THREE STORIES IN THE KEY OF: FAR FLUNG CONTINGENCY PLANS​

You’ve got to have a backup plan. Always a backup plan. And sometimes a little backup means towing massive objects to your shores, or sending improbably large sums through the skies…


First to the Irish Sea where British officials are considering towing in thousands of electricity generators on barges to supply Northern Ireland with power in the event that Brexit talks collapse and the UK leaves the European Union with no deal on future economic relations. Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, imports most of its electricity from its southern neighbor, the Republic of Ireland, under common EU electricity market rules.  But if the UK leaves the EU (taking Northern Ireland with it) those rules would no longer apply, meaning that utilities in the Irish republic could decide to shut off the flow of electricity to the North. The fate of the Irish border affects a lot more than just electricity, mind you. Free travel and commerce between Northern Ireland, the Irish republic, and the rest of the United Kingdom is a lynchpin of the 1998 Good Friday agreement which ended decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland. Reimposing that border – in any form or location – could stoke long dormant tensions in Belfast.

Second, to Iran where authorities are looking to fly in some 300 million euros in cash from an Iranian-linked bank located in Germany. With the fate of the Iran deal unclear after the US decided to ditch it, and economic troubles continuing to foment protests at home, Tehran is concerned that any new sanctions might make it impossible to access money stashed abroad in the future. Cash is king, and they want it now. But the request has put Germany in a tough spot. At a time when relations with Washington are already under strain, the US ambassador to Berlin is pressuring Berlin not to approve the transfer. German officials, for their part, could be on the hook for violating sanctions if the money ends up being used to support terrorism.

Lastly, to South Africa where the second-largest city, Cape Town, is running out of drinking water and there is a crazy plan to do something about it. For background, a severe drought has forced the government to impose water restrictions in order to avoid a “Day Zero,” the point where taps run completely dry in the city of nearly 4 million. One evidently feasible plan involves dressing an Antarctic iceberg in a protective shawl, towing it about 1,200 miles to Cape Town, and grinding it into slurry that could supply up to 30 percent of the city’s annual water demand. A recent rise in dam levels has already postponed Day Zero until at least 2019, so it’s not clear how urgently the iceberg is needed – but the problem of megacities running out of water is hardly limited to South Africa. At least 14 of the world’s largest metropolises are facing Day Zeroes of their own, and there aren’t enough icebergs to go around.

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How did an entire country's media spread false news for a night?

Fascinating case study in France over the weekend. For less than a day, we thought that the most wanted men in the country had been caught in Scotland. Turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. The so-called news was actually reported quite carefully at first, on Friday night with careful words. But the language quickly moved from conditional to categorical and therefore, to misinformation through human error. What you have here is the tension between being first and being right, which has always been present in journalism but is more and more as you have these 24 hour news channels, social media, and the incredible economic pressure on news sites that are advertising based and therefore click based.

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Donald Trump announced a fresh "phase 1" trade deal with China last week, part of his ongoing bid to reduce the United States' huge trade deficit with China. The US has been buying more from China than China buys from the US for decades, but since coming into office Trump has made reducing that deficit central to his "America First" agenda. It's not easy to do. Consider that in 2018, after two full years of the Trump administration, the trade deficit with China actually swelled to its highest level since the Clinton years. That's because many perfectly healthy economic factors contribute to a trade deficit: stronger economic growth under Trump has meant more demand for foreign goods, so as long as the economy keeps humming along, it will be hard for Trump to reduce the deficit. Likewise, the strong US dollar makes foreign goods cheaper for US consumers to import, while China's own economic slowdown in 2018 decreased Chinese demand for American goods. For a historical perspective on all of this, here's a look at how the US-China trade balance has developed under each US president going back to 1993.

On Friday, we detailed the main arguments for and against President Trump's decision to withdraw US troops from a pocket of northern Syria where their presence had protected Washington's Kurdish allies against an attack from Turkey. We then asked Signal readers to let us know what they thought.

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Dangerous Chaos in Syria – Turkey's military move into northern Syria had two stated goals: to push Kurdish fighters inside Syria further from Turkey's border and to create a "safe zone" inside Syria in which Turkey could place up to two million Syrian refugees currently living in camps inside Turkey. But the Kurds have now allied with Syria's army, which is backed by Russia, and these forces are now moving north into that same territory toward Turkish troops and Arab militias backed by Ankara. Meanwhile, large numbers of ISIS fighters and their families have escaped prisons where Kurds had held them captive. Turkey's President Erdogan vows to press ahead with his operation until "ultimate victory is achieved." Pandora's Box is now wide open.

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