April 22, 2019

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Brett Kavanaugh, Russia, France: Your Friday Briefing

Brett Kavanaugh, Russia, France: Your Friday Briefing
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Good morning. U.S. Senate Republicans align, the West goes after Russia and handicappers speculate about the Nobel Peace Prize.

Here’s the latest:

Kavanaugh confirmation appears near.

Deeply divided over the results of an F.B.I. investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the U.S. Senate moved uneasily toward a Friday morning vote to determine whether President Trump’s nominee will join the Supreme Court.

Republican leaders were increasingly confident of Judge Kavanaugh’s chances, but with four senators still undecided, his confirmation was not assured. Above, Senator Patrick Leahy arriving to view the sole copy of the F.B.I. report.

• More charges against Russia.

European officials accused Russia of cyberattacks on an organization investigating the poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal. They also pointed to interference with a Malaysian investigation into the passenger plane shot down over Ukraine in 2014.

Officials in London also revealed an attempted hack on the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office by Russian military intelligence officers in the aftermath of the attempted assassination of Mr. Skripal and his daughter.

Those were all part of a coordinated move by Western officials in accusing Russia of a series of cyberattacks that targeted investigations of Russian wrongdoing around the world. Above, equipment said to have been used by Russian hackers.


• “I will not change course.”

Consumer confidence is falling in France. So are its leader’s poll numbers. But President Emmanuel Macron is determined to press ahead with the most business-friendly overhaul of the French labor market in decades. And he promises tax cuts and other benefits for middle- and low-income earners.


Privatize the war in Afghanistan?

Erik Prince, the American mercenary executive, above, has been meeting with top officials in Kabul to sell them his vision of privatizing the war in Afghanistan.

But President Ashraf Ghani has refused to meet with Mr. Prince, the founder of Blackwater, the security firm infamous for killing civilians in Iraq. “Foreign mercenaries will never be allowed in this country,” Mr. Ghani said.

Still, Mr. Prince’s pitch to deploy contractors instead of U.S. soldiers seems to be striking a chord at a particularly sensitive moment. The Afghan security forces they support are dying in record numbers in clashes with a resurgent Taliban ahead of parliamentary elections next month.

The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced today.

Who will get it? There are more than 300 nominees this year, and the process of choosing a winner is famously opaque, with no public shortlist and no insight into what the independent Norwegian committee is looking for.

Regardless, some bookmakers have bets on President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, for working toward denuclearization. Another guess is the U.N. Refugee Agency.

So far this week, the Swedish Academy, which is responsible for the rest of the prizes, has handed out awards for medicine, physics and chemistry.

• What are household chores worth? About $1.6 trillion a year in Britain, according to a study. Among the top unpaid contributions to society are child care, cooking and driving young ones around.

• The E.U. is setting up a payments system to shield non-American companies from the U.S. sanctions against trade with Iran. The project faces technical challenges — and resistance from the Trump administration.

International travelers would be forgiven for thinking Kennedy International Airport looks nothing like a gateway to the grand metropolis that is New York. On Thursday, officials unveiled a $13 billion solution to the airport’s mess, including plans for two new terminals.

Here’s a snapshot of global markets. Markets in China are closed today.

Scars from the Troubles, the conflict that began in Northern Ireland 50 years ago, still run deep, and Brexit negotiations have opened new wounds. Above, a British soldier in Londonderry in 1969. [The New York Times]

Sanctions on a Turkish company for doing business with North Korea are intended as a tough signal to Pyongyang ahead of a visit by Mike Pompeo, the U.S. secretary of state. [The New York Times]

The Hamas leader in Gaza, Yehya Sinwar, told an Israeli newspaper that war was in “no one’s interest,” but warned that under current circumstances, “an explosion is inevitable.” [The New York Times]

The Trump administration’s first public counterterrorism strategy claimed a new approach. But it embraced many plans of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. [The New York Times]

• The cries for help heard by rescuers on a devastated Indonesian island after last week’s earthquake and tsunami have mostly gone silent. [The New York Times]

• Burst bubbles: A winery in Italy lost 8,000 gallons of prosecco after one of its fermentation tanks exploded. [CBS]

Tips for a more fulfilling life.

Are Neanderthals helping to keep us well? Scientists have found evidence that a tiny bit of genetic code carried by the descendants of ancestors from Asia and Europe may offer protection from viruses — including those related to influenza, herpes and H.I.V.

It has been a career-defining time for Simona Halep of Romania. At 27, she is enjoying her No. 1 ranking since winning her first Grand Slam at the French Open. She talked to The Times about her big year.

After Rosa Van Been married Joseph Bouglione in a lion cage, the Bouglione family bought the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris, more than 80 years ago. Mrs. Bouglione died recently at 107. The circus is still operating.

Last week, Scrabble players got some good news when the Merriam-Webster Official Scrabble Players Dictionary added 300 new words. (Think yowza, bibimbap, ok, zen and qapik, an Azerbaijani coin.) It was the latest chapter in the game’s long history.

Its inventor, Alfred Butts, first called the game Lexiko. Then Criss Cross Words. At one point, he simply called it, It. He modified rules, added a playing board. Toy manufacturers were unmoved.

“After giving your game our very careful review and consideration, we do not feel we would be interested in adding this item to our line,” read a letter to Mr. Butts from the Milton Bradley company.

Almost certainly the company regretted turning down the game, which became Scrabble in 1948 after an individual investor got involved.

Despite competition from online games like Words With Friends, the board version remains popular, selling an estimated one to two million sets annually in North America. It has been translated into some 29 languages, including German.

This reporter can number among her proud achievements petitioning Words With Friends to add “ew” to its word list. Last week, “ew” also became an acceptable word in Scrabble (along with another two-letter word, “ok,” opening up new strategic possibilities).

Nancy Wartik wrote today’s Back Story.


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