Biden, Powell Meet to Discuss Taming Inflation

With inflation in the United States at levels not seen in decades, President Joe Biden on Tuesday met with Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, to discuss the ongoing effort to tame rising prices.

Over the 12 months ending in April, the Consumer Price Index, which tracks what average Americans pay for a broad array of goods and services, increased by 8.3%, down slightly from the month before, but still at a level not seen in 40 years.

The issue is a vital one for Biden, whose party is facing serious challenges in the run-up to November’s midterm elections. Public opinion polling indicates that rising prices are among voters’ biggest concerns at the moment, and high inflation appears to be driving down the president’s approval rating.

Political concerns

Despite political pressures, Biden approached his conversation with Powell cautiously, reluctant to appear to be meddling in the affairs of the central bank, which is meant to operate independently.

In advance of the meeting with Powell, Biden used an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal to signal that he does not want to be seen as pressuring the Fed, contrasting himself with former President Trump, who frequently made public statements critical of Powell and the central bank.

“First, the Federal Reserve has a primary responsibility to control inflation,” Biden wrote. “My predecessor demeaned the Fed, and past presidents have sought to influence its decisions inappropriately during periods of elevated inflation. I won’t do this. I have appointed highly qualified people from both parties to lead that institution. I agree with their assessment that fighting inflation is our top economic challenge right now.”

Responding to inflation

As the central bank of the United States, the Federal Reserve is currently engaged in a very delicate process, attempting to slow price increases without tipping the United States economy into a damaging recession.

The Fed’s main tool in the effort is the ability of the Federal Open Market Committee, a body within the broader central bank, to set benchmark interest rates that affect borrowing costs across the economy.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. economy was plunged into a recession in 2020, and the Fed lowered interest rates to just above zero in order to provide economic stimulus. A recession is typically defined as two or more consecutive quarters in which a nation’s gross domestic product shrinks. However, the National Bureau of Economic Research ruled that a two-month economic downturn at the beginning of the pandemic counted as a recession, making it the shortest on record.

However, low interest rates combined with other government stimulus programs and supply shortages related to the pandemic as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine snowballed to bring higher prices that have strained many Americans’ budgets.

In March of this year, the Fed began raising rates, and it continued with another rate increase in early May. With the “target” interest rate currently between 0.75% and 1%, the Fed has signaled that it will raise rates several more times before the end of the year, probably in increments of one half of a percentage point.

How it works

“Raising interest rates works by restraining demand in the economy and restraining spending,” Kenneth N. Kuttner, a professor of economics at Williams College and a former assistant vice president of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, told VOA. “It’s only through restraining spending that inflationary pressures can be brought down.

“In order to get inflation down, the Fed would have to slow the economy until the level of desired spending can be accommodated by the supply side of the economy, or maybe a little bit lower,” Kuttner said. “The problem is, if it restrains spending too much, then the economy is going to go into a … recession.”

The trouble is that there is a significant lag between the Fed’s decision to raise interest rates and the effect that the increase has on economic activity, Greg McBride, senior vice president and chief financial analyst for, told VOA.

“By the time today’s actions take effect, the economy may look a lot different than it did,” McBride said. “That’s what makes this complicated and what brings about the risk of the Fed tipping the economy into a recession. They may be raising interest rates at a point where the economy is already slowing, and those rate hikes only serve to slow the economy further.”

McBride said he does not see a recession as likely in the immediate term. “The U.S. economy is growing this year, and the labor market is very strong,” he said. “Yes, growth will certainly slow through the balance of the year, but in terms of outright contraction, I see that more as a 2023 likelihood than 2022.”

Fed’s abilities limited

On Tuesday afternoon, in remarks at the start of his meeting with Powell, Biden reiterated his promise not to pressure the central bank over inflation.

“I’m not going to interfere with their critically important work,” the president said. “They have a laser focus on addressing inflation, just like I am.”

But while Biden may be counting on the Fed to bring down consumer prices, experts warn that many of the factors contributing to higher prices are well beyond the central bank’s control.

