Afghanistan, Denmark, Hakuna Matata: Your Friday Briefing

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Good morning.

A chaotic day in the U.S., contentious handshakes in Denmark and worries over Hakuna Matata.

Here’s the latest:

The Trump administration will withdraw about 7,000 troops from Afghanistan.

Roughly half of the U.S. troops currently stationed in Afghanistan will leave in the coming months, defense officials said.

The news came on the same day Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense whose experience and stability were widely seen as a balance to an unpredictable president, resigned in protest over President Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Syria. Read Mr. Mattis’s resignation letter here.

Background: The withdrawal comes at a time when the Afghan Taliban have been gaining momentum, seizing territory and killing Afghan security forces in record numbers.

Why it matters: Mr. Trump’s choice to retreat from the two conflicts scrambled the geopolitics of the Middle East and rattled U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region.

A U.S. government shutdown looms.

A deal to avert a government shutdown was teetering on Thursday after President Trump said he would not sign a stopgap spending bill if it did not include funding for a wall on the southwestern border.

The House approved a version of the bill Thursday evening that allocated $5.7 billion for the border wall, but it is almost certain to die in the Senate, where it would need bipartisan support.

Why it matters: The chaos in Washington dragged stock prices lower in the U.S. and extended a sell-off around the world. It also means the Transportation Security Administration and air traffic control agencies could run out of money ahead of one of America’s busiest travel weekends.

Required for a Danish citizenship: a handshake.

Starting next month, new Danish citizens must shake hands at their naturalization ceremony, under a new law aimed at Muslim immigrants.

Some religious Muslims refuse to touch members of the opposite sex outside their immediate families. Critics have derided the law as awkward, “purely symbolic” and irrelevant to an applicant’s qualifications.

But some politicians defended the new rule, saying it indicates a foreigner’s willingness to assimilate. “If one can’t do something that simple and straightforward, there’s no reason to become a Danish citizen,” said one lawmaker.

Why it matters: This is the latest in a series of anti-immigrant measures in Denmark. The government recently announced plans to isolate certain migrants it wants to deport on a small, out-of-the-way island, and this summer, the Parliament prohibited the wearing of face veils in public.

Separately: The prime minister of Belgium resigned amid a populist revolt over his migration policy, which opponents said threatens the country’s sovereignty. He was under pressure from the right and left.

“It’s a dark day for German journalism.”

The firing of a star journalist, Claas Relotius, who fabricated stories for Germany’s most respected newsmagazine, Der Spiegel, is quickly turning into one of the country’s biggest journalism scandals.

And “Spiegelgate,” as it is referred to on social media, could not have come at a worse time.

Why: The idea of “fake news,” often propagated by President Trump, has been used by populists on both sides of the Atlantic to undermine mainstream news media. In Germany, the far right uses the term “Lügenpresse,” or “lying press,” which was used by the Nazis in the 1920s before they rose to power.

Here’s what else is happening

U.S.-China tensions: The Justice Department accused two Chinese nationals with ties to the country’s Ministry of State Security of trying to steal technology secrets from a range of industries, including aviation and pharmaceuticals, and several government entities, including the Navy.

Gatwick Airport: London’s second-busiest airport shut down for more than 24 hours, leaving tens of thousands of passengers stranded during peak holiday season, after a drone was seen flying over the runway.

Morocco: The authorities there arrested three more suspects in the killings of two Scandinavian tourists in the Atlas Mountains, in what Danish officials suggested was an act of terror linked to the Islamic State.

Carlos Ghosn: The former Nissan chairman was arrested again by Japanese authorities, this time on suspicion that he shifted more than $16 million in personal losses incurred a decade ago to the automaker. The rearrest dealt a setback to Mr. Ghosn’s hopes for getting released from the Tokyo jail where he has been held for more than a month on different charges.

Yellow Vests: The protests showed how globalization and its inequities have led to a crisis of mobility — geographic, economic and social — in France.

Hakuna Matata™: Disney popularized the phrase worldwide with “The Lion King” — and then claimed it as its intellectual property. Now tens of thousands of people have signed a petition calling the 20-plus-year-old trademark an “assault on the Swahili people.”

Nazis: A couple in Britain who named their child Adolf out of admiration for Hitler have been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for belonging to a violent neo-Nazi group.

Opioid epidemic: Drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death in America, surpassing car crashes and gun violence. We spent months interviewing users, family members and addiction experts to create a visual representation of the strong lure of powerful drugs, like heroin.

Pop music 2.0: The definition of the music genre has been completely dismantled in the last couple of years, with subgenres rising to the top of the charts owing in large part to streaming platforms.

Smarter Living

Tips for a more fulfilling life.

Recipe of the day: Tempura-fried green beans — hot, crunchy and irresistible with a sweet-and-spicy mustard sauce.

Party dress codes: the dos and don’ts.

Help the environment by tuning up your heating system. Here’s how.

Back Story

Today is the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice, also known as the shortest day of the year — shorthand for the day that gets the least sunlight.

Some of us earthlings may grumble about the darkness. But without it, we might not be alive.

Seasons occur because most planets do not spin perfectly upright like a top. The earth’s “axial tilt” is a jaunty 23.5 degrees, for example, while Uranus spins at 98 degrees, or nearly sideways.

The earth’s tilt is good for humans because it helps to moderate our sun exposure. Our four seasons are comparatively mild and, thanks to our proximity to the sun, fairly brief.

Much of Uranus, by contrast, spends winters in permanent darkness and summers under constant sunlight. And those seasons last decades in Earth years.

“If there were creatures on Uranus — and I don’t think there are — seasonal affective disorder would be a lifetime thing,” the planetary scientist Heidi Hammel told The Times.

Mike Ives, a reporter in our Hong Kong office, wrote today’s Back Story.

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