U.S. Democracy, European Vaccinations, French Scandal: Your Wednesday Briefing


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Good morning.

We’re covering a test of U.S. democracy, Europe’s struggle to roll out coronavirus vaccines and the growing realization that the struggles of 2020 are not over.

Today, Congress will hold a joint session to confirm the victory of President-elect Joe Biden. The process is normally perfunctory, but this time, the sitting U.S. president is refusing to accept the result, and a number of Republican lawmakers plan to object.

That moment loomed as the country awaited the results of two runoff elections in Georgia that will shape the Senate under the Biden presidency. Both races were close, and President Trump and his campaign have been acting in ways that could undermine confidence in the results. Here’s the latest.

Pence’s no: According to people briefed on the conversation, Vice President Mike Pence told Mr. Trump on Tuesday that he did not believe he had the power to block the certification of Mr. Biden’s victory today, despite the president’s assertion to the contrary.

Scotland’s no: As rumors circulated that Mr. Trump might try to visit the country when Mr. Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said newly imposed virus restrictions would rule out that possibility.


Italy and Greece have shortages of needles. Spain has not trained enough nurses. France has managed to vaccinate only 7,000 people or so. Poland’s program was rocked by scandal over celebrity inoculations. The Netherlands is beginning its campaign 10 days after receiving its doses. Nearly every European country has complained about burdensome paperwork.

Meantime, a more contagious variant of the coronavirus has put the world on edge, and — despite most Europeans having spent months under varying degrees of restrictions — record numbers of virus patients are flooding hospitals.

The caseloads put a double burden on the very health care providers tasked with leading vaccination drives, a situation shared by the U.S.

Britain’s race: Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that 1.3 million people in Britain had been vaccinated and that he hoped that the 13 million most vulnerable, a group including the elderly, could receive the vaccine by mid-February. But the country has little time. New figures show that one in 50 people there have been infected, and his government said that more than 60,000 new cases had been recorded in a single day for the first time.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:


This is Temur Akhmedov, who shares a last name with his parents — and is the focus of Britain’s priciest divorce.

His mother, Tatiana, is trying to wrest nearly $100 million in cash and assets from him, arguing that Temur was instrumental in helping his father and her ex-husband, Farkhad, shuttle millions into trusts and tax havens to frustrate her efforts to obtain her $615 million divorce settlement.

Tawdry details: Allegations of infidelity made by both husband and wife led to divorce, and Farkhad refused to even send a lawyer to the 2016 proceedings that created the settlement. But the overseeing judge assessed documents purporting to show that a court in Moscow had previously dissolved the marriage as “forged,” and it has all gone downhill from there.

“People around the world counted down to the end of 2020 with relish, pegging their hopes on the idea that the New Year would bring vaccines and something that felt like normalcy. But the coronavirus keeps no calendar. It has kept doing what it does: spreading, killing, sowing grief.

“But it’s not just the realization that the vaccines aren’t an instant panacea that has been such a gut punch. It’s that life is still upended everywhere.”

Our Rome bureau chief, Jason Horowitz, reports on the mood in Europe and elsewhere as 2021 gets underway.

French scandal: Olivier Duhamel, 70, a political scientist and media figure, has quit his media and university posts after being accused of committing incest with his teenage stepson decades ago in a book by the stepson’s twin sister, Camille Kouchner. The two are the children of Bernard Kouchner, a co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, and the late Évelyne Pisier, a writer who later married Mr. Duhamel.

Julian Assange: Lawyers for the WikiLeaks founder are to request his temporary release today from the maximum-security Belmarsh prison in London, two days after a London judge ruled against his extradition to the U.S. on charges of espionage.

Oil prices: OPEC, Russia and other oil producers reached a compromise on Tuesday that pushed prices up to levels not seen since February.

Cold War bonus: Imagery from an U.S. spy program directed at the Soviets in the ’60s and ’70s, using what were called Corona satellites, gathered approximately 850,000 images that were classified until the mid-1990s. They have been helping scientists — including Linda Zall at the C.I.A. — chart climate change.

Snapshot: Above, a group in a rented igloo in New York City. Restaurants and cafes, limited to offering outdoor dining, are getting creative during a grim winter.

What we’re reading: This Der Spiegel interview with the BioNTech founders Ozlem Tureci and Ugur Sahin. It has reassuring information about the virus variant (yes, the vaccine will still be effective against it) and insights into the amazing lives of this “first couple of pharmaceuticals.”

Cook: This yam and plantain curry with crispy shallots is an adaptation of asaro, a dish of starchy root vegetables simmered in a seasoned tomato- and chile-based sauce that is served across the south of Nigeria and other parts of West Africa.

Read: Himalaya: A Human History,” by Ed Douglas, a journalist and climber, unfolds the story of the world’s highest mountain range and its equally outsize impact on mankind.

Do: Pretend you’re in Cartagena. The Colombian city is so full of magic that it has inspired entire books by Gabriel García Márquez.

Whether it’s books or baking, we have you covered. At Home has ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.

David Vecsey, a Times copy editor, wrote about the gaffes and blunders that can keep him up at night. Here’s an excerpt.

It is a feeling that every copy editor knows. You bolt upright out of a deep sleep at 3 a.m., eyes wide open, and you say to yourself, Did I misspell “Kyrgyzstan” last night? And nine times out of 10, you can go back to sleep comfortably knowing … that you did.

Copy editors have an almost photographic memory when it comes to the words that pass before our eyes. Unfortunately, the cameras we use are those old-fashioned tripods that use flaming magnesium for a flash and take hours, or even days, for the pictures to develop.

But eventually it all comes back in a rush of clarity. You might be pushing your toddler through the park on a glorious sunny day off when suddenly you ask yourself: Did I say Dallas was the capital of Texas last week? Yes. Yes, you did. You idiot.

My job, simply speaking, is to get things right. So there is no worse feeling than the realization that you have entered a correctable error into print and that a correction will appear a day or two later to proclaim, “Because of an editing error …”

The Times has strict policies on corrections: If it’s wrong, even if just for a few minutes online or in one edition of the print newspaper, it is supposed to get a correction. It is this dedication to accuracy that earns the trust of our readers.

Reading through New York Times corrections is like taking a guided tour of journalism’s pitfalls. It’s where you discover the Ginsberg-Ginsburg Vortex, a black hole that has devoured many a journalist who has confused the names of the poet and the justice.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you have to shake off your mistakes and move on. And someday, by God, I will learn how to do that.


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

— Andrea


Thank you
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach the team at briefing@nytimes.com.

P.S.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is Part 2 of a series on the Senate runoff races in Georgia.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: Rubberneck (four letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• An internal Times email this week reminded reporters not to use “strain” as a synonym for “variant.” A virus strain is less than 94 percent genetically identical to a known virus, as the email explained. The new coronavirus variant is more than 99.99 percent identical.



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