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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.

A decade ago, Bank of America established the Global Ambassadors Program with Vital Voices, and the results are phenomenal. We've provided 8,000 hours of training and mentoring, engaging 400 women from 85 countries and helping women around the world build their businesses.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a lot of foreign governments really mad. Let's call the roll.

Europe. The EU is angry that Turkey is drilling for oil in the eastern Mediterranean, and NATO is furious that member Turkey has defied its protests to purchase S-400 missiles from Russia. Erdogan has repeatedly rejected pushback from EU leaders by calling them fascists and Islamophobes.

Just this week, Erdogan refused to express sympathy with France following the beheading of a French schoolteacher by an Islamist extremist, attacked Macron's own response to the murder, suggested the French president needed "some sort of mental treatment," and countered Macron's vow to crack down on Islamist radicals with calls for a boycott of French products.

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Less than a week before the US election, President Donald Trump is repeatedly questioning the legitimacy of the vote (if he doesn't win) over largely unsubstantiated claims of potential fraud in universal mail-in voting. But with absentee ballots coming in all-time highs in all states due to the coronavirus pandemic, some Americans worry that the system itself may not be able to handle such an influx of ballots, including those already cast by a record number of early voters. Whether or not you agree, Gallup data show that US citizens are now less confident that the election will be conducted accurately — and more concerned about election irregularities and voter suppression — than they were four years ago. We take a look at how Americans' views on these electoral integrity issues have changed from 2016 to 2020.

Belarus on strike: In recent days, the Belarusian streets have turned up the heat on strongman President Alexander Lukashenko, as thousands of state factory workers and students in Belarus heeded a call from opposition leader Svyatlana Tikhanouskaya to join a general strike. Protests have roiled the country since August, when Lukashenko, in power since 1994, won a presidential election widely regarded as rigged. Last Sunday, 100,000 people turned up in Minsk, the capital. Tikhanouskaya — who ran against Lukashenko in that election and is currently exiled in neighboring Lithuania — had demanded the president resign by October 26. When he didn't, the walkout began. In one of the most iconic moments of protest so far, a striking worker at a refrigerator factory climbed the plant's tower to record a dramatic call for Lukashenko to step down. Belarus has been hit with sanctions from the US and EU, both of which are calling on him to hold new elections, but so far he has shown no signs of backing down, deploying his riot police with the usual fury. Something's got to give, soon.

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Who does Vladimir Putin want to win the US election? Given the Kremlin's well-documented efforts to sway the 2016 vote in Donald Trump's favor, it's certainly a fair question. And while there's no solid evidence that Russian interference had any decisive effect on the outcome four years ago, the Trump administration itself says the Kremlin — and others — are now trying to mess with the election again.

So let's put you in Vladimir Putin's size 9 shoes as you weigh up Donald Trump vs Joe Biden while refreshing your own personal PyatTridsatVosem (FiveThirtyEight) up there in the Kremlin.

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