“The Fed has a very difficult task at hand,” said McBride. “A lot of that is tied to issues on the supply side, not just the demand side. The Fed cannot fix the supply chain. They can’t open ports in China that are closed. They can’t broker peace in Eastern Europe.”

He added, “What they can do is address the demand side in the U.S. … But without substantive healing of the supply chain, raising interest rates is not likely to be the panacea that it has been in the past, in terms of putting inflation to bed.”

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Severe Water Shortages Strain Wheat Harvest in Iraq 

Salah Chelab crushed a husk of wheat plucked from his sprawling farmland south of Baghdad and inspected its seeds in the palm of one hand. They were several grams lighter than he hoped.

“It’s because of the water shortages,” he said, the farm machine roaring behind him, cutting and gathering his year’s wheat harvest.

Chelab had planted most of his 10 acres (4 hectares) of land, but he was only able to irrigate a quarter of it after the Agriculture Ministry introduced strict water quotas during the growing season, he said. The produce he was growing on the rest of it, he fears, “will die without water.”

At a time when worldwide prices for wheat have soared due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Iraqi farmers say they are paying the price for a government decision to cut irrigation for agricultural areas by 50%.

The government took the step in the face of severe water shortages arising from high temperatures and drought — believed to be fueled by climate change — and ongoing water extraction by neighboring countries from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. All those factors have heavily strained wheat production.

Wrestling with the water shortage, Iraq’s government has been unable to tackle other long-neglected issues.

Desertification has been blamed as a factor behind this year’s relentless spate of sandstorms. At least 10 have hit the country in the past few months, covering cities with a thick blanket of orange dust, grounding flights and sending thousands to hospitals.

“We need water to solve the problem of desertification, but we also need water to secure our food supplies,” said Essa Fayadh, a senior official at the Environment Ministry. “We don’t have enough for both.”

Iraq relies on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for nearly all of its water needs. Both flow into Iraq from Turkey and Iran. Those countries have constructed dams that have either blocked or diverted water, creating major shortages in Iraq.

Water Resources Minister Mahdi Rasheed told The Associated Press that river levels were down 60% compared to last year.

For Chelab, less water has meant a smaller grain size and lower crop yields.

In 2021, Chelab produced 30,000 tons of wheat, the year before that 32,000, receipts from Trade Ministry silos show. This year, he expects no more than 10,000.

His crops are both rain-fed and irrigated via a channel from the Euphrates. Due to low precipitation levels, he has had to rely on the river water during the growing season, he said.

Government officials say change is necessary.

The current system has been inefficient and unsustainable for decades. Water scarcity is leaving them no choice but to push to modernize antiquated and wasteful farming techniques.

“We have a strategic plan to face drought considering the lack of rain, global warming, and the lack of irrigation coming from neighboring countries as we did not get our share of water entitlements,” said Hamid al-Naif, spokesman at the Agriculture Ministry.

The ministry took measures to devise new types of drought-resistant wheat and introduce methods to increase crop yields.

“We are still dealing with irrigation systems of the 1950s. It has nothing to do with the farmers,” he said. “The state must make it efficient, we must force the farmer to accept it.”

Iraqi farmers have historically been heavily dependent on the state in the production of food, a reliance that policymakers and experts said drains government funds.

The Agriculture Ministry supports farmers by providing everything from harvesting tools, seeds, fertilizers and pesticides at a subsidized rate or for free. Water diverted from rivers for irrigation is given at no cost. The Trade Ministry then stores or buys produce from farmers and distributes it to markets.

Wheat is a key strategic crop, accounting for 70% of total cereal production in the country.

Planting starts in October and harvest typically begins in April and extends to June in some areas. Last year, the Agriculture Ministry slashed subsidies for fertilizers, seeds and pesticides, a move that has angered farmers.

Local demand for the staple is between 5-6 million tons a year. But local production is shrinking with each passing year. In 2021, Iraq produced 4.2 million tons of wheat, according to the Agriculture Ministry. In 2020, it was 6.2 million tons.

“Today we might get 2.5 million tons at best,” said al-Naif. That would require Iraq to drive up imports.

