Coronavirus, Davos, Impeachment: Your Wednesday Briefing
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We’re covering China’s handling of a deadly outbreak, speculation about Vladimir Putin’s next moves and an Armenian outpost that tracks cosmic weather.
China’s leader under pressure as deadly virus spreads
Experts at the World Health Organization will meet today to determine whether an outbreak of a deadly coronavirus that is radiating outward from the Chinese city of Wuhan is an international health emergency. Here’s what we know.
In a vivid report from Wuhan, population 11 million, our correspondent describes how nervous residents are buying up face masks and flooding hospitals to report fevers and coughs. He also explains why President Xi Jinping, who is eager to expand China’s global influence, is under pressure to show that the world’s most populous nation can responsibly handle a public health crisis.
Details: The outbreak has already killed at least nine and infected more than 400 people in China, and spread to at least five other countries, including the United States. The virus is thought to have originated with animals but is now spreading from person to person.
What’s next: The worry is that the outbreak will ripple farther across Asia as many people there travel for the weeklong Lunar New Year holiday that begins on Friday, and possibly turn into a pandemic.
Background: China withheld information during a 2002-2003 outbreak of another coronavirus, SARS, that killed more than 800 people. Mr. Xi’s authoritarian government has vowed to do better this time, but it’s already controlling the narrative about the virus by censoring news articles and social media posts.
Go deeper: Our graphics editor mapped where cases have been reported so far. Others have most likely gone unreported.
Climate change tops the agenda at Davos
When President Trump swooped into the World Economic Forum in Switzerland on Tuesday, he implicitly criticized Greta Thunberg and other climate change activists, saying that they peddled warnings of doom at a time of economic prosperity for Americans.
But global warming and sustainability were the meeting’s main themes, and Ms. Thunberg, 17, refused to share Mr. Trump’s optimism. In her own speech, she warned the Davos elite that inaction on climate change was “fueling the flames by the hour,” and implored them to stop investing in fossil fuels immediately.
Quotable: “From a sustainability perspective, the right, the left as well as the center have all failed,” Ms. Thunberg said. “No political ideology or economic structure has been able to tackle the climate and environmental emergency.”
Related: Our correspondent took an in-depth look at how climate change contributed to the devastating fires that have so far burned through more than 16 million acres in Australia.
If you missed it yesterday: Federal funding to fight natural disasters in the United States is complicated by conservative states that either play down or completely avoid mentioning climate change in their applications.
Impeachment trial opens with partisan clash
Democrats may begin their oral arguments as early as today in the impeachment trial of President Trump, who is expected to return to Washington from Davos hours later.
The trial began in earnest on Tuesday with partisan fights over its ground rules, and Republicans blocked Democrats’ efforts to subpoena witnesses and documents related to Ukraine. Here are the highlights.
What’s next: The White House had wanted to quickly dispense with opening arguments so that Mr. Trump’s team could complete his defense before the weekend. But moderate Republicans insisted on a rules change that would give each side 24 hours over three days — not two, as the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, had proposed — to present its case.
Related: Mr. Trump’s trial is the second of the mass-media era, but the news media is not allowed to bring cameras into the chamber to record it. That means cameras and microphones controlled by Senate staff members will dictate what the public sees and hears.
Putin keeps Kremlinologists guessing
Russia’s chattering classes are busy parsing the surprise constitutional changes that President Vladimir Putin announced last week, changes that could create new avenues for him to rule the country for the rest of his life.
Or perhaps not. On social media, our correspondent writes from Moscow, Russian political analysts “have put forward so many different theories that they paint a picture of a nation in collective befuddlement.”
Case in point: Mr. Putin’s announcement prompted a string of high-level resignations and unexpected appointments. Yet the new cabinet, announced on Tuesday, includes the most prominent members of the last one.
Background: Many analysts initially thought that the constitutional changes were intended to allow Mr. Putin, 67, to take up a powerful role when his second presidential term expires in 2024. Now they aren’t so sure.
If you have 7 minutes, this is worth it
Pennies from heaven
Scientists see giant particle accelerators, in which protons collide at astonishingly high speeds, as an essential technology for unlocking the secrets of the cosmos.
But spare a thought for the Aragats Cosmic Ray Research Station, above, a mountaintop research station in Armenia that tracks exploding stars and the cosmic weather they produce.
The station, established by the Soviet Union in 1943, gradually lost influence as particle accelerators and other technologies came online. But its staff members are still churning out papers, our science reporter writes, and its buildings and instruments have endured “like ghost ships in the cosmic rain.”
Here’s what else is happening
Remembering Auschwitz: Dozens of world leaders are expected to speak out against anti-Semitism at an event in Jerusalem’s Holy City today for the impending 75th anniversary of the liberation of the infamous death camp in Poland. A philosophy professor drew lessons from the Holocaust in a piece for our Opinion section.
Terrorism crackdown: Britain said on Tuesday that it would introduce tougher laws that will entail longer prison sentences and end early release for people convicted of terrorism offenses.
Royals abroad: Prince Harry is said to have arrived on Tuesday in Canada, where he joined his wife and their 8-month-old son, Archie. But almost nothing is known about their plans to live part time in the country.
Deep sea discovery: Scientists dropped alligator carcasses deep into the Gulf of Mexico to investigate what scavengers might be lurking at the bottom. They were surprised by what they found.
Snapshot: Above, Lebanese demonstrators face off against the police this morning, a day after the government announced a new cabinet. The country has been mired in a debt crisis and protests over corruption and mismanagement.
I quit: Our collection of 21 first-person narratives discusses quitting all sorts of things, including jobs, sex, a famous band — and even the task of writing about quitting.
What we’re reading: This article in The New Yorker. Brent Staples, a Pulitzer Prize-winning member of the Times’s editorial board, calls it “a vivid new history” of “how slave rebellions (not white abolitionists) defeated slavery in the hell that was the Caribbean.”
Now, a break from the news
Cook: If you’re looking for comfort food, make a batch of sopa de albóndigas, a Mexican meatball soup.
Watch: The Welsh actor Michael Sheen discussed his portrayal of a serial killer dad on the show “Prodigal Son” and how he does — and doesn’t — take his role home with him.
Read: Kyle Chayka’s new book, “The Longing for Less,” explores minimalism as a manifestation of civilization’s discontents, among other things.
Smarter Living: Organize your fridge the way pros do. It saves both food and time.
And now for the Back Story on …
The media spotlight
One of the reasons Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, cited in their decision to step back from their royal duties is the need for a more private life.
The desire is understandable. Paparazzi hound celebrities of all kinds, and the prince’s mother, Diana, died in Paris as her car raced away from photographers.
Fifty-one years ago, another hounded Brit took a very different approach.
John Lennon had become a global star as the Beatles rose to extravagant heights of popularity, but in 1969, the band was inexorably breaking up. The other Beatles’ lack of enthusiasm for Mr. Lennon’s devotion to the conceptual artist Yoko Ono added to the tension — and further whetted the public appetite for gossipy details.
After the two married in March of that year, in a hastily arranged ceremony in Gibraltar, they knew there was no way to avoid being set upon by reporters and photographers.
So they invited them in. They took up residence for days at a hotel in Amsterdam, holding open hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and later did the same in Montreal, using the “bed-ins” to promote global peace.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
— Mike and Sofia
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news.Andrea Kannapell, the Briefings editor, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: Guitarist’s time to shine (four letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Nicole Perlroth, who covers cybersecurity for The Times, answered readers’ questions on Russian hacking and the coming U.S. election in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything).
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