What we are watching: EU power plays, Japan vs South Korea, and an Ethiopian Pandora's Box

Women in Power in Europe — European leaders have chosen German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, an ally of chancellor Angela Merkel, as their pick for president of the European Commission. The surprise choice came after deadlock sank the prospects of other leading candidates favored by the bloc's various political factions. At the same time, Christine LaGarde, the French head of the International Monetary Fund, was selected as the next head of the European Central Bank. If the European Parliament approves the new leadership slate in November, it'll be the first time that women have occupied the two most important EU jobs.

Abiy's Challenge — Abiy Ahmed has opened Pandora's Box in Ethiopia. Prime minister since April 2018, he's earned international praise by ending a 20-year war with neighboring Eritrea, freeing hundreds of political prisoners, and lifting bans on political parties. But this opening of the country's politics has encouraged competition for land among some of Ethiopia's 80 ethno-linguistic groups, provoking violence that has made internal refugees of nearly three million people. Abiy has shown that he wants to build a more open society, and we're watching to see if there's enough good will among the largest ethnic groups to negotiate an end to conflicts quelled in the past only by dictatorial governments.

Japan vs South Korea trade spat — On Monday, Tokyo slapped export controls on sensitive technology exports to South Korea, as a bilateral dispute between the countries over Japan's 20th century colonization of the Korean peninsula escalates. In recent months, South Korea has demanded that Japanese firms compensate laborers who say they were forced into virtual slavery when Japan occupied the peninsula between 1910 and 1945. Talks have broken down since Japanese firms refused to comply with the demand and Korean authorities began seizing some of their assets. We are watching to see how history shapes the present in this spat between the second and third largest economies in Asia.

What we are ignoring:

Russians' declining belief in the paranormal — A recent survey flagged by the Moscow Times suggests that Russians' belief in aliens, psychics, witchcraft, and other paranormal activity has plunged to a 30-year low, after surging during the reality TV era. We're ignoring this story because it's probably just what Vladimir Putin and the ghost of Grigori Rasputin WANT you to think. The truth is out there, Signal readers.

The Business and Market Fair that recently took place in Sanzule, Ghana featured local crops, livestock and manufactured goods, thanks in part to the Livelihood Restoration Plan (LRP), one of Eni's initiatives to diversify the local economy. The LRP program provided training and support to start new businesses to approximately 1,400 people from 205 households, invigorating entrepreneurship in the community.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

It's been two months since President Trump abruptly ordered the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, paving the way for a bloody Turkish offensive in that region. (See our earlier coverage here.) What's happened since? A guide for the puzzled:

No "end date" for US troops in Syria – US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said this week that the United States has completed its military pullback in northeastern Syria. Back in October, President Trump pledged to withdraw the roughly 1,000 American troops deployed there. Since then, some American troops have left Syria altogether, while others were redeployed to defend nearby oil fields from ISIS, as well as from Syrian government troops and Russia. Now, there are roughly 600 American troops dispersed around Syria, and the remainder have been deployed in Iraq to stave off a potential ISIS resurgence. It's not clear if any troops have returned to the US. When asked about the chaotic comings and goings of US troops in Syria in recent months, the commander of US Central Command said frankly: there's no "end date" for American troops stationed there.

More Show less

Turkey's government has captured many thousands of ISIS fighters as a result of its operations in northern Syria. Many of these prisoners have already been deported to some of the more than 100 countries they come from, and Ankara says it intends to send more. There are also more than 10,000 women and children – family members of ISIS fighters – still living in camps inside Syria.

These facts create a dilemma for the governments of countries where the ISIS detainees are still citizens: Should these terrorist fighters and their families be allowed to return, in many cases to face trial back home? Or should countries refuse to allow them back?

More Show less

What's the difference between Alphabet and Google?

Well, Google is the search engine, YouTube, all the stuff you probably think of as Google. Alphabet is the parent company that was created four or five years ago. And it contains a whole bunch of other entities like Jigsaw, Verily - the health care company that Google runs, Waymo - the self-driving car unit. Also, it's important to know Google makes tons of money. Alphabet, all that other stuff loses tons of money.

More Show less