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.