Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching

Shifting Saudi Arabia — A Saudi prince paid $1 billion to make corruption allegations go away — and maybe to offer fealty to soon-to-be king Mohammad bin Salman. This is yet another sign that MBS is firmly in charge.


Narita, Japan — Narita is known for both its international airport, which many a weary traveler wishes was a little closer to Tokyo, and its freshwater eels. How then to design the city’s mascot? With more than 800,000 votes, Narita has won a contest for Japan’s best regional mascot by creating a character that is half airplane/half eel. We’ll be watching next year to see this thing defend his/her/its crown.

“Mad” Mike Hughes — Apparently unaware of the works of Tom Friedman, self-taught rocket-builder Mike Hughes has promised to shoot himself 1,800 feet into the California sky in a scrap-metal rocket to take photos that prove the Earth is flat. We’ll be watching to be sure this idiot doesn’t land on us.

What We're Ignoring

War of the Roses: Part II — Faced with news that Britain’s Prince Harry will marry Meghan Markle next year, you’re probably worried that the bride’s Roman Catholicism could prevent Harry from one day becoming king. You don’t need to sweat this one. By the time Harry weds Meghan next May, he’ll be sixth in line for the throne, with two toddlers and a baby ahead of him in the queue. This guy loves mischief, but he’s no Richard III, so the kids are safe. Also, new rules went into effect two years ago that allow royals to marry Catholics, so you can safely go back to worrying about Brexit.

Venezuela’s chances of producing more oil — Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro named an army general with no energy experience to run PDVSA, the state-owned oil firm, in a country that draws more than 90 percent of export revenue from oil. That’ll go well.

The price of bitcoin — Bitcoin began 2017 at less than $1,000 and this week topped $10,000. I continue to ignore this story, because I never invest in things I don’t understand. #CryptoTulips

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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