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Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching

Will he or won’t he? — Later today, President Trump will decide whether to effectively scrap the Iran nuclear deal. We don’t think he’ll do it and, as UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson made clear on Thursday, US allies won’t back such a decision. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are working on legislation that would make the deal permanent by eliminating the “sunset provisions” on Iran’s nuclear restrictions. If Iran implements its long-term enrichment program — which the deal allows but Trump opposes — US secondary sanctions would be reimposed.


Protests in Tunisia — This is the place where the Arab Spring began. Tunisia is rightly considered the one true democratic success story that emerged from that upheaval, but its democracy has hardly been a model of stability. Hundreds have been arrested following anti-austerity protests in several cities. Seven years and nine governments later, the economic pain continues.

Boris Nemtsov Street — Here’s another sign that much of Washington doesn’t share President Trump’s benign view of Putin’s Russia. The Washington DC City Council voted Wednesday to rename the street in front of the Russian Embassy in honor of Boris Nemtsov, an opposition figure murdered near the Kremlin three years ago. Various makeshift memorials to Nemtsov in Moscow, installed by his supporters, have repeatedly been removed or vandalized. Maybe Russia will respond to Washington’s move by naming the street in front of the US Embassy in Moscow after Edward Snowden.

Kim Jong-un’s birthday — Dear Leader, you thought we forgot, didn’t you? You thought, “I’ll just execute anyone who tries to make my birthday (January 8) a national holiday so that no one over at Signal remembers the day and agonizes over what to get me this year.” Fat chance, old friend. Your Celine Dion tickets are in the mail!

What We're Ignoring

The cultural invasion of Iran — Iran’s High Council of Education has announced a ban on the teaching of English in primary schools to repel a “cultural invasion” from the West. Looks like an ineffectual response from Iran’s conservatives to recent protests in the country, the largest since 2009.

The Skype Inauguration — Pro-independence parties in Catalonia have reportedly agreed to inaugurate Carles Puigdemont, who remains in self-imposed exile in Brussels, as president via Skype. This is not a decision any intelligent algorithm would have made.

Norishige Kanai — A Japanese astronaut told the world this week that he had grown nine centimeters taller in space. That’s more than 3.5 inches. (It’s common for astronauts to grow two or three centimeters as a lack of gravity allows the spine to lengthen.) “I grew like some plant in just three weeks,” Kanai tweeted from space. “I’m a bit worried whether I’ll fit in the Soyuz seat when I go back.” Later, Kanai admitted a measurement mistake; he had grown just two centimeters or three-quarters of one inch. C’mon, Kanai-san, astronauts have to know how to measure things. We do like tweets from space though.

The role of the public library has evolved over time. As we move online at an even faster rate, knowledge, entertainment and opportunities for education and employment are found on the internet. Those living in well-connected, affluent places may have come to take internet access for granted. But there is a digital divide in the U.S. that has left people at a disadvantage – particularly since the arrival of COVID-19.

Finding ways to overcome that divide in a sustainable, community-led way could help bring the benefits of the internet to those who need it most. One solution is to use technologies such as TV white space to facilitate wireless broadband – as Microsoft's Airband Initiative is doing. To read more about Microsoft's work with public libraries, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Who does Vladimir Putin want to win the US election? Given the Kremlin's well-documented efforts to sway the 2016 vote in Donald Trump's favor, it's certainly a fair question. And while there's no solid evidence that Russian interference had any decisive effect on the outcome four years ago, the Trump administration itself says the Kremlin — and others — are now trying to mess with the election again.

So let's put you in Vladimir Putin's size 9 shoes as you weigh up Donald Trump vs Joe Biden while refreshing your own personal PyatTridsatVosem (FiveThirtyEight) up there in the Kremlin.

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"The 'American exceptionalism' that I grew up with, the 'American exceptionalism' of the Cold War…I do think has outlived its usefulness." Those words coming from Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former top State Department official under President Obama, indicate how much the world has changed in the past few decades. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Watch the episode: How a "President Biden" could reshape US foreign policy

Less than a week out from Election Day, 66 million Americans have already cast their ballots, and many of those are people who are voting "early" for the first time because of the pandemic. In fact, the early vote total alone this year is already equal to nearly half of all ballots cast in the 2016 general election, suggesting that 2020 turnout could reach historic levels. Most important, however, is how things are playing out in key battleground states where the outcome of the US election will be determined. In Texas, for instance, a huge surge in early voting by Democrats this year has raised the possibility that a state which has been won by Republican candidates since 1976 could now be up for grabs. Here we take a look at early voting in battleground states in 2020 as compared to 2016.

In a national referendum on Sunday, Chileans overwhelmingly voted in favor of a new constitution. But, why are people in this oasis of political stability and steady economic growth in South America willing to undo the bedrock of the system that has allowed Chile to prosper for so long?

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