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This morning, students in Chicago public schools are starting their fourth day with no classes. The teachers union, the school district, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot remain in a standoff over whether or not to conduct classes in person for the country's third-largest school district.

  • Plus, Russia’s growing sphere of influence.
  • And, a judge’s striking sentencing in Georgia.

Guests: Axios' Monica Eng, and Dave Lawler.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Sabeena Singhani and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:

Transcript

NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday, January 10th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re following today: High stakes talks over Russia’s growing sphere of influence. Plus, a judge’s striking sentencing in Georgia.

But first, the Chicago schools’ deadlock…is today’s One Big Thing.

This morning, students in Chicago public schools are starting their fourth day with no classes. The teachers union, the school district and Mayor Lori Lightfoot remain in a standoff over whether or not to conduct classes in person for the country's third largest school district.

This is a debate playing out across the country, leaving students, teachers, and parents in limbo. Axios Chicago reporter Monica Eng has been following the back and forth and is here now with the latest. Hey Monica.

MONICA ENG: Hey Niala.

NIALA: Monica, there's been long standing tension between the teachers union and the mayor's office that predates the pandemic. What are the sticking points here?

MONICA: The three main sticking points as of Sunday afternoon are whether or not kids should be able to learn remote or if they should have to be in school, no matter what, whether testing should be opt in or opt out, and lastly, whether or not there should ever be any metric that would trigger the entire district to go remote.

NIALA: Why isn't remote school an option right now while the standoff is going on?

MONICA: That's a really great question, because obviously there are districts all over the nation that are going remote. It seems to be a bit of a personality clash because Chicago public schools bought a hundred thousand laptops and started the school year early, seemingly in preparation for some sort of eventuality of remote. And yet that is just not something they will accept, going to, at all right now, when we're seeing skyrocketing, record-setting cases.

NIALA: Monica, this has become a huge story across the country. It's something people are talking about in Washington. Do you think this fight in Chicago is representative of what's going on between teachers and school districts across the county?

MONICA: I think to a certain extent it is. I mean, we obviously have similar parameters we’re in a surge, a lot of other places in the country are in a surge. But the strange thing is in Chicago, our mayor does not want to do comprehensive testing, especially if it's in an opt-out basis.

She said that parents should always be the ones who opt their children in. So we're different from Los Angeles, DC and New York in that way.

NIALA: Do we have any sense of knowing when this may end and kids can go back to school?

MONICA: Well, over the weekend, the Reverend Jesse Jackson stepped in to be an informal honest broker as he called himself. And there are, you know, three sticking points that are left but many people hope that by midweek, we may either be back in school, remote or in person. But right now, as of Sunday, when we're talking, they're still pretty deadlocked on some big issues.

NIALA: Axios Chicago's Monica Eng. Thanks, Monica.

MONICA: Thank you.

We’ll be back in 15 seconds with what to expect from today’s talks over Russia and Ukraine.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today, I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Russian and U.S. officials are meeting today for high-stakes talks in Geneva. On the agenda is concern over possible Russian invasion of Ukraine…And now further complicating the situation are deadly protests in Kazakhstan that have left at least 164 people dead and thousands detained in the last few days. That’s led to a deployment of Russian troops to Kazakhstan across its southern border.

Axios’ world editor Dave Lawler is here to catch us up quick on all of this. Hi Dave.

DAVE LAWLER: Hi Niala.

NIALA: I just listed a lot going on in that part of the world. What's top of mind for the U.S. when it comes to the talks in Geneva today?

DAVE: The U.S. focus is still very much on avoiding a crisis in Ukraine. They've really put out a red alert that Russia could move across the border into Ukraine. There could be an invasion. These talks are part of the U.S. effort to really avoid that outcome. But they're still very high stakes, as you mentioned, because there's concern that really, there's not that much common ground between the U.S. and Russia on this issue. And if these talks break down, it could actually be a Russian pretext to move forward, uh, with, you know, an invasion in Ukraine or some further act of aggression toward Ukraine. So yes, quite high stakes talks going on in Geneva, even as the situation in Kazakhstan continues to unfold.

NIALA: And what happened in Kazakhstan? How is it that so many people have died and thousands are also detained in government protest in protest against the government.

