help beat back rival Ted Cruz in the state’s caucuses, which are less than two weeks away.
He’s being made a public example. Peter Dahlin, a Swedish activist working in China’s beleaguered human rights law community, confessed to and apologized for hurting the feelings of the Chinese people and “causing harm” to their government. Dahlin’s NGO, Chinese Urgent Action Working Group, said his “absurd” confession, broadcast on state television, was clearly scripted. Some observers believe that this rare public humiliation of a foreign national was staged to support China’s narrative that human rights lawyers are fomenting dissent as part of a Western conspiracy against the country’s stability.
This is a job for … nobody. The U.N.’s International Labor Organization predicts there will be 4.8 million more jobless people in developing countries in two years. The news is especially bad for Brazil, Russia and China, where unemployment is expected to rise significantly, potentially holding back their emerging middle classes. Meanwhile, U.S. unemployment is forecasted to fall slightly, from 5.3 percent to 4.7 percent — though OZY’s Simon Constable cautions that those numbers could be deceptive: Many former workers aren’t counted because they’ve simply dropped out of the labor force.
Large explosion rocks Kabul near Russian embassy, killing four. (BBC)
Michigan governor apologizes over Flint water crisis. (USA Today)
Putin says European Jews fleeing anti-Semitism are welcome in Russia. (Mashable)
ISIS confirms death of ‘Jihadi John.’ (CNN)
Community tells leader of Oregon standoff to ‘get out.’ (NBC News)
U.S. urges China to lean on North Korea over nuclear program. (NYT)
Feeling the heat? For a third consecutive year, the Earth has warmed up more like never before, with 2015 proving the “warmest year by a long chalk,” according to NASA. In a review of world temperatures, the space agency and NOAA said 2015 also heated up by the widest-ever margin: almost a third of a degree Fahrenheit. Average temperatures were 1.62 degrees above the average of the past century, and while experts point some blame at El Nino, there’s no denying that the planet’s mercury is rising.
This is no fish story. The World Economic Forum warns that oceans will be awash in more plastic than fish by mid-century. The use of plastic — which has grown twenty-fold since 1965 — is expected to double again by 2036, hitting a whopping 1,124 million tons by 2050. Yet only a staggering 14 percent of plastic packaging is collected and recycled, compared to 58 percent of paper. To help keep global warming under two degrees, the forum says it’s high time we all reduce, reuse and recycle.
Whatever happened to a nice seance? New apps aimed at the mortals among us are promising the impossible: Keeping you alive. Oh, not your body — just your online presence. By analyzing the texts, tweets and Facebook posts you made while alive, the apps will keep communicating via social media in your voice after you die. Most of these afterlife apps aren’t ready yet — and many people are deeply skeptical that this counts as life after death, anyway — but one day techno-futurists may have the last tweet.
They’re not taking chances. The virus, transmitted by mosquitoes, has resulted in an increase in severe birth defects in Central and South America, where 1 million adults are already infected. Now pregnant Americans are being warned to avoid the 13 countries where Zika has already manifested — and get tested if they visited recently, even if they’re not showing symptoms. Meanwhile, health officials in Jamaica, where the pandemic has yet to occur, want women to avoid becoming pregnant for the next six months to a year, for safety’s sake.
Can the problem be fixed? Jada Pinkett Smith expressed “gratitude” to Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who has promised to make “big changes” in the Academy’s voting ranks — estimated to be more than 90 percent white. Change isn’t happening fast enough for many, though. The Rev. Al Sharpton and April Reign, creator of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, are doubling down with calls to also boycott the Oscars broadcast on Feb. 28, which they say will send a powerful message to advertisers.
It’s not worth the headache. Noting that he now has trouble walking down stairs, the 36-year-old former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver added that he thinks the sport may be gone in 25 years over the fallout from catastrophic injuries. Since retiring in 2012, the Super Bowl winner also suffers from memory problems, and he lays the blame on injuries received while he was playing pro ball. Rebuffing critics who focus on safer equipment, he said “there’s no correcting it” — and that he wishes he’d played baseball instead.