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What We're Watching

Mueller Report Machinations – The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to authorize a subpoena to force Attorney General William Barr to deliver Special Counsel Robert Mueller's "full and unredacted" report. If Barr refuses, the ensuing legal battle could drag on for years, but the political impact will be immediate as Democrats accuse Republicans of a coverup and Republicans accuse Democrats of playing politics with the law. Raising the stakes, The New York Times and the Washington Post reported Wednesday that anonymous members of Mueller's team claim the report's findings are more critical of President Trump than Barr has indicated. A warning shot from Team Mueller that Barr better be more forthcoming?

Pirates of the Caribbean – A surge in the number of pirate attacks in the 10-mile stretch of water between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago suggests Venezuela's economic crisis has allowed criminal gangs to expand operations offshore, in particular to control drug trafficking into the Caribbean Sea. In some cases, scarcity in Venezuela has pushed criminal gangs to carry out maritime robberies of Trinidadian fishermen.

What We're Listening To

An incredibly lewd song that explains why Brazil's congress shut down yesterday during a debate on pension reform.

What We're Ignoring

Sisi Soaps – The government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is reportedly extending its dominance of national media into production of the country's extremely popular TV soap operas, and a production company linked to the military is taking charge of some of the most popular shows. Makers of these shows have reportedly been informed that they must, for example, always portray the army and police in a positive light, cast the banned Muslim Brotherhood as odious and dangerous, and encourage children to obey their elders. Sounds like really exciting TV.

Health Warnings from Donald Trump – The president of the United States warned this week that the noise produced by wind turbines causes cancer. Your Friday author concludes from this that if Don Quixote had simply worn earplugs, he might well be alive today.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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