Watching and Ignoring

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Locked-up Lula Alex wrote a piece for your Tuesday edition on the emergence of Joaquim Barbosa as a presidential contender in Brazil. Then we got more big news from the country this week. Late Wednesday night, by a vote of 6–5, Brazil’s Supreme Federal Tribunal ruled that former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, must sit in prison while he appeals a 12-year sentence for a corruption conviction. Lula still leads in opinion polls ahead of October’s presidential election — though the number of voters who say they’re dead-set against him would make it hard for him to win. Lula’s incarceration creates space on the left for other candidates, like Barbosa. But, as Alex points out, it could also delegitimize the election for those who agree with Lula that the charges against him are politically motivated.


Macron vs the unions Every French president who tries to change that country’s labor laws knows that sooner or later the showdown with unions will come. It’s Emmanuel Macron’s turn, and a wave of strikes, led by staff at state railway SNCF, is now under way. Strikes are scheduled to disrupt transport on 36 separate days over the next three months. Rail workers want to protect their relatively generous benefits, while the government says the state can’t afford them — and that EU rules require that state railways open to competition. On Wednesday, students, angry over more selective university entry requirements, added their challenge to President Emmanuel Macron. This is a crucial test for a leader with grand ambitions — for France and for Europe.

The Weiner-Dog Museum — Did you know that Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy loved dachshunds? Did you know that Germans bred dachshunds in the Middle Ages to flush predatory badgers from underground tunnels? Did you know the mascot of the 1972 Munich Olympics was a dachshund called Waldi? If you didn’t know these things, would like to learn more, and are passing through Bavaria, Signal recommends the newly opened Dackelmuseum in Passau, Germany.

WHAT WE’RE IGNORING

US withdrawal from Syria — President Trump made news last week by telling a cheering crowd in Ohio that “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.” But there’s been little clarity since then on what “very soon” means. The Pentagon is not ready for withdrawal. Defense officials made clear this week that ISIS is not finished. Turkey’s intervention in Syria has delayed the “fight going against the remnants of ISIS,” said Defense Secretary James Mattis ten days ago. The Pentagon also appears interested in countering Russian influence in shaping Syria’s future and in dissuading Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey, and Iran that it’s safe to attack US Kurdish allies. Until the Commander in Chief and Pentagon sort these questions out, the words “very soon” don’t mean much.

Bahrain’s new oil find — This week, the Kingdom of Bahrain — with a population smaller than Barcelona or Phoenix, Arizona — announced discovery of an offshore shale oil field large enough to push the tiny country’s oil reserves from 66th to 8th in the world. This may be good news for the already wealthy and well-connected in Bahrain, but we’re ignoring this story because its government, in lockstep with Saudi Arabia, won’t use new wealth to pursue a more independent foreign policy.

Iranians who fear nipples — The team logo for Italian football club AS Roma features the traditional Roman image of two babies, city founders Romulus and Remus, being suckled by the Capitoline Wolf. During its coverage of UEFA Champions League football, broadcasters in Iran altered the image by blurring out the wolf’s teats. We’re speechless.

Scientists, engineers and technologists are turning to nature in search of solutions to climate change. Biomimicry is now being applied in the energy sector, medicine, architecture, communications, transport and agriculture in a bid to make human life on this planet more sustainable and limit the impacts of global warming. New inventions have been inspired by humpback whales, kingfishers and mosquitoes.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

The drumbeat for regulating artificial intelligence (AI) is growing louder. Earlier this week, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google's parent company, Alphabet, became the latest high-profile Silicon Valley figure to call for governments to put guardrails around technologies that use huge amounts of (sometimes personal) data to teach computers how to identify faces, make decisions about mortgage applications, and myriad other tasks that previously relied on human brainpower.

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January 27 marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi extermination camp. But even as some 40 heads of state gathered in Jerusalem this week to commemorate the six million Jews who were killed, a recent Pew survey revealed that many American adults don't know basic facts about the ethnic cleansing of Europe's Jews during the Second World War. Fewer than half of those polled knew how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and close to a third didn't know when it actually happened. Here's a look at some of the numbers.

1: The Greek parliament has elected a woman president for the first time since the country's independence some 200 years ago. A political outsider, Katerina Sakellaropoulou is a high court judge with no known party affiliation. "Our country enters the third decade of the 21st century with more optimism," Greece's prime minister said.

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A quarantine in China– Local authorities have locked down the city of Wuhan, the source of the outbreak of a new and potentially deadly respiratory virus that, as of Thursday morning, had infected more than 540 people in at least six countries. Other nearby cities were also hit by travel restrictions. Rail and air traffic out of Wuhan has been halted. Public transportation is shut, and local officials are urging everyone to stay put unless they have a special need to travel. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people, many of whom were about to travel for the Chinese New Year. We're watching to see whether these extraordinary measures help stem the outbreak, but also to see how the people affected respond to the clampdown.

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