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Third Cultured vol 37

Last week got away from me between interviews, errands, and DC’s theatrics. In observance of the holiday, this will be the only newsletter this week as well but there’s more than enough news to keep you reading through the break.

Rather than carry on about all the craziness – and there was a lot, so buckle up – Elon will demonstrate what human beings are doing to our governments, to our environments, and to ourselves on a daily basis.

Thank you for reading this year, and enjoy your holiday!


Three Things to Know

  1. Two US Navy warships sailed within 12 miles of Mischief Reef, one of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea, at the end of last week. Beijing quickly condemned the maneuver, saying the US should quit “flexing its muscles” in the South China Sea and creating “new uncertainties” over Taiwan. The US regularly performs “freedom of navigation” operations to enforce freedom of access to international waterways. China also dispatched warships and aircraft to intercept the two US warships.

    “We urge (the United States) to stop these provocative actions to avoid any unforeseeable accidents,” the spokesman for China’s Southern Theatre Command said in a statement. “China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and its surrounding area.”

    China claims almost all the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, where it has established military outposts on artificial islands. However, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim parts of the sea.

  2. Hong Kong held elections over the weekend where more than 3 million voters cast ballots, and pro-democracy candidates won 389 of 452 elected seats. This was by far the most seats ever won by pro-democracy candidates – and the most votes ever cast in an election – up from 124 previously. They will control 17 of 18 of the city’s district councils.

    The win puts pressure on HK Executive Carrie Lam and Beijing to come up with a political solution to the unrest, given the growing support for the protests even as the violence has escalated.

  3. Seoul decided to renew a security pact with Japan. The General Security of Military Intelligence Agreement is instrumental to the US order in East Asia. Six hours before the 2016 agreement was set to expire, South Korea reversed its decision to terminate the pact and renewed it, temporarily. It looks like Washington woke up to the need to play referee between our longtime allies (which we’ve done since the end of the Korean War) because Seoul also dropped its WTO complaint against Tokyo in a good-faith effort to re-open negotiations.

“I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary and that Ukraine—not Russia —attacked us in 2016.”

– Dr. Fiona Hill, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former top National Security Council aide on Russia, in her opening statement in Thursday’s public Impeachment Hearings

American Empire

336 – Number of chemical attacks within Syria since 2015

100,000: The US has the highest rate of children in detention of any country. Uncle Sam currently has more than 100,000 in immigration-related custody alone, according to a new UN report. That's about a third of all children who are held in immigration detention centers worldwide.

After US and South Korea called off exercises, North Korea still says no to talks.

Cartel violence has spread to the avocado trade.

Congress passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, by unanimous consent in both houses. The bill puts the president in an awkward position as he tries to cement “phase one” of a trade deal with Beijing, which would be next to impossible to accomplish should he sign this bill. However, given the universal bipartisan support, the bill is veto-proof and he risks looking weak to the American people in order to kowtow to Xi. The bill would require sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights abuses in the territory and would also require the State Department to annually review the special autonomous status it grants Hong Kong in trade considerations, which is separate from mainland China.

India and the US completed “Tiger Triumph” military drills, the first to combine all branches of the two nations’ militaries. The drills show the deepening security ties between the two Indo-Pacific powers.

  • In Future Wars, the U.S. Military Will Have Nowhere to Hide (Foreign Policy)

    It is past time for the U.S. military to prepare to fight without sanctuaries. Instead of waiting for wars to break out and then surging vulnerable aircraft carriers and armored brigades overseas, the United States should preposition missile launchers and armed drones on allied territory and merchant ships in potential conflict zones. For wars against Russia and China, that means near the Baltics and in the East and South China seas. These missiles and drones would act as high-tech minefields. They could destroy Chinese and Russian power projection forces but would be difficult for either country to eliminate and would not require large crews or logistics tails. This approach capitalizes on a fundamental asymmetry in the war aims of the United States and its adversaries; whereas China and Russia need to seize control of territory (for example, Taiwan or part of the Baltics) to achieve their main objectives, the United States just needs to deny them that control, a mission that modern missiles and drones are well suited to perform.

Key Impeachment Inquiry reads:

The Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer called for a new approach to regulating global tech competition and securing the privacy of individual citizens. He proposed creating two new multilateral organizations – (because the current ones work so well…) – the first, modeled after the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), would monitor progress in managing data and emerging technologies like AI and 5G. The second is to create the “World Data Organization” (WDO), a twin to the World Trade Organization (WTO), to set and enforce norms around data privacy and digital trade. To be clear, this is exactly the kind of move the United State should make. However, it will be next to impossible to get Silicon Valley, Washington, and Brussels to agree in the current climate. If Democrats win in 2020, this is possible but like the WTO would bear mixed results.

The US will no longer waive sanctions related to Iran’s Fordow nuclear plant given Tehran’s announcement that they’ve begun enriching uranium at pre-JCPOA levels. Republican senators called on the president to also end the waiver for the Arak heavy water reactor, where Chinese state-owned China National Nuclear Corp operates.

Below is the worst-case scenario should Iran and the US ever fight directly.

"This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech. This is about giving people, including some of the most reprehensible people on earth, the biggest platform in history to reach a third of the planet. Under this twisted logic, if Facebook were around in the 1930s, it would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his ‘solution’ to the ‘Jewish problem.’"

