Start your day here: The U.S. considers moving troops to Eastern Europe

Published January 24, 2022 at 8:26 AM EST
Civilian defense volunteers train on Saturday in a forest in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Sean Gallup
Getty Images Europe
Civilian defense volunteers train on Saturday in a forest in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Good morning,

Here's what we're following today:

The U.S. considers sending troops to Eastern Europe: With 100,000 Russian troops massed at the Ukraine border, the U.S. is preparing for a possible incursion by reducing staff at its embassy in Kyiv and sending aid to Ukrainian military forces.

Omicron update: New COVID-19 cases are still at record levels in parts of the South and West, but the Northeast and Midwest appear to be past the peak, leaving experts cautiously optimistic.

Thierry Mugler's architectural styles: The fashion designer was a favorite of stars like Lady Gaga and Cardi B. We look back at some of his signature work.

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily podcast, jury selection begins today in Sarah Palin's defamation suit against The New York Times.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Carol Ritchie, Rachel Treisman, Nell Clark and Matt Adams)


Gonzaga says John Stockton can’t attend its basketball games after he refuses to wear a mask

Posted January 24, 2022 at 11:58 AM EST
Gonzaga University has suspended season tickets for former Utah Jazz legend John Stockton over his refusal wear a mask at its basketball games.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Hulton Archive
Gonzaga University has suspended season tickets for former Utah Jazz legend John Stockton over his refusal wear a mask at its basketball games.

Gonzaga University has suspended the season basketball tickets of John Stockton, after the former NBA great refused to obey school rules about wearing a face mask indoors.

Stockton grew up going to Gonzaga games, and his jersey hangs is in the rafters in The New Kennel -- the nickname for Gonzaga’s basketball arena in Spokane, Wash. But Stockton, who has spoken out against vaccines, says the school’s athletic department has taken his tickets away over the mask issue.

“Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit,” Stockton told The Spokesman-Review over the weekend.

Stockton predicted that the dispute won’t ruin his long-term relationship with his alma mater. But his anti-mask stance has highlighted Stockton’s participation in a documentary that promotes COVID-19 conspiracies, titled COVID and the Vaccine: Truth, Lies and Misconceptions Revealed.

In that video, Stockton rails against lockdowns. He also said he knew “by my significant amount of research” that what political leaders were saying about pandemic measures wasn’t true.

The former Gonzaga and Utah Jazz star also put forth a claim that has been disproven: that more than 100 vaccinated pro athletes had dropped dead during competition.

“I think it’s highly recorded now, there’s 150 I believe now, it’s over 100 professional athletes dead — professional athletes — the prime of their life, dropping dead that are vaccinated, right on the pitch, right on the field, right on the court,” Stockton said in one video clip, according to The Spokesman-Review.

Gonzaga has required all students and staff to be vaccinated since the start of its fall semester. The university also “requires masks to be worn in indoor congregate settings by everyone on campus," regardless of their vaccination status.

The athletic department’s rules initially allowed spectators to lower their masks when they were eating or drinking, but the school recently decided to suspend food and drink concessions at games, making anyone not wearing a mask even more conspicuous.


Businessman and Mavs owner Mark Cuban launches an online pharmacy for generic drugs

Posted January 24, 2022 at 11:56 AM EST
Dallas Mavericks team owner Mark Cuban wears a shirt honoring former player Dirk Nowitzki during a ceremony honoring his Nowitzki's career and retiring his No. 41 jersey at American Airlines Center on January 05, 2022 in Dallas, Texas.
Tom Pennington
Getty Images North America
Dallas Mavericks team owner Mark Cuban's new online pharmacy says it can bypass health care industry “middlemen” and help consumers avoid high drug prices.

Dallas Mavericks owner and businessman Mark Cuban has launched an online pharmacy for generic drugs that promises steep discounts over traditional distributors.

The Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company online pharmacy launched on Wednesday, shortly after Cuban also established his own pharmacy benefit manager.

The pharmacy says it can bypass health care industry “middlemen” and help consumers avoid high drug prices by charging manufacturer’s prices plus a flat 15% markup and pharmacist fee. For instance, the site offers metformin, a common drug used for treating diabetes, for $3.90 for a 30-day supply, compared with a retail price of $20.

“All drugs are priced at cost plus 15% ! Sign up and share your thoughts and experiences with us !” Cuban tweeted last week.

