The Full Belmonte, 5/13/2022
“There's been speculation for weeks that Elon Musk might walk away from his Twitter deal. He just took a giant step.
At 5:44 a.m. ET, Musk made the stunning announcement to his 92.7 million followers: ‘Twitter deal temporarily on hold pending details supporting calculation that spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5% of users.’
Context: The estimate, which Reuters reported from a Twitter filing on May 2, came days after Musk tweeted that one of his priorities would be to remove ‘spam bots’ from the platform.
The big picture: Musk’s takeover bid has been fraught with so many twists and turns that Wall Street is skeptical it will even happen, Axios' Sara Fischer and Dan Primack report.
For Musk to liquidate a significant amount of his Tesla stake and to wrangle bankers into giving him billions of dollars in financing — only to backtrack due to a single article — shows how manic the entire takeover process has been.
The tweet comes a day after Twitter’s CEO ousted two of the company's top execs and paused hiring, in an effort to be more fiscally responsible.
Sources say the changes were made outside of Musk's purview. But there's no question the deal is pressuring the company to become more innovative and profitable.” Read more at Axios
Smoke rises from what appears to be a makeshift bridge across the Siverskyi Donets River in eastern Ukraine.
“‘Millions of people around the world will die’ if Ukraine’s Black Sea ports aren’t reopened, says the head of the UN World Food Programme, David Beasley. The official is pleading with Russian President Vladimir Putin to reopen the channels, and the EU is proposing ways to ease the blockade of produce exports like corn, wheat and barley out of Ukraine. The EU’s top diplomat announced today that the bloc will provide $521 million in military support to Ukraine. Meanwhile, a sustained Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region was hampered after at least two bridges vital to continuing the Ukrainian advance were blown up. However, Ukrainian forces are reportedly pressing on in the area.” Read more at CNN
“Ukrainian forces held the line in Donbas as Western heavy weapons joined the battle. With Russia failing to achieve a strategic breakthrough, a long and bloody battle for eastern Ukraine looms. Residents have already experienced tremendous loss of life; a Wall Street Journal analysis of videos, photos and social media posts revealed how Russian troops positioned themselves around a four-mile stretch of road outside Kyiv in March to fire on and kidnap fleeing civilians. Dozens were killed. About 14 million Ukrainians have been forced from their homes—including more than six million who have fled the country—and nearly 3,500 civilians have been killed since Russia began its invasion, U.N. officials said. Zaporizhzhia is among the cities sheltering evacuees, though the Russian military is on its doorstep.” Read more at Wall Street Journal
“Parents are looking for answers and alternatives as the baby formula shortage continues to worsen in the US. A recall and plant shutdown from Abbott Nutrition in February snowballed into larger supply chain issues, resulting in extremely high out-of-stock rates for baby formula – 43% for the week ending May 8. Manufacturers say they are producing at full capacity, and Abbott says its plant could be open in a matter of weeks, but it's all not enough to keep up with demand. The American baby formula market is relatively shut off from other countries due to regulatory constraints and recent trade agreements, which is helping drive the product shortage.” Read more at CNN
“Louisiana’s Republican-led House of Representatives stopped a measure Thursday that could have allowed women who obtain abortions to be charged with murder.
The proposal, which was passed out of a state House committee last week, sought to recognize a fertilized embryo as a person and made it possible for both doctors and pregnant women to be charged under the state’s homicide statute if they performed or received an abortion.
The bill, which proposed the harshest abortion ban in the U.S., caused friction within Louisiana’s Republican caucus. A majority of GOP lawmakers voted for a package of amendments to the legislation that removed the provisions allowing murder charges. They said the state already had strong laws to prevent abortions.” Read more at Wall Street Journal
“Republican lawmakers are calling on Attorney General Merrick Garland to enforce a 1950 federal law that makes it illegal to hold protests outside the homes of judges. Protesters have been holding peaceful demonstrations outside the homes of multiple conservative Supreme Court justices after the publication of a Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, leading anti-abortion groups are urging state lawmakers to reject legislation that would criminalize women for having abortions. Their call is prompted by fears that women who have abortions could be charged criminally if Roe is struck down.” Read more at CNN
“Corporate America is facing a flurry of questions over health benefits following the leaked Supreme Court draft, Axios' Tina Reed writes.
