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Analysis & Comment

Opinion | What to Do About Student Loan Debt?

To the Editor:

Re “Is This Where We Are, America?,” by Roxane Gay (Op-Ed, Nov. 23):

I am a retired lawyer who spent hours reading federal student loan regulations in order to understand how and why my daughters’ 10-year-old student loan obligations far exceeded the amounts they had borrowed. The short answer was interest, interest, interest.

The lenders have been allowed to charge rates that far exceed national norms and that can be raised by loan consolidations. Forgiveness programs are an unfulfilled promise for many because of details that few students understand.

Perhaps the answer to those who object to complete student loan relief is for the government to pay off only the interest. The student would remain responsible for the principal. At the same time, more effort needs to be made to educate borrowers before they take out a loan about the long-term fiscal consequences.

Meg Kieran
Eugene, Ore.

To the Editor:

Even though I attended a public university, had a full scholarship for tuition and fees, worked and had subsidized housing through my church, I still needed a student loan from the federal government to pay for my undergraduate education at the University of Illinois.

I thought about walking away from the loan but decided that would be a bad idea. I did not go on to graduate school because I could never justify getting another degree when I still was paying for my first one. After working for 10 years, I paid off the loan.

When my two children went to private colleges, my husband and I paid for their education in full, prioritizing that over our own retirement, so that neither child would be burdened with debt after graduation.

Despite that history, I agree completely with Roxane Gay. Let’s forgive student loans. Let’s help unburden young people; they’re facing a world with enough severe problems already. Let’s affirm our social contract.

We are all in this together.

Susan E. Anderson
Chicago

To the Editor:

Contrary to Roxane Gay’s theory of why people oppose canceling student debt, my reluctance to do so has nothing with wanting other people to suffer. It is simply that I do not believe we should be in the business of protecting people from the consequences of their own decisions.

If I buy a house that I can’t afford, nobody is going to step in and pay the mortgage for me.

I do think, however, that student loan programs could be better structured to lessen the burden on students and to better inform them of the reality of the obligations they are taking on.

I am sympathetic to those whose debts are crushing, but it isn’t something that just happened to them. They signed up for it and should have taken the time to consider what it meant.

Debra H. Frantz
Cleveland

To the Editor:

“Forgiveness of Loans Wouldn’t Tackle Roots of Student Debt Crisis” (The Upshot, Nov. 21) is an excellent recap of why we need to do more to fix the student loan debt problem than just forgive some loans.

One more suggestion is for Congress to expand and improve national service programs like AmeriCorps. Have a system that will allow students to do full-time public service for a year to earn enough money to pay the cost of college at state colleges for a year.

This is a victory for everyone: The students have the chance to do meaningful work and commit to a common cause, and the country gets help addressing unmet needs.

Catherine H. Milton
Menlo Park, Calif.
The writer, a former executive director of the Commission on National and Community Service, helped develop AmeriCorps.

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Analysis & Comment

Opinion | This Wrongly Convicted Man Spent 25 Thanksgivings in Prison

This holiday, he says he’s thankful. Are you?

By Charles M. Blow

Opinion Columnist

In 1995, I was a 25-year-old Brooklyn father of a one-and-a-half-year-old son. I had recently joined The Times and had become the paper’s youngest newsroom department head since a man named Lester Markel was named Sunday editor in 1923.

In 1995, Christian Pacheco was a 18-year-old Brooklyn father of a one-and-a-half-year-old son. He had recently joined the Latin Kings street gangs and become the second youngest co-defendant in a murder case.

Pacheco and some friends, including a young woman that he was seeing, were at a small, corner lounge in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, when a bump on the dance floor quickly escalated into a brawl in which the victim was stabbed and his throat slit.

One witness testified that Pacheco was the person who slit the man’s throat. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life.

Pacheco insisted that he was innocent. Although he had fought another man earlier in the altercation, he had not stabbed the victim nor slit his throat. He contends that he knew the victim, came to his rescue, and as a result was stabbed several times himself for doing so.

Still, it wasn’t until this year that Pacheco’s conviction was overturned after newly discovered information proved that he did not receive a fair trial and that the testimony of the witness who said that Pacheco did the killing was “most probably false.”

I spoke to Pacheco this week. He told me what he recalled about that moment, years ago, when the judge read the verdict and he learned that he’d go to prison:

“Honestly, I don’t remember much, but I remember saying to myself, I said uh, ‘Oh God, I can’t believe this.’ You know, and I was shocked.”

He continued:

“And then I turned around. I looked at my son’s mom. She had the baby there. And she was there with her mother. And all I remember seeing was my son’s mom, um, getting up from the seat where she was sitting, crying, and walking away from the courtroom.”

I spent the Thanksgiving of Pacheco’s conviction year in the largest apartment I would ever occupy in New York: A rambling four-bedroom unit in Prospect Heights, which I rented from a colleague who was moving away to take another assignment, but was having a hard time selling the place in the wake of the Savings and Loan Crisis. There were so many rooms that some we just left empty.

Pacheco would spend his first prison Thanksgiving occupying a 6-by-9-foot prison cell. He was still just a teenager. He was still in shock that he had been convicted. As he said: “I’m missing my family, especially my son, you know, and my mother.” He stresses, “I left a baby behind, and that was the one that was killing me inside: that I left the mother of my child with my child, out there,” knowing, as he says, that he had nothing to do with the killing.

He was allowed just 10 minutes to scarf down a special “facility meal” for Thanksgiving. But, as Pacheco said, mustering a laugh, “But, believe me, it’s nowhere near the Thanksgiving you would have out here.”

Over the years, he learned to cope with the loneliness and sadness of incarcerated holidays the best way he knew how. For Thanksgiving he would decorate his cell with pictures of turkeys he cut from magazines and hang up pictures of his family.

Sometimes, one of the inmates who could cook would make a special meal. One year Pacheco says that his cellmate made a special meal of instant rice, squid or calamari and spices bought from the commissary, placed in a clear garbage bag and heated on the cell’s hotpot.

