Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching:

Saudi Vegas — Last year, Saudi Arabia announced plans to build a Las Vegas-sized city near Riyadh that will host cultural, entertainment and sporting events in a country that has little history of any of these things. Next month, the kingdom will get its first public movie theaters after a 35-year ban. This week, the government announced plans to invest $64 billion over ten years to promote tourism and to give Saudis more opportunities to get out of the house. Imagine the controversies to come.


Rohingya and social media — In Myanmar, about 90 percent of people have a mobile phone, making Facebook an important source of news in that country. Unfortunately, fake news is as prevalent in Myanmar as in other countries, and some have planted false accusations against the Muslim-minority Rohingya population to support a campaign of murder, rape, and arson against the group by Myanmar’s Army, forcing hundreds of thousands of Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh. The UN says it’s the fastest mass expulsion of people since the genocide in Rwanda nearly a quarter century ago.

Billy Graham — In an age of anonymous vitriol and political bitterness, it is still possible, maybe essential, to honor the sincerity and integrity of those with whom we have profound, fundamental disagreements. Christian evangelist Billy Graham passed this week. Among other things, he was the most charismatic public speaker this author has seen. Graham was far from a perfect practitioner of all he preached, particularly on questions that combined sexuality and civil rights, but he was also that rare leader, spiritual or political, who shunned personal profit and treated others with care.

What We're Ignoring

Justin Trudeau’s Trip to India — You have to see the photos to understand why we’re averting our eyes. And there are plenty of them.

Wilbur Ross — Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross won the award for “Least Romantic Thing Ever Said” this week. Referring to the viability of commercial space operations, he said “I think a lot depends upon how successful we are in turning the moon into a kind of gas station for outer space.” Wilbur just fatally compromised his (admittedly limited) future as Hollywood’s next romantic leading man.

Another Kazakh alphabet — About four months ago, we let you know we were ignoring Kazakhstan’s new written alphabet, because we expected further changes. Our prediction was deadly accurate. Earlier this month, Kazakhstan’s government announced that it’s changing the alphabet againthis time because over-used apostrophes just completely freaked people out. The apostrophes have now been replaced by accents. (That’ll solve it.) There are other changes, but don’t try to memorize them. They’ll probably change it again soon.

In 2012, the United States created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to protect these young people from being deported. Yet just five years later, the program was rescinded, putting close to 700,000 DACA recipients at risk of being banished from the only home they've ever known. More than five dozen of these DACA recipients at risk are Microsoft employees. These young people contribute to the company and serve its customers. They help create products, secure services, and manage finances. And like so many young people across our nation, they dream of making an honest living and a real difference in the communities in which they reside. Yet they now live in uncertainty.

Microsoft has told its Dreamers that it will stand up for them along with all the nation's DACA recipients. It will represent them in court and litigate on their behalf. That's why Microsoft joined Princeton University and Princeton student Maria De La Cruz Perales Sanchez to file one of the three cases challenging the DACA rescission that was heard on Nov. 12 by the United States Supreme Court.

Read more on Microsoft On The Issues.

Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron said that NATO was experiencing "brain death," citing a lack of coordination and America's fickleness under Donald Trump as reasons to doubt the alliance's commitment to mutual defense. NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – was formed in the wake of World War II as a counterweight against Soviet dominance in Europe and beyond. Its cornerstone is that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all. But disagreement about burden sharing has gained increasing salience in recent years. In 2014, the bloc agreed that each member state would increase their own defense spending to 2% of their respective GDP over the next decade. But so far, only seven of 29 members have forked out the money. Here's a look at who pays what.

In the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, Israel launched a precision attack in the Gaza Strip, targeting and killing a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) commander. In response, the terror group fired more than 200 rockets at southern Israel. Exchanges of fire have brought cities on both sides of the Gaza border to a standstill and at least eight Palestinians are dead and dozens of Israelis wounded. With this latest escalation, Israel now faces national security crises on multiple fronts. Here's what's going on:

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More Brexit shenanigans: Britons this week saw Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson endorse Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in upcoming elections. As a special bonus, they got to see Corbyn return the favo(u)r with a formal endorsement of Johnson. Most viewers in the UK will have understood immediately that these are the latest example of "deep fakes," digitally manipulated video images. The more important Brexit story this week is a pledge by Nigel Farage that his Brexit Party will not run candidates in areas held by the Conservatives in upcoming national elections. That's a boost for Johnson, because it frees his party from having to compete for support from pro-Brexit voters in those constituencies.

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80: More than 80 percent of the electronic voting systems currently used in the US are made by just three companies, according to a new report which warns that they are regulated less effectively than "colored pencils."

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