Why it matters: Some businesses hope to use reproductive health benefits to help recruit and retain employees. But they must be careful not to run afoul of state laws.
What's happening: Some big companies — including Amazon, Apple and Lyft — have already announced plans to provide workarounds in those states with abortion restrictions.
11 states restrict insurance coverage of abortion in all private insurance plans written in the state, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Six states require abortion coverage in private health insurance plans.
Between the lines: An immediate question is what kind of employer-sponsored abortion coverage might create legal liability in states that ban abortion.” Read more at Axios
“The House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol has subpoenaed five Republican lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy and the others have rejected the panel’s requests to voluntarily cooperate, and McCarthy has made it well-known he believes the panel is illegitimate. New audio has revealed that, in the days following the insurrection, the minority leader had considered asking then-President Donald Trump to resign. The panel wants to understand how McCarthy’s initial criticisms of Trump changed to support, and whether Trump pressured him to change his tone when the pair met in late January 2021. The other Republican congressmen included in this round of subpoenas are Jim Jordan of Ohio, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.” Read more at CNN
Photo: Susan Walsh/AP
“With the U.S. nearing 1 million lives lost to COVID, the flag flies at half-staff at the White House to commemorate what President Biden called ‘irreplaceable losses, each leaving behind a family, a community forever changed because of this pandemic.’” Read more at Axios
“President Joe Biden is meeting Friday with mayors, police chiefs and other officials to discuss how cities are using funds from the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package on policing and public safety programs, a source told the Associated Press. In the afternoon, Biden plans to deliver remarks to ask state and local governments to devote more of the relief spending to public safety. The 2021 package included $350 billion for state, local and tribal governments, money that could go to police departments. Among the officials meeting Biden are the mayors and police chiefs of Houston; Detroit; Kansas City, Missouri, and Tampa, Florida.” Read more at USA Today
“The Senate confirmed Jerome Powell for a second term as the Federal Reserve chair.” Read more at New York Times
“In this great market crack-up of 2022, a dramatic fire sale is engulfing stocks, bonds, cryptocurrencies and nearly everything in between.
This collapse was easy to see coming, writes Javier E. David, Axios managing editor for business.
Workers who watched in awe as their 401Ks soared are now facing the harsh reality that stimulus from Uncle Sam couldn't last forever. And it came at a cost —namely, soaring inflation.
Fiscal stimulus and loose monetary policy from the Fed helped grease the wheels of the market's breathtaking recovery in 2021. As the central bank moves to tighten that up, the party has crashed to a halt.
Overly bullish buyers drove an ultimately unsustainable bubble in cryptocurrencies, culminating in last year's record highs.
Our thought bubble: Just as markets display irrational exuberance on the upswing, they can display excessive pessimism on the way down.
The current fire sale is a buying opportunity for longer-term investors.” Read more at Axios
“Representative Conor Lamb, a moderate Democrat, once seemed like the front-runner in Pennsylvania’s Senate race. Now, he’s trailing by double digits.” Read more at New York Times
“The looming loss of abortion rights has re-energized the Democratic Party’s left flank, and put anti-abortion members on the defensive.” Read more at New York Times
“At least 11 people died, and 31 others were rescued, after a boat carrying migrants capsized near Puerto Rico.” Read more at New York Times
“North Korea has announced its first Covid-19 deaths, the result of an ‘explosive’ outbreak that state media says has sickened more than 350,000 in the country. North Korea has never reported Covid deaths before, though few believe the nation of 25 million, however isolated, has managed to avoid the effects of a deadly global virus. A large outbreak in the country could prove disastrous, since its reclusive policies and poor health care infrastructure leave it ill-prepared for a large onslaught of patients. North Korea is also not believed to have received any Covid vaccinations. China has already offered assistance, and South Korea and the US have said they are open to dialogue.” Read more at CNN
“Sweden’s NATO choice. Swedish lawmakers will receive a government report on the country’s national security posture today, as the country considers following Finland with a NATO application.
Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist hinted at some of the benefits—without stating his own position—in a radio interview on Tuesday, noting that ‘Of course, it gives a completely different strategic depth, it also gives a very strong security policy signal… the effect is that we become stronger together. This is something that can happen if we choose to join NATO.’ Sweden is expected to make its intentions clear on whether to join the alliance by May 15.” Read more at Foreign Policy
“Tense campaign | Security services are on high alert to prevent assassins from getting to Colombia’s most divisive presidential candidate ahead of May 29 elections. Polls suggest the only major country in Latin America that’s never had a leftist leader is about to get one in Gustavo Petro. Four presidential candidates have been murdered in Colombia since the 1980s. ‘The risk level is very high,’ Petro said in an interview.” Read more at Bloomberg
“Fragile calm | Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed a long-time opponent to run the government days after his brother resigned as prime minister, in a bid to quell protests over shortages of food and fuel. The new premier, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has promised the police wouldn’t crack down on anti-government rallies.” Read more at Bloomberg
“The Biden administration asked Congress to approve the sale of weapons and equipment upgrades to Turkey’s fleet of American-made F-16 fighter jets, a sign of thawing relations between the NATO allies.” Read more at Bloomberg
“Five years after declaring Zimbabwe ‘Open for business,’ Emmerson Mnangagwa has effectively shut down the economy. Flanked by his finance minister and central bank governor, the president announced on state TV that banks were banned from lending in a bid to stem a decline of the local currency. The order threatens to dissipate what little confidence there is in an economy that’s run a roller coaster of hyperinflation and food and fuel shortages for more than two decades.” Read more at Bloomberg
Ashley Aguirre, 20, feeding her son.Kaylee Greenlee for The New York Times
“Is my baby getting enough food? It is a typical fear among new parents — and an acute one now, because of a national shortage of baby formula.
A potential bacteria outbreak led to the February shutdown of a Michigan factory that makes Similac formula, and the plant still has not reopened. Its closure has aggravated shortages created by broader pandemic supply-chain problems. Last week, stores stocked about 43 percent less baby formula than usual.
‘It gets really scary,’ Carrie Fleming, who lives near Birmingham, Ala., told The Times. Her 3-month-old daughter, Lennix, can tolerate only one brand of formula, and Fleming could not find it anywhere near her. She finally located four small cans in New York — for $245.
In Oceanside, Calif., north of San Diego, Darice Browning was recently despondent after failing to find formula for her 10-month-old daughter, Octavia, who cannot eat solid foods. ‘I was freaking out, crying on the floor and my husband, Lane, came home from work and he’s like, ‘What’s wrong?’ Browning said, ‘and I’m like, ‘Dude, I can’t feed our kids, I don’t know what to do.’
For many families, baby formula is a necessity. Some babies cannot drink breast milk — or enough of it to stay healthy — while many lower-income mothers work hourly jobs that do not provide time to breastfeed.
As my colleague Amanda Morris, who has been reporting on the shortage, says: ‘Most of the parents I spoke with around the country who were feeling the impact of this the hardest were ones that either had limited resources or time, or ones whose babies had allergies or disabilities that severely limited their choices.’
F.D.A. officials say they are trying to alleviate the crisis. Some members of Congress — including Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, and Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican — say the federal government needs to do more.
In addition to being an urgent problem for families, the shortage highlights four larger problems within the U.S. economy. Today’s newsletter focuses on them.
1. The ‘everything shortage’
The pandemic has created shortages for many goods, including cars, semiconductors and furniture.
The main reasons: Factories and ports are coping with virus outbreaks and worker shortages at the same time that consumer demand for physical goods has surged, because of government stimulus programs and a shift away from spending on services (like restaurant meals). As a result, much of the global supply chain is overloaded.
The baby formula industry was already coping with these issues before an Abbott Nutrition factory in Sturgis, Mich., shut down. The company shut the factory after four babies — all of whom had drunk formula made there — contracted a rare bacterial infection; two of the babies died. It remains unclear whether the formula caused the infections.
Because sales of baby formula do not fluctuate much in normal times, factories generally lack the ability to accelerate production quickly, Rudi Leuschner, a supply-chain expert at Rutgers University, said. As a result, other factories have not been able to make up for the Sturgis shutdown.
