The United States’ Terrestrial Weekend

Happy Tuesday! Today is Valentine’s Day, and, if you’re just realizing that now, best of luck! 

Maybe you can grab some flowers and an iTunes gift card at the grocery store on the way home from work.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The State Department updated its travel warning for Russia on Monday, advising all U.S. citizens—including dual Russia-U.S. citizens—to leave Russia immediately. The U.S. embassy in Moscow cited concerns dual citizens could be conscripted into the Russian army should they remain in the country.
  • Georgia Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney ordered the release of portions of the report from the grand jury investigating former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in the state. The report—set to be released publicly on Thursday—will not include any recommendations on criminal charges or the names of any witnesses under suspicion of lying to the grand jury.  
  • About 100,000 people gathered outside Israel’s parliament building Monday to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reforms, which would reduce judicial review and allow parliament to overrule Supreme Court rulings by a simple majority vote. Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Sunday urged Netanyahu to delay votes on the changes—expected to begin this week—and instead negotiate a consensus plan for reforms.
  • A week after a train carrying chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, the Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter Friday to the train’s operator, Norfolk Southern, listing three previously undisclosed and potentially hazardous chemicals released during the accident. One, ethylhexyl acrylate, is a known carcinogen. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and East Palestine officials lifted an evacuation order last week after they said air quality tests returned near-normal readings.
  • The Energy Department is scheduled to sell 26 million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the coming weeks as part of a move mandated by Congress in 2015. The sale will bring the strategic stockpile to about 345 million barrels after the Biden administration flooded the market with 180 million barrels from the reserve last year in response to price spikes related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • President Joe Biden on Monday fired Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton—responsible for maintaining the historic building and grounds—amid bipartisan calls for Blanton’s ouster. An inspector general report accused Blanton of ethical violations including misusing a government vehicle. At a congressional hearing on the watchdog report last week, lawmakers criticized Blanton’s absence from the Capitol grounds during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.
  • A gunman killed three people and wounded five others Monday night on the Michigan State University campus. In a news conference early Tuesday morning, the interim deputy chief of the campus police announced that the suspect had been found dead off campus with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He added that the suspect was 43 years old and not affiliated with the university as a student or employee. The five wounded are all in critical condition, a hospital spokesman said Tuesday morning.

Clearing the Skies

The National Security Council’s John Kirby speaks at a White House press briefing following the U.S. downing of a number of unidentified aerial phenomena. (Photo by Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
The National Security Council’s John Kirby speaks at a White House press briefing following the U.S. downing of a number of unidentified aerial phenomena. (Photo by Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Anytime the National Security Council spokesman is assuring Americans they “don’t need to worry about aliens,” you know it’s been a weird couple of days.

This weekend felt eerily like the opening sequence of a sci-fi film—shots of Super Bowl festivities intercut with footage of newscasters describing strange phenomena—as American and Canadian officials detected and shot down three airborne objects. We warned you when the United States took out the Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina earlier this month that balloon-gate was just beginning, but we didn’t realize just how right we were. Retrieval operations are underway, but for now details are scarce and curiosity is high—who sent the objects, and why? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was likely channeling Americans’ confusion on Monday when he spoke on the Senate floor: “What in the world is going on?”

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