I spent all those years surrounded by friends and family and eating like a glutton.

(Indeed, four years after Pacheco’s conviction, I moved just six blocks away from where the murder had occurred and stayed there almost the entire time Pacheco was in prison.)

Pacheco said that he learned through his lawyers twice, sometime in 2007 or 2008, that the prosecution would hand him a plea deal if he would plead guilty to a lesser charge. They would consider the time he’d already spent in prison as time served, and he could go home. Both times he refused. As he told me: “I told the attorney at that time, I said, ‘No, I’m not doing that because they know that I didn’t do this.’ ”

Furthermore, as The New York Post reported in 2017, another man pleaded guilty in federal court to cutting the victim’s throat and “laid out the crime in a 2013 letter to the Brooklyn D.A.’s office.”

When we spoke this week, Pacheco told me about what he recalled about the moment this year when the judge read the ruling that freed him. “All I remember was looking back, and I saw my grandma and my mother tearing, you know. And, I just kept looking at them,” he said, adding, “I remember a few tears came down my own eyes.”

That is not to say this is the end of things. The Conviction Review Unit still asserts that there was “strong direct and circumstantial evidence” that Pacheco was involved in the incident and that he was “not factually innocent.” Pacheco says that he is still fighting to fully clear his name and has filled a $100 million lawsuit against New York State for unjust conviction and imprisonment.

Our sons are now both 26, his in the Navy and mine in medical school. As I talked to him all I could think of was all the memories I have of my son over those years, watching him grow up, and all those same opportunities for memories that were stolen from Pacheco.

This is the first year in my life, because of the pandemic, that I will be forced to be away from family and friends. But I am still thankful and hopeful because I know that this is the first year in 25 years that Pacheco will be able to be with his family and friends.

When people complain about the restrictions that the pandemic has placed on our lives, when some go so far as to claim that it has unfairly stripped us of our rights and liberties, remember that there are people among us whose freedoms have truly been unfairly taken, people who would be happy if their only concerns were having to wear a mask and socially distance.

Pacheco was wrongly convicted, spent 25 Thanksgivings in prison, and he’s still thankful. As he told me:

“I’m thankful just to be home and be free, blessed to be able to do that with my family and my loved ones. And, when I say loved ones, I mean family and friends alike, you know what I mean. So, I am thankful for that. And, I give thanks to the most high, which is God, you know, and that he was able to make this happen. It doesn’t matter if it’s 25 years, 30 years, five years. What matters is that I’m out here now.”

Pacheco is now living with the woman he was seeing the night of the killing, the night that he himself was stabbed in the scrum, and they will spend Thanksgiving together.

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Opinion | Quarantine May Negatively Affect Kids’ Immune Systems

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is unwittingly conducting what amounts to the largest immunological experiment in history on our own children. We have been keeping children inside, relentlessly sanitizing their living spaces and their hands and largely isolating them. In doing so, we have prevented large numbers of them from becoming infected or transmitting the virus. But in the course of social distancing to mitigate the spread, we may also be unintentionally inhibiting the proper development of children’s immune systems.

Most children are born with a functioning immune system with the capacity to respond to diverse types of foreign substances, called antigens, encountered through exposure to microorganisms, food and the environment. The eradication of harmful pathogens, establishment of protective immunity and proper immune regulation depends on the immune cells known as T lymphocytes. With each new infection, pathogen-specific T cells multiply and orchestrate the clearance of the infectious organism from the body, after which some persist as memory T cells with enhanced immune functions.

Over time, children develop increasing numbers and types of memory T cells, which remain throughout the body as a record of past exposures and stand ready to provide lifelong protection. For other antigen exposures that are not infectious or dangerous, a type of healthy stalemate can result, called immune tolerance. Immunological memory and tolerance learned during childhood serves as the basis for immunity and health throughout adulthood.

Memory T cells begin to form during the first years of life and accumulate during childhood. However, for memory T cells to become functionally mature, multiple exposures may be necessary, particularly for cells residing in tissues such as the lung and intestines, where we encounter numerous pathogens. These exposures typically and naturally occur during the everyday experiences of childhood — such as interactions with friends, teachers, trips to the playground, sports — all of which have been curtailed or shut down entirely during efforts to mitigate viral spread. As a result, we are altering the frequency, breadth and degree of exposures that are crucial for immune memory development.

While the immune system is influenced by multiple factors, including genetics and everyday exposures to family members and pets, the long term effects of removing the social system that brings children in contact with other people, places and things remains uncharted territory. However, there is now substantial evidence that antigen exposure during the formative period of childhood is important not only for protection but also for reducing the incidence of allergies, asthma and inflammatory diseases. A well-known theory, called the “hygiene hypothesis,” proposes that the increased incidence of allergies and other immune disorders involving inappropriate immune reactions across industrialized societies is a result of the move away from agrarian society toward a highly sanitized urban setting.

Failing to train our immune systems properly can have serious consequences. When laboratory mice raised in nearly sterile conditions were housed together in the same cage with pet mice raised in standard conditions, some of the laboratory mice succumbed to pathogens that the pet mice were able to fight off. Additional studies of the microbiome — the bacteria that normally inhabit our intestines and other sites — have shown that mice raised in germ-free conditions or in the presence of antibiotics had reduced and altered immune responses to many types of pathogens. These studies suggest that for establishing a healthy immune system, the more diverse and frequent the encounters with antigens, the better.

Clinical trials have already demonstrated the effect of antigen exposure or avoidance in early childhood on subsequent immune responses. Introduction of peanuts to infants resulted in reduced incidence of peanut allergy, while avoidance had the opposite effect of promoting unwanted, severe allergic immune responses to peanuts. These findings further suggest that exposure during the formative years is critical for developing an immune system that responds appropriately to pathogens while tolerating harmless antigens.