DAVE: So this started last weekend with these fuel protests. The price of fuel spiked there were protests that spread around the country, but really the middle of last week, you had really violent in Almaty, the main city in Kazakhstan. There's an internet blackout, so we don't know exactly what took place, but basically the government was spooked enough that they decided to ask this Russian backed security Alliance to bring in troops. So they have foreign troops right now, helping to secure the situation, which adds another dynamic that the U.S. is certainly watching. The last time we talked about this, it was after president Biden and Vladimir Putin had this hours long phone call. How has all of this changed things now?

DAVE: Well now you have President Putin kind of trying to rerun the nineties. He wants NATO to push further back. He wants to, quite explicitly, re-assert Russia's influence in neighboring countries. You know, this is a conversation that has been ongoing for years, obviously, but Putin seems to think he can push this agenda forward at the current moment with the threat of an invasion of Ukraine looming in the background. And obviously the Biden administration is pushing back and saying, you know, basically Russia can't choose the politics of the countries around it. If those countries want to be part of NATO, if they want to look toward the west, that's their prerogative. It's not up to Russia. And so, uh, this is something that I suppose has been looming out there for 30 years now. What are relations between Russia and the west going to look like? But they're certainly being magnified with the threat of a hundred thousand Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. I think the big picture is in Ukraine, can the U S and Russia come to some sort of accommodation that averts a crisis, uh, in the next few weeks. I mean, this is really the most urgent scenario for the U.S. This has become issue number one for Joe Biden, as opposed to let's say China and other things that he might want to be focusing on.

NIALA: Dave Lawler is Axios’ world editor. Thanks, Dave.

DAVE: Thanks. Niala.

NIALA: You probably saw the news that on Friday, three white men were sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery. Arbery, a Black man, was chased and gunned down while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood in 2020. The three defendants are also scheduled to appear in federal court in February, in another trial on charges of hate crimes and attempted kidnapping. Friday’s sentencing was unusual. Chatham County Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley early on asked for a minute of silence, to represent a fraction of the approximately five minutes Ahmaud Arbery spent running and fearing for his life. So we wanted to play some of what the judge said after that - because the tone, tenor and thoughtfulness of his message is striking a chord with a lot of people.

JUDGE TIMOTHY WALMSLEY: We are all accountable for our own actions. Sometimes in today's day and age, that statement is lost upon many. And today the defendants are being held accountable for their actions here in superior court today demonstrates that everybody is accountable to the rule of law. Taking the law into your own hands is a dangerous endeavor. I'm not sure how this comes across and stay in any way. I think ultimately with regard to the murder of mod, Arbery it all holds us all accountable. I've read somewhere. And I don't remember where it was that at a minimum, the Arbery's death should force a death that should force us to consider expanding our definition of what a neighbor may be and how we treat them. I argue that maybe a neighbor is more than the people who just own property around your house. I believe that it's also believed that in assuming the worst in others, we show our worst character, assuming the best in others, is always the best course of action. And maybe those are the grand lessons from this case.

NIALA: That’s all we’ve got for you today on this Monday – I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Go deeper

Biden boxed in on Ukraine

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration is pushing to get Congress, Europe and Ukraine on the same page as it tries to deter Russia from invading Ukraine — all while knowing that the decisive factor will ultimately be the whims of Vladimir Putin.

Why it matters: Officials from virtually all sides are warning that the risk of a large-scale, conventional war on the European continent is greater than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Few agree on how to stop it.

Updated Jan 14, 2022 - World

U.S. confirms Russia arrested REvil ransomware hackers

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking in Moscow in June 2021. Photo: Alexei Nikolsky/TASS via Getty Images

Russia's security agency said Friday it arrested members of the Russia-based cyber gang REvil that was responsible for multiple massive ransomware attacks against U.S. companies last year.

The latest: A senior administration official confirmed on Friday afternoon that Russia informed the U.S. that it arrested the alleged hackers, including an individual responsible for the cyberattack that crippled the Colonial Pipeline.

Starbucks drops worker vaccine mandate after SCOTUS ruling

Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Starbucks announced in a memo to employees Tuesday that it has dropped plans to implement a vaccine mandate for all U.S. workers, AP reported on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The company's decision comes in response to the Supreme Court's ruling last week to block the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.