Iranians head to the polls on Friday to vote for president, and it appears a foregone conclusion that hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the nation's top judge, will win.

Outsiders, and many Iranians, roll their eyes at the predictability of this vote. Iran's Guardian Council, a dozen clerics and judges who answer only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has cleared the field for Raisi by ruling all of his credible challengers ineligible. The fix is in, and Iranians are now preparing for a moment when anti-reform conservatives, those who oppose social change inside Iran and deeper engagement with the West, will for the first time ever control the country's presidency, parliament, courts, and much of the media.

But simmering beneath the cynicism and predictability of this event is a deepening anxiety over Iran's future as it enters a potentially momentous period in the Islamic Republic's 42-year history. The Supreme Leader, in power for 32 years, is now 82 years old. Very few people know the true state of his health. Even if he outlives Raisi's presidency, which could last four or eight years, preparations for a historic, uncertain, and potentially dangerous leadership transition will intensify soon.

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This week, the US Senate passed the so-called Endless Frontier Act, a $250 billion investment in development of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, the manufacture of semiconductors, and other tech-related sectors. The goal is to harness the combined power of America's public and private sectors to meet the tech challenges posed by China.

In its current form, this is the biggest diversion of public funds into the private sector to achieve strategic goals in many decades. The details of this package, and of the Senate vote, say a lot about US foreign-policy priorities and this bill's chances of becoming law.

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Italy's politics are a rollercoaster ride in the best of times — the country has had 18 governments in the past 32 years — and despite the best efforts of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi to navigate the COVID crisis, Italians may well be in for another sharp turn in coming months.

This time, however, populist firebrand Matteo Salvini may not find himself in the front seat. Meet Giorgia Meloni, Italy's rising populist star.

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In recent months, large numbers of men, women, and children from the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America – Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador – have left their countries in hopes of applying for asylum in the United States. This wave of desperate people has created a crisis at the US border and a political headache for President Joe Biden. US border officials now face the highest number of migrants they've seen in 20 years.

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Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, says another independence referendum for Scotland is now a matter of "when not if," and that after leaving the UK, Scotland will launch a bid to rejoin the EU. But there are formidable obstacles ahead.

Getting to a vote will force a complex game of chicken with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. If a majority of Scots then vote for independence — hardly a sure thing – the process of extricating their new country from the UK will make Brexit look easy. Next, come the challenges of EU accession. In other words, Scotland's journey down the rocky road ahead has only just begun.

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Integrated Israeli cities on the brink: Another bloody day in Israel and the Gaza Strip: Israeli forces continued to bomb Gaza Wednesday, killing several Hamas commanders. At least 56 Gazans have now been killed in Israeli strikes, including 14 children. Meanwhile, rockets continue to fall inside Israeli cities, causing millions to flee to bomb shelters. The Israeli death count now stands at eight. The more startling development for intelligence analysts, however, has been the increasingly violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in integrated Israeli cities following weeks of confrontations in Jerusalem: an Arab man was pulled from his car and attacked by Jewish vigilantes in a suburb outside Tel Aviv, while Arab Israelis have burnt synagogues and attacked Jewish Israelis. Integrated cities like Lod, Acre and Haifa are often highlighted as models for broader Palestinian-Israeli peace, but as Haaretz reporter Anshel Pfeffer points out, these unprecedented clashes show that Israel's security apparatus failed to understand that Palestinians in Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank are still motivated "to rise up and show solidarity with each other." International actors are reportedly trying to get the two sides to agree to an imminent ceasefire. Will it work?

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Putin orders review of gun laws after school shooting: Details remain sketchy following a shooting at a school in the Russian city of Kazan. At least seven children and one teacher were killed, and a 19-year-old has been arrested, according to local officials. In response to the attack, President Vladimir Putin "gave an order to urgently work out a new provision concerning the types of weapons that can be in civilian hands, taking into account the weapon" used in this shooting, according to a Kremlin spokesman. There's an irony here that extends to the United States, where school shootings are all too common. In 2018, a Russian woman named Maria Butina pleaded guilty to using the National Rifle Association, the gun rights lobbying group, to "establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over American politics." At the time, Putin described Butina's 18-year sentence as an "outrage." The NRA, of course, works hard to prevent Congress and the president from taking precisely the kinds of actions that Putin swiftly ordered following the shooting in Kazan.

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US reverses course on vaccine patents: In a surprise move, the Biden administration will now support waiving international property rights for COVID vaccines at the World Trade Organization. Until now the US had firmly opposed waiving those patents, despite demands from developing countries led by India and South Africa to do so. Biden's about face comes just a week after he moved to free up 60 million of American-bought AstraZeneca jabs — still not approved by US regulators — for nations in need. It's not clear how fast an IP waiver would really help other countries, as the major impediments to ramping up vaccine manufacturing have more to do with logistics and supply chains than with patent protections alone. But if patent waivers do accelerate production over time, then that could accelerate a global return to normal — potentially winning the US a ton of goodwill.

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