What can be done to promote children’s health during this relentless pandemic? To allow them to be exposed to people and the environment, while not putting their teachers, family members or caregivers at risk? Embracing proven measures such as mask wearing to control viral spread will alleviate the need for further restrictions and have disproportionate benefits for our children. It is heartening that the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 vaccine trials show great promise. The sooner that teachers and caregivers can be vaccinated, the sooner children can return to school and re-establish their normal routines.

That’s because the longer we need to socially distance our children in the midst of uncontrolled viral spread, the greater the possibility that their immune systems will miss learning important immunological lessons (what’s harmful, what’s not) that we usually acquire during childhood.

There is already well-justified concern about the impact of prolonged virtual learning on social and intellectual development, especially for elementary and middle-school-age children. The sooner we can safely restore the normal experiences of childhood, interacting with other children and — paradoxically — with pathogens and diverse microorganisms, the better we can ensure their ability to thrive as adults in this changing world.

Donna L. Farber is a professor of immunology and surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, where Thomas Connors is an assistant professor of pediatrics.

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Opinion | Will White Women in Georgia Put Family or Culture War First?

In the run-up to Election Day, there was a lot of talk about the gender gap and the importance of the women’s vote for Joe Biden’s chances. In some polls, Mr. Biden was leading President Trump by as much as 23 points among likely female voters. The actual gap, according to an early CNN exit poll, may be closer to a far smaller 15 points.

Most of the help that female voters provided to Mr. Biden came from women of color, and especially from Black women. Despite all the talk of suburban women moving toward Mr. Biden, with the clear implication that these suburbanites were white, it was women of color in and around cities like Atlanta and Philadelphia who were most responsible for his victory. A majority of white women voted for Mr. Trump, by an 11-point margin.

True, they didn’t vote for him by as large a margin as did white men, and if college-educated, they tipped toward Mr. Biden. Still, given Mr. Trump’s well-known tendencies to denigrate women and his administration’s failure to structurally improve their communities, this depth of support for him may come as surprising.

Mr. Trump has tried to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, made court appointments that threaten Roe v. Wade, and reduced access to contraception. And he has vacillated on further relief to deal with a pandemic that has had a disproportionate impact on women’s employment and economic well-being.

In 2004, Thomas Frank published his best-selling book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?,” which argued that his fellow Kansans were voting against their economic self-interest because of hot-button cultural issues. Perhaps now we should be asking, “What’s the Matter With White Women?” Are they voting on cultural rather than economic issues? Are many simply following their husbands’ lead? For some, it would seem so.

In contrast to Mr. Trump, the president-elect has a comprehensive agenda to materially improve women’s lives, including paid leave and child care, equal pay, reproductive choice, higher wages and benefits for teachers and care workers, as well as support for the Equal Rights Amendment. Mr. Biden has plans to create a White House Council on Gender Equality and his growing interest in student debt cancellation will greatly benefit women, who by certain estimates hold two-thirds of such debt.

Mr. Biden’s ability to carry out his agenda now depends on what happens in two Senate runoff elections in Georgia in January; the results will determine which party controls the Senate. Black women, once again, may hold the key but they will need white women to join forces with them if the two Democratic candidates, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, are to win.

Why should we care about Georgia? Because Mr. Biden’s ability to address issues that significantly affect women — such as child care, paid leave and reproductive health care — depends on it. And because women are not only half the population but have also become the backbone of the economy over the last few decades.

As new Brookings research shows, virtually all of the growth in middle-class incomes since 1979 is a result of the rise in women’s work hours and wages. Over 40 percent of all mothers are either the sole or the primary breadwinners for their families, and 70 percent of couples are now dual earners. Because men’s wages have stagnated, without the contributions of women, middle-class incomes would have been flat between 1979 and 2018.

While the rise in women’s work and wages has enabled middle-class families to inch ahead, it has worsened what we call “the time squeeze.” That is the enormous pressure that is felt among two-earner families with children and among single parents to balance work and family life. This squeeze has tightened in the pandemic. Women, especially women of color, suffered the biggest economic damage. For mothers, the closing of schools and day care centers combined with women’s disproportionate responsibilities for child care, have increased the burden.

In interviews and focus groups with middle-class families in 2019 and 2020, we heard about these problems over and over again.

As one mother said, “It’s very hard if you’re working and you have your kid at home that needs to be taken here or there, sports, and it’s like, there’s not enough time in the day to make meals and do your laundry and it’s like, ‘Ah!’”

A working mother who has two children with Type 1 diabetes spoke of the tax on her mind and body: “I have to support my family and it’s very hard,” she said. “By the time I’m done with my day, I’m mentally and physically drained.”

We propose some ways to ease the time squeeze. For starters, paid family and medical leave is a must. Many employers and some states do provide various forms of paid leave, but those policies and practices have so far mainly benefited higher-paid workers.

We propose a paid leave policy financed by payroll taxes that could be used for the birth of a child, family care, or an extended illness. It would be linked to wages (up to a certain limit) and cover up to 12 weeks of leave. This is not a new proposal; it is embedded in the FAMILY Act, which was sponsored by Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, in addition to having the support of the Biden campaign.

What is new is one of our other proposals: aligning the school day with the workday. School schedules are a holdover from the days when women stayed home and children were needed to work on the farm in the summer. While the most common work schedule is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the most common school schedule is 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. More closely aligning these times, and providing access to after-school (and perhaps summer) care for most elementary and middle school children, would ease the time squeeze for working parents, especially the hassles and costs related to finding after-school child care.

This proposal would use sliding-scale fees to make sure that needy families had full access, and entail federal subsidies to local school districts to nudge them toward needed changes. These extra hours could also be used to expand opportunities for catch-up learning among children who are falling behind in the pandemic. Add to this reform package universal pre-K programs and a more generous child care tax credit and many families would be much better off.

The sad news is that — unless Southern women save the day — Republicans will remain in control of the Senate and nothing much is likely to get done in Congress. There will be too little affordable child care; birth control and abortions will be harder to obtain; and we will remain the only advanced country without a paid leave policy to cover illness, caregiving or the birth of a child.

