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Die Zeit ("The Time") is a German weekly founded in 1946 and headquartered in Hamburg. Its political views are considered centrist and liberal. It is known for its very large physical paper format and its long and detailed articles. Die Zeit it is the most widely read German weekly newspaper.
Photo of a man working at the Hyundai car plant in Cangzhou City.
eyes on the U.S.
Alex Hurst

Eyes On U.S. — How White House Climate Action Could Spark A Global Trade War


When the U.S. Congress passed the Biden administration’s landmark "green" spending bill in August, environmentalists around the world saw it as a very strong — and long overdue — step in the right direction on climate change.

For years, the European Union’s far more stringent environmental regulations have produced a more carbon-efficient economy and vastly lower CO2 emissions per capita — and EU leaders have demanded that the U.S. do its part in tackling climate change.

But what many missed in the new legislation — which included $400 billion in green-focused subsidies — was that it risked playing out in a way that could effectively trigger a trade war. That the legislation was dubbed the “Inflation Reduction Act” (IRA), to help many in Congress justify a "Yes" vote may have been a clue that economic concerns could ultimately trump all the lofty rhetoric about saving the planet.

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So now, over the past few weeks, U.S. allies have been left seeing red rather than green, reading in between the lines of climate action a healthy dose of “America First.” The Korea Herald writes that the IRA could have major negative impacts on its national automakers Hyundai and Kia, with a delegation from Seoul currently in Washington hoping to convince U.S. officials to make changes to the bill’s “Buy American” clauses.

America First, Europe Last.

For Europe, the “Buy American” provisions in the legislation represent a direct threat to its economy and industrial base — a shot taken right when the Continent is bearing the major part of the economic costs of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

“Joe Biden wants to strengthen the American economy — at the expense of Europe,” writes German weekly Die Zeit. “America First, Europe Last,” declares French business daily Les Echos.

Die Zeitexplains to its readers that because the U.S. Congress won’t approve a carbon tax, emissions trading, or strict environmental regulation. Biden is forced to pursue climate action through “subsidies and trade barriers, and thus provokes his allies in Europe.”

In the EU, green subsidies, like a rebate on the purchase of an electric vehicle, are available to consumers no matter where the automobile (or a solar panel, or wind turbine) was produced. But the nearly $400 billion IRA ties the subsidies to production located in the United States, with special waivers for Canada and Mexico.

Europe’s concern is that it is facing a double punch: high energy prices as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (LNG imported from the U.S. costs Europe four to five times as much as it does in the U.S. domestically), coupled with the new round of U.S. subsidies that may lure European manufacturers to relocate to the U.S.

Illustrating European fears, “Next year the battery manufacturer Northvolt will decide whether to build a new factory in the U.S.,” reports Sweden’s Dagens Industri.

French daily Le Monde’s Dec. 3 front page features Biden and Macron’s “uncompromising friendship”

Le Monde

Reporting on French President Emmanuel Macron’s state visit last Friday to the U.S., Le Mondetakes note of Macron’s insistence that the IRA’s “protectionist” measures threatened “fragmenting the West” at a time when unity on Russia was paramount. While France would like the Biden administration to offer the same waivers for European firms as are offered to Canadian and Mexican ones, it is also urging equivalent subsidies and “Buy European” legislation at an EU level in response.

Turn-based daily La Stampa notes that Italian automakers are more concerned about the entry of Chinese EVs into the European market (with scant possibility for reciprocity) whereas German automakers are more concerned about the IRA. Though the concerns come from different directions, they note that the “Buy European” legislation could potentially placate both.

Chinese state broadcaster CGTN was quick to pick up on the tensions, calling the IRA “hegemonic.” It’s a reminder that, as a Czech diplomat pointed out, the biggest winner in any EU-U.S. trade war would be … China.