The company cited a Gallup poll released in September that found that 18 million Americans reported being unable to afford at least one doctor-prescribed medication in the previous three months.

"The markup on potentially lifesaving drugs that people depend on is a problem that can't be ignored,” Alex Oshmyansky, CEO of Cuban’s online pharmacy, said in a statement. “It is imperative that we take action and help expand access to these medications for those who need them most."

Dream job alert

So you want to be the landlord-king of a remote English island

Posted January 24, 2022 at 11:39 AM EST

In the era of the Great Resignation, one particular job posting is getting a lot of attention online.

The Barrow-in-Furness Borough Council is looking for the next landlord of Piel Island, a scenic, 50-acre landmass half a mile off England’s northwestern coast that is home to wildlife, castle ruins and a centuries-old pub. The local government is hoping to award the 10-year lease to one lucky applicant by the time the 2022 season starts in April.

The landlord will primarily be responsible for running the beloved pub The Ship Inn, as well as maintaining other parts of the island such as its small campsite, according to the posting.

“The successful applicant will need to be dedicated to their role on Piel — an absolute jewel in the borough’s crown — while taking care of the many people who visit the pub each year," said Councillor Ann Thomson. “While there are periods when the pub and the island is bustling with people, there will be periods of quiet too — something the successful applicant will need to embrace."

The lucky hire won't just be able to add "landlord" to their résumé — they'll be able to add "monarch," too.

That's according to the tradition of the king and knights of Piel, as the government explains.

"The tradition holds that each new landlord is crowned 'King of Piel' in a ceremony of uncertain origin, in which they sit in an ancient chair, wearing a helmet and holding a sword while alcohol is poured over their head," it writes. "By the 19th Century it had become an important aspect of the islands history to such an extent that responsibility for looking after the helmet and chair fell within the tenancy agreement."

Visitors can see the island for themselves by taking a 12-person ferry that runs from Roa Island between April and September. It's also possible to walk across the sand with a local guide during periods of low tide and good weather.

The tourist appeal comes largely from the island's castle ruins and natural environment. It has a long and fascinating history, with evidence of human occupation spanning some 3,000 years.

The island was given to the Savignac monks in 1127 as part of their original land for the construction of an abbey. It was a key player in the smuggling business in the 14th century and became known for its contributions to shipping, industry and customs collection after that. The entire island was given to the town of Barrow-in-Furness in 1920 as a memorial to those killed in World War I.

The ruins of the 14th century fortress are managed by English Heritage, which says parts of the former castle — which was built to guard against Pirates and Scots raiders — are still standing.

The Ship Inn, which provides the island's food and drink, is said to be more than 300 years old. It became especially popular with boaters in the late 19th century (sometimes too popular, as it was blamed for drunken accidents on at least one occasion).

As the coronavirus pandemic raged and the island's previous leaseholders quit, supporters rallied to save the pub with a petition.

In the job posting, Thomson thanked council staff who helped prepare the pub and island for reopening in 2021 "in a very short space of time," and the Piel Island Pub Company for stepping in to make sure the pub could reopen as soon as possible after the pandemic.

The island is due for a number of improvements starting in the coming season, she said, such as replacing the bathrooms and considering alternative energy sources.

“We look forward to the doors of The Ship Inn reopening again for 2022 and the bright future it has ahead of it," she added.

Michigan school shooting

Students have returned to Oxford High School nearly 2 months after the deadly attack

Posted January 24, 2022 at 10:55 AM EST
A purple and yellow sign reading "Oxford High School" covers a brick wall, with flower bouquets placed on top and two teddy bears on the ground.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Stuffed bears and flowers are left at a makeshift memorial outside of Oxford High School last month in Oxford, Mich.

Students are back in the newly renovated halls of Oxford High School in Michigan, nearly two months after a gunman fatally shot four students and injured seven other people. A 15-year-old student has been charged.

The building had been empty since the Nov. 30 shooting and recently underwent renovations. High-schoolers began the new semester on Jan. 10 with a hybrid schedule and classes held at the middle school building, according to the district.

Principal Steve Wolf welcomed students back with a brief video message released Sunday, in which he characterized the return as a reclamation of the high school.

"We've been through so much to get to this moment," he said. "We've been grieving together, we've been praying together, we've attended funerals, vigils and memorials. And we have been absolutely heartbroken. And we've been angry. Yet we've been determined to carry on."

