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10 things you need to know today: January 21, 2016

Harold Maass
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Plunging oil prices send stocks plummeting further

U.S. stocks took another sharp dive on Wednesday after a 6 percent drop in oil prices stoked fears of a global economic slowdown. The Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly dropped more than 550 points — or more than 3 percent — before bouncing back and finishing down about 250 points, or 1.6 percent. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell by 1.2 percent before regaining some lost ground in afternoon trading. Oil prices have fallen by more than 20 percent this year. The U.S. benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, fell by 6.7 percent to close at $26.55 a barrel. [CNBC]


Potentially "crippling" winter storm takes aim on East Coast

A severe winter storm is headed for the East Coast at the end of this week. The National Weather Service warned that the some areas could get historic, "perhaps crippling" amounts of snow. Washington, D.C., and Baltimore could get 12 to 20 inches. "Potential life-threatening conditions [are] expected Friday night into Saturday night," the National Weather Service said. "Travel is expected to be severely limited if not impossible during the height of the storm Friday night and Saturday." [The Associated Press, The Washington Post]


Michigan governor releases emails on early reaction to Flint water crisis

Emails released by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) on Wednesday show that state officials at first dismissed complaints about the water quality in Flint after the financially strapped city switched its water source to the polluted Flint River in April 2014 to save money. Flint did not resume use of Lake Huron as its water source until October 2015 after tests showed elevated levels of lead in the city, which can cause brain damage. President Obama said it was "inexcusable" that families were not notified and the system fixed as soon as lead was detected in the water. [The Associated Press, Detroit Free Press]


2015 officially the hottest year recorded in the U.S.

Last year was the hottest year ever recorded, two U.S. government science agencies announced Wednesday. NASA reported that 2015 was 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the prior record, set in 2014. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, calculated an even bigger increase, by 0.29 degrees Fahrenheit. "It really underlines the fact that the planet really still is warming," said Gavin Schmidt, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA. The shift was aided by a strong El Nino weather pattern late in the year. [The Washington Post]


Walmart to hike wages of 1.2 million workers

Walmart said Wednesday that it was giving most of its U.S. employees raises on Feb. 20. In a bid to fight turnover, the retail giant is giving at least 2-percent pay increases to more than 1.2 million hourly workers. Walmart announced last February that it was raising its base wage for 500,000 workers to $9 an hour, with plans to bump that to $10 an hour next month. The company also said its new entry level workers would start getting $9 an hour at the beginning of this year, with a raise to $10 an hour after six months of training. [The Associated Press]


British report says Putin likely approved ex-spy's killing

Russian President Vladimir Putin "probably approved" the fatal poisoning of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, according to a report by retired British High Court Judge Robert Owen. Litvinenko died in a London hospital, where he was taken after drinking green tea laced with polonium-210, a rare radioactive isotope, during a meeting with two Russian associates at London's Millennium Hotel. Litvinenko was an outspoken Kremlin critic, and he said on his deathbed that Putin had ordered his murder. The Kremlin has denied involvement. [The New York Times]


Oregon governor urges feds to end siege at wildlife refuge

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) called on federal authorities Wednesday to end the occupation of a wildlife refuge's headquarters by armed protesters. "The residents of Harney County have been overlooked and underserved by federal officials' response thus far," Brown said. "This spectacle of lawlessness must end." The protesters took over the building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2 to protest prison terms for two local ranchers, then demanded that federal lands be turned over to ranchers. [CNN]


Detroit school district files suit over teacher sick-outs

Detroit's school district filed a lawsuit on Wednesday aiming to stop teachers from staging sick-outs — mass absences — that have closed schools and forced thousands of parents to find emergency child care. The latest sick-out, on Wednesday, shut down 85 of the district's 100 schools. Teachers have been protesting overcrowded classrooms, dilapidated buildings, low pay, and Gov. Rick Snyder's plans for addressing the district's troubles. The district is asking a judge for an injunction against the teachers' union, activists, and two dozen teachers to prevent further disruptions. [The Associated Press]


Astronomers find evidence of distant planet on outer edge of solar system

Two astronomers reported Wednesday that they have found evidence of a ninth planet in the solar system far beyond Pluto, which is 4.6 billion miles from the sun. Pluto has been deemed to small to qualify as a planet, but the scientists believe the one they are searching far is much larger. The astronomers have spotted six small bodies in elliptical orbits, all apparently circling something 20 billion to 100 billion miles away. Nobody has found the planet yet, said astronomer Michael E. Brown of the California Institute of Technology, but, "We are pretty sure there's one out there." [The New York Times]


Bills hire NFL's first female full-time coach

The Buffalo Bills on Wednesday hired Kathryn Smith as the NFL's first female full-time assistant coach. Smith will be the Bills' special teams quality control coach. She has already served as Coach Rex Ryan's administrative assistant, and as a player personnel assistant with the New York Jets. Ryan said Smith had done an outstanding job in her seven years on the team's staff, and "certainly deserves this promotion based on her knowledge and strong commitment." In July, the Arizona Cardinals hired Jen Welter to work with the team's inside linebackers as a preseason coaching intern. [USA Today]