U.S. Shutdown, China Censorship, Baby Shark: Your Friday Briefing

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Good morning.

President Trump makes another effort to press for a border wall, China’s censors look beyond domestic platforms and a Baby Shark version becomes a global hit. Here’s the latest:

The trip to McAllen, Tex., a border community, is meant to push for funding for a wall.

President Trump said he would “probably” declare a state of emergency, which would allow him to circumvent Congress to find funds for his wall — and allow him a face-saving way to sign government spending bills that don’t pay for it.

If the government doesn’t reopen by Saturday, the shutdown will become the longest in 43 years.

At stake: The partial government shutdown has left about 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay. Here’s a state-by-state look at the impact. And it has halted one of the federal government’s most important public health activities: inspections of thousands of industrial sites for pollution violations.

Word of the day: furlough. A leave of absence (usually authorized, often used in the military), derived from the Dutch word verlof, meaning permission.

One more thing: President Trump cancelled his trip to Davos, Switzerland, for the annual World Economic Forum, citing the “Democrats intransigence” on border security.


In 1978, Coca-Cola was among the first foreign companies allowed into China. Shortly after, came the International Life Sciences Institute, or ILSI.

The global organization is paid for by the biggest names in snack foods — including Nestlé, McDonald’s, Pepsi and Coca-Cola — and has helped shape much of China’s science and public policy on obesity. In fact, it runs its operations from inside the government’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention offices in Beijing.

As a result, two new studies have found, Chinese health campaigns aimed at tackling obesity almost always promote exercise and rarely mention the value of cutting calories or reducing consumption of processed foods.

Today: More than 42 percent of adults in China are overweight or obese, according to Chinese researchers, more than double the rate in 1991. And in Chinese cities, nearly a fifth of all children are obese, according to government surveys.

One man spent 15 days in a detention center. Police officers threatened another’s family. A third was chained to a chair for eight hours of interrogation.

Their offense: posting on Twitter.

Chinese authorities, in an escalation of the country’s online suppression, are starting to control content on social media platforms blocked in China and invisible to the majority of people there.

The crackdown is unusually broad and punitive. While past censorship has targeted prominent users, the current push includes no-name Twitter lurkers with few followers, which experts say is a drastic shift in the government’s approach.

Why it matters: Twitter, though banned, plays an important role in the discussion of issues in China. A small but active community uses software to circumvent the government’s blocks to reach a last refuge of political debate.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a speech in Cairo, declared that the U.S. would take a more activist role in the region. He also rejected much of President Barack Obama’s human-rights-based approach there, outlining an approach that is based on a close alliance with authoritarian rulers.

Mr. Pompeo — whose remarks came almost exactly a decade after Mr. Obama delivered a landmark speech in the same city — denounced the former president for underestimating “the tenacity and viciousness of radical Islam” and his policies on Iran. Here are the many ways Mr. Pompeo departed from Mr. Obama.

Confusion: Mr. Pompeo apparently sought to reassure jittery nations with his declaration that “when America retreats, chaos follows” and that the U.S. would “expel every last Iranian boot from Syria,” but the effect was confounding to many, coming weeks after President Trump’s impulsive announcement that United States forces would leave Syria.

Go deeper: The U.S. has spent $8 billion to build a strong Air Force in Afghanistan but it is still struggling, which could complicate President Trump’s efforts to pull out of the country.


China: Beijing’s ambassador to Canada said, in an opinion piece for an Ottawa-based newspaper, that “white supremacy” was behind calls to release two Canadians detained in China, further straining relations between the two countries.

South Korea: President Moon Jae-in said that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s recent visit to China signaled that a second summit meeting with President Trump was imminent.

Australia: A 48-year-old man was charged with sending 38 suspicious, potentially hazardous packages to foreign consulates in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. The authorities didn’t offer a motive for his actions but, if convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.

El Chapo: The trial of Joaquín Guzmán Loera offered a riveting look at the Mexican kingpin’s personal life, as the F.B.I. revealed private messages between him and his wife and mistress. They were obtained by Mr. Guzmán’s I.T. expert, who became an undercover informant.

Venezuela: President Nicolás Maduro was inaugurated for a second term after an election last year that was widely considered illegitimate — and despite a plummeting economy and skyrocketing violence, hunger and migration. Our team explains how he has clung to power.

Baby Shark: A version of the infectious children’s song made the Billboard Hot 100 this week. The South Korean educational brand that released it, Pinkfong, now has as many Top 40 hits as Jimi Hendrix. (Doo doo doo doo doo doo.)

Australia letter: In this week’s edition, our bureau chief Damien Cave explains how and why Perth and the Northern Rivers region made it to The Times’s list of 52 Places to Go in 2019.

Asian-Australian actors: As Hollywood seeks more diverse casts, actors who have struggled to make it big at home are heading to Los Angeles, and succeeding.


Tips for a more fulfilling life.

Recipe of the day: End the week with a comforting and rich three-cheese cauliflower casserole.

One thing you can do to help the environment? Use revolving doors when you have the chance.

Clay-based creams and masks can sometimes irritate the skin, but here are a few innovative new formats to clear your pores.

The game is afoot this weekend for the Baker Street Irregulars, a literary society devoted to Sherlock Holmes that is holding its annual dinner in New York City.

Founded in 1934, the Irregulars are named for a group of street urchins who assisted Holmes in some of Arthur Conan Doyle’s 60 stories about the fictional detective.

The Irregulars’ dinner tonight is part of a five-day celebration in Manhattan featuring a lecture, a memorabilia sale and parties with other groups of Sherlock Holmes fans, including the Baker Street Babes. (The first female members of the Irregulars weren’t admitted until the early 1990s.)

The event is timed to coincide with Holmes’s birthday, which enthusiasts have generally agreed is Jan. 6 — although the reasoning is far from elementary.

Chris Stanford, on the Briefings team, wrote today’s Back Story.


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