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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Emergency crews are still clearing the rubble and searching for bodies in the aftermath of a Russian missile attack on an apartment building in the Ukrainian city of Dnieper.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

It is one of the deadliest attacks on civilians away from the front lines since the war started. More than 40 people were killed, including children.

FADEL: NPR's Elissa Nadworny is covering this story from Dnieper, and she joins us now. Good morning, Elissa.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So you visited what's left of this nine-story apartment building. What did you see?

NADWORNY: Well, there's a crater right in the center of a huge apartment complex. The middle section, which used to be about a dozen of people's homes, is now just missing. On one of the top floors, you can see right into a kitchen, just hanging off. This was part of a massive Russian missile attack on Saturday. Most targets were the power grid or infrastructure. That's been the pattern these past few months. But that's not what happened here. U.K. military intelligence said the Russian missile used here was, quote, "notoriously inaccurate." Russia says the strikes Saturday were only on military targets. They blame the tragedy on a Ukrainian air defense missile that went awry, which Ukraine denies.

FADEL: So many people's lives destroyed, lives lost. And this attack was in an area that's been largely spared from the attacks we've seen elsewhere recently, right?

NADWORNY: Yeah, that's right. Dnieper is considered a safe haven. It's a bustling city where a lot of displaced Ukrainians from further east live. Petro Shevchenko is 85 and lives alone on the seventh floor. He got trapped for about two hours under the rubble.

PETRO SHEVCHENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: His face is all cut up, but he says he's just grateful to be alive. Emergency workers carried him out of the building 'cause he could hardly walk. Larysa Shevchenko survived the attack by sheltering in a corridor on the eighth floor with her two children, ages 6 and 10, and one of her son's friends.

LARYSA SHEVCHENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: She remembers seeing a fireball out the window. But once they got outside, they found a friend of her son. He'd been playing on the playground when the missile hit. His parents were inside, he told her.

L SHEVCHENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: Shevchenko remembers through tears that the little boy asked her, will I be without a mother now? She says she later found out that both of the boy's parents had died in the attack.

FADEL: Oh, my God. That's absolutely devastating. So the attack was Saturday. Are the Ukrainians still hoping to find survivors three days later now?

NADWORNY: Well, yesterday at the site, there were still dozens of rescue workers cleaning the debris, but officials now say they're no longer expecting to find any more people alive.

SERHII SHOVA: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: "Only the dead are left," says Serhii Shova. He's the team leader of the emergency crew working here. He says there are bodies still trapped. Rescue workers can see them, but they haven't been able to reach them, or it's been too dangerous to get them. He told us the last person he rescued alive was on Sunday, a woman on the fourth floor. He said her 1-year-old baby and her husband did not survive.

FADEL: Only the dead are left. And this is miles from the front lines. What's happening on the battlefield?

NADWORNY: Well, heavy fighting is still happening in the eastern part of the country, and it's not going to end anytime soon. I mean, while they wait for new weapons here in Ukraine, they're watching joint drills between Russia and Belarus warily. They started on Monday. They're worried about the possibility of an attack from there.

FADEL: NPR's Elissa Nadworny in Dnieper, Ukraine. Thank you for your reporting, Elissa.

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FADEL: Jury selection begins today in a San Francisco federal court where Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk, are on trial.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, seems a series of posts on Twitter in 2018 has gotten Musk in hot water with shareholders of the electric car company. They claim his statements cost them a lot of money.

FADEL: Lora Kolodny is a tech reporter with CNBC who's been following this story, and she joins me now from San Francisco. Welcome.

LORA KOLODNY: Thank you so much for having me.

FADEL: OK, Lora, break down why Tesla and Elon Musk are on trial for us.

KOLODNY: So I'm sure you remember, in 2018, Elon Musk caused a lot of excitement when he tweeted that he was considering taking Tesla private at 420 per share...

FADEL: Right.

KOLODNY: ...Four-hundred twenty dollars per share, and he had funding secured to do so. Some people kind of took that as, like, a cannabis joke, and other people took it more seriously. And after that, Tesla shares spiked on the news of a possible deal. Trading was halted, and then trading was very volatile for several weeks after that. And investors who bought Tesla stock at pretty elevated prices at that time later sued, saying that they lost money after the shares declined, and it became clear that Musk had not exactly secured funding.

FADEL: So could Musk face serious consequences for his tweets?

KOLODNY: So the judge and jury are going to have to decide whether Musk's tweets had a material effect on the stock price and whether investors were relying on his tweets and statements to make their trading decisions. And then if there were any damages, they'll have to sort of figure out who should be liable to pay and what level of damages. That's one thing. I'm sure it won't - if Musk and Tesla lose, it probably won't, you know, break his bank, but the SEC would feel very vindicated. You probably recall Musk and Tesla already each paid a $20 million fine to the SEC over the tweets. The financial regulators had charged Musk with civil securities fraud and struck this settlement agreement, and Musk has been unhappy about it ever since.

