De-escalation and Tension

Third Cultured vol 43

As detailed in last week’s special update, President Trump ordered the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around the Internet about everything that’s happened since, so I’ve compiled a sequence of events – rather than the usual “Three Things to Know” – to help get you up-to-speed.

(Pro-tip: open this email in your browser so you don’t miss anything.)

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PS – One fun thing first!

Now, some perspective on how much the US loves war. (Spoiler: it’s great for stocks.)

“As long as I am president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.”

— President Donald Trump addressing the United States and the world after Iran’s attack on two US military bases in Iraq. The president deescalated military tensions after Iran purposely retaliated without inflicting any casualties.

American Empire

41 – The US suffered 41 mass killings in 2019, more than any other year on record, killing 211 people. A mass killing is any incident where four or more people are killed.

Afghanistan: the Taliban Council agreed to a ceasefire in order to create a window of opportunity to sign a “peace deal” that would end the war. However, the ceasefire has not gone into effect as fighting continues throughout the country, including an US airstrike killed 60 civilians to target a Taliban commander.

Is “normalcy” over? Let’s be honest…did it ever really exist?

Apocalypse is not yet upon our world as the 2010s draw to an end, but there are portents of disorder. The hopes nourished during the opening years of the decade — hopes that America was on a progressive path toward growing equality and freedom, hopes that technology held answers to some of our most pressing problems — have given way, with what feels like head-swiveling speed, to a dark and divisive new era. Fear and distrust are ascendant now. At home, hate-crime violence reached a 16-year high in 2018, the F.B.I. reported. Abroad, there were big geopolitical shifts. With the rise of nationalist movements and a backlash against globalization on both sides of the Atlantic, the liberal post-World War II order — based on economic integration and international institutions — began to unravel, and since 2017, the United States has not only abdicated its role as a stabilizing leader on the global stage, but is also sowing unpredictability and chaos abroad.

Many of these troubling developments didn’t happen overnight. Even today’s poisonous political partisanship has been brewing for decades — dating back at least to Newt Gingrich’s insurgency — but President Trump has blown any idea of “normal” to smithereens, brazenly trampling constitutional rules, America’s founding ideals and virtually every norm of common decency and civil discourse.


Trump announced he’ll sign a Phase One trade deal with China on January 15. China is sending Vice Premier Liu He to sign on their behalf.

2020 Election:

“You don’t have the largest voter turnout unless you create energy and excitement. And you don’t create energy and excitement unless you are prepared to take on the people who own America and are prepared to speak to the people who are working in America.”

— Senator Bernie Sanders at December’s Democratic Debate

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China, Europe, Russia, and Everyone Else

500 million – The number of animals that have died in Australia’s wildfires.

Africa’s richest woman may have stolen her fortune from Angolan taxpayers.

Bolivia expelled three diplomats – two Spanish and one Mexican – for aiding associates of former president Evo Morales. Spain responded by expelling three Bolivian diplomats. Mexico did not retaliate.

Colombia had a record year wiping out illegal coca plant production.

France’s former African colonies are ditching the CFA Franc, and the Euro.

Hong Kong continues to rage in 2020, with more than 1 million protesters turning out for the New Year’s Day demonstration. The largest one yet. In response, China has replaced its top Hong Kong representative with a senior official known for disciplining unruly provinces.

Israel, Cyprus, and Greece signed the EastMed Agreement to ship gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe via a 2,000km pipeline that will pump between nine and 12 billion cubic meters of gas a year. The gas is from Israel and Cyprus’ offshore reserves. Turkey has long opposed the deal, as it enjoys its historical role as the link between Asia and Europe, and Ankara believes the deal was purposely designed to isolate Turkey and Libya from the recently discovered resources in the Eastern Med.

Russia is planning to send an economic advisory team to Venezuela upon National Assembly President Juan Guaido’s term ending this month to help with recovery.

Spanish leftists formed a coalition government by teaming up with Catalonia’s independence movement.

Taiwan’s army chief died in a helicopter crash.

The UAE may be the new kingpin in the Middle East.

"Weighed against the standards of Western human rights groups, the U.A.E. can easily look like a hyper-capitalist slave colony whose leader wants to crush all dissent. When you compare it with Syria or Egypt, the U.A.E. is almost a model of enlightened liberalism. ... Surveys have shown that most young Arabs would rather live there than anywhere else."

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro took control of the National Assembly, country’s last independent institution, and ousted Juan Guaidó.

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Cities, Climate, Culture & Corporations

100 – The greatest books ever written by Black American women.

Americans are moving less than ever before.

Big Pharma raised the prices on 50 prescription drugs at the start of 2020.

Germany cut fares on long-distance train travel to help fight climate change.

Google took “Don’t Be Evil” out of their culture for a reason.

Zuck is Sauron, Facebook is Mordor, and ads are the One Ring. Don’t take it from me – a Facebook executive made this analogy himself.

Former NBA Commissioner David Stern has passed away at 77.

French cities are trying to ban public advertising.

Is your husband cheating on you? Or is he a rockstar?

John Mulaney made an old-school kid’s special. It’s amazing.

“Legendary Night,” an Inuit myth about how Raven brings back the light.

Martin Scorsese gets real about death and Netflix.

Nuclear power is coming back into the conversation. Why? No climate change response has a chance of succeeding without it. But still…where to put the waste?

Pokemon Go players infiltrated Canada’s military bases.

United Methodist Church announced a split amongst its membership over "fundamental differences" regarding its beliefs on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy. The traditional wing of the church will spin-off to start their own.

Y2K created “Millennial Anxiety.” It was early social media and fake news.

Looking back on Y2K, the derided nexus of anxiety for a derided, anxious generation, no other moment could have prepared us better. Later, the financial crisis would mean many of us had to live with our parents after college, and this was seen as a funny generational flaw (failure to launch). College debt would leave us putting off children, but it would be considered proof that we were selfish.

But planes did fall out of the sky a year later. The markets did crash. Computers did turn out to be agents of human destruction. The infrastructure that boomers built — from pensions to roads — certainly doesn’t seem like it was designed to last beyond them.