Your Thursday briefing

The United States took another grim milestone on Wednesday, killing 250,000 coronavirus-related deaths, more than any other country in the world. That number is expected to continue to climb rapidly, with experts predicting an upcoming daily toll of 2,000 or more deaths.

There have been more than 11.5 million cases in the country, up from 6.9 million on September 22, according to to a New York Times database.

Public health experts cited lack of national strategy as the main reason for the high number of cases and deaths in the country. Instead, a patchwork of state-by-state measures is being put in place to tackle the viral crisis.

There is a thin silver lining: The rise in the number of cases has sped up testing of vaccines that could end the pandemic and allowed drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna to speed up testing of their vaccines, which seem to be very effective to prevent Covid-19.

Britain took action on Wednesday to tackle some of the country’s largest remaining sources of greenhouse gas emissions, announcing plans to end the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars from a decade ago and change the way people heat their homes.

These measures may herald Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s efforts to pressure other countries to cut emissions as they approach major climate talks that Britain will host next year. They could also indicate a common cause for Britain and the United States, as Mr Johnson prepares for the new Biden administration.

Climate activists see the announcement as Britain’s most ambitious step to protect the planet since deciding to end the use of coal five years ago, but they wondered if the level of investment would be sufficient.

The effects of burning fossil fuels: Huge volcanic eruptions have ignited oil and coal deposits in Siberia, ultimately leading to mass extinction in the Permian-Triassic “Great Dying” event, the scientists discovered.

A elite commando force formed in the United States could collapse if President Trump withdraws US troops from Somalia, as he should, leaving the country vulnerable to Shabab and other terrorist groups.

Following Tuesday’s announcement by the Pentagon of the reduction of the US military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, the acting Secretary of Defense is expected to approve plans to withdraw most, if not all, of the more than 700 American soldiers in Somalia leading training and counterterrorism missions.

The context: The US military presence has been heavily focused on training, equipping and supporting Somalia’s elite unit of 850 soldiers. The plan would be to transfer tasks to US forces in Djibouti and Kenya, allowing these stations to carry out strikes against the Shabab.

Israeli strikes on Syria: Israel said the strikes on Wednesday morning were targeting Iranian targets in Syria. They were carried out just hours before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Bahraini counterpart visited to commemorate a new normalization deal brokered by the United States.

Before a Swiss referee panel this month, six Russian athletes made an emotional appeal: please don’t punish us for something we didn’t participate in. Above, the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Russia was banned from the competition, but its flag was still flying.

In the struggle for lift Russia’s four-year ban on international sports when it comes to doping, Russia has put its athletes in a leading role. If the country succeeds in overturning its ban, the effort to make it pay the price for brazen cheating will be seen as a failure.

Floods in the Philippines: In the past two weeks, torrential rains and consecutive typhoons killed up to 70 people, leaving dozens of towns in Cagayan province underwater.

Migrant crisis: The Greek authorities have accused an Afghan in the death of her 6-year-old son as the two tried to reach the country by sea. Human rights groups say the move sets a worrying precedent and is part of a strategy to deter migrants from trying to get to the country.

Birmingham bombings: Police arrested a man in Northern Ireland in connection with the notorious bombardment of two pubs in England almost half a century ago, 21 people died.

Boeing: The Federal Aviation Administration Wednesday paved the way for the takeover of the 737 Max theft, 20 months after it was grounded after two fatal accidents was blamed on faulty software and a host of corporate and government failures.

Instantaneous: Armenian villagers filming a burning house before leaving Kelbajar, Azerbaijan, above. In this dispatch from the Nagorno-Karabakh region, our journalist describes the devastating consequences of the Armenians’ flight from what they consider to be their historic lands.

The smells of Europe: A project announced this week and funded by the EU catalog and recreate the scents of Europe, in all their stinking wonder, from the 16th century to the beginning of the 20th century.

Lives lived: British writer Jill Paton Walsh, whose novel “Knowledge of Angels” would be the first self-published book to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize, has deceased at 83.

What we read: This Grub Street ode at the New York Sherpa Lox. Adam Pasick, our newsletter editor, calls it a “tragic and utterly captivating obituary.”

Grow: Harvest your own microgreens. This harvest requires little patience and presents a fortunately minimal rebellion.

Need to fill your evening? Take a look at our At home collection for ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.

With the release of Barack Obama’s memoir “A Promised Land,” the National Book Awards and the Booker Prize, crowned with the publication of The Times’ Annual List of Outstanding Books, our editors and book reviewers are stepping up the task of a notch or two this week. Pamela Paul, editor-in-chief of Book review, and Andrew LaVallee, associate editor in the office, talked about this busy period.

How is it going in the publishing world in general this year?

Andrew: It was crazy. We cover both the business and cultural dimensions of the publishing world, which has grappled not only with the pandemic, but with increased interest and intensity around diversity and issues of racial and social justice.

Pamela: This political cycle has also been incredibly intense with books, dating back to Michael Wolff’s ‘Fire and Fury’ in 2018. There was just a book after book embargo out of Washington. This year alone we have had books from John Bolton, Bob Woodward, and Mary Trump.

How long have you been working on compiling lists?

Pamela: The 100 Notable Books and the Top 10 Books are one-year processes. Book review editors start meeting as a team in January, then in August we have 1.5 hour meetings every few weeks to cut down on suitors. Then we make the final choice with a ballot vote that often goes to a second round, which he has done this year.

Is the field less competitive this year?

Pamela: Compared to the rest of the cultural world, books are doing quite well, in fact. Unlike film, theater and television, the book world has not been interrupted halfway. Many books have had their publication dates delayed, but most came out this year as planned, just a little later.

Are there any clear favorites?

Pamela: There has not been a lot of crossover between short lists and long lists from other institutions so far. There was only one book that made both the Booker Prize list and the National Book Award finalist list, namely “Shuggie Bain” by Douglas Stuart. There does not seem to be a merger around a particular title.

Thank you for spending part of your morning with The Times. Until tomorrow.

– Natasha

Thank you
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the news break. You can reach Natasha and the team at

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