Wolf acknowledged the process will be difficult, as students and staff are still grieving, but said the past few weeks have continually shown the strength of the community. He said "numerous" mental health resources will be available upon students' return, and officials have asked the media to avoid school grounds until further notice.

"And students, remember: Being Oxford strong means asking for help when you need it, because we're all going to need some help getting through this," he said.

He also thanked the outside groups, law enforcement officers, mental health experts and community members for their support and help in the return-to-school planning.

The renovations include new paint, ceiling tiles, carpet and wall graphics — as well as lockers adorned with heart- and snowflake-shaped notes of encouragement handwritten by elementary and middle school students, according to ABC affiliate WXYZ in Detroit.

Superintendent Tim Throne said a temporary community memorial had been removed from school property ahead of Monday's return at the advice of trauma specialists.

Families will be able to choose items from the memorial — which he said has been professionally 3D scanned — to keep, and all other items will be put into storage as the community plans for a more permanent tribute.

Here's more on prosecutors' case against the shooting suspect and his parents.


The architectural style of Thierry Mugler

Posted January 24, 2022 at 10:45 AM EST
Rapper Cardi B wears a Thierry Mugler design as she arrives with rapper Offset at the Grammy Awards in 2019
Valerie Macon
AFP via Getty Images
Rapper Cardi B wears a Thierry Mugler design as she arrives with rapper Offset at the Grammy Awards in 2019

French fashion designer Manfred Thierry Mugler's signature style could be summed up in one Cardi B dress — highly constructed and outlandishly dramatic.

Mugler, who died Sunday at 73, launched his brand in 1973 and defined haute couture over several decades. He became known for his architectural style, defined by broad shoulders and a tiny waist, The Associated Press reports.

Lady Gaga walks the runway during the Thierry Mugler show during Paris Fashion Week in March, 2011.
Francois Durand
Getty Images Europe
Lady Gaga walks the runway during the Thierry Mugler show at Paris Fashion Week in March 2011.

Mugler's theatrical creations made him a favorite of performers such as Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Diana Ross, as well as other celebrities like Kim Kardashian West.

His knack for drama extended beyond the runways and galas. He was a dancer, an acrobat and a bodybuilder, and he was fascinated with the human body as art. In 2010, The New York Times described him as a “240-pound spectacle of muscle and nipple and tattoo.

Dancers perform in a 2014 dress rehearsal "The Wyld - Not of this world," a show directed and designed by Mugler, in Berlin.
Britta Pedersen
DPA/AFP via Getty Images
Dancers perform in a 2014 dress rehearsal of "The Wyld -- Not of this world," a show directed and designed by Mugler, in Berlin.
A costume at the "Thierry Mugler : Couturissime" exhibition at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris in 2021.
Christophe Archambault
AFP via Getty Images
A costume at the "Thierry Mugler: Couturissime" exhibition at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris in 2021.

Mugler's death was announced on his Instagram account. No cause was given.

Manfred Thierry Mugler in 2014 in Berlin, surrounded by Nofretete and Aliens, characters from his "Wyld" show.
Christian Marquardt
Getty Images Europe
Mugler is surrounded by Nofretete and Aliens, characters from his "Wyld" show in 2014 in Berlin.

He was the second legendary fashion icon to die this month. André Leon Talley died last week at age 73, reportedly of a heart attack.


Burkina Faso may be experiencing a coup attempt

Posted January 24, 2022 at 10:35 AM EST
People on motorbikes cheer.
Olympia de Maismont
AFP via Getty Images
People gather to support the military in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on Sunday.

Burkina Faso's president is reportedly being detained by mutinous soldiers, several Western media outlets report.

International watchers are closely monitoring the situation in the West African nation on Monday after gunfire broke out at several army barracks Sunday and soldiers began rebelling. Media outlets report that gunfire could be heard around the presidential residence in the capital of Ouagadougou.

Details of the situation are scarce, but sources tell The Associated Press and Reutersthat mutinous soldiers have placed Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré under arrest.

The government of Burkina Faso is disputing reports that Kaboré has been detained and his whereabouts remain unclear. Minister of Defense Aime Barthelemy Simpore admitted some soldiers were mutinying. "Well, it's a few barracks. There are not too many," Simpore told state broadcaster RTB.

Citizens have been criticizing the government's handling of the fight against Islamic militants. Jihadist violence has displaced more than 1.3 million Burkinabè in close to two years, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports.

If Burkina Faso is experiencing a coup, it would be part of a wave of military takeovers that has hit Africa in recent months, toppling leaders across the continent.

