The World Against the USA | Bleaching Skin & Drinking Cola | A Hard Profession’s Journey Into Night


“Any fool knows that to work hard at something you want to accomplish is the only way to be happy.” – Eugene O’Neill

“When I look up, I see people cashing in. I don’t see heaven or saints or angels. I see people cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy.” – Joseph Heller


The U.S.A. Abandons the World and Vice Versa: Conflicting messages are coming from different members of the Trump administration regarding US troop withdrawal from Syria. It’s further evidence that America’s foreign policy is in disarray, and effective diplomacy is absent. The only power that is talking to all the players, and therefore is best positioned to mediate a solution, is Russia. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is planning a visit to Moscow for talks on Syria and other issues with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Turkey is also reaching out to Iran to discuss US withdrawal. “Whether you like it or not, Iran is an actor in Syria,” Turkey’s foreign minister said. “Thus, we need to work in a constructive manner with the present actors.” Syrian Kurds have already approached Russia for help to secure a deal with the Syrian government, hoping to avoid a threatened Turkish attack. As one Middle East/foreign policy expert put it: “The U.S. is coming out, and the other countries are moving in to fill the vacuum, and they’re all talking. They’re just not talking to the U.S.”

So far Russia has not committed to help either Turkey or the Kurds. But Tuesday, just as national security adviser John Bolton was leaving Ankara after Erdogan refused to meet with him, Russian and Kurdish websites posted videos of Russian military vehicles rumbling through the Syrian countryside trailing big Russian flags. Also this week Russian troops began patrolling on the outskirts of Manbij, one of the most contested towns under US control.

Additional read: “Turkey says it will launch Syria offensive if US delays pullout.” (Guardian)


Pompeo Goes To Cairo: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Cairo, Egypt Thursday delivering a keynote speech he considered the high point of his nine-country regional tour. Its main purpose was to (a) reassure Middle East nations the US wasn’t abandoning the region just because President Trump wants the troops in Syria to come home, and (b) to call for a common stand against Iran. Pompeo said the US would “use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria. Then he threw some shade at former president Obama for loosening sanctions and making a nuclear deal with Tehran. (Guardian)

Sore Loser Or Sour Election?: The winner of the December 30 presidential election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was finally announced early Thursday morning: Felix Tshisekedi. The announcement had runner-up Martin Fayulu immediately pronounce the result an “election coup”, and urge his followers to resist “a grave attack on the country’s dignity”. Senior leaders of the Catholic Church made clear the announced results did not correspond with data collected by 40,000 observers the church deployed on polling day 12 days ago. (Guardian)

Bleaching Is Only Skin Deep: Michael Jackson claimed his skin got lighter over time due to a disorder called vitiligo, but many people believed he bleached it. Skin bleaching is a billion-dollar industry in predominantly black countries. Some governments are finally starting to ban bleaching agents, especially hydroquinone and mercury, due to their harmful health effects. Those same chemical agents can be found in cosmetics, and the government in Rwanda has been seizing and inspecting some cosmetics to ensure its ban is being enforced. (NYT)

Drawing Lines In The Sand And The Grass And The Concrete, Pretty Much Everywhere: Viktor Orbán is Hungary’s far-right prime minister. He is encouraging all “anti-migration politicians” to take over Europe’s institutions after this spring’s elections. Hungary’s goal, Orbán said, was to gain an anti-immigration majority in the European parliament, then in the executive European commission, and later, as national elections change the continent’s political landscape, the European council, where national leaders make the most important EU decisions. He also hailed a new partnership between Poland’s right-wing government and Italy’s populist interior minister, Matteo Salvini. On Wednesday Salvini said he believed Italy and Poland together could break the strength of France and Germany in the EU. (Guardian)

– “Mother and two boys suffocate in Nepal’s latest ‘period hut’ tragedy:Practice of banishing women to small outbuildings during periods claims further victims despite country declaring practice illegal” (Guardian)

– “Yemen soldiers killed in Houthi drone attack on base: A drone attack on a Yemeni government base by the rebel Houthi movement has reportedly killed six soldiers.” (BBC)

– “Mexico investigates battle between drug gangs that left at least 20 dead:The bodies, some burned, found in the northern border town of Tamaulipas that’s convulsed by fighting to control drug trafficking” (Guardian)

