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The Morning Dispatch: What's Next for Protest-Wracked Sri Lanka
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The Morning Dispatch: What’s Next for Protest-Wracked Sri Lanka

An economic meltdown has led to widespread protest and the resignation of top Sri Lankan officials.

Happy Tuesday! Congratulations to Christian Cavaletti, a 50-year-old Italian man who’s collected 12,402 Pepsi cans from around the world.

The poor guy’s just been searching for a place that serves Coke products, but at least he got a Guinness World Record out of it.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The original Nord Stream natural gas pipeline connecting Russia and Germany shut down on Monday for 10 days of scheduled maintenance, and European leaders are bracing for it to not come back online. “Everything is possible,” German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said over the weekend, referencing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to wield energy as a geopolitical weapon. “We have to prepare for the worst.” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire believes a total cutoff to be “the most likely scenario” going forward.

  • Putin on Monday created a fast-track to Russian citizenship for all Ukrainians, expanding a measure that previously applied only to occupied areas of Ukraine. United States National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, meanwhile, told reporters on Monday the U.S. has intelligence indicating Iran is preparing to provide Russia with hundreds of drones to use against Ukraine.

  • The Department of Health and Human Services announced new guidance on Monday clarifying that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act—which requires any patient at an emergency department be stabilized and treated regardless of their ability to pay—covers life- or health-saving abortion services in emergency situations, regardless of state law. “The federal EMTALA statute protects your clinical judgment and the action that you take to provide stabilizing medical treatment to your pregnant patients, regardless of the restrictions in the state where you practice,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra wrote in a public letter to health care providers.

  • HRA Pharma—a French company—announced Monday it submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration for what would be the United States’ first over-the-counter birth control pill. The pill is currently available by prescription, and HRA Pharma officials said they expect an FDA decision about switching it to over-the-counter status in about 10 months. 

  • Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced Monday the Biden administration will extend Temporary Protected Status for another 18 months to the approximately 343,000 Venezuelans living illegally in the United States, providing work permits and pausing deportations through March 2024. The move does not apply to Venezuelans who arrived in the United States after March 8, 2021.

  • After a nine-month investigation, the Department of Homeland Security published a report last week looking into allegations of Border Patrol misconduct dealing with Haitian migrants along the border in Del Rio, Texas, last September. The investigation concluded there is no evidence the mounted agents whipped any migrant—intentionally or otherwise—with their reins, but uncovered “failures at multiple levels of the agency, a lack of appropriate policies and training, and unprofessional and dangerous behavior by several individual agents.”

  • In elections taking place just days after Shinzo Abe’s assassination, the former prime minister’s Liberal Democratic Party expanded its majority in Japan’s upper house of parliament, winning at least 63 of the 125 seats up for grabs over the weekend. The victory will help the conservative coalition led by current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida solidify its hold on power and enact its agenda. 

  • A United Nations report released Monday projects the global population will hit 8 billion by the end of 2022, and India will surpass China as the most populous country in the world as soon as next year. Although the world’s population growth rate fell below 1 percent in 2020 for the first time since 1950, the report still projects about 9.7 billion people to inhabit the globe in 2050.

  • Moderna announced Monday it is developing two bivalent COVID-19 vaccine boosters for this fall, targeting different Omicron subvariants based on different market preferences from country to country. In Europe and Australia, the biotechnology company is seeking authorization for a shot that targets both the ancestral COVID-19 strain and the Omicron BA.1 subvariant. In the United States, it is pursuing a shot targeting both the ancestral COVID-19 strain and Omicron’s BA.5 variant, which recently became the most prevalent strain in the country.

The Revolution Will Include Pool Toys

(Photo by Thilina Kaluthotage/NurPhoto via Getty Images.)

This weekend, thousands of Sri Lankan protesters stormed the presidential palace in Colombo, and they really settled in: watered the flowers, tested out the couches, cooked dinner, played the piano, ran on the treadmills, and swam in the pool. Protesters also set Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s home on fire, while police launched tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds.