Read more on the situation in Burkina Faso here.


Proceedings begin in the trial of 3 officers charged in George Floyd’s death

Posted January 24, 2022 at 10:26 AM EST
This combination of photos provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office in Minnesota on  June 3, 2020, shows, from left, former Minneapolis police officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office
Federal prosecutors say former Minneapolis police officers (from left) Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao violated George Floyd's civil rights by failing to provide him with medical aid during the arrest.

Opening statements are set to begin Monday in the federal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers who participated in the deadly arrest of George Floyd in 2020.

Federal prosecutors say Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane violated Floyd's civil rights by failing to provide him with medical aid during the arrest. Thao and Kueng are also charged with failing to stop fellow officer Derek Chauvin's use of force. Chauvin was convicted of Floyd's murder in state court last year.

Federal prosecutions of police officers are rare, and legal experts say this case is different because the defendants are not accused of killing Floyd but rather with enabling Chauvin, The Associated Press reported.

The federal jury in St. Paul will have to decide if they believe Thao, Kueng and Lane broke the law based on what the former officers didn’t do for Floyd, rather than what actions they did take during the arrest.

Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as Floyd repeatedly told officers “I can’t breathe” before he became unresponsive and died. Video of the arrest sparked a worldwide protest movement over police accountability and racial justice.

Kueng knelt on Floyd's back during the arrest and Lane held down his legs, while Thao kept bystanders at bay, the AP reported.

Chauvin is currently serving a 22 1/2-year prison sentence after being found guilty by a Minnesota jury of Floyd’s murder. Last month, he pleaded guilty to federal charges of depriving Floyd of his civil rights, resulting in Floyd's death.

Thao, Kueng and Lane are scheduled to face a separate state trial in Minnesota later this year.

Uncharted waters

A luxury cruise ship rerouted to the Bahamas over an arrest warrant for unpaid fuel

Posted January 24, 2022 at 10:11 AM EST
A white cruise ship sales on blue waters against a blue sky with fluffy white clouds.
Bruce Smith
The cruise liner Crystal Symphony leaves the harbor in Charleston, S.C. , in 2013. A 2022 trip by the ship ended in a lawsuit-fueled detour.

A luxury cruise ship that was scheduled to dock in Miami this past weekend made a surprise detour to the Bahamas after a U.S. judge ordered it to be seized as part of a lawsuit over unpaid fuel.

The Crystal Symphony was supposed to wrap up its Caribbean voyage in Miami on Saturday, according to operator Crystal Cruises. The online tracker Cruise Mapper clocked it Monday afternoon local time at a port in Bimini, the part of the Bahamas closest to the mainland U.S.

The change in plans appears to have been triggered by a lawsuit filed against the cruise line in a Miami federal court on Wednesday.

Peninsula Petroleum Far East sued Crystal Cruises and Star Cruises (which are both owned by Genting Hong Kong) and the Crystal Symphony ship, accusing the vessel and its managers of breach of maritime contract and asking the court to take it into custody. The six-page filing says the entities owe a combined $4.6 million in fuel. NPR has reached out to Crystal Cruises for comment.

Crystal Cruises announced that same day that it would suspend operations for its ocean and expedition ships through the end of April and for its river cruises through the end of May, saying the decision would give the company's management team time to evaluate the state of business and potential future options.

“This was an extremely difficult decision but a prudent one given the current business environment and recent developments with our parent company, Genting Hong Kong,” said Jack Anderson, Crystal’s president. 

It said the three ships currently in operation — the Crystal Symphony, another in the Caribbean and one in Antarctica — would complete their voyages by the beginning of February.

District Judge Darrin Gayles issued a warrant for the ship's arrest on Thursday. That's the process by which a U.S. marshal boards the ship and physically takes charge of it, putting it in the possession and jurisdiction of the court.

It is not clear how many passengers were on the ship at the time — the company says it can hold 848 guests, and The Associated Press says different outlets have reported conflicting numbers of 300 and 700.

A spokesperson for the company told NPR in an emailed statement that passengers were given accommodations on the ship for Saturday night, and about 300 guests were later transferred via ferry to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The cruise line arranged ground transportation to local airports as well as PortMiami.

"This end to the cruise was not the conclusion to our guests’ vacation we originally planned for," they said, adding that the company cannot currently comment on pending legal matters.

