(Want to get this briefing by email? Here’s the sign-up.)
Good evening. Here’s the latest.
1. Consensus is growing that the Ukrainian plane that crashed on Wednesday was downed by an Iranian missile.
A U.S. official said that two missiles had been fired from an Iranian mobile air defense system, the SA-15. It is similar to the one that shot down a passenger jet over Eastern Ukraine in 2014.
“We recognize that this may have been done accidentally,” the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said in Ottawa. All 176 people on board were killed, including 63 Canadians.
Video verified by The Times appears to show a missile hitting a plane near the Tehran airport around the time and place of the crash. The Iranians have invited U.S. officials to join the investigation.
A spokesman for Iran’s armed forces denied the allegations.
That’s when Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would probably move on sending the House’s articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate. She refused to provide a timetable and reiterated a call for Senator Mitch McConnell to detail the rules for a Senate trial.
3. The White House introduced major changes to the nation’s benchmark environmental law that would allow many pipelines and other major projects to go ahead without review.
President Trump, speaking in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, criticized the existing law, the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, as a “regulatory nightmare,” and the oil and gas industry has long pushed for the changes to it. Above, the Mariner East pipeline in Pennsylvania.
Among the proposed changes: strict new deadlines on completing assessments; fast-tracking projects that require minimal federal funding or involvement; and removing requirements for agencies to consider “cumulative impact” of projects, including climate change.
4. Much of Puerto Rico is still in the dark.
After Tuesday’s major earthquake, some Puerto Ricans are living precariously on the edges of roads, using mobile generators to power things like coffee makers and TVs. Residents are concerned about aftershocks or a tsunami, and public health officials fear an outbreak of gastrointestinal diseases.
The director of Puerto Rico’s public utility said he hoped to restore electricity by Sunday, but Gov. Wanda Vázquez was more cautious: “We can’t speak of exact dates. No one can say that.”
5. There is a way that people generally run for president. And then there is what Michael Bloomberg is doing.
His unconventional approach was evident on Wednesday when the billionaire former mayor of New York skipped the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire in favor of a 17-hour trip around the Midwest, including Wells, Minn., above. Our reporter went with him.
In other 2020 news, the Sunrise Movement, the collection of young climate activists, endorsed Bernie Sanders. But young people in New Hampshire aren’t as keen to back the Vermont senator. Some of them are eyeing Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard, instead.
6. Travelex, the currency exchanger, has been offline since New Year’s Eve after being hacked and held for ransom.
Travelex said it contained the threat and had no evidence that customer data had been removed. It has been offering only over-the-counter services to date. The disruption has also affected financial institutions like Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC, which have been unable to provide travel money to their customers.
The hackers demanded $6 million for sensitive customer data, which they downloaded since gaining access six months ago, and said they intended to sell it if there was no response by Jan. 14.
7. From Megxit back to Brexit.
After more than a year of drama, British lawmakers signed off, with minimal fuss and no fanfare, on legislation to take their country out of the E.U. at the end of the month. The bill still needs to be cleared by the House of Lords, but is almost certain to be completed and written into law next week.
Britain is still very much trying to wrap its head around the decision by Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, to step back from royal life — a decision that was not cleared by Queen Elizabeth II. They went rogue to get ahead of a leak.
Our former chief international correspondent writes that Prince Harry’s real declaration of independence is the couple’s severance from Britain’s tabloids, which the prince still blames for his mother’s death.
8. A familiar star in the constellation Orion is fainter than ever recorded. Astronomers wonder if it is part of its naturally dimming cycle, or if its explosive finale is imminent.
Betelgeuse (pronounced — and in entertainment, sometimes spelled — Beetlejuice) is normally one of the 10 brightest stars in the sky. But it has dimmed over the last three months to less than half its normal brightness. You’ll find the red giant in the armpit of Orion the hunter (pictured above, top left, in 2010).
Formed about eight million years ago, Betelgeuse is near the end of its life. But when it will run out of fuel is unknown — perhaps next year, perhaps 100,000 years from now. Here’s what it will look like once it does.
9. The British Virgin Islands. Greenland. La Paz, Mexico. Washington. Kampot, Cambodia, above.
These are among this year’s 52 Places to Go, our Travel section’s annual list of travel-worthy destinations. One change: We won’t be sending out a 52 Places Traveler this year, but will report from many of the destinations.
So how do we choose? After four months of research, discussion, debate and as many synonyms for “argument” as you can imagine, the Travel desk homed in on two themes: the importance of sustainability and the pull of history. Our Travel editor explains.
Speaking of globetrotting: Here’s our preview of books coming out in 2020 from around the world.
10. And finally, the perfect cake for a coffee break.
In Sweden, everyone fikas — takes a twice-daily break for a little something sweet, coffee and conversation. There are no set rules.
With the help of a Swedish cookbook first published in 1945, Dorie Greenspan, the dessert columnist for The Times Magazine, decided to combine two recipes into a Swedish almond cake.
The result: not much to look at but wonderfully moist and buttery, perfect to accompany a chat over coffee or tea. Or, because there are no rules, dessert.
Hope you have a sociable evening.
Your Evening Briefing is posted at 6 p.m. Eastern.
And don’t miss Your Morning Briefing. Sign up here to get it by email in the Australian, Asian, European, African or American morning.
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 [email protected].