3.16.2023

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Good morning. It's Thursday, March 16, and we're covering a high-profile arrest, the mounting death toll from a record-breaking storm, and much more. First time reading? Sign up here.

 

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Need To Know
 

Chinese Billionaire Arrested

US officials arrested Chinese businessman Guo Wengui in New York City yesterday, accusing the exiled tycoon of orchestrating a $1B fraud scheme. Federal prosecutors allege, among other charges, Guo diverted funds from hundreds of thousands of online followers meant to back a media startup into a high-risk hedge fund. 

 

Thought to be around 54 years old, Guo was once believed to be one of the richest people in China before fleeing the country in 2014 amid rumors he would be swept up in an anticorruption initiative led by President Xi Jinping. Guo contends he suffered political persecution for speaking out against the Chinese Communist Party and continued his efforts against the party after arriving in the US. His associate, Kin Ming Je, also faces similar charges but is currently at large.

 

Prosecutors say Guo—who had an impressive list of aliases—used funds to purchase a $37M yacht, a $3.5M Ferrari, and a pair of $36K mattresses. 

 

Cyclone Freddy's Toll

At least 270 people have died and tens of thousands were displaced in Malawi, Mozambique, and Madagascar amid Cyclone Freddy's heavy rains and winds this month. The storm dissipated Wednesday after making landfall three times, once in Madagascar and twice in Mozambique. Malawi's financial hub, Blantyre, saw the majority of fatalities. See photos of the destruction here.

 

Freddy developed off the northern coast of Australia in early February before traveling over 4,000 miles across the southern Indian Ocean—only the fourth storm ever to do so—to southern Africa (see map). The storm became both the longest-lasting as well as the most energetic cyclone ever recorded, continuing for 37 days with a total Accumulated Cyclone Energy of 86, roughly equivalent to an entire Atlantic hurricane season. Read more records the storm broke here

 

Separately, a migrant ship likely headed to nearby Mayotte island capsized off the northwest coast of Madagascar, killing at least 34 Sunday. 

 

French Pension Plan

French President Emmanuel Macron's pension plan heads for final parliamentary votes today after a joint parliamentary committee advanced the final text of the bill. More than 1 million French workers have so far marched nationwide to protest against the proposal to raise the retirement age by two years to 64 by 2030.

 

A conservative Senate majority is expected to approve the bill today, while observers say approval in the National Assembly may be more complicated. Leftist and far-right lawmakers strongly oppose the bill, while conservative lawmakers are divided.  President Macron contends the plan would preserve the pension system (see background) without raising taxes or increasing the national debt. Current workers pay for retirees' government pensions, but analysts say the ratio of workers to retirees has decreased as people live longer and the population grows older.

 

The strike, comprising train drivers, teachers, energy sector workers, garbage collectors, and more, is expected to continue today as thousands of tons of garbage has piled up on the sidewalks of Paris and other French cities.

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In The Know
 

Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

> Four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers won't retire, announces intent to play for the New York Jets in 2023 (More) | Diamond Sports Group, operators of regional sports networks for 42 MLB, NHL, and NBA teams, files for bankruptcy (More)

> Director Quentin Tarantino reportedly prepping for 10th and final film under the working title of "The Movie Critic" (More) | Bobby Caldwell, singer-songwriter best known for "What You Won't Do for Love," dies at 71 (More)

> Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant suspended eight games for showing firearm at a nightclub during an Instagram livestream (More) | NCAA men's basketball tournament first round begins today; see full slate of games (More)

 

Science & Technology

> LinkedIn rolls out AI-powered assistant to help write profiles and job descriptions; profile suggestions will use OpenAI's GPT-4 language model, which debuted Tuesday (More) | What's the deal with GPT-4? (More)

> High concentrations of sucralose, a zero-calorie sugar substitute, found to suppress immune responses in mice; new study finds the substance suppresses the replication of T cells, which help fight infections (More)

> Researchers find visually navigating on foot uses a unique brain region known as the occipital place area; the region fails to activate during other forms of movement, may shed light on motor-based childhood development disorders (More)

 

Business & Markets

In partnership with The Ascent

> US stock markets close mixed (S&P 500 -0.7%, Dow -0.9%, Nasdaq +0.1%) after banking fears spread to Europe; Swiss central bank offers to provide liquidity to banking giant Credit Suisse (More)

> T-Mobile to acquire fellow wireless carrier Mint Mobile for $1.35B (More)

> Payments giant Stripe raises $6.5B at $50B valuation; funds will be used to assist in covering employee tax obligations (More)

From our partners: Delay credit card interest until nearly 2025? Sounds like a deal to us and this card does just that. Don't miss this expert pick. Apply today in minutes.

 

Politics & World Affairs

> US Senate votes 52-42 to confirm former Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti (D) as the ambassador to India, following a nearly two-year wait amid questions over how Garcetti handled allegations of harassment by his staff (More)

> Texas judge hears arguments in lawsuit seeking to overturn the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the abortion pill mifepristone, which has been on the market for more than two decades (More) | Texas announces state takeover of Houston's public school district, which is the eighth largest in the US (More)

> Iran arrests 110 suspects in connection with mass poisonings that have affected hundreds of young schoolgirls since November (More) | See our previous write-up (More)

 

In-Depth

> Heavenly Bodies 

The Baffler | Dolly Church. An exploration of afterlife possibilities at the center of the aerospace and funeral industries, where companies like Celestis have figured out the blueprint for space burials. (Read)

 

> Why Spotify Wants to Look Like TikTok

The Verge | Alex Heath. A conversation with Gustav Söderström, copresident and chief product and technology officer at Spotify, about the audio streaming giant's recent big redesign, including a visual TikTok-like feed. (Read)

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Etcetera
 

French bulldogs take the crown as the new favorite dog breed (in the US).

 

Get nostalgic revisiting your old elementary school lunchbox.

 

Watch Disney animations being made in the 1950s. (via YouTube)

 

How early Europeans imagined pregnancy.

 

The James Webb telescope spots a star on the brink of going supernova.

 

… and NASA reveals new spacesuits.

 

The top (inter)national parks on the planet.

 

Breaking down why every action hero has a name starting with J.

 

Clickbait: Someone needs to buy Newark, New Jersey, a map.

 

Historybook: US Founding Father James Madison born (1751); US Military Academy is established (1802); Comedian Jerry Lewis born (1926); Nobel Prize-winning author Selma Lagerlöf dies (1940); Dow Jones drops by 2,997, single-largest point drop in history, amid pandemic fears (2020). 

"For, so long as there are interesting books to read, it seems to me that neither I nor anyone else, for that matter, need be unhappy."

- Selma Lagerlöf

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