2. Big business
The baby formula business has something in common with many other U.S. industries: It is highly concentrated.
Three companies — Abbott, Gerber and Reckitt — make nearly all of the formula that Americans use. Abbott is the largest of the three, with roughly 40 percent of the market.
A baby formula display shelf in San Diego.Ariana Drehsler for The New York Times
Over the past few decades, this kind of corporate concentration has become more common in the U.S. economy, and it tends to be very good for companies. They face less competition, allowing them to keep prices higher and wages lower. Thomas Philippon, an economist at N.Y.U., refers to this trend as ‘the great reversal.’ The subtitle of his 2019 book on the subject is ‘How America Gave Up on Free Markets.’
For workers and consumers, concentration is often problematic. The baby-formula shortage is the latest example. If the market had more producers, a problem at any one of them might not be such a big deal. It’s even possible the problem would not happen at all.
‘Abbott does not fear consumers will flee,’ Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, which advocates less concentration, told me. ‘And it does not fear government, which has a pathetic track record when it comes to holding powerful corporations and executives accountable.’ (The Times has profiled Miller and her work.)
3. Big bureaucracy
Even as the industry seems to be under-regulated in some crucial ways, it may be overregulated in other, superficial ways.
This newsletter has covered ways that the F.D.A.’s bureaucratic inflexibility has hampered its Covid policy, and baby formula turns out to be another case study.
Many formulas sold in Europe exceed the F.D.A.’s nutritional standards, but they are banned from being sold here, often because of technicalities, like labeling, Derek Thompson of The Atlantic has noted. Donald Trump exacerbated the situation with a trade policy that made it harder to import formula from Canada. These policies benefit American formula makers, at the expense of families.
The inflexibility of American regulatory and trade policy, Thompson wrote, ‘might be the most important part of the story.’
4. The gerontocracy
The U.S. has long put a higher priority on taking care of the elderly than taking care of young families.
Americans over 65 receive universal health insurance (Medicare), and most receive a regular government check (Social Security). Many children, by contrast, live in poverty. Relative to other affluent countries, the U.S. spends a notably small share of its budget on children; President Biden’s stalled Build Back Better plan aimed to change this, Urban Institute researchers have pointed out.
Alyssa Rosenberg, a Washington Post columnist, argues that the formula shortage is part of this story. ‘Babies and their well-being have never been much of a priority in the United States,’ Rosenberg wrote this week. ‘But an alarming shortage of infant formula — and the lack of a national mobilization to keep babies fed — provides a new measure of how deeply that indifference runs.’
In her column, Rosenberg suggests the creation of a national stockpile, as exists for some other crucial resources, to prevent future shortages.” Read more at New York Times
“The winner of the Kentucky Derby, Rich Strike, will skip the Preakness, forgoing the chance to win a Triple Crown.” Read more at New York Times
Jordan Spieth plays his second shot on the eighth hole from the edge of the cliff during the third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February.
“Until this year’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the shot that resort guests at Pebble Beach Golf Links routinely inquired about most often was Tom Watson’s 17th hole chip in from the final round of the 1982 U.S. Open. Thanks to Jordan Spieth and his harrowing, half-crazy play from the cliff’s edge at the eighth hole in early February, that’s no longer the case.
Golfers can still try to replicate Watson’s shot. But there is no recreating—not even for those who are more than half-crazy—the nervy 7-iron Spieth executed in the third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
John Sawin, vice president and director of golf at Pebble Beach, confirmed to Golf Digest on Wednesday that the area approaching the edge of the cliff over Carmel Bay has been, “pulled back.” The penalty line that Spieth’s drive crossed without tumbling over the edge and onto the rocks some 70 feet below used to be just a few feet from the precipice. Now it is six feet from the ledge, and the end of the fairway was moved back a commensurate distance. Signage that was along the edge also has been moved slightly inland and is more prominent. Finally, the rough between the end of the fairway and the bluff has been allowed to flourish.