The diversion — and underlying legal troubles — apparently came as a surprise to those on board, according to social media posts and passenger interviews.

"Sadly, Crystal Cruises is another casualty of the pandemic. It just declared bankrupcy [sic] and is docked in the Bahamas instead of Miami to avoid confiscation due to unpaid debts," Steven Heard Fales wrote on Facebook. "We all feel we were abducted by luxurious pirates!"

Musician Elio Pace, who boarded the ship on Tuesday and planned to stay until Feb. 23, wrote on Facebook that on the night of his first show, the captain notified those on board that Genting Hong Kong had gone into liquidation and the ship would cease to sail when it reached Miami. He said passengers were told they would need to disembark the ship and find their way home.

"Would you believe me if I told you that yesterday, Friday, (the night of my second show) after all arrangements had been set for flights, car hire etc by all disembarking passengers and crew, we were notified by the captain that the ship was no longer sailing to Miami and was instead diverting to Bimini in the Bahamas where we would arrive tomorrow, Sunday, and disembark from there?" he continued, adding that he felt most for the staff and crew who consider the ship their livelihood.

Pace told the AP that some 30 to 50 crew members disembarked because their contracts ended, while another 400 don't know when they'll get off or whether they'll keep their jobs.


Australian Open forbids ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ T-shirts, in a new controversy

Posted January 24, 2022 at 9:58 AM EST

Australian Open organizers have blocked a protester wearing a T-shirt asking “Where is Peng Shuai?” from attending the event. But activists who are concerned for the Chinese athlete’s safety are doubling down on their efforts, and they’re drawing support from some current and former players.

“I find it really, really cowardly,” tennis great Martina Navratilova said on the Tennis Channel. “This is not a political statement, this is a human rights statement.”

Peng's status has been an open question since November, when she accused a man who was once in the inner circle of China's ruling Communist Party of sexual assaulting her.

Tournament security personnel in Melbourne confiscated a banner with the message and told a woman to change her T-shirt on Friday, stating that the message was political -- and thus not allowed into the arena where the Grand Slam event is being played. Activist Drew Pavlou says a new fundraising campaign aims to pay for a thousand of the shirts to be distributed at the arena.

Tennis Australia said the security guards acted correctly by not allowing the banner and shirts, citing its longstanding policy barring political messages. But the explanation quickly triggered criticism that organizers are bowing to China’s influence by categorizing a question about Peng's whereabouts as a political statement.

French player Nicolas Mahut asked whether organizers’ views might be tainted by a lucrative sponsorship deal with a Chinese liquor brand -- a high-profile court is currently named 1573 Arena, and the logo is plastered on walls around the venue.

Peng, 36, has won doubles titles at Wimbledon and the French Open. But she fell out of public view in November, after she accused a former Communist Party official of sexual assault. Peng said her encounters with Zhang Gaoli began 10 years ago, when Zhang was one of the most powerful people in China.

Peng’s post to social media was soon deleted, and after weeks of silence, she emerged in late December to deny ever making such an accusation. Her well-being became a cause for concern beyond the sports world, with both the Women's Tennis Association and Amnesty International speaking out on her behalf. WTA officials received an email in mid-November that was purportedly from Peng, but they said they doubted its authenticity.

“It’s just been absolutely heartbreaking to see what has happened” to Peng, retired U.S. player Lindsay Davenport said on the Tennis Channel. She added, “People in tennis, we want to see her. She was a real part of this Tour. But most importantly, we want to know she’s OK.”

The dispute over the Peng T-shirts comes after the Australian Open’s first week was overshadowed by superstar Novak Djokovic’s legal battle to compete in the tournament despite not being vaccinated -- a fight that resulted in his deportation.


A court in the U.K. says Julian Assange can keep fighting his extradition to the U.S.

Posted January 24, 2022 at 9:24 AM EST

The High Court in London ruled on Monday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can appeal to the U.K.'s Supreme Court against extradition to the United States, where he faces espionage charges over the publication of thousands of leaked military and diplomatic documents more than a decade ago.

Assange's lawyers have 14 days to submit their application to the Supreme Court, which will decide whether to hear the case, according to the BBC.

In December, a British appellate court opened the door to his extradition by overturning a lower court ruling that deemed his mental health too fragile to withstand the U.S. criminal justice system.

The lower court had previously denied extradition on health grounds, saying harsh U.S. prison conditions could lead to the deterioration of Assange's mental health, and potentially to suicide attempts. The U.S. successfully appealed after making some assurances about how it would treat the 50-year-old in custody.

