Watching and Ignoring

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Poland’s Patriots — Know who really knows how to make the Kremlin mad? Poland, which announced this week it will spend $4.75 billion to purchase the US-made Patriot missile defense system. But maybe Russia won’t care now that it has the invincible, hypersonic, zig-zagging missile.


Italy’s worst-case scenario? — The Five Star Movement and The League, Italy’s new populist, powerhouse political parties, seem to be edging closer to forming a government. An Italian friend recently told me he had voted for The League this year for the first time because he wanted a government that would “disrupt” Italian politics. It won’t lead Italy out of the EU or Eurozone, but this particular combination might take “disruption” of Italian politics to a whole new level.

The Suidlanders — Racial tensions made news in South Africa this week. Viral video of a white woman repeatedly hurling racial insults at a black policeman bought her a three-year jail sentence. But South Africa’s racial furies are spilling across borders. The so-called Suidlanders, a group that wants to prepare white Christian South Africans for an oft-predicted race war, have been forging new ties with likeminded radicals in the US, Europe, and Australia, and amplifying their indignation in right-wing media in those and other countries.

WHAT WE’RE IGNORING

Assange Unplugged — We won’t be hearing from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, still stuck in Ecuador’s embassy in London, at least for a while. Ecuador has cut his Internet connection to prevent him from making mischief that gets Ecuador in trouble.

Uzbek gardens — According to state media, Uzbekistan’s government has warned homeowners they better start contributing to the country’s self-sufficiency by using their property to grow food and raise animals. The government’s message is simple: If our inspection of your home doesn’t turn up greenhouses, livestock, and/or chickens, your property taxes will triple. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is walking the walk on this one. He reportedly keeps more than 100 chickens of his own and regularly trades eggs for meat and yogurt. But agriculture already accounts for half the country’s jobs. Who wants to bring their work home?

Mozart for dogs — Police dogs in Madrid have tough jobs, and there’s a new plan to manage their stress levels by pumping classical music into their kennels. The idea is to create something called the “Mozart Effect,” the calming influence the great masters are thought to exert on beasts of every description. But recent studies conducted right here at Signal Headquarters have found that Mozart is too frothy for most canines, and Beethoven has way too much presto agitato for the liking of small dogs, particularly dachshund and chihuahua puppies. Dogs of all sizes tend to prefer Chopin, or even Rachmaninoff.

The scientific consensus is clear. The world confronts an urgent carbon problem. The world's climate experts agree that the world must take urgent action to bring down emissions. Ultimately, we must reach "net zero" emissions, meaning that humanity must remove as much carbon as it emits each year.

While the world will need to reach net zero, those of us who can afford to move faster and go further should do so. That's why last week we announced an ambitious goal and a new plan to reduce and ultimately remove Microsoft's carbon footprint. By 2030 Microsoft will be carbon negative, and by 2050 Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975. We are also launching an initiative to use Microsoft technology to help our suppliers and customers around the world reduce their own carbon footprints and a new $1 billion climate innovation fund to accelerate the global development of carbon reduction, capture, and removal technologies.

Read more on the Official Microsoft Blog.

A potentially deadly new coronavirus that can be transmitted from one person to another is now spreading across China. Chinese state media say it has infected about 300 people and killed six, but the number of undetected or unreported cases is certain to be much higher. Complicating containment efforts, millions of people are on the move across the country this week to celebrate the Chinese New Year with family and friends.

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Norway's government breaks up over ISIS returnee – Norway's right-wing Progress Party said it will resign from the country's four-party coalition government over the prime minister's decision to bring home a Norwegian woman affiliated with the Islamic State in Syria. The woman, who left Norway for the conflict zone in 2013, was arrested shortly after arriving in Oslo with her two children, on suspicion of being a member of ISIS. Prior to her return, she had been held in the Al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria, along with thousands of other family members of ISIS fighters. The defection of Norway's anti-immigrant Progress Party undercuts Prime Minister Erna Solberg's parliamentary majority, likely making it hard for her to pass laws in parliament. This case reflects an increasingly common problem for European countries: the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate has largely collapsed but what should countries do about the return of former fighters and their families to societies that don't want them?

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20,000: Sri Lanka's president has acknowledged for the first time that some 20,000 people who disappeared during the country's brutal civil war are dead, dashing the hopes of families who had held out hope that their relatives were alive and in military custody. The conflict, which ended in 2009, split the country according to ethnicities, killing around 100,000 people, mostly Tamil rebels.

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Since Martin Luther King Jr delivered his iconic "I have a dream" speech in August 1963, the number of Black Americans elected to the United States Congress has dramatically increased. Still, it wasn't until last year, more than half a century later, that the share of Black members serving in the House of Representatives reflected the percentage of Black Americans in the broader population —12 percent. To date, only six states have sent a Black representative to serve in the US Senate, and many states have never elected a Black representative to either house of Congress. Here's a look at Black representation in every US Congress since 1963.