‘We wanted a ball that goes into that area to be far less appealing to play,’ Sawin said. ‘The problem with Jordan’s shot was that he had a fairly clean lie, albeit on the edge of a cliff. He felt that he could get a club on it, whereas we want lies in there to be fairly unattractive so that people take a drop and not even be tempted to play out of there.’” Read more at Golf Digest
“Lives Lived: Susan Nussbaum began using a wheelchair after she was hit by a car at 24. She became an integral part of Chicago’s disability-rights scene, and an acclaimed playwright and novelist. She died at 68.” Read more at New York Times
“When Naomi Judd, the Grammy-winning country music singer, died last month, her daughter Ashley Judd said that she had lost her mother to the ‘disease of mental illness.’ On Thursday, Ms. Judd was more candid, saying in a television interview that her mother had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at her home in Tennessee, and encouraging people who are distressed to seek help.
Ms. Judd, an actress, told Diane Sawyer on ‘Good Morning America’ that she was speaking out about her mother’s death because her family wanted to share the information before it became ‘public without our control.’
‘We’re aware that although grieving the loss of a wife and a mother, we are, in an uncanny way, a public family,’ Ms. Judd said. ‘So that’s really the impetus for this timing. Otherwise, it’s obviously way too soon. So that’s important for us to say up front.’
Naomi Judd and her other daughter, Wynonna Judd, dominated the country music charts in the 1980s as the mother-daughter duo the Judds. Naomi Judd, 76, died on April 30, a day before the duo was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.” Read more at New York Times
Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images
“In Turin, Italy, the humanoid robot R1 — designed by the Italian Institute of Technology to promote 5G technology — is a virtual tour guide at the Palazzo Madama museum.
The robot can describe the works and answer questions about the author and historical period.” Read more at Axios
In this photo provided by Clean Up The Lake, CUTL diver Colin West shows debris found in the lake from an initial dive in 2020, at Lake Tahoe, Nev. They found no trace of a mythical sea monster, no sign of mobsters in cement shoes or long-lost treasure chests. But scuba divers who spent the past year cleaning up Lake Tahoe's entire 72-mile (115-kilometer) shoreline have come away with what they hope will prove much more valuable: tons and tons of trash. (Ludovic Fekete/Clean Up The Lake via AP)
“STATELINE, Nev. (AP) — They found no trace of a mythical sea monster, no sign of mobsters in cement shoes or long-lost treasure chests.
But scuba divers who spent a year cleaning up Lake Tahoe’s entire 72-mile (115-kilometer) shoreline have come away with what they hope will prove much more valuable: tons and tons of trash.
In addition to removing 25,000 pounds (11,339 kilograms) of underwater litter since last May, divers and volunteers have been meticulously sorting and logging the types and GPS locations of the waste.
The dozens of dives that concluded this week were part of a first-of-its-kind effort to learn more about the source and potential harm caused by plastics and other pollutants in the storied alpine lake on the California-Nevada line.
It’s also taken organizers on a journey through the history, folklore and development of the lake atop the Sierra Nevada that holds enough water to cover all of California 14 inches (36 centimeters) deep.” Read more at AP News
This Feb. 10, 2022, image released by the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance shows Msituni, a giraffe calf born with an unusual disorder that caused her legs to bend the wrong way, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, north of San Diego. (San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance via AP)
“ESCONDIDO, Calif. (AP) — Over the past three decades Ara Mirzaian has fitted braces for everyone from Paralympians to children with scoliosis. But Msituni was a patient like none other — a newborn giraffe.
The calf was born Feb. 1 at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, north of San Diego, with her front limb bending the wrong way. Safari park staff feared she could die if they didn’t immediately correct the condition, which could prevent her from nursing and walking around the habitat.
But they had no experience with fitting a baby giraffe in a brace. That proved especially challenging given she was a 5-foot-10-inch-tall (178-centimeter) newborn and growing taller every day. So, they reached out to experts in orthotics at the Hanger Clinic, where Mirzaian landed his very first animal patient….
Zoos increasingly are turning to medical professionals who treat people to find solutions for ailing animals. The collaboration has been especially helpful in the field of prosthetics and orthotics. Earlier this year, ZooTampa in Florida teamed up with similar experts to successfully replace the beak of a cancer-stricken great hornbill bird with a 3D-printed prosthetic.” Read more at AP News