10 things you need to know today: December 30, 2019

Harold Maass

1.

Taliban leaders on Sunday agreed to a temporary ceasefire in Afghanistan, providing an opening for a peace deal with the U.S. The Taliban ruling council did not immediately set a date for the start of the ceasefire, The Associated Press reported, citing officials from the Islamist militant group, but it is expected to last for 10 days. The United States has said the only way it will reach a peace agreement with the Taliban is if there is already a ceasefire in place. Under a peace deal, the U.S. presumably would agree to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan; there are now about 12,000 American troops in the country. After the U.S. and Taliban reach an agreement, talks would start between the Taliban and the Afghan government, with both sides mapping out the future of the country. [The Associated Press]

2.

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) announced Sunday that doctors had diagnosed him with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Lewis, a civil rights icon, said he would receive treatment over the coming weeks and return to Washington to continue working. About one percent of patients with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer survive five years after diagnosis. "While I am clear-eyed about the prognosis, doctors have told me that recent medical advances have made this type of cancer treatable in many cases, that treatment options are no longer as debilitating as they once were, and that I have a fighting chance," Lewis, 79, said in a statement. "I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now." [The Washington Post]

3.

Several hundred Hasidic Jews marched in the streets of Monsey, New York, on Sunday to mark the dedication of a new Torah and show solidarity following a stabbing attack at a rabbi's house during a Hanukkah celebration. Five people were wounded in the Saturday attack, which prompted New York police to increase patrols in Jewish communities already traumatized by a series of anti-Semitic incidents. "It's important to show we're not going to be stopped," Sandy Rosenwasser, 65, said at the march. The suspect in the stabbings, identified as Grafton Thomas, was arrested hours after the attack, covered in blood, after his Nissan Sentra was spotted crossing the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan. He pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and burglary. Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the attack an "act of domestic terrorism;" family friends said Thomas is mentally ill, not a terrorist. [The Journal News, The New York Times]

4.

The U.S. launched airstrikes against Iranian-backed Iraqi militia blamed for rocket attacks on coalition bases, including one that killed an American contractor, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday. The "precision defensive strikes" targeted five sites of Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, a Defense Department spokesman said. Esper said the U.S. strikes hit three Kataeb Hezbollah sites in western Iraq and two in eastern Syria. The targets included weapons depots and command and control bases. Esper said the U.S. would "take additional actions" if necessary to "deter further bad behavior from militia groups or from Iran." Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the "decisive response" showed that Washington would "not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy." [The Associated Press]

5.

A gunman shot and killed two people in a Texas church on Sunday before a member of a volunteer security team fatally shot the attacker. There were as many as 300 people in the West Freeway Church of Christ auditorium when the gunman opened fire. The security team spotted the gunman "acting suspiciously" and acted swiftly when he started shooting, said Jack Cummings, a minister at the church in White Settlement, near Fort Worth. The church has had a security team, made up of church members licensed to carry firearms, for at least a decade. "They saved a lot of lives today," Cummings said. "Because this thing would have been a massacre otherwise." [The New York Times]

6.

Political rivals and whistleblower advocates criticized President Trump on Sunday for retweeting a post naming the alleged whistleblower who called attention to the controversial phone call in which Trump allegedly pressured Ukraine's president to investigate Democrats. "The president has a responsibility under the whistleblower statute to ensure protection of the intelligence community" officials who report suspected wrongdoing, said David Colapinto, a lawyer who represents whistleblowers in Washington. He said Trump's retweeting of the post to his 68 million followers amounted to a "willful violation of the law." Trump repeatedly has called for identifying the whistleblower and compelling him or her to testify. [Bloomberg]

7.

Regulators in Egypt approved Uber's plan to buy regional rival Careem in a deal worth $3.1 billion, Reuters reported Sunday. Egyptian authorities signed off after Uber agreed to a set of restrictions to limit harm to competitors. The acquisition was announced in March, giving the ride-hailing company a win after several overseas setbacks. Careem will become a wholly owned Uber subsidiary with its own brand and management. "We welcome the decision by the Egyptian Competition Authority to approve Uber's pending acquisition of Careem," an Uber spokesman said. "Uber and Careem joining forces will deliver exceptional outcomes for riders, drivers, and cities across Egypt." [Reuters]

8.

The San Francisco 49ers beat the Seattle Seahawks 26-21 on Sunday night to end the NFL's regular season and take the NFC West title, the conference's top seed, and home-field advantage in the postseason. The Green Bay Packers finished as NFC North champions and also clinched a berth in the conference semifinals, as have the AFC top seed Baltimore Ravens and AFC West champs the Kansas City Chiefs. The NFC's remaining playoff slots went to the Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, Seahawks, and Minnesota Vikings. In the AFC, the New England Patriots, Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, and Tennessee Titans will play in the wild-card round. The postseason begins on Saturday. [ESPN, USA Today]

9.

Tesla on Monday delivered its first Model 3 electric cars built at its Shanghai factory. The company got the $2 billion plant up and running in just 357 days. The Shanghai factory is part of Tesla's effort to build a bigger presence in the world's biggest automobile market. Producing cars in China also allows Tesla to reduce its exposure to tariffs under the U.S.-China trade war. The China-made Model 3 sedans sell for about $50,000, before subsidies. The first vehicles were delivered to 15 Tesla employees who had placed advance orders. The company plans to speed up the pace of deliveries of the vehicles next month. [Reuters]

10.

Basketball great LeBron James was named Male Athlete of the Decade on Sunday. James beat out a host of strong contenders, including NFL quarterback Tom Brady, sprinter Usain Bolt, soccer star Lionel Messi, and swimmer Michael Phelps. James started the decade widely seen as a villain after spurning the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in a controversially televised announcement. He then failed to deliver a title in his first season in Florida, but redeemed himself by leading Miami to two championships. He then returned to Cleveland and brought the long-suffering sports city a championship before signing with the Los Angeles Lakers ahead of the 2018-2019 season. Combined, his teams appeared in eight consecutive NBA Finals and James is now the NBA's all-time leading scorer in the playoffs. [The Associated Press]

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