— Alex Hurst

In other news …


It has been called the “the Walmart of the Seas. A German travel journalist invites you to come aboardCarnival Celebration, the recently-christened mega ship cruising off the coast of Florida. This floating city (it can accommodate 5,800+ passengers) is a bonafide U.S. extravaganza: It includes burger joints, Miami-themed areas complete with pink flamingos, as well as an open-air rollercoaster. As the reviewer tongue-in-cheekily puts it, “in spite of — or perhaps because” it is so typically American, “you will be surprised how charming the ship is.”


U.S. police kill more people per year than their counterparts in almost any other country, and now they can even outsource the job. Newspapers in Portugal, Italy and France reported (with various degrees of shock) that the San Francisco Police Department is deploying “killer robots.” That is, robots with the authorization to use lethal force and take human life.

As Spain's El Pais notes, it is perhaps yet another step in the militarization of U.S. police departments as spillover from the Iraq War.


A cheeky exchange took place between Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and U.S. President Joe Biden after the Netherlands beat the American team at the World Cup in Qatar. Responding to Biden’s pre-match video that saw him mock-argue that the beautiful game ought to be called “soccer,” the American way, and not “football,” Rutte jokingly tweeted “Sorry Joe, football won.”

President Joe Biden speaks on midterm elections results. Live broadcast on CNN TV channel from Clermont-Ferrand, France, November 9, 2022​.
eyes on the U.S.
Alex Hurst

Eyes On U.S. — No 'Vague Rouge,' No Final Results: How The World Makes Sense Of Midterms

While some breathed sighs of relief that the Republicans' predicted "red wave" sweep didn't happen, others chuckle at how long it takes to count the votes. And then there's Senõr Musk...

PARIS — Three full days later, and there's still no real clarity on the U.S. midterms — but the world has gotten used to American elections dragging out for days or even weeks, for both political and technical reasons.

One French journalist wondered if there’s a simpler way.

But whatever the final tally, whoever winds up with majority control of the House of Representatives and Senate, readers learned that — after weeks of forecasts of huge Republican gains — the Democrats have avoided the vague rouge (Montreal)... onda rossa (Rome) ... chervona khvylya (Kyiv).

Elisabetta Grande of Italian magazine MicroMega noted that, while the midterms are not quite a win for the Democrats and President Joe Biden, voters rejected candidates in the "election denier" camp of the Republican party allied with former President Donald Trump.

France’s left-leaning Libération on Thursday was already looking ahead to the Republican battle royale shaping up between Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for the 2024 Republican nomination.

Portugal’s Publicozeros in on the Democrats man of the moment, John Fetterman, the newly elected Senator from Pennsylvania, who they describe as not having “supporters,” but rather “fans.” Publico sees particular relevance in the fact that Fetterman took down Trump’s handpicked candidate, Mehmet Oz.

Brazil’s O Globo gives Fetterman front page treatment, at least in part because he is married to a Brazilian, Gisele Barreto.

With DeSantis' midterms victory, "Trump already has a rival" for the 2024 presidential election, foresees Monterrey-based Mexican newspaper Milenio.

Global right-wing connections

European eyes remain concerned. From Germany, security and foreign policy watcher Marcel Dirsus quips, “it’d be a lot less unnerving to watch Americans vote from Europe if we weren’t so damn dependent on their choices.” No place is that more true today than the war in Ukraine, where Washington is by far the biggest contributor of military aid.

Kyiv-based news website Livy Beregnoted the results of exit polls that showed Americans are focused, above all, on the impact of a growing economic crisis and how it could affect U.S. support for Ukraine in the war against Russia. Notably, 81% of Democrats supported providing additional aid to Ukraine, compared to just 35% of Republicans.

For Jerusalem-based Haaretz, Moshe Gilad sees a dangerous connection between the U.S. far-right, the Israeli far-right, and “Birthright,” an organization that offers young American Jews a "discovery" trip to Israel.

Meanwhile observers from the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe), which typically monitors elections in countries with weak or no democratic institutions, deplored a state of “generalized disinformation” across the U.S. ahead of the elections.

Which brings us to our next topic, disinformation, and just what the heck is going to happen with Twitter.