Most of the wheat harvest is usually sold to the Trade Ministry. In a sign of the low harvest, so far there are currently only 373,000 tons of wheat available in Trade Ministry storehouses, al-Naif said.

To meet demands amid the recent global crisis in the grain market, the government recently changed a policy to allow all Iraqi farmers to sell their produce to the Trade Ministry silos. Previously, this was limited to farmers who operated within the government plan.

Back in Chelab’s farm, the wheat is ready to be transported to the silo.

“It’s true we need to develop ourselves,” he said. “But the change should be gradual, not immediate.”

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Some UK Companies to Trial 4-Day Workweek

Louis Bloomsfield inspects the kegs of beer at his brewery in north London, eagerly awaiting June, when he will get an extra day off every week.

The 36-year-old brewer plans to use the time to get involved in charity work, start a long-overdue course in particle physics and spend more time with family.

He and colleagues at the Pressure Drop brewery are taking part in a six-month trial of a four-day working week, with 3,000 others from 60 U.K. companies.

The pilot — touted as the world’s biggest so far — aims to help companies shorten their working hours without cutting salaries or sacrificing revenues.

Similar trials have also taken place in Spain, Iceland, the United States and Canada. Australia and New Zealand are scheduled to start theirs in August.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a program manager at 4 Day Week Global, the campaign group behind the trial, said it will give firms “more time” to work through challenges, experiment with new practices and gather data.

Smaller organizations should find it easier to adapt, as they can make big changes more readily, he told AFP.

Pressure Drop, based in Tottenham Hale, is hoping the experiment will not only improve their employees’ productivity but also their well-being.

At the same time, it will reduce their carbon footprint.

The Royal Society of Biology, another participant in the trial, says it wants to give employees “more autonomy over their time and working patterns.”

Both hope a shorter working week could help them retain employees, at a time when U.K. businesses are confronted with severe staff shortages, and job vacancies hitting a record 1.3 million.

Not all rosy

Pressure Drop brewery’s co-founder Sam Smith said the new way of working would be a learning process.

“It will be difficult for a company like us which needs to be kept running all the time, but that’s what we will experiment with in this trial,” he said.

Smith is mulling giving different days off in the week to his employees and deploying them into two teams to keep the brewery functioning throughout.

When Unilever trialed a shorter working week for its 81 employees in New Zealand, it was able to do so only because no manufacturing takes place in its Auckland office and all staff work in sales or marketing.

The service industry plays a huge role in the UK economy, contributing 80% to the country’s GDP.

A shorter working week is therefore easier to adopt, said Jonathan Boys, a labor economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

But for sectors such as retail, food and beverage, health care and education, it’s more problematic.

Boys said the biggest challenge will be how to measure productivity, especially in an economy where a lot of work is qualitative, as opposed to that in a factory.

Indeed, since salaries will stay the same in this trial, for a company to not lose out, employees will have to be as productive in four days as they are five.

Yet Aidan Harper, author of The Case for a Four Day Week, said countries working fewer hours tend to have higher productivity.

“Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands work fewer hours than the U.K., yet have higher levels of productivity,” he told AFP.

“Within Europe, Greece works more hours than anyone, and yet have the lowest levels of productivity.”

‘Hiring superpower’

Employees in the U.K. work roughly 36.5 hours every week, against counterparts in Greece who clock in upward of 40 hours, according to database company Statista.

Phil McParlane, founder of Glasgow-based recruitment company, says offering a shorter workweek is a win-win, and even calls it “a hiring superpower.”

His company only advertises four-day week and flexible jobs.

They have seen the number of companies looking to hire through the platform rise from 30 to 120 in the past two years, as many workers reconsidered their priorities and work-life balance in the pandemic.

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Companion Robot Responds to User’s Emotional Cues, Health Needs

The arrival of the pandemic intensified feelings of loneliness and social isolation for millions of older people, many of whom were already battling depression and other health issues. For those struggling, a robot companion might make a difference, and states like New York are starting to provide them to residents free of charge. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more. Camera: Adam Greenbaum

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Why Immigrant Children Excel More than US-Born Kids

More than 12 million immigrants moved through Ellis Island, a primary U.S. federal immigration station in New York, between 1892 and 1954. The assimilation of these newcomers into the great U.S. “melting pot” in their pursuit of the American dream is a key part of the nation’s story.

