Editor’s Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative January 2020 news and views
Note: Excerpts are from the authors’ words except for subheads and occasional “Editor’s notes” such as this.
Kangaroo rushes past a burning house Tuesday in Lake Conjola, New South Wales, Australia (Photo: Matthew Abbott for The New York Times).
New York Times, Apocalyptic Scenes in Australia as Fires Turn Skies Blood Red, Isabella Kwai, Jan. 2, 2020 (update). Thousands of people fled from their homes as wildfires raged on the last day of the warmest decade on record in Australia.
As the fire stalked the east coast of Australia on Tuesday, the daytime sky turned inky black, then blood red. Emergency sirens wailed, followed by the thunder of gas explosions. Thousands of residents fled their homes and huddled near the shore. There was nowhere else to go.
Apocalyptic scenes like these in Mallacoota, a vacation destination between Sydney and Melbourne, came on the last day of the warmest decade on record in Australia.
The country is in the grip of a devastating fire season, with months of summer still to go, as record-breaking temperatures, strong winds and prolonged drought have ignited huge blazes across the country.
The devastation is immense. In the state of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, more than 900 homes have been destroyed and nine million acres have burned since November. Almost 100 fires were still raging in the state on Tuesday, with about three dozen more across the border in Victoria.
Washington Post, Potential clash between U.S. and Iran averted as embassy siege ends, Mustafa Salim and Liz Sly, Jan. 2, 2019. The Kataib Hezbollah militia told its supporters to leave the area around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad after Iraq’s prime minister said he would support efforts to pass a law calling for a U.S. troop withdrawal, according to a militia official.
New York Times, Analysis: Trump’s Bet on North Korea and Iran Hasn’t Paid Off, David E. Sanger, Jan. 2, 2019 (print ed.). President Trump bet he could isolate Iran and charm North Korea, but it hasn’t worked. The nations seem to sense the vulnerability of a president under impeachment and facing re-election. And neither seems to fear him.
While the Iranian-backed attack on the United States Embassy in Baghdad seemed to be under control, it played to Mr. Trump’s longtime worry that American diplomats and troops in the Middle East are easy targets and his longtime position that the United States must pull back from the region.
- Washington Post, Iran and its proxies may be planning fresh attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq, defense secretary says, Mark T. Esper said the U.S. is increasing the number of troops in the region to guard against sustained Iranian aggression.
Washington Post, The U.N. once predicted Gaza would be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020. Two million people still live there, Miriam Berger and Hazem Balousha, Jan. 2, 2019. Jana Tawil was born in 2012, the same year that the United Nations released an alarm-raising report on the state of the Gaza Strip: If the prevailing economic, environmental and political trends continued, the organization warned, the besieged coastal enclave sandwiched between Israel and Egypt would become unlivable by 2020.
That is the bleak reality facing Gaza’s 2 million Palestinian residents as they approach a new year and new decade: still stuck living in a place the world has already deemed uninhabitable in perhaps the most surreal of 2020 predictions.
- New York Times, Turkey Questions Pilots About Carlos Ghosn’s Escape From Japan, Turkey detained seven people, Japan raided Mr. Ghosn’s home and Interpol issued a red notice as officials investigated how the former Nissan chairman fled to Lebanon.
SouthFront, Map Update: Libyan National Army’s Advance On GNA Positions South Of Tripoli, Staff report, Jan. 2, 2020. Units of the Libyan National Army continued their advance on positions of the pro-Turkish Government of National Accord (GNA) south of Libya’s Tripoli.
SouthFront, HTS Turned Ambulance Donated By Danish Group Into Military Command & Control Vehicle (Videos, Photos), Staff report, Jan. 2, 2019. Al-Qaeda-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which controls Syria’s Greater Idlib, have turned an ambulance donated by a Danish organization into a military command and control vehicle.
The ambulance, which was donated by the Danish Islamic Council, first appeared in a video released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SNAA) on December 31. The video shows weapons and equipment, which were captured by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) during the recent large-scale military operation in southeast Idlib.
These videos and photos prove that HTS turned the ex-ambulance into a command and control vehicle for its troops, keeping its outer appearance in an attempt to protect it from Russian and Syrian warplanes. HTS’ systematic abuse of humanitarian aid in Greater Idlib and its use of civilians there as human shields are often ignored by mainstream media.
Trump Impeachment Trial
Washington Post, Editorial: The Senate and the public need to hear from Mulvaney and Bolton, Editorial Board, Jan. 2, 2019. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), right, is withholding two articles of impeachment from the Senate, pending assurance that the Republican leader of that body, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), will agree to a full and fair trial of the House’s charges against President Trump.