Korean daily Dong-a Ilbo

🐦 Monsieur Musk, alors?

Occupying almost just as much global attention this week as the U.S. midterms is Twitter under its new master, Elon Musk.

As An-Nahar sums up from Lebanon, Twitter is seeing a flood of users leaving for other pastures because it “became the place of a notable increase of speeches of hate and racist insults right after Elon Musk’s bought back the company.”

That’s unlikely to change anytime soon — as Germany’s Die Zeit reports, Musk sacked the Twitter team that discovered that Twitter’s algorithm tended to amplify far-right content. “Now that this team has been fired, it is even less likely that change will be possible — or even that these phenomenons could be better understood within the company,” Die Zeit writes.

As a result, many are threatening to leave Twitter (1 million accounts have already been deactivated), and the platform that’s in the running to replace it is not-U.S. based: Mastodon was created in 2016 by German software engineer Eugen Rochko, who is the company’s only employee.

The quirk of Mastodon is that everything is hosted on a series of independently run, decentralized servers; there is no central company, or central organization behind it.

Our continent, our rules.

This week, both Deutsche Welle and Le Monderan explainer pieces, giving readers the rundown on how Mastodon works, and how to create an account. But whether or not the platform shapes up as a true alternative remains to be seen — as Publico’s Karla Pequenino writes, Musk’s ultimate goal is to transform Twitter into a “superapp,” the likes of which exist in southeast Asia — like China’s WeChat or Singapore based Grab.

However, though he is now the sole owner of Twitter, Musk won't necessarily be able to do as he likes with the platform. Twitter’s global reach is a strength, and a constraint, as global regulators intend to make clear.

Stéphane Séjourné, the head of the Renew Europe group — the third largest in the European Parliament — is demanding that Musk come and testify before the EU’s legislative body. “Whatever Mr. Musk chooses to do, our refrain remains the same: our continent, our rules," he tweeted. "We must assure that Twitter continues to act against disinformation and hate speech."

A crashing bird is singing on the front page of French daily Libération.


COP 27 is happening in Egypt, and the U.S., Canada, and Australia are being called out for contributing far less towards climate finance than they should, considering their share of historic emissions.

But in the case of the US, it’s not just far less, it’s far, faaaaaaaar less. The U.S. is #1 … at doing the least, says Carbon Brief. And developing countries — who will bear the biggest burden despite their lack of responsibility for the problem, are upset.

Photo of a hand holding a phone recording footage of ​Vice President Kamala Harris during a midterm rally in NYC on Nov. 3
eyes on the U.S.
Alex Hurst

Eyes On U.S. — How The World Is Tracking A High-Stakes Midterm Election

The international media is tuning in closely to Tuesday’s U.S. midterms, with global ramifications for everything from the war in Ukraine to action on climate change to the brewing superpower showdown with China.

PARIS — It’s becoming a bi-annual November ritual: International reporters touch down in some small American town or so-called “battleground state” that we’re told could decide the fate of the next two or four (or more) years in the United States — and the world.

Reporting for French daily Le Monde, Piotr Smolar was in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, where “culture wars” were infecting the schools ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections. Meanwhile, Smolar's French broadcast colleagues at France Info were in the ever crucial state of Florida, talking to locals at the grocery store about the economy.

“The prices are crazy. I’m a veteran, I spent 16 years in the army and this is what I get when I come home,” said a man named Jake in the city of Melbourne, Florida. “We’re counting every penny. It’s Biden’s recovery plan that put us in this situation.”

Yes, it will likely be local issues that determine the results of the midterm elections, where Republicans have a strong chance of taking back control of Congress and deal a potentially fatal blow to some of President Joe Biden’s signature policy objectives.

