Brexit, Facebook, Michael Avenatti: Your Thursday Briefing

Brexit, Facebook, Michael Avenatti: Your Thursday Briefing

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Good morning. A win for Britain’s prime minister, an inside look at Facebook’s obfuscation and the word of the year.

Here’s the latest:

Brexit deal clears a hurdle.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet approved a draft deal with the European Union on the country’s withdrawal from the bloc, set for March.

The deal still needs approval from E.U. leaders and the European Parliament. But the hardest test will be the British Parliament, where a maelstrom of opposition awaits.

The agreement would give the E.U. and Britain until 2020 to work out a trade deal, essentially maintaining the status quo until then. Hard-line Brexiteers argued that it would strand Britain under E.U. rules that Britain would have no say in making. And its complex scheme for avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland has already generated anger.

But Mrs. May, seen above in front of 10 Downing Street, is betting that pressure to avoid a potentially disastrous “no-deal” Brexit will overcome critics in the end.


• Inside Facebook’s meltdown.

“You threw us under the bus!” Sheryl Sandberg yelled.

It was September 2017. Facebook’s chief operating officer was furious with the company’s security chief — who had just informed board members that the company still hadn’t contained illicit Russian activity on its site. (Above, cardboard cutouts of the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, at an April protest in Washington.)

That clash set off a reckoning for the company. As it tried to grapple with public outrage over meddling in the 2016 elections, its leaders sought to mask the extent of the problem, lobbying extensively in Washington and aggressively battling its critics — even painting them as pawns of the liberal billionaire George Soros.

• The crown prince’s enforcers: a poet and a bodyguard.

Two men have played pivotal roles in the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, above: Saud el-Qahtani, a poet who became his chief propagandist; and Turki al-Sheikh, a former bodyguard who runs the Saudi sports commission.

Even Saudi royalty came to fear the prince’s close friends, who were on hand for many of the brazen power plays that marked his rise. But now, in the aftermath of the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, their fates are unclear.

Neither was among the 18 arrested by the Saudi authorities. But Mr. Qahtani lost his title as an adviser to the royal court. And Mr. Sheikh has avoided the spotlight.

Saudi watchers consider the men’s fate a bellwether of the royal court’s direction as it grapples with outrage over the killing. Turkey, meanwhile, is calling for an international investigation.


That’s Oxford Dictionaries’ international word of the year, which finished ahead of “gaslighting,” “incel” and “techlash.”

The word derives from the Greek “toxikon pharmakon,” meaning “poison for arrows.” For hundreds of years, it mostly referred to literal poisons.

But lately, it seems almost everything is toxic, from chemicals to politics to “masculinity.” Oxford’s chosen word is meant to reflect “the ethos, mood or preoccupations” of a particular year, but also to highlight the fact that English is always changing.

Last year’s winner — to the consternation of many — was “youthquake.” In 2016, it was “post-truth.”

• -0.2 percent: In a surprise, Germany’s economy contracted slightly in the third quarter. Though some economists saw the data as an anomaly, it was unwelcome news for the E.U., coming just as Italy escalated its dispute with Brussels over the nation’s budget. Above, a Volkswagen factory in Dresden.

$1.07 billion: That’s how much money Uber, one of the world’s most highly valued privately held companies, said it lost in the third quarter. The ride-hailing company is preparing to go public next year.

• Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, defended the central bank from repeated attacks by President Trump — who has said the Fed is “loco” and “going wild” with interest rate increases — though without mentioning the president by name.

Here’s a snapshot of global markets.

• President Emmanuel Macron of France responded to Tuesday’s excoriating Twitter attack from President Trump, saying, “I do not do policy or diplomacy by tweets.” Above, the two meeting last weekend. [The New York Times]

• Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who shot to fame representing the pornographic film actress Stephanie Clifford in her battle against Mr. Trump, was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence. He denied any wrongdoing. [The New York Times]

• The first of the 720,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled slaughter, rape and village burnings in Myanmar are soon to be sent back from Bangladesh, a move that human rights groups say is risky and comes too soon. [The New York Times]

• A migrant caravan began arriving in the border city of Tijuana, Mexico, setting up a potential confrontation with the American authorities. [The New York Times]

• Mr. Trump is expected to support a major overhaul of the U.S. criminal justice system that could lower mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenses. [The New York Times]

• An animated commercial for Iceland, a food retailer in Britain, was deemed too political for the airwaves. It notes the harm done to rain forests by the production of palm oil, which Iceland has pledged to eliminate from its shelves. [The New York Times]

• Ancient impact: In Greenland, scientists say they have found an asteroid crater the size of a city under half a mile of snow and ice. [The New York Times]

Passengers on an Air France flight from Paris to Shanghai, which was diverted to Siberia after smoke wafted through the cabin, were finally flown out after being stranded there for about three days. [The New York Times]

• A pearl pendant that was once Marie Antoinette’s sold for $32 million at auction in Geneva. [The Guardian]

Tips for a more fulfilling life.

• In the Swiss town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, even homes and yards were designed to serve the local industry: watchmaking. Above, pendulum clocks from the 17th and 18th centuries.

• The original torch of the Statue of Liberty, a 3,600-pound copper and amber glass structure, has been on display inside the statue’s pedestal since it was replaced in 1986. Our team took 675 photographs of it so you can tour it in augmented reality before it moves to a new museum.

• “Celebration,” a documentary on Yves Saint Lauren, is finally reaching theaters this month. Long suppressed, it depicts the designer as a poignant, tragically addled figure — hovered over by Pierre Bergé, his business and erstwhile romantic partner — in the years leading up to his retirement in 2002.

• What does it mean to be French? If you’re a native-born citizen or a naturalized immigrant, our Reader Center wants to hear what you think.

Hong Kong is often in the news, but a few recent headlines are on a surprising topic for one of the most densely populated places on Earth: wildlife.

Wild boars strolled the streets of a busy neighborhood recently. Hundreds of wild cattle and water buffalo roam outlying villages. Snake encounters are a regular feature of local news. Above, a tourist makes a new friend.

And there’s a ready display right out all those skyscraper windows. Black kites, with wingspans of up to five feet, can be seen flying around the Peak on Hong Kong Island, among buildings and out over Victoria Harbor.

The birds inhabit much of Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Hong Kong’s count surges in the winter because of migration from the north.

How do they manage? The city still has abundant green space for nesting. And while the kites have been known to hunt just about anything, their favorite meals include carrion from landfills and the harbor, where there are usually a few dead fish to be found.

Austin Ramzy, a reporter based in Hong Kong, wrote today’s Back Story.


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