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Retail Sales, Pfizer, Indonesian Spaceport: Your Tuesday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest at the end of Tuesday.

1. Retail sales keep climbing in a sign that inflation isn’t keeping Americans from spending. The government said today that sales jumped in October for the third straight month.

Rising prices were partly responsible for the 1.7 percent gain in spending, which was bigger than economists had expected. But even when adjusted for inflation, consumer spending is higher than it was before the start of the pandemic, government data shows.

Walmart and Home Depot — which chartered their own ships to circumnavigate shipping congestion — both reported strong results for their latest quarters, signaling that big retailers can overcome the cost of supply chain issues while keeping prices low.

Federal regulators may approve Pfizer-BioNTech booster doses for all adults as early as Thursday, as the U.S. braces for a possible winter surge. Federal regulators and scientists have said the evidence is increasingly clear that a reduction in vaccine efficacy against milder Covid cases, and in protective antibodies, has put Americans at risk of harmful breakthrough infections.

Yesterday New York City became one of the first major cities to tell all adults to get a booster shot if they wanted one. Here’s how to get one.

In other virus news, the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square will return at “full strength” for fully vaccinated people.

3. Poland border guards used water cannons and tear gas to drive back migrants along its shared border with Belarus, adding to the already brutal conditions for the migrants stranded in a freezing encampment.

For weeks, thousands of migrants have flown to Belarus hoping to find a path into the E.U. Officials have called the crisis a “hybrid war” engineered by Aleksandr Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, to punish Poland for sheltering some of his most outspoken opponents and pressure the bloc into lifting sanctions on his country. At least 11 people have died at the border in recent weeks.

What began around noon as just another attempt to breach the border fence spiraled into a dangerous melee. One migrant said Belarusian security officers had instigated the conflict by telling those marooned in the encampment that Warsaw’s government would never let them enter unless forced to do so.

4. Pfizer will allow its Covid-19 pill to be made and sold cheaply in poor countries, but the deal excludes a number of countries hit hard by the pandemic.

The agreement follows a similar arrangement negotiated by Merck, and together the deals have the potential to vastly expand the global production of two simple antiviral pills that could alter the course of the pandemic by preventing severe illness from the coronavirus.

But there are concerns about whether the step will do enough to ensure sufficient supply of the drug for countries that lack vaccines. The Pfizer agreement excludes Brazil, which has one of the world’s worst pandemic death tolls, as well as Cuba, Iraq, Libya and Jamaica. Those countries will have to buy pills most likely at higher costs and risk getting shut out of supplies.

5. President Biden and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, pledged to improve cooperation in a virtual summit held yesterday. But neither offered concrete actions.

Biden raised concerns about human rights abuses and China’s “unfair trade and economic policies.” Xi said that American support for Taiwan was “playing with fire,” and warned that dividing Asia into alliances — a pillar of the new administration’s strategy for challenging China by teaming up with its neighbors — would “bring disaster to the world.”

Our analysis of the meeting said it produced little more than polite words — but in a relationship of mutual mistrust, that counts as progress.

6. Ghislaine Maxwell heads to court. Jury selection began today in the federal sex trafficking trial that is widely seen as a proxy for the trial of Jeffrey Epstein himself.

In recent weeks, a flurry of motions have begun to define the playing field. Her lawyers have asked to interview F.B.I. agents about previous investigations into Epstein, her longtime companion; taken issue with an expert witness’s planned testimony on sexual abuse; and asked the judge to prevent prosecutors from referring to her accusers as “victims,” a request that was declined.

Jurors will hear Maxwell’s accusers testify that she recruited them as minors for sexual acts with Epstein and others.

It is part of Joko’s push to modernize Indonesia, often with little regard for environmental consequences. But it is also part of the country’s checkered history of using questionable methods to acquire land from Indigenous people, leaving some groups destitute while benefiting influential Indonesians and international companies.

The site in question is home to the Abrauw, an Indigenous clan whose members, in a fashion much like their ancestors, have lived off the land for 15 generations. Now, the clan fears losing its place in the world.

8. A complicated investigation into a simple question: What is a soccer player worth?

Italian financial and soccer authorities are asking that question about dozens of transfers involving top clubs (including 42 trades from Juventus, Italy’s biggest team). One deal in the summer of 2020 raised eyebrows when a high valuation — $23 million — was placed on four little-known players who have since faded into obscurity.

A year later, no one seems able to clarify how the numbers ever added up. The accounting practices defy easy explanation — and may have broken financial rules, if not criminal law.

9. Meet Mon Laferte.

Laferte, a Chilean songwriter, will be performing at the Latin Grammys on Thursday, where she is nominated in four categories, including song of the year and best singer-songwriter album.

Laferte was quite productive despite the pandemic: She has released two very different albums this year and is now touring North America. She began her career covering pop songs in 2003, but she later moved into hard rock and has since spanned rockabilly, salsa, bolero, ranchera and psychedelia, just for starters.

“I love to do these different voices because it represents all of my personalities: when I’m fragile, when I’m stronger, when I’m fun, when I’m upset,” she said through a translator.

10. And finally, prepare for another pandemic ski season.

Ready to hit the slopes this winter? So is everyone else. Interest in outdoor winter activities skyrocketed during the pandemic, and rising demand is being met with supply shortages.

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