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Good evening. Here’s the latest.
3. President-elect Joe Biden introduced his health team, and vowed to change the course of the pandemic during his first 100 days in office.
The senior officials Mr. Biden will appoint — including Xavier Becerra, above, as secretary of health and human services — will face the immediate challenge of slowing the spread of the coronavirus, which has already killed more than 283,000 people in the U.S.
For the first 100 days of his presidency, Mr. Biden asked Americans to wear masks, pledged to get 100 million “vaccine shots into the arms of the American people” and said he would set a “national priority” to get children back in school.
Mr. Biden is also expected to nominate retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, a former commander of the American military effort in Iraq, to be the next secretary of defense. But General Austin, who retired four years ago, may face an uphill confirmation battle because of a law that requires a seven-year waiting period between active duty and running the Pentagon.
4. FireEye, a top cybersecurity firm, said its digital tool kit was stolen by hackers — almost certainly Russian — enabling them to mount new attacks anywhere.
Most of the tools were stored in a closely guarded digital vault. It was a stunning theft, our national security reporter writes, akin to bank robbers who, having cleaned out local vaults, then turned around and stole the F.B.I.’s investigative tools. In fact, FireEye said it had called in the F.B.I.
The attack raises the possibility that Russian intelligence agencies saw an advantage in mounting the attack while American attention — including FireEye’s — was focused on securing the presidential election system.
5. Today is the “safe harbor” deadline for all state-level election challenges, moving President-elect Joe Biden one step closer to the White House.
Broadly, this means that President Trump’s efforts to overturn the presidential election are nearing the end of the line. In presidential races, if states certify their results by today, those results are largely insulated from further challenges.
After today, state courts would most likely have to throw out any new lawsuit challenging the election. Currently, only a few state-level lawsuits remain unresolved, plus an audacious lawsuit filed by Texas on Tuesday, asking the Supreme Court to extend the Dec. 14 deadline for certification of presidential electors in four battleground states.
The Supreme Court also rejected a Republican request to overturn election results in Pennsylvania that had already been certified and submitted.
6. A vast transformation of the Arctic toward a warmer, very different climate is well underway, according to a new scientific report.
“There is no reason to think that in 30 years much of anything will be as it is today,” said one of the editors of this year’s Arctic Report Card, an annual assessment by an international panel of scientists. This animation shows the extent of the change.
The Arctic is heating up more than twice as quickly as other regions. That warming has cascading effects elsewhere, raising sea levels, influencing ocean circulation and — scientists increasingly suggest — playing a role in extreme weather.
7. Fourteen Army officials have been disciplined as part of an inquiry into reports of sexual harassment and violence at the Fort Hood base in Texas.
The investigation found “major flaws” at Fort Hood and a command climate “that was permissive of sexual harassment and sexual assault,” said Ryan McCarthy, the secretary of the Army. He vowed sweeping reforms that would extend far beyond Fort Hood to affect more than one million soldiers and Army civilians nationwide.
The investigation came in response to the slaying of Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old Army specialist who was killed this year after reporting she was sexually harassed. Since January 2016, there have been more than 150 noncombat deaths of Fort Hood soldiers, including at least seven homicides and 71 suicides.
8. “Nothing is more terrifying than the blank page.”
Barack Obama’s memoir “A Promised Land” is both a historical account of his time as president and an introspective self-portrait. The Times’s former chief book critic, Michiko Kakutani, asked Mr. Obama how his reading and writing shaped his thinking, and about the power of storytelling.
Mr. Obama, pictured at Midway Atoll in 2016, wrote his first draft on yellow legal pads (using black Uni-ball Vision Elite rollerball pens with a micro-point, if you’re interested), doing his best work between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. His writing was the culmination of years of inspiration from literature.
“When I think about how I learned to write, who I mimicked, the voice that always comes to mind the most is James Baldwin,” he said.
9. First it was toilet paper, now it’s Christmas trees.
Christmas tree sales around the world are booming as a pandemic-weary population seeks solace in the holiday spirit. In the U.S., Christmas tree grower associations say that retailers are running through their tree supplies quickly. If trends hold, some sellers may have their best year yet.
10. And finally, why are some pandas covering themselves with horse manure?
Researchers in China spent a decade studying what makes panda bears in the Qinling Mountains want to sniff out fresh horse droppings, lay themselves down and roll their bulky bodies in the muck. The behavior may help the pandas tolerate cold temperatures, scientists found, because of a compound in horse dung that protects pandas’ sensitivity to chills.
So why horses? Blame it on a rich history of domestication — horses have become a relatively common fixture in some of China’s forested wilds, where pandas live.
“Maybe it’s like Vicks VapoRub, or maybe like Tiger Balm,” one ecologist said. “I don’t know, though. I’ve never rolled in horse manure.”
Have a toasty night.
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