10 things you need to know today: December 28, 2022
SCOTUS blocks Biden from lifting Title 42, Southwest Airlines' struggles continue, and more
Supreme Court blocks White House, keeps Trump-era border controls in place
In a 5-4 vote on Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the pandemic-era border restriction Title 42 can temporarily remain in place as it considers legal challenges brought by Republican-led states. The controversial policy, which is a public health measure and allows U.S. border agents to turn away asylum seekers at the border in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, has been a target of the Biden administration, which moved to end it in 2021 in order to return to regular immigration policies. Critics have expressed concern about the ability of the government to manage the influx of migrants that would follow the lifting of Title 42, while Justice Neil Gorsuch argued in his dissent that "the current border crisis is not a COVID crisis. And courts should not be in the business of perpetuating administrative edicts designed for one emergency only because elected officials have failed to address a different emergency."
DOT to investigate chaos at Southwest after airline cancels thousands more flights on Tuesday, Wednesday
Southwest Airlines canceled more than 60 percent of its flights for Tuesday and Wednesday as it continued to struggle to bounce back from ongoing "operational conditions" following the weekend's winter storms. "This is the worst round of cancelations for any single airline I can recall in a career of more than 20 years as an industry analyst," Atmosphere Research Group' Henry Harteveldt told The New York Times. Southwest said it could still be days before operations return to normal. While the weekend's storms were the catalyst for the problems, Southwest was "just not manned with enough manpower in order to give the scheduling changes to flight attendants, and that's created a ripple effect that is creating chaos throughout the nation," Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556, explained to CNN's Pamela Brown. The U.S. Department of Transportation tweeted that it was concerned by "Southwest's unacceptable rate of cancelations" and would investigate "if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan."
Russia to ban sale of oil to countries that impose price cap
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday that Russia will ban oil sales for five months to countries that honor a price cap set by the West in an effort to hamper Moscow's stream of funds for its war in Ukraine. The $60-a-barrel price cap, which was reached by the U.S. and other G7 nations, Australia, and the EU, went into effect on Dec. 5. "The cap has been set close to the current price for Russian oil," CNBC writes, "but far below the prices at which Russia was able to sell it for much of the past year, when windfall energy profits helped Moscow offset the impact of financial sanctions." Russia said its ban will come into force on Feb. 1, 2023, and applies until July 1, 2023, and allows Putin to make exceptions in special cases. "All in all, this is a sign that Russia is in a vulnerable situation, needs oil revenues, and therefore cannot take drastic retaliation measures," Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels, told The Wall Street Journal.
Military police enforce driving ban in Buffalo
Officials extended a driving ban in Buffalo on Tuesday, with "100 military police and additional [state troopers]" helping local police enforce "traffic control and ticketing" following the region's massive winter storm that left more than 30 dead. Seven additional storm-related deaths were confirmed Tuesday by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown's office. The dead "have been found a number of different ways," a Mayor's Office spokesman said. "They have been found in stranded vehicles, they have been found on sidewalks, near street corners, some have been found in snowbanks. Some have been found because some have been without power since the storm began." More than 40 inches of snow blanketed the county over Christmas weekend, with state Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) emphasizing that the woes of New York's second-most populous city are not yet over. "Maybe the severity is downplayed now, and right now, it's not as bad as it had been over the last couple days," Hochul said, "but it is still a dangerous situation to be in."
Tensions flare between Serbia and Kosovo
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he will "take all measures to protect" ethnic Serbians and put his nation's army at its "highest level of combat readiness" as tensions flared Tuesday with Kosovo. In 2008, Kosovo won independence from Serbia, though Belgrade "still considers Kosovo to be an integral part of its territory and rejects suggestions it is whipping up tensions and conflict within its neighbor's borders," Reuters explains. The current standoff stems from a dispute over license plates; Kosovo wants the 50,000 Serbs living in its north to switch from Serbian plates to ones issued by Pristina. Serbs in the ethnically divided Kosovar city of Mitrovica erected roadblocks on Tuesday in protest, prompting Vucic's threats against Pristina if the government retaliates. Kosovo called on NATO peacekeepers, some 3,700 of whom are staged in the country, to remove the roadblocks. Threatened by a second war on the continent, the European Union called for "maximum restraint and immediate action" to resolve tensions, but "any kind of inadvertent spark could really set this off at this point," the Atlantic Council's Damir Marusic told Semafor.
