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Good morning! In case you’re hungover and wondering if it was all a dream, let me reassure you: It is indeed 2021. We started serving you Whiskey in Your Coffee six months ago, and it’s been a joyride we’ll never forget. But if you liked your drink in 2020, I promise this year will be even more special. Today, you’ll meet some of the world’s greatest sculptors — maybe they can teach us how to shape a better future? Dive deep into Saudi Arabia, a country central to what happens next in the Middle East. Start the tax year with a look back at celebrity cheats. And pick up natural tips to stay healthy. Stick with us: This drink only gets tastier.
In a stark contrast to past years, Times Square rained confetti on a sparse crowd of just a few people, most New Year’s celebrations were canceled and the world largely rang in 2021 inside due to fear of COVID-19 contagion. Russian President Vladimir Putin told Russians, who are experiencing a second wave, to “believe in yourself.” One crowded spot? Wuhan, the site of the original outbreak, where thousands of masked people danced and released balloons into the sky. (Sources: NYT, DW, The Hill)
2. Flying Solo
Another big change last night: Britain is officially no longer part of the European Union. Prime Minister Boris Johnson — whose own father is currently applying for a French passport — called it an “amazing moment” despite widespread trepidation about what lies ahead. British territory Gibraltar, meanwhile, reached a deal to maintain freedom to travel visa-free to nearby Spain. (Sources: Reuters, BBC)
3. Off the Market
A U.S. executive order blacklisting some Chinese telecom companies over association with the country’s military has gotten three firms delisted from the New York Stock Exchange, starting with a suspension Jan. 7. But it’s largely symbolic: All three companies are listed in Hong Kong and make their money almost exclusively in China. (Sources: Bloomberg, Al Jazeera)
4. Highs and Lows
The U.S. stock market closed 2020 at a record high, up more than 16 percent despite a year that ended with 20 million Americans out of work and 340,000 dead of COVID-19. That’s partly a function of how stocks work — they’re expecting better times ahead — but also of the inequalities that have seen the wealthy largely escape the worst of the pandemic. Meanwhile, those whose finances have been hardest hit now fear that banks may keep their $600 stimulus checks to cover overdrawn accounts. (Sources: Washington Post, NYT)
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Much like Michelangelo, the Renaissance genius to whom some have compared him, this 33-year-old Italian sculptor has a genius for making a block of marble seem impossibly lifelike with his stunning sculptures of celebrities like Pope Benedict XVI and President Donald Trump (depicted as a petulant child). He’s now working on a new version of the old master’s Pieta. And appropriately for these times, he shares his process with his 184,000 followers on Instagram.Read more on OZY.
2. Luo Li Rong
Inspired by the Renaissance, her extraordinary bronze sculptures largely depict beautiful women, life-size. Her work went viral at one point when an internet blowhard posted a picture of one of her delicate pieces, boasting that it was the “legacy and heritage of the West” — only to be roundly mocked by Twitter users informing him that he was lauding art made by a Chinese woman.
3. Takashi Murakami
This Japanese master is sculptor, painter and fashionista rolled into one. His work has caught the eye of Kanye West, and one sculpture (of a masturbating anime character) sold for $15.2 million in 2008. Last month, one of his paintings was put into a48-hour art hunt where masked, socially distanced participants searched Paris’ Grand Palais for 20 hidden works — and could take home the ones they found for free. Yet despite his fame, he believes he isn’t liked in his home country, Japan. Why? Watch Murakami on The Carlos Watson Show to find out.
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The Middle East’s largest economy and the Arab world’s leader, Saudi Arabia will be central to President-elect Joe Biden’s reset for the region in 2021 — whether with Iran or Israel. But there’s a deeper churn underway in the kingdom.
Her Instagram bio reads “mixed race shawty who raps” — and damn can she. The 23-year-old has only been making music for two years, but was a recent selection for Spotify’s Sawtik initiative, which celebrates unsigned female artists from the Middle East and North Africa. She joins trailblazers Felukah, Khtek and N1yah giving women a powerful voice in Arab rap music.
Education reforms have Saudi Arabia scrubbing its official national curriculum, particularly taking out lessons of hatred toward the “other” — religious, sexual or cultural minorities — and erasing mandates to use violence to defend the Islamic faith. Though removing dictats like calling for non-believers to be executed is a step in the right direction, portions still describe Jews and Christians as “enemies of Islam" who will spend eternity in hell, proving there is still more work needed.
3. Snappy Saudis
Get your camera finger ready: Saudi Arabia leads the globe in Snapchat usage, with more than one-third of its nationals saying they use the app. It’s a sign of the popularity of travel, fashion and overall glamour in the kingdom. Read more on OZY.
Odd Couple: Who’s Your Favorite?
New year, new wise words? In our final "odd couple" matchup of the holiday season, we’re bringing you some of the best advice from those vying to be the greatest sage to have graced The Carlos Watson Show with their wisdom in 2020 — from ultimate meditation guru Deepak Chopra to veteran political strategist Donna Brazile. Whose words will you treasure heading into 2021? Check out the episodes here, and let us know which you pick by following The Carlos Watson Show on Instagram and voting in our Stories.
Star Tax Cheats
It’s also the start of a new tax year. Look back at some celebrities who ended up in trouble, their reputations shredded, after being outed as tax frauds.
During his successful run on the hit reality show Survivor, the former corporate trainer earned a reputation as a win-at-all-costs competitor. But when Hatch failed to pay any tax on his $1 million winnings, the IRS took him down. He served three years in prison — and when he subsequently failed to refile his old returns, he was sent back for another nine months.
2. Artful Dodger: Wesley Snipes
The star of Blade and White Men Can’t Jump went to prison in 2010 for claiming fraudulent refunds from the IRS and failing to pay taxes on millions in income from 1999 to 2004. At trial, Snipes claimed (incorrectly) that he didn’t have to pay because the U.S. tax code says only foreign sources of income are taxable — a common argument from tax protesters, but one that hasn’t held up in court.Snipes even appealed to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear his petition.
3. The Ultimate Concept Album: Willie Nelson
He was one of the most bankable musicians at the time.But when thecountry music legend got hit with a $16 million bill for back taxes — he’d squirreled away millions during the ’80s in an illegal offshore tax shelter — he simply couldn’t pay. As part of a negotiated settlement, 15 cents from every $1 in sales of Nelson’s next album, Who’ll Buy My Memories? (The I.R.S. Tapes), went toward paying his back taxes.
If staying in good health is central to your plans for the new year, check out these superfoods that rarely hit the headlines, but will be a hit with your body.
As climate change alters humanity’s obsession with monocultures, many are turning to ancient grains like the Ethiopian teff as alternatives. Teff is gluten-free and rich in iron, while also climate resistant. Try some teff porridge. Read more on OZY.