NAFTA 2.0 is crawling, NATO is 70, Impeachment goes Judiciary

Third Cultured vol. 38

Welcome back to the world, folks!

I hope you had a relaxing and rejuvenating holiday. I enjoyed a great meal with my partner, partook of many ediblesm, and caught up on our shows over the long weekend. If you’re not watching Watchmen yet – fix that ASAP! (It’s amazing.)

Other than that, I’ll keep the commentary short and sweet today since there’s a whole week’s worth of news below.

Until Wednesday,


PS – If you’re a transit nerd like me, this map of the NYC subway is amazing.

Three Things to Know

  1. The United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), aka NAFTA 2.0, is crawling through Congress as Speaker Pelosi balances the moderate Democrats who want a signature win to tout on the 2020 campaign trail and progressives who want to ensure protections for organized labor. Neither the AFL-CIO nor Mexico City is backing down, but Mexico is signaling there is still hope for the agreement. Even with the backdrop of 2020, Pelosi believes providing the president with a major win – which USMCA’s passage would be – is worth congressional Democrats being able to prove they “got something done” even with obstructionists in the Senate and the impeachment inquiry.

    Semi-related: Trump announced tariffs on Argentina and Brazil today.

  2. Western leaders traveled to London to celebrate NATO’s 70th birthday amidst a public crisis among its member-states who disagree on the importance of the alliance to Europe and the West today. Allies agreed to a new payment structure where the United States and Germany will pay the same amount into NATO’s budget of $2.5 billion. Both will pay 16 percent starting in 2021.

    Turkish President Erdogan said in response to Macron’s “brain death” comments, "First of all, have your own brain death checked. These statements are suitable only to people like you who are in a state of brain death." Adding that he thinks Macron, whom he also called a "novice,” likes to "show off."

    “If there was any merit to Macron’s interview, which was disastrous for his own interests, it was to toss a grenade and restart an old debate: Should European security be done in parallel with the United States or instead of the U.S., as a replacement,” he said. “That’s the real dividing line.’’

  3. House Judiciary Committee will hold its first public impeachment hearing – “The Impeachment Inquiry into President Donald J Trump: Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment” – on Tuesday. This portion of the investigation will determine if the president’s actions amount to “high crimes and misdemeanors.” An impeachment evidence report from Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) is expected later this week. A judge ruled last week former White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II must testify before House impeachment investigators about President Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Mueller inquiry. Also, SCOTUS temporarily blocked a House subpoena directing President Trump’s accounting firm to release several years of his financial records. Both sides have until December 12.

“Presidents are not kings. They do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control.”

– U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in Washington argued in her ruling former White House Counsel Donald McGahn must comply with a Congressional subpoena to testify before impeachment investigators.

American Empire

Americans (ages 25-65) are suffering “deaths of despair” at the highest rate in the developed world. Driven by drug abuse and suicide, the life expectancy for Americans is the lowest among wealthy countries and shows no sign of reversing any time soon.

A union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, is going bankrupt.

Huawei to challenge FCC ruling that bars U.S. rural carrier customers from tapping an $8.5 billion government fund to purchase equipment from the Chinese company.

ICE created a fake university to arrest 250+ immigrants, mostly from India.

New peace talks with the Taliban were announced on President Trump’s surprise trip to Afghanistan, the first of his presidency. Also, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, said there’s “no end date” for US military involvement in Syria.

The NYT compiled a list of 33 ways to remember the decade but somehow doesn’t mention mass shootings once.

Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are still struggling two years after Hurricane Maria and Irma. Worst Yet, FEMA ceased supplying any aid.

Russian disinformation campaigns are in full swing. Here’s what they look like.

The US to designate Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations to permit a wider array of security responses. Mexico said it would not allow a violation of sovereignty. U.S. Attorney General William Barr is to visit Mexico City for talks next week.

2020 candidates held more than 7,000 Iowa events in November alone!

  • Bernie got a nice write-up in the NYTimes (for once).

    And there’s an interesting case that the candidate best positioned to do this — the one whose support is most diverse right now — is the candidate whom Obama allegedly promised to intervene against if his nomination seemed likely: the resilient Socialist from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.

