Coronavirus, Wisconsin Shooting, Syrian Refugees: Your Thursday Briefing

Coronavirus, Wisconsin Shooting, Syrian Refugees: Your Thursday Briefing

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Nine years into the Syrian civil war, government forces have intensified their assault on the last remaining rebel-held territory, displacing nearly a million residents in the past three months alone.

The attacks have created one of the worst humanitarian crises of the war, with three million people trapped between a closed Turkish border to the north and bombs and shells thundering up from the south and east. Nine children have died of exposure in recent weeks.

“There are a lot of other people dying,” said one refugee who lost his 18-month-old daughter. “Nobody cares.”

Relief efforts: With much of the area under fire, many aid organizations cannot reach civilians. And aid workers who supply water, blankets and food are fleeing their own homes, leaving the humanitarian response mired in chaos.

Violence against women is rampant in Afghanistan, and there are few legal consequences for abusers. One women’s prison in the city of Herat houses many women who felt that murdering their husbands was the only way to escape their abusive marriages.

In the facility, which is also run and staffed by women, many found some semblance of peace, and said they felt freer in prison than they had in their marriages.

Germany: The country’s highest court overturned a ban on organized medically assisted suicide, an issue with special resonance in a country where Nazi doctors euthanized hundreds of thousands during World War II.

U.S. shooting: A man opened fire at a Molson Coors complex, formerly Miller Brewery, in Wisconsin and killed at least six people, including himself. Officials said the gunman was an employee of the brewing company and was in uniform at the time of the attack.

Maria Sharapova: The Russian tennis star, 32, announced her retirement. A five-time Grand Slam winner, she had been worn down by injuries after a suspension for using a banned substance.

#MeToo: Spain’s National Institute of Performing Arts and Music canceled upcoming performances by the opera star Plácido Domingo, a day after an investigation found he had “engaged in inappropriate activity” toward women.

Snapshot: Above, tourists in the South Shetland Islands. Tourism in Antarctica is booming, with visitor numbers this austral summer expected to rise by nearly 40 percent from last season. But in this remote part of the world, people are asking whether such rapid growth will imperil visitor safety and damage the environment.

What we’re reading: This Vulture article about the rise of corporate speak. “Molly Young puts into plain but excellent words everything I feel and believe about corporate jargon,” says Pamela Paul, our Books editor.

Cook: This soothing vegetable soup comes together in about an hour.

Read: “The Mirror and the Light” concludes Hilary Mantel’s Tudor trilogy with the fall of its protagonist, Thomas Cromwell. Here’s our review.

Watch: The Netflix series “I Am Not Okay With This” has familiar teen angst and superhero stories, but distinguishes itself with superpowered performances and a commitment to the young-adult genre.

Smarter Living: Settling into a new home can be overwhelming. Here are some simple steps to take first.

Li Yuan, our New New World columnist, wrote today about rare public dissent in China as people grow increasingly frustrated with the government’s response to the coronavirus.

Walk us through the origins of this backlash.

When Li Wenliang, the doctor who tried to warn China about the virus, died, I stayed up the whole night, and so did many, many Chinese people.

From that night on, it seems to me there has been a tug of war between the online population — the public — and the propaganda machine. The online revolt was something I had never seen before. I had never seen something so unanimous — people sad and angry at the same time. People saw themselves in him.

What was the shift that happened at that moment?

There are more people willing to speak out. Especially young people, they’re really organizing themselves. I was stunned to find that so many people were just so outspoken, laughing at how ridiculous the party was in trying to spin the huge national disaster into something positive. One blog post was headlined: “News Coverage Should Stop Turning a Funeral Into a Wedding.”

I took so many screenshots — because posts can disappear in like a minute. Everybody takes a lot of screenshots, and people figured out how to build an online archive of media articles, social media posts and videos outside the Chinese internet, because it’s censored. They want to keep records of this collective memory. That feels quite unprecedented.

Is there still a fear of censorship or punishment?

Everybody is fearful. I would say it’s very hard not to live in fear in China.

Why isn’t the messaging working this time?

I don’t think there has ever been any event that has affected 1.4 billion people. Everybody has to at least stay at home, not go out, try to find masks. Many people have this question: “Why didn’t we know this before, why didn’t the government tell us earlier?”

People are frustrated. They also read so many heartbreaking stories and watched so many videos and they are just really sad. The party came out like, “Oh, these medical workers are so brave — let’s celebrate our unity.” Many people are like, “I don’t want to do that right now.” I don’t think many people are in the mood of celebrating.

What will the Communist Party do now?

Since Dr. Li’s death, they really enhanced the censorship. They’re sending out a very clear message: We don’t want you to talk about the negative effects of this outbreak.

Eventually, the government will win probably because it’s just too powerful. At the same time, I don’t think we should underestimate the anger, frustration and resilience of the Chinese people, especially the young people.

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Tom

Thank you
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. Melina Delkic contributed to the newsletter and wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at

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