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Jair Bolsonaro supporters invade Brazil’s Congress, Kevin McCarthy finally gets to work, and a royal͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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January 9, 2023


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Tom Chivers
Tom Chivers

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The World Today

  1. Lula vows to punish rioters
  2. US House finally gets started
  3. Biden at ‘Three Amigos’ summit
  4. Harry’s memoir release looms
  5. Arrests over S. Sudan video
  6. A fake Russian strike?
  7. China’s consequential reopening
  8. Goldilocks economics
  9. Vaccine A…
  10. …and vaccine bee

PLUS: The London Review of Substacks, and a pinata revival.


Thousands storm Brazil Congress

REUTERS/Antonio Cascio

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s newly inaugurated president, promised to punish the rioters who stormed the nation’s Congress,  presidential palace, and Supreme Court. Supporters of his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro broke past security, stole art, and tried to start fires in the capital Brasilia on Sunday. Lula said the “fascist” rioters would be “found and punished,” with 400 arrests so far. The pro-Bolsonaro governor of the Brasilia region was removed from office for failing to prevent the disorder.

Bolsonaro is in Florida and one United States congressman called for him to be extradited, but it’s not clear for what offense. The former president has not yet been charged with anything, although Brazilian ex-leaders, including Lula himself, have ended up in jail. Bolsonaro condemned the uprising, but pointedly also mentioned post-election rioting in 2013 and 2017, which was smaller in scale. The parallels with Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C., are obvious: Bolsonaro’s temporary Florida neighbor, Donald Trump, could warn him of what happens next.


US House gets to business

REUTERS/Jon Cherry

Kevin McCarthy faces his first test as U.S. House of Representatives Speaker today. He made a series of concessions to his critics to secure the job, including the ability to trigger a no-confidence vote in his speakership with just one vote. The new House now turns its attention to domestic spending, competition with China, and immigration policy. The most globally important vote comes in September, if McCarthy lasts that long: whether to raise the limit on U.S. government borrowing. Hard-line Republicans are opposed. Failing to increase it could trigger a limited default, throwing the world economy into chaos. The U.S. has flirted with such a scenario before and pulled back from the brink, but that’s no guarantee it will again.


Biden arrives in Mexico

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Mexico for a meeting dubbed the “Three Amigos” summit, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also in attendance. Migration will be at the top of the agenda: Biden made his first visit to the U.S.-Mexico border ahead of the trip and has promised to crack down on illegal crossings. In the last fiscal year, more than 2.2 million arrests were made at the border, the most ever recorded. Trade disputes, fentanyl trafficking — which accounts for two-thirds of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. — and Mexico’s waning interest in the war in Ukraine are also up for discussion.


Harry revelations flood UK press

REUTERS/Toby Melville

Prince Harry gave an angry interview before the publication of his memoir. “I love my family,” he told ITV, but that family got “into bed with the devil” of the tabloid press. Harry’s black sheep status within the royal family is an ancient archetype: Princess Margaret chafed against duty’s bonds, as did Edward VIII, who abdicated to marry his divorcee American lover. In Harry’s case, it’s done in the language of the American internet: via Instagram, speaking of “abuse” and “accountability.” No wonder Harry and his wife Meghan are more popular in the U.S. than in his native Britain, The New York Times argues.


S. Sudan arrests over video

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir. REUTERS/Jok Solomun

South Sudanese authorities arrested six journalists over the distribution of a video that appeared to show the country’s President Salva Kiir wetting himself. They work for the state broadcaster, and are “suspected of having knowledge” on how the video — which was never aired — was released, the president of the national journalists’ union told Reuters. Kiir has governed South Sudan since its creation in 2011. The country has been hit by civil war, mass hunger, and a number of other crises. It has not held elections for its legislature in that time, and while its constitution guarantees media freedoms, “this right is not respected in practice,” the NGO Freedom House notes.


Russia’s false war claims

REUTERS/Alena Yarysh

Russia falsely claimed to have killed 600 Ukrainian soldiers in a missile strike. The Kremlin said it was revenge for a deadly Ukrainian strike last week. But Reuters reported that there was no sign of damage. Meanwhile, Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president, repeatedly threatens escalation — he recently suggested stationing hypersonic missile cruisers near Washington, D.C., and threatened nuclear use. Ukrainian officials claim Vladimir Putin has terminal cancer, and that his regime will “collapse” if a new round of conscription and offensives doesn’t win the war. Is any of it true? We have no way of knowing.