Many Americans have come to idealize those early immigrants, mostly Europeans, as somehow more desirable than today’s immigrants, who primarily hail from Latin America and Asia and are more likely to be viewed by some as slow to assimilate, potential criminals, a financial drain on the system, and as stealing jobs from the American-born.

Economic historians Leah Boustan and Ran Abramitzky are using cutting-edge data collection and analytics to separate immigrant fact from fiction while comparing modern-day migrants to those who came to America a century ago.

Successful children

“One big surprise was how well the children of immigrants are doing, and how (children of) immigrants from nearly every sending country are more upwardly mobile than the children of the U.S.-born. And how that stays constant over 100 years, regardless of the sending country,” says Abramitzky, a professor of economics at Stanford University.

The reason many children of immigrants do better than their American-born counterparts can come down to location, said Boustan, a professor of economics at Princeton University.

“They’re locating in very dynamic cities with a lot of good job opportunities, and that’s helping set up their kids for success,” Boustan says. “We find that the children of the internal migrants — the U.S.-born families that move somewhere else — actually look a lot like the children of immigrants. And so, what’s really happening is that immigrants are willing to move to good places, and a lot of U.S.-born families stay in the location where they were born.

Another less-apparent advantage for children of immigrants in low-paying jobs, is that their parents might have college degrees and professional skills honed in their home countries that they cannot apply in the U.S., but they instill a drive for education and professional success in their children.

The data suggests that the children of today’s immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Mexico or Guatemala who grew up in relatively poor families are doing just as well as the children of Norwegian, German and Italian immigrants of the past. Like them, they are more likely than the children of equally poor U.S.-born parents to make it into the middle class or beyond.

The duo’s findings are laid out in their book, “Streets of Gold: America’s Untold Story of Immigrant Success.”

Disputing existing narratives

The data also dispels the notion that today’s immigrants are a financial burden, Boustan said.

“Even if immigrant parents are low paid, their children are able to move up very quickly into higher paid, more productive jobs,” she says. “So, at this timescale of a generation, we see that immigrants are able to pay more into the system than they take out.”

Abramitzky and Boustan extrapolated that today’s immigrants assimilate as quickly as immigrants did a century ago. They used markers like learning English, living outside an ethnic neighborhood, intermarriage and giving children American-sounding names to conclude that today’s immigrants are no more likely than past immigrants to retain their native culture.

Anti-immigrant forces often point to crime as a reason to limit immigration or build a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. However, the data shows immigrants today are less likely to be arrested and imprisoned for a crime than people born in the United States.

Job thieves?

Do immigrants steal jobs and reduce the wages of U.S.-born workers? The data suggests immigrants fill gaps at the opposite ends of the labor market, where there is a lot of demand but not enough workers to fill those roles, according to Boustan.

“These days, immigrants bring a set of skills that are not very widespread in the U.S. today,” Boustan says. “Many immigrants are very highly skilled Ph.D. scientists, tech workers, and those skills often create more jobs than take away jobs.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, uneducated, poorer immigrants tend to work in manual positions like construction, agriculture and landscaping or in service professions such as helping the elderly or providing child care.

“People who are at the lower tail of the income distribution are doing the kinds of jobs that are hard to find U.S.-born workers to do,” Abramitzky says. “Immigrants and the U.S.-born workers are not perfect substitutes to one another.”

A 2020 Pew Research poll suggests that Americans on both ends of the political spectrum generally agree that immigrants — both the undocumented and those in the U.S. legally — mostly work in jobs that U.S. citizens don’t want.

But Harvard professor George Borjas, a labor economist specializing in immigration issues, says the influx of immigrants can hurt the prospects of the working poor.

People in low-wage jobs that require limited education face significant competition from immigrants, according to Borjas, who writes that an increase in the pool of low-skilled workers drives a drop in overall earnings.

