5 things to know for December 21: Mattis, shutdown, Gatwick, Congo, polio-like virus

Posted at 4:16 AM, Dec 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-21 06:32:10-05

Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. And as a bonus, we’ll be getting a full moon and a meteor shower this weekend, too. Here’s what else you need to know to Get Up to Speed and Out the Door. (You can also get “5 Things You Need to Know Today” delivered to your inbox daily. Sign up here.)

1. James Mattis 

The US Secretary of Defense has resigned in the wake of President Trump’s surprise announcement about the withdrawal of US forces from Syria. And his resignation letter — wow, it is a doozy. The respectful missive rejects key tenets of Trump’s worldview, including his “America First” approach to diplomacy. Mattis also writes that the US must be “unambiguous” in dealing with adversaries like China and Russia and that the President should have a defense chief who shares his views.

Mattis’ unexpected exit has thrown Washington for a serious loop. Democratic Sen. Mark Warner called the situation “scary” and said Mattis was an “an island of stability” on Trump’s team. Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio bemoaned the development, saying, “This chaos, both foreign and domestic, is putting America in danger and must stop immediately.” In related news, it looks like the US military has been ordered to withdraw half its troops — some 7,000 service members — from Afghanistan. Trump apparently gave the order at the same time he ordered the Syria withdrawal.

2. Government shutdown

So, it looks like we may well be headed for a partial government shutdown. President Trump said he’d refuse to sign that short-term spending bill the Senate passed Wednesday because it didn’t include $5 billion for a border wall. So, the House scrambled and late yesterday passed a bill with the $5 billion. However, that bill will probably be DOA in the Senate because of the serious difference of opinion on the border wall money (and senators of both parties were miffed by Trump’s ultimatum.)

So, what would a partial government shutdown look like, just a few days before Christmas? The disruption would be minimal, because 75% of government activities are already funded. But more than 420,000 government workers would be expected to work with suspended pay, including law enforcement and correctional officers. All these budget worries have affected the already-sinking markets: The Dow dipped below 23,000 yesterday, its lowest point since October 2017.

3. Gatwick Airport

The UK’s second-busiest airport is open again after it closed for 32 hours due to a group of lingering drones. But the problems are far from over for stranded and delayed holiday travelers. About 110,000 passengers and 760 flights were affected, and it looks like most people won’t get compensated for cancelled or delayed flights since two days of drone chaos is probably an “an extraordinary circumstance” that exempts airlines from paying out. The big questions now are: Who was flying those drones and why? Sussex Police are investigating. They say the disruption was deliberate but not likely terror-related.

4. Democratic Republic of the Congo

The long-awaited presidential election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been delayed — again. The election, now set for December 30, has repeatedly been postponed for some reason or another since 2016. This time, officials blame a warehouse fire this month in the capital of Kinshasa that destroyed 80% of the city’s voting machines. Voters are supposed to choose a replacement for President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled for nearly 18 years. At the end of his second term in 2016, Kabila refused to step down and changed the constitution to stay in power. Since then, the extended “election season” has been marred by violence and tension. Further complicating matters is the country’s growing Ebola crisis, with at least 560 reported cases.

5. UK illness

A spike in reports of a polio-like illness has caught the attention of health officials in the United Kingdom. Twenty-eight cases of the rare and potentially debilitating condition called acute flaccid paralysis, or AFP, have been reported in England, most since September. The condition causes weakness or paralysis in the limbs and largely affects children. A record number of cases of a similar condition, acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, have been seen this year in the US. Both conditions peak in the fall, and it isn’t clear what exactly is causing the record spikes. Experts in both places say the conditions are associated with a viral infection. One of the biggest priorities in the UK is making sure no cases are directly caused by polio, which likely is in the same virus family.


“This indictment was based on evidence and testimony before the grand jury. It was not based on the #MeToo movement. So, let’s be clear about that.”

Attorney Gloria Allred, responding to a New York judge’s decision not to dismiss five felony sexual misconduct charges against disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Allred represents one of the alleged victims. Weinstein has pleaded not guilty.


The Netherlands wants to pay people to cycle 

Which is funny, because I would pay to be cycling in the Netherlands right now.

Zimbabweans are petitioning Disney to lift the trademark on the phrase ‘Hakuna Matata’

Why? Because it really is an actual Swahili phrase popular in East Africa. Now you know.

Netflix darling, ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,’ is getting a sequel

Hopefully, the sequel’s title is less of a mouthful.

Tiny AI robots took photos at a cat café to learn how to recognize the faces of people’s cats 

Now, THIS is the future we want. 

‘Survivor’ crowns its Season 37 champion

But the real “Survivor” winner is “Survivor” itself, as it will outlive the heat death of the universe and be rebooted with void matter and cockroaches.



The number of primary debates Democrats plan to hold leading up to the 2020 presidential primary election


Quiz time!

What is the healthiest state, according to a report from the United Health Foundation?

A. Massachusetts

B. Vermont

C. Hawaii

D. Arkansas

Play “Total Recall: The CNN news quiz” to see if you’re right. And don’t forget, you can also find a version of the quiz on your Amazon devices! Just say, “Alexa, ask CNN for a quiz.”


If your kids just can’t sit still waiting for Christmas to come, maybe a good trip to the movies will catch their attention. According to CNN’s Brian Lowry, “Bumblebee” is an “unexpectedly appealing” prequel to the Transformers franchise. And who could forget Mary Poppins? The Emily Blunt-led sequel is, in Lowry’s words, “perfectly passable but well short of practically perfect.” (Your friendly neighborhood newsletter writer has seen it, and it’s a trip.)


Like new again

This video of an expert painting restoration is kinda long, but it’s sooo satisfying. (Click here to view.)