Saturday, the 23rd of November
Funerals that can't be explained away in sympathetic coverage. PHOTO: Natacha Pisarenko / AP
  1. Bolivian security forces massacred peaceful protesters
  2. Sweden dropped a decade-old rape probe into Julian Assange
  3. Humans were placed in suspended animation for the first time
  4. India's controversial citizen register was tapped for national expansion
  5. The world's first male contraceptive injection edged closer to reality
  6. The Rajapaksa dynasty re-established itself in Sri Lanka
  7. Leaked documents revealed the extent of China's Uighur crackdown
  8. Shush: human-made noise was found to be major global pollutant
  9. Google broke with Facebook by restricting political ads
  10. Stefanos Tsitsipas took the chocolates at the ATP Finals

Deep Dive

Gordon Sondland delivers a critical blow to Trump's presidency. PHOTO: Caroline Brehmen / Roll Call

This week the American House Intelligence Committee held the public hearings in its impeachment investigation into US President Donald J. Trump. The testimonies were damning. They painted a clear picture of a leader gripped by his distaste for the Bidens, and willing to do anything to discredit them.

Testimonies and truths

"I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: was there a 'quid pro quo?' As I have testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes."

Gordon Sondland, the former American Ambassador to Ukraine, just laid it all out in a red-hot opening statement. In just a few short minutes he dismantled weeks and months of preparation from White House spin doctors. We are now beyond the point of disputing whether or not the president's actions concerning Ukraine cleared the hurdle of being an impeachable offence. When you've established that a crime took place, the next step is to ask; who knew what, and when? Or as Sondland put it, "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret." Even Republican committee members have conceded that a trial in the Senate is now a fait accompli.

But depending on your news source, Sondland's words are either a damning testimony or a load of piffle. Fox News viewers, and many who consume their news on Facebook, have been fed a steady diet of conspiracy theories and misdirection for, well, years now. The counter-narrative they've been fed isn't just a tactical obfuscation of the impeachment hearings. It has been a grand strategic sweep. That Republican committee members are now pushing it along is galling. In hearing after hearing, Republicans have tried to establish a false counter-narrative , namely that the Democrats actually colluded with Ukraine during the 2016 election.

Trials and tribulations

On Thursday Fiona Hill ascended Capitol Hill and put that counter-narrative to the sword (if you were watching MSNBC, that is). The former national security adviser was not content to merely answer questions; instead, Hill turned the interrogation lamp back on her own questioners. She went to great lengths in her opening statement to dispel the illusion that Republican committee members had been labouring to conjure, and railed against the willingness of elected representatives to peddle conspiracy theories. Hill was joined by a top staffer at the American embassy in Kyiv, Peter Holmes, who added even more weight to Sondland's testimony.

And there the impeachment hearings closed. Before the committee lay a web of over-lapping testimonies that all pointed in the same direction. Meanwhile, Trump did as Trump does: tweeting angrily into the night. So what now? The House Intelligence Committee will prepare a report for their colleagues in the House Judicial Committee, who in turn will likely recommend that the House draft articles of impeachment. This opens the door for a blockbuster trial in the Senate which will be presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. That White House staff have begun war-gaming a legal defence with their Senate allies points to a trial as early as next month. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, perhaps the most effective Republican politician of the last half century, is well-positioned to shape any Senate trial in his boss's favour.

Whatever happens next in the hyper baric ( and hyperbolic) chamber of Washington, be prepared for fireworks.


The suspense was killing us. PHOTO: AFP
A protester in Baghdad. PHOTO: Al Jazeera

Blood in the Tigris

Staying in the region, the news out of Iraq remains consistently dark. Anti-government protests entered a fifth week and show no sign of abating. Two major ports and the Rumaila oil field were blockaded. In the capital, protesters set up camp on three major bridges across the Tigris. Clashes around these arteries left five dead and dozens wounded on Wednesday night.

There has been some movement from Baghdad, though the reforms on offer are piecemeal and misdirected: reducing the salary packages of senior politicians for instance, won't put food on the plates of a generation who are jobless and stricken. And the belated announcement of investigations into the most egregiously corrupt politicians is not going to bring clean drinking water to a thirsty city.

Adding more complexity to the situation was the revelation – in the form of leaked Iranian intelligence emails – that Tehran is operating an extremely sophisticated campaign to influence Baghdad. But if this is new information in the West, it certainly isn't in Iraq, where such interference is common knowledge. But Iran's leaders, never a group of people to miss an opportunity to stir the pot in Iraq, may do well to pay attention to what is occurring within their own borders. A week of protests over a fuel price hike left at least 106 people dead in 21 cities across the country. Little is known about those deaths, however, because the government shut down internet access for days during the violence.

If there is a lesson to be learned from both countries it is that when police try to violently put down protests, they can instead end up breathing more life and urgency into them.

The Best of Times

An unexpected find inside a meteorite. PHOTO: Forbes

Sugar highs

One of the key hurdles in understanding the origin of life on Earth is figuring out what was in the meteorites that peppered the surface of our planet when it was still young. This week Japanese researchers swung one leg over that hurdle: they discovered a specific type of sugar – ribose, the key of RNA that encodes genetic information – in the remnants of meteorites in Morocca and Australia. Further proof that the building blocks of life hitchhiked to our world.

Sugar lows

Norway has reported that its national rate of sugar consumption was lower in 2018 than in 1975. Since the turn of the century Norwegians have reduced their intake from 43kg to 24kg per year. This is largely down to comprehensive and tough sugar taxes.

The Worst of Times

Epstein flight logs. Epstein flight logs. Epstein flight logs. PHOTO: BBC

A poster-boy for republics everywhere

Prince Andrew gave one of the worst interviews in recorded history, and has since been stripped of his princely duties by Queen Elizabeth. But it speaks volumes about the royal family that his friendship with paedophiles and even his own alleged sexual encounters with children went unpunished until the media got involved.

Fossil fools

Fossil fuel producers are set to demolish the production limits in 2030 that would limit global warming to the acceptable threshold of 1.5°C. In fact, the planned output will even smash the 2°C limit by 50%. The corporations that extract gas, coal and oil are legally shackled to the narrow interests of their shareholders. Simply put, they will continue digging until the seas swallow the oil fields, and only massive government regulation will deter them from their fiscal interests.

Weekend Reading

Quote of the week

"Is this the price of loyalty? To be hung up on, ignored and blocked? Why would I remain silent if you can't even speak to me and I have been nothing but loyal to you?"

– These are the words that Boris Johnson received in a text from his former business partner (read: use your imagination) Jennifer Arcuri . There is more than a slight suggestion that a relationship between the two, when the former was Mayor of London, may have involved favourable treatment for the model-turned-entrepreneur's businesses. Arcuri is sadly not the first woman to discover that the moment things get difficult, Johnson will be halfway out the door.

Headline of the week

'The ducks have won': French court says they may keep on quacking

Reuters (the arc of the moral universe is long but it waddles toward justice).

Special mention

A clear winner this week was the clear broth . Researchers in cell biology and infectious diseases at the Imperial College London confirmed what your nonna, nainai, yiayia or granny said all along: traditional broths have effective anti-malarial properties.

Some choice long-reads

Tom Wharton