The immigrants themselves, and business owners who use immigrant labor, are the biggest winners from an influx of immigration, he says.

In their book, Abramitzky and Boustan point out that strict immigrant quotas in the 1920s did not result in higher wages for U.S. manufacturing workers, even though immigration had dropped by “hundreds of thousands.”

The co-authors hope lawmakers will examine the data before crafting future immigration laws and policies.

“That immigrants are upwardly mobile from nearly every sending country, regardless of where they come from, suggests that there are more similarities than differences in the immigrant experiences, despite the huge change in sending countries,” Abramitzky says.

“We see that immigrants are doing just as well as immigrants in the past. …Designing the policy (while) having in mind that immigrants aren’t able to assimilate and integrate, is misinformed.”

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US Economy Shrank by 1.5% in Q1 but Consumers Kept Spending

The U.S. economy shrank in the first three months of the year even though consumers and businesses kept spending at a solid pace, the government reported Thursday in a slight downgrade of its previous estimate for the January-March quarter.

Last quarter’s drop in the U.S. gross domestic product — the broadest gauge of economic output — does not likely signal the start of a recession. The contraction was caused, in part, by a wider trade gap: The nation spent more on imports than other countries did on U.S. exports. The trade gap slashed first-quarter GDP by 3.2 percentage points.

And a slower restocking of goods in stores and warehouses, which had built up their inventories in the previous quarter for the 2021 holiday shopping season, knocked nearly 1.1 percentage points off the January-March GDP.

Analysts say the economy has likely resumed growing in the current April-June quarter.

The Commerce Department estimated that the economy contracted at a 1.5% annual pace from January through March, a slight downward revision from its first estimate of 1.4%, which it issued last month. It was the first drop in GDP since the second quarter of 2020 — in the depths of the COVID-19 recession — and followed a robust 6.9% expansion in the final three months of 2021.

The nation remains stuck in the painful grip of high inflation, which has caused particularly severe hardships for lower-income households, many of them people of color. Though many U.S. workers have been receiving sizable pay raises, their wages in most cases haven’t kept pace with inflation. In April, consumer prices jumped 8.3% from a year earlier, just below the fastest such rise in four decades, set one month earlier.

High inflation is also posing a political threat to President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress as midterm elections draw near. A poll this month by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Research found that Biden’s approval rating has reached the lowest point of his presidency — just 39% of adults approve of his performance — with inflation a frequently cited contributing factor.

Still, by most measures, the economy as a whole remains healthy, though likely weakening. Consumer spending — the heart of the economy — is still solid: It grew at a 3.1% annual pace from January through March. Business investment in equipment, software and other items that are intended to improve productivity rose at a healthy 6.8% annual rate last quarter.

And a strong job market is giving people the money and confidence to spend. Employers have added more than 400,000 jobs for 12 straight months, and the unemployment rate is near a half-century low. Businesses are advertising so many jobs that there are now roughly two openings, on average, for every unemployed American.

The economy is widely believed to have resumed its growth in the current quarter: In a survey released this month, 34 economists told the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia that they expect GDP to grow at a 2.3% annual pace from April through June and 2.5% for all of 2022. Still, their forecast marked a sharp drop from the 4.2% growth estimate for the current quarter in the Philadelphia Fed’s previous survey in February.

Considerable uncertainties, though, are clouding the outlook for the U.S. and global economies. Russia’s war against Ukraine has disrupted trade in energy, grains and other commodities and driven fuel and food prices dramatically higher. China’s draconian COVID-19 crackdown has also slowed growth in the world’s second-biggest economy and worsened global supply chain bottlenecks. The Federal Reserve has begun aggressively raising interest rates to fight the fastest inflation the United States has suffered since the early 1980s.

The Fed is banking on its ability to engineer a so-called soft landing: Raising borrowing rates enough to slow growth and cool inflation without causing a recession. Many economists, though, are skeptical that the central bank can pull it off. More than half the economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics foresee at least a 25% probability that the U.S. economy will sink into recession within a year.

“While we still expect the Fed to steer the economy toward a soft landing, downside risks to the economy and the probability of a recession are increasing,” economists Lydia Boussour and Kathy Bostjancic of Oxford Economics cautioned Thursday in a research note.

