Hope you had a good week. Here's today's rundown:
Ukraine latest, including NATO meetings, assassination squads and a change in tactics
SCOTUS Aftermath: What's next for Ketanji Brown Jackson
Covid: "Stealth omicron" gaining some steam in the US
A not-so-Sweet 16 for two #1 seeds last night
Academy Awards preview: Who is nominated and who is even going to watch?!
The British Royal apology tour
What We're Watching / Reading / Eating
Quick personal note: I had the chance to speak to journalism students at California State University Channel Islands on Thursday about getting started in journalism and the state of the industry. I try to speak to students and groups of all ages about media literacy, journalism and the news media so please email me if you are interested.
And thanks as always for spending some time with this newsletter. Don't forget to spread the love and tell your friends to subscribe.
President Biden heads to Poland today--where 2.2 million Ukrainian refugees are currently staying--to see the humanitarian crisis first hand. That will include meetings with aid workers helping Ukrainian refugees and US troops. Yesterday, Biden met with NATO leaders in Brussels in an emergency summit. Some takeaways:
The United States said it would welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war. Sources tell NBC News that "the plan would let vulnerable Ukrainians, specifically activists, journalists and those who are part of the LGBTQ community, to safely enter the U.S. at least temporarily."
The US expects most Ukrainian refugees would prefer to stay in eastern Europe, closer to family.
The G19 or the G21? When asked by a reporter, Biden said Russia should be removed from the G20 (aka the forum of the 20 biggest economies), further isolating the Kremlin from the international community. If other G20 members didn't agree, Biden says Ukraine should then be allowed to participate in the group’s meetings. ~ NY Times
A New Warning: Biden said Thursday that if Russia were to use chemical weapons in Ukraine, it would trigger "a response in kind" from NATO. ~ Axios
Biden added: "NATO has never, never been more united than it is today. Putin is getting exactly the opposite of what he intended to have as a consequence of going into Ukraine." ~ NPR
Ukraine already alleges Russia is using white phosphorus bombs. The use of phosphorus --a highly toxic chemical substance notorious for the severity of the injuries it causes - is banned in heavily populated civilian areas under international law. ~ NBC News
Reminder: During the Syrian Civil War, the Obama Administration, UK and France said the use of chemical weapons would be a ‘red line’ and the US would have to intervene. Dictator Bashar al Assad (who was being assisted by Putin) repeatedly used chemical weapons on his own people. But the world never backed up the warning. ~ France 24
Going on Offense: Ukrainian troops pushed Russian forces that have been positioned outside Kyiv for weeks as much as 15 miles further back, according to senior US defense officials. The Russian forces are now nearly 40 miles outside of the capital. ~ Foreign Policy
“As we see, their Army is bullshit,” a Ukrainian official said, referring to Russian conscripts who lack training, and thought they were just being sent for a training mission over the winter. Russia’s strategy is an effort “to try to beat us with [sheer] numbers of their troops,” the person said. “They’re trying to fight an ancient war, like in the 19th century. They don’t act like a modern army.”
President Zelensky told NATO leaders that Russia used phosphorus bombs in attacks on Ukraine: "This morning we had phosphorus bombs from Russia, people were killed, children were killed." The Pentagon hasn't been able to confirm. He thanked NATO for their support, but called on them to do more.
“So far we haven’t received a single plane” from NATO, he said. “You have at least 20,000 tanks. Ukraine is asking for 500. From all of your tanks, just 500 — give them to us, sell them to us. So far we haven’t got a clear answer.” ~ LA TIMES
Assassination Threat? The U.K. said that Russian mercenary company Wagner Group is being used by Russia to assassinate Zelensky. It didn’t provide evidence. Wagner was used in Russia’s covert interventions in Ukraine in 2014. The armed group is funded by politically-connected Russian businessmen. ~ WSJ
ICYMI: Check out our interview from Wednesday going inside Russia with perspective on how average Russians and the oligarchs are reacting to the war and the sanctions. Worth the read or the watch.
Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson survived 24 hours of sometimes grueling questioning at the Senate Judiciary Committee over two days this week, but appears to be headed toward confirmation. ~ ABC News
Jackson employed the 'say little-to-nothing' playbook that has been by previous justice nominees at hearings, not expressing opinions on most topics that could become the court.
Republicans zeroed in on Jackson's time as a judge and attempted to portray her as weak on crime---including the sentences she gave out in several child porn cases.
Conservative Andrew McCarthy, a former prosecutor, has been calling out Republicans for hypocrisy on the issue, noting that Congress has been absent on this issue. ~ National Review
Midterm messaging was on display as Sen. Ted Cruz was among Republicans who sought to tie her to Critical Race Theory. "The point seemed less about Jackson's views and more about the GOP's midterm messaging. This is one area Republicans believe they can use to appeal to suburban, particularly white, moms," NPR reports.
Republicans used the hearing to air grievances about past nominees including Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
What's Next: Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill) said the committee will consider her nomination on Monday. Democrats are on track to meet their goal of a full Senate confirmation vote by April 8, when the Senate goes on recess.
No GOP Boycott: Republican senators also said they do not plan to take steps to significantly delay or block the confirmation--which could have slowed down the process.
Who's In, Who's Out: The big question seems to be whether Jackson will have any bipartisan support. Less than a year ago, three Republicans voted to elevate Jackson to the appellate court: Lindsey Graham (SC), Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AL).
Given his testy line of questioning at this week's hearings, Graham does NOT appear to voting yes this time around.
Collins told the NY Times she's still studying the matter, and Murkowski could not be reached for comment.
There's also Sen. Mitt Romney (UT), considered another undecided Republican. He called out members of his own parties for their attacks, adding "there is no there, there." Romney will meet her after the hearings and then make his decision.
