By Robert A. Vella

On this last day of 2019, a little reflection is in order for a year full of instability, turmoil and uncertainty.  2019 was epitomized by massive worldwide protests many of which turned violent and elicited brutal crackdowns by government authorities.  From students and citizen supporters in Hong Kong determined to save their democracy from an authoritarian takeover, to young people across the globe desperate to preserve their future from the ravages of climate change perpetuated by institutional neglect, public demonstrations of all kinds were ever-present and widespread.

International relations were marked by a momentous and consequential geopolitical realignment in the Middle East where Russia supplanted the U.S. as the region’s most influential powerbroker.  The sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims pitting Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, plus Turkey and Israel, against Iran escalated dramatically in Yemen, the Arabian peninsula, the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and especially Syria with numerous attacks, ground campaigns, large refugee migrations, and untold human suffering.  In Ukraine, the five year-long struggle of the pro-European west to resist Russian military aggression continued with accumulating battlefield casualties.  In Africa, deadly acts of terrorism and ethnic violence plagued Somalia, South Sudan, South Africa, and other countries.  The global economy was also dealt a blow by the eruption of a bitter trade war between the U.S. and China and other disputes.

Politically, the divisive issue of Brexit roiled tensions within the U.K. while aggravating the European Union which has its own internal problems.  The scandal-ridden administration of President Donald Trump further divided the American populace into intensely polarized factions.  The ongoing migrant crisis worsened in Central America.  Right-wing nationalism continued rising throughout South America, eastern Europe, the Indo-Pacific, and elsewhere.  Racial animus and other forms of bigotry were a growing concern across the globe and particular so in the U.S.

2019 also saw increasing scientific reports of accelerating climate change.  Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reached another milestone, greenhouse gas emissions from human activity surged upwards, deforestation intensified especially in the Amazon, global warming feedback loops have responded more quickly than was anticipated, glacial melting sped-up in Greenland and Antarctica, the rate of permafrost melting increased across the Arctic, warm water “blobs” struck the northeast and southwest Pacific, extreme weather events and wildfires proliferated, and evidence of ocean ecosystem degradation was ubiquitous.

From:  Iraq Protesters Break Into U.S. Embassy Compound in Baghdad

BAGHDAD — Protesters broke into the heavily guarded compound of the United States Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday and lit fires inside to express their anger over American airstrikes that killed 24 members of an Iranian-backed militia over the weekend.

Chanting “Death to America!” thousands of protesters and militia members demonstrated outside the embassy compound, throwing rocks, shattering surveillance cameras, covering the walls with graffiti and demanding that the United States withdraw its forces from Iraq.

From:  Key impeachment witness told to leave Ukraine before Pompeo visit

A top State Department aide told acting US ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor — a key witness in President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry — to hand over his duties just days before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to visit Kiev in January, a source familiar with the situation told CNN.

The timing means that Pompeo will not have to meet, be seen or photographed with Taylor, who drew the President’s ire after his damning House testimony that Trump demanded his appointees set up a quid pro quo with Ukraine, explicitly offering much-needed US military aid and an Oval Office meeting in exchange for personal political favors.

Pompeo, a stalwart Trump ally who many expect to announce a run for a US Senate seat in Kansas in the near future, has insulated himself from Taylor for weeks, the source familiar said.

From:  Judge dismisses case involving former Bolton deputy over impeachment testimony

Charles Kupperman, who previously served as deputy national security adviser, had brought his lawsuit earlier this fall after Democrats subpoenaed him for testimony in the House impeachment probe into President Donald Trump. The central question to Kupperman’s case was whether he should comply with the congressional subpoena to testify or the White House’s direction not to comply with the investigation.

In his finding, the judge agreed with the House of Representatives and attorneys from the Department of Justice, representing Trump in this matter, that Kupperman no longer faces the “irreconcilable commands of two coordinate branches of government” since the House Intelligence committee withdrew it’s subpoena in November.

From:  F.D.A. Failed to Ensure Safe Prescribing of Opioids, Documents Show

WASHINGTON — Newly unearthed documents show that the Food and Drug Administration failed to use its policing powers to make sure a program to curb improper prescribing of opioids was effective, researchers say.

The lax oversight, they point out, occurred as the epidemic was growing and tens of thousands of people were dying from overdoses each year.

From:  How Big Companies Won New Tax Breaks From the Trump Administration

The overhaul of the federal tax law in 2017 was the signature legislative achievement of Donald J. Trump’s presidency.

The biggest change to the tax code in three decades, the law slashed taxes for big companies, part of an effort to coax them to invest more in the United States and to discourage them from stashing profits in overseas tax havens.


But big companies wanted more — and, not long after the bill became law in December 2017, the Trump administration began transforming the tax package into a greater windfall for the world’s largest corporations and their shareholders. The tax bills of many big companies have ended up even smaller than what was anticipated when the president signed the bill.

One consequence is that the federal government may collect hundreds of billions of dollars less over the coming decade than previously projected. The budget deficit has jumped more than 50 percent since Mr. Trump took office and is expected to top $1 trillion in 2020, partly as a result of the tax law.

U.S. population growth less than .5 % as immigration and birth rates drop

Governor OK’s recommendation to fire cadets who appeared to make Nazi salute in photo

Hanukkah stabbing suspect searched ‘why did Hitler hate the Jews,’ prosecutors say

Kansas police officer fabricated story of expletive written on coffee up, chief says

Australia fires: Thousands take refuge on a beach in Mallacoota, Victoria, as wildfires rage

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