“A more aggressive pace of Fed rate hikes, a tightening in financial conditions, the ongoing war in Ukraine and China’s zero-Covid strategy increase the risk of a hard landing in 2023,” they added.

In the meantime, higher borrowing rates appear to be slowing at least one crucial sector of the economy — the housing market. Last month, sales of both existing homes and new homes showed signs of faltering, worsened by sharply higher home prices and a shrunken supply of properties for sale.

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Sanctions Frustrating Russian Ransomware Actors

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine appears to be having an unanticipated impact in cyberspace — a decrease in the number of ransomware attacks. 

“We have seen a recent decline since the Ukrainian invasion,” Rob Joyce, the U.S. National Security Agency’s director of cybersecurity, told a virtual forum Wednesday. 

Joyce said one reason for the decrease in ransomware attacks since the February 24 invasion is likely improved awareness and defensive measures by U.S. businesses. 

He also said some of it is tied to measures the United States and its Western allies have taken against Moscow in response to the war in Ukraine. 

“We’ve definitively seen the criminal actors in Russia complain that the functions of sanctions and the distance of their ability to use credit cards and other payment methods to get Western infrastructure to run these [ransomware] attacks have become much more difficult,” Joyce told The Cipher Brief’s Cyber Initiatives Group. 

“We’ve seen that have an impact on their [Russia’s] operations,” he added. “It’s driving the trend down a little bit.” 

Just days after Russian forces entered Ukraine, U.S. cybersecurity officials renewed their “Shields Up” awareness campaign, encouraging companies to take additional security precautions to protect against potential cyberattacks by Russia itself or by criminal hackers working on Moscow’s behalf. 



And those officials caution Russia still has the capability to inflict more damage in cyberspace. 

“Russia is continuing to explore options for potential cyberattacks,” the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Matthew Hartman told a meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week. 

“We are seeing glimpses into targeting and into access development,” Hartman said, noting Russia has for now held back from launching any major cyberattacks against the West. “We do not know at what point a calculus may change.” 

FBI cyber officials have likewise voiced concern that it could be a matter of time before the Kremlin authorizes cyberattacks targeting U.S. critical infrastructure, including against the energy, finance and telecommunication sectors. 



U.S. and NATO officials on Wednesday also cautioned that it would be a mistake to think that just because there have been few signs of “catastrophic effects” that Russia has not tried to leverage its cyber capabilities to its advantage. 

“It has been happening and it’s still happening,” said Stefanie Metka, head of the Cyber Threat Analysis Branch at NATO. “There’s a lot of cyber activity that’s happening all the time and probably we won’t know the full extent of it until we turn the computers back on.”  

Said the NSA’s Joyce: “If you look at Ukraine, they have been heavily targeted. What we’ve seen are a number of wiper viruses, seven or eight different or unique wiper viruses that have been thrown into the ecosystem of Ukraine and its near abroad.” Wiper viruses are viruses that erase a computer’s memory.

These included a cyberattack against a satellite communications company, which hampered the ability of Ukraine’s military to communicate and had spillover effects across Europe. 


But with help from the U.S. and other allies, Ukraine was able to mitigate the impact, Joyce said. 

“The Ukrainians have been under threat and under pressure for a number of years, and so they have continued to adapt and improve and develop their tradecraft to the point where they mount a good defense and, equally as important, they mount a great incident response,” he said.  

Some cybersecurity experts say that ability to respond might be one of the biggest take-aways, so far, from the invasion. 

“Resiliency matters,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, the founder of the Silverado Policy Accelerator and the former chief technology officer of cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, at Wednesday’s virtual forum. “The Ukrainians have gotten really, really good at rebuilding networks, quickly mitigating damage.” 

Another key lesson, he said, is the limitations of cyber. 

“If you’ve got kinetic options, if you can create a crater somewhere, take out a substation, take out a communication system, that’s what you’re going to prefer to use,” Alperovitch said. “That’s what’s easiest [to do] to get lasting damage.” 