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Photo of a bus transporting a group of Mariupol residents heading for Zaporizhzhia, southeastern Ukraine.
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Irene Caselli, Bertrand Hauger, Cameron Manley and Emma Albright

Major New EU Sanctions Against Russia Include Ban On Oil Imports

Testimonies are emerging of civilians being evacuated from Mariupol and Lyman, as Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities continue. Meanwhile, the EU has revealed plans to enforce its sixth package of sanctions against Moscow.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced a new package of sanctions against Russia. Speaking to the European Parliament on Wednesday morning, von der Leyen unveiled plans to ban Russian oil imports as well as a proposal to ban three banks, including Sberbank, the country’s biggest, from the SWIFT international payments networks.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Von der Leyen also announced that three big Russian state-owned broadcasters “that amplify Putin's lies and propaganda aggressively” would be banned from EU airwaves. The proposal needs to be approved by all EU member states to become effective.

The ban on oil poses a serious risk to the European economy, and will require countries to seek other energy sources after having long been reliant on Russian supply.

"Let's be clear: It will not be easy,” said von der Leyen. “But we simply have to work on it. We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, to maximize pressure on Russia, while minimizing the impact on our own economies."

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Why The World’s Military Leaders Are Drafting Science Fiction Writers
Meike Eijsberg

Why The World’s Military Leaders Are Drafting Science Fiction Writers

The year is 2056. Decades of war have resulted in constant advances in weapon technology — including one such novelty dubbed the "hypervelocity missile." Moving at six times the speed of sound, these weapons have changed the rules of combat. In order to protect themselves against attacks, armies have designed a sophisticated shield that can protect an entire city. Still it is not impenetrable, and the simmering war worsens when one government tries to break through the shield of another.

What sounds like the premise of a new binge-worthy series is instead the beginnings of an intricate scenario developed by science fiction writers hired by the French military. As Le Monde reported recently, the unusual collaboration between the French Ministry of Defense and the University of Paris Sciences and Lettres (PSL) has just launched the second season of this project.

Science fiction tends to conjure the futuristic and surreal settings of space exploration, extraterrestrial life, and time travel. Fascinating and mindboggingly fun, but not exactly useful in the real world. As an avid reader of science fiction and a student of political science and international relations, I prefer to think of it differently: Almost every scifi tale introduces some kind of scientific invention or phenomenon that changes society in irreversible ways — which doesn't sound so different than something you might find in this morning's headlines.

The efforts like those of the French Defense Ministry raise questions like: How will governments approach a new technology? Some might be diplomatic about it and will want to commence scientific collaborations to discuss the best possible application. But other ill-intending individuals might throw all ethical concerns out the window. And what about the people? Will they be supportive or will they turn on their own rulers?

For now, the French army is devising ways to make the practice as useful as possible: there's a "Red Team" consisting of authors, who have wide freedom in coming up with scenarios. They can put ideas on the table that the French army typically excludes for ethical reasons, such as Autonomous Lethality Weapon Systems (ALWS), or augmented humans.

Infantry battalion commander Jean-Baptiste Colas, 36, explains to Le Monde the goal of this process: "What the Red Team imagines must destabilize us, scare us, blame, or even beat us."

The red team has the option to consult the "Purple Team," which consists of academics working in AI and technology, to make sure their ideas are reasonable and realistic. The military side, or "The Blue Team," provides the finishing touches before the scenarios are officially sequestered with a top secret seal.

The official trailer for the French Defense Military Red Team — Red Team Defense/Youtube

The elected participants were subjected to a thorough investigation to ensure that they did not have any weaknesses that could be exploited by someone from the outside (significant debts, links with a foreign power, etc). The precaution is needed because the teams work with confidential information. "We start with a real threat that the army helps us to make even more plausible, more worrying," explainsXavier Mauméjean, who is part of both teams.

To maintain a somewhat transparent image, a very small fraction of the scenarios is made public. But before they reach our eyes, these scenarios are put under a loop and anything that comes close to reality is removed: people and locations will be replaced by fictional alternatives. When the scenarios are published, the creators go all out: scriptwriters, illustrators, actors, and graphic designers are hired to make the project as attractive as possible. The result is a win-win situation: the public has a new form of entertainment and the army has a fresh set of practice scenarios.