"What's changed now is that following some pretty unprecedented assurances from U.S. authorities about the way he will be held in detention once he arrives in the U.S. — if he arrives in the U.S. — the High Court judges here in London have ruled that because of those assurances, they no longer have the concerns of that lower court from earlier this year," London-based journalist Willem Marx toldMorning Editionin December. "And they therefore see no reason why they should not allow the U.S. to extradite him."

U.S. authorities told British judges that Assange — who is facing a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison — would be eligible to serve any time he receives in his native Australia. They also promised he wouldn't be held at the notoriously strict supermax penitentiary in Florence, Colo., or in solitary confinement.

In his Monday ruling, Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett noted that "assurances [over treatment] are at the heart of many extradition proceedings" and raised a legal question about the circumstances surrounding them — in this case, the fact that they were provided during the appeals process instead of from the outset.

"Although the law in this jurisdiction has long been settled, it does not appear that the Supreme Court has considered the question," he wrote, according to Sky News.

Assange faces 18 federal counts — 17 of espionage and one of computer misuse — in the U.S. over WikiLeaks' publication of thousands of leaked documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Prosecutors accuse him of conspiring with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to compromise government computer networks and obtain and publish classified documents.

Assange has been outside of the U.S. for nearly a decade. He sequestered himself inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 to avoid an extradition order over a criminal inquiry in Sweden, and remained there until his expulsion in April 2019. He has been in London's Belmarsh prison ever since.

Monday's ruling is being hailed as a partial victory by Assange's supporters, including his fiancée and press freedom organizations. They are applauding the court's decision to allow Assange to appeal to the Supreme Court but have long argued the charges relating to publishing government documents should be dropped altogether.

"What happened in court today is precisely what we wanted to happen," Stella Morris, Assange's fiancée, told reporters. "The High Court certified that we had raised point of law of general public importance and that the Supreme Court has good grounds to hear this appeal ... Make no mistake, we won today in court. But let's not forget that every time we win, as long as this case isn't dropped, as long as Julian isn't freed, Julian continues to suffer."

Reporters Without Borders praised the decision in a tweet, while the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement that it "cautiously welcomed" the ruling.

“The prosecution of the WikiLeaks founder in the United States would set a deeply harmful legal precedent that would allow the prosecution of reporters for news gathering activities and must be stopped," CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney said. "We strongly encourage the U.S. Justice Department to halt extradition proceedings and drop all charges against Assange.”

Amnesty International went a step further, saying the High Court had certified "one narrow issue" related to the U.S.' assurances but accused it of dodging its responsibility on the issue of torture and other mistreatment in U.S. federal prisons.

“The ban on torture and other ill-treatment is absolute and cannot be upheld by simple promises from a state that it won’t abuse people," said Massimo Moratti, Amnesty International’s deputy research director for Europe. "The Supreme Court should have had the opportunity to deliberate and rule on all of the points of law raised by Assange at this crucially important point but the High Court has limited its scope to do so. If the question of torture and other ill-treatment is not of general public importance, what is?"

Moratti said its scope of Assange's appeal is limited by the High Court's ruling — meaning any case the Supreme Court chooses to hear will be focused on what stage in extradition hearings the requesting state should offer assurances.


As threat of Russian invasion of Ukraine looms, U.S. considers sending troops to the region

Updated January 24, 2022 at 11:46 AM EST
Posted January 24, 2022 at 8:26 AM EST
A soldier is pictured through a tunnel opening walking through a snowy path.
Anatolii Stepanov
AFP via Getty Images
A Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman walks along a snow-covered trench on the front line with the Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Lugansk region of Ukraine on Friday.

Tensions appear to be growing between the U.S. and Russia over fears of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Russia denies any such plans, but it has amassed more than 100,000 troops to the south, east and north of Ukraine, and President Vladimir Putin has been making demands of the West.

The U.S. is preparing for a possible incursion by reducing staff levels at its embassy in the capital, Kyiv, and sending aid to Ukrainian military forces. While Ukraine is not a formal U.S. ally, several of its neighboring nations are part of the U.S.-led NATO alliance, and NPR has confirmed that President Biden is considering sending additional U.S. troops to those countries.

President Biden is set to hold a secure video call from the Situation Room on Monday at 3 p.m. ET about Russia and Ukraine, with allies from the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom, as well as with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, the White House said.