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Ivory Coast Chocolatier Strives to Sweeten Cocoa Processors’ Earnings

In Ivory Coast, an artisanal chocolatier blends good flavor and good intentions in his work. Axel-Emmanuel Gbaou trains women to get good taste and good profits from the cocoa beans they process, as Yassin Ciyow observes in this report narrated by Carol Guensburg.

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Pandemic Creates New Billionaires as Global Inequality Rises

The world’s billionaires have increased their wealth by trillions of dollars since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic – while the poorest countries are struggling with soaring commodity prices and rising debts. These are the findings of a newly released analysis by the charity Oxfam, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

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Egyptian Wheat Farmers Cope with Compounding Disruptions

This year’s wheat harvest season in Egypt—the world’s biggest importer of the staple crop—comes at a time when the U.N. says the Ukraine war has sent international food prices soaring to “a new all-time high, hitting the poorest the hardest,” with the country’s annual inflation rate surging to a three-year high of 14.9 percent. Amid rising global wheat prices and food security concerns, Cairo photojournalist Hamada Elrasam shows the pressures facing Egyptian farmers.

Captions by Elle Kurancid.

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Meta Returns with Africa Day Campaign

Meta, the company that owns Facebook, is hosting its second annual Africa Day campaign to promote Africans who are making a global impact.

The content producer for the film project, South African filmmaker Tarryn Crossman, said Meta identified eight innovators, creators and businesspeople on the continent whose stories the company wanted told for the “Made by Africa, Loved by the World” campaign.

Crossman’s company, Tia Productions, teamed up with Mashoba Media to find four fellow filmmakers in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their job was to make two- to three-minute documentaries about the subjects.

“So, for example we did Trevor Stuurman here in South Africa,” Crossman said. “He’s a visual artist and his line was, I just loved so much, he says: ‘Africa’s no longer the ghost writer.’ We’re telling our stories and owning our own narratives. That’s kind of the thread amongst all these characters. They all have that in common.”

Nairobi-based filmmaker Joan Kabangu made a movie about Black Rhino VR, a Kenyan virtual reality content producing company which has worked with international brands.

“They are the pioneers around creating VR content, 360 content, augmented mixed reality kind of content in Kenya, in the wider Africa. And it’s a company which is run by a young person and everybody who is working there is fairly young. And they are really getting into how tech is being used to elevate the way we are creating content in 2022, going forward,” Kabangu said.

Of Meta’s Africa Day campaign she said, “I feel it’s celebrating the good in Africa.”

In Ghana, Kofi Awuah’s movie making has been delayed by floods in the capital, Accra. But he is determined to finish. His innovator is designer Selina Beb, whose work can be seen on Instagram and is sold online, often to buyers in the U.S. and Britain.

“She’s very unique,” Awuah said. “Based on material she uses and even the processes she uses are kind of things that tell a Ghanian or African story. For instance, she uses a certain kind of stone that you can find only in the northern parts of Ghana.”

Awuah said being a part of the campaign is the chance of a lifetime.

“My manager called me to tell me that we gotten a contract from Meta and I almost, like I had a heart attack,” she said. “When that call came, I felt this is the moment for me to express myself to the millions or billions of people who are using Facebook, who are using social media.”

Meta will also be hosting free virtual training sessions throughout the week. These include training on monetization, cross-border business and branded content.

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Facebook, Instagram to Reveal More on How Ads Target Users

 Facebook parent Meta said it will start publicly providing more details about how advertisers target people with political ads just months ahead of the U.S. midterm elections. 

The announcement follows years of criticism that the social media platforms withhold too much information about how campaigns, special interest groups and politicians use the platform to target small pockets of people with polarizing, divisive or misleading messages. 

Meta, which also owns Instagram, said it will start releasing details in July about the demographics and interests of audiences who are targeted with ads that run on its two primary social networks. The company will also share how much advertisers spent in an effort to target people in certain states. 

“By making advertiser targeting criteria available for analysis and reporting on ads run about social issues, elections and politics, we hope to help people better understand the practices used to reach potential voters on our technologies,” Jeff King wrote in a statement posted to Meta’s website. 

