8.3.2023

Facts, without motives.
 

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Good morning. It's Thursday, Aug. 3, and we're covering a final jury decision in Pittsburgh, a whale of a discovery, and much more. First time reading? Sign up here.

 

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Need To Know
 

Death Sentence in Pittsburgh

The man responsible for the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue mass shooting in Pittsburgh, where 11 Jewish worshippers were murdered and seven others injured, was effectively sentenced to death yesterday by a federal jury, pending a judge's formal imposition.

 

The same jury found the 50-year-old assailant guilty of 63 federal counts in June, 22 of which made him eligible for the death penalty (see timeline of incident). During the sentencing trial, prosecutors pursuing the death penalty pointed to the defendant's lack of remorse, arguing his crimes stemmed from deep-seated, antisemitic prejudices. Conversely, the defense emphasized his difficult childhood and likely mental illness in seeking a life sentence. 

 

Capital punishment is legal in 24 US states; the Justice Department paused federal executions in 2021. Sixteen people have been executed by various states so far this year, with 11 more scheduled, including tonight's planned lethal injection of convicted murderer James Barnes in Florida.  

 

A Giant Fossil Discovery

Researchers have uncovered fossil remains from what is believed to be the heaviest animal known to have existed, according to findings published yesterday. The specimen is an ancient whale species—dubbed Perucetus colossus, or "the colossal whale from Peru"—roughly 39 million years old. 

 

The creature is estimated to have weighed more than 300 tons or more, two to three times the size of a blue whale (the current record holder). Estimates were modeled from a partial skeleton, which included individual vertebrae weighing more than 220 pounds each—only one to two has been excavated each year since the site was discovered a decade ago. 

 

Cetaceans have long fascinated evolutionary scientists. Their ancestors emerged from the ocean onto land roughly 400 million years ago but returned to the sea 50 million years later. Scientists say the discovery challenges conventional theory on how big mammals can grow. 

 

Read the abstract from the paper detailing the discovery here.

 

Credit Downgrade

Credit rating agency Fitch has lowered the United States' perfect AAA rating by one level to an AA+, citing an expected fiscal deterioration over the next three years, rising government debt, and concerns about what it calls an erosion of governance. The decision comes two months after Fitch placed the US on a negative watch as a result of delays in a debt-ceiling deal.

 

Fitch is the second major agency to downgrade the US; the S&P Global in 2011 was the first to strip the nation of its AAA rating. The ratings are an independent assessment of a government's creditworthiness and ability to pay its financial obligations. Read an overview of credit ratings here.

 

The US government's repeated standoffs and last-minute resolutions on debt and fiscal issues are one of the reasons for Fitch's decision. The agency also noted the nation's debt, which has swelled to a record $32.6T due to a number of factors, including tax cuts and spending initiatives. Fitch predicts the US deficit will rise to 6.3% of gross domestic product in 2023 from 3.7% in 2022. Read its report here.

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In The Know
 

Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

> NFL preseason begins tonight (8 pm ET, NBC) with the Cleveland Browns taking on the New York Jets in the 2023 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game (More)

> Soccer legend Marta's World Cup career ends after Brazil is eliminated following a draw against Jamaica, who will advance to their first-ever knockout stage (More)

> Writers Guild of America and film and TV producers restart negotiations for first time since writers went on strike May 1 (More) | Lizzo sued by three former dancers over alleged sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment (More)

 

Science & Technology

> Researchers map the genome of einkorn wheat, the world's oldest domesticated crop; details may help produce new varieties of disease- and drought-resistant crops (More)

> Paleontologists discover what is believed to be the oldest known jellyfish fossil, dating to the Cambrian period roughly 500 million years ago (More) | What was the Cambrian explosion? (More)

> Scientists genetically engineer human cells to produce insulin when hit with a small electric current; approach may lead to new therapies for Type 1 diabetes (More)

 

Business & Markets

In partnership with The Ascent

> US stock markets close down on US credit rating downgrade (S&P 500 -1.4%, Dow -1%, Nasdaq -2.2%); S&P 500 falls for second straight loss after hitting 16-month high last month (More)

Walmart, Saudi Aramco, and State Grid—Chinese state-owned utility giant—top Forbes Global 500 rankings of world’s largest companies by revenue (More)

> IRS announces "paperless processing" initiative for the 2024 tax filing season; is estimated to reduce paper count by 200 million pieces (More)

From our partners: A 5-star balance transfer offer gives you 0% interest for 18 months on balance transfers. And this card's got it. Avoid pesky interest payments and enjoy industry-topping cash back rates, with no annual fee.

 

Politics & World Affairs

> Former President Donald Trump expected to appear in court in Washington, DC, this afternoon for federal charges over alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election results (More) | See analysis on the challenges of the case here (More)

> Iran declares two-day holiday due to heat wave, with temperatures expected to reach as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit; the heat has strained the country's electric grid and some cities have reported power cuts (More) | China's capital of Beijing records heaviest rainfall in at least 140 years, leading to 21 deaths (More)

> Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie announce separation after 18 years of marriage; the couple have three children together (More

 

In-Depth

> The Floor is Lava

Reuters Graphics | Mariano Zafra. A visually rich and interactive explainer of why asphalt, concrete, and urban heat islands—landscapes riddled with buildings and roads—make heat waves feel worse. (Read)

 

> Haiti: The Forgotten Crisis

ABC News | Staff. How violence from warring gangs in Haiti is pushing Haitians to near-famine conditions and fueling a human smuggling industry as the country's people look to migrate. (Read, w/video)

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Etcetera
 

A look at the supermoon across the world.

 

Well-dressed bandits rob jewelry store in broad daylight

 

US National Parks will allow free admission tomorrow.

 

“Barbie” is inspiring many to rethink their relationships.

 

Win one of Robert Downey Jr.’s classic cars.

 

Man successfully visits every country in the world without flying.

 

Why cruise ships have gotten so big. (via YouTube)

 

How sports memorabilia became a billion-dollar business.

 

Clickbait: A New Yorker has beef about the amount of beef in his tacos.

 

Historybook: Singer Tony Bennett born (1926); Martha Stewart born (1941); Rival basketball leagues merge to form the NBA (1949); Tom Brady born (1977); 23 killed and 23 injured in mass shooting in El Paso, Texas (2019).

"When the uncreative tell the creative what to do, it stops being art."

- Tony Bennett

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