UN General Assembly Daily Brief: Outsmarting death, Mr. Handsome interrupts, and news from elsewhere

UN General Assembly Daily Brief: Outsmarting death, Mr. Handsome interrupts, and news from elsewhere
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Good morning, global citizens!

It’s day four of UNGA’s busiest week. The biggest satellite conferences are over, and tough topics like nuclear proliferation are nearly behind us—at least on the official agenda. If you could set the topic for one last high-level meeting, what would it be? Send me your thoughts.

The sun is coming out, so take a walk around the UN’s Rose Garden. There will be clear skies with temperatures around 70F (21 Celsius), and light showers in the evening.

What to watch for

Outsmarting death. Disease is the topic of the day, with an all-day, high-level UN meeting on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes and cancer. On the sidelines there are several other events about health, including an early morning one on the World Health Organization’s “success story” of tobacco control.

The future of finance could be Islamic. Based on profit-sharing and no interest, Islamic finance has been lauded as a means of reducing poverty and promoting equality. Malaysia will discuss attracting investment and funding environmentally sustainable projects with green sukuk bonds.

António Guterres, troubleshooter. The secretary-general will attend and chair high-level meetings on instability in Somalia (where the World Bank just approved the first grants in 30 years) and violence in the Central African Republic. Plus a financing lunch for UNRWA, an agency for Palestinian refugees which the US recently stripped of funding.

Solving a problem you can’t see. At a climate science side event, representatives from Google and the World Bank will discuss data collection and satellite imaging as the first step to slowing climate change.

📺 At 10:30am EDT, watch US secretary of state Mike Pompeo chair a ministerial-level meeting about North Korea and nuclear weapons.

📚 Read up on the countries with the most to lose from Turkey’s currency crisis.

Chart interlude

The closer together the countries in the chart above, the more similar their voting record at the UN General Assembly. Here’s how UN voting patterns changed after the break up of the Soviet Union. (Luiz Romero with Amanda Shendruk)
The closer together the countries in the chart above, the more similar their voting record at the UN General Assembly. Here’s how UN voting patterns changed after the break up of the Soviet Union. (Luiz Romero with Amanda Shendruk)

What everyone is talking about

Dreams of a dollar alternative. US unilateralism could lead to a “real dollar crisis” within 10 years and the rise of alternative currencies, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink told the Bloomberg Forum. Later, the EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini described an EU-China-Russia plan to skirt US sanctions on Iran as the greenback’s first real challenge. “The dollar is not the only currency on earth,” she said.

Goodbye to all that, Theresa May. European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans rejected two of the UK’s top requests for Brexit. “You can’t say we’ll have free access of goods but not of services—there’s not one good in the market that does not have a service component,” he said at the Bloomberg Forum. Nor can Britain stay in the single market without free movement of people: “You can’t say I’m leaving your football club, but I’ll come back and use your pitch every week.”

Trump talks—at length. Trump opened the Security Council by attacking the “horrible” Iran deal, praising North Korea, and accusing China of meddling in the 2018 midterm elections. Later, in an 81-minute press conference, he cast doubt on NAFTA negotiations, defended US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and dubbed a Kurdish journalist “Mr. Kurd.”

Environmentalists shmooze on the sidelines. At Emmanuel Macron’s exclusive One Planet Summit, the World Bank pledged to invest $1 billion to build a better battery. At the UN Environment’s “Champions of the Earth” gala, Chinese sponsor Weibo live-streamed the awards ceremony to its 300+ million active users. Host Alec Baldwin couldn’t resist a few cracks at the US government, which exited the Paris climate accord in 2017.

Venezuela’s neighbors send it to court. Alarmed by waves of desperate Venezuelan refugees, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, and Canada signed a historic letter on UNGA’s sidelines asking the International Criminal Court to investigate human rights abuses committed by Venezuela’s embattled government, led by Nicolás Maduro. This is the first time in history ICC members have referred a fellow member state to the court.

Mental health under the microscope. In the first-ever UN event dedicated to mental health, the head of the WHO met with activists and scientists to discuss the epidemic that causes 800,000 suicides globally, every year.

Hola! During an interview with Quartz At Work editor Heather Landy, Michael Bloomberg was briefly interrupted by Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez, who introduced himself (“I’m the prime minister of Spain”) and thanked him for hosting the day’s event. “I love your country!” Bloomberg shouted as the politician known as “Mr. Handsome” began to make his way through the crowd. “I love your language!” Bloomberg’s Spanish language skills as the mayor of New York were once the subject of a long-running joke.

