Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: May 12, 2022

Republicans block Senate Democrats' abortion-rights bill, Ukraine charges a Russian soldier with a war crime, and more

1

Republicans block Senate Democrats' abortion-rights bill

Senate Democrats failed to advance the Women's Health Protection Act, their bill seeking to codify abortion rights in federal law. The vote came as the Supreme Court's conservative majority is poised to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established abortion rights nationwide. Democratic leaders knew they didn't have enough support to get the legislation past a Republican filibuster, but they said they wanted to hold the vote so that every senator is on record about where they stand on ensuring women's access to abortion. The vote was 49 to 51, with all 50 Senate Republicans opposing it, and moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) joining them.

2

Ukraine files 1st war crimes charges against a Russian soldier

Ukraine's prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, said Wednesday that her office had filed its first war crimes charge against a Russian soldier since Moscow invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Venediktova said prosecutors have evidence that 21-year-old Sgt. Vadin Shyshimarin, who served in a tank unit, shot out of a car window and killed an unarmed 62-year-old civilian riding a bicycle in the northeastern village of Chupakhivka four days into the war. Venediktova did not say when the trial would begin. Shyshimarin, who is in Ukrainian custody, could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. Residents have told of numerous Russian atrocities, including killings and rape, since Russia withdrew from areas around Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, last month.

3

Finland's leaders back joining NATO

Finland's prime minister and president said Thursday that their country "must apply for NATO membership without delay." "NATO membership would strengthen Finland's security," President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a statement. "As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance." The announcement was expected. They said the next steps should begin within days. Finland's parliament must approve NATO membership before the country can apply. Public support for the move has risen dramatically since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Sweden, too, is considering joining NATO. Its leaders are expected to announce their position this weekend.

4

Inflation edged down in April but remained high

The consumer price index rose 8.3 percent in April compared to a year earlier, slightly slower than the 8.5 percent pace recorded in March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday. Prices were up 0.3 percent compared to the month before. In March, the month-to-month increase was 1.2 percent. Despite the slowdown, inflation remained near 40-year highs. Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, rose 0.6 percent in April, compared to a 0.3 percent increase in March. Economists warned that it's hard to predict what will happen next due to uncertainty about interest rates and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

5

Overdose deaths hit 2nd straight annual record in 2021

A record number of people — nearly 108,000 — died from drug overdoses in the United States last year, an increase of 15 percent that followed a catastrophic 30 percent surge in 2020, according to preliminary new data released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The surge brought total overdose deaths in the 21st century to more than a million, fueled in recent years by opioid abuse, the ever-worsening fentanyl crisis, and, starting in 2020, fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Drug overdoses long ago surpassed peak deaths from AIDS, car crashes, and gun violence. Drugs last year killed a quarter as many Americans as COVID-19.

6

N.Y. judge orders Trump to pay $110,000, lifts contempt finding

A New York judge on Wednesday ordered former President Donald Trump to pay $110,000 in fines for failing to comply with a subpoena from New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose office is investigating the business practices of Trump and his company, the Trump Organization. Judge Arthur Engoron agreed to lift a civil contempt finding against Trump, provided he meets several conditions, including paying the fine, by May 20. The conditions also call for the Trump Organization to provide sworn statements describing its document retention and destruction policy, and complete the review of five boxes linked to Trump that were in an off-site storage facility. James said the contempt decision showed that "no one can evade accountability."

7

Florida judge finds DeSantis congressional map unconstitutional

A Florida state judge on Wednesday said a congressional map pushed through the state legislature by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is unconstitutional, because it breaks up a predominantly Black district. Leon County Circuit Judge Layne Smith said he would issue a formal order this week to prevent the maps from being used in the November midterm election. Smith said the order will probably call for using one of two maps the legislature signed off on in March. Rep. Al Lawson (D-Fla.), who now represents the north Florida district that would be eliminated, said DeSantis' map blatantly favors Republicans and "diminishes African Americans' ability to elect representatives of their choice."

8

Biden unveils plan to boost food production

President Biden on Wednesday announced measures to boost domestic food production and reduce food costs to counter supply shortages caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which has disrupted crucial Ukrainian grain shipments. Biden said his administration will push to double funding for domestic fertilizer production, provide technical assistance to farmers, and expand insurance for "double cropping" — harvesting two crops in the same field in the same year. "Right now, America is fighting on two fronts," Biden said. "At home, it's inflation and rising prices. Abroad, it's helping Ukrainians defend their democracy, and feeding those who are left hungry around the world because Russian atrocities exist."

9

North Korea reports its 1st acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak

North Korea imposed a nationwide lockdown on Thursday after reporting its first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak. The country had already banned tourists, diplomats, aid workers, and most overland trade with China, but insisted for the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic that it had not detected any infections. State media said the BA.2 omicron subvariant of the coronavirus was discovered in a group of people from an unspecified organization in Pyongyang, all with fevers, triggering a "most serious national emergency." The isolated country's leader, Kim Jong Un, said in a ruling party Politburo meeting that workplaces should be isolated by units to prevent transmissions.

10

Catholic cardinal, 3 others arrested in Hong Kong

Hong Kong national security police on Wednesday arrested Cardinal Joseph Zen, the city's 90-year-old Roman Catholic bishop emeritus and an outspoken China critic. Three other pro-democracy activists — singer Denise Ho, lawyer Margaret ​Ng, and academic Hui Po-keung — were also arrested, in the latest sign of a Beijing-ordered crackdown on dissent. All four were trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which provided legal aid to participants in violently suppressed 2019 pro-democracy protests. Zen and the other three democracy advocates were charged with suspicion of colluding with foreign forces to endanger China's national security, reportedly for calling for sanctions against Hong Kong. The U.S. and the Vatican condemned the arrests. All four were released on bail.

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