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Ukraine urges calm, saying Russian invasion not imminent

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Ukraine urges calm, saying Russian invasion not imminent

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s leaders sought to reassure the nation that a feared invasion from neighboring Russia was not imminent, even as they acknowledged the threat is real and prepared to accept a shipment of American military equipment Tuesday to shore up their defenses.

Russia has denied it is planning an assault, but it has massed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine in recent weeks, leading the United States and its NATO allies to rush to prepare for a possible war.

Several rounds of high stakes diplomacy have failed to yield any breakthroughs, and this week tensions escalated further. NATO said it was bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region, and the U.S. ordered 8,500 troops on higher alert to potentially deploy to Europe as part of an alliance “response force” if necessary.

The State Department has ordered the families of all American personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv to leave the country, and it said that nonessential embassy staff could leave. Britain said it, too, was withdrawing some diplomats and dependents from its embassy.

In Ukraine, however, authorities have sought to project calm — and many ordinary people have expressed skepticism that there will be an invasion soon.

Speaking in the parliament on Tuesday, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that “as of today, there are no grounds to believe” that Russia is preparing to invade imminently, noting that its troops have not formed what he called a battle group that could force its way through the border.

“Don’t worry, sleep well,” Reznikov said. “No need to have your bags packed.”

Reznikov’s remarks come on the heels of multiple reassurances from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other officials. On Monday, Zelenskyy told the nation that the situation was “under control.”

In an interview aired late on Monday, however, the defense minister acknowledged that “there are risky scenarios” that “are possible and probable in the future.”

Russia has said Western accusations that it is planning an attack are merely a cover for NATO’s own planned provocations. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday once again accused the U.S. of “fomenting tensions” around the Ukraine, a former Soviet state that Russia has been locked in a bitter tug-of-war with for almost eight years.

In 2014, following the ouster of a Kremlin-friendly president in Ukraine, Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in the country’s industrial heartland in the east. The fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels has since killed over 14,000 people, and efforts to reach a peaceful settlement of the conflict have stalled.

In the latest standoff, Russia has demanded guarantees from the West that NATO would never allow Ukraine to join and that the alliance would curtail other actions, such as stationing troops in former Soviet bloc countries. Some of these, like any pledge to permanently bar Ukraine, are non-starters for NATO — creating a seemingly intractable stalemate that many fear can only end in war.

Moscow has also accused Ukraine of massing troops near the rebel-controlled regions in the east, with the alleged aim of retaking them by force — accusations Kyiv has rejected.

Analysts say the Ukrainian government is caught between trying to calm the nation and ensuring it gets sufficient assistance from the West in case an invasion does happen.

“Ukrainian authorities are trying to prevent destabilization and panic inside the country, hence the calming statements saying there is no threat of an imminent Russian invasion,” political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko said.

“The Kremlin’s plans include undermining the situation inside Ukraine, fomenting hysteria and fear among Ukrainians, and the authorities in Kyiv find it increasingly difficult to contain this snowball,” he added.

A Kyiv International Institute of Sociology poll found about 48% of Ukrainians believe an invasion in the coming months to be a real threat. But with many aware of the possibility that recent moves could also be part of information warfare, 39% said they don’t see it happening.

The nationwide poll of 1,205 people from Jan. 21 to 22 had a margin of error that did not exceed 3.2 percentage points.

Some Ukrainians are watching warily.

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US reaches deal to reopen shuttered baby formula plant

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US reaches deal to reopen shuttered baby formula plant

By ZEKE MILLER and MATTHEW PERRONE

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials on Monday reached an agreement to allow baby formula maker Abbott to restart its largest domestic factory, though it will be two months or more before any new products ship from the site to help alleviate the national shortage facing parents.

Under the agreement, Abbott must work with outside experts to upgrade its standards and reduce bacterial contamination at the Sturgis, Michigan, facility, which the Food and Drug Administration has been investigating since early this year. The deal, which must be reviewed by a federal judge, amounts to a legally binding agreement between the FDA and the company on steps needed to reopen the factory.

The agreement was filed in court by the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the FDA.

After production resumes, Abbott said it will take eight to ten weeks before new products begin arriving in stores. The company didn’t set a timeline to restart manufacturing, which must be cleared with the FDA.

The FDA is expected to announce additional steps Monday evening to allow more foreign imports into the U.S. to address the supply problems. It comes as the administration of President Joe Biden faces intense pressure to do more to ease the shortage that has left many parents hunting for formula online or at food banks.

