March 15th – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

Autocracy Incorporated, Wastewater Warnings

Being an autocrat can pay dividends. When you think of relationships and deals between the leaders of countries, you usually think of treaties, trade agreements, and defense alliances. But when it comes to autocrats, what really links them is a shared, narcissistic desire to hold power and mafia-like financial arrangements to make sure they get and stay wealthy. “Unlike military or political alliances from other times and places, the members of this group don’t operate like a bloc, but rather like a loose agglomeration of companies. Call it Autocracy, Inc. Their links are cemented not by ideals but by deals—deals designed to replace Western sanctions or take the edge off Western economic boycotts, or to make them personally rich—which is why they can operate across geographical and historical lines.” Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic: America Needs a Better Plan to Fight Autocracy. “We cannot merely slap sanctions on foreign oligarchs following some violation of international law, or our own laws: We must alter our financial system so that we stop kleptocratic elites from abusing it in the first place.” One of the difficulties is that our financial system is often quite distinct from their financial system. There’s an underworld economy that stretches across the globe. For some interesting background on this, you might want to check out the book, Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters. From drug cartels, to terror groups, to kleptocrats, there’s a whole economy most of us don’t know anything about.

+ This is not to say there’s no overlap between the economies. There’s a lot. Example: Inside London’s ‘Red Square,’ the elite address where some of Russia’s most powerful oligarchs have bought multimillion-dollar homes.

+ Some just like to dabble: Koch Industries continues doing business in Russia.

+ One thing I’ve been saying about corrupt leaders, both abroad and at home, is that they don’t stop their behavior until they get stopped. And so far, Putin has only been enabled. “As the world takes in the grim realities of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — the once-vibrant neighborhoods bombed out, the civilians killed by shells while trying to flee, the speculation about whether Russia will use chemical weapons — many Syrians have watched with a horrifying sense of déjà vu and a deep foreboding about what lies ahead.” NYT (Gift Article): Impunity for War Crimes in Syria Casts a Grim Shadow Over Ukraine.

+ Putin puts international justice on trial – betting that the age of impunity will continue.

+ Speaking of the age of impunity, Josh Hawley has been told to stop using January 6 fist salute photo. He doesn’t own the rights to the photo which he features on a mug he sells on his site. Oh, and the photo is a visual representation of him betraying America’s democracy, an act that hasn’t cost him a thing.


Broadcast Ruse

In Russia’s war on Ukraine, a key battle continues to be over truth. One Russian TV producer decided to get some of that truth across in a unique way. Vice: The Badass Russian TV Producer Who Crashed a Newscast Is Free—For Now. “Marina Ovsyannikova still faces potentially grave punishment under Russia’s new military censorship law.” (You can tell how important the truth battle is by how much people are willing to risk.)

+ Speaking of taking risks to get the truth out. “Russian prosecutors asked a court on Tuesday to sentence jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to an additional 13 years on fraud and contempt of court charges and to move him to a maximum security prison.” (Navalny is basically in jail for failing to die when Putin tried to murder him.) Navalny: “I don’t care, even if you give me 113 years. You won’t scare me. Russia is big, there are many people in it and not all of them are ready to give up their future, the future of their children.”

+ Russia’s War on Truth: Top Wikipedia Editor Arrested Amidst Ukraine Censorship.

+ Fox News journalists killed, injured in Ukraine a day after filmmaker’s death. Yesterday, journalist and documentarian Brent Renaud was killed. Celebrating the life and work of Brent Renaud, the filmmaker and Nieman Fellow killed in Ukraine.

+ Kyiv auto repair shop adapts captured Russian weapons for local forces.

+ The prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic are traveling to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Biden is heading to Europe to meet with other leaders. And Putin keeps destroying Ukraine and murdering civilians. Here’s the latest from CNN.


Get Your Mind In the Sewer

“Next week, the White House says it will start to wind down a COVID-19 program that pays to test, treat and vaccinate people who don’t have health insurance. It’s one of several immediate impacts after Congress declined to add $22.5 billion in funding to a broad government spending bill passed last week.” (Sure, let’s all let our guard down now that we’ve hit a lull. What could possibly go wrong?)

+ Nearly half of all European countries have recorded increases in new Covid-19 cases in the past week. And while wastewater surveillance of Covid is relatively sparse in the US, 62 (15%) sites have a >1000% increase in viral RNA detected in the past 15-day period.


Beware The Guides of March

I’m still waiting for the March when March Madness is the maddest thing going. But everyone needs a break from the current newscycle, and setting up your brackets is as good a break as any. March Madness 2022: What to know about every team in the men’s NCAA tournament bracket.


Extra, Extra

The Truck Stops Here: “In recent months, the project has gotten tangled in the kind of partisan politics that is pulsing through many aspects of American life. Opponents have been holding rallies, organizing online, dabbling in conspiracy theories and even threatening local officials.” How an Electric Truck Factory Became a Lightning Rod in Georgia. (There are now approximately a billion news stories for every Rivian truck actually on the road…)

+ Fed Up: Sen. Joe Manchin said he was opposed to the nomination of Sarah Bloom Raskin for a top regulatory post at the Federal Reserve, and she withdrew from consideration. Why is this a big deal? I’ll let The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer explain: How Fossil-Fuel Companies Are Stonewalling Sarah Bloom Raskin’s Nomination to the Fed.

+ We Have Clearance, Clarence: Ginni Thomas acknowledges she attended January 6 rally but played no role in planning it. Why is this a big deal? I’ll let The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer explain: Is Ginni Thomas a Threat to the Supreme Court?

+ Mug Shot: “Our cup is ubiquitous, and we love that. But it is also this ubiquitous symbol of a throwaway society.” Starbucks is planning to phase out its iconic cups.

+ NFT Boned: “Yuga Labs, the NFT company behind the Bored Apes Yacht Club, acquired the rights to the CryptoPunks and Meebits collections, from Larva Labs. Why it matters: Bored Apes and CryptoPunks are the world’s most valuable NFT collections, with Meebits not too far behind. Yuga now controls NFTs with around $5.5 billion in market cap.” (Sometimes a story can make you feel old and age you at the same time.)


Bottom of the News

“Japan’s lost and found system is legendarily good — millions of items are turned into local police stations by residents every year and most of those items make their way back to their owners (unless it’s a cheap umbrella). As this short video explains, there are a few reasons why the system works so well.”

+ One year after the Ever Given container ship ran aground in the Suez Canal, her sister vessel is repeating the feat – in the US state of Maryland. Another Evergreen shipping vessel runs aground.

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