Now fresh reporting from the New York Times has emerged to strengthen the Democrats’ minimum condition of a real trial: The Senate must seek witness testimony from key players in Mr. Trump’s attempt to strong-arm Ukraine into announcing an investigation of his political rival, former vice president Joe Biden, using congressionally appropriated military aid and promises of a White House visit as leverage.
The Times reports, based in part on previously undisclosed emails, that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney tried to freeze the military aid on Mr. Trump’s behalf as early as June, prompting puzzlement and backlash within the administration — to the extent that Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then-national security adviser John Bolton convened a White House meeting with Mr. Trump to urge release of the aid.
More than ever, therefore, the Senate and the public need to hear from Mr. Mulvaney and Mr. Bolton, the latter of whom made an unsuccessful individual plea to release the Ukraine aid on Aug. 16, according to the Times.
Washington Post, Schumer seizes on report bolstering case that Trump was directly involved in withholding Ukraine aid, John Wagner and Felicia Sonmez, Jan. 2, 2019. Senate leaders remained at an impasse over the scope of an impeachment trial as President Trump’s reelection campaign claimed that backlash from the House proceedings helped him raise $46 million in the final quarter of 2019. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is shown at right.
• Analysis: Unredacted emails raise questions in Ukraine scandal
• Analysis: 4 ways the the Pelosi-McConnell standoff could end
U.S. 2020 Elections
Washington Post, Trump campaign says $46 million fundraising quarter bolstered by impeachment, John Wagner, Jan. 2, 2019. The president announced his total donations as a standoff continued between Democrats and Republicans over a Senate trial. President Trump’s reelection campaign said Thursday that backlash to his impeachment, led by House Democrats, helped him raise $46 million in the final three months of 2019.
The fundraising announcement came as a standoff continued over the scope and timing of an impeachment trial in the Senate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has held off sending articles of impeachment — for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — to the Senate as Democrats seek guarantees about witnesses and documents that will be subpoenaed regarding Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine.
At the heart of the Democrats’ case is the allegation that Trump tried to leverage a White House meeting and military aid, sought by Ukraine to combat Russian military aggression, to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, as well as a probe of an unfounded theory that Kyiv conspired with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Washington Post, Opinion: Sorry, Trump. Most Americans don’t like you, Jennifer Rubin, right, Jan. 2, 2019. It is easy to overstate the support President Trump has for his policies and conspiracy theories. His approval remains in the low-40s, but the percentage of Americans who buy into his positions and assertions is remarkably small. Trump and Fox News have their true believers, but beyond that minority of the population, the large majority of Americans understand he often spews nonsense or out-and-out lies. And, to boot, they really do not like him.
Trump’s approval (40 percent vs. 52 percent) remains underwater, as does his reelection number against an unnamed Democrat (40 percent vs. 50 percent). His personal ratings are horrendous. (A remarkable 51 percent do not even want him to run for reelection.) Only 31 percent like him as a person (and 18 percent say they like him a lot) or say he is honest and trustworthy.
Washington Post, Bernie Sanders campaign announces a massive cash haul of $34.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Sean Sullivan, Jan. 2, 2019. Sen. Bernie Sanders raised $34.5 million in the final three months of 2019 for his White House bid, his campaign said Thursday — a massive sum fueled by his online fundraising machine that may send a financial jolt throughout the Democratic race.
Sanders, left, raised more than $96 million in 2019 alone, and his fourth-quarter total is one of the biggest quarterly hauls reported by a presidential candidate at this point in the campaign.
The fourth-quarter total was one of the clearest signs yet of the momentum Sanders has picked up in recent months.
He has been drawing large and enthusiastic crowds at campaign events, including more than 14,000 at a rally with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in southern California last month, according to the campaign’s estimate. And he sits at or near the top of recent polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states on the nominating calendar.
Washington Post, Julián Castro drops out of presidential race, Amy B Wang, Jan. 2, 2019. The former HUD secretary and San Antonio mayor, right, who was vying to be the nation’s first Latino president, said he is ending his presidential bid.
In October, he said he would leave the race if he didn’t raise $800,000 by the end of the month, a goal he ultimately met, but he had failed to make the November debate stage.
- Washington Post, Biden falls behind other candidates in fourth-quarter fundraising, Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Matt Viser, Jan. 2, 2020. His fundraising total of $22.7 million in the last three months of 2019 came in well behind Bernie Sanders’s tally and narrowly behind Pete Buttigieg’s figure.
- New York Times, Andrew Yang raised $16.5 million in the last 3 months, his campaign says.
