US briefing: Sondland backtracks, Democrat wins and Boeing's woes

By Tim Walker

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

EU envoy recalls Ukraine quid pro quo conversation, after all

Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, has punched a hole in Donald Trump’s impeachment case, “updating” his testimony to admit the president did, in fact, offer Ukraine a quid pro quo to investigate the Bidens. In a transcript made public on Tuesday, Sondland told Congress he did “now recall” a conversation with a Ukrainian official, in which he said “resumption of the US aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing”.

  • New witnesses. John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, is scheduled to testify to the impeachment inquiry on Thursday. The congressional committees have requested the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, appear on Friday.

Democrat claims victory in tight Kentucky governor’s race

Kentucky governor race: Democrat Andy Beshear declares victory – video

The Kentucky governor’s race remained too close to call late on Tuesday night, with the Republican incumbent, Matt Bevin, refusing to concede despite Democrat Andy Beshear declaring victory after securing 49.2% of the vote to Bevin’s 48.8%. Beshear’s apparent triumph in the conservative-leaning state came a day after Trump begged supporters to back Bevin at a rally in Lexington, and will be seen as a blow to the president’s own re-election prospects.

Most countries’ climate plans ‘totally inadequate’, say experts

A firefighter battles a wildfire in California last week.
A firefighter battles a wildfire in California last week. Photograph: Jose Carlos Fajardo/AP

A day after the US began the process of withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, fresh warnings about the world’s future: most of the commitments made by countries under the Paris deal are “totally inadequate”, according to expert analysis, while a statement co-signed by 11,000 scientists warns that humanity faces “untold suffering” due to the climate crisis unless global society is transformed. Oh, and even if planet-warming emissions are eliminated, sea levels will continue to rise regardless.

  • Pipeline protest. Young activists were again on the frontline of climate protest on Tuesday, as a group chained themselves to a pier on the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington to block the delivery of Indian parts for a controversial pipeline.

  • Fishing waste. The majority of large plastic pollution in the oceans is made up of lost and abandoned fishing gear, according to a report by Greenpeace.

Ryanair grounds three Boeing 737s over ‘pickle fork’ cracks

The budget Irish airline is the latest to find the cracks, which have resulted in 50 planes being grounded globally in the last month.
The budget Irish airline is the latest to find the cracks, which have resulted in 50 planes being grounded globally in the last month. Photograph: Paul Hanna/Reuters

Ryanair has grounded three of its Boeing 737 aircraft due to cracks between the wing and fuselage, the Guardian has learned. The budget Irish airline is the latest carrier to come across such faults in the plane’s “pickle fork” structure, which have led to the urgent grounding of at least 50 planes around the world since 3 October. Ryanair operates Europe’s largest fleet of 737s. The three aircraft in question are all more than 15 years old; two of them are now at a known plane repair site in Victorville, California. The pickle fork is a large structure that strengthens the connection between the wing and the body of the plane.

  • Deadly crashes. The news adds to Boeing’s woes over its 737 Max model, whose software has been blamed for deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Ryanair has been hit by delays to a big order of the 737 Max, which is currently grounded worldwide.

Cheat sheet

  • At least 15 people were killed on Tuesday in attacks by suspected Muslim rebels in southern Thailand, the latest deaths from a bloody 15-year insurgency that has now claimed more than 7,000 lives.

  • A new study by the FDA and CDC has found that more than 4 million high schoolers and 1.2 million middle school students use electronic cigarettes, amid rising concern about the effects of youth vaping.

  • AT&T has been fined $60m over allegations it charged millions of US customers for “unlimited” data plans, while reducing their data speeds if they used too much, in what the FTC commissioner described as a “bait-and-switch scam”.

  • Fitbit users have expressed concern that Google’s recent $2.1bn acquisition of the health and fitness tracking firm will give the tech giant access to their most intimate health information.


Beauty and the Beast star Emma Watson told Vogue she was ‘self-partnered’.
Beauty and the Beast star Emma Watson told Vogue she was ‘self-partnered’. Photograph: Laurie Sparham/Disney Channel

Emma Watson, Selena Gomez and single positivity

An increasing number of people are embracing life without a partner, including celebrities such as Selena Gomez, Lizzo and Emma Watson, who this week told British Vogue she was “self-partnered”. Lizzie Cernik reports on the rise of single positivity.

The workers recovering from a government shutdown

When Trump shut down the government last year, he left Oya Dumas hustling for other jobs, with marred credit and bouts of insomnia. As part of our United States of Inequality series with Capital & Main, Jessica Goodheart talks to workers like Dumas still recovering from the 2018 shutdown – and dreading another in 2019.

The strange history of interstellar messages

For the past 200 years, the problem of how to communicate with extraterrestrial intelligence has vexed some of the world’s greatest minds. From vast fire symbols in the Sahara to pictures of cats, Daniel Oberhaus explores the quest for a language of the universe.

Guiding the dying: end-of-life doulas

Traditionally, a doula is there for the beginning of life, providing emotional and physical support to mothers during pregnancy and childbirth. Cecilia Saixue Watt meets the doulas dealing with the other end of existence, assisting the dying as they prepare for the end.


The Academy has disqualified Nigeria’s Lionheart from consideration for the international feature film Oscar, saying too much of its dialogue is in English. This narrow-minded approach shows how Africans are still expected to satisfy American ideas of authenticity, says Afua Hirsch.

In fact, Lionheart does feature the Igbo language, which millions of people in eastern Nigeria speak. But the film reflects the way many Nigerians – as former imperial British subjects – speak in real life.


Frank Lampard has hailed Chelsea’s fighting spirit after the Blues came back from three goals down to draw 4-4 with a majestic Ajax at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, Liverpool moved top of their Champions League group with a 2-1 win over Genk.

Dean Spano, the owner of the Los Angeles Chargers, has dismissed as “bullshit” reports that his NFL team is considering a move to London to share a stadium with Tottenham Hotspur.

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