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S&P 500, Burkina Faso, Hippos: Your Monday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest at the end of Monday.

1. The Pentagon has put 8,500 American troops on “high alert” for possible deployment to Eastern Europe, as officials brace for a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Most of the troops would take part in a NATO response force that might soon be activated, said John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman.

“It’s very clear the Russians have no intention right now of de-escalating,” Kirby said at a news conference on Monday. “What this is about, though, is reassurance to our NATO allies.”

Russian troops and equipment are pouring into neighboring Belarus for planned exercises next month that U.S. officials fear are not only directed at Ukraine, but also intended to intimidate NATO countries on Belarus’s western border. NATO is also sending more jets and ships to the region, but Western officials have made it clear that NATO forces would not engage militarily against Russia.

3. The S&P touched correction territory, then rallied.

Earlier on Monday, selling showed how skittish investors had become: The index had fallen more than 10 percent from its Jan. 3 record. A drop of that scale, called a correction, is an infrequent occurrence — the last was in March 2020. But the S&P 500 ended the day up 0.3 percent, paring its losses since Jan. 3 to about 8 percent.

Investors were rattled by the prospect that the Federal Reserve might have to remove its support for the economy much faster than expected to combat inflation, which has been aggravated by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Experts say the economic disruptions caused by the latest wave of cases have made postpandemic normality more elusive.

4. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear cases that challenge affirmative action at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.

The court has repeatedly upheld similar programs, most recently in 2016. But six years later, only two members of the majority in that case remain on the court. Changes in the court’s membership have made it more conservative, and the challenged programs are almost certain to meet skepticism.

The case against Harvard accused it of discriminating against Asian American students by using a subjective standard to consider traits like likability, courage and kindness. In the North Carolina case, the plaintiffs said the university discriminated against white and Asian applicants by giving preference to Black, Hispanic and Native American ones.

5. The federal civil rights trial of three former Minneapolis police officers for their role in the death of George Floyd began on Monday with opening arguments.

Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder last spring for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. Three other officers who were on the scene, and who were fired soon after the killing, are accused of willfully failing to intervene against Chauvin and failing to provide medical care to Floyd.

The case will center on a crucial issue in American policing: the duty of police officers to intervene when they witness misconduct by fellow officers. Several experts say its outcome could have a greater impact on policing than Chauvin’s convictions did.

6. The military ousted Burkina Faso’s democratically elected president, suspending the Constitution and seizing power over the nation.

President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré had been leading the poor, landlocked West African country since 2015. The nation had been largely peaceful until that same year, when militant groups launched a violent campaign as part of a broader upheaval in the Sahel, a vast area just south of the Sahara. Kaboré faced growing criticism over his inability to beat back the insurgents. Violence displaced 1.4 million people and caused 2,000 deaths last year.

Africa has experienced the greatest concentration of coups in years, with takeovers in Guinea, Sudan, Chad and Mali that have undone many of the continent’s democratic gains.

7. A study found that a year of cash payments to poor mothers boosted their babies’ brain function. The research has been called a major scientific advance.

“It’s proof that just giving the families more money, even a modest amount of more money, leads to better brain development,” Martha Farah, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, said. But another researcher reacted more cautiously, noting that the full impact would not be clear until the children took cognitive tests.

Still, evidence that a single year of subsidies — $333 a month — could alter something as profound as brain function highlights the role that money may play in child development. It comes as President Biden is pushing for a larger program of subsidies for families with children.

8. Prestigious prizes in children’s literature and picture books were awarded on Monday.

“The Last Cuentista,” a dystopian yet hopeful middle-grade novel by Donna Barba Higuera, received this year’s John Newbery Medal. In the book, 12-year-old Petra Peña and her family are among those chosen to escape Earth before a collision with Halley’s comet. Put to sleep for nearly 400 years, they wake up with everyone’s memories erased but Petra’s. Here’s The Times’s review.

The Randolph Caldecott Medal, the top award for an American picture book, went to “Watercress,” illustrated by Jason Chin and written by Andrea Wang. The book follows a young Chinese American girl living in a mostly white town in rural Ohio in the 1970s.

9. An ode to the original veggie burger.

In Los Angeles, synthetic meat imitations abound. Many are made from pea and soy proteins, which produce patties that can look and feel the part — that can bleed imitation blood, even. But they can be devoid of character and monotonous in texture and flavor.

Our critic makes the case for a classic plant patty. The best tend to be idiosyncratic blends of vegetables, mushrooms, beans and grains, deepened with the umami of soy sauce, nutritional yeast, miso or kombu. Luckily, veggie burgers made with actual veggies persist throughout the city.

10. And finally, how a hippo says ‘hello.’

Hippopotamuses are some of the most unfriendly creatures in the animal kingdom, and notably difficult to study. But researchers began to decipher how the animals communicate by playing recordings of “wheeze honks” to pods of hippopotamuses to see how they would respond. Take a listen.

Their results suggest that hippopotamuses can distinguish friends from acquaintances, and acquaintances from strangers, by the way they sound.

Have a neighborly evening.

Angela Jimenez compiled photos for this briefing.

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