Man sentenced to 16 years in prison for plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
A man convicted of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) was sentenced on Tuesday to 16 years in prison. Adam Fox, 39, was convicted by a jury in August of conspiracy. According to prosecutors, Fox and a number of far-right co-conspirators had attempted to kidnap Whitmer from her home in 2020 in an effort to start a national uprising. Court documents obtained by The New York Times showed that Fox had called Whitmer a "tyrant," argued against her statewide COVID-19 restrictions, and pushed for a second American revolution. Fox was facing up to life in prison for his actions, a sentence that prosecutors had pushed for. However, while U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker agreed that Fox was guilty of "incredibly serious activity," per the Times, he told the court, "I don't think life is needed to achieve the important public deterrent factors," and handed down his 16-year decision.
Stock in China's largest funeral home soars as Beijing walks back 'zero COVID'
Stock in China's largest funeral and burial services provider, Fu Shou Yuan, is skyrocketing as Beijing steps away from three years of strict zero-COVID policies. Since the end of October, stock in Fu Shou Yuan has risen 80 percent, with "significant traction" coming in "the past few days," according to Quartz: it rose by 22 percent on Dec. 23, and again by 10 percent on Dec. 27. Over the weekend, Beijing announced that it will stop publishing daily COVID-19 information as infection surges — local governments are counting hundreds of thousands of new cases a day — prompting the U.S. and other nations to consider new measures on travelers from China even as it walks back from its own strict quarantine restrictions. "[T]he sudden reversal of China's 'zero COVID' policy caught hospitals off guard," The New York Times' Isabelle Qian said. Though 90 percent of Chinese citizens are reportedly vaccinated, rates among the elderly are significantly lower and only 40 percent of people have gotten a booster; additionally, many lack natural immunity from previous COVID waves.
Report: Brazil's Bolsonaro to skip successor's inauguration for Mar-a-Lago vacation
Brazil's outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro will reportedly skip his successor's inauguration, and plans to spend New Year's Eve at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, instead. After narrowly losing re-election to President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, this past fall, Bolsonaro largely receded from public life, refusing to officially concede his electoral loss. Now, according to multiple reports across Brazilian media and confirmed by Globo News White House reporter Raquel Krähenbühl, Bolsonaro has begun telling close friends that he will not be in the country to hand over the presidential sash to Lula, and will instead be relaxing at Mar-a-Lago, from which former President Donald Trump has been running his 2024 re-election campaign. The reports come amid growing concerns that Lula's inauguration is being targeted for terrorist violence, with incoming Justice Minister Flavio Dino announcing plans to bolster security for the event after authorities arrested a man allegedly in the midst of a bomb plot.
Tesla shares continue tailspin
Tesla shares closed down 11 percent at $109.10 on Tuesday in what was the company's worst day in eight months and marked a more than two-year low for Elon Musk's electric vehicle maker. The stock has lost more than half its value since the start of October, and plunged 44 percent for December — "by far its worst month ever, as it had never fallen more than 25 percent in a single month," CNBC writes. Some investors blame Musk for "triggering the selloff because of his Twitter engagement, his Tesla stock sales, the potential for margin calls, and his off-color tweeting," Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., writes at The Wall Street Journal. The tailspin, which also followed a report of the company's plans to reduce production at its Shanghai plant, bumped Tesla out of the 10 biggest public companies in the U.S. this week. "At the same time that Tesla is cutting prices and inventory is starting to build globally in face of a likely global recession, Musk is viewed as 'asleep at the wheel' from a leadership perspective," wrote Wedbush Securities' Dan Ives on Tuesday.
Pope Francis asks for prayers for 'very sick' Pope Benedict
Pope Francis asked his audience for prayers for his predecessor, Pope Benedict, on Wednesday at the Vatican, describing the 95-year-old as "very sick." Benedict, who served as the head of the Church from 2005 until his resignation in 2013, is experiencing a "deterioration due to the advancement of [his] age," a spokesman subsequently confirmed, adding, "the situation at the moment remains under control and continually monitored by his doctors." In 2018, Benedict, then 90, wrote a letter to the public describing himself as "inwardly … on a pilgrimage toward Home," and the Vatican reported he suffered from a "painful but not serious condition" in 2020.