Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 26, 2023

The Biden administration restores Tongass National Forest protections, the U.S. and Germany confirm plans to send Ukraine tanks, and more


Biden administration restores protections in Alaska's Tongass forest

The Biden administration on Wednesday restored protections against new roads and logging in more than half of Alaska's Tongass National Forest, the nation's biggest carbon sink. "As our nation's largest national forest and the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, the Tongass National Forest is key to conserving biodiversity and addressing the climate crisis," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. In early 2001, the outgoing Clinton administration added much of Tongass to its Roadless Initiative, but state leaders got the Trump administration to reopen it in 2020, saying the change would encourage economic development. The Forest Service has finalized the new rule, which is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Friday, and take effect immediately.


U.S., Germany confirm plans to send tanks to Ukraine

The United States and Germany on Wednesday confirmed reports that they would send heavy battle tanks to Ukraine in a major reversal. President Biden said the U.S. would provide Ukraine with 31 M1 Abrams tanks. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Berlin would send an initial delivery of 14 Leopard 2 tanks — and let European allies provide some of their German-made tanks — to help Ukrainian forces counter a new Russian offensive. The Pentagon had balked at sending Abrams tanks because they are hard to operate and maintain. The U.S. reversal helped break a diplomatic deadlock with Germany, which didn't want to send the more easily operated Leopard 2s until Washington committed tanks. Moscow called Berlin's move a dangerous provocation.


Russia hits Ukraine with wave of missiles, suicide drones

Russia fired missiles at Kyiv and other cities across Ukraine on Thursday, killing at least one person, Ukrainian officials said. Authorities said at least 30 Russian rockets had struck the Dnipropetrovsk, Vinnytsia, and Kyiv regions. "Explosions have been heard in Kyiv — stay in your shelters," Anton Gerashchenko, a senior interior ministry official, posted on the Telegram messaging service. The missiles followed a series of overnight drone attacks by Russia. Ukraine's air force said it shot down 24 Iranian-made suicide drones. The latest attacks came as Moscow warned of consequences from commitments by the United States and Germany to send dozens of modern Western tanks to Ukraine.


Meta to restore Trump's access to Facebook and Instagram

Meta Platforms said Wednesday it would restore former President Donald Trump's access to its Facebook and Instagram platforms. Meta suspended Trump's accounts the day after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack by a mob of his supporters seeking to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Biden. The social media company suspended Trump's accounts to avoid the risk of inciting more violence. Before he was barred, Trump had the most followed account on Facebook. "The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying — the good, the bad and the ugly — so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box," said Nick Clegg, Meta's president of global affairs. Twitter restored Trump's access in November.


Pope Francis says homosexuality 'isn't a crime'

Pope Francis told The Associated Press this week that laws criminalizing homosexuality are "unjust." "Being homosexual isn't a crime," Francis said in a Tuesday interview with the AP, adding that if it's a sin, so is not being charitable to gay people. The pope "acknowledged that Catholic bishops in some parts of the world support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against LGBTQ people," according to the AP, but he urged those bishops to welcome LGBTQ people into the church, saying God loves all his children as they are. Gay rights advocates said the comments, the first ever by a pope about anti-gay laws, amounted to a milestone, although they were consistent with Francis' previous statements against discrimination.


Abortion-pill maker sues West Virginia over ban

Abortion-pill manufacturer GenBioPro filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging a West Virginia law banning the medication. GenBioPro is one of two U.S. companies that make mifepristone, the first of two pills in a medication abortion regimen. The company argues it is unconstitutional for a state to ban the medication because the Food and Drug Administration has approved it, and federal law preempts state law when the two come into conflict. The case is the latest battleground over state attempts to restrict abortion since the Supreme Court's decision last June overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which had established a nationwide right to abortion. Abortion opponents filed a lawsuit in November challenging the FDA's approval of mifepristone more than two decades ago.


Students plan lawsuit over Florida rejection of African-American studies AP course

Three Florida high school students are threatening to sue Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) if the state Education Department doesn't reverse a decision to reject a new African-American studies Advanced Placement course, civil rights attorney Ben Crump announced Wednesday. "Ron DeSantis has clearly demonstrated that he wants to dictate whose history does — and doesn't — belong," Democratic state Rep. Fentrice Driskell said at the news conference announcing the lawsuit. The state, which has banned teaching critical race theory in schools, last week told the College Board, which oversees the AP program, that the course as currently designed is "contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value." The College Board said earlier this week it was revising the course.


Teacher's lawyer says Virginia school administration ignored reports 6-year-old had gun

Administrators were warned three times that a 6-year-old at the Newport News, Virginia, elementary school had a gun and "was threatening people" before he shot and wounded his teacher, Abby Zwerner, earlier this month, Zwerner's lawyer, Diane Toscano, said Wednesday. "The administration could not be bothered," Toscano told reporters. The school district did not immediately comment. The boy was taken into custody on Jan. 6 after allegedly bringing his mother's gun, which she legally purchased, to school and shooting Zwerner during a first-grade class. The school's assistant principal, Dr. Ebony Parker, resigned Wednesday, hours before the school board voted to oust its superintendent, Dr. George Parker III.


Tesla reports record profit but warns of economic uncertainty

Tesla on Wednesday reported record quarterly profit in late 2022 but warned it was facing an uncertain economic environment in 2023. The electric-car maker said its fourth-quarter profit rose 59 percent from a year earlier to nearly $3.7 billion, despite slowing vehicle delivery growth. The profit was slightly below the $3.8 billion analysts had expected. Sales came in at $24.3 billion, up 37 percent from a year earlier but below the $24.7 billion forecast by analysts surveyed by FactSet. Tesla acknowledged that its prices were "on a downward trajectory," but said recent cuts were "necessary to become a multi-million vehicle producer." The company vowed to preserve profit margins with "relentless cost control and cost innovation."


1 dead in Spain church machete attack 

A man wielding a machete killed a sexton and injured a priest at two Catholic churches in the city of Algeciras near the southern tip of Spain, the country's interior ministry said Wednesday. The suspect, who was not immediately identified publicly, was arrested and is being held by Spain's National Police. Authorities are investigating the attacks as possible acts of terrorism, but haven't yet determined "the nature of the attack," the interior ministry said. The assailant first entered the church of Maria Auxiliadora y San Isidro and seriously injured a priest, then went to the second church, Nuestra Señora de La Palma, which is a five-minute walk away. There he attacked the church caretaker, who ran outside and was killed in a public square.


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