Although mocked by some for this initiative, the army insists that employing science fiction authors is helping them prepare for previously unthought of situations. They say it boosts creativity and makes soldiers and generals more resourceful, something that is needed in an unpredictable world.

The truth is that the practice has long existed, in different forms and sectors. For instance, the famous Frankenstein (1818), a story about a fictionalized scientist obsessed with bringing a monster to life using lightning, was inspired by the limited scientific research into electricity on the human body being done at the time. More than a hundred years after its publication, a young Earl Bakken watched the movie adaptation in 1937. It inspired him to create the first ever battery powered cardiac pacemaker in 1957, a life saving medical device still being used today.

The more "crazy" science fiction out there remains just that: fiction.

Jules Verne's 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, went a step further and indirectly influenced politics and military decisions in the United States. The story is about a group of men who decide to launch themselves to the moon in a cylinder-shaped projectile. This fictional shell has striking similarities to the Apollo 11 command module used to bring the first humans to the moon 104 years later: it was hollow, made mostly of aluminium, crewed by three people, launched from Florida, and it splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Verne's tale inspired real people to work on the challenges of space travel, eventually prompting the 20th century space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

We know now that an all-out space war was avoided due to international space treaties prohibiting the use of outer space for military aspirations. But the years leading up to these events were tense and characterized by politicians frantically debating the influence of this new, potentially disruptive, technology. Not fictional at all!

Instead of hiring science fiction writers, the German military has therefore opted for researching existing literature and in 2018 teamed up with a handful of academics. Their plan is to use novels to pinpoint the world's next potential conflict. As German weekly Die Zeit reports, this collaboration, dubbed "Project Cassandra" after the Trojan priestess of Greek myth who had the gift of foresight, doesn't solely focus on science fiction and future technologies, but takes into account human behavior. They look for social trends, moods, and conflicts that arose in response to political decisions and technological breakthroughs (whether real or fictional).

SF literature, the new Art of War? — Photo: scifi.book.club via Instagram

Jürgen Wertheimer, a literary scholar who set up the project, emphasizes the seismographic function that novels can have and why States should learn to understand it. "There are authors," he said, who "who are extremely sensitive to changes and mood swings in society and put that into words."

Just like the French army's science fiction writers, the German literary academics work with AI. But where the French use AI to improve their scenarios, the Germans are consulted to improve AI. This is because the already existing German AI computer Watson,which is used to predict conflicts, isn't able to read between the lines and pick up on social cues. That's where Wertheimer and his team come in.They look for literature that "hits a nerve," whether it wins prizes or ends up censored. The multi-year analysis ensured that officials can now, with quite a bit of accuracy, predict a conflict five years in advance, instead of just one.

Movies are also a source of inspiration. In fact, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Pentagon reached out to Hollywood filmmakers, such as Die Hard screenwriter Steve de Souza. This was supposedly a reaction to the belief that an attack of this scale could have been anticipated if the CIA had a bit more imagination. The group of screenwriters and filmmakers were commissioned to brainstorm with Pentagon advisors and officials over several days, in a secure location, using declassified intelligence reports. The meeting could have been a movie scene: Souza described how they were sitting in a dark room, being talked to by someone on a screen "like Captain Kirk" from Star Trek. Although the exact content of these sessions is shrouded in secrecy, it is known that they asked for "left-field, off the wall ideas" and participants were encouraged to share the most insane things that came to mind.

The more "crazy" science fiction out there remains just that: fiction. It's highly unlikely that an alien race will destroy our planet because it was blocking plans for a new "hyperspatial express route," as was the case in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Nor is there any real chance of entering a time-traveling war like in This Is How You Lose the Time War. Instead, the apocalyptic scenario we really have to fear can already be seen this summer in (non-fiction) stories of California wildfires and European floods: it's called Climate Change.

