A pair of cruise missiles slammed into a residential high-rise in Kyiv Thursday, injuring 10 people in Russia’s first strikes on Ukraine’s capital city in nearly two weeks. The attack came just hours after United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres toured parts of Kyiv devastated by Russia’s invasion, and just minutes after he’d wrapped up a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Zelensky said the timing of the missile attacks showed Russia was seeking to humiliate the United Nations and everything it represents. Guterres reiterated the U.N.’s call for a ceasefire and said his priority is to ensure Moscow and Kyiv set up evacuation and aid corridors in Ukraine that are truly safe.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “Today Ukraine is an epicenter of unbearable heartache and pain. I witnessed that today very vividly today around Kyiv, the senseless loss of life, the massive destruction, the unacceptable violations of human rights and the laws of war. It is vital that the International Criminal Court and other U.N. mechanisms conduct their work, so that there can be real accountability.”
The German and Austrian energy companies Uniper and OMV say they’ve agreed to Russia’s demands that purchasers of Russian oil and gas open accounts in a Russian bank and pay in rubles. The Italian energy giant Eni is also reportedly in talks to make ruble payments for Russian gas. Earlier this week, the EU accused Russia of “blackmail” after it shut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, which had refused to pay in rubles. The Russian state-controlled firm Gazprom continues to supply Europe with about 40% of the natural gas it consumes.
NATO said Thursday it’s ready to support Ukraine’s military in its fight against Russia for years, if necessary. The military alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, spoke from the 2022 NATO Youth Summit in Brussels on Thursday.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: “There is absolutely the possibility that this war will drag on and last for months and years. … NATO allies are preparing to provide support over a long period of time.”
In Washington, D.C., President Biden has asked Congress for an additional $33 billion in economic and military assistance to Ukraine. His request came as Congress voted overwhelmingly to revive the Lend-Lease Act that the U.S. used to arm its allies during World War II. Biden’s latest request includes $20 billion to purchase new weapons, including anti-tank and anti-air systems, helicopters, drones, grenade launchers and millions of rounds of ammunition. Speaking from the White House, Biden rejected charges that the U.S. is using Ukraine to wage a “proxy war” against Russia.
President Joe Biden: “We’re not attacking Russia; we’re helping Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression. And just as Putin chose to launch this brutal invasion, he could make the choice to end this brutal invasion. Russia is the aggressor, no if, ands or buts about it.”
CodePink’s Medea Benjamin noted Biden’s call for $33 billion for Ukraine is over half the entire budget of the State Department and USAID. Benjamin called Biden’s request “a down payment on World War III” and added, “We need diplomacy, not billions more in weapons!”
The United Nations warns human activity has damaged and degraded up to 40% of the world’s land, reducing the fertility of soil and stripping it of native trees, vegetation and biodiversity. The report by the U.N.'s Convention to Combat Desertification finds most of the damage is caused by food production, risking the ability of nations to continue feeding Earth's growing population.
A new study in the journal Science finds the climate crisis poses the largest risk to marine animals since an asteroid impact wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. The study found about a third of all the animals in the ocean could vanish within three centuries unless humanity takes dramatic steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With strong action to halt the climate crisis, the study found, up to 70% of extinctions could be prevented.
The World Health Organization warns cases of measles rose nearly 80% in the first two months of this year, after millions of children missed out on routine vaccinations due to the coronavirus pandemic. Measles cases are skyrocketing in Afghanistan, where the Taliban government says at least 16,000 children have been infected so far this year, leading to at least 130 deaths.
Human rights groups are sounding the alarm over a surge of executions in Iran. In 2021, at least 333 people were put to death, a rise of 25% from the previous year, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights and France’s Together Against the Death Penalty. About a third of those executions were for drug-related offenses. Groups say many of these cases lacked sufficient evidence or relied heavily on confessions obtained through torture.
The Oklahoma Legislature has approved another Republican-led bill banning abortions after just six weeks of pregnancy. The measure now goes to Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, who is expected to sign it. The bill is modeled on Texas’s anti-abortion law that took effect in September. It allows any state resident to sue doctors who perform abortions or anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion — with rewards of at least $10,000 for those who are successful. This comes less than two weeks after Governor Stitt signed into law a total ban on abortion in Oklahoma that makes the procedure a felony punishable with up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. Oklahoma state Senator Carri Hicks was among minority Democrats who objected to the legislation.
Sen. Carri Hicks: “Forbes ranks Oklahoma number 51 out of 50 states for quality of life for women. We don’t have any further to fall, and yet we are trying to prove how much worse we can make things for women through these types of legislation.”
Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp has signed a raft of bills overhauling public education in the state, including one banning books deemed to be “offensive” from school libraries. Another bill bars classroom discussion of so-called divisive concepts pertaining to race. The Protect Students First Act also empowers an athletic oversight committee to exclude transgender children from playing high school sports. In a statement, Human Rights Campaign wrote, “Self-serving politicians, catering to an extreme portion of their party’s base, are showing that they’re willing to harm vulnerable kids who just want to play with their friends.”
Meanwhile, Governor Kemp has signed a bill instituting a flat rate for state income taxes that will disproportionately benefit wealthy Georgians.
A new analysis of Fortune 100 investor filings shows that 19 of the most profitable corporations in the United States are paying little or no federal income tax. The Center for American Progress found AT&T and Dow Inc. paid zero federal income taxes last year — despite nearly $30 billion in earnings, AT&T reported a tax refund of $1.2 billion. Meanwhile, Amazon, ExxonMobil, Verizon, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and others paid extremely low tax rates.
In related news, shares of Meta — the parent company of Facebook and Instagram — rose by over 17% Thursday, making founder Mark Zuckerberg nearly $11 billion wealthier in just one day.
President Biden on Thursday confirmed he is looking into taking executive action to cancel an unspecified amount of federal student debt in the coming weeks.
President Joe Biden: “I am considering dealing with some debt reduction. I am not considering $50,000 debt reduction. But I’m in the process of taking a hard look at whether or not there are going to — there will be additional debt forgiveness.”
In response, the Debt Collective demanded the White House cancel more student loan debt, writing in a statement, “For millions of borrowers, many of whom owe six figures, $10,000 or $50,000 of relief barely provides a dent in the amount of debt they hold. … If Biden were to cancel $10,000 for all 45 million borrowers we’d still have a massive student debt crisis on our hands.” Some Democrats and progressive lawmakers have also been pressuring Biden to cancel at least $50,000 in student debt — if not more. This is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaking Thursday.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer: “I again call on the president to take action, which he can do on his own, and hit the financial reset button for millions and millions of Americans. President Biden has done the right thing by continuing the moratorium on student loan payments. His actions have saved millions from financial ruin during the COVID crisis. But borrowers don’t just need their debts paused; they need them erased.”
The Food and Drug Administration has published its plan to prohibit the sale and manufacture of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. Menthol cigarettes are even more addictive — and deadly — than regular cigarettes. The FDA estimates a ban could save 633,000 lives by 2050, with the benefits felt most in the African American community, which for years was targeted by Big Tobacco’s ad campaigns promoting menthol brands such as Newport and Kool. A 2018 survey found 85% of Black smokers prefer menthol cigarettes.