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.

In Italy, stacks of plastic boxes in supermarkets and stores are not garbage - they are collected and reused, thanks to a consortium that specializes in recycling them for food storage. How do these "circular" plastic boxes help reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions?

Learn more in this episode of Eni's Energy SUPERFACTS series.

British economist Jim O'Neill says the global economy can bounce back right to where it was before, in a V-shaped recovery. But his argument is based on a lot of "ifs," plus comparisons to the 2008 recession and conditions in China and South Korea that may not truly apply. Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group's Robert Kahn take issue with O'Neill's op-ed, on this edition of The Red Pen.

Today, we're taking our Red Pen to an article titled "A V-Shaped Recovery Could Still Happen." I'm not buying it. It's published recently by Project Syndicate, authored by British economist named Jim O'Neill. Jim O'Neill is very well known. He was chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management. He's the guy that coined the acronym BRICS, Brazil, Russia, India, China. So, no slouch. But as you know, we don't agree with everything out there. And this is the case. Brought to you by the letter V. We're taking sharp issue with the idea that recovery from all the economic devastation created by the coronavirus pandemic is going to happen quickly. That after the sharp drop that the world has experienced, everything bounces back to where it was before. That's the V. Economists around the world are debating how quickly recovery will happen to be sure. But we're not buying the V. Here's why. W-H-Y.

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Over the past few years, we've seen three major emerging powers take bold action to right what they say are historical wrongs.

First came Crimea. When the Kremlin decided in 2014 that Western powers were working against Russian interests in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to seize the Crimean Peninsula, which was then part of Ukraine. Moscow claimed that Crimea and its ethnic Russian majority had been part of the Russian Empire for centuries until a shameful deal in 1954 made Crimea part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Americans and Europeans imposed sanctions on Russia. But Ukraine is not part of NATO or the EU, and no further action was taken.

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Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, provides his perspective on technology news:

Will the new audit of Facebook civil rights practices change the way the company operates?

Yes. It came under a lot of pressure from civil rights activists who organized an advertising boycott. And then an internal audit on Facebook's effect on civil rights came out. It was quite critical. Those two things, one after the other, will surely lead to changes at the company.

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The United States and the European Union have comparable population sizes, but their COVID-19 death toll trajectories have recently become very different. Since the beginning of July, the average number of both new fatalities and new deaths per 1 million people is rapidly increasing in the US while it remains mostly flat in the EU. We compare this to the average number of new cases each seven days in both regions, where the US trend continues upward but is not surging like the death toll. EU countries' robust public health systems and citizens' willingness to wear masks and maintain social distance could explain the disparity.