The U.S. government shutdown starts to bite, President Trump’s national security adviser tries to “reverse-engineer” the Syria withdrawal, and Poland cracks down on “escape rooms.” Here’s the latest:
Day 18 of the U.S. government shutdown
The partial U.S. government shutdown, now the second longest in history, is like sand in America’s gears.
Impact: Secret Service agents, who are working without pay, told us that there is growing agitation in their ranks. The president they protect said on Twitter last week that “most of the workers not getting paid are Democrats.” But federal prison workers in the deeply Republican Florida Panhandle, already bedraggled by Hurricane Michael, are among the 800,000 federal workers affected. “We’re tired of being put in the middle,” one said.
A near-standstill at the Securities and Exchange Commission is just one of the government’s many stoppages of major functions, with more looming. Some economists on Wall Street are predicting the shutdown will measurably reduce growth.
What’s next: President Trump is set to deliver a prime-time address about the shutdown on Tuesday night and plans to travel to the border later in the week in an effort to persuade Americans of the need for a wall.
Behind the scenes: Dueling Democratic and Republican prayers at weekend negotiations over the shutdown underlined the dramatic stalemate that lawmakers find themselves in over Mr. Trump’s demand for border wall funding.
A void in U.S. policy on Syria
The National Security Council staff had “zero” role in brokering a debate over America’s future in Syria, officials told us. So when President Trump announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing its 2,000 troops from Syria, the national security adviser, John Bolton, had to play catch-up. On Sunday, he effectively adjusted Mr. Trump’s course, laying down conditions for a withdrawal that could greatly extend troops’ time in Syria.
Takeaway: Officials say that Mr. Bolton’s disdain for internal policy debates helped create the conditions that led to Mr. Trump’s abrupt move.
Analysis: “Bolton is trying to salvage the situation, but he’s unable to do so, because everyone in the region will question whether he is speaking for himself or for the president,” said Martin Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel now at the Council on Foreign Relations.
In Opinion: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey praises Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw, saying his country can shoulder the “heavy burden” of fighting the Islamic State.
Poland cracks down on ‘escape rooms’ after a deadly fire
Five 15-year-old girls died last week in Koszalin, Poland, when a fire broke out in a building that had been converted into so-called escape rooms, a popular form of entertainment in which groups have to follow clues and solve puzzles to find their way out.
A preliminary investigation has revealed that the house failed to meet the most basic safety precautions, officials say. The operator of the room was arrested.
Aftermath: There are now doubts about the safety of the thousands of such entertainment sites across Eastern Europe. The Polish government ordered inspections of every escape room in the country, and has already found more than 1,100 violations and shut down at least 26.
A solution: Escape rooms in the U.S. usually provide a key or emergency button to unlock the door, or it’s just left unlocked.
Inside the Philippines’ overcrowded jails
Since President Rodrigo Duterte began a violent antidrug campaign in 2016, Philippine jails have become increasingly packed, and rank among the most crowded in the world.
In the Manila City Jail, more than 500 men sleep in a space meant for just 170. The guards are so outnumbered — one officer for every 528 inmates on a recent shift — that gangs help maintain order.
“When you are detained in Philippine jails, you are being tortured,” said one member of the government’s Commission on Human Rights.
Britain: A plan to build a new nuclear power plant in northern Wales could lift the local economy while expanding Britain’s non-carbon-based fuel options. But some worry the project could damage an island’s rural charm and environment.
Thailand: An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family while they were on holiday in Kuwait was allowed to remain in Thailand after a tense 48 hours of uncertainty over whether she would deported and sent back to the family, whom she says would kill her. Her request for refugee status is being processed by U.N. officials.
Gabon: Nearly a half-century of rule by the family of the ailing President Ali Bongo Ondimba was briefly threatened when assailants in the central African country took over a state radio station in an attempted coup. Two of them were killed and eight arrested.
Guatemala: The country’s president, Jimmy Morales, ordered a U.N.-backed panel investigating him and other top politicians for corruption to leave the country, a move that could result in a constitutional crisis.
World Bank: Its president, Jim Yong Kim, will abruptly leave in February for a private infrastructure investment firm, nearly three years before the end of his term, setting up a potential fight between the Trump administration and other governments over replacing him.
Golden Globes: We have the highlights — and lowlights — of the ceremony, from the moving to the snoozes.
Whale song: Scientists have found that whales often string together repeated sound patterns to create complex tunes and jingles. Some even change up their playlists.
Tips for a more fulfilling life.
In an age of digital everything, more people are turning to the world of very modern, very wonderful fountain pens.
Does it pay to be a writer?
One used fantasy techniques to expose the “brutality inherent in society.” Another looked at the “secret life” of Mecca, depicting the Islamic holy city as rived with crime. Yet another narrated the travels of a medieval Sufi mystic.
Arabic is an ancient language and has a rich tradition of oral storytelling and poetry, but the adoption of the novel is relatively recent. Few Arabic novels are translated, and fewer still are distributed in the West.
The prize is funded by the Department of Culture and Tourism of Abu Dhabi. Some call it the “Arabic Booker” because the Booker Prize Foundation in London supports the award. (The administrators discourage the nickname.)
The author of the winning novel, to be announced in April, will receive $60,000, plus funding for translating the work.
Here are some previous winners available in English.
Ben Hubbard, our Beirut bureau chief, wrote today’s Back Story.
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