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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Of all the places pounded by cold weather over the weekend. Buffalo was among the worst-hit. That we are talking about snow in Buffalo on the national news says something because that city knows snow. So when Buffalo has it bad, it's bad. New York Governor Kathy Hochul spoke of a storm that has caused numerous deaths.

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KATHY HOCHUL: This will go down in history as the most devastating storm in Buffalo's long, storied history.

INSKEEP: Wow, that's saying something. One reporter who's living this story is Ed Drantch of WKBW News in Buffalo. Welcome to the program.

ED DRANTCH, BYLINE: Hi, Steve. Good morning to you. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Good morning. You came to my attention over the weekend because you posted a video just trying to describe your commute in Buffalo. Other people are home. You got to go to work. How's your commute been?

DRANTCH: This is now days after that video. Today is a completely different story. We still have a driving ban here in Erie County, and that's in place until further notice. There are certain places across western New York that have started to lift that travel ban. That said, the roads are still really dangerous to be out on. It's not just the snow that's drifted all throughout the area and the cars that are dotting the streets. It's the ice that's also under all of that snow because if you remember, it was rain initially. We had a flash freeze, and then the snow started falling. Mix that all together, and you've got a deadly combination.

INSKEEP: When you talk about the cars, the abandoned cars dotting the streets, that strikes my attention again because I trust that people in Buffalo know how to drive in snow. This was something different, it sounds like.

DRANTCH: Well, and it's because this was such a dire situation, as well. In certain cases, many people thought that they could brave the elements and make it to where they were going, only to come to realize there was an absolute whiteout. This was like nothing I've ever seen before. And I've lived in Buffalo now 11 years. The county executive was describing it as holding a white sheet of paper in front of your face for minutes at a time. Try driving like that. You're blinded. You have no idea where you're going, where you are. It's disorienting. People literally had to get out of their cars, leave them where they are and find another way to get to where they were going, hopefully home.

INSKEEP: Are there people at this point missing, as well as dead?

DRANTCH: There are a number of people who've been reported dead, at least two dozen deaths so far in the city of Buffalo, the town of Cheektowaga, which is just outside the city of Buffalo, and a couple of other places, as well. The fear at this point is there are more deaths that haven't been confirmed just yet. And when you think of that, your heart breaks for these families because in some cases, some of these people were found inside cars. And because of the cold and because of the snow drifts, they were buried in some cases. That's possible. But the idea that these people were helpless is something that is just gut-wrenching.

INSKEEP: Are you hearing stories of people inside their homes without heat at this point?

DRANTCH: Absolutely. There are still this morning more than 10,000 national grid customers in the city of Buffalo without power. And those people have been without power in some cases for days now. Grocery stores aren't open in the city of Buffalo right now, and they probably won't open again until tomorrow. The airport is closed until tomorrow. So people aren't even coming to or from, even for holiday travel. The city was at a standstill for the last three days.

INSKEEP: Ed Drantch of WKBW in Buffalo, thanks so much.

DRANTCH: Thank you, Steve.

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INSKEEP: Ten months into Russia's war with Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin says he wants to negotiate an end to the conflict. Or does he? The statement came as air raid sirens were reported across Ukraine. And in the Ukrainian city of Kherson, at least 10 people were reported dead from a rocket attack on a market on Saturday. NPR's Charles Maynes is covering the story from Moscow. Hey there, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Morning.

INSKEEP: Let's listen to the words. What exactly did Putin say and how did he say it?

MAYNES: Yeah, well, context here, of course, is important. You know, Russia has repeatedly said it's open to negotiations. The catch - it's provided they're on Russia's terms. And that really was at the core of Putin's message in an interview on state television Sunday. Let's listen.

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PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Putin says he's ready to discuss some acceptable outcomes in Ukraine but insists that it's Kyiv and the West who've refused to negotiate. And again, more context - Putin's argument for a while now has been that the fighting would have ended on Russia's terms if it weren't for Western military aid to Ukraine. Putin went on to say the West was trying to tear apart historical Russia, which in his mind includes Ukraine, and that Russia had no choice but to defend its citizens. So certainly, he's coming at this with his own unique perspective.

INSKEEP: Well, let's explore that perspective a little bit more. You've indicated that he's always said he wants peace on Russia's terms. Is he reflecting at all the reality that Russia's military has done so badly, has suffered such enormous casualties? And while they have taken some territory in Ukraine, they've also lost some.

MAYNES: Yeah. You know, to a degree, although not to a point that's acceptable to Ukraine. You know, early on, the Kremlin wanted regime change, a pro-Russian government in Kyiv. That was behind Putin's calls for de-Nazification, if you remember, this - part of this false claim that Ukraine was somehow overrun with fascists and needed to be neutralized. But as Ukrainian forces pushed Russian troops back from Kyiv and then other portions of the country, Moscow's demands have shifted to really asking that Kyiv recognize Russia's right to Ukrainian lands it has seized. Specifically, this is four regions of Ukraine that Russia annexed in September in a move that was condemned internationally as illegal.

