Monday, December 31, 2018

Your Monday Evening Briefing

Shutdown, Elizabeth Warren, Happy New Year |
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Monday, December 31, 2018

Your Monday Evening Briefing
Good evening. Here's the latest.
Al Drago for The New York Times
1. The ninth day of the federal government's partial shutdown brought us no closer to an end to the impasse that has affected 800,000 federal workers and shuttered parts of nine cabinet-level departments.
President Trump has repeatedly called allies to reassure them that he will not back away from the promise of a border wall he's made in rally after rally — though his outgoing chief of staff, John Kelly, said in an interview published Sunday that the administration had backed away from the idea of a solid concrete wall long ago. Above, the Capitol.
Democrats were preparing to pass a bill to fund the parts of the government that are not part of the Department of Homeland Security. The House is expected to vote on the package of six bills on Thursday, after the new Congress convenes with Democrats in control and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California is sworn in as speaker.
Elizabeth Frantz for The New York Times
2. The 2020 presidential race gets into gear.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is the first major candidate to enter what is likely to be a crowded Democratic primary race. The winner will challenge President Trump in 2020.
"The problem we've got right now in Washington is that it works great for those who've got money to buy influence, and I'm fighting against that," Ms. Warren said in a statement outside her home, above, where she was joined by her husband and their dog. Our video team compiled a blow-by-blow history of the fractious relationship between Ms. Warren and Mr. Trump.
Even though the earliest voting is 13 months away, Julián Castro, the former federal housing secretary and San Antonio mayor, also formed exploratory committees this month. Several more candidates are expected to declare in coming weeks. They're all roughly on schedule, our politics team says.
Alexandria Sheriff's Office, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
3. An American was detained in Moscow on espionage charges, adding to tensions between Moscow and Washington over the issues of election hacking and influence peddling.
Just a few weeks ago, a Russian, Maria Butina, above, admitted to being involved in an effort backed by Russian officials to lobby influential Americans in the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party.
The American, identified by Russian officials as Paul Nicholas Whelan, was taken into custody "during an act of espionage," according to a statement.
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Steve Gribben
4. A milestone in space exploration.
At 12:33 a.m. Eastern, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will pass within about 2,200 miles of a mysterious icy world called Ultima Thule. It's believed to be a pristine fragment from the earliest days of the solar system, and it will be the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft.
If you're up, coverage of the flyby will be broadcast on the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics lab's website and YouTube channel as well as NASA TV. On Twitter, updates will appear on @NewHorizons2015 and @NASANewHorizons. Above, an artist's rendering of the flyby.
Also, our science team put together a list of the coming year's major meteor showers.
Caitlin O'Hara for The New York Times
5. Driverless cars are coming under attack.
Autonomous vehicles have been attacked nearly two dozen times over the past two years in Chandler, Ariz., a city near Phoenix where one company, Waymo, started testing its vans in 2017. Above, a Waymo van crossing an intersection.
People have pelted the vans with rocks and tried to run them off the road. One man waved a gun at a vehicle and the emergency backup driver inside.
Some analysts say they expect more such confrontations, given the potential for self-driving cars to eliminate jobs and otherwise change society.
"There's a growing sense that the giant corporations honing driverless technologies do not have our best interests at heart," one expert told us.
Zoran Marinovic for The New York Times
6. It's tough to be an oyster in the Balkans.
Salt from the sea, fresh water from the rivers and rich phytoplankton on the seafloor give local oysters a crisp, balanced flavor, prized since Roman times.
But thousands of hydropower plants are being built in the Balkans, and some of Europe's last wild rivers are being dammed. Some oyster farmers worry that the region's deep ethnic tensions might cloud decision-making on dam sites that could ruin their ecosystem. Above, shucking the harvest in Croatia.
"Oysters know nothing of nationalities or ethnicities," a Croat who owns seafood restaurants told us. "But politicians? They prosper on dividing people."
Doug Mills/The New York Times
7. What happens when you are part of the first American men's curling team to win an Olympic gold medal?
"I had a feeling that it would be crazy," said one of the teammates, "but it's so far beyond what any of us could have imagined." Above, competing in Gangneung, South Korea.
These wizards with brooms and sliding granite rocks have spent nearly a year making public appearances, and letting insistent fans touch, kiss and wear their medals.
Sonny Figueroa/The New York Times
8. This week in Wine School, our critic's monthly column, we're checking out some of the wines you may have overlooked if you tend to seek out distinctive, small-production labels.
Love them or hate them, he writes, there are some mass-produced wines worth getting to know, including several reds from California, above, that are among the most popular wines in the country.
Eric Helgas for The New York Times
9. The hottest toy this holiday season was the L.O.L. Surprise! Bigger Surprise, a pink plastic suitcase filled with doe-eyed plastic dolls and many, many sparkly accessories.
The surprise: There's no way to know before you open the case exactly which dolls and which accessories. And each tiny item (wigs, handbags, clothing, pets, sports gear) is individually wrapped.
This version and last year's Big Surprise version were created to capitalize on YouTube's unboxing trend — user-generated videos showing merchandise being opened. Join our writer as she reveals what's in her L.O.L. suitcase.
Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images
10. Finally, here we are at the threshold of a new year.
Our photographers are chronicling celebrations as the calendar changes over across the globe. Above, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Closer to home, we're sharing the origin story of the Times Square ball drop.
Best wishes for a peaceful and memorable 2019.
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