S&P 500, Burkina Faso, Hippos: your Monday evening briefing
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Good evening. Here is the last Monday at the end of the day.
1. The Pentagon put 8,500 US troops on ‘high alert’ for a possible deployment in Eastern Europe, as officials prepare for a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Most of the troops would participate in a NATO response force that could soon be activated, said John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman.
“It’s very clear that the Russians have no intention of defusing at this time,” Kirby said at a Monday news conference. “What it’s all about, though, is reassuring our NATO allies.”
Russian troops and equipment are flocking to neighboring Belarus for drills slated for next month which US officials say are not only directed against Ukraine but also aimed to intimidate NATO countries on the border western Belarus. NATO is also sending more jets and ships to the region, but Western officials have made it clear that NATO forces will not engage militarily against Russia.
3. The S&P touched correction territory, then rallied.
Earlier on Monday, the selloff showed just how jittery investors had become: The index had fallen more than 10% from its January 3 high. A decline of this magnitude, called a correction, is an infrequent event – the last was in March 2020. But the S&P 500 ended the day up 0.3%, trimming its losses since January 3 to around 8 %.
Investors were rattled by the prospect that the Federal Reserve may have to withdraw support for the economy much faster than expected to fight inflation, which was made worse by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Experts say the economic disruption caused by the latest wave of cases has made post-pandemic normality more elusive.
4. The Supreme Court accepted to hear cases challenging affirmative action at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.
The court has repeatedly upheld similar schemes, most recently in 2016. But six years later, only two members of the majority in that case remain on the court. Changes in the composition of the court have made it more conservative, and contested programs are almost certain to meet skepticism.
The case against Harvard accused it of discriminating against Asian American students by using a subjective standard to consider traits like sympathy, courage, and kindness. In the North Carolina case, plaintiffs said the university discriminated against white and Asian applicants by giving preference to black, Hispanic and Native American applicants.
5. The Federal civil rights trial of three former Minneapolis police officers for their role in the death of George Floyd began Monday with opening arguments.
Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder last spring for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. Three other officers who were at the scene, and who were fired shortly after the killing, are charged with willfully failing to intervene against Chauvin and failing to provide medical attention to Floyd.
The case will center on a crucial issue in American policing: the duty of police officers to intervene when they witness misconduct by colleagues. Several experts say his result could have a bigger impact on police than Chauvin’s convictions.
6. The army overthrew the democratically elected president of Burkina Faso, suspending the Constitution and seizing power over the nation.
President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré had ruled the impoverished, landlocked West African country since 2015. The nation was largely peaceful until that same year, when militant groups launched a violent campaign as part of a wider upheaval in the Sahel, a vast region south of the Sahara. Kaboré faced mounting criticism over his failure to repel insurgents. The violence displaced 1.4 million people and claimed 2,000 lives last year.
Africa has seen the greatest concentration of coups in years, with takeovers in Guinea, Sudan, Chad and Mali reversing many of the continent’s democratic gains.
7. One study found that a year of cash payments to poor mothers boosted their babies’ brain function. The research has been called a major scientific breakthrough.
“This is proof that simply giving families more money, even a modest sum, leads to better brain development,” said Martha Farah, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania. But another researcher reacted more cautiously, noting that the full impact would not be clear until the children took cognitive tests.
Yet the evidence that a single year of grants — $333 a month — could alter something as profound as brain function highlights the role money can play in child development. It comes as President Biden pushes for a broader grant program for families with children.
8. Prestigious prizes in children’s literature and picture books were awarded on Monday.
‘The Last Cuentista’, a dystopian but hopeful novel by Donna Barba Higuera, received this year’s John Newbery Medal. In the book, 12-year-old Petra Peña and her family are among those chosen to escape Earth before a collision with Halley’s Comet. Asleep for nearly 400 years, they wake up with everyone’s memories erased except Petra’s. Here is the Times review.
The Randolph Caldecott Medal, the highest award for an American picture book, went to “Watercress,” illustrated by Jason Chin and written by Andrea Wang. The book follows a young Chinese American girl living in a predominantly white town in rural Ohio during the 1970s.
9. An ode to the original veggie burger.
In Los Angeles, synthetic meat imitations abound. Many are made from pea and soy protein, which produce patties that can look and smell the part — that can even bleed fake blood. But they can be characterless and monotonous in texture and flavor.
Our reviewer makes the case for a classic plant patty. The best tend to be idiosyncratic mixes of vegetables, mushrooms, beans and grains, deepened with the umami of soy sauce, nutritional yeast, miso or kombu. Luckily, veggie burgers made with real vegetables persist throughout the city.
10. And finally, how a hippo says “hello.”
Hippos are among the most hostile creatures in the animal kingdom and particularly difficult to study. But researchers began to decipher how the animals communicate by playing recordings of “hissing horns” to groups of hippos to see how they would react. Listen.
Their findings suggest that hippos can distinguish friends from acquaintances, and acquaintances from strangers, by sound.
Spend an evening with neighbors.
Angela Jimenez photos compiled for this briefing.