– “China To Let 2,000 Ethnic Kazakhs Relinquish Citizenship And Leave The Country” (NPR)

– “The U.S. Spent $8 Billion on Afghanistan’s Air Force. It’s Still Struggling.” (NYT)


Policy Classic, Diet Pol, and Policy Cherry: There is consensus within the public health community that beverages loaded with added sugar, such as soda, are partly to blame for creeping obesity. As a result soda consumption has been on the decline in Western countries. In the US, and globally as well, the Coca-Cola Company has promoted a message that downplays the role of diet, instead supporting and amplifying research that emphasizes the importance of physical activity to bring down obesity rates. It was unclear whether the company’s influence extended beyond Western countries into emerging markets like China until a social scientist and China scholar, Susan Greenhalgh, began investigating. Her years-long study has just been published in the Journal of Public Health Policy. Greenhalgh found that the Coca-Cola company in fact has exerted strong influence over Chinese policymaking, helping to shape the way that government has addressed its country’s growing obesity problem. (NPR)


Emergency, Where Are the American Leaders?: President Trump traveled to McAllen, Texas, Thursday, where he visited a Border Patrol station and had a roundtable discussion with local officials before heading to the Rio Grande. The president reiterated that he is willing to declare a national emergency and use other monies from elsewhere in the government if he doesn’t get an additional $5.7 billion from Congress to build his border wall. He has also been keeping parts of the federal government shut down for three weeks over wall funding. Were Trump to declare a national emergency, it would undoubtedly face an immediate court challenge. (NPR)

Additional reads: “Yes, The President Can Declare A ‘National Emergency’ To Build A Wall” (NPR)

– “Walls are the foundation of civilization. But do they work?“ (WaPo)

– “Record number of migrant families arrested while crossing U.S. border in December” (WaPo)

– “Coast Guard families told they can have garage sales to cope with government shutdown: ‘Bankruptcy is a last option,’ the service said in a tip sheet published on a website.” (WaPo)

Voter See, Voter Do: Researchers studying bullying and teasing examined data from a school survey taken in 2015 and 2017 by over 150,000 students across Virginia. Their findings were published Wednesday in a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association. The researchers found that the rate of bullying and certain types of teasing was higher in areas where voters favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. (NPR)

Additional reads: “The brutal secret of school sport initiations: Hazing rituals have long been a brutal secret among high school and college sport teams. But in the #MeToo era, can teenage victims shatter the code of silence?” (BBC) And “The Nazi salute picture that divided an American town: A photo of boys from Baraboo high school went viral but while some want the teenagers to apologize others say they are being unfairly victimized” (Guardian)


– “The perils of short-termism: Civilization’s Greatest Threat: Our inability to look beyond the latest news cycle could be one of the most dangerous traits of our generation, says Richard Fisher.” (BBC) Additional watch: Short-term thinking is politics’ most epic failure | Jill Lepore (Big Think)

– “Hallucinations and $100,000: the poker player who shut himself in a pitch-black room for weeks: Rich Alati had a six-figure sum in his sights. As long as he could survive 30 days in the dark with no human contact” (Guardian)

– “Why your chicken wings mean we’ve entered a new epoch: Our future in the Anthropocene, the new age now we live in, looks just like the lives of the 66 billion chickens consumed every year: nasty, brutish and short” (Guardian)

– “Investors ask how the Bezos divorce will affect Amazon” (Reuters)

– “Michael Phelps: ‘It’s OK to not be OK’: Mental health awareness, water conservation, and more: how the all-time most successful Olympian keeps busy after overcoming personal struggle” (BBC)

– Being a writer is an incredibly difficult profession. First is the financial reality: “Does It Pay to Be a Writer?: Writing has never been a lucrative career choice, but a recent study by the Authors Guild, a professional organization for book writers, shows that it may not even be a livable one anymore.” Then there are morality clauses: Must Writers Be Moral? Their Contracts May Require It: “No way. I’m not signing that,” a New Yorker writer said when she saw the terms. And finally, you will be second guessed and criticized after you are six feet under: “Virginia Woolf? Snob! Richard Wright? Sexist! Dostoyevsky? Anti-Semite!” (NYT)


“The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he is on.” – Joseph Heller

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