Wildfires, Brexit, ‘Toxic’: Your Wednesday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest.

1. President Trump gave his support to legislation that could begin a major overhaul of the U.S. criminal justice system, lowering mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenses and directing money to anti-recidivism programs.

The legislation builds on a prison reform bill passed by the House this year, and has the potential to bring moderate Republicans and Democrats together to push it through Congress before the end of the current session.

The bill would unwind some of the tough-on-crime federal policies of the 1980s and 1990s, which have incarcerated African-American offenders at much higher rates than white offenders.

Some law enforcement officials and conservative lawmakers oppose the measure, arguing it poses a risk to public safety.


2. The death toll in the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history, has climbed to 48 people, and hundreds more are missing.

The county sheriff is releasing names of the missing “in waves,” a spokeswoman said, so that officials can handle the volume of calls. The first list named 103 people. “This in no way is a list of everybody,” she said.

Our reporter followed search teams and cadaver-sniffing dogs as they went house to house in Paradise, Calif., a small community leveled by the fire, which continues to burn.

Finding victims’ remains is a grim, low-tech process, experts told us. “As advanced as we are, we are literally down to buckets and shovels,” a police sergeant said.

And our video journalists surveyed the Camp Fire’s destructive path.


3. Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet approved a draft agreement on Britain’s withdrawal from the E.U., only five months away. Above, after the cabinet meeting.

The deal still needs the approval of the British Parliament and European lawmakers, which seems far from certain. Critics argue that it would leave Britain subject to E.U. rules without any say in making them.

So how messy could Brexit be? The billion-dollar market for fresh flowers beautifully highlights the potential for disruption.

And our reporter explains some of the stickiest points in reaching a deal.


4. Public schools got mixed results in the midterm elections.

Polls have shown the public supports teachers fighting for more pay and classroom funding. And both Democrats and Republicans won races last week after casting themselves as education champions.

But many voters, particularly in conservative and swing states, were unwilling to open their wallets. And in some states where education funding is among the lowest, voters approved ballot measures that will make it even harder to direct money to schools in the future. Above, canvassing in Arizona.

Separately, a lawsuit in Palm Beach County extended the deadline for a recount in Florida’s legislative election — and threw into question the deadline for the rest of state. Races for governor, senator and agriculture commissioner remain too close to call.

And House Republicans picked Representative Kevin McCarthy of California as their leader, replacing Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who is retiring.


5. Toxic.

That’s the official word of 2018, chosen by Oxford Dictionaries, beating out “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 recently, its seems like everything is “toxic,” from chemical to politics to “toxic masculinity.”

Oxford’s word of the year is chosen to reflect “the ethos, mood or preoccupations” of a particular year, but also to highlight that English is always changing. Last year’s winner — to the consternation of many — was “youthquake.” In 2016, it was “post-truth.”


6. Inside Facebook’s meltdown.

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

It was September 2017. And 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 Russian activity on its site.

That clash set off a reckoning for the social network. As the company tried to grapple with the public outrage over meddling in the 2016 elections, its leaders sought to mask the extent of the problem and adopted an aggressive lobbying effort to combat critics.

Our investigative journalists recreate how the social network navigated its crisis.


7. Two loyal enforcers have played pivotal roles in the rise of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: Saud el-Qahtani, a poet who became the prince’s chief propagandist, and Turki al-Sheikh, above center, a former bodyguard who runs the Saudi sports commission.

Even Saudi royalty came to fear the prince’s close friends, who were central to many of the brazen power plays that have marked the prince’s rise to dominance.

But now, in the aftermath of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, their fates are unclear.

Neither was among the 18 arrested in Saudi Arabia’s own investigation into the killing. But Mr. Qahtani has already lost his title as an adviser to the royal court. Mr. Sheikh has since avoided the spotlight.

Saudi watchers say how the royal court deals with them could serve as a bellwether for its direction amid the international backlash.


8. Can an app make you cry?

Our tech columnist had that reaction to Google Photos, a three-year-old cloud service that organizes and stores your snapshots.

The app’s image-processing robots can create montages from your library, using facial recognition to stitch together obvious highlights — birthdays, school plays — and ordinary moments, like a first haircut.

Thirty seconds into a two-minute clip of his 5-year-old daughter, he writes, “I was a crumpled, weepy wreck.”


9. “Your ringtone isn’t doing you any favors.”

There are delicate moments in “The New One,” the comedian Mike Birbiglia’s one-man Broadway show about fatherhood — moments that shouldn’t be interrupted by a ringing cellphone or the chime of an incoming text.

But it happens, as it does these days in theaters everywhere.

Often, Mr. Birbiglia, above, deals with the disruptions directly, using humor to turn breaches of etiquette into part of his show.

He talked to our theater reporter about (gently) confronting audience members, and shared audio of some recent encounters.


10. Finally, the world’s most famous accessory is on the move.

Early on Thursday, a crew of 15 will transport the Statue of Liberty’s original 3,600-pound, 16-foot torch, made of copper and amber glass, from its storage compartment in the statue’s pedestal to a museum elsewhere on Liberty Island. (A replacement torch, a copper flame covered in 24-karat gold, was added to the statue in 1986.)

Our journalists took 675 photographs to present the torch in augmented reality. You can view it — and walk around it, right in your living room — here.

Have a radiant evening.

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