Booster Shots, Germany, Britney Spears: Your Weekend Briefing

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

1. States are beginning to roll out coronavirus booster shots for older and at-risk Americans — and trying to make sense of new and broad guidelines.

President Biden said that 20 million people could get boosters immediately because they had gotten their second Pfizer-BioNTech shots at least six months ago. In all, 60 million people will be eligible for a third Pfizer shot over the coming months.

People 65 and older, residents of long-term care facilities and adults who have certain medical conditions qualify for the boosters. But after Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, overruled her experts Friday by including people at greater risk of exposure to the virus because of their jobs, millions of people whom her advisory committee had left out became eligible for a third shot.

“Those of us overseeing vaccine rollouts don’t have a clear idea of what to do,” said Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s Covid-19 czar.

The F.D.A. is reviewing data for a Moderna booster but has not received an application from Johnson & Johnson for a booster of its vaccine.

2. President Biden’s economic agenda will be put to the test this week. Can the top two Democrats in Congress get it done?

The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi face a daunting set of challenges: A $1 trillion infrastructure bill awaits consideration in the House on Monday, a $3.5 trillion social policy and climate change measure is still being stitched together, and a possible government shutdown looms on Friday followed by a potential debt crisis next month.

Without a single vote to spare in the Senate and as few as three in the House, Democrats are projecting confidence that Schumer and Pelosi can pull off what could become a feat of legislative legend. By not even engaging Republicans on the infrastructure bill, Republicans say that Democratic leaders have guaranteed its eventual collapse.

3. Germans are deciding who will lead them out of the coronavirus pandemic and into a greener future after Angela Merkel steps down.

Preliminary results are not expected until tonight. We’ll have updates at nytimes.com later this morning.

Whoever wins will have large shoes to fill: After 16 years as chancellor, Merkel leaves behind a transformed Germany. Her country is among the richest in the world. Her decision to welcome more than a million refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in 2015 and 2016 stands as perhaps the most consequential moment of her tenure. Some refugee families even paid homage to her by naming their children after her.

But while traveling through Germany now, our reporter found that almost everywhere there was a nagging sense that the new normal was being threatened by epic challenges.


4. At least three people were killed and 50 others injured after an Amtrak train derailed in Montana, the authorities said.

Amtrak said that five cars on an Empire Builder train derailed at roughly 4 p.m. on Saturday, setting off a frantic response by rescuers who scrambled to extricate passengers from cars. About 141 passengers and 13 crew members were on board, “with injuries reported,” Amtrak said.

The train, which was headed west, derailed just outside Joplin, Mont., which is about 200 miles north of Helena. Rescuers from six counties responded to the scene.


5. After George Floyd’s murder, some states joined Texas in asking independent agencies to review police killings. A Times investigation found many flaws to the approach.

The Times identified 29 cases that were reviewed by the state’s investigators, the fabled Texas Rangers, since 2015, when a person stopped breathing after struggling with the authorities. None of those inquiries led to charges. In two-thirds of the cases, The Times found shortcuts, missteps or judgment calls that some veteran homicide detectives said might indicate a lack of effort on the Rangers’ part.

At least seven other states have embraced a similar approach to Texas since Floyd’s death.


6. To get back a Chinese executive under arrest in Canada, Beijing brandished a formidable political tool: using detained foreign citizens as bargaining chips.

On Saturday, China welcomed home Meng Wanzhou, an executive at the telecommunications firm Huawei, whose possible extradition to the U.S. from Canada had made her a focus of superpower friction. Beijing quickly returned two Canadians, also held since 2018, in exchange.

Meng and the firm were accused of a decade-long effort to steal trade secrets, obstruct a criminal investigation and evade economic sanctions against Iran. She was allowed to return to China in exchange for admitting wrongdoing in a fraud case.


7. A former employee of a security firm paints the most detailed portrait yet of what Britney Spears’s life has been like under conservatorship for the past 13 years.

In a new Times documentary, “Controlling Britney Spears,” Alex Vlasov, the employee, revealed how the pop star’s father hired the firm to run surveillance on her, recording more than 180 hours of audio from her bedroom.

The relentless surveillance operation helped several people linked to the conservatorship — primarily her father, James Spears — control nearly every aspect of her life, Vlasov said. “It really reminded me of somebody that was in prison.”

A hearing to remove Spears’s father from the conservatorship and end it entirely is scheduled for Wednesday.

8. The pandemic made roller-skating popular again. Our photographer visited a factory that produces one of the most sought-after skates: Moxi’s Lolly Skates.

The rainbow-colored four-wheelers are made in Red Wing, Minn., by Riedell, which is on track to make 80,000 pairs this year, about four times as many as before the pandemic. Each skate takes about a week and a half to create. This colorful photo essay explains how Riedell does it.

During a brief moment when the pandemic was receding in the early summer and we could be together again, all we wanted to do was move our bodies, writes Carina del Valle Schorske for The Times Magazine. Dancing, she writes, presents the chance “to reset the connection. To find opportunity in error.”


9. As the days get shorter, it’s time to start thinking about your indoor greenery.

To help get you through winter, Margaret Roach, our garden columnist, asked the staff at Steve’s Leaves Inc. in Lewisville, Texas, for standout houseplants among its 2,000 available varieties.

Among their favorites: a Syngonium called Marble; a begonia known as Flamingo Queen; and hoyas, also known as wax plants. Grouping houseplants — especially begonias — together on trays creates a happier microclimate. A humidifier or a terrarium can also do the trick. Margaret is eyeing Peperomia Fuzzy Mystery for its name alone.

To savor one last summer hurrah, try these vegetarian recipes, which make the most of the season’s flavors.


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