Chinese can travel again, finally

REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Chinese people can finally travel in and out of their own country without harsh restrictions. The new rules — or lack thereof — could drive economic growth: In the last full year before the pandemic, Chinese tourists spent about $255 billion abroad, according to research by Citi, equivalent to the GDP of Portugal. But the reopening may also strain China’s international relations. Beijing criticized several countries for imposing restrictions on its citizens. Those places argue their health systems will be pressured by travelers departing China, which is undergoing a massive outbreak. “These numbers are certainly [the] tip of the iceberg,” a China-health expert told The Washington Post.


A fairytale economy

The hot term when it comes to describing the U.S. economy is ‘Goldilocks.’ Recent employment data showed American businesses are still hiring, and yet wage growth has been limited, prompting Axios, Bloomberg, and The Wall Street Journal to cite the fairytale: Everything is, in their assessment, just right. Combined with falling natural-gas prices in Europe also helping slow inflation, Western central banks may be able to tap the brakes after a year of relentless interest-rate increases. At the same time, China reopening its economy offers a further boost to prospects for global growth. Stock markets were up on the optimistic news.


British patients to get cancer vaccine

CreativeCommons/Tim Reckman

Up to 10,000 patients in the U.K. will receive mRNA cancer vaccines in a major trial. Normal vaccines are given to healthy people to prevent disease, but cancer vaccines are given to people with cancer, to help their immune system target the tumor. Recent early-stage trials have shown promise in melanoma and pancreatic cancer. Now BioNTech, the company behind the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, will offer individually targeted vaccines, keyed to the mutations in each patient’s tumor, against a range of cancers. The U.K.’s NHS facilitates large trials because the subjects can be easily gathered and followed with its highly centralized database.


Bee vaccine can protect US hives


A vaccine to protect bees was approved in the United States. Bees are ecologically vital, but also drive big business, responsible for pollinating about a third of the world’s crops. Bee farmers rent out their hives, traveling nationwide to pollinate fields. But colonies are under pressure. A Department of Agriculture report found 14% of commercial hives failed in one quarter of 2019. Diseases and parasites are a major threat. The new vaccine protects against a bacterial disease called American foulbrood, which is highly contagious: If detected in a hive, that hive is burnt and neighboring ones must be treated with antibiotics, the BBC reported.

  • French President Emmanuel Macron hosts Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Paris as Kishida begins a tour of Europe and North America.
  • The International Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan opens.
  • Japan marks Coming of Age Day, a public holiday celebrating people who turn 20 between April 2022 and April 2023, the age at which they officially become adults.

A speechwriter’s assessment

Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s leadership has been one of the true global revelations of the past year. The Ukrainian leader’s refusal to budge in the face of Russian aggression has been legendary — remember “I need ammunition, not a ride”? — but just as impressive has been his oratory. Partly, this is thanks to a skillset honed over years as an actor and stand-up comic. But there is more to it than that, James Fallows, the former Atlantic staff writer, and even more formerly Jimmy Carter’s speechwriter, writes. Zelenskyy’s speech to mark New Year’s, Fallows says, “should be part of future courses on how political leaders try to inform, inspire, and motivate their people.”

The case for the F-35

There’s a widespread idea that the Lockheed F-35 Lightning, the United States strike fighter, is a big useless waste of money. But the military blogger Naval Gazing disagrees: F-35s being built now are reasonably cheap and only rivaled in capability by the F-22. The program may cost $1.5 trillion, but that’s over half a century. And the F-35’s sensor capabilities and stealth means that it can kill most enemies before they know it’s there. “Most prominent military procurement programs go through three phases” in the public discourse, says the author. In phase one, everyone thinks they’re brilliant. In phase two, everyone says they’re behind schedule, overpriced, and useless. The F-35 is reaching phase three: when it becomes “a perfectly normal, if imperfect, weapons system.”

Big government, small tech

In much of the West, it can seem like tech and government are in permanent opposition. But in poorer countries, resource-strapped governments are using technology differently. Bangladesh pays thousands of individuals to manage kiosks where they help compatriots register births, view exam results, or provide some 600 other government services. In Thailand, citizens can obtain their driver’s license information or check for child support payments at their local 7-11. These two countries “have demonstrated that public-private partnerships have no pre-defined scope and scale, and are not only worth doing if they involve a trillion-dollar tech firm and a whole-of-government data strategy,” Luke Cavanaugh writes in Interweave.


Mexico’s changing pinatas

Flickr/Angelica Portales

Social media trends are spurring new pinata designs in Mexico. The traditional star-shaped versions first introduced by Catholic evangelists in the 16th century are increasingly being replaced by more contemporary creations. Internet culture is a particular inspiration for pinata makers as they adapt to reach younger customers. Pinatas in the form of emojis, cartoons, and even designs from the latest trending Netflix series are now commonly found in markets. In 2016 a Donald Trump-inspired pinata itself went viral. By adapting to the times, pinata makers have “helped a centuries-old tradition of craftsmanship survive,” reports Rest of World.

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