Abbott’s plant came under scrutiny in January when the FDA began investigating four bacterial infections among infants who consumed powdered formula from the plant. Two of the babies died.

In February, the company halted production and recalled several brands of powdered formula, squeezing supplies that had already been tightened by supply chain disruptions and stockpiling during COVID-19. The shortage has led retailers like CVS and Walgreen’s to limit how many containers customers can purchase per visit.

Outrage over the issue has quickly snowballed and handed Republicans a fresh talking point to use against Biden ahead of November’s midterm elections.

Abbott is one of just four companies that produce roughly 90% of U.S. formula, and its brands account for nearly half that market.

After a six-week inspection, FDA investigators published a list of problems in March, including lax safety and sanitary standards and a history of bacterial contamination in several parts of the plant.

Chicago-based Abbott has emphasized that its products have not been directly linked to the bacterial infections in children. Samples of the bacteria found at its plant did not match the strains collected from the babies by federal investigators. The company has repeatedly stated it is ready to resume manufacturing, pending an FDA decision.

Former FDA officials say fixing the type of problems uncovered at Abbott’s plant takes time, and infant formula facilities receive more scrutiny than other food facilities. Companies need to exhaustively clean the facility and equipment, retrain staff, repeatedly test and document there is no contamination.

On Monday, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told ABC News that an announcement was forthcoming about importing baby formula from abroad. The key issue is making sure the instructions for the formula are in languages that mothers and caregivers can understand, he noted.

Pediatricians say baby formulas produced in Canada and Europe are roughly equivalent to those in the U.S. But traditionally, 98% of the infant formula supply in the U.S. is made domestically. Companies seeking to enter the U.S. face several major hurdles, including rigorous research and manufacturing standards imposed by the FDA.

San Diego father Steven Hyde has faced heart-wrenching challenges finding formula for his medical fragile daughter, who was on an Abbott formula but has had to switch with the recall and subsequent shortages in other brands.

Zoie Hyde was born 19 months ago with no kidneys, a rare life-threatening condition that requires dialysis and a feeding tube until she weighs enough for a kidney transplant.

Hyde said he used an organic brand from overseas until costs and customs hurdles made that too difficult. Friends and strangers from out of state have sent him other brands, but each time she switches requires more blood tests and monitoring, Davis said.

Despite her challenges, Zoie is walking, talking and “doing pretty good’ on other developmental milestones, Davis said.

“She’s a shining light in my life,’ he said.

___

AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner contributed to this story from Three Oaks, Michigan.

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Why Elon Musk Is Having Second Thoughts About Buying Twitter, According to a Top Tesla Analyst

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Why Elon Musk Is Having Second Thoughts About Buying Twitter, According to a Top Tesla Analyst

Why Elon Musk Is Having Second Thoughts About Buying Twitter

Elon Musk says his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter is temporarily on hold because he is investigating how many of the platform’s users are real. It’s possible the world’s richest man didn’t conduct proper due diligence before submitting his offer. Or perhaps he’s having second thoughts about buying Twitter and looking for an excuse to back out.

The takeover, which has involved multiple investment banks and more than a dozen co-investors, now has a less than 50 percent chance of going through, according to Dan Ives, a Wedbush Securities analyst known for his coverage of Tesla stock.

“Our view is while Musk is committed to the deal, the massive pressure on Tesla’s stock since the deal, a changing stock market/risk environment the last month, and a number of other financing factors has caused Musk to get ‘cold feet’ on the Twitter deal,” Ives’ team wrote in a note to clients on May 16.

Ives added that the proportion of spam account on Twitter, which Musk claims is slowing down the deal, is “not a new issue and likely more of a scapegoat to push for a lower price.”

Under Musk’s agreement with Twitter, he will have to pay $1 billion in breakup fee if the deal falls apart.

Pushing for a lower price might be necessary, given Musk’s struggle finding the money to pay for the deal.

Tesla’s falling share prices complicates Musk’s plans

Musk has said he plans to sell $21 billion worth of his Tesla stock to fund the Twitter purchase. Tesla’s share price has fallen sharply in recent weeks, meaning that he would have to sell a lot more shares than he initially wanted to get the cash.

Tesla’s share price is down 28 percent since the acquisition was announced on April 24. The anticipation of Musk’s heavy unloading of his shares, Tesla’s manufacturing turmoil in China, and a broad market selloff all contributed to Tesla’s decline.