White women in Georgia, as the crucial swing voting bloc in these runoff races, have a clear choice between upholding a sclerotic status quo and enabling a corrosive culture war or giving their state, and the country, a chance at removing major burdens that are crushing families’ budgets, and taking away their quality time.

Georgia voters, are you ready for the election runoffs?

Isabel Sawhill, a co-author of “A New Contract With the Middle Class,” is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, where Morgan Welch is a senior research assistant.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

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Biden and China

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Good morning. Biden introduces his foreign policy team. The Dow breaks 30,000. And Pennsylvania is banning alcohol sales.

The presidents who came just before Donald Trump took a mostly hopeful view of China. Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and the two George Bushes all tried to integrate China into the global economy and political system. Doing so, they believed, could persuade China to accept international rules and become more democratic.

The strategy largely failed.

China used access to the world’s markets to grow richer on its own terms. It rejected many international rules — on intellectual property, for example — while becoming more authoritarian at home. As a recent Times story puts it, China has adopted “increasingly aggressive and at times punitive policies that force countries to play by its rules.”

Trump is not a close student of international affairs, but he evidently grasped China’s ambitions in ways that his predecessors did not. He treated it as what it almost certainly is: America’s most serious threat since the Soviet Union.

Trump’s China policy had a different weakness, in the eyes of many experts and foreign diplomats. He antagonized allies who are also worried about China’s rise, rather than building a coalition with Japan, Europe, Australia and others. As Keyu Jin, a Chinese economist at the London School of Economics, has written, Trump has been “a strategic gift” for China.

Soon, it will be Joe Biden’s turn — to see if he can manage China more effectively than other recent presidents have. (Yesterday, Biden introduced his foreign-policy team.)

His administration is likely to take a different approach to China than it does on many other issues. On those others, like climate change and health care, Biden will be trying to reverse Trump’s policies. On China, Biden instead seems set to accept Trump’s basic diagnosis but to strive for a more effective treatment. The Biden team’s critique of the current China policy is about “means more than ends,” Walter Russell Mead wrote in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

Biden and his aides have signaled that they will not return to the wishful pre-Trump policy toward China (even though several of them helped shape that policy in the Obama administration). “The United States does need to get tough with China,” Biden wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine in January.

To do so, they will use diplomacy. Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice for secretary of state, said this summer: “We are in a competition with China … We need to rally our allies and partners instead of alienating them to deal with some of the challenges that China poses.” Jake Sullivan, the incoming national security adviser, has written (along with the historian Hal Brands) that the way to check China’s display of a “superpower’s ambition” and maintain U.S. influence is to end “the current trajectory of self-sabotage.”

Biden, speaking about his new appointees yesterday, said, “They embody my core beliefs that America is strongest when it works with its allies.”

In concrete terms, this could mean forging more agreements on restricting the use of Chinese technology, like Huawei. It could mean creating economic alliances that invest in developing countries only if they agree to respect intellectual property and human rights — and trying to isolate China in the process.

The larger goal will be making other countries believe that the U.S. is no longer going it alone. “The narrative in Asia,” Michael Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told me, “is that America is out of the game.”

The view from Beijing: A Chinese official writes about the possibility of “cooperative competition” in a Times Op-Ed.

THE LATEST NEWS

The Virus

Pfizer plans to ship 6.4 million doses of its vaccine across the U.S. in mid-December. Health care workers and vulnerable people will receive the first doses.

Pennsylvania will not allow bars and restaurants to sell alcohol after 5 p.m. today, in an effort to dissuade gatherings on what is usually one of the busiest bar nights of the year.

Qantas, Australia’s largest airline, says it will eventually require passengers to present proof that they have been vaccinated before flying internationally.

New York is fining the organizers of a Hasidic wedding with thousands of guests $15,000. Mayor Bill de Blasio called it “amazingly irresponsible.”

The Presidential Transition

Biden’s teams have begun to coordinate with their counterparts in the Trump administration. About 20 meetings took place yesterday, including at the Department of Homeland Security and the Education Department.

The White House gave approval for Biden to receive the President’s Daily Brief, a summary of high-level intelligence.

Trump is planning to pardon his former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn pleaded guilty twice to lying to the F.B.I. about his conversations with a Russian diplomat.

Trump issued his final turkey pardon in the annual Thanksgiving ceremony at the White House.

Other Big Stories

The Dow Jones industrial average passed 30,000, prompting Trump to hold a brief news conference where he called the mark a “sacred number.” The S. & P. 500 index — a broader measure — is now 62 percent above its March low and 16 percent above its level one year ago.

The spice maker McCormick & Company will acquire Cholula Hot Sauce for $800 million, a bet on the growing popularity of spicy flavors.

Michelin and Zagat postponed their coveted ratings guides to New York City restaurants for 2021. “Ratings are not appropriate when so many restaurants are closed,” a Michelin representative said.

Fox News reached a settlement with the parents of Seth Rich, a former Democratic National Committee staff member who was killed in an apparent botched robbery. The network had falsely cast Rich’s death as a political conspiracy.

Wildlife officials found a strange object in the Utah desert: a monolith, about 10 to 12 feet tall, embedded in the ground in a remote part of the state.

Morning Reads

Time for a snooze: It’s time to embrace a less-celebrated Thanksgiving tradition: napping after the big meal, writes Pete Wells, The Times’s restaurant critic. Here are six steps to a satisfying after-dinner doze.

From Opinion: In an Op-Ed, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, reveals that she had a miscarriage this summer. After this year of loss, she recommends a question to ask family members during the holiday season: “Are you OK?”

And Jennifer Senior, Thomas Friedman and Farhad Manjoo have columns.

Lives Lived: The client list of Priscilla Jana, a forthright South African human rights lawyer, embraced both the elite and the foot soldiers of the struggle against apartheid. Among many others, she represented Nelson and Willie Mandela. She died at 76.

