January 22, 2020
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
– Benjamin Franklin
A Hot Italian M5ss
Italy’s Five Star Movement, aka M5S, swept into its May 2018 election victory on a huge populist wave and quickly became the dominant force in the Italian government. The internet-based anti-establishment party and its leader, Luigi Di Maio, formed a nationalist-populist coalition with junior partner, the hard-right League and its leader Matteo Salvini, that struck fear into the European establishment.
But governing did not come naturally to M5S and Di Maio. The next year saw a role reversal, with Salvini rising to the top through sheer force of personality, ceaseless campaigning and a news-driving social media presence very much in tune with the country’s anti-migrant sentiment. Salvini railed against Five Star’s inexperience, and last summer he made a bid for early elections, asking Italian voters to give him unrestrained power to consolidate his grip on the country. But Salvini’s mutinous power play failed, and the government coalition of the hard-right anti-migrant League party and the anti-establishment M5S party came apart.
M5S formed a new coalition with the establishment center-left Democratic party, which was supposed to put Italy back on track. But it was a marriage of convenience between sworn political enemies that ultimately proved to be no more stable or less conflict-ridden than the government it replaced.
Now almost two years in, M5S appears to be on the verge of imploding. The populists who upended Italian politics are struggling with plummeting poll numbers and Parliamentary defections. Italy’s economy is still burdened by enormous debt and zero growth. Its power is waning, and people are increasingly worried that the party’s dysfunction may not just bring down the government, but drag Italy down with it.
Keep Your Friends Close And Potential Commiters Of Genocide Closer
- China’s President Xi Jinping was in the Southeast Asia nation of Myanmar over the weekend, the first visit by a Chinese head of state in almost twenty years.
- Xi met with the country’s main civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi; the two signed a raft of agreements to advance the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor — a multibillion-dollar package of infrastructure, trade and energy projects designed to link landlocked southwestern China to the Indian Ocean.
- The move should cement Beijing’s role as Myanmar’s closest international partner, as Western governments continue to hold back over human-rights violations.
- Myanmar is facing allegations at the International Court of Justice that its security forces committed genocide against its Rohingya Muslim minority. China has backed Myanmar through the crisis and now is pushing to secure the strategically located nation as a major partner in the region. Myanmar has traditionally been cautious in embracing Chinese investments.
- In her remarks Friday, Suu Kyi emphasized the need to prevent environmental degradation and consider development for the people in implementing new projects. (WSJ)
Wish You Weren’t Here
- The North Korean economy relies heavily on tourism. But a leading tour operator, Young Pioneer Tours, which specializes in taking tourists from China to North Korea, reported on its website that beginning Wednesday, North Korea’s borders are temporarily closed and foreign tourists are banned from entering the country.
- Practically all foreign tours to North Korea come through China and the vast majority of tourists are Chinese. The move is a protection against the mysterious coronavirus from China that has so far killed six and sickened almost 300 people. The virus has been spreading rapidly from the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
- The US has now seen its first case, a traveler from China who was diagnosed in Seattle. The CDC, which has developed a new test to identify the virus, said it expected to see more cases in the US, and was in talks with the National Institutes of Health about developing a vaccine.
- The World Health Organization will meet Wednesday to consider whether the outbreak is an international public health emergency. (NYT, Reuters)
- Risky Viruses: Health Officials Debate How Much To Reveal About Research : Shots – Health News (NPR)
- Deadly Coronavirus Outbreak Poses a Test to China’s Leadership (NYT, $)
Additional World News
- Some of the most fascinating articles we have read recently are around how Jeff Bezos has become a target not just for President Trump but for countries and international rulers: Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’s phone ‘hacked by Saudi crown prince’ (Guardian) & India Targets Jeff Bezos Over Amazon and Washington Post (NYT, $) Bezos is a great example of more money, more problems. But maybe for Bezos it’s more money than problems.
- Everyone is hacking everyone: Brazilian prosecutors charge journalist Glenn Greenwald with cybercrimes (Guardian) & Opinion | Brazil Calls Glenn Greenwald’s Reporting a Crime (NYT, $)
- The Ukrainian TV show that predicted the future (BBC) & Putin and the Art of Stepping Down Gracefully While Keeping a Grip on Power (NYT, $)
- Corruption, Crime, China: Huawei Executive Meng Wanzhou’s Extradition Trial Begins In Canada (NPR) & Former Interpol President Sentenced To Prison In China For Corruption (NPR) & S.U.V. in Forbidden City Prompts Rage at China’s Rich (NYT, $)
CIA In Hot Water (Boarding)
- One of the architect’s of the CIA’s Bush-era interrogation/torture program — which the government euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques” — testified at a pre-trial hearing before the military war court at Guantanamo Bay on Tuesday. James Mitchell was a former contract psychologist for the intelligence agency and helped develop the program of violence, sleep deprivation and humiliation.