U.S. Politics, Policies
Washington Post, Analysis: Minimum wage increases fuel faster wage growth for those at the bottom, Andrew Van Dam and Rachel Siegel, Jan. 2, 2020. The United States’ lowest-paid workers are seeing their paychecks rise at the fastest pace in more than a decade as half the states have raised their minimum wage. Some Republicans argue the raises are the result of President Trump’s tax cuts.
- New York Times, Christian Health Cost-Sharing Ministries Offer No Guarantees, More than a million Americans have joined these nonprofit groups, which aren’t legally bound to cover medical claims. State regulators are taking notice.
- New York Times, Denying a Professor Tenure, Harvard Sparks a Debate Over Ethnic Studies, Some students of color say that the university devalues their experiences and fails to retain professors who support them.
- Washington Post, Drones are swarming over Colorado and Nebraska at night. Authorities say they have no idea why, Brittany Shammas, For weeks, they have dominated headlines in local newspapers, fueled intense speculation on social media and unsettled residents, who have flooded law enforcement with calls.
- Washington Post, Perspective: David Stern built the NBA into a colossus, but he was an even better man, John Feinstein, Stern, who died Wednesday at 77, had a tough and uncompromising public persona. In private, he was funny, caring and kind.
New York Times, Iraq Protesters Swarm Near U.S. Embassy Again, Dispersing Amid Tear Gas, Falih Hassan and Alissa J. Rubin, Jan. 1, 2020. For a second day, demonstrators swarmed outside the United States Embassy in Iraq on Wednesday and troops fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse them, but after a few hours the militia leaders who had organized the demonstration called on the crowd to leave.
Unlike on Tuesday, protesters did not get inside the compound. By midafternoon all but about 200 had dispersed, taking their tent poles with them.
President Trump said on Tuesday that Iran was responsible for events at the embassy compound in Baghdad, and tweeted, “They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat.”
The situation in Iraq reached a new level of volatility in the last few days as Iran and the United States attacked each other’s forces, in an escalation of hostilities that was at risk of spiraling out of control. The growing confrontations between the United States and Iran, the two main sponsors of the fragile Iraqi government and the two primary foreign military powers there, makes the already unstable region even more so.
The United States blamed an Iranian-backed militia for a rocket attack on Friday on an Iraqi military base, which killed an American contractor and wounded several other people. American forces responded on Sunday with strikes on five sites controlled by the militia, in Syria and Iraq, that killed at least two dozen people and injured twice as many; Iran has put the death toll at 31.
Washington Post, Trump threatens Iran after embassy attack but is reluctant to get more involved in the region, Anne Gearan, Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey, Jan. 1, 2020. It’s unclear what moves President Trump will make next as he feels the tug between taking a tough line with Iran and trying to avoid getting more involved in the Middle East.
Washington Post, Israel’s Netanyahu seeks immunity from criminal charges, Ruth Eglash, Jan. 1, 2020. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted in November in three cases focused on bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu announced Wednesday that he would ask the Israeli parliament to grant him immunity in three criminal cases, tying up further the already lengthy legal proceedings against him in a political system that has been gripped by deadlock for the past year.
Netanyahu’s immunity request to the Knesset would shield him from prosecution at least while he remains in office. It also pitches the country’s political establishment against the legal system ahead of an unprecedented third general election in less than a year. That election is set for March 2.
In November, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit concluded that there was enough evidence to prosecute Netanyahu, right, in three cases involving allegations that he and his wife, Sara, accepted more than $260,000 worth of luxury goods in exchange for political favors and that he interceded with regulators and lawmakers on behalf of two media companies in exchange for positive news coverage.
Yuval Shany, vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute, said Netanyahu will have a tough time prevailing on his immunity request. Even if approved by the Knesset — first by a house panel and then by a vote of the entire parliament — the Supreme Court most likely wouldn’t allow it to stand.
- New York Times, Thousands Flee Fires in Australia as States Warn Crisis Will Worsen, “It’s going to be a blast furnace,” one official said, after predictions that the next few days would be the worst yet in an already catastrophic fire season.
U.S. 2020 Elections
New York Times, Pete Buttigieg’s Campaign Says It Raised $24.7 Million in the Fourth Quarter, Thomas Kaplan, Jan. 1, 2020. Pete Buttigieg raised more than $24.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, his presidential campaign said on Wednesday, another strong showing that leaves him well positioned to finance a large campaign operation as primary voting approaches.
In a display of the breadth of his support, Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign said it had now received more than two million donations from more than 733,000 people since he entered the race.
While his financial strength has been apparent for many months, Mr. Buttigieg, right, has seen his standing in the race improve more recently, with polls in Iowa showing him in a formidable position as the Feb. 3 caucuses approach. But he still faces significant questions about his ability to broaden his base of support beyond white voters.