Yet Musk is pointing at Twitter for pausing the deal. He suspects bot accounts make up a bigger portion of Twitter users than the less than 5 percent claimed by the company. Since Musk said removing bot accounts is a key goal once he owns Twitter, he won’t move forward until he has definitive information about its user makeup.

The exact number of bot accounts is something that can only be calculated internally because it requires the use of private user information, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal explained in a series of tweets on May 16.

“We don’t believe that this specific estimation can be performed externally,” Agrawal wrote in one of the tweets, adding that, without private data such as geolocation and IP addresses, it’s not even possible to know which accounts are counted as daily active users.

Musk dismissed Agrawal’s arguments by replying with a turd emoji. In a text response later, he suggested bot information should be at least available to Twitter’s advertisers. “So how do advertisers know what they’re getting for their money? This is fundamental to the financial health of Twitter,” Musk tweeted.

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Park Square’s ‘Airness’ promises plenty of headbanging — and a message

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Park Square’s ‘Airness’ promises plenty of headbanging — and a message

It sounds silly at first blush. Yes, there are people who not only like to pretend that they’re playing rock guitar for arenas full of cheering throngs. What rock lover hasn’t done that at some point? But they actually compete against others for who does it with the greatest sense of style, realism and creativity.

Now if I tell you that there’s a play about a community of said imaginary guitar players who converge upon competitions around the country, you would be correct in assuming it’s a comedy. But it’s also a really well-crafted play, full of richly detailed characters with offbeat wisdom to share about getting in touch with yourself and your tribe.

“Airness” is currently receiving its Twin Cities premiere in Park Square Theatre’s first production since the pandemic’s arrival. Written by Chelsea Marcantel, it was among the most heralded new plays of late last decade, and Park Square’s production makes clear why. A topic that could invite derisive laughter instead inspires compassion for a group of people who may be linked by the act of pretending, but are some of the most real characters you may find on a local stage this year.

In the director’s chair is a veteran Twin Cities actor with a reputation for crafting vivid characters, Angela Timberman. Her clearly committed cast lends a verite vibe to a story centered around a seemingly absurd pursuit. And Marcantel has a marvelous ear for speech, both in the competitors’ banter and in captivating monologues when they set down their invisible guitars and talk about what truly drives them.

The plot unfolds over a series of regional air guitar competitions, newcomer Nina acting as our everywoman learning the tricks of the trade and finding acceptance within a supportive community of high-energy pantomime practitioners devoted to “melting faces and breaking hearts for 60 seconds.”

Yes, that’s how long you get to impress judges in an air guitar competition. And each of these artists seeks to not only wow spectators but tap into something deeper about what they want to tell the world (or at least a bar full of people) about themselves.

Nina gradually comes into her own with the guidance of analytical “Shreddy Eddy,” flamboyant “Golden Thunder,” open-hearted “Facebender,” and disdainful but eventually big-sisterly “Cannibal Queen.” They’ve become among the elite in their discipline with the help of tracks from the Ramones, Billy Idol and Queen, among others. Despite their posturing in the spotlight, they’re a vulnerable crew, and we come to see why this form of catharsis is so important to each of them.

Julia Valen’s Nina proves a fine guide to this milieu, endearing but occasionally explosive. And each of the others seizes at least one scene to command the stage. Such as when Daniel Petzold’s Facebender speaks of how a job dealing with death forced him to re-examine his life. Or Neal Skoy’s Shreddy Eddy poetically explains what Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” means to him.

If there’s a villain in this story, it’s Eric “Pogi” Sumangil’s “D Vicious,” who won the national championship last year, but is now turning a cold shoulder to his former support network. Yet he invites sympathy when we watch an endorsement opportunity shred his self-esteem.

But each actor offers a layered portrayal ideal for Marcantel’s pitch-perfect writing. Clad in the eye-catching costumes of Ash M. Kaun, they prove very enjoyable company, and may even inspire you to examine if you have enough self-expression in your life.

Rob Hubbard is a freelance Twin Cities arts writer. Reach him at [email protected]

‘Airness’

  • When: Through June 5
  • Where: Park Square Theatre, 20 W. Seventh Place, St. Paul
  • Tickets: $40-$16, available at 651-291-7005 or parksquaretheatre.org
  • Capsule: Outstanding writing and acting make a show about pretending disarmingly real.
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