If he prevails, on the other hand, you know, he'll succeed in clearing his name and making the SEC look badly for their prior charges and then for all the ongoing investigations to see if Elon Musk and Tesla have been in compliance with the terms of that settlement agreement. No matter the outcome, though, this verdict could be appealed. And it's also possible that this case could settle out. But I see Musk as a risk-taker, and I think he will keep fighting to try to clear his name and, frankly, to get revenge on the regulators.

FADEL: How are Tesla investors reacting to the trial?

KOLODNY: I think, honestly, Tesla shareholders have much bigger fish to fry. They're not, you know, sure how much the damages could amount to if Musk or Tesla have to pay. But what they are really worried about right now is distraction for Musk. Musk is already stretched very thin. You know, he's newly become the CEO and owner of Twitter.

FADEL: Yeah.

KOLODNY: He continues to spend a lot of hours working at Twitter. And he's appointed himself, you know, chief twit and made a whole bunch of controversial decisions there. Some of these are alienating, you know, a core market for Tesla, the liberal-leaning people who were part of Tesla's core market in the U.S. and Europe historically. And then additionally, you know, Tesla has slashed its prices on cars worldwide. And shareholders are really worried about that. It could, you know, hit profitability. And there's now a question of a demand cliff. Are Tesla cars still in demand?

FADEL: Lora Kolodny covers the tech industry for CNBC. Thanks so much.

KOLODNY: Thank you.

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FADEL: The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, is at the White House this week.

MARTÍNEZ: He'll meet with President Biden to discuss the war in Ukraine and semiconductors. Those tiny silicon chips will be the real focus of his visit. The U.S. and the Netherlands are global leaders in crucial semiconductor technologies, and the U.S. wants the Dutch to cut off competitors, specifically China.

FADEL: With us is NPR's Emily Feng to explain why this visit is so high stakes. Good morning, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So why are the Dutch so important in the field of semiconductors?

FENG: They're important because, simply put, you just cannot make some of the most advanced types of semiconductors without the Dutch. Specifically, you need one Dutch company called ASML. ASML makes something called lithography machines, and this company has developed pretty mind-bending technology to project and print patterns at the nanometer level onto silicon wafers. And China wants to buy that technology 'cause they want to make their own cutting-edge semiconductor chips, and for that you need Dutch machines.

Now, the U.S. knows this. They've already put pressure on ASML and the Dutch government not to sell ASML's most advanced lithography equipment to China. But now the U.S. is hoping Rutte and the Dutch will join them on even broader export bans that would deny China more ASML technology. The Dutch, of course, are not thrilled about this. China is a big market, and the Dutch - and, for that matter, most of Europe - are really wary of getting pulled into this broader U.S.-China rivalry.

FADEL: Now, but these are Dutch products, a Dutch private company. What leverage does the U.S. have here?

FENG: It's surprising, but actually the U.S. does have some leverage. Some of the research that went into developing ASML's very complicated lithography equipment was actually funded decades ago by U.S. companies. And so that creates an in. Here's Chris Miller, a history professor at Tufts University who just wrote a book on semiconductor development.

CHRIS MILLER: Any complex manufacturing system with thousands of components is likely to have at least one or two from the United States, and that, in theory at least, gives the U.S. some leverage.

FENG: In other words, the U.S. says it can intervene in foreign companies if those companies use enough U.S. technology in their product. And this is not a new tactic. This is a rule that the U.S. used to cut off components and software to Huawei, the Chinese telecom firm, a couple of years ago under the Trump administration. And now the Biden administration is trying to use this rule too on just a much bigger scale.

FADEL: This seems like a huge gamble - intentionally cut off China, one of your biggest clients, and hope that they never catch up. Will this gamble work?

FENG: You're right. The stakes are huge. The U.S. gets one shot at this. The U.S. spent decades building up a semiconductor lead, but it only holds part of the puzzle when it comes to making semiconductors. So if they don't get allies on board, China could just go elsewhere for technology or talent. In other words, if the U.S. goes it alone, they definitely will fail.

FADEL: Emily, I'm going to shift topics for a moment since we have you here. There's a big story this week. China's population has begun to shrink. Could that have implications for its future as a technology powerhouse?

FENG: So not so much for its technology prospects, but certainly for its economy, because the economy has been hugely advantaged by the fact that China's got a massive domestic market right at home, and they've got cheap labor. But its society is getting older. They're having fewer children, and therefore fewer future workers are being born. And so China's got to look for new ways to grow, like developing technology in semiconductors.

FADEL: NPR's Emily Feng. Thanks, Emily.

FENG: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.