Chart interlude II

Hey, you deserve two charts today. Above, the UN categorizes spending into five major groups. By far the majority of funds end up in humanitarian and development assistance. (Amanda Shendruk)
Hey, you deserve two charts today. Above, the UN categorizes spending into five major groups. By far the majority of funds end up in humanitarian and development assistance. (Amanda Shendruk)

Missing in action

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un had to soak in Trump’s praise at the UN Security Council from afar. Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi missed Justin Trudeau publicly musing about the revocation of her honorary Canadian citizenship.

Bonus: The Malaysian PM’s secret to longevity

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria couldn’t get over how old Malaysia’s prime minister is. Commenting on Mahatir Mohamad’s late arrival to a Bloomberg panel, he said, “Frankly, the idea that Mahatir could travel to New York at, whatever, 91-years-old is surprising. We’ll give him a little time to get to the hall—I think he’s stuck in traffic.”

“I first interviewed prime minister Mahatir 20 years ago when he was a spry man of 70,” Zakaria continued. Eventually, he asked Mahatir his secret.

“I don’t really know,” responded Matahir. “I do keep to a strict diet. I don’t overeat. I do quite a lot of exercise and I have 6 hours of sleep. I think [if] you live a fairly well regulated life, you will survive. But if you get some disease which is incurable, there’s nothing you can do.”

Photo of the day

(L-R) Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron before the start of the United Nations Security Council meeting on the sidelines of the General Debate of the General Assembly of the United Nations at United Nations Headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 26 September 2018. The General Debate of the 73rd session began on 25 September 2018. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appears at bottom left. UN General Assembly, New York, USA - 26 Sep 2018
As Donald Trump once tweeted, “The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!”
Image: Justin Lane/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Overheard at UNGA

“How to invest in environmental, governance and social issues is becoming the number one conversation we’re having with clients.”—Larry Fink, Blackrock CEO at the Bloomberg Forum.

“You could take a wrecking ball to 80% of the United Nations and no one would notice.”—Agency staffer at the UN’s “Champions of the Earth” gala.

“[Theresa May] said the UK’s tax rates were the lowest in Europe, and I was like, ahem, hello, I’d like to see those numbers. How do they compare globally?”—Botswana’s trade minister at the Bloomberg Forum.

“People keep asking me about tariffs. I don’t know why. Tariffs are the new blockchain; no one knows what’s going to happen six months from now.”–Virgin Hyperloop co-Founder Josh Giegel at the Bloomberg Forum.

“I said, ‘That’s good’”—Children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi describes his reaction to winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Acronym of the day

What does the official UN acronym OSEMOSYS stand for?

Yesterday’s acronym, WITCH, meant World Induced Technical Change Hybrid. For those of you who guessed: Good job! We’ll never know if you looked it up. But do you know who will? Your conscience.

News from around the world

Christine Blasey Ford offered new details of her sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh. ”Brett’s assault on me drastically altered my life,” Ford writes in testimony released in advance of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today. She says she feared the consequences of speaking out, and that in the weeks since she went public with the accusation, “my greatest fears have been realized.” Kavanaugh’s written testimony was released earlier in the day on Wednesday.

India decriminalized adultery. The country’s supreme court struck down a colonial-era law that made any man who had sex with a married woman without her husband’s consent guilty of a criminal offense. Earlier this month, the court struck down another 19th-century law that made gay sex illegal.

Tensions between the US and China ramped up. Beijing criticized the US for flying two B-52 bombers in the vicinity of the South China Sea, an area where several regional powers, including China and Japan, have rival claims. A foreign ministry spokesman also denied Trump’s claims that China is trying to influence upcoming US midterm elections, demanding that the US “stop this unceasing criticism and slander of China.”

Matters of debate

Labor unions are thriving in the US thanks to millennials. The idea that unions kill jobs, created by prominent “union-busters” like Ronald Reagan, has largely worn off.

Misogyny is deeply entrenched at elite private schools. Institutions that don’t help boys understand personal accountability are tacitly endorsing sexism.

Dunkin’ wouldn’t need to change its name if we stopped moralizing food. Donuts aren’t shameful, and the chain that sells them ought to advertise that fact with pride.

Surprising discoveries

Thomas Edison thought gold would be worthless. The famed inventor believed “the secret of transmuting metals” would allow scientists to turn iron bars into gold.

The fastest-growing tourist destination in Europe is San Marino. The 24-square-mile micro-nation saw more than two visitors for every permanent resident in 2017.

Your honest opinion is more welcome than you think. Research shows that people routinely overestimate the negative consequences of being honest with others.

Our best wishes for a productive and peaceful day. Please send tips, gossip, and secrets to longevity to chu@qz.com. You can read more of our UNGA 2018 coverage here. And if you have colleagues or friends who would enjoy these emails, be a leader and forward this along.