First Thing: Brittney Griner lands in US after being freed

Good morning.

The basketball player Brittney Griner has returned to the US after she was freed from a Russian prison in a dramatic high-level prisoner exchange for the notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, the so-called Merchant of Death, who had been held in an American prison for 12 years.

Joe Biden, who had made Griner’s release a top priority after she spent almost 10 months in jail on drug charges, said in an address from the White House that he found her “in good spirits” when speaking after the swap in Abu Dhabi.

“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances,” the president. said yesterday. “Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there all along.”

But Biden expressed regret the deal did not include Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive jailed since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the US government deny.

  • Where is Griner now? She has touched down at a Texas airbase. Footage emerged of the exchange of Griner for Bout on the grounds of Abu Dhabi’s airport; the Financial Times reported it was shot by Russia’s FSB security service.

  • What did Biden say about Whelan? The president said: “Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.”

Women sue Twitter, claiming Musk layoffs unfairly targeted female staff

Illustration shows Elon Musk photo and Twitter logo
Twitter laid off about 3,700 employees in early November in a cost-cutting measure by Musk. Photograph: Dado Ruvić/Reuters

Elon Musk is facing yet more legal trouble. Two women who lost their jobs at Twitter during mass layoffs after the billionaire took over the company are suing, claiming that the company disproportionately targeted female employees for cuts.

The discrimination lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal challenges to hit the company after Musk, the world’s richest person, bought the company for $44bn and set about making swift, drastic changes including laying off around half its workforce, or roughly 3,700 employees. Hundreds more subsequently resigned.

The new suit, filed on Wednesday in San Francisco federal court, said that Twitter laid off 57% of its female workers compared with 47% of men. The gender disparity was more stark for engineering roles, where 63% of women lost their jobs compared to 48% of men, according to the lawsuit.

Shannon Liss-Riordan, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said women “had targets on their backs” once Musk acquired the company, regardless of their talent and contributions.

  • What other legal troubles does Musk face? Other cases include allegations Twitter laid off employees and contractors without the advance notice required by law and failed to pay promised severance, and that Musk forced out workers with disabilities by refusing to allow remote work and calling on employees to be more “hardcore”. Twitter is also under investigation by city officials in San Francisco after a complaint about beds being set up in the office.

Georgia girl, 12, killed by father after family court grants him custody

Police tape at a crime scene
Angel Ahearn’s grandmother fought to gain custody of the girl but a judge placed her with her father despite allegations of abuse. Photograph: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

A Tennessee grandmother who fought for custody of her late daughter’s child but lost out to the girl’s father was left grieving and angry after the man murdered her granddaughter.

Monica Dunning is holding up the shooting death of her 12-year-old granddaughter, Angel Ahearn, as devastating evidence that the US family court system is broken, the Tennessee news outlet WBIR reported.

Angel’s mother died in a car crash in Monroe county, Tennessee, in 2016. Dunning subsequently pushed to be named her granddaughter’s guardian. But the girl spent time in several foster homes before her father, Leonard Ahearn, gained custody of her.

According to Dunning, her daughter was divorced from Ahearn at the time of her death, and there had been allegations of abuse, which led to a court order that prevented him from seeing Angel.

  • What happened when Angel died? On 17 October, authorities say, Ahearn was arguing with a 34-year-old woman when he grabbed a pistol and shot her, his daughter and himself. First responders arrived to find Angel dead and the two adults badly wounded. Ahearn died after he and the woman were taken to hospital.

In other news …

The mother and father of a four-month-old baby that urgently needs a heart operation leave the high court in Auckland, New Zealand
The mother and father of ‘Baby W’ did not want the urgent surgery he needs to include use of ‘vaccinated’ blood. Photograph: Michael Craig/AP
  • In New Zealand, a baby who was placed in his doctors’ care because his parents refused to consent to a transfusion of “vaccinated blood” for the operation, has had life-saving surgery, the parents’ lawyer has said. The six-month-old is doing well after the court lets doctors perform heart surgery against wishes of parents.

  • Global shares and the price of some key commodities have risen on hopes that the easing of China’s strict zero-Covid measures would help to bring down inflation, even as some experts warned that the country was not prepared to live with the disease.

  • The US justice department is seeking a top federal judge to hold Donald Trump’s political office in contempt of court for not fully complying with a grand jury subpoena issued in May demanding the return of all classified documents in its possession, according to a source familiar with the matter.

  • Maxwell Frost, the Florida Democrat who made history last month as the first Gen Z congressman-elect, made waves on social media yesterday after tweeting that he was struggling to find somewhere to live in Washington. Frost says he incurred debt from his campaign and had poor credit.

  • A Conservative MP has said he is planning to bring forward UK legislation in an attempt to strip the Duke and Duchess of Sussex of their royal titles. Bob Seely told the PA news agency he could propose the short private member’s bill early next year in an attempt to amend the 1917 Titles Deprivation Act.

US readers: would you like to talk to someone with a different political view?

