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'A reckoning is near': Does US still need its vast military empire?

Good morning, Daily Briefing readers. Did you know that more than 100,000 Americans are employed at overseas military bases? Do they need to be there? It’s Jane, with Thursday's news.

Here’s what people are reading right now:

👀 Ted Cruz is involved in another Twitter spat, this time with "Star Wars" actress Daisy Ridley.

🐑 Baarack the sheep got a much-needed shearing after being weighed down by more than 75 pounds of wool – and “is getting more confident everyday."

🛍 Victoria’s Secret plans to permanently shutter 30 to 50 more stores in the U.S. this year, its parent company, L Brands, has announced.

🗣 We're hosting our first Clubhouse event! Join us Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on Clubhouse for a conversation with health experts about how COVID-19 is impacting communities of color. We will also be answering audience questions.

🎧 On today's 5 Things podcast, we hear about the Equality Act before a crucial House vote. And, a reminder: you can listen to the podcast every day on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your smart speaker.

Here's what's happening today:

America has a vast overseas military empire. Does it still need it?

For decades, the U.S. has enjoyed global military dominance, its reach vast and empire-like. The Department of Defense spends more than $700 billion a year on weaponry and combat preparedness — more than the next 10 countries combined, according to economic think tank the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. In Germany, about 45,000 Americans go to work each day around the Kaiserslautern Military Community, a network of U.S. Army and Air Force bases that accommodates schools, housing complexes, hospitals, community centers, and retail stores. About 60,000 American military and civilian personnel are stationed in Japan; another 30,000 in South Korea. More than 6,000 U.S. military personnel are spread across Africa, according to the Department of Defense. Yet today, amid a sea change in security threats, America's military might overseas may be less relevant than it once was, say some security analysts, defense officials and former and active U.S. military service members. 

The Equality Act with protections for LGBTQ Americans goes up for vote

The House is set to pass sweeping legislation Thursday prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. The Equality Act would amend existing federal civil rights laws to extend protections for LGBTQ Americans in what Democratic lawmakers and advocates say would make significant progress toward legal protections for all Americans. Nine members of the House openly identify as LGBTQ and two in the Senate, amounting to about 2% of each chamber. A recent Gallup Poll showed a record 5.6% of U.S. adults identified as LGBTQ. The Equality Act, one of President Joe Biden's top legislative priorities, faces an uncertain future in the Senate. 

COVID-19: Some NYC middle schoolers back in classrooms; drug chains expand vaccinations

New York City is set to reopen public middle schools for in-person learning for the first time since November on Thursday. The decision affects about 62,000 students who opted for in-person learning last year, the New York Times reported. About 70 percent of the city's students have opted out of in-person classes altogether and will learn from home for the rest of the school year. Meanwhile, CVS and Walgreens drugstores will start vaccinations in more states Thursday. CVS will add stores in six states, including Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Walgreens is expanding into California, Oregon and Virginia, among other states.

Los Angeles sheriff: Tiger Woods' crash 'purely an accident'

Los Angeles County deputies saw no evidence that golf star Tiger Woods was impaired by drugs or alcohol after Tuesday’s rollover wreck on a downhill stretch of road known for crashes, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said, characterizing the crash as “purely an accident.” The sheriff appeared to rule out any potential criminal charges even as authorities were still investigating the crash, which caused “significant” injuries to Woods' right leg, requiring surgery. Personal injury attorney Justin King said that if investigators prove the road is unsafe, the municipality that controls it could be held liable. Meanwhile, the sheriff said investigators may seek search warrants for a blood sample to definitively rule out drugs and alcohol. Detectives also could apply for search warrants for Woods’ cell phone to see if he was driving distracted, as well as the vehicle’s event data recorder, or “black box,” which would give information about how fast he was going. Injuries have been an unfortunate common occurrence for Woods. But he always made it back to winning on the golf course. Even after four back surgeries, he won the Masters in 2019 for the fifth time, which ranks among the great comebacks in the sport.

More news you need to know:

What will conservatives do next? Meet up at CPAC

Conservatives looking for a way forward after the tumultuous presidency of Donald Trump will gather in Orlando on Thursday for the four-day Conservative Political Action Conference. Founded in 1974, the event has since become the most influential meeting ground for the conservative movement. Speakers listed on the CPAC website include many Republican heavy hitters (and potential presidential candidates), including Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., former secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. All of them, however, are likely to be overshadowed by Trump, who is scheduled to close out the program Sunday.

And finally: Rescuers help stranded orca back to sea 

When a young killer whale beached – rare for an orca – rescuers in Scotland worked tirelessly to get it back in the water. Watch it swim to safety in this Animalkind video.