Subscribers make our reporting possible, so we can help you make sense of the moment. If you’re not a subscriber, please consider becoming one today.

ARTS AND IDEAS

25 reasons to love movies

Three years ago, The Times’s chief film critics, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott, took on a big undertaking: Ranking the 25 best films of the 21st century so far.

In a spiritual successor to that project, the critics teamed up again for a new list, this time of the current century’s 25 greatest actors. These are the performers — from around the world, spanning Hollywood megastars and art-house darlings — whose line delivery and presence make them stand out.

The list includes Tilda Swinton, whom Manohla calls “the woman of a thousand otherworldly faces”; Mahershala Ali, who won Oscars for his roles in “Moonlight” and “Green Book”; Song Kang Ho, who played an impoverished, scheming patriarch in “Parasite”; as well as Willem Dafoe, Catherine Deneuve and Alfre Woodard.

The two critics began compiling lists of contenders in the summer. “We wanted to represent a full range of modern acting talent — global, multigenerational, big stars and character actors,” Tony told us. “Twenty-five is such a tiny number, though! The last few rounds of cuts were painful.” Manohla said she hoped that the list would inspire readers to rewatch old favorites or to discover new ones.

You can find the full list here.

PLAY, WATCH, EAT

What to Cook

Need some last-minute Thanksgiving help? Here’s how to cook a turkey (and how to carve one). You can also make gravy and cranberry sauce from scratch.

Awards Season

The Grammys have announced this year’s nominees. Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa and Roddy Ricch earned the most nominations, and BTS became the first K-pop group to score a major nomination. Among the snubs: The Weeknd, who will perform at the Super Bowl next year, and Luke Combs, one of country music’s biggest stars.

Staycation

Pretend you’re in Hawaii with a few easy-to-find items.

Late Night

The late-night hosts joked about Trump’s appearances yesterday.

Now Time to Play

The pangram from yesterday’s Spelling Bee was guilted. Today’s puzzle is above — or you can play online if you have a Games subscription.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Say something (five letters).

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. The word “forkable” — in an article about how to use up leftover Thanksgiving stuffing — appeared for the first time in The Times this week, as noted by the Twitter bot @NYT_first_said.

You can see today’s print front page here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about a food bank in Brooklyn. On the latest “Popcast,” who will control Britney Spears’s future?

Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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Opinion | Gavin Newsom, What Were You Thinking?

LOS ANGELES — As the pandemic spikes, the economy convulses and democracy fissures, the urgent need to restore faith in government cries out for leaders with authenticity.

Instead, in one costly dinner, Gov. Gavin Newsom dramatized the chasm that divides California — more severely than North versus South or inland versus the coast. Flouting his own guidelines and exhortations to Californians to avoid socializing, Governor Newsom and his wife joined a birthday celebration for a friend — and prominent lobbyist — at the luxurious French Laundry restaurant in the Napa Valley. It is hard to say which was more astounding, the hypocrisy or the hubris.

Blurry photos from the dinner capture a careless, Gatsby-esque vibe, the governor seated next to top officials for the California Medical Society. At the “board room” where the party appears to have been held, prix fixe meals can start at $450 per person; the political power broker and Newsom mentor Willie Brown wrote that he heard the meal’s wine bill alone “was $12,000.”

Sure, it’s just one dinner. And the governor did apologize, calling it a “bad mistake.” But the party at a restaurant where dinner for two costs more than many people earn in a week reinforced a fundamental schism between those who value government as a force for good and those who resent it as the bastion of an out-of-touch elite oblivious to peoples’ needs.

Coming during a profound economic and public health crisis, the incident reinforces the notion that the state government — indeed, government all across this country — is a mess of bureaucratic dysfunction and aristocratic indifference.

The starkest example in California is the state’s stumbles in performing the basic function of dispensing unemployment benefits. The state’s jobless rate, which peaked in May at 16 percent, in October dipped below double digits for the first time since the spring (though the new spike in Covid cases seems sure to reverse that trend). As usual, the burden falls hardest on the poor and working class.

Indeed, the disparities here could not be more stark: Because for the most part the rich have continued to flourish, the state is reaping an unexpected windfall of billions of dollars in tax revenue — producing an unexpected surplus to help the next budget. The stock market is doing well, and the state has benefited from a surge in capital gains tax.

But for millions who lost jobs and struggle to pay rent and buy food, the state has failed to deliver unemployment benefits reliably. After horror stories and hearings, a gubernatorial “strike force,” audits and the shift of hundreds of employees to help deal with the staggering demand for unemployment payments, the state’s Employment Development Department still has an enormous backlog.

Appeals, which are won in about half the cases, can’t be filed on time because letters of denial go unissued. More than 300,000 recipients recently found that the debit cards on which their benefits are loaded were inexplicably locked, a glitch that caused embarrassment, inconvenience and worse. A year after the agency was warned to stop including full Social Security numbers in mailings, the state auditor said last week the practice has continued, with numbers printed on more than 38 million pieces of mail since the pandemic began.

Yes, the onset of the coronavirus swamped an agency burdened by an obsolete computer system. But in California — home to Silicon Valley, proud of its innovation — surely in eight months, the government could do better.

The state has failed another vulnerable population with even less recourse, and less political clout: The virus has spread through all the state prisons; more than 19,000 inmates have been infected and more than 80 have died. State officials set off one of the worst outbreaks when they inadvertently transferred infected inmates to San Quentin. A recent court decision ordering the state to significantly reduce the population at San Quentin said officials had acted with “deliberate indifference” toward inmates’ health.

Crises create opportunity. The predations of pandemic are also a chance to spur changes that help bridge divides in California, to build faith in government and to promote the sense of a common good. Leadership could hasten efforts to deliver potable water to the million Californians with poisoned water, a task even more critical during the pandemic, or provide internet access so schoolchildren don’t have to sit in the parking lot of fast food restaurants to do their homework.

