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Kavanaugh, China, the Nobel Peace Prize: Your Friday Briefing

Category: Asia,World

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Good morning. U.S. Senate Republicans align, the West goes after Russia, speculation on the Nobel Peace Prize. Here’s what you need to know:

Kavanaugh confirmation appears near.

The White House, after reviewing the F.B.I.’s completed investigation, concluded there was no evidence to corroborate sexual misconduct allegations against the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The agency’s report — a single copy was available to lawmakers behind closed doors — seemed to satisfy Republican senators as well, increasing the chances of his confirmation. Above, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, one of two swing voters seemingly confident in the report’s findings.

But Democrats challenged its legitimacy, saying it left out many key witnesses who came forward.

A final confirmation vote could come this weekend.

More charges against Russia.

Western officials, in a coordinated move, accused Russia of a series of cyberattacks that targeted investigations of Russian wrongdoing around the world.

The U.S. Justice Department charged seven Russian intelligence officers, identified above, with trying to hack into American and Canadian antidoping agencies.

European officials accused Russia of cyberattacks on an organization investigating the poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal. They also pointed to interference with a Malaysian investigation into the passenger plane shot down over Ukraine in 2014.

Vice President Mike Pence took a shot at China.

Mr. Pence, above, accused the country of trying to undermine President Trump and tilt the midterm elections.

“To put it bluntly, President Trump’s leadership is working; China wants a different American president,” he said, echoing Mr. Trump’s rhetoric.

He also painted China as a global aggressor, touching on its militarized islands in the South China Sea and its efforts to isolate Taiwan.

Separately, U.S. prosecutors said that CEFC, a politically connected Chinese oil company, tried to broker arms deals in Chad, Qatar and Libya, and tried to dodge American sanctions against Iran. A top executive goes on trial in November.

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Privatize the war in Afghanistan?

Erik Prince, the American mercenary executive, above, has been meeting with top officials in Kabul to sell them his vision of privatizing the war in Afghanistan.

But President Ashraf Ghani has refused to meet with Mr. Prince, the founder of Blackwater, the security firm infamous for killing civilians in Iraq. “Foreign mercenaries will never be allowed in this country,” Mr. Ghani said.

Still, Mr. Prince’s pitch to deploy contractors instead of U.S. soldiers seems to be striking a chord at a particularly sensitive moment. The Afghan security forces they support are dying in record numbers in clashes with a resurgent Taliban ahead of parliamentary elections next month.

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The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced today.

Who will get it? There are more than 300 nominees this year, and that’s about as much as we can know for sure.

The process of choosing a winner is famously opaque, with no public shortlist and no insight into what the Swedish Academy is looking for.

Regardless, some bookmakers have bets on President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, for working toward denuclearization.

Other guesses include the U.N.’s Refugee Agency and Pope Francis.

So far this week, the Swedish Academy has handed out prizes for medicine, physics and chemistry.

• EBay sent Amazon a cease-and-desist letter accusing it of illegally trying to poach top sellers off its marketplace.

• North Korea has tried to steal over $1 billion from global banks over the past few years using hackers, according to a cybersecurity company.

• What are household chores worth? About $1.6 trillion a year in the U.K., according to a study by the British government. Among the top unpaid contributions to society are child care and cooking.

• U.S. stocks were down. Here’s a snapshot of global markets. Markets in China are closed today.

• The E.U. is considering tariffs against Myanmar over the Rohingya Muslim crisis, threatening an economic lifeline put in place to help the country transition to democracy. [Reuters]

• Six firefighters in Malaysia drowned while trying to rescue a boy who had slipped into a pond, one of the worst disasters ever for the country’s emergency services. [The New York Times]

• What happened to Jamal Khashoggi? The Saudi journalist, a critic of his government, hasn’t been seen since he visited Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul. [The New York Times]

• Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan cut the number of women in his cabinet in half, to one, saying the remaining female minister could do the work of “two or three women.” [CNN]

• Mainland Chinese tourists in Hong Kong are adding a new item to their sightseeing lists: rooftop selfies. [The South China Morning Post]

• Crying over spilled wine: A winery in Italy lost 8,000 gallons of prosecco after one of its fermentation tanks exploded. [CBS]

• Astronomers might have found a moon orbiting a planet in another solar system, which would be the first “exomoon” discovery. [NPR]

Tips for a more fulfilling life.

• Yuki Kawauchi will run his ninth marathon this year on Sunday — when most of the world’s top racers do just two a year. The Japanese “citizen runner,” above, who doubles as a government clerk, won the Boston Marathon this year. But he isn’t always the fastest; it’s his breadth, resilience and panache that have made him a global fascination.

• In Taiwanese cuisine, “Q” is what umami is to Japanese food or al dente is to Italian food: cherished and essential. The term refers to the unique chewy, elastic texture found in both sweet and savory food items, from bubble tea tapioca to sweet potato balls.

• Lady Gaga can’t be summed up as one thing. Since bursting onto the scene a decade ago, the pop star has presented multiple incarnations of herself, shedding old skins and consistently surprising her fans. As the lead in “A Star is Born,” she’s shape-shifting again.

Last week, Scrabble players got some good news when the Merriam-Webster Official Scrabble Players Dictionary added 300 new words. (Think yowza, bibimbap, zen and qapik, an Azerbaijani coin.)

It was the latest chapter in the game’s long history.

Its inventor, Alfred Butts, first called the game Lexiko. Then Criss Cross Words. At one point, he simply called it It. He modified rules, added a playing board. Toy manufacturers were unmoved.

“After giving your game our very careful review and consideration, we do not feel we would be interested in adding this item to our line,” read a letter to Mr. Butts from the Milton Bradley company.

Almost certainly the company regretted turning down the game, which became Scrabble in 1948 after an individual investor got involved.

Despite competition from online games like Words With Friends, the board version remains popular, selling an estimated one million to two million sets annually in North America. It has been translated into some 29 languages, including German.

This reporter can number among her proud achievements petitioning Words With Friends to add “ew” to its word list. Last week, “ew” also became an acceptable word in Scrabble (along with another two-letter word, “ok,” opening up new strategic possibilities).

Nancy Wartik wrote today’s Back Story.

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