Christian Drosten, Director, Institute of Virology at Campus Charité Mitte

Showtime For Epidemiologists: 5 Virus Gurus Around The World

Not since George Clooney was walking the halls of E.R. have doctors gotten so much air time. More particularly, virologists and epidemiologists are taking the lead in guiding us through the coronavirus crisis, both those offering explanations on news outlets and those holding increasingly vital positions of authority who help set national policies in response to COVID-19. Here are some of the highest profile MDs:

  • Massimo Galli: As the first country hit in Europe, Italy was also the first in the West to develop a near daily attachment with an expert of infectious diseases: Dr. Massimo Galli, director of the infectious diseases department at Luigi Sacco University Hospital in Milan, became a household name as his stern, no-nonsense assertions began to fill the Italian media two months back. As the recognition of a true crisis was still impending in less-affected countries around the world, Galli issued sharp warnings to both neighboring France and Spain as well as the U.S., saying that "we're only at the beginning" and that the virus could spread undetected in California and New York as it has in Italy. With a new virus, there are no certainties," he toldCorriere della Sera.

  • Anders Tegnell: Leading an approach to the pandemic that stands virtually alone in Europe, Sweden"s state epidemiologist has attracted worldwide attention for the decision to refuse lockdowns even as the virus has spread at a faster rate than in Denmark and Norway that were quick to impose heavy restrictions. But the soft-spoken Swede has received the criticism with composure, saying to Swedish TV4 that "we are flattening the curve, and the healthcare system is working — our strategy has worked the way we intended."


Anders Tagnell outside of the Karolinska institute in Stockholm, Sweden Frankie Fouganthin

  • Christian Drosten: Another unlikely hero has emerged in Germany, as Drosten, chief virologist at the Charité university research hospital in Berlin, has become a regular in TV morning show studios. Asked about his sudden fame in an interview with German weekly Die Zeit, he said he "sort of slipped into it." Now, he's even got a podcast Das Coronavirus-Update which, by its second episode, was already the most popular in Germany.

  • Didier Raoult: The flamboyant Marseille-based physician Didier Raoult sparked both hope and criticism in France when claiming his research proved the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine can help fight COVID-19 in late February. But scientists were quick to point out major flaws in the trial, and the journal that published the study announced on April 3 that it did not meet its standards. Academic standards aside, Raoult has become something of an online phenomenon, attracting some 400,000 Twitter followers since he set up an account in early March, and the Facebook group Didier Raoult Vs Coronavirus has gathered some 465,000 members in one month.

  • Anthony Fauci: Much of the intellectual acumen of the leading member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force is applied to fending off the very unscientific ravings of President Donald Trump. But Fauci, the longtime director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has managed to keep both his calm and scientific credibility as he navigates the delicate experience of regularly sharing the stage with Trump. "You stay completely apolitical and non-ideological, and you stick to what it is that you do," Fauci told The New Yorker. "I'm a scientist and I'm a physician. And that's it."

That TV set has the biggest button

The Trump Presidency: Tune In Or Tune Out?

PARIS — "Previously on President Trump …" We have gotten used to following the news from the White House as we would a prime-time television drama. This week's plot includes the long-awaited boot for Big Rex. Did he know it was coming? Who said what to whom, and when? What does it mean for Vlad? For Xi? And Kim??

The current Foggy Bottom plot line follows last week's installment of metal tariffs for our allies, with Trump boasting that trade wars are "good and easy to win." That was followed by chief economic advisor Gary Cohn resigning, just hours after the president said that "everybody" wanted to work with him at the White House. And, for an end-of-the-week cliffhanger, there was the surprise announcement of historic talks with North Korea, a country Trump had threatened a few months ago with "fire and fury." Oh, and don't forget Stormy Daniels, whose breakout performance could turn her into a recurring character.

None of this should surprise us, of course, coming from a president who is also a former reality television star and who reportedly told his top aides that they should "think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals."

