You Ransom, You Lose Some
May 19, 2022
Some Good News
- Cat Litter Could Be Antidote for Climate Change, Researchers Say (WSJ, $)
- Obama, Airbnb’s Brian Chesky launch $100M in scholarships (ABC)
“The hardest thing to understand in the world is the income tax.” – Albert Einstein
Fed, White, And Blue
Similar to how we’ve learned a lot about the Postmaster General’s role over the last couple of years, the Federal Reserve is one of those entities that you know is doing well when you haven’t heard from them in a while. When the economy is booming and Americans are thriving, nobody’s first thought is, “gee, thank goodness for the Fed,” but as we head into a full year of out-of-control inflation, the central banking system is catching a lot of heat.
Former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke has spent much of the pandemic working on a new book, and he weighed in on where he thinks the economy is headed. The Fed is trying to determine how quickly it should be raising interest rates, and Bernanke seems optimistic about current chair Jerome Powell’s abilities. The balance of slowing down inflation is a tricky one, and Bernanke is predicting we’ll see a period of “stagflation,” a term that was coined in the 1970s. He says, “even under the benign scenario, we should have a slowing economy, and inflation’s still too high but coming down. So there should be a period in the next year or two where growth is low, unemployment is at least up a little bit and inflation is still high. So you could call that stagflation.” Bernanke also noted that inflation is a bigger political problem because it affects everyone, while other economic issues like unemployment don’t. With midterms around the corner, settling inflation will probably take precedence over anything else.
Bernanke isn’t the only one with a rather bleak outlook on the economy though. Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf said on Tuesday there’s “no question” that we’re heading for rough waters, adding, “It’s going to be hard to avoid some kind of recession.” Companies are feeling the strain as well. Target’s stocks dropped by nearly 25%, and Walmart’s dropped by 11% in the biggest decrease in share prices since 1987 for both corporations. Scharf did concede, however, that “The fact that everyone is so strong going into this should hopefully provide a cushion such that whatever recession there is, if there is one, is short and not all that deep.” (NYT ($), WSJ ($), Reuters)
You Ransom, You Lose Some
- The Russian-based ransomware gang Conti has claimed credit for a cyberattack against the Costa Rican government that began on April 12th. The attack has brought down export systems and tax collection, and led the government to declare a state of emergency.
- Conti has threatened to leak the information they’ve stolen unless they’re paid $20 million. The group has historically focused on American and European targets but has lately shifted towards Central and South American countries. It’s unclear was led to their shift, but it may be retaliation against public support for Ukraine or because the U.S. was preparing to crack down on them.
- The group is responsible for more than 1,000 ransomware attacks worldwide that have led to earnings of more than $150 million, according to estimates from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. American and European targets are more likely to fork over cash when threatened, but also have more resources to bring about criminal charges. (NYT, $)
Gone Pound The Bend
- The U.K.’s inflation rate reached a 40-year high in April, with prices rising 9% compared to last April, up from a 7% rise between this and last March. The rise marks the highest inflation rate in the U.K. since March 1982.
- Besides rampant inflation, the U.K. faces a few other economic challenges. First, the British pound fell 0.6% compared to the U.S. dollar with its value falling to just $1.2419, an 8% drop in value for the year. The country also faces the threat of a slowing economy over the rest of the year, with the possibility that low-income citizens could struggle to pay for food and power soon.
- This April, home energy prices were 69.6% higher compared to last April thanks in part to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Food prices are also up 6.7% compared to last year. Luckily, employment remains low at 3.7%, and wages have risen, but not enough to cover the rate of inflation. (WSJ, $)
Additional World News
- Watchdog report says Trump and Biden administration decisions drove collapse of Afghan security forces (CNN)
- The Buffalo shooting is part of a global network of white nationalist terror (NBC)
- UN chief says Ukraine a ‘wake-up call’ to ditch fossil fuels as WMO releases damning climate report (CNN)
- Finland, Sweden apply to join NATO, face Turkish objections (Reuters)
- Ethiopia to get $300m World Bank grant for reconstruction (Al Jazeera)
- Pollution’s fatal threat gains urgency after 9 million died in one year (NBC)
- Mexico registers over 100,000 people as missing or disappeared (CNN)
In Arms Way
- According to a new report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), U.S. gun makers manufactured 11.3 million firearms in 2020, almost tripling the 3.9 million guns made in 2000. While the U.S. population increased 18% over that period, the number of guns produced domestically rose 250%. The report was released a week after the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and in Laguna Woods, California.