- Mitchell defiantly faced five defendants who were subjected to his methods, and are charged in the 9/11 attacks. Among the defendants was the man accused of masterminding the attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times by a team that included Mitchell.
- The defendants are seeking to have the court throw out evidence statements they made to the FBI after coming to Guantanamo, saying their interrogations in CIA custody had conditioned them to tell their captors what they wanted to hear. (NYT)
- A hot military mess: Sex, Power and Fury: The Mystery of a Death at Guantánamo Bay (NYT, $)
National Lampoon’s European Taxation
- Now that the Trump administration has signed a phase-one trade deal with China, and a new North American trade deal has passed Congress, the next big trading partner without a significant trade pact with the US is the European Union.
- Unless something gets worked out, that body could find itself in the crosshairs of Trump’s favorite persuader: tariffs. In fact, the US has prepared two sets of tariffs aimed at Europe: one in retaliation for a French digital-services tax, and another because it says Europe hasn’t done enough to end subsidies of the aircraft manufacturer Airbus. Plus, Trump has never abandoned the idea, first floated nearly two years ago, of imposing tariffs on the European automobile industry.
- The new European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, has stepped up efforts to find common ground with the administration since taking office in December. The EU’s newly appointed trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, made his inaugural visit to Washington last week for meetings with lead trade representative Robert Lighthizer, other top administration officials and members of Congress. Also on the US trade agenda for 2020: a formal free-trade agreement between America and the UK, once Brexit is concluded. (WSJ)
- Trump Lauds U.S. Economy as He Opens World Economic Forum (WSJ, $)
- America’s aggressive use of sanctions endangers the dollar’s reign (Economist, $)
Additional USA News
- We worry that access to clean water which we take for granted in the USA is being more imperiled each day: U.S. drinking water widely contaminated with ‘forever chemicals’: report (Reuters) & Supreme Court Allows Flint Water Lawsuits To Move Forward, Officials Not ‘Immune’ (NPR)
- Some really nutty news in America: Court rules against woman charged after stepchildren saw her topless (Guardian)
- Poll: Americans Worried About Election Security, Disinformation (NPR)
- Trump privately told donors new details about Soleimani airstrike at Mar-a-Lago fundraiser (WaPo, $)
- Poll: Americans Worried About Election Security, Disinformation (NPR)
- The fight over the impeachment rules, briefly explained (Vox)
Hillary Clinton Says ‘Nobody Likes’ Bernie Sanders and Declines to Commit to Backing Him (NYT, $) & I worked for Hillary Clinton. Her attacks on Bernie Sanders are a big mistake | Peter Daou with Leela Daou (Guardian)
But You Don’t Look A Day Over 1,299
- The ginkgo is the oldest surviving tree species on the planet. It has remained relatively unchanged for 200 million years, through catastrophes like the extinction of the dinosaurs and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. A single ginkgo can live for more than a thousand years, and scientists wanted to learn the secret of its longevity.
- US and Chinese colleagues studied the rings and genes of Ginkgo biloba trees in China that ranged in age from 15 to 1,300 years old, and published their findings Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.
- The biologists examined the vascular cambium, a layer or cylinder of living cells behind the bark, and found the ginkgo tree grows wide indefinitely through old age. That’s because the genes in the cambium contain no program for death, but continue their program for making defenses even after hundreds of years.
- Old trees produce just as many seeds and their leaves are just as resourceful as those of young trees. Over time weather or some affliction might limit a tree’s height, and each year leaves die and fall off. Cell division tends to slow down after the age of 200, but the cells are still viable and continue to carry water and nutrients so the tree grows and stays healthy. And even though humans are quite different from trees, one evolutionary biologist says contemplating long-lived trees could help us to see further into the future. (NYT)
- How Margaret Mead became a hate figure for conservatives (Aeon)
- The 5 percent at the WEF Summit in Davos (Reuters)
- Work-life imbalance: Why promoted women are more likely to divorce (BBC)
- Lloyds boss: Mental health issues can break lives (BBC)
- The New Generation of Self-Created Utopias (NYT, $)
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