As for the rest of the world, where Netflix series are the vehicle of choice for spreading American culture, the search for show business metaphors is on. "During his election campaign, Trump coined the image of Washington as a "swamp," a picture that looks less like reality and more like the scripts written in Hollywood — probably because the candidate knew Washington mainly through such works of fiction," Adrian Daub wrote last year in the German weekly Die Zeit. "Could it be that the all-pervading cynicism conveyed on such shows as House of Cards has contributed to Donald Trump overtaking fiction?"

None of this should surprise us coming from a president who is also a former reality television star.

Columnist Jean-Pierre Robin of the French daily Le Figaro landed upon a more dated analogy, after Trump announced the heavy steel and aluminum tariffs last week. Robin likened Trump's America to the 1965 movie La Vieille Dame indigne (The Shameless Old Lady), based on a story by German playwright Bertolt Brecht. In it, an aging woman, having raised her kids, proceeds to spend all her money and do whatever she damn well pleases.

There have been other, more colorful attempts to draw comparisons to this new peak in presidential theatrics, particularly in light of developments in Italy, which has its own national drama playing. There, an inconclusive election last week saw the return of Silvio Berlusconi, a former prime minister whose biography (and behavior) may be more similar to Trump's than any other global leader.

Yet the hotspot where the stakes right now are highest is North Korea, after last week's surprise announcement of an unprecedented meeting planned between Trump and dictator Kim Jong-un. It was only few months ago that Kim pulled out his own evocative image of Trump, calling him a "dotard" —an obscure word used by the likes of Herman Melville, William Shakespeare and J.R.R. Tolkien. Perhaps that was something he found in translation.

If the search for hope and meaning in the Trumpian world feels futile, you may want to follow the lead of Erik Hagerman, a 53-year-old from Ohio who decided to shut out all news from his life since Trump was elected. "It's not like I wanted to just steer away from Trump or shift the conversation," he told The New York Times. "It was like I was a vampire and any photon of Trump would turn me to dust."

For the rest of us, the only option is to keep watching, closely or loosely, as Trump prepares for the next episode. Reality is not (just) a show.

Downtown Miami on Sunday
Stuart Richardson

Miami To Mumbai, Can 'Sponge Cities' Save Us From Global Warming?

Miami's beaches and boardwalks have become waterways. Houston's highways looked like lakes just two weeks back, while halfway around the world boats were replacing buses as the streets of Mumbai were turned into rivers.

The scientific literature has a clear explanation for these dramatic images: global warming is bringing more rain and more floods, and is bound to leave certain cities — both on the coast and in river basins — particularly vulnerable. Back in June, Berlin, which sits on the Spree river faced a once-in-a-century meteorological event when heavy rains hit. According to the spokesperson of Berlin's municipal water works, more than a quarter of the city's average annual rainfall fell in the course of just 18 hours, German daily Die Zeit reported.

Cities have increasingly recognized the necessity of adapting to a wetter climate. Berlin authorities are set to adapt the city's infrastructure to better handle increased rainfall with new techniques to transform buildings and green spaces into "sponges' with the ability to absorb large quantities of water over a short period of time. This will include planting rooftop gardens, creating more public parks, and installing swales. As another German daily Die Welt reports, the principle behind this movement is to move away from traditional practices of channeling water and toward draining systems.

The so-called "Sponge City" is not a German invention. The Chinese government first conceived the idea in 2013 and is now applying it in some 30 of its cities. Melbourne, Australia has invested heavily in a plan to build thousands of "raingardens" that will absorb excess precipitation and coastal flooding, while New Orleans has made the approach central to its latest rebuilding plans after Hurricane Katrina. "The objective isn't just to protect yourself but to know the risks, accept them and adapt," says Isabelle Thomas, an urban studies professor at the University of Montreal, told French daily Le Monde.

If successful, Sponge City practices are just one way to help reduce costs and even casualties as freak storms increasingly become the norm. The multi-billion-dollar investments are necessary to allow the globe's metropolises to remain productive and profitable in the hope that the entire planet can begin to tackle the bigger challenge of reducing global warming. A sponge, after all, can only hold so much water.