Wome talking over a coffee at a cafe
Have you ever wanted to try to persuade someone with a different view? Photograph: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Where do you stand on healthcare, policing or stricter gun control? Have you ever wanted to try to persuade someone with a different view? Dining across the divide is a regular Guardian column, where we send two people who have opposing political views out for dinner. The aim is to find out whether meeting in person over a meal can bridge divides. So far we have only organised dinner dates within the UK but now we are putting together a special American edition of the series. We are interested in hearing from adults from every part of the US who are open to meeting and discussing opposing views with another reader. Find out how to apply here.

World Cup 2022: And then there were eight

The Brazil team celebrate their victory over South Korea in Qatar
Brazil are playing Croatia in the quarter-finals today. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

The World Cup quarter-finals start today. First up, at 10am ET, is Croatia v Brazil. The Brazilians were dazzling in their 4-1 dismantling of South Korea in the previous round, while Croatia squeaked past Japan after a penalty shootout. At 2pm ET is Argentina v Netherlands, a rivalry that goes back nearly 50 years. In the teams’ last World Cup meeting, the 2014 semi-final, Argentina won on penalties. “We have a score to settle,” said the Netherlands coach, Louis van Gaal, who was in charge in 2014 and still does not like to think about the match.

In Saturday’s matches Morocco, the last African team left in the tournament, will take on Portugal (10am ET), with a marquee match-up between England and France at 2pm ET. The Guardian will have live coverage, analysis and match reports from every game.

Elsewhere at the World Cup

  • The chief executive of the Qatar World Cup has been condemned by human rights groups for saying “death is a natural part of life – whether it’s at work, whether it’s in your sleep”, when asked about a migrant worker’s death at the tournament.

  • Rumors of discontent in the Portugal camp continue to grow. The Portuguese Football Federation has denied that Cristiano Ronaldo, the greatest player in the team’s history, threatened to walk out of the tournament. The 37-year-old was benched for this week’s win over Switzerland after reacting badly to a substitution in Portugal’s previous match. Ronaldo may find it hard to argue with the decision: his replacement, Gonçalo Ramos, scored a hat-trick against the Swiss.

Stat of the day: Group shaping US nutrition receives millions from big food industry

Silhouette of people in a meeting beneath the Nestlé logo
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has accepted at least $15m in 2011-17. Nestlé was among one of the highest contributors. Photograph: Laurent Gilliéron/AP

Newly released documents show an influential group that helps shape US food policy and steers consumers toward nutritional products has financial ties to the world’s largest processed food companies. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics accepted at least $15m from corporate and organizational contributors from 2011-17, and more than $4.5m in additional funding went to the academy’s foundation. Among the highest contributions came from companies including Nestlé, PepsiCo, Hershey, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Conagra, the National Dairy Council and the baby formula producer Abbott Nutrition.

Don’t miss this: The inherent misogyny of AI portraits – Amelia Earhart rendered naked on a bed

Composite of photo of Guardian reporter Caitlin Cassidy (L) and an AI-generated image based on a number of her photos (R) from the Lensa app, 8 Dec 2022
A photo of Guardian reporter Caitlin Cassidy (left) and an AI-generated image based on a number of her photos from the Lensa app. Photograph: Caitlin Cassidy/the Guardian

Officially, the Lensa AI app creates “magic avatars” that turn a user’s selfies into lushly stylized works of art, writes Alaina Demopoulos. It’s been touted by celebrities such as Chance the Rapper, Tommy Dorfman, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Britney Spears’ husband, Sam Asghari. But for many women the app does more than just spit out a pretty picture: the final results are highly sexualized, padding women’s breasts and turning their bodies into hourglass physiques. To test the software, the Guardian uploaded images of three different famous feminists: Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm and Amelia Earhart, who was rendered naked, leaning on to what appeared to be a bed.

Climate check: Rising temperatures causing distress to foetuses, study reveals

Lucy Jarju works to catch fish in the mangroves of the Gambia River in Serrekunda.
Lucy Jarju works to catch fish in the mangroves of the Gambia River in Serrekunda. Photograph: Léo Corrêa/AP

Rising temperatures driven by climate breakdown are causing distress to the fetuses of pregnant farmers, who are among the worst affected by global heating. A study revealed that the fetuses of women working in fields in the Gambia showed concerning rises in heart rates and reductions in the blood flow to the placenta as conditions became hotter. The women, who do much of the agricultural labour and work throughout pregnancy, told the scientists that temperatures had noticeably increased in the past decade. There is already strong evidence that extreme heat leads to increases in stillbirths, premature births and low birth weights.

Last thing: California girl given first-ever unicorn license

The girl was sent a heart-shaped, rose-colored metal tag with Permanent Unicorn License emblazoned on it, along with a white fuzzy unicorn soft toy.
The girl was sent a heart-shaped, rose-colored metal tag with Permanent Unicorn License emblazoned on it, along with a white fuzzy unicorn soft toy. Photograph: AP

A girl named Madeline, with a vivid imagination and remarkable awareness of how bureaucracy can dash dreams, got her wish when she asked Los Angeles animal control authorities for a license to own a unicorn – if she’s able to find one. The first of its kind permit came with strings attached, however: the mythical creature must be provided ample exposure to sunlight, moonbeams and rainbows, be fed watermelon at least once a week, have its horn polished at least once a month with a soft cloth and that any sparkles or glitter sprinkled on the animal be nontoxic and biodegradable.

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