All across California are tangible reminders of another crisis, the Great Depression. Public works projects became popular economic saviors; hundreds of schools, parks, libraries, courthouses, murals, bridges, dams and hiking trails today are testament to the New Deal spending on services, recreation and art.

The public works of the Depression “continue to haunt” California with their “expressions of shared value and public life, achieved after a great controversy,” wrote the historian Kevin Starr. “Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, visiting an improved campground, Californians of the 1930s, torn from each other by so much social controversy and economic tension, were re-reminded that they still possessed something in common: California improved. California as a public place.”

The pandemic is far from over; perhaps that sort of unity can still arise. That would take leadership more focused on nonglamorous but essential government functions. A strategy that looked to score runs by hitting single after single, rather than always swinging for elusive home runs. So far that leadership has been in short supply, and California remains in its own way just as divided as the rest of the nation.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

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Your Wednesday Briefing

France and Germany tussle over defense policy.

By Natasha Frost

Good morning.

We’re covering Europe’s defense relationship with the U.S. after Trump, a temporary holiday easing of Britain’s coronavirus restrictions and the violent clearing of a protest migrant camp in Paris.

France and Germany tussle over life after Trump

After years of hostility toward Europe, President Trump is leaving. But the prospect of his departure has reopened old fissures between key European allies over their relationships with the United States, with considerable doubts about what just months ago looked like a determined turn toward greater European ambition and integration.

France and Germany in particular are at loggerheads over the future of European defense and strategic autonomy, displaying the different anxieties of two countries central to the functioning of the European Union.

Analysis: NATO and the E.U. are fundamental to Germany in a way they are not to France, which maintains its own nuclear arsenal, explained Jana Puglierin of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Take them away from Germany and we feel naked,” she said.

Presidential transition: President-elect Joe Biden introduced six members of his national security team, saying that together they would reinstate the U.S. as a global leader countering terrorism, extremism, the climate crisis and nuclear proliferation. “America is back,” he said.

Britain plans for a less restricted Christmas

Britons from up to three households will be able to come together and celebrate between Dec. 23 and 27, under plans announced on Tuesday for a brief relaxation of the rules designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Normal restrictions will still apply in pubs and restaurants.

The decision, agreed upon by political leaders in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, means that people will be able to move freely around the United Kingdom between these dates, regardless of whatever local restrictions are in force. There will be an additional day at both ends for those going to or from Northern Ireland.

Public health experts have warned that lifting restrictions could lead to a resurgence of cases in January and February.

French restrictions: Three weeks after announcing a second lockdown, President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that France had succeeded in thwarting a spike in new cases and laid out a plan to ease restrictions.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

New research has convinced many scientists that an early mutation in the coronavirus made it more contagious and harder to contain. The mutation, known as 614G, was first spotted in eastern China in January and then spread through Europe and New York City, displacing other variants.

Some 6.4 million doses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine will be shipped out across the United States in an initial push in mid-December after an expected emergency authorization is granted.

The makers of a Russian vaccine said it showed an efficacy rate of 95 percent in preliminary results from a clinical trial. The figure was based on incomplete data, however.

As scientists dealing with Covid-19 worry about the rise of the antivaccine movement, South Korea’s response to fighting misinformation around the flu vaccine may offer the world a model.

Outcry as French police clear migrant camp

The police violently cleared out a temporary migrant camp in central Paris, forcing people out of tents, chasing them in the streets and firing tear gas. While the police regularly clear such camps, the violent evacuation of mostly Afghan migrants on Monday struck a nerve, fueling growing outrage over the government’s security policies.

The temporary camp, which comprised about 450 blue tents on the Place de la République, was in protest of the authorities’ failure to provide housing for as many as 1,000 migrants who were left to roam the streets after 3,000 people were cleared last week from a camp in Saint-Denis, a suburb north of Paris.

Official remarks: Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, expressed shock in a letter to the French interior minister, accusing the police of a “brutal and disproportionate use of force.” It came as Parliament voted on a bill on Tuesday that would make it harder for reporters or bystanders to film instances of police brutality.

If you have 9 minutes, this is worth it

South Korean adoptees find a way back

The coronavirus pandemic has complicated a rite of passage for Korean adoptees who were brought up overseas: reuniting with their birth parents. Many adoptees canceled long-planned pilgrimages back to South Korea after the government’s quarantine rules for foreign visitors made the trips too costly and time-consuming.

Some, like Mallory Guy, second from left in the photo above, still found a way to make the trip. The Times spoke to adoptees and birth parents about pandemic-era homecomings.

Here’s what else is happening

Shamima Begum: Lawyers representing the former London schoolgirl who went to Syria in 2015 to join the Islamic State called on Britain’s Supreme Court to let her return to her home country to mount her defense. The court should not assume she poses a serious threat, they said on Tuesday.

Curbing “period poverty”: In a world first, the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to make sanitary products available to anyone who needs them, introducing a legal right of free access to tampons and sanitary pads in schools, colleges, universities and all other public buildings.

Wall Street: Stocks rallied to record highs. The S&P 500 rose 1.6 percent, passing a high reached earlier in the month. The Dow Jones industrial average topped the 30,000 mark for the first time.

Uighurs in China: Pope Francis calls the ethnic group a “persecuted” people in his upcoming book. Chinese officials swiftly denied it, despite a wealth of evidence of Beijing’s crackdown on the Muslim minority group.

Snapshot: Above, a third-floor corridor at the Vilina Vlas hotel in Visegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The forest health resort promotes its therapeutic waters and fine dining, but staff members bristle with anger at any mention of its gruesome past, when it was a rape and murder camp run by a gang of Serb nationalists during the Balkan wars of the early 1990s.

Lives lived: Lady Elizabeth Anson, an indefatigable party planner to “the very rich, the very idle, the very busy and the ones who simply haven’t a clue what to do,” as she put it, including rock stars and royals, died earlier this month at 79.

