First Thing

US president authorized defense department to use commercial aircraft to fly formula supplies from overseas

Thu 19 May 2022 06.27 EDT

Good morning.

As parents across the country continue to struggle to find infant formula to feed their babies, Joe Biden yesterday invoked the Defense Production Act to speed production of infant formula and authorized flights to import supply from overseas.

“I know parents across the country are worried about finding enough formula to feed their babies,” Biden said in a video statement released by the White House. “As a parent and as a grandparent, I know just how stressful that is.”

  • The 1950 law requires suppliers of formula manufacturers to fulfil orders from those companies before other customers.

  • Biden also authorized the defense department to use commercial aircraft to fly formula supplies that meet federal standards from overseas to the US, in what the White House is calling “Operation Fly Formula”.

  • Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration is streamlining its review process to make it easier for foreign manufacturers to begin shipping more formula into the US.

  • At the start of May, 43% of baby formula was out of stock at retailers. Read more here on how this crisis came to be.

UN: Ukraine war has sparked a global food crisis that could last years

A Ukrainian army officer inspects a grain warehouse shelled by Russian forces on 06 May 2022 near the frontlines of Kherson Oblast in Novovorontsovka, Ukraine. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

The war in Ukraine, which was previously known as the world’s bread basket, has helped stoke a global food crisis that could go on for years if left unchecked, the United Nations warned, as the World Bank announced an additional $12bn in funding to mitigate its “devastating effects”.

Before the invasion in February, Ukraine exported 4.5m tonnes of agricultural produce a month through its ports – 12% of the planet’s wheat, 15% of its corn and half of its sunflower oil. With the country’s ports cut off by Russian warships, the supply can travel only on congested, far less efficient land routes, which has caused the price of food to skyrocket.

“Let’s be clear: there is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production,” said the UN secretary general, António Guterres. “Russia must permit the safe and secure export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports.”

Former police officer pleads guilty to manslaughter in George Floyd killing

Thomas Lane. Photograph: AP

Thomas Lane, a former Minneapolis police officer, pleaded guilty yesterday to manslaughter in the murder of George Floyd in a plea agreement that will have him spend three years in state prison.

Lane’s plea agreement comes a year after his former colleague Derek Chauvin, who was recorded by a bystander killing Floyd by kneeling on his neck, was convicted of murder and sentenced to more than two decades in prison. Lane and the former officers J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were convicted in federal court in February of violating Floyd’s civil rights, but sentences have not yet been handed down for them.

In other news …

GrubHub delivery riders congregate between deliveries in midtown Manhattan in New York. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

Stat of the day: Indigenous and Alaska Native women are two to three times more likely to die as a result of their pregnancy than white women

Jeannie Hovland, the deputy assistant secretary for Native American affairs for the US Department of Health and Human Services, poses with a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women mask, in Anchorage, Alaska. Photograph: Mark Thiessen/AP

With the protections enshrined by Roe v Wade likely to be struck down, Indigenous women, girls and all those who give birth – a demographic that already experiences higher rates of violence than their counterparts – are particularly at risk of increased violence and death, warned one of the leading research institutes on Indigenous and Alaska Native people across the US. “Our people are going to suffer,” Abigail Echo-Hawk, director of the Urban Indian Health Institute, told the Guardian.

Don’t miss this: the reverend trying to break America’s link between faith and guns

Peter Cook, head of the New York state Council of Churches. Photograph: Edward Helmore/The Guardian

The Rev Peter Cook has been a constant presence at prayer gatherings and public memorials since the racist shooting that killed 10 people on Saturday in Buffalo. He has a difficult message he is trying to get through to the country: that it’s the responsibility of white Christian denominations to challenge white America’s relationship with God and guns that is intertwined with white supremacy.

… or this: the 2020 presidential election hero facing a tough re-election

Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger. Photograph: Erik S Lesser/EPA

Brad Raffensperger became the hero of the 2020 presidential election when he, as a Republican serving as Georgia’s top election official, resisted Donald Trump’s demands to overturn the election result. But now he’s facing a re-election of his own. Can he survive Trump’s ire?

Climate check: climate suicide

A person holds a sign during a vigil at the supreme court building in Washington DC2 for environmental activist Wynn Alan Bruce, who self-immolated the week prior. Photograph: Bryan Olin Dozier/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

On Earth Day this year, Wynn Bruce, a 50-year-old photographer who lived in Boulder, Colorado, set himself on fire on the steps of the US supreme court. His grisly self-immolation was frighteningly similar to that of David Buckel, a civil rights lawyer who, four years earlier, walked to New York City’s Prospect Park, doused himself with gasoline and set himself alight.

Buckel had left a two-page note emailed to media outlets minutes before his death stating that “my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves”. Few people worried about the climate crisis are driven to self-harm over it, yet research has shown that many are struggling with anxiety over it.

“Living in climate truth is like living in a nightmare. It’s absolutely horrible and I can understand why the vast majority of Americans don’t do it,” said Margaret Klein Salamon, a clinical psychologist turned climate activist. “But the worst part is that everyone’s acting normal – it’s like we are zombies. The sense of helplessness and hopelessness is holding back conversations and political action.”

Want more environmental stories delivered to your inbox? Sign up to our new newsletter Down to Earth to get original and essential reporting on the climate crisis every week.

Last Thing: ‘Think you can do what you want with your body?’

In 1998, a group of pro-choice activists began running ads warning of a dystopian future where Roe v Wade would be overturned. The activists feared that this new generation who had never known a pre-Roe world would come of age unaware of what a pre-Roe world looked like – or without understanding just how precarious abortion rights always have been in the US.

The vivid images are hauntingly jarring – and far too prescient, given what is happening today with the supreme court and the leaked decision that will probably strike down the protections enshrined by Roe v Wade.

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