Watching and Ignoring

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

The “Do Not Congratulate” Leak — The story is straightforward. Senior national security aides advised President Trump to avoid congratulating Vladimir Putin on his election victory, given Russia’s unacknowledged intervention in the US election, poisoning accusations against Russia in the UK, and other issues. Trump ignored this advice and congratulated him anyway. But our real interest in this story comes down to two questions: Who leaked this to the press and why? The leaker is someone with direct access to both the advice Trump received and the content of the call. That’s someone very, very close to the president. And why leak this? Is it someone’s concern over Trump’s relationship with Putin? Anger that Trump ignores advice? A warning of some kind? It’s not unreasonable to wonder if it might have been outgoing National Security Advisor HR McMaster or someone who worked for him.This story bears close watch.


Rising Tides and Stormy Skies — The World Bank says 143 million people could be displaced by climate change by 2050. The highest totals are likely to be in Sub-Saharan Africa (86 million), South Asia (40 million) and Latin America (17 million). HSBC, a bank, says the most vulnerable individual countries are likely to be India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Bangladesh.

Fake Democracy — More on British firm Cambridge Analytica, which has manipulated democracy through a propaganda campaign using social media channels built from data harvested from voters’ Facebook pages without their knowledge. Video has emerged of a senior Cambridge Analytica official bragging that during Kenya’s bitterly disputed presidential election last year, “we wrote all the speeches, and we staged the whole thing.” The company denies all wrongdoing. The Kenya vote pushed political and ethnic tensions to dangerous levels following accusations the results were faked and a court ordered a rerun of the entire vote. The two main candidates, winner Uhuru Kenyatta and failed challenger Raila Odinga, have since taken steps to ease tensions. But with the release of this new video, an opposition figure has demanded a full investigation.

WHAT WE’RE IGNORING

Confused Citizens on Alert for Jihad — Munir Zanial, an aerospace engineer working in Kansas, was a dues-paying member of an organization called the Spirit Boeing Employees Association. Last September, Mr Zanial, a Muslim and native of Malaysia, rented some lakefront property owned by the organization to host a party honoring Malaysia’s Independence Day and the end of Ramadan. An unidentified person saw a Malaysian flag at the event and called the FBI to report a US flag “desecrated by ISIS insignia,” according to press reports. The FBI investigation didn’t last long, but the employee group then terminated Mr Zanial’s right to host parties without informing him, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, which has now filed suit on Mr Zanial’s behalf.

India’s Third Front — In recent years, voters in European countries like France and Italy have cast aside traditional political parties in favor of new (or rebranded) ones, and many Americans would love to see Republicans and Democrats face real third-party competition. Is there now an emerging national movement in fast-changing India that can compete on the national stage with center-right and center-left alliances led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP and the Congress Party respectively? The chief ministers of Telangana and West Bengal provinces will reportedly join forces to launch a new alliance, known as the “Third Front,” which will represent different castes and communities and won’t affiliate with the BJP or Congress. But this new grouping will only change the game if/when parties based in BJP states join the alliance. That hasn’t happened yet.

Truth in Translation — Your Friday author returned yesterday from the Antipodes, aka Australia and New Zealand, where he was told the following story: In 1770, on landing in northeast Australia and seeing a kangaroo for the first time, Captain James Cook asked a native of the place what the animal was called. The man replied “kangaroo,” a word which, roughly translated from the northeast Aboriginal language of Guugu Yimidhirr, means “I don’t speak English, you overdressed, pasty-faced weirdo and therefore have no idea what you’re asking me. Please repair your ship quickly and go someplace else.” I’m ignoring the sad reality that this story isn’t true and intend to go on repeating it.

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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