Some of the more poignant moments from her hearing:
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) brought Jackson to tears talking about what her nomination as the first Black woman justice means to him: "You got here how every Black woman in America who has gotten anywhere has done... You are worthy. You are a great American... it's hard for me to sit here and not see my mom." WATCH
In a message that resonated with working moms everywhere, Jackson said in her opening statement (with her daughters sitting behind her): “I know it has not been easy as I have tried to navigate the challenges of juggling my career and motherhood. And I fully admit that I did not always get the balance right. But I hope that you have seen that with hard work, determination, and love, it can be done.”
"I’m fairly certain womenfolk everywhere saw themselves in that statement and felt something deep inside their souls." ~ Washington Post
Another Notable Takeaway: Jackson said if confirmed she'd recuse herself from an upcoming case that challenges Harvard's race-conscious admissions policies. Jackson is a Harvard grad who currently sits on the university’s Board of Overseers.
BA.2--the newest Omicron variant--is now the dominant strain in the New York region, making up 52% of Covid cases, up from 39% a week ago. Its share is also going up nationally. ~ NBC New York
More Contagious, Not More Severe: Dr. Fauci says the BA.2 variant is about 50-60% more contagious than the the original omicron variant (which was more contagious than Delta, which was more contagious than the OG coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China... you get the picture). However, BA.2 does not appear to be any more severe than the previous Omicron variant according to what they are seeing in China.
What Happens in Europe: BA.2 is one of the main reasons for a surge in cases across Europe, from Germany to the UK to the Netherlands. Other factors: The lifting of nearly all Covid restrictions and waning immunity from vaccines and booster shots.
Eek: “There are also quite a few reports that people who have got an omicron infection, or BA.1 variant, then a few weeks later got BA.2 infection." ~ CNBC
Despite BA.2's spread, there is still a big push to ease some of the remaining Covid restrictions. The CEOs of 10 US-based airlines including American, United and Delta wrote a letter urging President Biden to end a federal mask mandate on airplanes and testing for foreign travelers. ~ Bloomberg
Vaccine Update: Moderna says in the next few weeks it will submit a request to the FDA to approve its 2-dose vaccine for children ages 6 months to under 6 years of age. The company said the vaccine proved only about 44 percent effective in preventing symptomatic illness among children 6 months to 2 years old, and 37 percent effective in children 2 through 5.~ NPR
Meanwhile, a new poll from Pew Research Center finds the coronavirus is the 15th most important issue for voters, behind pretty much everything else...
Men: Two more No. 1 seeds went down Thursday night. No. 4 seed Arkansas took down the No. 1 Overall seed Gonzaga 74-68. That came as No. 5 Houston defeated No. 1 Arizona 72-60. That now leaves No. 1 Kansas as the only top seed left. The Jayhawks face off against No. 4 Providence tonight.
The 2022 Oscars is Sunday at 8pm ET on ABC. Wanda Sykes, Regina Hall, and Amy Schumer will host. (They're the first hosts since Jimmy Kimmel in 2018.)
In an effort to streamline the ceremony (quite controversially), eight awards will be presented BEFORE the live telecast, including Documentary Short, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling and Original Score. ~ Entertainment Weekly
For the first time ever there will be a fan-voted award. Audiences could vote for their favorite movie of 2021 via Twitter using the #OscarsFanFavorite hashtag. The winner will be announced during the ceremony.
We at Mo News are trying to get the #StopTheSequels hashtag trending instead.
In case you're like us and can't remember any movies that came out this year, these are the ten films nominated for Best Picture: The Power of the Dog, Dune, Belfast, CODA, Don't Look Up, Drive My Car, Dune, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley and West Side Story.
BTW, if CODA wins, Apple will win its first-ever Oscar. The same Apple that makes the iPhone. Puck News reports that Apple spent about $20-$25 million in awards marketing on CODA, plus all the Apple-owned platforms and billboards in key markets.
Having said all that, what do people care about less than Covid right now? The Oscars...
🗞 OTHER BIG HEADLINES
Companies like Google will no longer be able to collect data from different services to offer targeted ads without users’ consent and that Apple may have to allow alternatives to its App Store on iPhones. Violators of the law, which will take effect as early as later this year, could face penalties of up to 20 percent of their global revenue for repeat offenses. (NY Times)
He expressed his “profound sorrow” for slavery during a visit to Jamaica, though he stopped short of offering the apology demanded by protesters who are also seeking reparations for Britain’s role in the slave trade. It comes as the Jamaica prime minister said that the British commonwealth intends to become fully independent in an unexpected announcement that comes as other countries consider cutting ties with the monarchy. (AP)
Uber, longtime foe of the taxi industry, has made a deal to integrate New York City’s iconic yellow cabs in its app. The agreement, which is set to go into effect later this spring, means that roughly 14,000 taxis will be able to receive trip requests from Uber customers. (The Verge)
Gasoline prices have been fluctuating but could continue to spurt higher, sending prices above $5 and $6 per gallon in more parts of the U.S. as summer driving season approaches. (CNBC)
In messages to chief of staff Mark Meadows in the weeks after Election Day, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas called Joe Biden’s victory “the greatest Heist of our History” and told him that President Donald Trump should not concede. (Washington Post)
Season 2 offers a more conventional (and, sadly, far less horny) follow-up, centered on Daphne’s imperious older brother Anthony and his pursuit of the perfect-on-paper Edwina Sharma despite his irrepressible attraction to her marriage-phobic older sister Kate. (Washington Post)
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[Top Photo Banner Credit: Photo by Henry Nicholls - Pool/Getty Images]