Watching and Ignoring

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Mike Pompeo — To succeed, a nation’s top diplomat needs three things: an ability to persuade others he speaks for the boss, the freedom to accomplish the boss’s goals in his/her own way, and good working relationships with a strong support staff. Fired US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson finished 0 for 3. No one he met during his brief tenure could believe he spoke for Trump, the president never gave him room to work, he was dogged by criticism that he ignored senior staff, and a stunning number of State Department jobs have become or remain vacant. Will Mike Pompeo succeed where Tillerson failed?


South African Land — The investor class was happy to see Cyril Ramaphosa win control of the African National Congress in December and replace Jacob Zuma as South Africa’s president last month. It was less happy when South Africa’s parliament approved legislation on February 27 that allows government to address inequality by confiscating and redistributing land without compensation. That move raised the specter again that South Africa might follow Zimbabwe down the path to racial violence and economic ruin. There’s reason to believe Ramaphosa is just giving the left wing of his party something they want in order to preserve ANC unity ahead of elections next year, and that the policy will be used mainly to redistribute unused land to black farmers. But the hostile rhetoric from South Africa’s left and from right-wing commentators in South Africa, Britain, and the US is worrisome and worth watching.

A Big Bolivian Flag — On Monday, lawyers representing Chile and Bolivia will appear before the International Court of Justice to argue about whether Bolivia should have a coastline. Bolivia lost direct access to the sea following the War of the Pacific in the late 19th century, but the country has never given up the fight to regain that land from Chile. (It still has a navy.) To cheer on the lawyers, the country has produced a 124-mile long bright blue “flag of maritime revindication.” Yes, the flag, unfurled along a highway, really is 124 miles long. We’re watching this story not because we want to see if this patriotic show can help Bolivian President Evo Morales overcome popular resistance to a fourth presidential term, but just because that’s a really big flag.

WHAT WE’RE IGNORING

Political rebranding in France — In 2015, France’s center-right party formally known as the Union for a Popular Movement changed its name to Les Republicains, boosting its candidate to a third-place finish in last year’s presidential election. Now Marine Le Pen has proposed changing the name of the far-right Front National to Rassemblement National (“National Rally”) to improve its image because, she says, the name “Front National” has become a “psychological barrier” for voters. Maybe she should change the party’s name to “Le Pen.”

Stormy Daniels — The adult film star who alleges an “affair” with President Trump is set to launch a media blitz, and the early word is that parts of her story will be particularly unsavory. We’re ignoring this story because, even if it’s deeply embarrassing for Trump, and even if an exchange of cash is found to have violated election laws, the political impact (and impeachment risk) would be greater if it told a significant number of voters something they don’t already suspect about the president. The White House will watch the projected path of this Storm, but we have eyes only for Special Counsel Robert Mueller — and what he does and does not find.

The Costco Doomsday Kit — Still worried about Kim Jong-un or Putin’s invincible zig-zagging missile? Discount retailer Costco is now selling a food kit that can help you survive “an emergency or natural disaster.” For just $5,999.99, you can have enough freeze-dried broccoli, green beans, corn, dehydrated apples, egg noodles, quick oats, cornmeal, elbow macaroni, potato chunks, instant lentils, instant black beans, freeze-dried banana slices, blueberries, and carrots to feed four people for one year. It’s a wonderful opportunity to face End Times on a full stomach. More good news: You won’t have to share with the neighbors, because the kit is “packaged discreetly for privacy in shipping.” But I’m ignoring this product because the package weighs 1,800 pounds, and I already have a bad back.

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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