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Morning news brief


In the year just ended, Ukraine's government issued nearly 15,000 air raid warnings.


That's one measure of how often Russia has targeted Ukrainian cities. And the New Year has begun about the same way, with people taking shelter.

INSKEEP: NPR's Julian Hayda joins us now from Kyiv. Hey there.


INSKEEP: How's the new year begun for you?

HAYDA: It's been a busy couple of days for Ukraine's air defense. The latest attack on Ukraine was early this morning, around 1 a.m. Ukraine says that Russia launched 44 attack drones at Ukraine and a handful of what they're calling long-range weapons, damaging some of the power grid. That coincided with extensive shelling in cities along the front line with Russia. The attack before that happened just after midnight on New Year's Day. Many were singing the national anthem as it was playing on their TVs. And then the sirens went off.

And here in downtown Kyiv, you could hear just this huge boom, boom. My room lit up as bright as day for a split second. The blast had me diving for the corner. And that's really unusual for central Kyiv. But not a lot of people were hurt. The city has been enforcing a really strict curfew because of the holidays, so people were sheltering. Ukraine says they shot down pretty much all of the incoming strikes. And that also might have kept the casualties low.

INSKEEP: Nevertheless, a lot of noise and a lot of concern. So why would Russia be launching so many attacks so quickly?

HAYDA: Well, it is the holidays. And the Russians were clearly sending a message. But the Ukrainian military and intelligence analysts have been saying for weeks, some for even months, that Russia is running low on weapons that it needs to carry out the war in Ukraine, especially the recent attacks on infrastructure - things like power, heat, water. So Russia may be trying to dispel that notion. But in the last week, there have been fewer missiles, more drones. And those drones aren't as effective at knocking out infrastructure.

Two weeks ago, for example, the power was out for days at a time after a similar attack. Now it's just a few hours here and there, depending on the neighborhood. But the temps have been hovering around 50 degrees in most of the country. And so it just might be easier to keep things running smoothly at the moment. And as it gets colder, the Ukrainians will have a harder time keeping the infrastructure running if the Russians keep pounding Ukraine from the air just the way they have been since October.

INSKEEP: Well, since this is intended to affect the civilian population, let's check in on their morale. How are people feeling as this war goes into another year?

HAYDA: Well, Ukrainians are incredibly defiant despite all of this. A new poll from the Razumkov Center, which is a really well-respected group that does opinion polling here in Kyiv, found that 9-in-10 Ukrainians believe in a total, unequivocal Russian loss. And about half those people believe it could come in a matter of months, just by the end of summer. Despite that overwhelming optimism, President Zelenskyy's New Year's address tried to insert some more sobering notes.


PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: He said, we don't know what the new year has coming, what kind of attacks people should expect. Both sides have shifted their attention away from the south and towards the east, namely towards a town called Bakhmut. The Russians have been trying to capture Bakhmut for months and they just haven't been able to. The fighting this week especially has been very intense.

INSKEEP: NPR's Julian Hayda in Kyiv. Thanks so much.

HAYDA: Thank you.


INSKEEP: Many state legislatures will meet in the new year. And they will have the power to address some polarizing issues.

SCHMITZ: The most polarizing may be abortion, which the Supreme Court threw to the states when it overturned Roe v. Wade. But they may try to pass new laws. The new Congress is divided between the parties but many state legislatures are not, which gives them more power to act.

INSKEEP: Reid Wilson is following all of this. He's the founder and editor of Pluribus News. Welcome to the program.

REID WILSON: Well, good morning.

INSKEEP: OK. So some states already acted on abortion in 2022, some of them expanding abortion rights, some of them limiting abortion rights. How much further might they go?

WILSON: Well, I think we're going to see a lot of action on abortion rights this year. Blue states are moving to add abortion rights and reproductive care to their state constitutions. California did so last year. We'll see similar proposals in places like Washington, Colorado and Illinois. Democrats are also interested in adding privacy protections for those who might travel from out of state to seek an abortion.

Washington is working on a data privacy measure specifically aimed at reproductive rights. Imagine if somebody from Idaho travels to Washington to seek an abortion. The bill would protect that person's data from any law enforcement agency in Idaho that might seek to prosecute them. The Dobbs decision is also forcing a really interesting debate in red states. How far do they go in banning abortion, 15 weeks, six weeks, when a fetal heartbeat is detected...


WILSON: ...Or a total ban? And there's also a debate over whether to add exceptions in the cases of rape or incest and even, in some cases, to protect the life or health of the mother.

INSKEEP: I'm really interested listening to you because I'm also hearing battles between the states and some of the legislation you mentioned, states trying to influence how much they will influence people who go to a different state, for example.

WILSON: Right. That's a big part of this discussion, especially because there are several blue states that are sort of islands where abortion access can be provided in the midst of a bunch of red states that are trying to restrict that access.