- The ATF also noted a spike in “ghost guns,” privately-manufactured firearms without a serial number, which surged with a rise in access to 3D printers and online tutorials. Do-it-yourself guns, which are made by individuals buying a kit of components and making the guns themselves, saw usage go up 4,200%. Over the time period covered by the report, the number of DIY guns found at crime scenes surged, according to the agency: “As technology advances in the making of [privately made firearms], there has been a corresponding increase in their use in crimes.”
- According to officials, DIY guns are used by criminals because they don’t require a background check to use, and the Biden administration is looking to crack down on them with a new law requiring ghost guns to include serial numbers and be traceable like normally-purchased firearms. (CBS News)
Running A Tight Allyship
- With her win in the Democratic gubernatorial primary on Tuesday, Oregon’s Tina Kotek could become the first openly lesbian governor in the United States. She formerly served as Oregon’s speaker of the House, where she was both the first openly lesbian speaker and the longest-tenured speaker in state history. Her primary win comes as more and more people running for office are LGBTQ. 600 LGBTQ candidates are running for government office this year, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, and many are running for national positions.
- According to the fund’s website, “At least 101 people ran or are running for the U.S. Senate or U.S. House – with 96 still actively running as of February 21, 2022. That marks a 16.1 percent increase in LGBTQ Congressional candidates compared to the 2020 election cycle, when 87 people ran.” Many candidates reference anti-LGBTQ legislation as the reason they’re running for office. (NPR)
Additional USA News
- House Dems propose $28 million to address formula shortage (AP)
- 2 Children Have Been Hospitalized Because of Formula Shortage (NYT, $)
- Rep. Madison Cawthorn loses NC GOP House primary (Axios)
- Michael Sussmann: Clinton lawyer ‘lied to manipulate FBI over Trump’ (BBC)
- Brush fire contained near Griffith Observatory; a ‘person of interest’ is detained (LAT, $)
- Printing errors mar mailed ballots in Oregon, Pennsylvania (AP)
- Covid-19 remains a public health emergency in US, administration says (CNN)
Chew On That
- A molar that’s estimated to be between 164,000 and 131,000 years old was excavated from a cave wall in northeastern Laos. The tooth, which belonged to a four- to six-year-old girl, is one of the few physical remains known of Denisovans, a sister lineage to Neanderthals.
- Evidence of the Denisovans has only been found in the Himalayas and Siberia, with sparse bone fossils and dental fragments to study. Laotian humidity prevented any DNA from being preserved, but the shape of it – short and heavily wrinkled – and enamel characteristics placed it as Denisovans. Ancient proteins allowed them to identify it as belonging to a girl.
- “This is the first time that a Denisovan has been found in a warm region,” said paleoanthropologist Fabrice Demeter of the University of Copenhagen’s Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre, lead author of the study published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications. Comparing that with the Himalayas and Siberia and it’s clear the Denisovans were incredibly adaptable to different climates. (NBC)
- Scientists Discover Nearly 1 Billion-Year-Old Organisms, Possibly Alive (Vice)
- Dog gravely injured after trying to defend owner from mountain lion attack (ABC)
- Goldman Sachs Takes a Page From Netflix and Twitter on Vacation Rules (WSJ, $)
- What Congress learned in its first public hearing on UFOs since 1966 (Axios)
- Extraterrestrial stone brings first supernova clues to Earth (Phys.org)
- Scientists Use Gene Editing to Create Mutant Cockroaches in Breakthrough (Vice)
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