US briefing: impeachment battle, Syria crisis and California power

Tim Walker
Photograph: Pablo Martínez Monsiváis/AP

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Good morning, I’m Tim Walker with today’s essential stories.

Trump says he blocked Sondland testimony to Congress

Donald Trump has said he prevented the US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, from testifying to the congressional impeachment hearings about dealings between his administration and Ukraine, describing the proceedings as a “kangaroo court”, in what Democrats say represents a confession to obstructing the inquiry. The state department is also withholding Sondland’s communications amid a White House-led stonewalling of the inquiry, a risky strategy that threatens to spark a constitutional crisis.

  • Impeachment poll. A new Washington Post poll has found a clear majority of Americans now support the impeachment inquiry, with support for the proceedings even increasing by 21% among Republicans.

  • Rule of law. America is in a dangerous moment, with the secretary of state and attorney general both loyally pursuing the president’s personal agenda. Trump is at war with the rule of law, and it won’t end well, says Rebecca Solnit.

Turkey says Trump has handed over Isis fight in Syria

The Turkish government claims Trump has handed leadership of the military campaign against Isis to its forces, giving the green light to an invasion of north-eastern Syria that it said would begin “shortly”. Amid a fierce backlash in Washington, the president appeared to be backtracking on his plan on Tuesday, but the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces claimed the Turkish military was already shelling one of its posts close to the border, at a location from which US troops had reportedly withdrawn the previous day.

California utility to cut power to 800,000 homes over fire risk

Firefighters battling flames in Paradise, California, last November, as the town was engulfed by the devastating Camp fire. Photograph: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Pacific Gas and Electric, the California utility whose power lines have sparked several deadly fires in the past two years, has announced it will shut off power this week to more than 800,000 customers across 34 counties in northern and central California, in an effort to prevent new wildfires. The Edison utility in southern California has also warned that more than 106,000 of its customers in eight counties could face power cuts as part of the largest preventive outage in the history of the state.

  • New normal. California energy customers will have to get used to planned power outages in future, just as they become accustomed to the increasingly fierce winds and dry air that are perfect conditions for wildfires, as Vivian Ho reports.

Black Puerto Ricans accuse police of racial profiling

A protester confronts riot police during demonstrations in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, in July. Photograph: Jose Jimenez/Getty Images

For all its political and economic problems, Puerto Rico has long been seen as a multicultural melting pot without any explicit racial divisions. But now activists and legal advocates are claiming the island’s police force is guilty of racially profiling black and predominantly low-income communities. “The police are the same as in the United States,” one young protester tells Natasha S Alford. “The only difference is that here they don’t kill us.”

  • Los Angeles. Police in Los Angeles stop and search black and Latino drivers at significantly higher rates than white people, even though white people are more likely to be carrying drugs and weapons, according to a new report by the LA Times.

Cheat sheet

  • Returning from hospital to his home in Vermont on Tuesday, Bernie Sanders said he planned to “change the nature” of his presidential campaign after suffering a heart attack last week, admitting he had been “dumb” to stage up to four rallies a day.

  • The NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, says the league will not apologise for a tweet by the Houston general manager, Daryl Morey, in support of the Hong Kong protests, despite China’s state TV station cancelling the broadcast of two preseason games.

  • The pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline is recalling its popular heartburn medicine Zantac – also sold generically as ranitidine – days after the FDA found “unacceptable” levels of a probable cancer-causing impurity in the drug.

  • The UN children’s agency, Unicef, has announced it will accept and disburse donations through the cryptocurrencies Bitcoin and ether, in a bid to increase its financial transparency and avoid the costly fees associated with moving cash overseas quickly.

Must-reads

Woo-sik Choi, Kang-ho Song, Hye-jin Jang and So-dam Park in a scene from Parasite. Photograph: AP

No place like home: Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite

The celebrated Korean film-maker Bong Joon-ho has in recent years directed two movies in English, 2013’s Snowpiercer and 2017’s Okja. But it is his latest brilliant thriller, Parasite, made at home in South Korea, that could prove to be his big Hollywood breakthrough, writes Guy Lodge.

‘Alexa, are you invading my privacy?’

Voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa devices epitomise the tension between efficiency and privacy in our tech-enabled modern world. So are they fun time-savers or the beginning of an Orwellian nightmare, asks Dorian Lynskey.

How Trump divided Republican families

For the latest in the Guardian’s series about America’s swing voters, Chris McGreal travels to rural Wisconsin, where traditionally Republican friends and families are sharply divided by their feelings about Trump. Their votes could prove crucial in 2020.

Amrou Al-Kadhi, Muslim drag queen

The non-binary British Iraqi Amrou Al-Kadhi struggled with their identity until they discovered drag. Now 29, a screenwriter who also performs as “Glamrou”, they tell Paula Cocozza whenever they face abuse: “The first thing I think is: I need to be in drag, and on stage tonight.

Opinion

Hunter Biden received a $600,000 a year corporate handout from a Ukrainian energy firm for the same reason the Trump children got jobs overseeing a real estate empire, argues Hamilton Nolan: the moral failure of nepotism infects Democrats and Republicans alike.

When you are the son of a famous and powerful politician, you are showered with opportunity, whether you deserve it or not. This is nepotism, but it is also, if we are being direct, a form of corruption. Moral corruption.

Sport

Simone Biles made yet more history on Tuesday, winning a record 21st medal at the world gymnastics championships, as she led the US to a defence of their women’s team all-around title, maintaining the longest global winning streak for a women’s gymnastics program since the Soviet Union in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Iranian women will be permitted to enter a football stadium for the first time in four decades to watch their country’s World Cup qualifier against Cambodia in Tehran on Thursday, after the Islamic republic bowed to pressure from Fifa, which had threatened to suspend Iran over its controversial male-only policy.

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