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Good morning! Each time I’m nervous about what the future might hold, I remind myself of an Iraqi town planner I know who has spent years trying to keep Baghdad’s sewage system intact, even amid the war. “It’s the basics that matter,” he always says. As America looks to reset, visit unlikely cities around the world that hold lessons, meet the Rwandan spy spooking the world, look back at bizarre presidential inaugurations from the past and watch the movies that could be the next Parasite.
Charu Sudan Kasturi, Senior Editor, and Nick Fouriezos, Senior Reporter
News in a Minute
1. Guarding Against Guardians
This could be straight out of a Hollywood script. The Pentagon is screening thousands of troops stationed across Washington, D.C., for Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration tomorrow, concerned about the risk of insider threats after serving officers were found to be involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. (Sources: WaPo, NYT)
2. Staying Shut
President Donald Trump plans to relax COVID-19 curbs on travel from Brazil and Europe but the incoming Biden administration has rejected the idea, saying it plans to strengthen restrictions instead. Meanwhile, Japan’s prime minister assured his Parliament that the Tokyo Olympics would go ahead this summer — even though most Japanese people believe they should not or will not. Should the Olympics be canceled? Vote on Twitter or here. (Sources: NBC, Deutsche Welle)
3. Pardon Parade
Trump plans to issue up to 100 pardons or commutations in his final hours in office, including to rapper Lil Wayne. Trump isn’t expected to pardon himself or his family. (Source: Fox)
4. Tunisia Turmoil
A decade after sparking the Arab Spring, Tunisia is witnessing large riots over a struggling economy. More than 600 people have been arrested. (Source: Al Jazeera)
They’re trained to deceive … and kill. But with a shot of whiskey in your coffee, you’re ready to face these spy chiefs.
1. Lynder Nkuranga
From Belgium to South Africa to Australia, governments are waking up to an unlikely new espionage threat: Rwanda, which is building one of Africa’s boldest international spy networks to track down overseas dissidents. Its spy chief is 40-year-old Nkuranga, the first woman to hold that post. At a time when Rwanda is locked in bitter tensions with neighbors Burundi and Uganda, President Paul Kagame should be happy to have Nkuranga as his sword arm.
2. Igor Kostyukov
The 59-year-old head of Russia’s military intelligence, the GRU, is hurting. On Sunday, Russian officials arrested Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny when he returned to the country after a failed poisoning attempt allegedly masterminded by the GRU. And despite its attempts to sow chaos during the U.S. elections, Russia’s favored candidate Donald Trump lost. But setbacks only drive Kostyukov further.In 2018, he was sanctioned by the U.S. for his role in the 2016 vote meddling. He’s become even bolder since then, having targeted Germany’s Parliament with cyberattacks. Read more on OZY.
We’re not done with spies. This former CIA deputy director claims he’s no 007, but John McLaughlin is a diplomacy expert with advice for the incoming Biden administration: Understand China's power as a competitor and go head-to-head with Russia in hybrid warfare. Watch later today.
Bizarre Past Inaugurations
At least we’ve been forewarned this time. America has seen strange presidential inaugurations before — and not just in 2017, when the Trump administration falsely insisted it got the biggest audience ever.
1. Dirty Party
Andrew Jackson’s Inauguration Day open house at the White House turned into a rager that nearly destroyed the home he had just arrived in (the revelers only left once tubs of punch were moved out to the lawn). Other weird inaugurations? John F. Kennedy’s podium caught fire, Texas son Dwight D. Eisenhower got roped into being goofily lassoed by a cowboy and Bill Clinton called in Elvis impersonators.
2. Gone to the Birds
Ulysses S. Grant wanted songbirds at his second inauguration ball but didn’t foresee blistering cold temperatures that would leave hundreds frozen, a real canary in the coal mine for his crisis-riddled presidency that was mired in corruption scandals and the economic depression.
At least the mass bird deaths under Grant were an accident. Richard Nixon purposefully had bird repellent sprayed along his parade route because he was worried pigeons would soil his big day. That backfired when the streets of Washington, D.C., were littered with corpses of the flying rats instead.
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To re-imagine America, we need to rethink its urban spaces. It’s no easy feat — but as these cities around the world are showing, it’s worth the effort.
1. Life After ISIS
Mosul in Iraq, Marawi in the Philippines and Kobani in Syria were bombed-out ruins by the time ISIS was defeated two years ago. But the cities aren’t just rebuilding what was destroyed: they’re creating modern urban hubs that address the social, economic and infrastructure shortcomings that allowed ISIS to capture them in the first place. From education and skills for women to vast public spaces, these scarred cities are taking flight again. Read more on OZY.
2. Next Cape Town
Port Elizabeth has long suffered a reputation as a cultural desert compared to Cape Town or Johannesburg. Now, rare teamwork between the local municipality, the federal government and a growing band of entrepreneurs is allowing the city to use tax incentives and a low cost of living to attract creative professionals and businesses. Read more on OZY.
3. Spanish Connection
Spanish real estate developer Fernando Palazuelo lost most of his wealth in the 2008 economic crisis. So, he did what many Spaniards before him did — look for opportunity in the Americas. In Lima, he found it in the form of a historic city center left dilapidated by neglect from Peru’s wealthy elite. Starting with abandoned buildings he had bought earlier, he is now restoring Lima’s history. Read more on OZY.
The Next ‘Parasite’
The Korean film became the first non-English language movie to win the Best Picture Award at the Oscars last year. As awards season kicks off, check out 2021’s global contenders.
1. ‘Night of the Kings’
Deep inside a forest in Ivory Coast, viewers discover a unique prison: one that’s ruled by the prisoners. The protagonist will survive only as long as he can enchant other prisoners with his tales. A marvelous blend of magical realism and Ivorian storytelling, it’s a riveting thriller that poses a fundamental question: are laws only lawful if a state makes them?
2. ‘I’m No Longer Here’
The Cholombianos in Monterrey, Mexico — like the greasers in the U.S. in the 1960s — are a subculture defined by a shared love for dance, in this case, cumbia. But when a 17-year-old gets into a tricky spot with a local gang, he must flee across the border into America. Once there, he would apply for asylum. But this isn’t a Hollywood film where the panacea for all problems lies in the United States. It lies back home.
3. ‘A Sun’
The true power of this Taiwanese film lies in the simple fact that it could be about any of our families. A household of four is fractured by multiple challenges, yet the members come together in the most beautiful — and hopeful — way. Keep those tissues close.
What movie do you think deserves the Best Picture Award at the Oscars this year?