Your Tuesday Briefing
E.U. moves to cut off Belarus’s air access
The E.U. yesterday urged airlines to avoid Belarus’s airspace and imposed sanctions on Aleksandr Lukashenko, the country’s strongman leader, a day after Belarus brazenly forced down a Ryanair commercial airliner so it could seize a dissident journalist onboard.
The British government said it would prohibit Belarus’s national airline from operating in the country, and some Eastern European airlines are diverting flights over Belarus airspace. Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. transportation secretary, has called for a safety review of flights operated by U.S. airlines over Belarus.
Rather than try to blunt diplomatic fallout, Lukashenko signed new laws cracking down further on dissent. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said that what happened to the jet was in strict accordance with aviation rules, while Russia, Lukashenko’s main ally, stood by him.
Background: Who is Roman Protasevich, the 26-year-old detained journalist? He became a dissident as a teenager and fled the country in 2019, but has continued to roil Lukashenko’s government on the social media platform Telegram while living in exile in Lithuania.
Rising threat of B.1.617.2 variant in Britain
A potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus known as B.1.617.2 has begun to outpace other versions of the virus in Britain, putting pressure on the government to hasten second doses of vaccines. Government scientists said the variant was “highly likely” to be more transmissible than the one behind Britain’s devastating wintertime surge.
The new variant, which has become dominant in India since first being detected there in December, may be responsible in part for a grievous wave of infections across Southeast Asia and Nepal. It is now present in at least 49 countries.
Reassuring signs: A new study by Public Health England indicates that fully vaccinated people are about as well protected from the variant as they are from other forms of the coronavirus. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine offered 88 percent protection against the variant, while the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine was 60 percent effective.
Israel’s new relationship with the U.S.
The U.S. secretary of state will travel to Israel today, seeking to bolster the nation’s cease-fire with Hamas. Antony Blinken will also use his trip to the region to work on humanitarian aid for Gaza, but he has no plans to pursue full-fledged peace talks.
For decades, Israeli leaders and voters alike treated Washington as essential to their country’s survival. But that dependence may be ending. While Israel still benefits greatly from American assistance, analysts say the country may have achieved effective autonomy from the U.S.
Though the U.S. still has some leverage, as it does with every country where it provides arms and diplomatic support, it may be declining past the point at which Israel is able and willing to do as the U.S. wishes. Once reliant on American arms, Israel now produces many weapons domestically.
Context: The change comes just as a faction of Democrats and left-wing activists, outraged over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and bombing of Gaza, is challenging Washington’s long-held consensus on Israel — even as significant, if shrinking, numbers of Americans express support for Israel.
On the ground: The police in Israel have arrested more than 1,550 people on suspicion of involvement in the recent outbreak of mob violence between Arabs and Jews, of which 70 percent were Arab citizens of Israel while 30 percent were Jewish.
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News From Europe
A few years ago, many in Silicon Valley expected that self-driving cars would be common by 2021. But after court fights, injuries and deaths, and tens of billions of dollars spent on a frustratingly fickle technology, companies like Uber and Lyft have abandoned the pursuit. Now the industry is settling in for years of more work.
Those companies still remaining could spend an additional $6 billion to $10 billion before the technology becomes commonplace sometime around the end of the decade or later.
ARTS AND IDEAS
Welcome to the Space Jam
The movie “Space Jam” — a comedy centered on a basketball game that pits Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes characters against aliens — came out in 1996, during the internet’s early days. Its official website reflects its age: a simple pixelated image of stars, dotted with cartoon planets. By remaining unchanged, it has become a beloved cultural artifact for a subset of millennials.
The site “is important in the way antique maps are important,” Gina Cherelus and Caity Weaver write in The Times. It documents the internet as it once was, with downloadable screen savers, printable coloring pages and a one-second audio clip of Jordan saying, “You guys are nuts.”
In 2010, the website ascended to meme status after a popular Reddit post remarked on its continued existence. Rolling Stone called it “the website that wouldn’t die.”
Spacejam.com was recently repurposed to advertise the coming sequel, “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” starring LeBron James. But you can still find a prominent link to the original site. When it was made, “the internet was still whispering its promise,” said Don Buckley, an advertising executive for the film. “We were exuberant about its possibilities.”