A trial and an epidemic

Third Cultured vol. 45

On Monday, we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the sacrifice he made to lead our country just a little bit closer to those ideals of ours. If you haven’t in a while, I recommend re-reading Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” A former boss of mine re-reads it every year on MLK Day and it’s a tradition I adopted for myself a few years back.

Monday was also the beginning of President Trump’s fourth (and hopefully final) year in office. He’s kicking the year off with an impeachment trial and an appearance at Davos, so he has a stage and the world’s attention (he can’t be that upset).

There’s lots of news today, so make sure to open the email in your browser.

Thanks for reading!


Three Things to Know

  1. One American Thing

    The Senate impeachment trial began on Tuesday. GOP & Trump won day one.

  2. One International Thing

    China and the US signed phase one and, as far as the structural issues that are the actual issues, it was a big nothing burger. But, we’ll accept (temporary) de-escalation. Don’t expect phase two any time soon.

  3. One Cultural Thing

The World Health Organization (WHO) may declare an international public health emergency due to the coronavirus spreading from Wuhan, China. WHO made the same move at the outbreak of swine flu and Ebola. As of now, at least 17 have died and a vaccine is in the works but the focus is shifting to China’s lack of transparency.

“I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”

American Empire

4 in 10 Americans would prefer a socialist country rather than a capitalist one.

9/11 plotters trial has begun and will include testimony on CIA waterboarding.

11 US troops were injured in Iran’s January 8 missile strike despite initial reports from the Trump administration/Pentagon that there were no casualties or injuries.

$35 trillion – The amount of the Pentagon’s accounting adjustments in 2019, which is up from $30.7 trillion in 2018 and $29 trillion in 2017. Probably why it failed that audit.

36.8 percent – The actual US unemployment rate.

Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi is the new head of ISIS.

As expected, the president fused Trump, Inc. with his office for a lucrative payday that will pay dividends to the Trump family for generations to come.

And state-owned companies in China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea are building Trump resorts while other countries are constructing roads and donating public land for new developments — all potential violations of the Constitution.

Nearly 200 campaigns and political groups — virtually all conservative — have spent more than $8 million at Trump’s resorts and other businesses since his election in 2016, according to a report from the consumer rights group Public Citizen released late last year. In addition, at least 285 top administration officials, more than 90 members of Congress and 47 state officials — some using taxpayer money — have made hundreds of visits, according to CREW.

Clash of the Capitalisms: Liberal Meritocracy (USA) vs State Political (China).

In the states of western Europe and North America and a number of other countries, such as India, Indonesia, and Japan, a liberal meritocratic form of capitalism dominates: a system that concentrates the vast majority of production in the private sector, ostensibly allows talent to rise, and tries to guarantee opportunity for all through measures such as free schooling and inheritance taxes. Alongside that system stands the state-led, political model of capitalism, which is exemplified by China but also surfaces in other parts of Asia (Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam), in Europe (Azerbaijan, Russia), and in Africa (Algeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda). This system privileges high economic growth and limits individual political and civic rights.

Is military action in the Middle East worth it anymore? The average American has known the answer is “no” for several years now but even the Journal has realized it.

Oil-and-gas wells produce nearly a trillion gallons of toxic waste every single year.

Senate passed (89-10) the USMCA with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and others opposed to it on grounds it did mention climate change even once.

The Taliban offered to reduce violence as progress is made in peace negotiations.

We’re living through the end of the American Empire.

2020 Election

“I wouldn’t go to war with you people. You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”

President Trump, berating top military generals for their poor performance in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a new book.

China, Europe, Russia, and Everyone Else

29 percent – China slice of global plastics production.

120 German cities call for more refugees to be settled in their regions.

Africa’s richest woman made her billions off the Angolan people’s backs.

Do yourself a favor, and read N. K. Jemisin’s books. (Her Twitter is great, too.)

Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan made progress in US-brokered talks over the Grand Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia by agreeing to only fill it during the rainy season.

European powers and Iran found themselves at each other’s throats this week. First, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom announced a 60-day period where Iran could comply with the JCPOA or they would be forced to follow the US and withdraw. Then, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani told all foreign powers to leave the Middle East, specifying Europeans forces in the region could be in danger for the first time.

France’s defense minister is traveling to DC to speak with the Pentagon about its rumored withdrawal from Africa’s Sahel. Paris has 4,500 counterinsurgency troops in the region but relies heavily on US intel to carry out security missions. In a move that may or may not be related, France postponed its proposed Big Tech taxes.

Japan’s major defense contractor Mitsubishi Electric was hacked by China.

Kenya’s crops are being destroyed by a plague of desert locusts.

Northern Ireland formed a functioning government after three years of disputes.

Putin made his first move to stay in power past 2024. Most importantly, Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev resigned and will serve as deputy head of the Security Council under Putin, a post many believe the president will remain in post-2024. The head of the Federal Tax Service, Mikhail V. Mishustin will become the next PM.

Saudi Crown Prince MBS was implicated in the 2018 hacking of Bezos’ phone.

Serbia and Kosovo to restore flights between their capitals for first time in decades.

Turkey and Russia may establish a “secure zone” in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region so displaced Syrians can have winter shelter. The January 12 ceasefire brokered by the two nations has been repeatedly broken, particularly by the Syrian government forces. Moscow also arranged the first official-level talks between Damascus and Ankara in years in order to discuss the next steps in the regional crisis.

Venezuela has lost one of its two superpower patrons: Beijing is closing the purse.

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Cities, Climate, Culture & Corporations

Alphabet/Google became the fourth company to be valued at $1 trillion, following Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon.

Amazon is now coming for book publishers.

Apple didn’t allow users to encrypt backups of devices because of the FBI.

California to sanction LA and SF if homelessness isn’t curbed drastically.

Classics departments have a racism problem.

Even BlackRock knows climate change is an existential threat.

Ghent, Belgium is inspiring other European cities to ban cars.

Greta Thunberg scolded Davos for inaction, taking a jab at President Trump’s pledge to plant one billion trees saying it was not enough with “our house still on fire.’

Terry Jones of Monty Python fame died at 77.

YouTube is spreading climate change misinformation.

What do you do, as a writer, when our reality is stranger than science fiction?

Why American apartment buildings all look the same: mass timber.