New York Times, Impeachment Trial Looming, Chief Justice Reflects on Judicial Independence, Adam Liptak, Jan. 1, 2019 (print ed.). In his year-end report on the judiciary, Chief Justice John Roberts issued pointed remarks that seemed to be addressed to President Trump.
As Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. prepares to preside over the impeachment trial of President Trump, he issued pointed remarks on Tuesday in his year-end report on the state of the federal judiciary that seemed to be addressed, at least in part, to the president himself.
The two men have a history of friction, and Chief Justice Roberts, right, used the normally mild report to denounce false information spread on social media and to warn against mob rule. Some passages could be read as a mission statement for the chief justice’s plans for the impeachment trial itself.
“We should reflect on our duty to judge without fear or favor, deciding each matter with humility, integrity and dispatch,” he wrote in the report. “As the new year begins, and we turn to the tasks before us, we should each resolve to do our best to maintain the public’s trust that we are faithfully discharging our solemn obligation to equal justice under law.”
The nominal focus of the report was the importance of civics education, but even a casual reader could detect a timely subtext, one concerned with the foundational importance of the rule of law.
Project Censored, Top 25 stories of 2018-2019, Staff report, Jan. 1, 2019. The presentation of the Top 25 stories of 2018-2019 extends the tradition originated by Professor Carl Jensen and his Sonoma State University students in 1976, while reflecting how the expansion of the Project to include affiliate faculty and students from campuses across North America has made the Project even more diverse and robust.
During this year’s cycle, Project Censored reviewed over 300 Validated Independent News stories (VINs) representing the collective efforts of 283 college students and 24 professors from 15 college and university campuses that participated in the Project’s Campus Affiliates Program during the past year.
1. Justice Department’s Secret FISA Rules for Targeting Journalists. A pair of 2015 memos, from former attorney general Eric Holder to the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, show how the government could use court orders.
2. Think Tank Partnerships Establish Facebook as Tool of US Foreign Policy. Under the guise of fighting “fake news” and protecting US democracy from “foreign influence,” in 2018 social media giant Facebook established partnerships with the Atlantic Council, a NATO-sponsored think tank.
3. Indigenous Groups from Amazon Propose Creation of Largest Protected Area on Earth. Sweeping development throughout the Amazon rainforest is an abiding concern for indigenous groups. The Amazon’s extraordinary biodiversity is being destroyed for profits and political gain.
4. U.S. Oil and Gas Industry Set to Unleash 120 Billion Tons of New Carbon Emissions. The US oil and gas industry has the potential to “unleash the largest burst of new carbon emissions in the world” through 2050, according to a January 2019 report.
Palmer Report, Opinion: Living rent-free inside Donald Trump’s head, Bill Palmer, Jan. 1, 2020. Here’s the thing about Donald Trump. As corrupt as he is, as evil as he is, as much damage as he manages to do, he’s pretty easy to screw with. No one would ever want to be impeached, of course. But since Trump has been impeached, he’s been unable to focus on anything else. In fact we just got a glimpse into just how far off the deep end this has all driven him.
While the crisis was playing out at the U.S. embassy in Iraq yesterday, Donald Trump was busy tweeting mean things about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. While Trump was supposed to be enjoying himself by hosting a New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago last night for his corrupt pals, he was busy ranting and raving to reporters about how “overrated” Nancy Pelosi is.
There’s nothing else in Donald Trump’s head anymore, nothing else on his plate anymore, beyond his obsession with how Pelosi sized him up, cornered him, and managed to impeach him in a way that’s ended up hurting his 2020 prospects. Trump has lost to Pelosi, and he knows it, and he has a good sense that he’s not done losing to Pelosi. After all, she once said that she didn’t want to bother impeaching him because she was more interested in putting him in prison. Now that she has impeached him, she’s surely working on the prison part too.
New York Times, West Virginia Will Fire Corrections Cadets for Doing Nazi Salute, Jacey Fortin, Jan. 1, 2019 (print ed.). The state’s governor released the results of an investigation into a photo and said he had approved the termination of the roughly 30 correctional trainees who appeared in it.
About 30 correctional officer trainees in West Virginia will be terminated after a photograph captured them raising their hands in what appeared to be a Nazi salute, according to Gov. Jim Justice, who said in a statement that he had approved a recommendation to fire the trainees.
The statement on Monday followed an investigation into the episode, which found that the trainees had made the gesture multiple times in the classroom and that an instructor had told students to make the gesture in the photograph.
The students were part of a basic training class for the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The words “Hail Byrd!” appeared at the top of the photograph; a spokesman for the state’s Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety said the phrase was a reference to one of the trainees’ instructors.