A truce in Afghanistan, a surge of infections, and Antarctica hits 20C/68F

Third Cultured vol. 51

Instead of commentary today, I have a couple of updates.

First things first, Third Cultured is launching subscriptions!

There will still be a weekly edition that goes out for free, but I’ll be ramping up my frequency of publication to every day for paid subscribers. Those first 50 editions helped me find my sea legs to determine what kind of structure and voice Third Cultured needed, and I’m ready to take it to the next level.

Secondly, for my multimedia-loving folks, get ready for podcasts and videos!

Your support is critical. Subscriptions make it possible to invest the time and resources I need to create a product worth your while. I currently write Third Cultured as a hobby, a way to organize my thoughts about our crazy world, but I want it to grow it into much more.

Your feedback and engagement have been instrumental in getting this far, and I can’t thank you enough. I am excited about Third Cultured’s next chapter and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Happy Friday, y’all!


Some good weekend reads:

Three Things to Know

  1. One American Thing

    A US-Taliban reached a truce agreement, contingent on a seven-day reduction in violence. If the reduction is met successfully, there will be an agreement signing to begin the withdrawal of American troops and – within 10-days – all-Afghan negotiations will begin to determine the nation’s post-war future. The Taliban must also agree to not associate with Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, or other militant groups.

    We’ve been here before with Bush and Obama, but neither could ultimately risk tainting their legacies with what will happen in Afghanistan post-US. Trump operates outside the usual constraints of American politics and may just be the one to get us out of there. However, should he succeed in a troop withdrawal before November, the election is over and Trump’s re-election is a done deal.

  2. One International Thing

    Coronavirus COVID-19 Updates (Graphic: SCMP)

  3. One Cultural Thing

    The coronavirus is not the crisis we need to be worrying about.

    On February 9, Antarctica’s temp crossed 20C/68F for the first time, according to Marambio Base.

American Empire

2020 Election

$587,000 – Trump’s requested budget for a new consulate in Greenland. The US has had its imperial eye on the Arctic island long before Trump and his denied request to buy it last year was clearly only the beginning of DC’s new posture toward the Arctic.

A federal judge ruled Microsoft must halt work on the Pentagon’s $10B JEDI program until Amazon’s legal challenges are resolved. A small win for Bezos.

Even Attorney General William Barr is done with the president’s Twitter BS. In an interview with ABC News, he said, “President Trump's ‘constant background commentary’ about the Justice Department ‘make it impossible for me to do my job. I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about the Department of Justice’s criminal cases." Trump disagrees. He says it’s his “legal right” to intervene.

NATO agreed to “in principle” to take over more of the military training in Iraq.

One Syrian soldier was killed in a rare standoff between the US and Syrian forces at a highway checkpoint. The Russian military has stepped in to mediate the situation. Moscow is also hosting a Turkish delegation in an effort to deescalate recent tensions between Ankara and Damascus in Syria’s Idlib province.

Phase One of the US-China trade deal goes into force today, with the US and China cutting tariffs in half on $120 billion of Chinese goods and $75 billion of US goods, respectively. However, COVID-19 threatens China’s ability to hold up its end of the bargain as it calls for billions in agricultural and energy purchases.

Rockets struck an Iraqi military base where US troops are stationedon the last day of Iran’s 40 day mourning period for General Soleimani’s assassination. It is the same base that was attacked in late 2019, killing an American contractor, that set off a military tit-for-tat between the US and Iran. There were no casualties, but Tehran’s new war chief vowed Iran will strike if either the US or Israel makes a slight mistake.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wants to create a US data protection agency.

Sudan agreed to compensate families of the 17 US sailors who died in the attack on USS Cole in 2000. It is part of Sudan’s campaign to be removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism so it can enter the dollar-based global financial system.

The House passed (232-183) an extension of the Equal Rights Amendment’s ratification deadline that expired in 1982. The Senate is unlikely to take it up.

The Pentagon reversed its opposition to enforcing the blacklist around Huawei, a rule first proposed by the Commerce Department to make it harder for US companies to get around an effective ban on exports to the Chinese tech giant. On Thursday, the DOJ charged Huawei with racketeering and conspiracy to steal US trade secrets.