    This pattern explains why, in early-state polling, Sanders shows the most strength in very different environments — leading Warren everywhere in the latest FiveThirtyEight average, beating Biden in Iowa and challenging him in more-diverse Nevada, matching Pete Buttigieg in New Hampshire and leading him easily in South Carolina and California.

  • Biden is likely to win, above all else, because of his pull with Black voters.

  • Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax is popular with every group but one: college-educated Republican men.

  • Kamala will likely drop out in December. In a surprise to no one, DC types and SF types don’t work well together.

    “Winning in California requires a different road map, between a top-two candidate system and the expensive TV markets,” Mr. Sena said. “When it comes to winning there is a right way, the wrong way and the California way.”

  • Pete Buttigieg, Donald Trump, and the privilege of inexperience

    So when people like Pete Buttigeig–and Donald Trump before him–stand up in front of an audience of millions and say that their lack of experience is actually an asset, I start to see red. If Kamala Harris were still working as a proseceutor, you can guarantee that she would not have made it to that stage. If Corey Booker were still Mayor of Newark (which is twice the size of South Bend), he would not be anywhere near that stage either.

  • Status Quo Obama does not want you to support progressives – aka Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren – in 2020.

“With its capabilities, market sway and long-term strategy, Amazon now conducts itself like a ‘nation-state.’”

— Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute, examines Amazon in her book on the tech giants“The Big Nine.”

China, Europe, Russia, and Everyone Else

Beijing and Washington are close to a trade deal, but Xi needs more from Trump than a delay of soon-to-be-enacted tariffs after a series of political losses in China. The US Congress’ vocal support for Hong Kong complicated negotiations but both sides are looking for a win given the leaders’ domestic situations.

Catalonian separatists may get to play kingmaker in Spain’s new government. It’s "a window of opportunity" for negotiations on "the Catalan problem."

Daimler – the German auto-giant behind Mercedes-Benz– will cut 10,000 jobs over the next three years to fund investments into clean and self-driving technologies. It was the third such announcement from a major German auto manufacturer.

  • One German journalist works to shed light on “Dark Germany.”

    One reason behind this flattened image of the east is that the national media is largely shaped by perceptions from western Germany. Roughly 17 percent of Germans live in the eastern states, but no nationwide newspaper or publishing house has its primary headquarters there. Reporters parachute in to cover events like state elections or racist attacks, only to depart soon after. For many, the region remains a “Dark Germany,” a place full of reprehensible ideologies, void of success and largely unknown. 

Guyana found new oil deposits, and its potential GDP tripled for investors overnight. On a per-capita basis, this would make Guyana one of the top 10 largest oil producers on the planet.

Guyana is a country of about 780,000, and it could produce the same number of barrels of oil per day. At a price of $50 per barrel, that means a total revenue of close to $15 billion per year within the next decade—a staggering sum that other nascent oil nations have struggled to absorb effectively.

And those numbers are just from one company—ExxonMobil.

India has designated the country’s 200 million Muslims second-class citizens.

A feeling of despair has settled in among many Indians who remain committed to the secular, inclusive vision of the country’s founders. “Gandhi and Nehru were great, historic figures, but I think they were an aberration,” Prasad, the former Outlook editor, told me. “It’s very different now. The institutions have crumbled—universities, investigative agencies, the courts, the media, the administrative agencies, public services. And I think there is no rational answer for what has happened, except that we pretended to be what we were for fifty, sixty years. But we are now reverting to what we always wanted to be, which is to pummel minorities, to push them into a corner, to show them their places, to conquer Kashmir, to ruin the media, and to make corporations servants of the state. And all of this under a heavy resurgence of Hinduism. India is becoming the country it has always wanted to be.”

Iran is experiencing its worst unrest since 1979, with at least 180 people dead.

Iraq’s prime minister was forced to resign after more than 40 people died in protest-related violence on Thursday. This is the second Arab-nation prime minister forced to resign in the past month, following Lebanon’s demonstrations.

Russia tested a hypersonic weapon in the Arctic. Further escalating the new Scramble for the Arctic between China, Russia, and the United States.

  • Russia opened a 1,800-mile gas pipeline to China today.

