Daily briefing

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

Major assault on Kyiv could be imminent, Texas Supreme Court rejects challenge to abortion ban, and more

1

Major assault on Kyiv could be imminent

Ukrainian military officials expressed concerns Saturday that Russia could be preparing to encircle Kyiv and launch a full-scale attack on the city. So far, Russian forces have only probed the capital's defenses. Satellite photos taken late Thursday morning showed the 40-mile Russian convoy of vehicles, tanks, and artillery outside of Kyiv had split up and been redeployed. The convoy had been stalled for several days, with Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speculating the delay was caused by "logistics and sustainment challenges" and "resistance from the Ukrainians," while others blamed cheap Chinese tires. But the Pentagon said Thursday that the column has moved recently, with the lead vehicles now about 9 miles from Kyiv's center.

2

Texas Supreme Court rejects challenge to abortion ban

The Texas Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the state's Heartbeat Act, which bans abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, on Friday. Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, said the court's decision "closes the last back door" against legal challenges to the law. The Heartbeat Act was designed to escape judicial review in federal courts, as pre-viability abortion bans are considered unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade (1973). The Texas law empowers private citizens to sue anyone who "aids or abets" a woman in obtaining an abortion. Therefore, the Texas Supreme Court ruled, government and medical licensing officials cannot be sued over the law because they play no role in enforcing it.

3

A lack of pandemic funding could leave the U.S. vulnerable, experts warn

Congress this week failed to approve additional funding to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision experts warned could have "potentially devastating consequences" in the future. Though a $1.5 trillion package to fund the government (and also send aid to Ukraine) was passed, a measure to provide $15 billion in continued COVID-19 response funding was dropped from the bill. "These legislators are lulled in some type of trance, thinking the pandemic is over," said Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. "Haven't we learned anything in two years? I'm dismayed and disquieted about this, and I'm hoping that there is going to be some remedy."

4

Trump blocked from countersuing rape accuser

Former President Donald Trump is not allowed to countersue and seek financial damages from the writer who accused him of raping her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the mid-1990s, a judge ruled Friday. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan chalked up the former president's counterclaim against E. Jean Carroll to a "bad faith" attempt at delaying the case and said that, even if Trump could countersue, proving his claims in court would be "futile." Team Trump said it is "disappointed" with the court's decision, but nonetheless looks forward to "proving at trial that the plaintiff's claims have absolutely no basis in law or in fact," Trump's lawyer Alina Habba said in an email.

5

U.S. to scrap Russia's 'most favored nation' trade status

President Biden on Friday called for an end to Russia's "most favored nation" trade status, and said the European Union and G7 nations will be doing the same. Revoking the "most favored nation" status would allow for new tariffs on Russia. Ultimately, the decision will require approval from Congress, though the president is unlikely to encounter resistance. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had also asked Congress over the weekend to move to revoke Russia's trade status. The U.S. will also ban imports of alcohol, seafood, and diamonds from Russia, Biden said. Earlier in the week Biden banned the import of Russian oil.

6

Asian Americans 'have been discriminated against' by Virginia school system, federal judge says

U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton, who ruled last month that new admissions policies at a prestigious northern Virginia magnet school constituted illegal "racial balancing," denied on Friday a request to delay the implementation of his ruling. Fairfax County Public Schools argued that they cannot adjust their admissions policies with selection for next year's class already underway, but Hilton said they have had more than enough time to come up with a back-up plan. In an attempt to increase racial diversity at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the school board threw out the school's standardized admission test in 2020 and implemented a new system plaintiffs said discriminated against Asian American students.

7

Russia expands air war in Ukraine

With Russian ground forces continuing "to make limited progress," according to Friday morning's assessment from Britain's Ministry of Defense, Russia is increasing its air assault on Ukrainian cities. And Friday morning it expanded its targets to include the central-eastern city of Dnipro and Ivano-Frankivsk and Lutsk, both in western Ukraine. Russia said it struck military airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk in "high-precision, long-range attacks," and local officials said missiles did strike the airfields or at least near them, killing several people. Three Russian airstrikes were reported early Friday in Dnipro, killing at least one person. Ukrainian officials on Sunday said Russian forces were preparing to encircle Dnipro, an industrial hub on the Dnieper River.

8

Disney CEO apologizes for silence on 'Don't Say Gay' bill

Disney's CEO has apologized to staff for his earlier silence on Florida's controversial Parental Rights in Education bill, referred to by its opponents as the "Don't Say Gay" bill. In a letter to staff Friday, CEO Bob Chapek apologized for his decision not to speak out against the bill, which would ban schools from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity with younger kids, until it had already been passed. Chapek also announced Disney would develop a "new framework for our political giving" and will be temporarily "pausing all political donations" in Florida. He previously said the company has donated to Republicans and Democrats who have "taken positions on both sides of the legislation."

9

Google and Meta face antitrust investigations by EU, U.K. over ad deal

Google and Meta are facing two new antitrust investigations over a secret — and possibly illegal — ad deal. European Union and United Kingdom regulators have opened antitrust investigations into the two companies centered around their 2018 "Jedi Blue" advertising deal. The European Commission alleged that a 2018 deal between Google and Meta "may form part of efforts to exclude ad tech services competing with Google's Open Bidding program, and therefore restrict or distort competition in markets for online display advertising." The U.K's Competition and Markets Authority opened a parallel probe into the companies. The deal is already under investigation in the United States.

10

Bill Maher slams both parties for playing partisan politics with the war in Ukraine

Real Time host Bill Maher ended his show Friday night by slamming both parties for using Russia's invasion of Ukraine to score partisan points. "New rule: don't make World War III all about you," Maher said. The only conclusion anyone seems to be drawing from the war in Ukraine, he claimed, is that "everything proves what we already believed, and everything goes back to the thing we already hate." Maher pointed out headlines that showed Republicans blaming President Biden for the war and Democrats blaming former President Donald Trump. He also quoted Biden's comparison of the invasion to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and Trump's insistence that the crisis was caused by "a rigged election."

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