Happy Friday! An Australian man is facing charges for allegedly “kidnapping” a platypus from a local waterway, wrapping it in a towel, and introducing it to commuters—a tragic case of show-and-tell gone wrong.
And on a completely unrelated note, Happy Easter to all those celebrating this weekend. He is risen!
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- Israel launched airstrikes at targets in Gaza and Lebanon early Friday morning after about 35 rockets were fired from Lebanon into northern Israel Thursday afternoon. The cross-border fighting marked the most significant escalation in hostilities between the two countries since the 2006 war. A spokesman for the Israeli military said Hamas was behind the attacks from Lebanon, though no group claimed responsibility.
- Azerbaijani security forces arrested six people accused of planning an Iranian-backed coup to oust Baku’s secular government and replace it with an Islamic, pro-Iran regime. In a separate announcement, the Azerbaijani government said it had expelled four Iranian embassy employees from the country for actions “incompatible with diplomatic status.” Tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan, which share a border, have heightened over Azerbaijan’s relations with Israel and its ongoing conflict with Armenia.
- The National Security Council on Thursday released the Biden administration’s 12-page assessment of the August 2021 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, acknowledging the administration should have warned Americans and Afghan partners earlier about the risk of the Afghan government’s collapse. Culled from several government agency reviews, the document also faults the Trump administration for negotiating with the Taliban to the exclusion of the Afghan government in 2020 and poor withdrawal planning.
- The Supreme Court ruled Thursday—without explanation and over dissents from Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas—against West Virginia’s request to bar a 12-year-old transgender student from a track team under a state law that mandates participation on girls’ squads be limited to biological women. Meanwhile, the Biden administration proposed a new Department of Education rule Thursday that would allow schools to block some transgender students from competing on teams aligned with their gender identities—but forbid blanket bans. The proposal argues such bans violate Title IX, which prohibits schools receiving federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex. The rule will have a period of public comment before entering into force.
- ProPublica reported Thursday Supreme Court Justice Thomas has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of luxury trips over several decades from Republican donor and real estate magnate Harlan Crow—trips Thomas failed to disclose, which the report claims could be in violation of a law requiring justices to disclose most gifts. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, argued the report demonstrated “troubling ethical conduct” and vowed his committee would act to create an “enforceable” ethical code for Supreme Court justices. (Disclaimer: Harlan Crow is a minority investor in The Dispatch and a friend of the founders.)
- Judge Juan Merchan—the New York state judge who presided over former President Donald Trump’s arraignment on charges of falsifying business records earlier this week—appears to have made a $15 contribution to President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign in July 2020. Reports from the Federal Election Commission suggest he also made two donations of $10 apiece to progressive organizations. Trump had already complained that Merchan “HATES” him, and will likely push for a different judge to preside over the case.
- The GOP-led House Judiciary Committee on Thursday subpoenaed Mark Pomerantz—a former attorney in the office of Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg—to testify before the committee as part of its investigation into Bragg’s indictment of Trump. Pomerantz resigned after Bragg initially declined to prosecute Trump and later wrote a book recounting some details of the DA’s investigation, revelations which may make it harder for him to claim privilege to resist the subpoena.
- GOP Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida announced Thursday he was endorsing Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential primary, choosing the former president over Ron DeSantis, his state’s governor and a prospective Trump challenger. “There is only one leader at this time in our nation’s history who can seize this moment and deliver what we need,” Donalds said. “To get us back on track, provide strength and resolve, and Make America Great Again.”
- Republicans in the Tennessee House on Thursday voted to expel two Democratic members—Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson—after accusing them of “breaches of decorum” for protesting against gun violence on the House floor after six people were killed in a school shooting in Nashville last week. Jones, who represents a district in Nashville, could be reappointed to his seat in a matter of days, and Pearson, who represents parts of Memphis, has said he will run for his now-open seat.
- The Department of Labor reported Thursday that initial jobless claims—a proxy for layoffs—decreased by 18,000 to a seasonally-adjusted 228,000 claims last week. The Labor Department also updated its seasonal adjustment formula to better reflect pandemic-related labor fluctuations, indicating the labor market—while still tight—is not as historically hot as many weeks of sub-200,000 claim reports indicated.
Battling for Bakhmut
Ukrainian Orthodox Christians preparing to celebrate Resurrection Sunday later this month are doing so in the shadow of death. On Thursday, for example, Zaporizhzhia regional head Yuriy Malashko warned residents to avoid large gatherings and pay attention to air raid sirens as defenders and invaders contest the partially occupied area in southeastern Ukraine. “We should not hope for a lull during the holidays,” he cautioned, per a translation. “The possibility of enemy attacks is not out of the question.”
As the first full winter of the war fades, battle lines in Ukraine are still relatively static. Both sides of the conflict have burned through ammunition and sustained enormous casualties in recent months, only for Russian forces to gain a little ground in the eastern city of Bakhmut. As Ukraine plots its counteroffensive, neither side is seeking negotiations—and Russia has continued making nuclear threats in a transparent bid to deter Western support for Kyiv.