  • Ukraine’s President Zelensky spoke to TIME magazine where he confessed, “I don’t trust anyone at all.”

    The United States of America is a signal, for the world, for everyone. When America says, for instance, that Ukraine is a corrupt country, that is the hardest of signals. It might seem like an easy thing to say, that combination of words: Ukraine is a corrupt country. Just to say it and that’s it. But it doesn’t end there. Everyone hears that signal. Investments, banks, stakeholders, companies, American, European, companies that have international capital in Ukraine, it’s a signal to them that says, ‘Be careful, don’t invest.’ Or, ‘Get out of there.’ This is a hard signal. For me it’s very important for the United States, with all they can do for us, for them really to understand that we are a different country, that we are different people. It’s not that those things don’t exist. They do. All branches of government were corrupted over many years, and we are working to clean that up. But that signal from them is very important.

  • Why is Crimea so important? If you control it, you control the Black Sea. As far as Apple is concerned – it’s staying Russia’s.

Sudan's transitional government disbanded the former dictator’s party.

The UK’s Labour Party brought receipts to show Boris Johnson intends to sell the National Health Service to Donald Trump/the US in a trade deal.

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Cities, Climate, Corporations, & Culture

350,000 – The number of people who lack access to potable water in California’s San Joaquin Valley, according to a 2018 report by the University of California Davis Center for Regional Change. Many call it the Appalachia of the West.

400,000 – The number of people who have died from opioids in the US since 2000.

A case for compulsory voting.

A dictionary for Latin began in Germany in the 1890s, it will finish in 2050.

Amazon is hacking its employees to meet our one and two-day shipping requests. Athena – a coalition of three dozen grassroots groups involved in issues like digital surveillance, antitrust and working conditions in warehouses – is trying to do something about it. Baltimore is facing the brunt of it. Even Europe is fed up.

Amazon’s cutting-edge technology, unrelenting surveillance and constant disciplinary write-ups pushed the Eastvale workers so hard that in the last holiday season, they hit a coveted target: They got a million packages out the door in 24 hours. Amazon handed out T-shirts celebrating their induction into the “Million Unit Club.”

But Dixon, 54, wasn’t around for that. She started the job in April 2018, and within two months, or nearly 100,000 items, the lifting had destroyed her back. An Amazon-approved doctor said she had bulging discs and diagnosed her with a back sprain, joint inflammation and chronic pain, determining that her injuries were 100% due to her job. She could no longer work at Amazon. Today, she can barely climb stairs. Walking her dog, doing the dishes, getting out of her chair – everything is painful. According to her medical records, her condition is unlikely to improve.

Reveal amassed internal injury records from 23 of the company’s 110 fulfillment centers nationwide. Taken together, the rate of serious injuries for those facilities was more than double the national average for the warehousing industry: 9.6 serious injuries per 100 full-time workers in 2018, compared with an industry average that year of 4.

Conservative Catholics are angry at Pope Francis (again) for reaching out to indigenous Bolivians the same way the Church has done for thousands of years: presenting the Mother Mary as the feminine goddess they already worship.

Most know Ida B. Wells, but what about her contemporaries in the Black press?

NASA found a supermassive black hole that nurtures the growth of other galaxies.

New HIV drugs are coming in strawberry and other flavors to help stem the about 80,000 babies and toddlers who die of AIDS each year, mostly in the Global South.

Texas Instruments calculators still run high school math classes at $105 a pop.

The Internet’s creator – Sir Tim Berners-Lee – has a plan to save it.

The intimate relationship between Americans and their crockpots.

The women of Tunisia are bringing #MeToo to Africa, fitting for the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

The good news? Women are organizing and speaking up in droves, with thousands telling their own stories of harassment through the social media campaign #EnaZeda, the Tunisian dialect version of #MeToo. Long-simmering gender inequality issues were inflamed after a newly elected MP was caught on video masturbating in front of a teenage girl outside a high school in October. The bad news? The accused, Zouheir Makhlouf, has been sworn into the national Parliament despite the accusations in court against him, a move that legal experts say grants him legal immunity going forward.

Two week-long UN climate conference kicks off in Madrid.

What comes after Facebook and Twitter? Any guesses?

You probably don’t know Aladdin as well as you think you do.