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Facebook, Pfizer, Pantone: Your Wednesday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest.

1. Facebook has been hit by lawsuits from the Federal Trade Commission and more than 40 states that accuse the company of becoming a monopoly, illegally crushing competition by buying up its rivals.

Federal and state regulators, who have been investigating Facebook for over 18 months, said that its purchases, especially of Instagram and WhatsApp, eliminated competition that could have one day challenged the company’s dominance. Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress in July, above.

The lawsuits are expected to set off a long legal battle. Since their acquisition, Instagram and WhatsApp’s popularity has skyrocketed, setting Facebook up for control over three of the world’s most popular social media and messaging apps.

The prosecutors called for Facebook to break off Instagram and WhatsApp and for new restrictions on future deals, in what amounted to some of the most severe penalties regulators can demand.

2. More than a third of Americans live in areas where hospitals are running critically short of intensive care beds.

Federal data reveals a grim picture of the nation’s hospital crisis, during what is so far the deadliest week of the coronavirus pandemic. Hospitals serving more than 100 million Americans reported having fewer than 15 percent of intensive care beds still available as of last week. “There’s no place for them to go,” a chief of medical staff in North Dakota said about a pileup of patients.

The remote Big Bend region of Texas, one of the fastest-growing coronavirus hot spots in the nation, is one of the least equipped parts of the U.S. to handle the outbreak. There is just one hospital for 12,000 square miles, and no heart or lung specialists to treat serious cases of Covid-19.

3. Canada approved Pfizer’s vaccine after an independent review, its drug regulator said. Canadians could begin receiving shots as early as next week.

It’s only the second Western country to approve a coronavirus vaccine after Britain did so. American regulators will consider whether to approve the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday.

A day after Britain began its vaccination campaign, British drug regulators warned that people prone to severe allergic reactions should not receive that vaccine for the time being. Two health workers with a history of serious allergies experienced severe reactions after receiving the shot.

And the United Arab Emirates said that it had approved a Chinese coronavirus vaccine after preliminary data showed that it was 86 percent effective. But Chinese officials and Sinopharm, a state-owned vaccine maker, above, were silent on the announcement, and scientists noted that it was lacking in data and other critical details.

4. President-elect Joe Biden formally introduced Gen. Lloyd Austin as his choice to lead the Department of Defense.

The retired four-star general would be the nation’s first Black defense secretary, and a chance for the Pentagon to come face to face with its record as a place where people of color struggle to climb.

But General Austin faces bipartisan resistance on Capitol Hill, where there are growing concerns about another former commander serving in a civilian post. The choice also raises fresh questions about the corporate ties to Mr. Biden’s cabinet team. General Austin serves on the board of Raytheon, one of the world’s largest weapons makers, and is a partner in an investment firm that buys military suppliers.

Separately, Hunter Biden, the president-elect’s son, said that federal prosecutors in Delaware were investigating his taxes.

5. Congressional leaders remain at odds on an economic relief package to address the pandemic.

A bipartisan group of moderate lawmakers led by Senators Susan Collins, above, and Joe Manchin struggled to reach an agreement on a $908 billion stimulus compromise. The House approved a one-week stopgap measure to give negotiators more time, setting a new deadline of Dec. 18.

The Justice Department has brought criminal charges against more than 80 people accused of stealing at least $127 million from the Paycheck Protection Program, the government’s signature coronavirus relief package for small businesses. But it may take years to uncover the full extent of the theft.

6. Iran is rebuilding a key part of a nuclear facility underground in mountains, a Times visual investigation found.

Satellite images show new tunnel entrances for the underground construction under a ridge in the mountain foothills south of the Natanz facility, about 140 miles south of Tehran. The construction was prompted by a July explosion that destroyed a building, setting back Iran’s nuclear program. Iran blames Israel and the U.S. for the blast.

Separately, Iranian authorities have detained a number of people accused of involvement in the assassination of the country’s top nuclear scientist last month near Tehran, a parliamentary adviser said on state TV.

7. We all struggle to communicate on the internet. Enter tone indicators.

Tone indicators are used at the end of a statement to help readers fill in the blanks on intent and emotion. For example, one might use “/srs,” short for “serious,” “/j” for joking, “/lh” for lighthearted and “/nsx” for nonsexual intent.

They are most popular within some Twitter and Tumblr communities of young people for whom inclusivity is paramount. These people use and like tone indicators because they want to help others have better experiences online.

Interpreting text is particularly difficult for users who are neurodivergent (people who have a range of neurological differences including autism spectrum disorder and dyslexia). Tone indicators, one Twitter user said, “make everything more simple.”

8. “It seemed like we were ringing in a very special year, and we were, but wow.”

That’s Calla Kessler, a photographer who works for The Times, talking about her assignment to cover Times Square on New Year’s Eve last year. Her image is among the dozens of photos selected by Times editors for our annual pictures of the year.

In a world where life was transformed seemingly overnight, these are the images that made us stop and stare, but most of all, remember.

We have more to add to our best of 2020 lists (yes, there were some joyful things despite the misery). These film, TV and TikTok stars gave us more than just diversion — they provided great performances. The Times Magazine named the best actors of 2020.

9. More spare time leads to treasure.

A cache of gold coins from the reign of Henry VIII — uncovered while gardeners were weeding their yard in April — is among the more than 47,000 archaeological finds that have been reported in England and Wales this year.

The discoveries during lockdown gardening come as the British government plans to expand its definition of treasure so that more rare objects — not just ones made of gold or silver, or that were more than 300 years old — could be preserved in museums rather than sold to private collectors.

The backyard boom will most likely carry over to the 2021 garden season, which begins this month with the arrival of seed catalogs. After a chaotic spring in which sales spiked as much as 300 percent, sellers are assuring home gardeners that they are well-stocked. Margaret Roach, our garden expert, offered some tips for seed shopping.

10. And finally, the colors of the year.

The trend forecasters at Pantone scour the globe for months for the latest developments and translate them into a color they claim will be the dominant shade of the coming year. Classic Blue in 2020 wasn’t exactly up to snuff.

So in 2021, get ready for Ultimate Gray and Illuminating. Or, in normal-speak: the light at the end of the tunnel. This is only the second time in the 22 years that Pantone has been choosing a color of the year that two colors have been selected and the first time that a gray has earned the honor.

Together, a Pantone executive said, “the color combination presses us forward.”

Have a vibrant night.

Your Evening Briefing is posted at 6 p.m. Eastern.

Want to catch up on past briefings? You can browse them here.

What did you like? What do you want to see here? Let us know at briefing@nytimes.com.

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