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The curious case of an American charged with espionage, a new session of the U.S. Congress and a plan to return art to Africa. Here’s the latest:
American accused of spying in Russia
An American citizen has been charged with spying in Russia, his lawyer said.
The Russian authorities have brought espionage charges against Paul Whelan, a former Marine who is the head of global security for an auto parts maker. If convicted, Mr. Whelan faces up to 20 years in prison.
Why Russia: Mr. Whelan’s family said he was in Russia to attend the wedding of a friend. A Russian news agency reported that he was accused of trying to recruit a Russian citizen to obtain classified information.
Possible exchange: There has been widespread speculation that Russia seized Mr. Whelan to exchange him for Maria Butina, a Russian who pleaded guilty in a U.S. federal court to conspiring to act as a foreign agent and influence N.R.A. officials and prominent Republicans.
The 116th Congress comes to order
Democrats took control of the House of Representatives and returned Nancy Pelosi to the speaker’s post, bringing divided government back to Washington.
Hours before her election, Ms. Pelosi, the only woman who has been speaker of the House, suggested in an interview that a sitting president could be indicted and left open the option of impeaching President Trump. She is now second in line to the presidency.
Meet the new freshmen: The class is best described in superlatives — it is the most racially diverse group ever elected to the House, and it includes a historic number of women.
Government shutdown: In its first session, the House passed a plan to reopen the government, but the shutdown isn’t over. The Senate may not even vote on it. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, is facing pressure from members of his own party to step in and resolve the stalemate.
Was Wall Street right?
Last month, investors seemed too pessimistic. Now, they seem prescient.
As companies like Apple and Delta issued warnings this week about the health of their businesses, their concern suggests that investors were right to be worried. Scores of companies will soon report fourth-quarter results. A White House official said there could be a torrent of bad news from corporate America.
Markets: News that Apple was cutting its revenue forecast for the first time in 16 years because of poor iPhone sales in China rippled through stocks around the world.
Another angle: What should you do about the falling stock market? Take a nap, our senior economics correspondent writes.
Out of Europe
In November, a pivotal report commissioned by the French president called for thousands of artworks to leave French museums and return to West Africa. But how do Africans see the challenges of restituting works of art?
The Times sat down with an African artist, a historian and a philosopher to discuss what should happen.
What’s at stake: It could be the largest shake-up ever for European museums that have objects acquired during the colonial era.
One take: “It demands that the logic of France’s relationship to Africa be renegotiated,” a French art historian said. “It’s not simply about the objects, and where they are. By insisting on full restitution, the idea of ‘long-term loans’ to African countries becomes as absurd as it sounds.”
Here’s what else is happening
Brexit: A new poll of Conservative Party members shows that 57 percent prefer leaving the European Union without a deal, despite warnings of price increases and food shortages.
France: The French police arrested a prominent leader of the Yellow Vest movement for a second time, a clear signal that the government is following through on a pledge to get tough after violent protests.
North Korea: The country’s ambassador to Italy disappeared from its embassy in Rome in November in what appeared to be a defection attempt, according to a South Korean lawmaker.
Rome: Pope Francis told U.S. bishops to set aside their differences and confront a “crisis of credibility” stemming from the sexual abuse scandal.
Jamal Khashoggi: Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor formally requested the death penalty for five suspects in the killing of the dissident, but didn’t provide their names, the roles they played in the crime or any other details.
Around the world: Our inaugural 52 Places Traveler journeyed nearly 75,000 miles around the globe. Here’s what she learned in a year of almost nonstop motion.
Tips for a more fulfilling life.
Recipe of the day: Try a meatless Friday dinner of roasted squash with turmeric-ginger chickpeas.
Take our 30-day Well challenge.
Devices that will invade your life in 2019 (and what’s overhyped).
Some of us are still sorting through the year-end “best of” lists. Notably, many video game lists included a new release with roots in 1984: Tetris Effect.
It features a modern visual and sonic experience, including an acclaimed virtual-reality mode. But its core is the same gameplay that a Russian programmer, Alexey Pajitnov, created in his original title, Tetris.
In that version — and in more than 200 subsequent official releases — seven shapes (configurations of four squares, called tetriminos) stream one by one from the top of the screen. The player seeks to organize them to fill horizontal rows, which then clear from the field of play. The game ends when uncleared areas fill the playing grid. (Because of Soviet-era contracts, Mr. Pajitnov only began to get Tetris royalties in 1996.)
A report in The Times in 1988 said players found it “surprisingly addictive.”
That has been borne out. Players report seeing the tetriminos away from the screen, including while dreaming.
The phenomenon’s name? The Tetris Effect.
Brian Hoerst, a devoted video gamer who does tech support in our London newsroom, wrote today’s Back Story.