What we’re reading: The Economist’s package of articles explaining the power competition between China and the U.S. — and making a case for how the Biden administration should approach it. “It’s an excellent overview of one of the world’s most important stories,” says David Leonhardt, who writes The Morning.

Now, a break from the news

Cook: It’s hard not to love these cheesy bread balls in tomato sauce, which combine tomato sauce, melted cheese, bread balls and garlic. They’re sort of like a pizza, deconstructed.

Do: Pretend you’re in Hawaii. With a few easy-to-find items, you can discover the state’s breathtaking biodiversity, wherever you are.

Read: For most of human history, the night sky was the best show around. These three new books invite you to stare up at the stars.

Let us help you discover something new. At Home has ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.

And now for the Back Story on …

The AstraZeneca vaccine

Preliminary analysis of the vaccine produced by the British-Swedish drugmaker and the University of Oxford showed it was 90 percent effective when the first dose was cut in half. In contrast, the combination of two full-dose shots led to just 62 percent efficacy. Our science reporters explain what’s behind those head-scratching results.

Why would that combination be more effective?

No one knows. The researchers speculated that the lower first dose did a better job of mimicking the experience of an infection, promoting a stronger immune response. But other factors, like the size and makeup of the groups that got different doses, may also be at play.

Why did the researchers test two different doses?

It was a lucky mistake. Researchers in Britain had been meaning to give volunteers the initial dose at full strength, but they made a miscalculation and accidentally gave it at half strength, Reuters reported. After discovering the error, the researchers gave each affected participant the full-strength booster shot as planned about a month later.

Fewer than 2,800 volunteers got the half-strength initial dose, out of the more than 23,000 participants whose results were reported on Monday. That’s a pretty small number of participants on which to base the spectacular efficacy results — far fewer than in Pfizer’s and Moderna’s trials.

That’s it for this briefing. Join me tomorrow for more news.

— Natasha

Thank you
Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh provided the break from the news. You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected]

P.S.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about President Trump’s failed attempt to overturn the election.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Things made obsolete by iPods (three letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• We asked an A.I. system to have a go at writing a Modern Love column. It wrote dozens; like all romances, some turned out better than others.
• Our Beijing reporter Sui-Lee Wee spoke to Nieman Storyboard about the challenges of sourcing and reporting in China.

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Your Wednesday Briefing

Lessons from South Korea’s vaccine campaign.

By Melina Delkic and Dani Blum

Good morning.

We’re covering how South Korea confronted fears around flu vaccines, what Biden will do in Taiwan and China’s mission to the moon.

A game plan for the rollout of vaccines

As scientists dealing with Covid-19 worry about the rise of the anti-vaccine movement, South Korea’s response to fighting misinformation may offer the world a model for when vaccines become widely available.

In October, reports of deaths started popping up shortly after the country kicked off its flu vaccine campaign. Scientists determined that the deaths were unrelated to the flu shots, but they worried these accounts might lead to public distrust of vaccines altogether.

A response: Health officials ramped up efforts to communicate with the public. The government received more than 100 reports of people dying after receiving a flu vaccine. Officials promptly disclosed the causes, which were unrelated to the inoculations.

The panic has mostly died down in South Korea and 19 million people have received their flu shots so far. Still, this falls short of the country’s target of 30 million.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

New research has convinced many scientists that an early mutation in the coronavirus made it more contagious and harder to contain. The mutation, known as 614G, was first spotted in eastern China in January and then spread through Europe and New York City, displacing other variants.

The makers of a Russian vaccine said that it showed an efficacy rate of 95 percent in preliminary results from a clinical trial. The figure was based on incomplete data.

Hong Kong ordered all bars and nightclubs to close starting on Thursday as coronavirus infections spike in the city. On Tuesday, Hong Kong reported 80 new cases, including 54 linked to dancers at a ballroom and Latin dance studio.

Australia’s largest airline, Qantas, will make coronavirus vaccines — once they become available — mandatory for all passengers who want to fly internationally. The head of Qantas predicted that other airlines will follow.

China, Taiwan and Biden’s long to-do list

President-elect Joe Biden announced crucial cabinet picks on Tuesday as the presidential transition formally began in Washington. Along with the health and economic crises from the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Biden faces major challenges in foreign policy.

In Asia, President Trump has bolstered ties with Taiwan as part of his efforts to counter China’s influence. Mr. Biden will most likely continue on a similar path.

But his approach is expected to be less confrontational than Mr. Trump’s — and he is viewed in Taiwan by some as more risk averse. Mr. Biden’s transition team has already reached out to Taiwanese officials.

The latest: The Trump administration is weighing several measures that could limit Americans looking to sell products to or invest in certain Chinese companies. Officials are also weighing sanctions related to crackdowns in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Outcry as French police clear out migrant camp

The police violently cleared out a temporary migrant camp in central Paris, forcing people out of tents, chasing them in the streets and firing tear gas. The crackdown fueled growing outrage over the government’s security policies.

Officers used riot shields, tear gas and dispersal grenades. The police regularly clear out people from such camps, but the violent evacuation of mostly Afghan migrants on Monday struck a nerve.

Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, expressed shock in a letter to the French interior minister, accusing the police of a “brutal and disproportionate use of force.” It came as Parliament voted on a bill on Tuesday that would make it harder for reporters or bystanders to film instances of police brutality.

If you have 9 minutes, this is worth it

South Korea’s adoption kids find a way back

The coronavirus pandemic has complicated a rite of passage for Korean adoptees sent to families overseas: reuniting with their birth parents. Many adoptees canceled long-planned pilgrimages back to South Korea after the government’s quarantine rules for foreign visitors made the trips too costly and time-consuming.

Some still found a way to make the trip. Above, Mallory Guy having dinner with her birth family in Cheonan, South Korea. The Times spoke to adoptees and birth parents about pandemic-era homecomings.

Here’s what else is happening

Qatar airport search: Prosecutors in Qatar charged airport police officers over an incident in which they strip searched women boarding a plane to Sydney, Australia, to look for the mother of a newborn found abandoned in an airport bathroom. The episode prompted outrage.