Sri Lankans have for months been calling on government leaders to relieve shortages and bring down inflation—and to root out corruption and resign. By Monday, Wickremesinghe had promised to step down, and officials reported President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would do the same this Wednesday. Rajapaksa hasn’t confirmed that himself, but he’s in hiding and parliament is planning a replacement government.

Sri Lankan officials have resisted economic reforms in recent years, even as the island nation’s tourism-dependent economy suffered from a tsunami and 2019 suicide bombings targeting Christians, which discouraged visitors. The country overextended itself with foreign loans from private lenders and countries including China and Japan, and officials hoped a tourism rebound would restore the economy. “They were betting the farm on tourism returning and providing them with the necessary foreign exchange to muddle through this crisis,” Akhil Bery—director of South Asia Initiatives at the Asia Society Policy Institute—told The Dispatch

Instead, COVID-19 shutdowns further decimated tourism. Rajapaksa’s policy choices—huge tax cuts, increased government hiring, a sudden ban on chemical fertilizers that reduced crop yields—deepened Sri Lanka’s woes as credit rating companies downgraded the country, cutting it off from borrowing more foreign money.

The effects have been disastrous. Sri Lanka’s inflation has shot from 6 percent year-over-year in September to 45.3 percent, according to its central bank. In May, the country defaulted on its $51 billion in foreign debt, prioritizing importing essentials like food and fuel with its dwindling foreign currency reserves—some Sri Lankan citizens have waited days to fuel their cars and most have endured blackouts and skipped meals to stretch their devalued Sri Lankan rupees. Wickremesinghe admitted last month the country’s economy has “completely collapsed,” and last week he declared it “bankrupt.”

The economic disintegration has sparked months of protests, with some Sri Lankans walking miles or packing into crowded buses to overcome fuel shortages and rally in the capital. Most of Rajapaksa’s cabinet and the head of the central bank resigned in early April. Rajapaksa’s brother, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, stepped down as prime minister in May—the family has dominated Sri Lankan politics for years—and had to be rescued by the military as thousands of protesters stormed his home. Another Rajapaksa brother—Basil, the former finance minister—attempted to flee the country earlier today, only to be turned away by airport officials.

Now, according to parliamentary speaker Mahinda Abeywardana, Gotabaya has agreed to resign. If both president and prime minister bow out, Abeywardana would become interim president. Protesters plan to remain at the presidential residence and prime minister’s home until the official resignations arrive. “Today in this country we have a fuel crisis, a food shortage, we have the head of the World Food Program coming here and we have several matters to discuss with the [International Monetary Fund],” Wickremesinghe said Saturday. “Therefore, if this government leaves there should be another government.” Opposition parties in parliament met Sunday to discuss a new government and Ranjith Madduma Bandara, a member of parliament, said lawmakers plan to elect a new president July 20.

A new government will still face difficult decisions to get Sri Lanka’s economy back on track. India—which has already provided its neighbor about $4 billion in credit—has expressed willingness to do more, while the United States, Japan, and others have offered some humanitarian aid. Wickremesinghe told the Associated Press he was considering buying discounted oil from Russia.

But the International Monetary Fund is Sri Lanka’s biggest potential lifeline and could restore its access to foreign lenders—in exchange for the country adopting austerity measures like spending cuts and higher taxes. To get an IMF bailout, Sri Lanka has to present a plan in August to get its debt to a sustainable level, escaping bankruptcy.

Sri Lanka will likely need to restructure its debt, negotiating new, more favorable loan terms so it can keep up with payments. China accounts for about 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s foreign debt, Bery said, and has so far resisted any talk of restructuring—offering additional loans instead. “I’m fairly confident it’s because of the precedent it would set for other countries,” Bery said. “If they grant debt relief to Sri Lanka, then you have Pakistan knocking, you have Laos knocking, you have Zambia knocking.”

For now, Bery predicts countries will hesitate to extend further loans but argued the U.S. and its allies should continue providing robust humanitarian aid. “I see this as an opening for the U.S. and other countries to generate goodwill with the Sri Lankan people,” Bery said. “It’s gone to more Chinese influence in recent years, but there is an opportunity to pull it back.”

