Thursday, January 20, 2022

Your Tuesday Briefing – The New York Times

Thursday, January 20, 2022

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Britain’s Boris Johnson is widely expected to break his vow not to increase taxes today when he announces a plan to bolster the nation’s social care services, a longtime goal that he first unveiled soon after becoming prime minister in 2019.

Even before the announcement, Johnson has received blistering dissent from members of his own Conservative Party. No fewer than three former Conservative chancellors of the Exchequer have joined the chorus of criticism.

The discord signals a new phase for the government as it seeks to move away from pandemic crisis management and back toward a difficult domestic agenda, including its pledge to distribute wealth to more deprived parts of the country.

Context: Britain’s creaking National Health Service, which was already strained before the pandemic, now has an immense backlog of routine treatment and operations that had to be postponed. The government yesterday announced a cash injection of £5.4 billion, or $7.4 billion, to help deal with that issue.

What’s next: Johnson’s proposals are likely to cap the amount any British citizen pays for social care over their lifetime. The government is expected to increase a tax known as National Insurance. The burden falls on workers on payrolls and, therefore, disproportionally on the working poor and the young.

A Belarusian court yesterday sentenced Maria Kolesnikova to 11 years in prison after a closed-door trial in Minsk, the capital.

Kolesnikova tried to run for president last year. She and her colleague, Maksim Znak, another opposition figure and a lawyer, were charged with extremism, conspiring to seize power illegally and damaging state security. Znak received a 10-year sentence in a maximum security penal colony.

It was another sign that President Aleksandr Lukashenko was pursuing an unrelenting crackdown on dissent after an election widely condemned by many Western governments as a sham. An estimated tens of thousands of opposition supporters have fled Belarus since the crackdown began last year.

Context: Kolesnikova became one of Belarus’s most prominent opposition leaders after the candidate whose campaign she managed was arrested and barred from running. Kolesnikova aligned herself with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and Veronika Tsepkalo, two others taking on the president. The three women held pre-election rallies that drew tens of thousands of supporters.

In the nearly 18 months since the pandemic first forced companies to send their employees to work from home, the date that U.S. companies had planned to bring workers back to offices has changed again and again: First it was January 2021, then July, then September.

Now September is out as an option for many companies. Google, Amazon, Apple and Starbucks have said they will postpone their return until next year, with executives seeking an end to the roller coaster of anticipated return dates and further delays.

Companies have new variables to consider, including differing infection rates across the country and mask mandates. In a recent survey of nearly 1,000 companies, 52 percent of respondents said they planned to have vaccine mandates by the end of the year, compared with 21 percent that said they already had vaccine requirements.

Related: Synagogues, which plan their celebrations of the High Holy Days months in advance, have also dialed back plans for return. Manhattan’s Central Synagogue, for example, rented Radio City Music Hall — and will proceed with services, but at 30 percent capacity, with masks and proof of vaccination.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

New York City has reopened, in a banquet of sights, smells, flavors, textures and sounds. The Times asked photographers to capture the city as it returns to its senses.

Michael K. Williams, best known for his role as Omar Little in “The Wire” — a sawed-off-shotgun-wielding stickup man — has died at 54. Tributes poured in for the actor.

Built in 1896, the “Golden Coach” was intended as a gift from the city of Amsterdam to Queen Wilhelmina: a gilded carriage, designed to represent the Dutch empire, with leather from Brabant, cushions filled with flax from Zeeland and teak from the Dutch colony of Java.

These components glorifying the empire would have been appreciated by most Dutch people in that era, reports Nina Siegal. But they are what now makes the carriage, on display at the Amsterdam Museum, such a painful reminder of slavery and colonial repression.

The coach has become a focus of anti-colonialist and antifascist protest, in an echo of similar debates in the U.S. over Confederate statues and other monuments, and in Europe over monuments honoring colonialists and slave traders. What will happen to it next has become a matter of intense public debate.

Read more about the Golden Coach.


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