The U.S. State Department has also issued a security alert warning U.S. citizens in Belarus to avoid public demonstrations and "regularly reevaluate possible departure plans in the event of an emergency," citing the "concerning reports of further unusual Russian military activity near Ukraine’s borders."

And on Monday, NATO said Denmark, Spain, Bulgaria and the Netherlands are sending more warships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe, while Irish officials warned Russia that war games planned in international waters some 150 miles off its coast are "simply not welcome and not wanted right now," according to The Associated Press.

The U.K. has also begun to withdraw staff from the British embassy in Kyiv — though staff working at the European Union Embassy will remain in place for now, with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell saying it sees "no reason to dramatize the tensions between Ukraine and Russia."

"[Diplomatic efforts] are still underway, but this weekend seemed to show developments moving in the opposite direction," NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre told Up First. Keep reading for his analysis.

On a potential deployment of U.S. troops:

U.S. officials say Biden is considering sending up to 5,000 troops to NATO countries in Eastern Europe. The plan emerged as Biden met with his national security team at Camp David over the weekend, but no final decision has been made.

Notably, the U.S. already has tens of thousands of troops in Western Europe, some of which could be moved further east to places like Poland and Romania.

As of now, there is no indication that the U.S. or NATO is prepared to send troops directly into Ukraine.

"If Russia invades, Ukraine would be largely on its own against this much stronger Russian military," Myre explained. "But if the U.S. and NATO do move troops into Eastern Europe ... this would be a direct challenge to Russian leader Vladimir Putin."

After all, Putin is demanding that NATO remove the relatively small number of troops that are already there.

On international warnings about potential Russian moves

Other countries are sending public warnings about Russia's potential plans in Ukraine. The U.S. last week accused Russia of trying to create a pretext for invading Ukraine, while the U.K. warned over the weekend of an alleged Russian plot to install a pro-Kremlin leader in Kyiv.

Here's more on Yevheniy Murayev, who was named in the statement as the top contender.

Myre says that while Britain didn't elaborate or offer evidence, it's significant that the government went public with this sensitive information "apparently in an attempt to head off any such Russian moves if they are indeed in the works."

While U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that efforts are still focused on diplomacy and there could be more talks with Russia, Myre notes that they didn't see any breakthroughs during the intensive talks of the last two weeks.


COVID may have peaked in some areas, but death rates are still rising in others

Posted January 24, 2022 at 8:25 AM EST
A nurse in a blue surgical gown leans over a hospital bed. The nurse wears a mask over their entire head with a clear front panel, as well as a face mask over their nose and mouth.
Karen Ducey/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
A nurse wearing a powered air-purifying respirator called a PAPR administers care in the acute care COVID-19 unit at the Harborview Medical Center on Friday in Seattle.

New COVID-19 cases are declining sharply in parts of the Northeast and Midwest, while many places in the South and the West continue to hit record highs.

NPR's Allison Aubrey joined Morning Edition with the latest on the coronavirus and where the county stands in regards to omicron's peak. Listen here.

Aubrey reports declines are most significant in places across the country that were the first to see a surge in omicron cases, including New York City and Washington D.C. Falling case numbers there could indicate those areas have already reached their peak. But in places such as Utah, Tennessee and Alabama, cases remain high.

Look at COVID rates in your area

Even with cases appearing to peak in some areas of the country, the level of loss of life is still extraordinarily high and deaths continue to rise, reports Aubrey. The U.S. is averaging just under 2,000 deaths a day from the coronavirus, up from 1,200 in early January, and hospitals in many areas are so packed they're turning away patients.

Some models suggest deaths will begin to decline soon in the coming weeks, signaling the worst could be behind us. Even so, millions have been sickened during the omicron surge of the coronavirus and more variants could emerge in the future. There is room for optimism, though.

"Scientists know the virus will continue to mutate, but there is a consensus that given the extraordinary high number of people being infected during this surge, and the fact that that so many of us have protections from the vaccines and boosters, we are in a much better situation," says Aubrey.

While the coronavirus isn't going away, new therapies to treat COVID might make future outbreaks more manageable, as well as novel developments in how scientists track the virus.

Meanwhile, Pfizer and Moderna are both working away at a vaccine for kids under 5 in the hopes of submitting it for FDA authorization in the coming months. NPR spoke to pediatricians for advice on how to keep unvaccinated young ones safe until those vaccines are widely available; read more here.