Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching

The Lula ruling — An appeals court in Brazil announced this week that it will rule on January 24 on whether corruption charges against former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will stand. If so, he can’t run in next October’s presidential election. Even if his chances of winning the election may be overrated, his name on the ballot would have a big impact on the race.


BBC Elsewhere — Without this invaluable website, your Friday author wouldn’t know that The Republic of The Gambia now claims that a written agreement that grants land to be used for a restoration of the Russian monarchy is a “false and faked document.” We would never have heard of“Arch Chancellor Prince Anton Bakov,” a man who claims to be Prime Minister of the Romanov Empire. Nor would I know that tourists who dress as Mario-kart video game characters while driving go-karts around Tokyo are now required to wear seat belts.

Saudi cinema — We’re pleased to see that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s cultural opening will allow Saudis to return to movie theaters for the first time since the late 1970s. We’ll be watching to see how long it takes Saudi moviegoers to figure out just how many Star Wars episodes they’ve missed.

What We're Ignoring

“For Mexico In Front” — The conservative National Action Party (PAN) joined forces this week with the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the Citizens Movement party. At this point, the new coalition, known as “For Mexico in Front,” looks set for third place in next July’s presidential election behind the PRI and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s MORENA party.

The 2018 Putin Calendar — Thanks for the sexy calendar Vladimir Vladimirovich, and Merry Christmas to you too. Thanks especially for keeping your shirt on this year. But you have to stop sending us these things. We get it. You’re dreamy. You don’t have to prove this every December.

Shen Yun — If you live in a big US city, you’ve probably seen the posters of leaping Chinese women, the colorful flowing robes, and the promise of “art that connects Heaven and Earth.” But for the 13th year in a row, we’re skipping Shen Yun. It’s not because the Chinese government says these self-proclaimed “elite Chinese artists” are the Falun Gong’s dance troupe and a carefully choreographed bid to subvert Chinese Communist Party rule through subversive kitsch. Nope, we’re not going for the same reason we never went to River Dance. Happy-looking dancers are boring. Dancers should look sad until the curtain call. That’s a rule. Fred Astaire is the only exception. And the Nicholas Brothers.

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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