The new details could shed more light on how politicians spread misleading or controversial political messages among certain groups of people. Advocacy groups and Democrats, for example, have argued for years that misleading political ads are overwhelming the Facebook feeds of Spanish-speaking populations. 

The information will be showcased in the Facebook ad library, a public database that already shows how much companies, politicians or campaigns spend on each ad they run across Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp. Currently, anyone can see how much a page has spent running an ad and a breakdown of the ages, gender and states or countries an ad is shown in. 

The information will be available across 242 countries when a social issue, political or election ad is run, Meta said in a statement. 

Meta collected $86 billion in revenue during 2020, the last major U.S. election year, thanks in part to its granular ad targeting system. Facebook’s ad system is so customizable that advertisers could target a single user out of billions on the platform, if they wanted. 

Meta said in its announcement Monday that it will provide researchers with new details that show the interest categories advertisers selected when they tried to target people on the platform. 

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US Stocks Gain Ground Following 7 Straight Weeks of Losses

Stocks rallied in afternoon trading on Wall Street Monday, following seven weeks of declines that nearly ended the bull market that began in March 2020. 

The S&P 500 rose 1.8% as of 3:12 p.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 588 points, or 1.9%, to 31,850, and the Nasdaq rose 1.3%. 

Banks made strong gains along with rising bond yields, which they rely on to charge more lucrative interest on loans. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 2.86% from 2.77% late Friday. Bank of America rose 6.3%. 

Technology stocks also did some heavy lifting. Apple rose 3.4% and Microsoft rose 2.7%. The sector has been choppy over the last few weeks and has prompted many of the market’s recent big swings. 

VMware surged 20.8% following a report that chipmaker Broadcom is offering to buy the cloud-computing company. JPMorgan Chase jumped 6.9% after giving investors an encouraging update on its financial forecasts. 

Retailers and some other companies that rely on direct consumer spending lagged the rest of the market. Amazon fell 0.7%. A series of disappointing earnings reports from key retailers last week raised concerns that consumers are tempering spending on a wide range of goods as they get squeezed by rising inflation. 

Lingering concerns about inflation have been weighing on the market and have kept major indexes in a slump. The benchmark S&P 500 is so far experiencing its longest weekly losing streak since the dot-com bubble was deflating in 2001. It came close to falling 20% from its peak earlier this year, which would put the index at the heart of most workers’ 401(k) accounts into a bear market. 

Inflation’s impact on consumers and businesses has been the key worry for markets, along with the Federal Reserve’s attempt to temper that impact by aggressively raising interest rates. Inflation brought on by a big supply and demand disconnect has worsened because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its impact on energy prices. 

Supply chains were further hurt by China’s recent series of lockdowns for several major cities facing rising COVID-19 cases. 

Investors are worried that the central bank could go too far in raising rates or move too quickly, which could stunt economic growth and potentially bring on a recession. On Wednesday, investors will get a more detailed glimpse into the Fed’s decision-making process with the release of minutes from the latest policy-setting meeting. 

Wall Street will also get a few economic updates this week from the Commerce Department. On Thursday, it will release a report on first-quarter gross domestic product, and on Friday, it will release data on personal income and spending for April. 


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Who is Buying Russia’s Oil?

So far, Russia’s oil exports have not slowed down a bit from the war in Ukraine and international sanctions. In fact, Russia exported more oil in April than it did before the war. And high oil prices mean Moscow is raking in money. That’s one reason Europe is considering a Russian oil ban: Current sanctions are not hurting Moscow enough. Europe gets more of its oil from Russia than anywhere else. It would have to make up for those banned barrels somewhere else, and that won’t be easy. And it’s likely to push oil prices everywhere up even further.

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Solar Crowdfunding Project Benefiting Zimbabwe’s Farmers

A South African company that promotes solar power and uses crowdsourcing to raise capital is financing a solar-powered farm in Zimbabwe that is also benefiting neighboring farmers. The company, The Sun Exchange, raised $1.4 million for the farm. Columbus Mavhunga reports from Marondera, Zimbabwe.

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