☕ Morning Salute: A C-17 Globemaster III sits on the flightline at March Air Reserve Base in California on Jan. 8, 2020. (Joshua J. Seybert/Air Force)
Welcome to America’s Newsletter from Tag The Flag, the best morning newsletter on the internet, bringing you nonpartisan news and every view of the Red, White, and Blue. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.
📌 BULLETIN BOARD
On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that the Pentagon made $35 trillion in accounting adjustments last year alone. Why it matters: That total is larger than the entire U.S. economy.
🦅 U.S. NEWS
House Democrats opened arguments in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Wednesday, attempting to appeal to skeptical Republican senators to join them in voting to remove Trump from office to “protect our democracy.” As mentioned, they want witnesses to be called and late in the afternoon, the President appeared to give their campaign a boost by saying: “I thought our team did a very good job. But honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material.” GOP senators and Trump’s team were caught slightly off-guard, but they also said that “they will tune out any outside noise” as POLITICO phrased it. Later on, Democrats shot down talk of a Bolton, Hunter Biden witness swap and in general, both those in the Senate and the American public are trying to make sense of what’s happening in real-time.
- Further reading from the right: ‘End This Ridiculous Charade and Go Have an Election’ Michael Goodwin, NY Post
- Further reading from the center: Chief Justice John Roberts drops ‘pettifogging’ bomb while reprimanding both sides in impeachment trial, Christal Hayes & William Cummings, USA Today
- Further reading from the left: Trump’s Flawed ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ Impeachment Defense Shanlon Wu, CNN
Dozens of cities nationwide — including Miami, Philadelphia, and New Orleans — have toxic “forever chemicals” in their drinking water, an environmental group reported on Wednesday. Background: These “fluorinated” PFAS chemicals (short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) have emerged in the last decade as a wider pollution concern because of some evidence of links to cancer and lowered fertility. Why it matters: The massive defense policy bill, which was approved by President Trump in December 2019, was supposed to include instructions for the military to phase out the use of PFAS over three years, but at the last minute, it hit a snag. We gave a full rundown of the response from each side, but here are the snippets:
- Those in favor of removing PFAS regulation from the defense policy bill claimed “the bill is too broad and would limit the use of some valuable, non-toxic forms of the 5,000 or so chains of PFAS, rather than focusing on the two most-studied forms that are known to be dangerous.”
- Those against removing PFAS regulation were initially disheartened, but on the same token “believe this issue is of such importance and of such urgency that it needs to stand in its own right and be addressed in a bipartisan, bicameral way,” according to Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.)
Utah bans conversion therapy for LGBTQ children
The discredited practice of conversion therapy for LGBTQ children is now banned in Utah, making it the 19th state and one of the most conservative to prohibit it, the Associate Press reports. Conversion therapy is a practice used to try to change sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Supporters navigated a winding path to passage and some dissent remains. They claim the measure will save lives and that it “prohibits dangerous practices while protecting healthcare professionals.”
- Opponents argue, however, that it will prevent parents from getting help for children with “unwanted” gay feelings and keep therapists from even talking about sexuality with their kids.
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🌎 WORLD NEWS
China quarantines Wuhan amid coronavirus outbreak
On Wednesday, local disease-control authorities in Wuhan, China issued an order to quarantine the city. The order stops all public transportation, including city buses, trains, and ferries. It also prevents any buses or trains from coming into or leaving the city and grounds all planes at the Wuhan airport. Why it matters: Wuhan is China’s fifth-largest city, with 11.08 million people. By comparison, New York City has 8 million people — nearly 3 million fewer than Wuhan. Big Picture: The announcement comes as the Chinese New Year approaches. Usually, the annual 40-day holiday leads the country’s trains, planes, roads, and ferries to fill as 3 billion people journey home to be with family. – Business Insider
Jeff Bezos hack: Amazon boss’s phone ‘hacked by Saudi crown prince’
As first reported by The Guardian, Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos had his mobile phone “hacked” in 2018 after receiving a WhatsApp message that had apparently been sent from the personal account of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Details: “The encrypted message from the number used by the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is believed to have included a malicious file that infiltrated the phone of the world’s richest man.” Why it matters: Not only did UN investigators back the claims on Wednesday, but afterwards outlets began speculating about who else might have been “hacked”. For example: Jared Kushner reportedly used WhatsApp to chat with Mohammed bin Salman. – The Guardian / Business Insider
Greece lawmakers elect country’s first female president
Greece’s lawmakers elected their country’s first female president Wednesday, with an overwhelming majority voting in favor of high court judge Katerina Sakellaropoulou. Why it matters: Greece has a historically low number of women in senior positions in politics, and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been criticized for selecting a nearly all-male Cabinet after he won general elections in July 2019. In the current Greek Cabinet, all but one of the 18 senior positions are held by men. Big picture: Greece is coming out of a decade-long financial crisis and years of political turmoil. – Fox News
Stocks Rebound & Home Sales Surge
Despite potential economic risks associated with the virus outbreak in China, technology companies helped both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite indexes rebound on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average finishing slightly lower. IBM specifically lifted markets higher after reporting growing revenue last quarter after five quarters of declines. Shares of Apple were also up after a report that the tech giant is preparing to launch a low-cost iPhone later this year. On the economic front, U.S. home sales jumped to their highest level in nearly two years in December. The demand was driven by low mortgage rates and millennials who are aging into their homebuying years.
MLB to test camera system for calling balls, strikes during spring training games
Major League Baseball will test a computerized camera system for balls and strikes during spring training games this year, a source told ESPN on Wednesday. Background: the MLB began experimenting with a computerized strike zone last year in the independent Atlantic League. The latest announcement appeared to signal an expansion of MLB’s implementation of “robot umpires” although it’s unlikely we’ll see the end of human umpires anytime soon. – ESPN
Tech Milestone Metrics: Tesla and Amazon
Tesla became the first publicly listed U.S. automaker to cross $100 billion in market valuation, more than Ford and General Motors combined. Yahoo Finance noted that the market value also climbed above Volkswagen’s for the first time and could “trigger a huge payout for Elon Musk if he can sustain the feat for months.” Elsewhere, Amazon said its music streaming service had over 55 million customers globally bringing it closer to Apple Music but far behind Swedish rival, Spotify. – The Street / Yahoo Finance
📅 ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
1957: Toy company Wham-O produces first Frisbees
On January 23, 1957, machines at the Wham-O toy company roll out the first batch of their aerodynamic plastic discs—now known to millions of fans all over the world as Frisbees.