US briefing: State of the Union, Brazil dam and domestic violence laws

Tim Walker
Trump greets the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, as he arrives to deliver the State of the Union address. Photograph: Doug Mills/AFP/Getty Images

Good morning, I’m Tim Walker with today’s essential stories.

President denounces ‘ridiculous partisan investigations’

Donald Trump began his second State of the Union address on Tuesday by calling on both parties in Congress to “embrace the boundless potential of cooperation”. But the rest of his speech did little to encourage unity as he threatened the economy would be harmed by “ridiculous partisan investigations” – an apparent reference to the Mueller inquiry – and restated his commitment to building a wall on what he called the “lawless” US-Mexico border: the very issue that caused the recent government shutdown and saw the State of the Union delayed by a week.

Women in white lead opposition to Trump’s agenda

Trump earned a rare standing ovation from the whole chamber when he noted the progress of women in the US workforce – including those in Congress, at least 100 of whom had worn “suffragette white” partly as a rebuke to his leadership. Meanwhile, it was Stacey Abrams – the recent loser of Georgia’s close and controversial gubernatorial race – who delivered the Democratic response to Trump’s speech, saying “immigrants, not walls”, make the country stronger.

Brazilian dam workers warned of disaster before deadly collapse

Firefighters search for victims of the Vale dam collapse in Brumadinho, Brazil. Photograph: Léo Corrêa/AP

More than 140 people are dead and almost 200 still missing after the collapse of a dam in January at a mining facility near Brumadinho in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state. Three mine workers told the Guardian they warned of a disaster after the dam suffered a leak last July, which they say compromised its safety. It was the second fatal dam collapse in under four years at a facility owned by the Brazilian mining multinational Vale, whose spokeswoman said in an email that “there was no leak in the dam” at Brumadinho.

  • Mining waste. Some 600 people were in the mine’s canteen and administrative area when the dam collapsed on 25 January, releasing 11.7m cubic metres of waste mud and ore.

LGBTQ domestic abuse victims unprotected in North Carolina

North Carolina’s State Senate chamber during a 2016 debate over the state’s controversial HB2 law, which limits bathroom access for transgender people. Photograph: Jonathan Drake/Reuters

The attorney general of North Carolina, Josh Stein, has told the Guardian it is time to fix his state’s statute regarding domestic violence, which currently applies only to people whose abusers are “persons of the opposite sex”. That makes the tar heel state the last in the US to take a domestic violence victim’s sexual orientation into account when considering whether they can access a protective order, as Alexandra Villareal reports.

  • Southern comfort. South Carolina and Louisiana both extended their domestic violence protections to LGBTQ people in 2017.

Crib sheet

Listen to Today in Focus: rescued from Syria after Isis fell

Mahmud and Ayyub Ferreira were abducted by their father in 2014 and spirited to Syria to live under the Islamic State. Human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith and the Guardian’s Joshua Surtees explain how they helped reunite the boys with their mother.

Must-reads

The cast of Friends. Photograph: NBC/NBC via Getty Images

The inside story of Friends

Twenty-five years after its TV debut, Friends is a mega-hit for a second time as the world’s most-streamed show. Sirin Kale hears the behind-the-scenes history from its supporting cast and crew, while young Guardian readers explain why it still strikes a chord.

Parkland’s drama students start over

A year after the shootings at Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, HBO is airing a new documentary that follows the school’s drama students as they rehearse for their annual children’s musical in the shadow of the tragedy. Adrian Horton reports.

Forget standing desks and get moving

Doctor James Levine, a leading expert on sedentary behaviour, sparked the trend for standing desks. But now he says most people missed the point: “It’s not the furniture that makes the difference” to health, he tells Christopher Keyes. “It’s the behaviour.”

How globalised music created a new kind of star

The rise of acts such as the Korean boyband BTS and the Puerto Rican singer Ozuna means English is no longer pop’s lingua franca. The likes of Katy Perry and Justin Timberlake are being replaced by global stars oblivious to genre boundaries, writes Caroline Sullivan.

Opinion

Washington and Moscow have mutually withdrawn from the nuclear weapons treaty that kept Europe safe for 30 years, a move that demonstrates Trump’s disdain for the EU. Yet the response in Westminster has been muted by Brexit, says Rafael Behr.

A global monument to the triumph of diplomatic rationality over militaristic paranoia is being pulled down.

Sport

Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are two of the best hitters in the MLB, yet both men remain without a team just a week before Spring Training. That’s because no team is prepared to pay for them, says Hunter Felt, despite the league pulling in $10bn a year.

MLS and the Scottish Premiership are both unable to compete financially with the big European leagues, which is why they have developed an unexpectedly close transatlantic relationship, writes Graham Ruthven.

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