December 3, 2018

On Monday, Qatar unexpectedly announced it will withdraw from OPEC in January to focus on developing its massive liquified natural gas (LNG) reserves and boosting oil production above approved quotas. OPEC's de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, cut ties with Qatar and led an ongoing economic boycott in June 2017, joined by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. But Qatari energy affairs minister Saad Sherida al-Kaabi said politics weren't behind the decision to quit OPEC, and he will attend the 15-member organization's meeting later this week. "For me, to put efforts and resources and time in an organization that we are a very small player in and I don't have a say in what happens," he said, "practically it does not work, so for us it's better to focus on our big growth potential."

Qatar produces only 600,000 barrels a day (bpd) of oil, versus Saudi Arabia's 11 million bpd, so its departure and aspirations to increase crude output are expected to have little effect on sagging global oil prices; OPEC is expected to tighten production along with its allies. OPEC, or the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, was formed in 1960, and Qatar joined in 1961, the first nation to sign on outside of its founding members. It will become the first Mideast country to quit OPEC. Peter Weber

5:06 p.m.

Not long after Jeff Bezos' phone was allegedly hacked as a result of a link sent by a WhatsApp account believed to be Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, a New York Times journalist was reportedly targeted by Saudi-linked spyware.

Ben Hubbard, who has covered the kingdom extensively, wrote Tuesday that he received a "fishy" looking link in June 2018, which researchers from Citizen Lab determined contained software sold by the Israeli NSO Group and deployed by Saudi Hackers. NSO Group denied its technology was responsible, and the Saudi government didn't provide comment, but Riyadh has denied any involvement in the alleged Bezos infiltration.

Hubbard didn't click on the link, which proved to be the right call, since it appears his phone wasn't compromised. But the mere fact that he received a harmful link is another example of Saudi's possible targeting of journalists and dissidents, which has been magnified since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Per Hubbard, human rights experts think hacking technologies have reached the point where they require enhanced government regulation. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

4:21 p.m.

A tsunami threat message was issued Tuesday after a 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck near Jamaica and Cuba, CNN reports.

The International Tsunami Information Center said Tuesday "hazardous tsunami waves are forecast for some coasts," per Reuters, as CNN writes there was a "threat of tsunami waves reaching 0.3 to 1 meter (about 1 to 3 feet) above tide level for the coasts of Jamaica, Belize, Cuba, Honduras, Mexico and the Cayman Islands."

The earthquake, which struck shortly after 2:00 p.m. Eastern, was felt in Miami and caused "very strong to severe shaking in far western Jamaica," the Weather Channel reports, citing the U.S. Geological Survey. The Associated Press also reports it could be felt "strongly" in Santiago, where a witness said, "We were all sitting and we felt the chairs move. We heard the noise of everything moving around."

There have not been reports of any casualties, and according to the National Tsunami Warning Center, there is no tsunami threat for the eastern United States or the Gulf of Mexico. The Washington Post reports, though, this "appeared to be one of the biggest on record in the Caribbean, and the largest since 1946."

4:19 p.m.

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but Michael Bloomberg is gonna need some work on "shake."

Appearing at a campaign event in Burlington, Vermont, on Monday, the former New York City mayor had no problem remembering the proper form when greeting humans: firm grip, eye contact, friendly smile. But when approached by a dog, everything clearly went out the window:

Well, there goes the canine vote. Jeva Lange

3:30 p.m.

As anticipated, Palestine does not appear ready to sign on to President Trump's Middle East plan, which he presented Tuesday alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The plan was not considered to be a game-changer after it was revealed. Some experts predict it could even escalate tensions between Israel and Palestine because it does not curb Israeli settlements in the West Bank despite creating a Palestinian state in the region. So it's not a surprise to learn that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas resoundingly rejected what he described as a "nonsense" proposal.

Abbas said Palestine wouldn't "surrender," specifying Palestinians would resist the plan through "peaceful, popular means."

Protests reportedly broke out in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Tuesday, and a senior official for the militant group also rejected Trump's plan. Abbas reportedly met with leaders of other Palestinian factions, including Hamas, to come up with a response to the proposal. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

3:20 p.m.

The opening arguments in President Trump's impeachment trial officially wrapped up Tuesday, with a little help from 1990s Democrats.

Trump's defense team concluded their arguments hours early on Tuesday, with White House counsel Pat Cipollone saying he "had kind of a lengthy presentation prepared, but ... I think we've made our case."

Democrats previously utilized old clips of Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) during their opening arguments, and Trump's team did the same, playing a montage of Democrats during former President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial making similar points as Trump's team.

"There must never be a narrowly voted impeachment, or an impeachment supported by one of our major political parties and opposed by the other," House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) says in one 1990s-era clip. In another clip, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) voices concern that "we've lowered the bar on impeachment" and that "when a Republican wins the White House, Democrats will demand payback."

"You were right," Cipollone quipped after the montage played. "But I'm sorry to say you were also prophetic."

Cipollone concluded by echoing language previously used by Ken Starr, asking the Senate to "end the era of impeachment for good." With opening arguments concluded, the question period in Trump's impeachment trial will begin Wednesday, while a vote on whether to call witnesses will take place on Friday. Brendan Morrow

3:08 p.m.

It doesn't look like President Trump will be able to keep his 2016 campaign promise of paying off the federal debt during his presidency.

The Congressional Budget Office released a report Tuesday predicting U.S. debt will reach 98 percent of the country's GDP by 2030, up from the 81 percent the office foresees the deficit reaching by the end of 2020. The CBO projects the government will spend $1 trillion more than it collects in 2020, a number which would then increase every year for, well, a while.

The prognostication is reportedly mostly a result of tax cuts and the assumption that the government will continue to increase spending, per The Wall Street Journal. If the Trump administration's tax cuts enacted in 2017 are extended beyond their current expiration at the end of 2025, the latest CBO estimates may fall short.

CBO Director Phillip Swagel expects the deficit level to eventually reach some historic highs, especially for a time of low unemployment. He said his office's projections will approach figures not seen "since World War II." Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

2:42 p.m.

A fire burning near the Australian capital city of Canberra is the worst threat to the region since the 2003 bushfires that took four lives and destroyed 470 homes, said Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Chief Minister Andrew Barr, per The Guardian.

The Orroral Valley bushfire, sparked earlier this week in the Namadgi National park, has blanketed the city in hazardous smoke, reports Reuters. The fire was ignited after a military helicopter landing created enough heat to set grass ablaze.

As of early Wednesday morning in Australia, the fire spanned 9,498 hectares, per ACT government. The fire was downgraded overnight from an emergency warning to a watch and act warning, but ACT Emergency Services Agency commissioner Georgeina Whelan said the fires are expected to burn in the park for several weeks.

Dry, hot weather in Australia, exacerbated by climate change, is creating the perfect conditions for the fires to grow, and the fires themselves are contributing to the climate crisis via carbon emissions, notes Gizmodo.

Meanwhile, Australia is preparing for a heatwave, expected to hit later this week and into the weekend. Since September, the bushfires have killed 33 people and claimed the lives of roughly 1 billion animals, Reuters reports. Taylor Watson

See More Speed Reads