Up First briefing: Defense Secretary visits Israel; Southwest to pay $140 million fine
Today's top stories
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visits Israel today as the Biden administration continues to urge Israel to more carefully target Hamas and its leaders and avoid civilian casualties in its military offensive. Nearly 19,000 people in Gaza have been killed, according to Gaza's health ministry. An extended communications blackout was partially lifted last night after about four days.
- Protests in Tel Aviv following the deaths of the three Israeli hostages have increased calls for a new hostage deal and cease-fire, NPR's Kat Lonsdorf reports on Up First. On Friday, three Israeli hostages held by Hamas were mistakenly shot and killed by Israeli troops in northern Gaza. Demonstrators are "camping out 24/7" in front of the war cabinet building until a deal is reached.
Check out npr.org/mideastupdates for more coverage and analysis of this conflict.
The U.S. Senate postponed its winter break to give lawmakers more time to reach a deal on immigration. Congressional Republicans say they will approve funding to Ukraine and Israel in exchange for tighter U.S. border security policy.
- If a deal is made, it could be the biggest change to U.S. immigration policy since the late '90s, one expert tells NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben. Kurtzleben adds immigration will be important to Biden in the 2024 election. Republicans will criticize him for it, and progressives could be angry with him, depending on how much he compromises.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has ordered Southwest Airlines to pay a $140 million civil penalty for its operational meltdown during the 2022 holiday season. A major winter storm last December disrupted thousands of flights. Southwest canceled 16,900 flights, stranding more than 2 million passengers. Under the agreement, the Dallas-based airline is required to establish a $90 million compensation system for future passengers affected by significant delays and cancellations.
A landmark national security trial for the pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai opens today in Hong Kong. Lai was arrested in 2020 and spent more than 1,000 days in detention under China's National Security Law. His pro-democracy newspaper, the Apple Daily, was shut down in 2021. He now faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for charges of collusion with foreign forces.
- Lai has become a "symbol of opposition against Beijing's control" of Hong Kong, NPR's Emily Feng reports from Taiwan. His son, Sebastien, says his father's case is being turned into a political show for Beijing to show how aggressively it will punish dissenters. Independent media outlets in Hong Kong have mostly shut down, and a few people who haven't been arrested have moved abroad, Feng reports.
There's empirical evidence that generosity and the act of giving boosts our happiness. Yet, Christmas shopping can often feel stressful and rushed (who else is doing it all last minute?). Try some of these gift-giving tips to feel warm and fuzzy instead of anxious and angsty this season:
- Be intentional. Think about the person you're buying for and grab gifts throughout the year that remind you of them.
- Try gifting an experience like show tickets or a museum membership instead of material gifts.
- Be present to see the gift receiver's reaction when they open it.
Enlighten Me is a special series with Rachel Martin about what it takes to build a life of meaning.
Musician Hrishikesh Hirway's podcast Song Exploder has become regular listening for Rachel Martin's household. Martin and Hirway discussed intimacy in 2020 before Song Exploder debuted on Netflix. As the podcast nears its 10th anniversary, Hirway returns to talk about fear, creativity and the importance of boredom to the creative process. Listen to the conversation here or read the interview.
3 things to know before you go
- A monument to Confederate soldiers at the Arlington National Cemetery is scheduled to be removed this week under a law that requires the Department of Defense to look at removing "names, symbols, displays, monuments, or paraphernalia" commemorating the Confederacy.
- A strong storm system is making its way up the East Coast, causing flooding and heavy winds for parts of the Mid-Atlantic and New England.
- The FDA is investigating whether lead found in three brands of cinnamon-flavored applesauce pouches was added intentionally.
This newsletter was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi.
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