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Good morning, and welcome to this year’s last Morning Briefing.
We’re covering a twist in the case of the former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, the slowing of population growth in the U.S., and an argument for why 2019 was the best year ever.
Facing trial, former Nissan boss flees Japan
Carlos Ghosn, the company chairman who was ousted after being accused of financial wrongdoing in Japan, has unexpectedly taken refuge in Lebanon. He said he was escaping “injustice and political persecution.”
Mr. Ghosn, 65, is a citizen of Lebanon, where he is legally protected from extradition, as well as of France and Brazil.
It was unclear how he left Japan: He had posted $9 million in bail, and was meant to be under close watch. One of his lawyers in Japan said today that Mr. Ghosn’s legal team still held all three of his passports and had not known his plans.
Background: Mr. Ghosn, once one of the automobile industry’s most prominent executives, has strongly maintained his innocence. He was set to stand trial in 2020 on accusations that he underreported his compensation and shifted personal losses to Nissan. Read our profile from last year about his rise and fall.
Stabbings suspect wrote about Hitler and Nazis
The man accused of wounding five people at a rabbi’s home in suburban New York was charged with federal hate crimes on Monday, as prosecutors said he had searched online for “why did Hitler hate the Jews” and “prominent companies founded by Jews in America.”
In New York City, the number of anti-Semitic hate crimes has risen 23 percent this year, according to the police. The authorities have increased police patrols in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and bolstered security at synagogues and yeshivas.
Quotable: “We are without answers,” said Rabbi David Niederman, who leads a social services organization based in Brooklyn. “How can I say to a family, or to my children or my grandchildren, ‘Go to school, go to pray, go to school, go to work, no problem — you’ll be safe coming home?’”
Texas church shooting revives gun debate
Do more guns create a safer environment or a more dangerous one?
The deadly attack near Fort Worth over the weekend, which was stopped when a member of the congregation fatally shot the gunman, has been held up by some lawmakers in Texas as an example of how gun-friendly laws can help save lives.
Gun control advocates argue that taking guns away from dangerous individuals can save even more lives. The gunman who killed two people at West Freeway Church of Christ on Sunday had been arrested several times on charges that included aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
The details: The gunman was shot and killed by Jack Wilson, a firearms instructor and gun range owner who is on the church’s volunteer security team. It’s one of several measures that houses of worship have adopted as they increasingly become targets of mass shootings.
China’s push for an army of workers
The Chinese government is working aggressively to remold the Muslim minorities in the western region of Xinjiang — mostly Uighurs and Kazakhs — into loyal blue-collar workers to supply factories with cheap labor.
The labor programs, along with indoctrination camps that have a million or more Uighurs and Kazakhs, are part of an effort by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to tighten control over Xinjiang, where Muslim minorities make up about half the population.
How we know: The government says the steady work will help villagers out of poverty and slow the spread of religious extremism. But official documents, interviews and visits by The Times to Xinjiang show that local plans uproot villagers, restrict their movements and pressure them to stay in jobs.
Watch: The Times obtained rare video of the labor program — where the movements and even meals of workers in uniforms are tightly controlled.
If you have some time, this is worth it
Tales from around the globe
This year, Times reporters filed 125 “dispatches” — our features that offer offbeat cultural insights — from 44 countries across six continents.
Here are 12 of our favorites, including one about young hobbyhorse enthusiasts in Finland, above.
Here’s what else is happening
New demand for impeachment testimony: Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, said President Trump’s trial must include witnesses and documents that answer new questions about the roles that top White House aides played in blocking military aid for Ukraine.
Slowing population growth: The natural increase in the U.S. population, which factors in the number of births and deaths, was below one million this year, according to Census Bureau estimates, the lowest figure in decades.
Australian wildfires: Record-breaking temperatures, strong winds and prolonged drought have made for a devastating fire season in the country. It still has months to go.
California’s freelancer law: Uber and Postmates, the delivery start-up, filed a lawsuit to block a landmark law scheduled to take effect tomorrow that would provide greater protection to workers.
New year, new laws: Hundreds of measures go into effect overnight, including a ban on state-funded human cloning in Arkansas and marijuana legalization in Illinois. Here’s a roundup.
Moscow makes it snow: During the warmest December on record, the Russian capital trucked in artificial snow that it bought from skating rinks. Then a blizzard struck.
Snapshot: Above, Gilbert, Ariz., in 2013, left, and this year. Using satellite imagery, The Times worked with a geospatial analytics company to examine dramatic changes in the American landscape over the past 10 years.
A decade debate: For some people, the next decade will begin at midnight. For others, it won’t start until Jan. 1, 2021. We break it down.
Last look at 2019: “If you’re depressed by the state of the world, let me toss out an idea,” our Opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof writes. “In the long arc of human history, 2019 has been the best year ever.”
What we’re reading: This essay by a Navy SEAL, via Medium. Steven Erlanger, our chief diplomatic correspondent in Europe, recommends the “slightly abashed testimony from a 52-year-old Purple Heart, now a freshman at Yale, about the respect he discovered for the young college students he might have once dismissed as ‘snowflakes.’”
Now, a break from the news
Read: An exclusive interview with Rihanna and a deep dive into the enduring popularity of the Japanese cherry blossom are among T magazine’s best long reads of the year.
Watch: Is theater ridiculous? Recent works on film, in prose fiction or on TV portray theater as “a sad sack art form: a hotbed of psychological impairment and a leading lifetime cause of it,” one of our critics writes.
Smarter Living: As you head into the new year, remember to take more time for yourself; being alone can improve your creativity and your relationships.
And now for the Back Story on …
A New Year’s Eve tradition
The Waterford crystal ball is now perched about 500 feet above Times Square in New York, and we all know what it’s for, but — why?
Since the early 19th century, so-called time balls were used in harbors, dropping every day so that sailors could view them through telescopes and set their ships’ clocks.
But the idea for the New Year’s ball drop came from the former Times publisher Adolph S. Ochs. First, he persuaded the city in 1904 to rename Longacre Square for The Times, as the newspaper moved to the area.
Then, on Dec. 31, 1904, about 200,000 people celebrated New Year’s Eve with a fireworks display at the 24-story Times Tower.
But Mr. Ochs wanted to top that. So The Times’s chief electrician made a giant ball from wood and iron and outfitted it with 100 25-watt bulbs. It was lowered from the 70-foot flagpole atop the building at the end of 1907.
The Times has since relocated twice, but the holiday tradition has remained.
That’s it for this briefing.
We’re off tomorrow for New Year’s Day, but we’ll be back on Thursday.
Mark Josephson provided the break from the news. Today’s Back Story is drawn from reporting by Adeel Hassan. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Today we revisit Ella Maners, a 9-year-old who was the subject of our special kids’ episode about facing fears.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Fictional lawyer Atticus (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Whopper buns from Burger King, President Trump’s wives and mixed-up measurements were the subjects of some of the most memorable Times corrections of 2019.