Coronavirus Deaths, Joe Biden, Holiday Windows: Your Weekend Briefing

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Here are the week’s top stories, and a look ahead.

1. The numbers of coronavirus-related deaths are at their highest levels since the spring.

On April 15, 2,752 people in the U.S. died from Covid-19, more than on any other day of the pandemic. On Wednesday, 2,300 deaths were reported nationwide — the highest toll since May. The pandemic has now claimed more than 264,800 lives in the country.

While the deaths during the spring peak were concentrated in a handful of states, they are now scattered widely across the entire nation, and there is hardly a community that has not been affected. Above, a Covid patient in Houston last week.

2. Lists of top contenders for President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet are flooding Washington — and drawing fire from all sides.

As Mr. Biden fills out the rest of his team in the days and weeks ahead, the task will force him to navigate tricky currents of ideology, gender, racial identity, party affiliation, friendship, competence, personal background and past employment. Here are his choices so far.

Some of the president-elect’s choices for top posts, including Antony Blinken, Mr. Biden’s pick to be his secretary of state, have done work for undisclosed corporate clients and aided a fund that invests in government contractors. The Biden team’s links to these entities are presenting the incoming administration with its first test of transparency and ethics.

3. A few Republicans in key states blocked President Trump’s push to overturn the vote. They told us about resisting their party, and what it cost them.

Republicans in Washington may have indulged Mr. Trump’s baseless assertions of voter fraud, but at the state and local levels, party officials played a critical role in fending off the mounting pressure from their own to back his agenda.

“I’ve got a pretty thick skin, but it’s hard not to feel shook by it all,” said Tina Barton, the Republican clerk in Rochester Hills, Mich. Above, supporters of Mr. Trump in Lansing, Mich., last week.

The election painted a different picture in statehouse races, where Democrats suffered crushing blows across the country. Party officials are awakening to the reality that voters may have delivered a one-time verdict on Mr. Trump that does not equal ongoing support for center-left policies.

4. The killing of Iran’s top nuclear scientist raised fears of an escalation in violent retribution.

Iran’s leaders threatened on Saturday to retaliate over the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, pledging to continue the work of the man who American and Israeli officials believe was the architect of a secretive nuclear weapons program. Intelligence officials say there is little doubt that Israel was behind the killing, and the Israelis have done nothing to dispel that view. Above, protests in Tehran.

While the killing of Mr. Fakhrizadeh is likely to impede Iran’s military ambitions, its real purpose may have been to prevent President-elect Joe Biden from reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, our national security correspondent writes in an analysis.

Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s killing was the latest in a decade-long pattern of mysterious sabotage that has afflicted the Islamic Republic. Never, however, has Iran endured a spate of covert attacks quite like in 2020.

5. Entrenched leaders in several East African countries are using the coronavirus as a pretext to strengthen their grip on power and clamp down on dissent.

Many countries that traditionally serve as watchdogs are preoccupied with the pandemic and domestic concerns, leading to less international attention and outcry than usual. But the repercussions have been felt in elections in Tanzania, Ethiopia and especially in Uganda, where Bobi Wine, above, has faced violent intimidation and jail time for challenging President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled the country with an iron grip since 1986.

Separately, Ethiopia claimed victory in its conflict with the restive region of Tigray after a daylong series of artillery strikes against the regional capital. With communications shut off, there was no way to independently confirm its claim.

6. For the global economy, the road back to normalcy will be a long one.

With the U.S. suffering its most rampant virus surges yet, and with major nations in Europe again under lockdown (pictured above in Paris), prospects remain grim for a meaningful worldwide recovery before the middle of next year, and far longer in some economies. Substantial job growth could take longer still.

In the U.S., jobless claims jumped by 78,000 last week to nearly 828,000 — a big change from the increase of 18,000 the week before. Among the worst-performing major economies is India: Its economy contracted 7.5 percent in the three months before September.

7. Despite the economic downturn, one show must go on: New York City’s holiday window displays.

Tourism may be down, and changes have been made to accommodate social distancing so onlookers don’t get too close, but the sparkle remains. The Bergdorf Goodman windows are both bolder and simpler, designed to be “read” even from across the street. Macy’s windows, above, are devoted to thanking essential workers. The Saks windows depict holiday rituals in New York City.

The displays are a “light,” said Tony Spring, the chief executive of Bloomingdale’s, at “the end of a very difficult year.”

If you’re staying at home, here are the best seasonal mainstays, like “The Nutcracker” and Handel’s “Messiah,” reimagined for online viewing.

8. What does history look like — and whose narrative prevails?

Our art critic Jason Farago examines the creative, historical liberties that the painter Benjamin West took in “The Death of General Wolfe” (1770), above. The work depicts a British general at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, outside Quebec City, in the Seven Years’ War, also known as the French and Indian War.

The battle was a turning point in a war that would end with the British takeover of French colonies from Quebec to Florida. West mixed real history, mythmaking, British boosterism and New World melodrama in the painting — the first by an American artist to gain international attention. The vision stands at the origin of a rewriting of New World history that endured in both the U.S. and Canada for centuries, Jason writes.

9. The world’s most glamorous quarantine project.

While some of us have been binge-watching Netflix and peering anxiously at our sourdough, John Hatleberg has been working on replicas of the Hope Diamond, a luminous blue 45.52-carat stone, and its earlier incarnations that date to the 17th century, for the Smithsonian.

Mr. Hatleberg strives to ensure that his replicas have the exact same angles and color as their inspiration. That required seven trips to a laboratory for gems in Rochester, Minn., where experts coated and recoated the replica (made of synthetic material) using a thick level of precious metals to match the lush blue of the Hope.

For something a little more manageable at home, try pressing flowers.

Your Weekend Briefing is published Sundays at 6 a.m. Eastern.

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