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Former United States President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at Mar-a-Lago in 2020.


What We’re Watching: Bolsonaro skipping town, Putin’s New Year’s gift, Vietnam’s growth, a bit of Xi & Putin face time

Bolsonaro takes off, Lula takes charge

On Sunday, left-wing former president Luiz "Lula” Inacio da Silva will once again be sworn in as Brazil’s president, a post he last held from 2003 to 2010. Hundreds of dignitaries will attend the ceremony in Brasilia, save for one very important person: Brazil’s outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro. The right-wing incumbent will be spending New Year’s Eve in Florida with someone who loves him — former US President Donald Trump. What signal does this send? Bolsonaro has suggested that the bitterly fought election against his nemesis Lula was unfair, and he has done little to stop his supporters from protesting to that effect, sometimes violently. Will his decision to skip the festivities quell concerns about a possible January 6 event in Brazil, or will his supporters read his decision to watch from Mar-a-Lago as a signal that the entire inauguration is illegitimate, fueling more anger as Lula takes power? Ever since the election, Bolsonaro and his team have been in close touch with Trump about next steps. On Sunday, we’ll be watching Lula, of course, but we’ll also be watching Bolsonaro’s supporters watching him watching Trump.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China February 4, 2022


What We're Watching: Putin-Xi meeting, Brussels vs. Budapest, Sweden's next government, Japanese yen in trouble, ​​

Putin hears out Xi on Ukraine, blasts “unipolar” world

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met in person on Thursday for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine. The Russian leader said he valued the “balanced position” Beijing has taken over Ukraine, noting that he understood Xi’s “concerns” about how the war is going (not well). But since there’s no way the Russian president will reverse course in Ukraine, he took the opportunity to play his greatest hits, railing against US-led efforts to create a “unipolar” world that leaves both Russia and China out to dry. Putin might consider what a US Senate committee did Wednesday an example of that. It advanced a bill that would for the first time authorize providing $4.5 billion worth of direct US military aid to Taiwan. The proposal still needs to pass the Senate, and the White House is not fully on board. But if it becomes law, Beijing will likely see this as a de facto change in US policy toward Taiwan. Since 1979, Washington has sold Taiwan weapons to defend itself against a Chinese invasion that was considered a long shot just a decade ago. Not so much now — which explains why the US is mulling preemptive sanctions to deter Xi.

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Water is dropped near a fireman as the Fairview Fire burns near Hemet, California.

REUTERS/David Swanson

What We're Watching: California scorcher, Gulf states threaten Netflix, potential Putin-Xi meeting ​

California’s dystopian heatwave

Californians are bracing for mass power outages as the state of 40 million people suffers a record-breaking heatwave with temperatures in the triple digits. With residents cranking up air conditioners, state authorities say energy use statewide is hitting record levels. (The power grid is under added pressure because of the extreme heat, which makes power transmission less efficient.) Meanwhile, California’s independent grid operator called for energy rationing between 4 and 9 pm, advising residents to turn up their thermostats and avoid using energy-intensive equipment like dishwashers and washing machines. Indeed, the heatwave and energy crunch indicate that extreme weather events linked to climate change are pummeling countries in the developing and developed world alike. (With a GDP of $3.4 trillion in 2021, California’s economy is the largest in the US, surpassing countries like India and France.) As several wildfires broke out in Southern California in recent days, Governor Gavin Newsom warned that “we’re heading into the worst part of this heat wave.”

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