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Friday, May 27, 2022

First Thing: west mulls Russian oil import ban over Ukraine invasion | US news

Good morning.

Moscow has stoked fears of an energy war by threatening to close a major gas pipeline to Germany after the US pushed its European allies to consider banning Russian oil imports over its invasion of Ukraine.

In an address on Russian state television, Russia’s deputy prime minister, Alexander Novak, said: “A rejection of Russian oil would lead to catastrophic consequences for the global market,” and claimed the price of oil could rise to more than US$300 a barrel.

Buses have begun leaving two devastated Ukrainian cities, Sumy and Irpin, in a fresh attempt to evacuate civilians, as the number of people fleeing the country from Russia’s onslaught passed 2 million and the WHO warned Ukraine was running out of vital medical supplies.

There was no certainty, however, over how long the evacuations would last. Previous efforts were abandoned after Russian forces continued to bombard residential areas and civilians trying to take the routes to safety themselves came under fire.

  • What has Joe Biden said about Russian oil imports? The president held a video conference call with the leaders of France, Germany and Britain yesterday as he pushed for their support to ban Russian oil imports. The US was, however, willing to move ahead without its European allies, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

  • What else is happening? Here’s what we know on day 13 of the Russian invasion.

  • About 66,000 Ukrainians have returned home to help from around the world. Here’s one man’s story about his journey from Portland to Ukraine’s frontlines.

Guantánamo Bay detainee allowed to return to Saudi Arabia after 20 years

The man was subjected to brutal interrogations that the war crimes commissions said amounted to torture
The man was subjected to brutal interrogations that the war crimes commissions said amounted to torture. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP


A man accused of attempting to join hijackers in carrying out the September 11 attacks has been repatriated to his home country of Saudi Arabia for mental health treatment after two decades detained at Guantánamo Bay, the US Department of Defense said yesterday.

Mohammad Ahmad al-Qahtani was flown back to Saudi Arabia, to a treatment facility, from the US base in Cuba after a review board including military and intelligence officials concluded he no longer represented a significant threat to US national security, and could be safely released after 20 years in custody.

The 46-year-old prisoner has suffered from mental illness, including schizophrenia, since childhood, according to medical examinations and records obtained by his lawyers.

  • What was his involvement in 9/11? According to a Guantánamo detainee profile maintained by the Defense Department, Al-Qahtani was trained by al-Qaida and sought unsuccessfully to enter the US on 4 August 2001 to take part in the 9/11 attacks.

  • Was he tortured? The man was subjected to brutal interrogations that the Pentagon legal official in charge of war crimes commissions said amounted to torture, including beatings, exposure to extreme temperatures and noise, sleep deprivation and extended solitary confinement.

Blow to Republicans as supreme court denies bid to overturn electoral maps

A demonstrator holds a sign during a Fair Maps rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court, in Washington, U.S., March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
A protester at a ‘fair maps’ rally in March 2019. Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

The US supreme court has rejected requests from Republicans in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to overturn electoral maps imposed by the state supreme court in both places that make elections more competitive.

The justices ruled 6-3 on Monday not to block the new North Carolina maps from going into effect, with justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas saying they would have paused the state supreme court’s ruling.

In the Pennsylvania case, there were no noted dissents from the court’s decision. That case will now go to a panel of three federal judges and Republicans can appeal a ruling from whatever they decide to the US supreme court in the future.

Both decisions are a win for Democrats politically, as well as voting rights groups that have turned to state supreme courts recently to try to police partisan gerrymandering. The US supreme court said in 2019 that federal courts could not police partisan gerrymandering, but said state constitutions could.

  • Why did Republicans say they wanted the US supreme court to block that map? They argued that the US constitution explicitly gives state legislatures the power to set the “time, manner, and place of elections”. By drawing new districts, they argued, the state supreme court has overstepped its authority.

In other news …

‘’‘肷’闼’В’Ukraine’s winners, gold medalist Iryna Bui, center, silver medalist Oleksandra Kononova, left, and bronze medalist Liudmyla Liashenko celebrate after the women’s middle distance standing event at the 2022 Winter Paralympics, Tuesday, March 8, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiama)
Ukraine’s Iryna Bui (centre), silver medalist Oleksandra Kononova (left) and bronze medalist Liudmyla Liashenko celebrate the podium sweep. Photograph: Shuji Kajiyama/AP
  • There were emotional scenes on day four of the Winter Paralympics in Beijing as Ukrainian athletes completed two podium sweeps at the National Biathlon Centre in Zhangjiakou. Tony Estanguet, the president of the Paris 2024 Olympic organising committee for the Olympics, said the Ukrainian athletes were competing in “extremely difficult conditions, but […] will be keen to defend the colours of their country”.