Pope clashes with China: Pope Francis called ethnic Uighurs in China a “persecuted” people in his upcoming book. Chinese officials swiftly denied his claim, despite mounting evidence of Beijing’s crackdown on the Muslim minority group.

Islamic State foreigners: Lawyers representing Shamima Begum, a London schoolgirl who traveled to Syria in 2015 to join the Islamic State, on Tuesday called on Britain’s Supreme Court to allow her to return to her home country to mount her defense, saying the court should not assume she posed a serious threat.

BTS: The Korean pop band received a Grammy Award nomination in the best group performance category for the song “Dynamite.”

Snapshot: Above, the Chang’e-5 spacecraft launching from the Wenchang space site at Hainan Island in China’s south on Monday, on a course for the moon. China aims to be the first nation to bring back lunar rock and soil samples in more than four decades.

What we’re reading: The Economist’s package of articles explaining the power competition between China and the U.S. — and making a case for how the Biden administration should approach it. “It’s an excellent overview of one of the world’s most important stories,” says David Leonhardt, who writes The Morning.

Now, a break from the news

Cook: It’s hard not to love these cheesy bread balls in tomato sauce, which combine tomato sauce, melted cheese, bread balls and garlic. They’re sort of like a pizza, deconstructed.

Do: Pretend you’re in Hawaii. With a few easy-to-find items, you can discover Hawaii’s breathtaking biodiversity, wherever you are.

Read: It’s easy to forget, but for most of human history, the night sky was the best show around. These three new books invite you to stare up at the stars.

Let us help you discover something new. At Home has our full collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.

And now for the Back Story on …

The AstraZeneca vaccine

Preliminary analysis of the vaccine produced by the British-Swedish drugmaker and the University of Oxford showed it was 90 percent effective when the first dose was cut in half. In contrast, the combination of two, full-dose shots led to just 62 percent efficacy. Our science reporters explain what’s behind those head-scratching results.

Why would that combination be more effective?

No one knows. The researchers speculated that the lower first dose did a better job of mimicking the experience of an infection, promoting a stronger immune response. But other factors, like the size and makeup of the groups that got different doses, may also be at play.

Why did the researchers test two different doses?

It was a lucky mistake. Researchers in Britain had been meaning to give volunteers the initial dose at full strength, but they made a miscalculation and accidentally gave it at half strength, Reuters reported. After discovering the error, the researchers gave each affected participant the full strength booster shot as planned about a month later.

Fewer than 2,800 volunteers got the half-strength initial dose, out of the more than 23,000 participants whose results were reported on Monday. That’s a pretty small number of participants on which to base the spectacular efficacy results — far fewer than in Pfizer’s and Moderna’s trials.

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

— Melina and Dani

Thank you
Carole Landry helped write this briefing. Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh provided the break from the news. You can reach the team at [email protected]

P.S.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about President Trump’s failed attempt to overturn the election.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Show on which Gillian Anderson plays Margaret Thatcher, with “The” (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Our Beijing reporter Sui-Lee Wee spoke to Nieman Storyboard about the challenges of sourcing and reporting in China.

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Opinion | Guns and Suicide

More from our inbox:

To the Editor:

Re “An Unlikely Alliance to Save Lives” (Science Times, Nov. 17):

It is encouraging to see the gun-owning community confront the extreme danger of a firearm in the hands of a person at risk of suicide. While the article explores a range of strategies for gun dealers and owners to keep guns away from those who might do harm to themselves, it didn’t mention an effective solution when voluntary measures fail: extreme-risk protection orders, commonly known as “red flag” laws.

These laws provide a means of last resort for removing guns from an individual who is at risk of imminent harm to himself or others. Connecticut was the first state to pass an extreme-risk law, in 1999.

In Connecticut, a study found that for every 10 to 20 protection orders issued, one suicide was averted. Because suicide can be impulsive and guns are far more lethal than other means, these laws lower death by suicide over all, not just by guns.

Extreme-risk protection laws include due-process protections that protect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners. No court has struck down one of these laws, despite opposition by the National Rifle Association.

Jonathan Perloe
Cos Cob, Conn.
The writer is communications director for CT Against Gun Violence.

‘Donald Trump Is No Alfred E. Neuman!’

To the Editor:

Re “The Post-Presidency of a Con Man,” by Michelle Goldberg (column, Nov. 15):

As the editor of Mad magazine for almost 35 years, I was shocked, disappointed and outraged to see President Trump visually compared to Mad’s gap-tooth grinning idiot mascot, the “What, me worry” kid, Alfred E. Neuman.

I worked with Alfred E. Neuman. I knew Alfred E. Neuman. Alfred E. Neuman was a friend of mine. Donald Trump is no Alfred E. Neuman!

John Ficarra
Staten Island

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Analysis & Comment

Elliott Advisors proposes to acquire Aryzta for $872 million

ZURICH (Reuters) – Private equity firm Elliott Capital Advisors said on Monday it made a proposal to Aryzta’s board of directors to acquire all outstanding shares of the Swiss frozen baked goods maker for an indicative price of 0.80 Swiss francs per share.

The potential offer would value the company at 793 million Swiss francs ($871.81 million), according to Refinitiv data. Aryzta’s shares closed at 0.6645 francs on Friday.

The financing for the potential offer is available and refinancing arrangements for the company’s existing debt are at an advanced stage, Elliott said in a statement.

“We require the board of directors’ recommendation of our potential offer and the company’s support to finalise our refinancing arrangements,” Elliott said.

It said the public tender offer would be subject to customary offer conditions to be specified by Elliott.

Aryzta, whose products include buns for McDonald’s burgers and Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, has been under pressure from activist investors for months as it generated losses well before the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Swiss company could not immediately be reached for comment.

Aryzta said last month that it had concluded discussions with Elliott without a binding takeover offer, and that it would look at other options.

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