But there's a problem here, as well. You know, Russian forces can't seem to hold the territory. And so if you're Ukraine and you keep liberating your own country, why would you sign away anything? That said, there is a debate, particularly in the West, over whether it's realistic for Ukraine to reach its stated objective, the complete expulsion of Russian troops from Ukraine, including from Crimea, which Russia annexed back in 2014.

INSKEEP: Would you give us an idea of the significance of something else that Putin said, something that Russian media were shut down at one point if they used the word. And now Putin is using the word, war, for the special military operation. What's going on?

MAYNES: Yeah. You know, ever since the beginning of the conflict, there's been this strange semantic game going on here. You know, the Kremlin has, you know, banned the use of the word war by the media, even shutting down some media over it, and insisted it was conducting a special military operation in Ukraine. And the reason for that term is this. It implied the military campaign was limited in scope with limited sacrifice for the Russian people. And yet here we are 10 months later, and Putin finally publicly said Russia wanted, quote, "the war" to end soon. Now, like his negotiation offer, it came with charges the West was trying to prolong the conflict. But the use of the word itself is significant in that it was a small nod to growing discomfort at home over a war that has gone on far longer than promised or planned and at enormous cost not only to Ukrainians but Russians, as well.

INSKEEP: NPR's Charles Maynes listening to what Putin said and also to what it may mean. Charles, thanks as always.

MAYNES: Thank you.

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INSKEEP: The justices of the Supreme Court have been known in recent decades for their discipline when it comes to talking. But of late, they've been talking and talking and talking, sometimes more than doubling the amount of time allotted for the oral arguments, where they hear out cases from the lawyers involved. We're going to talk about this with NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, who listens to them talk. Hey there, Nina.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: (Laughter) Hey there, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. You've been listening to oral arguments for decades. How did the question-and-answer sessions used to work?

TOTENBERG: Well, in most cases, each side is allotted a half hour, though in some unusual cases where there are multiple major issues, for instance, the court allocates more time. And to keep the lawyers to time, a white light goes on on the lectern when they have just 5 minutes left, and a red light goes on when time's up. During my long lifetime of covering the court and four chief justices, they were very strict about holding lawyers to their allotted time. The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist even cut lawyers off mid-sentence when that red light went on. Take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANN E BEESON: ...That parents are going to fail to act.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: Thank you, Ms. Beeson.

BEESON: Thank you.

REHNQUIST: Mr. Olson, you have 4 minutes remaining.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSEPH KLOCK: ...That would not exist under 166...

REHNQUIST: Thank you, Mr. Klock.

KLOCK: Thank you.

REHNQUIST: Mr. Boies, we'll hear from you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EVAN WOLFSON: ...The Scouting program.

REHNQUIST: Thank you, Mr. Wolfson. Mr. Davidson, we'll give you a minute. You don't actually have quite that much. We'll be generous.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: (Laughter). That sounds like one of those broadcast interviews where we've got to cut away for the commercial or whatever.

TOTENBERG: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: But that's the way it was. What's happening now?

TOTENBERG: This term, we've had, as usual, most cases scheduled for 60 minutes total, a half hour on each side. In some cases, the court allotted five more minutes on each side. And in three important cases so far this term, where there are a large number of important issues, they've allocated 90 minutes for argument. And yet the justices ran over in almost every case.

INSKEEP: So the overtime is longer than the whole arguments used to be.

TOTENBERG: (Laughter) Yes, that's right.

INSKEEP: What accounts for the jump?

TOTENBERG: Other than a lack of discipline, you mean?

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.

TOTENBERG: Basically, it dates back to the pandemic lockdown. Remember that the justices continued to hear arguments but by phone because they thought Zoom wasn't safe from crashers. And when you hear arguments by phone, you can't see each other. So to prevent interrupting each other constantly, each justice asked questions for several minutes in order of seniority. And when they returned to the bench in 2021, they could now see each other, of course. But instead of returning to the old discipline, they started to speak longer. And the system that now exists at the court is that for however long a lawyer has, let's say, a half hour, he or she faces the basic free-for-all that used to exist pre-pandemic. But instead of the oral argument ending there the way they used to, they do a whole second round with each justice going in order of seniority. And the chief justice, just to be sure even after that, asks if everyone's done.

INSKEEP: And maybe they are. Maybe they aren't. But is there something substantive that changes in what happens in these cases when the justices allow the arguments to go on longer and longer and longer and hear more and more points?

TOTENBERG: They seem to think that there is some value in this. They like this because they don't leave the argument with some of their questions unanswered. And therefore, the chief justice does not impose the discipline of the clock, even when the justices are more than an hour over the allotted time.

INSKEEP: NPR's Nina Totenberg finishing this interview right on time. Thanks so much.

TOTENBERG: Thank you, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAKEY INSPIRED'S "MOVING ON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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