Citing an unspecified “imminent” threat, President Donald Trump ordered the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, the most powerful military official in Iran.1 Soleimani, along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi Shiite militia leader who provided the United States with significant assistance in the fight against the Islamic State, and at least four others, were killed when a drone strike targeted their convoy outside Baghdad International Airport.2 3 After top Democratic leaders alleged that they had not received advance warning of the strike, Trump told Congress that he would notify them of any future military action through “Media Posts,” and it was reported that, days before the strike, Trump had told a group of guests at Mar-a-Lago to expect “big” action to be taken against Iran “soon.”4 5 6 Vice President Mike Pence, who in 2004 told Congress that “weapons of mass destruction have been found” in Iraq, tweeted false claims that Soleimani had been complicit in the 9/11 attacks, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted a video he claimed showed Iraqis “dancing in the street for freedom,” though a later eyewitness report put the number of dancers at 30 to 40 out of a gathering of thousands.7 8 Soleimani’s funeral drew crowds estimated to number in the millions, the largest seen in Iran since the funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989.9 Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, promised “forceful revenge”; Trump threatened to bomb Iranian cultural sites, which is a war crime; the Iraqi parliament voted to expel U.S. troops from the country; the United States military diverted resources away from the war on the Islamic State to protect U.S. interests and personnel in the region; and Iran announced that it would no longer abide by the 2015 nuclear deal’s limits on uranium enrichment.10 11 12 13 14 In Washington State, more than 60 Iranians and Iranian Americans were held up at the border for up to ten hours by the Department of Homeland Security.15 “This is a bad time to be an Iranian,” one agent told them.
Australian bushfires had reportedly burned across as many as 15 million acres of land, causing the midday sky to turn black and red and creating weather patterns of fire tornadoes and thunderstorms, and the government announced its largest military deployment since World War II, for firefighting and evacuating tens of thousands of people from the southeastern coast.16 17 18 19 20 Prime Minister Scott Morrison assured the nation that “there’s no better place to raise kids anywhere on the planet,” lamented the “tragedy” of spoiled milk caused by power outages from the fires, and was booed out of a meeting with bushfire victims who called him a “scumbag.”21 22 Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott complained on an Israeli radio show that the world is “in the grip of a climate cult.”23 In Newcastle, New South Wales, an Australian magpie was filmed mimicking emergency sirens, and on the southern coast, the population of Eden was evacuated.24 25 A woman disembarking a plane in Canberra, where the air quality was rated poorer than in New Delhi, went into respiratory distress and died.26 Amid a massive cold wave in northern India, temperatures plummeted to their lowest levels since record-keeping began, in 1901; regions of Africa and the Middle East were being struck by the most severe locust plague in 25 years; and Russia published a climate-change plan that, in part, aims to “use the advantages” of warmer temperatures to Russia’s economic benefit.27 28 29
The FAA launched an investigation of reports of groups of up to 15 drones flying in formation over parts of rural Colorado and Nebraska.30 “These drones have made residents in our community very nervous and anxious,” wrote the Yuma County, Colorado, sheriff. “People do not like the unknown as it upsets the balance of our lives.”31 Newly released documents revealed that the Canadian military struggled to deal with Pokémon Go players trying to gain access to restricted facilities.32 “Plse advise the Commissionaires that apparently Fort Frontenac is both a Pokégym and a Pokéstop. I will be completely honest in that I have not idea what that is [sic],” wrote one Ontario official in an email. Former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, whose demotion for posing with the body of a dead prisoner in Iraq was reversed by Donald Trump this fall and who was accused by fellow SEALs of murdering that prisoner as well as killing an old man and a young girl with sniper fire, was reported to have launched a “coastal lifestyle brand with an edge” called Salty Frog Gear, and to have been endorsing muscle-building supplements called Total War and Double Tap on his Instagram account.33 Benjamin Netanyahu accidentally referred to Israel as a “nuclear power” at a cabinet meeting, then explained that he meant to say “energy power,” and two undercover Israeli police officers disguised as Palestinians were beaten and pepper-sprayed by teenage Israeli settlers in the West Bank.34 35 Detroit’s fire commissioner investigated 18 firefighters who posed for photographs in front of a burning house on New Year’s Eve to celebrate a retirement.36 An English teacher in Whitewater, Wisconsin, was fined after admitting he had defecated in Natureland Park five days a week for the past two years.37 “Teachers are the people that are supposed to be giving our kids an education,” said one park attendee. “Not using our parks as a bathroom.” The Newseum, Washington’s museum dedicated to the history of journalism, closed.38