  • The juror in Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial who apparently did not disclose childhood sexual abuse during jury selection is scheduled to appear in court today for public questioning. Juror No 50, whose name is Scotty David, may receive immunity, which would require that he answer questions.

  • The World No 3, Alexander Zverev, has been handed a suspended eight-week ban from ATP-sanctioned events after an investigation into his conduct at the Mexican Open last month. The German repeatedly hit the chair of umpire Alessandro Germani with his racket at the end of a doubles match.

  • One person was killed and two others were critically wounded in a shooting outside an Iowa school, authorities said yesterday. Des Moines police said in a news release that gunfire that struck the victims on the grounds of East High School, near Des Moines’ downtown, appeared to come from a passing vehicle.

Stat of the day: half of US adults were exposed to harmful lead levels as kids, study finds

Downtown parking lots fill up in Los Angeles in 1979. The researchers looked only at lead exposure caused by leaded gasoline.
Downtown parking lots fill up in Los Angeles in 1979. The researchers looked only at lead exposure caused by leaded gasoline. Photograph: Wally Fong/AP

More than 170 million Americans who were adults in 2015 were exposed to harmful levels of lead as children, a new study estimates. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, they estimated that half the US adult population in 2015 had been exposed to lead levels surpassing five micrograms per deciliter – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention threshold for harmful lead exposure at the time.

Don’t miss this: confessions of a former pandemic shamer

Upset girl sitting in the dark while using her smartphone
‘I yearned for the partiers, the people posting as the virus raged, to be publicly shamed.’ Photograph: Brian Moore/Alamy

“If I followed me on Instagram, I would mute myself so quickly,” writes Shelby Lorman for Please Clap. “My posts were normal enough: mutual aid links, articles about the latest science from people I trusted, memes made by disabled friends about what it was like to be sick. But then I’d add selfies, below which I’d write paragraphs processing what it was like to watch others make different decisions than me during Covid. ‘I’m not going to look at some of you the same way again,’ one of my most memorable posts said.”

… or this: My time as an unqualified substitute teacher during the pandemic

Composite: virus particle; teacher with student; job vacancies board
All that was expected of me was to take attendance, maintain a low noise level, and make sure kids kept their masks on. Composite: The Guardian/Getty Images

Our nation’s public school system has long been mired in a substitute teacher shortage, which has only intensified during the pandemic. Long frustrated by low wages, substitutes – as well as other support staff workers – have been driven out of the profession, whether because of safety concerns, lack of childcare options or due to vaccine and mask mandates they believe to be government overreach. Joshua Needelman explains what it was like as a “a glorified babysitter” during the pandemic.

Climate check: Amazon rainforest tipping point is looming, data shows

Buttressed rainforest tree with lianas, looking up to the canopy, EcuadorDTB3A6 Buttressed rainforest tree with lianas, looking up to the canopy, Ecuador
The scientists say Amazon dieback has been having ‘profound implications at a global scale’. Photograph: Morley Read/Alamy

The Amazon is approaching a tipping point, data shows, after which the rainforest would be lost with “profound” implications for the global climate and biodiversity. Computer models have previously indicated a mass dieback of the Amazon is possible but the new analysis is based on real-world satellite observations over the past three decades. Novel statistical analysis shows that more than 75% of the untouched forest has lost stability since the early 2000s, meaning it takes longer to recover after droughts and wildfires.

Last Thing: Boy with uncombable hair syndrome becomes Instagram hit

Locklan Samples outside the family home in Roswell, Georgia.
Locklan Samples outside the family home in Roswell, Georgia. Photograph: Courtesy Katelyn Samples

Locklan Samples of Georgia has a rare condition that means his hair stands out from the scalp and cannot be combed flat. Scientists know of only about 100 cases and according to the National Institutes of Health there is currently no definitive treatment. After Locklan was diagnosed, his mother launched @uncombable_locks, an Instagram account featuring pictures of Locklan and his hair – and he’s become a big hit.

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