The Senate passed (55-45) a War Powers Resolution asserting the need for congressional authorization to launch military action against Iran.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer threatened to increase US tariff ceilings to initiate negotiations over tariff commitments at the WTO.

US Treasury moved to update cryptocurrency rules to curb money laundering.

“We teach them, ‘Don’t follow an illegal order. And if you’re ever given one, you’ll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss.’”

Former White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly defended Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, one of the impeachment witnesses Trump fired last week. To which the president responded, “…[Kelly] misses the action and just can’t keep his mouth shut, which he actually has a military and legal obligation to do.”

China, Europe, Russia, and Everyone Else

112 – # of companies the UN revealed to have business ties with Israeli settlements.

$76m is needed by the UN to combat hundreds of billions of locusts in East Africa.

Brexit caused a glitch in the UK’s Home Office to ask a 101-year old Italian man to get his parents to confirm his identity, even though he’s lived in London since 1966.

Ethiopia passed a fake news law to curb ethnic and sectarian violence incited online.

Indigenous communities in Canada are protesting a new gas pipeline. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would like it “resolved ASAP.”

Fianna Fáil, Ireland’s largest party, said it will not form a government with Sinn Féin, the former political wing of the IRA that won 24% of the vote in the recent election. Fianna Fáil will have to join forces with its rival center-right party Fine Gael or risk another election where Sinn Féin can pick up more seats on its promise of mass state housebuilding, a rent freeze and across-the-board increases in public spending.

Italy’s Senate voted to lift far-right leader Matteo Salvini’s immunity, opening the door for a trial over his illegal detention of migrants last year.

Germany approved $83 million to develop a German-French fighter jet that will begin a unification of Europe’s militaries.

Norway granted the US Air Force access to an Arctic outpost and ruffled Russia.

Ukraine announced its intention to join NATO’s Enhanced Opportunity Partnership. The US is openly supportive of Ukraine joining the EOP given its recent reforms to institutionalize civilian control over the military.

Russian trust in Putin’s leadership falls to a six-year low.

Saudi-led coalition forces will face trial for war crimes against Yemeni civilians.

The Munich Security Conference is this weekend (Feb 14-16) and the theme is “Westlessness,” to address the declining and confusing role of the West. The conference will host 35 heads of state and 500 politicians. 

Turkey vowed to use military force against anyone who breaks the Idlib ceasefire and causes more displacement. 800,000 have fled in the last three months.

UN Security Council voted on a “lasting ceasefire” in Libya and rebel General Haftar responded by blocking UN access to Tripoli’s only functioning airport. The Libyan Civil War that has raged for nine years is one of the liberal order’s great failures.

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Cities, Climate, Culture & Corporations

646,152 – Number of unique American TV titles in 2019.

Antarctica’s temperature crossed 20C/68F for the first time.

“Anthropocene” is on the way out. We need a new word.

Apple was ordered by the CA Supreme Court to pay workers for the time it takes – 30 minutes – to search them and their bags at the end of a shift.

California’s auditor released a damning report on automatic license plate readers.

Chitetsu Watanabe, the world’s oldest man (112), says the secret to long life is smiling.

Condé Nast was a piece of work in the early 2000s.

Facebook removed two unaffiliated networks of accounts associated with Russia and Iran’s intelligence services. Also, check out this look at Facebook’s fact-checking.

Facebook released its long-promised social science data set. It was a debacle.

Human DNA just got more complicated.

McClatchy, the newspaper publisher, filed for bankruptcy and sold it to a hedge fund.

Social media isn’t the (only) reason Americans are so polarized.

The kids are not alright.

Trump’s words, those chanted by his followers at campaign rallies and even his last name have been wielded by students and school staff members to harass children more than 300 times since the start of 2016, a Washington Post review of 28,000 news stories found. At least three-quarters of the attacks were directed at kids who are Hispanic, black or Muslim, according to the analysis.

Turtles the size of cars used to walk around casually.

We all suffer from Closeness-Communication Bias, meaning we tend to only half-listen to the people we care about most because we think we already know what they’re going to say.