— Sacha Baron Cohen, accepting the International Leadership Award at the Anti-Defamation League’s Never is Now Summit on anti-Semitism and hate.

He also said:

“ thing is pretty clear to me. All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history."

China, Europe, Russia, and Everyone Else

106 – Iran has killed as many as 106 protesters in 21 cities during the protests, which Iran claims it has since “contained.”

2,280 – Turkey is holding 2,280 ISIS members from 30 nations – about half from Western countries – and is about to deport them all.

2,889 – Number of days Shinzo Abe has served as Prime Minister of Japan, the nation’s longest

Bolivia’s congress unanimously approved a new election that bars former president Evo Morales from participating. The date is not yet known.

China defended its detention program of 1 million+ Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang as a “great success against terrorism.” Even as newly leaked documents confirm the program is the largest mass incarceration of an ethnic-religious minority since WWII.

  • Beijing’s centralized nature is its Achilles Heel in cyber warfare. Contrastly, once aircraft carriers were the ultimate symbol of US power, now they may be sitting ducks.

    Smith said if much of the country goes offline, places like Plano, Texas, will essentially be the same. While certain elements of daily life could get ugly, residents could still rely on local-, county-, state- and national-level law enforcement entities.

    China, however, as an authoritarian state, must maintain central control.

    “If I take all the cameras offline and all the mechanisms of control cease, Shanghai is not Shanghai anymore six months after that event,” he said. “Everything within China, which has one time zone, by the way … should have nine, but they have one … because they have to maintain central control.”

  • China released its plan for accommodating its rapidly again population.

    The plan requires establishing the basic institutional framework for tackling population aging by 2022. By the middle of the century, a mature institutional arrangement that meets the needs of a great modern socialist country should be put into place.

EU giants France and Germany are butting heads over Macron’s comments around NATO’s “brain death.” Merkel was “uncharacteristically furious” with Macron after his comments, and relations between the two nations are at their lowest point in decades. Continuing his Neo-Napoleonic trend, Macron wants France to be lead a more integrated EU, with its own European army. France’s criticism of NATO is not new – they left and rejoined the alliance after all. Germany, on the other hand, is a fractured country very hesitant to invest in their military for obvious historical reasons. However, Berlin has made commitments in order to shoulder more of the responsibility to secure freedom of the seas and anti-terrorism in the Sahel.

“I understand your desire for disruptive politics,” Ms. Merkel said to Macron. “But I’m tired of picking up the pieces. Over and over, I have to glue together the cups you have broken so that we can then sit down and have a cup of tea together.”

Israel and Iran are exchanging missile fire this week via Syria’s border with Israel. On Tuesday, four rockets were launched from Syria into the Golan Heights, which as of March the US recognizes as part of Israel. In retaliation, Israel launched “wide-scale strikes” which killed at least 21 people mostly from the Iranian Quds Force and the Syrian Armed Forces in Syria but did include two civilians.

Jihadists – al Qaeda and IS – strike physical and recruiting gold in Africa’s Sahel. Reuters mapped Burkina Faso’s gold mines in yellow and their increasing proximity to the region’s terrorist attacks in red, over the past several years. The focus was in Mali to the north until this year when violence accelerated.

Pakistan rejected India’s new political map, which showed Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, as Indian territories.

Russia arrested a soldier it accused of spying for Ukraine, a move that could put a damper on recent progress toward a resolution in the Donbass region of Ukraine.

South Korea and China have agreed to develop their security ties to ensure stability in northeast Asia, which is in direct response to Trump’s demand that Korea should pay more to host US troops in the region. It is likely the US-Korea bilateral relationship does not make it through the remainder of Trump’s presidency.

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Cities, Climate, Corporations, & Culture

331 – The number of trans women murdered worldwide in 2019

125,000 acres – 5,000 fires across California have destroyed over 125K acres in 2019

A known pedophile priest was sent to work with children in the Global South. You can guess what happened next.

Americans agree unanimously about one thing and thing only: Dolly Parton.

Athletic Bilbao, one of Spain's most successful soccer clubs, for more than a century has restricted its roster to players from the Basque Country.

Check out the National Book Awards winners!

Detroit’s rise and fall and slow rise again is the story of America.

Disney+ signs up more subscribers in 24 hours than all non-Netflix, Hulu, or HBO streaming services have in their existences. Everyone complains a lot about the different options, but the four I listed are all folks will need to stay on top of shows.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had a private dinner with President Trump and fellow tech billionaire Peter Thiel at the White House. Hard to imagine a slimier meal.

Fentanyl is being weaponized for biological warfare.

Google hired union busters to consult on the company’s labor struggles.

Kernza is a perennial plant, a grain, being developed by scientists in Minnesota and Kansas that they hope will help combat climate change and soil disturbance.

“Late Capitalism” is killing reproduction.

Local news is rapidly dying and most Americans are unaware their newspaper is next or already gone.

Publishers have “right-wing” imprints, specifically for catering to the MAGA crowd.

“I’m okay with books being published from different political viewpoints—in fact, it’s necessary for debate and being able to see a whole picture. The problem is when authors write things only to get themselves attention or to make news, instead of to enhance a dialogue. If publishers are going to continue to cash in, as they have been, it’s time for those publishers—certainly the Big Five publishers—to bring in fact-checkers and more copy editors.”

Toxic algae blooms are affecting the Great Lakes at a greater rate than expected.

Who will rule the Internet: China or the West?