3.22.2023

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Good morning. It's Wednesday, March 22, and we're covering a three-day strike in the nation's second-largest school district, the launch of Google's rival to ChatGPT, and much more.

 

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Need To Know
 

LA School Strikes

More than 30,000 Los Angeles school employees and teachers began a three-day strike yesterday, forcing nearly half a million students to stay home in the nation’s second-largest school district.

 

At the center of the negotiations between Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union and the Los Angeles Unified School District is pay. Union officials seek a 30% raise and a $2 per hour wage increase. Other union demands include more full-time work, equal access to healthcare, and increased staffing levels. The district has offered a 23% pay increase over a five-year period with a 3% cash bonus, a $20 per hour minimum wage, and full healthcare benefits for those working at least four hours per day. The average salary of support staff workers is $25K a year, and most work part-time.

 

Roughly 60% of the students in the school district are considered economically disadvantaged. During the strike, the district opened 24 grab-and-go food sites and student supervision at many schools. The district was last affected by a six-day strike in 2019.

 

Yellen Reassures Banks

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen expressed confidence in the US financial system in a speech yesterday, saying regulators are ready to further support troubled banks if the need arises. The speech came amid the worst banking crisis since 2008, with failures at several midsized banks and stock volatility across the industry.

 

Elevated interest rates have placed pressure on some banks with investments in devalued long-term bonds, forcing them to sell those bonds at a loss to shore up cash for customer withdrawals. After Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank failed earlier this month, regulators set up an emergency program where banks facing similar cash crunches could borrow to keep money available for customers without needing to sell holdings at a loss (see 101). 

 

The Federal Open Markets Committee is expected to raise the federal funds rate another quarter percentage point as its two-day meeting concludes today, though analysts observed it will need to reassure investors concerned over banking strains. 

 

Google Rolls Out Bard

Google yesterday opened limited public access in the US and the UK to its artificial intelligence chatbot Bard, a competitor to OpenAI's ChatGPT, whose underlying technology also powers a new version of Microsoft's search engine Bing. The rollout is Google's first public foray into a recent rush by tech companies to leverage generative AI—software that creates new content from input prompts (see 101).  

 

Unlike Microsoft, Google has started Bard as a standalone application rather than integrating it into its search engine. The company says it wants users to think of Bard as complementary to Google Search. Google, in a blog post, said it will expand access to Bard to more countries and languages over time as its underlying technology improves. Like ChatGPT and its newer model GPT-4, Bard uses reinforcement learning from human feedback. 

 

Separately, Microsoft yesterday added AI-generated visuals, powered by OpenAI image generator DALL-E, to its search engine. 

 

Join the waitlist to test out Bard here.

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In The Know
 

Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

> Billie Eilish, Kendrick Lamar, and Red Hot Chili Peppers among headliners tapped to perform at 2023 Lollapalooza in Chicago (Aug. 3-6); see full festival lineup (More)

> Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to relaunch this fall for first performances since 2017; the act will be retooled and won't include animals (More)

> Japan edges Team USA 3-2 to win 2023 World Baseball Classic title (More) | Willis Reed, former NBA MVP and Basketball Hall of Famer, dies at 80 (More) | Magic Johnson, part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, joins bid to own NFL's Washington Commanders (More)

 

Science & Technology

> US health officials warn of the spread of Candida auris, an infectious fungus resistant to a number of antifungal medications, through hospitals; infections tripled between 2019 and 2021, to more than 1,470 (More)

> Brain imaging study partially reveals how the psychoactive compound DMT alters brain functions; researchers found increased connectivity between regions involving higher-level functions, including imagination (More)

> Physicists make first detection of neutrinos created by a particle accelerator; Large Hadron Collider experiment expected to shed light on one of nature's most elusive particles (More) | What are neutrinos? (More)

 

Business & Markets

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> US stock markets close higher (S&P 500 +1.3%, Dow +1.0%, Nasdaq +1.6%) after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s remarks; Regional Banking ETF up 6% (More)

> US existing home sales up 14.5% in February over prior month; median price of $363K is first time in nearly 11 years prices fell year-over-year (More)

> Video game retailer GameStop posts first profit in two years; shares up over 40% in after-hours trading (More)

From our partners: If cash back is king, this card is royalty. Even The Ascent's credit card experts couldn't resist. They applied for it, and it's an absolute slam-dunk if you're looking for a one-card wallet. Big sign-up bonus, up to 5% cash back, no annual fee, and the list goes on.

 

Politics & World Affairs

> Reports suggest New York grand jury set to vote today on indicting former President Donald Trump over allegedly using campaign funds as a hush money payment in 2016 (More) | See previous write-up (More)

> Chinese President Xi Jinping invites Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit China later this year; offer comes as China has taken a more active role amid the Russian war in Ukraine (More)

> Judge approves $626M settlement in Flint, Michigan, water crisis that began in 2014 (More) | Background on issue (More) | Officials release surveillance footage of Virginia hospital inmate Irvo Otieno being restrained prior to death; incident has led to charges against seven deputies and three hospital employees (More)

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Etcetera
 

What is Ramadan and how is it celebrated

 

Biden designates national monuments in Nevada and Texas.

 

Sailing crew rescued after giant whale sinks 44-foot boat.

 

Hyperrealistic animal sand sculptures come to life.

 

New Mexico is hiring professional bear huggers.

 

Snoop Dogg launches new coffee line

 

Baby gator enjoys a moment of bliss (via Reddit).

 

All aboard the Shania Train

 

Clickbait: Australian town baffled by mysterious Minions.

 

Historybook: First Stanley Cup championship played (1894); Legendary musical theater composer Andrew Lloyd Webber born (1948); Sports broadcaster Bob Costas born (1952); Reese Witherspoon born (1976); Terrorist drives car into crowd in London, killing five and injuring 50 (2017).

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