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Your Monday Briefing: Flooding in Australia

todayDecember 12, 2021 4

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Good morning. We’re covering climate change in Australia, a Times investigation into U.S. airstrikes in Syria and a possible motive for the assassination of the Haitian president.

Many of the same areas that suffered through the Black Summer bush fires in 2019 and 2020, the worst in the country’s recorded history, are now dealing with prodigious rainfall during the wettest, coldest November since at least 1900.

Hundreds of people across several states have been forced to evacuate. Many more are stranded on floodplain islands with no way to leave except by boat or helicopter, possibly until after Christmas.

And with a second year of the weather phenomenon known as La Niña in full swing, meteorologists are predicting even more flooding for Australia’s east coast, adding to the stress from the pandemic and a recent rural mouse plague of biblical proportions.

Quotable: “It feels constant,” said Brett Dickinson, a 58-year-old wheat farmer who lives in northwest New South Wales, about a six-hour drive from Sydney. “We’re constantly battling all the elements — and the animals, too.”

Related: The planet is getting its own “black box” in case climate change destroys humanity. The steel vault — which will be located in Tasmania, an Australian island state — will create an archive that could be critical to piecing together the missteps that led to our self-destruction.

A single top secret American strike cell launched tens of thousands of bombs and missiles against the Islamic State in Syria. The unit, Talon Anvil, pinpointed targets for airstrikes, including convoys, car bombs and command centers.

But the small, shadowy force — at times fewer than 20 people — sidestepped safeguards, alarmed its military partners and repeatedly killed civilians, a Times investigation found. Senior C.I.A. officers complained to Special Operations leaders about the disturbing pattern of strikes.

Details: The U.S. military billed the air war against the Islamic State as the most precise and humane in military history. It said strict rules and oversight by top leaders kept civilian deaths to a minimum. In reality, the majority of strikes were ordered not by top leaders but by relatively low-ranking commandos in Talon Anvil.

Background: The Times reported last month that a bombing carried out by Talon Anvil in 2019 killed dozens of women and children, and that the aftermath was concealed from the public and top military leaders. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a high-level investigation into the strike. People who saw the unit operate firsthand said it was part of a pattern of reckless strikes that started years earlier.

President Jovenel Moïse was about to name names when he was assassinated in July. Officials believe he was killed for it.

Moïse had been working on a list of powerful politicians and businesspeople involved in Haiti’s drug trade, with the intention of handing over the dossier to the American government, according to four senior Haitian advisers and officials tasked with drafting the document. The Times interviewed more than 70 people to understand what happened in the last seven months of the president’s life.

He had ordered his staff to be ruthless, even with the power brokers who had helped propel him into office. Moïse had known several of them for years, and they felt betrayed by his turn against them, his aides say.

Details: His wife, Martine Moïse, described how gunmen stayed to search the room after they shot him, hurriedly digging through files. In interrogations, some of the captured hit men confessed that retrieving the list was a top priority.

Big picture: Haiti may now provide the largest route for drugs destined for the U.S. Deep corruption often stymies American efforts. “Anyone involved in drug trafficking here has at least one police officer on their team,” a Haitian police commissioner said.

Asia and the Middle East

Matthieu Aikins and Jim Huylebroek have been in Afghanistan since the government collapsed. Read their exhaustive four-part story of how the Taliban took control and what life there is like now.

The beloved Paris cathedral is still being restored after the devastating 2019 fire. But plans are in the works to change the building before the planned reopening in 2024.

On Thursday, the latest in a series of controversies around the renovation unfolded when the National Heritage and Architecture Commission of France approved proposals to modernize the interior. New lighting and contemporary art will be installed, and the cathedral will rearrange its furniture.

Proponents say the proposals will create a conversation across centuries and allow for an easier and more pleasant visit. But critics argue that the changes will disfigure the 850-year-old cathedral and disturb the harmony of its Gothic design. On Tuesday, about 100 public figures in France signed their names to an open letter titled “Notre-Dame de Paris: What the fire spared, the diocese wants to destroy.”

Still, Notre-Dame’s choir sings on, albeit at other churches around Paris. “We have become the city’s ambassadors of sound,” said the master organist, who has played at Notre-Dame for 33 years.

What to Cook

Rainbow cookies, a classic Italian American treat, stack layers of almond cake, jam and chocolate.

What to Watch

Our critic A.O. Scott calls the new “West Side Story” movie by Steven Spielberg “uneven” but also “a dazzling display of filmmaking craft that also feels raw, unsettled and alive.”

What to Listen to

Our pop music critics recommend 10 new tracks from Tame Impala, Jean Dawson, Mac DeMarco and others.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

P.S. Join us for a Times virtual event on Wednesday to explore the role of music in protest movements. R.S.V.P. here.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star.

You can reach Amelia and the team at

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todayDecember 12, 2021 4