Worth Your Time

  • Stamping out misinformation has become a high priority for journalists in recent years, but it’s always been with us—and always will be. “At various times throughout the history of humankind, our most brilliant scientists and philosophers believed many things most eight-year-olds now know to be false: the earth was flat, the sun revolved around the earth, smoking cigarettes was good for digestion, humans were not related to apes, the planet was 75,000 years old, or left-handed people were unclean,” Isaac Saul writes for Persuasion. “It is challenging to accept the fact that much of what we believe right now will, in 20, 100, 500, or 1,000 years, seem as absurd as some of the ideas above. But it would take a great deal of arrogance to believe anything else.” So how should media companies approach misinformation on their platforms? “Imagine your job is to put out fires (misinformation) in an area where arsonists (people spreading misinformation) are always setting fires,” Saul continues. “You have three options: #1 Continue fighting fires with hordes of firefighters (in this analogy, fact-checkers). #2 Focus on the arsonists (the people spreading the misinformation) by alerting the town they’re the ones starting the fire (banning or labeling them). #3 Clear the kindling and dry brush (teach people to spot lies, think critically, and ask questions). Right now, we do a lot of #1. We do a little bit of #2. We do almost none of #3, which is probably the most important and the most difficult.”

  • Most pro-life commentary published after the Dobbs ruling has come from conservatives, but here’s a thoughtful take from the political left: The government should heavily subsidize pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum care. “A recent study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that the average out-of-pocket expense for giving birth while privately insured exceeds $3,000. More than one in six privately insured births result in more than $5,000 of out-of-pocket expenses,” Elizabeth Bruenig writes in The Atlantic. “The federal government could—without much structural innovation—eliminate these costs altogether, and with them lethal barriers to maternal and infant care. Medicare already covers the costs of pregnancy and childbirth for people who are eligible for the program due to disability. This coverage could be extended to everyone, regardless of disability status, age, income, or work history—and such an expansion should be feasible, at least administratively.” This would, she continues, require pro-lifers to move on from “a narrow fixation on regulating the practice of abortion itself” and “[take] up welfare as a cause just as worthy of political agitation as abortion.”

  • NASA on Monday released the first image taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, and it’s everything Marina Koren hoped it’d be—and more. “The picture is sparkly and beautiful, a great choice for a computer background,” the space journalist writes. “It is also, more important, an entirely new view of the universe. The light from the galaxies in the foreground left 4.6 billion years ago, and the light from the galaxies beyond those, even longer. All this light has been captured in unprecedented detail by the most powerful space telescope in history, making this one of the deepest, most high-resolution pictures of the universe that humankind has ever taken. … Here we are, on this little ball of rock in a boundless universe, and we have managed to glimpse the universe as it was billions of years before we even existed. We have stretched our perception of the universe from the night sky to the planets, to other suns and other galaxies, and soon we’ll catch the light that’s even older, even farther from us—closer to the big, mysterious moment when the universe began.”

Something Mesmerizing

 

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • On today’s episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah wrap up the Supreme Court term with Kannon Shanmugam, chair of the Supreme Court and Appellate Practice Group at Paul, Weiss LLP. What did the latest batch of decisions say about the future of the Court? Plus, be sure to stick around for the trio’s BBQ hot takes.

  • It’s Tuesday, which means Dispatch Live is back for members tonight. Look out for a separate email with details in your inbox today.

  • On the site today, Harvest takes a deep dive on changes between Israel and the Middle East region President Joe Biden is likely to encounter on his visit this week, Andrew Fink writes about former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s recent saber-rattling toward the U.S., and John Gustavsson compares Boris Johnson’s downfall to that of Richard Nixon.

Let Us Know

The James Webb Space Telescope ended up costing the federal government about $10 billion, taking hundreds upon hundreds of engineers and physicists more than 20 years to complete. Was it worth it?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.