Your Wednesday Briefing – The New York Times

Sanctions imposed by the Trump administration have decimated Iran’s economy: Jobs are scarce, and the prices for food and other necessities are soaring.

Public unrest over the economy has built up for months. And while that anger was briefly redirected after the killing of a top general by the U.S., it quickly refocused on the Iranian authorities after they admitted to shooting down a passenger jet.

The fear of worse damage to national fortunes appears to have tempered the escalation of tensions with the U.S. — though some experts suggest that hard-liners may come to embrace the conflict as a means of stimulating the economy, or at least excusing its weakness.

Related: President Hassan Rouhani of Iran called for a special court to examine the downing of the plane, which killed 176 people, as protests flared in several cities.

Russian military hackers have infiltrated Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company that has been at the center of the impeachment investigation against President Trump, security experts told The Times.

The hacking attempts against the company, whose board once included former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, began in early November, as talk of the Bidens, Ukraine and impeachment dominated the news in the U.S.

It’s unclear what the hackers found, but the timing and scale of the attacks suggest a search for material that could embarrass the Bidens. Mr. Trump’s push for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens set off the chain of events that led to his impeachment.

Response: Joe Biden’s presidential campaign sought to cast the Russian effort as an indication of his political strength. Neither the Russian government nor Burisma immediately responded to requests for comment.

Related: Senate Republicans indicated that they wouldn’t seek to summarily dismiss the impeachment charges against Mr. Trump, proceeding instead to a trial that could begin as soon as Wednesday.

The beach town Mallacoota and about a dozen other communities have grown tense after being cut off from the world by the fires in Australia.

In Mallacoota, where fallen and smoldering trees block the main road out, help has come slowly, often in the forms of water, fresh fruits and vegetables and, perhaps most critically, fuel. A 90-mile stretch of highway from Mallacoota to Orbost in southeastern Australia still needs to be cleared.

“People are starting to get angry and frustrated with the lack of supplies, being stuck here and the power is still off,” said one business owner on the town’s main street.

Context: Some towns are accessible only by planes or helicopters, which have been dropping water, food and satellite phones, and even carrots for wildlife. Along roads to others, arborists and engineers are working shifts of up to 14 hours to remove “killer trees” at risk of falling.

Toxic ash and smoke, reeking of sulfur and other noxious gases, have transformed the verdant island of Taal into a vast carpet of lifeless gray since a volcano there erupted on Sunday.

The island, a popular tourist spot, is no longer habitable, and volcanologists say that another hazardous eruption is possible within hours to days — but our reporter and photographer followed a few residents who ignored government warnings to venture in and see firsthand what remained of their homes.

Quotable: “The island sustained our livelihoods, but also took everything back. Everything’s gone in the blink of an eye,” said one man who went back to the ruins of his home.

Humans were exposed to airborne toxins millions of years before the first cigarette was lit or the first car hit the road. As a result, new research argued, our ancestors evolved at least some defenses. Above, a cyclist in New Delhi’s morning fog.

Millions of people still die from indoor air pollution, but as one scientist noted, “All that matters from an evolutionary standpoint is that you reproduce.”

Korean exchange: President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said he would consider allowing South Korean tourists to visit North Korea for the first time since 2008. North Korea has been trying to bolster tourism, one of the few industries not covered by U.N. sanctions.

Out-of-this-world match: Yusaku Maezawa, the billionaire founder of Japan’s largest fashion retailer, is seeking a woman to join him on a trip around the moon. (If you’re interested, the deadline to apply is Friday.)

Where Star Wars bombs: One after another, “Star Wars” movies have flopped in China, defying efforts to bring one of the most successful franchises in history into a market that has printed money for the heroes, monsters and robots of other films.

What we’re reading: This Phoenix magazine feature about how the Arizona capital became a hotbed for Galápagos tortoise breeding. If you liked reading about Diego, the 100-year-old reptile who helped save his species, you’ll love this. If nothing else, go look at the pictures (I’m partial to the fourth one) for a smile.

This week, the police there revealed that two people who wished to be known only as good Samaritans were the source of the anonymous charity.

The parable of the good Samaritan comes from the Bible: Jesus recounts how a man from Samaria, which was hostile to the Jews, stops and rescues a traveler beaten and half-dead by the side of a road when others wouldn’t. This tale led to calling helpful strangers “good Samaritans.”

In ancient times, Samaria was located in the northern part of where Israel is today, between Galilee and Judea, and is part of today’s West Bank.

Actual Samaritans exist there today. They number around 800 and practice a religion closely related to Judaism, but they reject the idea of Jerusalem as their central place of worship.

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Melina

Thank you
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. Victoria Shannon, on the Briefings team, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at

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