HARD NUMBERS

40: As a Russian friend has reminded me many times, a look at Moscow won’t help you see Russia. While the capital is wearing its finest colors for the World Cup, infrastructure outside major Russian cities remains in decay. According to the country’s official statistics bureau, when Putin came to power in 2000 there were 68,100 schools. Today, there are just 41,100, a fall of nearly 40 percent. Since 2000, the number of hospitals has fallen from 10,700 to just 5,400.


38: According to a just-published survey, Europeans say immigration is the most important issue facing the EU, with 38 percent of mentions. (That’s up from just 14 percent in autumn 2017). This week’s migration controversy involving Italy and Spain, which we highlighted on Wednesday, and an ongoing policy dispute within Germany’s governing coalition suggest these issues will continue to generate heat in European politics.

113: During this election campaign season in Mexico, at least 113 candidates, prospective candidates, and current and former politicians have been murdered, according to Etellekt, a public policy consultancy. Hundreds of candidates have backed out of their races, and others still on the ballot refuse to campaign in public. Two more weeks until election day.

4: JD.com, a Chinese e-commerce firm, has built a Shanghai fulfillment center that can organize, pack, and ship 200,000 orders a day. The facility has four employees, all of whom are there to service robots.

93 million: Net inflows of foreign direct investment to North Korea amounted to just $93 million in 2016. Compare that number with $12 billion into South Korea. In other (possibly related) news, Swedish automaker Volvo still awaits payment for 1,000 sedans shipped to North Korea in the 1970s.

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."

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The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.

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Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.

3: The US has recruited Australia to join its nascent mission of protecting ships in the critical Strait of Hormuz. Along with Britain and Bahrain, Australia is now the third country to join the US-led maritime mission, as high seas brinksmanship with the Iranians continues.

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