(Want to get this newsletter in your inbox? Here’s the sign-up.)
Good evening. Here’s the latest at the end of Monday.
1. The Biden administration said the U.S. aim in the war in Ukraine was to weaken Russia.
“We want to see Russia weakened to the degree it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in Poland after his trip to Kyiv with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The remarks reflected an emboldened approach and a striking redefinition of success for America’s goals in Ukraine.
Russia fired a barrage of missiles on at least five Ukrainian railway stations, just hours after Austin and Blinken met President Volodymyr Zelensky during the first known visit by U.S. officials since the invasion two months ago.
In Kyiv, the envoys told Zelensky that the U.S. would reopen its embassy there. President Biden nominated Bridget Brink, the current U.S. ambassador to Slovakia, as ambassador to Ukraine.
2. Donald Trump was held in contempt of court.
In a rebuke to a former president, a New York judge assessed Trump with fines of $10,000 per day until he met the court’s requirements, essentially ruling that Trump had failed to comply with a subpoena for documents from the state’s attorney general, Letitia James.
James, a Democrat, is conducting a civil investigation into whether Trump falsely inflated the value of his assets in annual financial statements.
Before the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Trump administration officials and members of the House Freedom Caucus strategized about directing marchers to the building, according to testimony to the House committee investigating the riot. The committee also said in a filing that Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff, proceeded with a plan for “alternate electors” despite warnings that it wasn’t legally sound.
4. President Emmanuel Macron’s re-election win belies a fractured France.
On Sunday, Macron beat his far-right challenger, Marine Le Pen, winning 58.5 percent of the runoff vote to her 41.5 percent and reassuring allies concerned about Le Pen’s anti-NATO, pro-Russia views.
The election also marked the highest abstention rate for a French runoff election in half a century — 28 percent — pointing to rising disillusionment and economic grievance. Next up are elections for France’s lower house of Parliament in June, a crucial test for Macron, whose coalition holds a strong legislative majority.
In related news, Janez Jansa, the far-right, populist prime minister of Slovenia, appeared to have lost an election to his centrist rivals. Macron’s win and Jansa’s loss amounted to a blow against Viktor Orban, the far-right prime minister of Hungary who won re-election earlier this month and has championed a hard-right turn for European politics.
5. A Covid outbreak in Beijing prompted fears of a lockdown.
Residents of the city flocked to supermarkets to stock up on food and waited in line for tests. The outbreak led to a sell-off in China’s already stumbling stock market and worried businesspeople that the government’s strict pandemic response could mean a return to a planned economy.
Officials tried to quell fears of an extended lockdown, like the one that has hobbled Shanghai for nearly a month and fueled public outrage. So far, just a handful of Beijing neighborhoods have been shut down.
In other coronavirus news, the drive to vaccinate much of the world is losing steam, and rising crime rates on public transportation are making it more difficult for some cities to return to normal.
6. The Supreme Court heard arguments today in a case with major implications for religion’s place in public life.
The court’s conservative majority seemed to be searching for a narrow way to rule in favor of a former high school football coach who lost his job after praying publicly at games.
The case was complicated by factual disputes over the conduct of the coach, Joseph Kennedy, and shifting rationales offered by a school district in Bremerton, Wash., for disciplining him.
In other legal news, a Texas court halted the execution of Melissa Lucio, who was convicted of killing her 2-year-old child more than a decade ago, in a case that has drawn bipartisan outrage.
7. The rate of mental health disorders among teenagers is soaring across the U.S.
Three decades ago, the gravest public health threats to American teenagers came from binge drinking, drunken driving, teenage pregnancy and smoking. Incidence of these concerns has fallen precipitously, replaced by mental health problems.
From 2007 to 2019, the number of adolescents reporting a major depressive episode, and emergency room visits for children and adolescents for anxiety, mood disorders and self-harm, rose sharply. For those ages 10 to 24, suicide rates — stable from 2000 to 2007 — leaped nearly 60 percent by 2018.
8. An oasis of positivity in the California desert.
Attendees at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which was canceled the past two years because of the pandemic, brought a mood of “total joy” to the festival despite everything, wrote our colleague Eve Peyser.
Decked out in skimpy, colorful styles reminiscent of the 1970s and early 2000s, concertgoers celebrated with abandon, perhaps anticipating a generational shift to optimism.
9. Saying “I do” to an avatar.
Akihiko Kondo’s co-workers and family shunned his wedding in 2018 to Hatsune Miku, a computer-synthesized pop singer. But dozens of others attended. The real comfort that Kondo says he finds in his Miku dolls is shared by thousands of self-identified “fictosexuals” in Japan who have entered into unofficial marriages with fictional characters in recent decades.
Women are in fictosexual relationships, too. A researcher tells us that many find belonging in the elaborate communities that develop around them, and that they see the fictional marriages as “a way to challenge gender, matrimonial and social norms.”
More from Japan: Young people are breaking the taboo on tattoos, even if that means hiding their ink at work.
10. And finally, if you have a second …
For the first time in more than a half-century, scientists are working to change the definition of the second, because a new generation of timekeepers called optical atomic clocks can measure the fundamental unit of time with more accuracy down to, well, the second.
The second won’t become any longer or shorter, but it will be more precise and more powerful — sensitive, for instance, to height, because of intricacies of the general theory of relativity that we will let our reporter explain. Formal approval of the new definition could happen by 2030 — or about 242 million seconds from now, give or take.
Have a timely night.
Eve Edelheit and Hannah Yoon compiled photos for this briefing.
Your Evening Briefing is posted at 6 p.m. Eastern.
Want to catch up on past briefings? You can browse them here.
What did you like? What do you want to see here? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are today’s Mini Crossword, Spelling Bee and Wordle. If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.