10 things you need to know today: January 1, 2020

Harold Maass


U.S. troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who descended on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for a second time Wednesday. The protests by hundreds of supporters of an Iranian-backed militia began Tuesday, when they broke through a gate and set fire to a reception area as U.S. diplomats were barricaded inside the embassy. The protesters were angry over U.S. airstrikes on camps of the militia group Kataib Hezbollah, which Iraq's prime minister condemned. President Trump on Tuesday blamed Iran for the attack, tweeting that "Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities." [The Washington Post]


President Trump said Tuesday that the U.S. and China would finalize a "very large and comprehensive" trade deal with a White House signing ceremony on Jan. 15. The "phase one" agreement came after two years of often tense negotiations aiming to end a damaging trade war between the world's two largest economies. Trump tweeted that "high level representatives of China will be present" for the ceremony, adding that he would later travel to Beijing "where talks will begin on Phase Two!" The agreement was reached in mid-December, but the precise terms have not yet been released. The agreement would reduce some but not all of the tariffs Trump has imposed on $360 billion worth of Chinese imports. China has agreed to increase its purchases of U.S. farm goods. [The New York Times]


U.S. stocks gained Tuesday on the last day of trading in 2019, capping a year of huge gains. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq Composite all rose by about 0.3 percent on Tuesday. The S&P 500 gained 28.9 percent in 2019. Adding dividends, the blue-chip index had a total return of 31.5 percent. The Nasdaq rose by 35.3 percent, boosted by increases of 48 percent by technology stocks. The gains were the biggest for both indexes since 2013. The Dow gained 22.3 percent. All three of the main U.S. indexes posted a string of records in a year-end rally, as a "phase one" deal aiming to deescalate the U.S.-China trade war lifted Wall Street's mood. The market is closed Wednesday for New Year's Day. [The Associated Press]


President Trump on Tuesday accused Democrats were blocking his impeachment trial to hide damaging information about former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, and his son Hunter Biden. The House impeachment inquiry focused largely on Trump's effort to pressure Ukraine's president to investigate the Bidens over Hunter's work in Ukraine. After approving two articles of impeachment, though, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has delayed sending them to the Senate for trial as she presses Republicans to allow testimony from top administration officials who would not testify to the House. "The Democrats will do anything to avoid a trial in the Senate in order to protect Sleepy Joe Biden," Trump tweeted. [The Washington Post]


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Wednesday that his country would continue building its nuclear arsenal and soon unveil a new strategic weapon, state-run media outlet KCNA reported Wednesday. Kim's comments came after his deadline passed for the U.S. to begin new talks on exchanging denuclearization progress and sanctions relief. He had warned he might take a "new path" if the U.S. ignored his ultimatum, raising concerns that North Korea would soon test an intercontinental missile and a nuclear warhead. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped Pyongyang would not take such provocative actions. "We're hopeful that... Chairman Kim will make the right decision − he'll choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war," Pompeo said. [CNBC, The Associated Press]


Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters marched through Hong Kong streets on Wednesday in their largest demonstration in weeks. The New Year's Day protest was authorized by the government, but police withdrew the permission after claiming that some "thugs" had thrown bricks and petrol bombs, damaging banks and shops. Officers tried to disperse the crowds using tear gas and pepper spray. Police arrested five males, of which the youngest was 13 years old. Organizers of the march denounced police for "forcing" them to halt the demonstration, accusing authorities of lying about protesters' actions "to separate Hong Kongers." Leaders of the pro-democracy movement said the New Year's Day protest was "quite peaceful." [CNN, The New York Times]


Corey Lewandowski, who served as President Trump's first 2016 campaign manager, announced Tuesday that he would not run for a U.S. Senate seat in New Hampshire, ending months of speculation. Lewandowski said he was "certain" that he would have won, but that his time would be better spent helping Trump get reelected. He would have had to survive a tough primary race to earn the right to challenge Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic incumbent. Lewandowski helped Trump win his first primary in New Hampshire nearly four years ago but was pushed out of the campaign by Trump's children five months later. He has since weathered several controversies, including leaving his lobbying firm, Avenue Strategies, under suspicion of lobbying without registering to do so. [The New York Times]


The Trump Organization this week fired at least seven Trump Winery employees this week because they lacked legal immigration status, The Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing two of the workers. The company, now run by President Trump's eldest sons, started firing undocumented workers at its golf courses about a year ago. Two of the dismissed employees at the Virginia winery — tractor driver Omar Miranda of Honduras and a second worker who spoke on the condition of anonymity — said they believed the company waited for a slack period to fire them. They said they had worked at Trump Winery for more than a decade. The Trump Organization said it was fulfilling a promise to fire anyone who "provided fake identification" to get a job. [The Washington Post]


Google announced Tuesday it will scrap an intellectual property licensing scheme known colloquially as the "Double Irish, Dutch sandwich." Over the last decade, the structure allowed Google to pay an effective tax rate in the single digits on its foreign profits by using a subsidiary in the Netherlands to shift revenue earned outside the U.S. to an affiliate based in Bermuda, where companies don't have to pay income tax. The exact date of the termination hasn't been set, but it is expected to happen during the next year. The Trump administration's Tax Cut and Jobs Act cut corporate tax rates to the point where major U.S. companies didn't necessarily need to keep their non-U.S. profits offshore. [Reuters]


The yearly domestic box office haul for 2019 declined from a record-breaking 2018 despite an impressive showing from Disney. The year is projected to finish with a total domestic gross of around $11.4 billion — a huge figure that would make this either the second or third biggest year ever. But it's still a decline of about four percent from 2018, even with Disney's 2019 domination. The studio controlled almost 40 percent of the marketplace domestically, propelled by Avengers: Endgame, which shattered the record for biggest domestic opening weekend ever. Analysts expect the domestic box office to experience another decline in 2020, when fewer major event films like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Avengers are set to hit theaters. [Variety, Deadline]

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