INSKEEP: Rob mentioned other issues. How are states addressing the economy in 2023?

WILSON: You know, Steve, when I started covering state-level politics about a decade ago, the dominant story was about states competing with each other to attract businesses. Now what we're seeing is states competing with each other to attract workers. States have thousands of vacant teaching positions, thousands of vacant government jobs. And even more are going to open up as baby boomers retire. And, you know, as Congress has approved billions of dollars in spending on new high-tech manufacturing sectors, even those jobs are going to need to be filled. So states are using every tool they have to build future workforces. They're building new apprenticeship programs, opening up community colleges and technical schools. And they're cutting licensure requirements.

A good example of this is in Tennessee, where companies like Ford are building big electric vehicle facilities. The state is building a branch of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology near the site of a Ford plant so that students can start - get training for the high-paying, blue-collar manufacturing jobs that Ford's going to provide. And Ford wins, too, because they get the workforce they need to actually operate the plant. This is one of the few things today in America that I think is totally bipartisan. I mean, both Democrats and Republicans know that a state without a workforce is a state without an economic future.

INSKEEP: Although, again, going to be competing there between the states. Is there another issue we would think of as a national issue that's going to be addressed at the state level this year?

WILSON: Yeah, I'd point to technology. You know, here's a good example of gridlock in D.C. forcing state action. Congress isn't doing anything to regulate technology companies. So the states are really stepping into the void. And that's becoming something of a partisan minefield. Democratic states have tried to force social media companies to cut down on hate speech. Republican states have tried to bar those companies from applying what they call censorship, specifically of conservative states. But there is at least some low-hanging fruit that I think we'll see in both red states and blue states, and that's specifically around how social media companies treat children and data privacy around kids.

INSKEEP: Reid Wilson of Pluribus News. Thanks so much, really appreciate it.

WILSON: Thank you.


INSKEEP: The body of former Pope Benedict XVI is on public view at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

SCHMITZ: The Vatican has announced that Thursday's funeral will be solemn and simple.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Sylvia Poggioli will be covering it. She's on the line from Rome. Hi there, Sylvia.


INSKEEP: What's the funeral going to be like?

POGGIOLI: Well, we don't know much. When reigning popes die, there are very precise, elaborate rituals that take place over a nine-day period. But Benedict was the first pope to resign in more than 600 years. So it's likely that many precedents will be set this week. For instance, as far as is known, this will be the first ever funeral in more than 2,000 years of a former pope to be led by his successor, the reigning Pope Francis. The Vatican has said there will be only two official delegations from Italy and from Benedict's native Germany. And we know that according to Benedict's wishes, the funeral will be solemn but simple, and that he'll be buried alongside other popes in the Vatican Grottoes under St. Peter's Basilica.

INSKEEP: OK. So we don't know how this is all going to play out or what the symbolism will be. But you do have that public viewing today. What do people see?

POGGIOLI: Well, photos issued by the Vatican yesterday showed the body lying on a burgundy-colored bier near the altar of the chapel in the monastery on Vatican grounds, where he lived for almost a decade. He was dressed in red and gold liturgical vestments, a miter on his head and a rosary in his hand. Nearby, there was a decorated Christmas tree. Now, the setting inside the basilica is certainly more somber and more imposing. And several Italian officials have already paid their respects this morning.

INSKEEP: Sylvia, I'm thinking about Benedict's place in history. And I feel that he cuts a smaller figure than his predecessor or his successor, John Paul II or Francis. What kind of public reaction is likely now after his death?

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, after Pope Francis revealed last Wednesday that Benedict was seriously ill, only small groups of people went to St. Peter's Square. This morning, though, thousands were lined up before dawn, waiting to view the body and to pay their respects. Today's viewing will last 10 hours. And security officials expect at least 25,000 people to pass by the body today. You know, Benedict was highly revered, in particular by conservative Catholics. But he did not have the charisma of either his predecessor, John Paul, or his successor, Francis.

INSKEEP: What's his substantive legacy, though?

POGGIOLI: Well, it's a complicated legacy. He was a very polarizing figure, a strict disciplinarian on issues of sexual morality and theological dissent. He made many missteps, seriously offending Jews, Muslims and other Christian religions. And by his own admission, he was a very poor manager of the Vatican bureaucracy.

As a former pope, he became a lightning rod for conservative Catholics opposed to the much more liberal Pope Francis. And many Benedict loyalists considered Benedict the real pope. He himself created confusion by calling himself emeritus pope and by continuing to wear white. But the real Benedict paradox is that with his shocking decision to resign, one of the most conservative popes in recent memory set the papacy on a radical new course. It will no longer be an anomaly to have a pope and a former pope living at the same time.

INSKEEP: Interesting historical figure. Sylvia, thanks so much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is in Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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