GRATE(FUL) LEADERS

GRATE(FUL) LEADERS

On Thanksgiving Day, which always falls on the fourth Thursday of November, Americans gather with family and friends to overeat and give thanks for blessings large and small. Here's Willis Sparks with a few things others can be grateful for.


US President Donald Trump can be thankful that Democratic lawmakers and a (very large) pack of the party's presidential candidates will share the political spotlight with him in 2019. That will take some of the focus off the president and allow Democrats to take a bit more heat as the 2020 elections approach.

The Democrats can be thankful that they now have real power for the first time since Trump was elected president. Starting in January, they'll be able to set a legislative agenda, at least in the House of Representatives, and they'll have subpoena power to investigate the president. But beyond fierce opposition to Trump, can they offer voters a vision of the future worth voting for?

French President Emmanuel Macron can be thankful he has a five-year term and will remain on the job until 2022 no matter how deep his poll numbers dive. A recent survey put his approval rating at just 26 percent, and that was before one person died and 400 were injured in nationwide protests against new fuel taxes. Macron can also be thankful that pressure from Trump is driving Paris and Berlin closer together, though that rapprochement comes at a tough time: he's weak politically and Merkel is preparing to leave office.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May can be thankful that after a week of high Brexit drama and months of relentless criticism there's still no credible alternative to either her Brexit plan or her leadership. For now. Hardline members of May's party are scrambling to get enough votes to oust her in a no-confidence move, but it's a gamble: if they fail, she cannot face another leadership challenge for at least a year; if they succeed, Brexit negotiations will become even more tough—with the opposition Labor party waiting in the wings to pounce.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be thankful that Education Minister Naftali Bennett has decided to keep his Jewish Home party within Netanyahu's governing coalition. Following the resignation last week of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, it appeared Bennett might follow him out of government, undoing Netanyahu's coalition and forcing him to face fresh elections while he is plagued by multiple corruption investigations.

South Africans can be grateful that their governing institutions continue to hold their leaders accountable. President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has promised to clean up corruption within the governing ANC party, agreed last week to repay about $35,000 given to his party leadership campaign by a firm accused of graft. It's an embarrassment for Ramaphosa but a step forward for his country from the administration of former President Jacob Zuma.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman can be thankful that even as he becomes ever more implicated in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, his own father appears to have the last word in whether he stays in line to become king – and dad is on his side for now.

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neil can be thankful that his small country benefits from economic and strategic competition between China, the US, and other regional powers. Not only did O'Neil pull off a smooth APEC Summit last week, the US and Australia agreed to invest in a major new military base on one of his country's remote islands. That could give an economic boost to the country of 7.5 million people, where 40 percent live on less than $1.25 per day.

The Italian town of Acquetico, home to 131 people, can be thankful that it recently set up a camera to catch people driving too fast. The camera reportedly nailed 58,568 speeders in just two weeks. We're hoping the fines imposed will raise Acquetico's per capita income by 28,000 percent.

Your Signal team—Kevin Allison, Alex Kliment, Gabe Lipton, and Willis Sparks—are grateful that so many of you around the world continue to read Signal. Thank you very, very much!

A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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A Castro-less Cuba: Raúl Castro, younger brother of the late Fidel, is expected to retire on Friday as secretary-general of Cuba's ruling communist party. When he does, it'll mark the first time since the 1959 revolution that none of Cuba's leaders is named Castro. The development is largely symbolic since Castro, 89, handed over day-to-day affairs to President Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018. It's worth noting that US sanctions laws do specify that one of the conditions for normalizing ties with Cuba is that any transitional government there cannot include either of the Castro brothers. So that's one less box to tick in case there is a future rapprochement across the Straits of Florida. But more immediately, we're watching to see whether a new generation of leaders headed by Díaz-Canel will bring any serious reforms to Cuba. COVID has killed the tourism industry, plunging the island into an economic crisis that's brought back food shortages and dollar stores reminiscent of the early 1990s.

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16: Brazil's new plan to save the Amazon promises to curb deforestation, but not too much. Although it would reduce annual forest loss to the average recorded over the past five years, next year's target is still 16 percent higher than the Amazon's total deforestation in 2018, the year before President Jair Bolsonaro — who favors economic development of the rainforest — took office.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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