Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 16, 2023

Austin discusses downing of drone with his Russian counterpart, Texas takes over Houston schools, and more


Austin discusses downing of drone with Russian counterpart

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday that he had spoken with his Russian counterpart in a rare phone conversation between the two sides to discuss the collision with Russian fighter jets that forced a U.S. surveillance drone to crash in the Black Sea near Ukraine. Austin declined to say whether Russia's defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, repeated Moscow's denial that one of its fighter jets had bumped into the American MQ-9 Reaper over international waters, forcing it down. Shoigu claimed U.S. drone flights near Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula now claimed by Russia, were "provocative in nature." Russia said Wednesday it would try to retrieve the U.S. drone.


Texas announces state takeover of Houston schools

Texas on Wednesday announced a state takeover of Houston's public school district in response to allegations of misconduct by school trustees and chronically low test scores at the district's 50 high schools. Houston has the eighth-largest school district in the country, with nearly 200,000 students. The takeover, one of the largest ever in the United States, deepened a rift between Democrats who have local control and Republicans who dominate the state government and have sought broader local authority after clashes over elections and pandemic restrictions. Democrats called the move announced by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's education commissioner, Mike Morath, a partisan power play.


Judge appears receptive to abortion-pill challenge

The federal judge in Texas who is considering a challenge against the abortion pill mifepristone appeared open on Wednesday to an antiabortion group's argument that federal regulators hadn't sufficiently vetted the drug, meaning it could be unsafe. U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk questioned whether mifepristone — part of two-step medication abortions — had met strict federal standards required for doctors to prescribe it. Kacsmaryk asked a lawyer for the group that filed the challenge whether a judge had the authority to unilaterally withdraw the Food and Drug Administration's approval, which came more than 20 years ago. Public health professionals said the challenge wasn't supported by scientific evidence and could disrupt the FDA's process for approving drugs.


French workers protest pension reform again before key vote

Opponents of the French government's proposed pension overhaul protested across the country on Wednesday ahead of lawmakers' final Thursday vote on the plan. Hundreds of thousands of people protested in cities across France. Striking workers disrupted rail service and closed schools in the eighth national work stoppage and protest in two months. President Emmanuel Macron says the reforms, which include raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, are necessary to keep the pension system financially sound. Protesters say Macron is taking away benefits people have earned. "Macron has not listened to us, and I'm no longer willing to listen to him," said Patrick Agman, 59, as he marched in Paris. "I don't see any other option than blocking the country now."


Credit Suisse gets $53.7 billion lifeline from central bank

Credit Suisse shares soared early Thursday after it said it would get up to $53.7 billion from the Swiss National Bank to shore up its finances after disclosing problems with its financial reporting. Swiss regulators and the country's central bank announced Wednesday they would throw Credit Suisse a lifeline, the first time a major bank has received such support since the 2008 financial crisis. Shares in Credit Suisse, the country's second-biggest bank, initially plunged when Ammar Al Khudairy, chair of the Saudi National Bank, said his institution, Credit Suisse's largest shareholder, could not invest any more in the company. The bank's struggles have stoked fears about the stability of the global banking system.


Imran Khan's supporters block Pakistan police from arresting him

Pakistan opposition leader Imran Khan greeted supporters outside his house in Lahore on Wednesday after police postponed efforts to arrest him on charges that he sold state gifts when he was prime minister. Hundreds of Khan's supporters blocked officers from entering Khan's home. Police carrying batons and riot shields fired tear gas canisters in an attempt to disperse the crowd. Khan backers threw rocks to keep law enforcement at bay. The officers withdrew after a court ordered a pause in the arrest attempt because the unrest was snarling traffic and disrupting a nearby cricket tournament. Khan, 70, accused the government of trying to intimidate his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. The government said he was using citizens as human shields to evade arrest.


Senate confirms former LA mayor Eric Garcetti as ambassador to India

The Senate on Wednesday voted 52 to 42 to confirm former Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti as President Biden's ambassador to India, ending a two-year battle. Three Democrats voted against Garcetti and seven Republicans voted for him. Garcetti's nomination almost collapsed over accusations that he was aware of misconduct and sexual harassment allegations against former top aide Rick Jacobs but failed to act. Garcetti has denied knowing anything about the allegations against Jacobs until they became public. His confirmation was a victory for Biden, who stuck by him. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said after a test vote and before the final confirmation that it was "incredibly important" to fill the position.


Stormy Daniels meets with prosecutors investigating Trump

Stormy Daniels met Wednesday with prosecutors investigating hush money paid to her by former President Donald Trump's representatives shortly before his 2016 election,  the porn star's lawyer has said. The news arrived as the ex-Trump lawyer who arranged the $130,000 payment, Michael Cohen, testified for a second day before the New York grand jury reviewing evidence in the case. Cohen has said he would cooperate with prosecutors, but not to seek revenge against Trump. "This is not about him. This is about holding accountability, truth to power, and everything else in between," Cohen said.


Audubon Society board votes to keep name despite slavery ties

The National Audubon Society's board of directors has voted to continue using the name of 19th-century naturalist and wildlife illustrator John James Audubon, despite calls to drop it because of Audubon's ties to slavery. A half dozen regional chapters have vowed to scrap the name under a broader effort to address racism in the environmental movement. The chair of the society's 26-member board said the vote from a Monday Zoom meeting didn't mean the organization was being insensitive. "The name has come to represent not one person, but a broader love of birds and nature," Bell told The Washington Post. "And yet we must reckon with the racist legacy of John James Audubon, the man." Three board members resigned after the vote.


Scientists create healthy mice from 2 male parents

Scientists have successfully created mice with two biologically male parents, according to new research presented at the Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing in London. The researchers manipulated the chromosomes of one of the mice to create an egg, "a significant advance with significant potential applications," said Keith Latham, a developmental biologist at Michigan State University. The eggs were fertilized by male sperm cells and implanted in female mice's uteruses. The embryos' survival rate was low. Only seven of 630 developed to become pups, but those seven grew normally into fertile adults. "This is the first case of making robust mammal oocytes from male cells," said Katsuhiko Hayashi of Kyushu University, who lead the research.


Global happiness has been 'remarkably resilient' over the past three years
cathedral in Finland.
it wasn't all bad

Global happiness has been 'remarkably resilient' over the past three years

Ignoring the evidence
Man in front of screen.
Editor's letter

Ignoring the evidence

Parasitic fungus that kills spiders discovered in Brazil
Trapdoor spider.
found fungus

Parasitic fungus that kills spiders discovered in Brazil

A giant 'blob' of seaweed heading toward Florida could 'wreak havoc' on the coast
Seaweed on Miami coast.
blob incoming

A giant 'blob' of seaweed heading toward Florida could 'wreak havoc' on the coast

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The truth about alcohol
Alcohol being poured into a rocks glass.

The truth about alcohol

Russia's spring Ukraine offensive may be winding down amid heavy losses
Ukrainian tank fires near Bakhmut

Russia's spring Ukraine offensive may be winding down amid heavy losses

North Korea claims 800,000 people volunteered to fight against the U.S.
North Korean soldiers march in a parade in 2018.
A Frightening Figure

North Korea claims 800,000 people volunteered to fight against the U.S.