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.

In the southern Italian region of Basilicata, home to the Val d'Agri Oil Centre known as COVA, hydrocarbon processing has undergone a radical digital transformation. COVA boasts one of the world's first fully digitized hydrocarbon plants, but why? Two primary reasons: infrastructure and information. Val d'Agri has the largest onshore hydrocarbon deposit in mainland Europe. The site is expansive and highly advanced, and the plant features a sophisticated sensor system built to capture massive amounts of data. Maintenance checks, equipment monitoring, inspections and measurements are tracked in a fully integrated digital system designed to prevent corrosion and ensure cleaner, more sustainable natural gas processing.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

For a president gearing up for a fierce re-election fight next year, President Trump has a lot to worry about. Democrats are now taking more of the US political spotlight. The latest opinion polls don't look good for him. There are signs that the strong US economy, Trump's top selling point, may begin to wobble.

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Chinese Pigs – Beyond a trade war with the US and unrest in Hong Kong, now Chinese officials are wrestling with an even more basic political problem. Pork is the favorite meat for many of China's 1.4 billion people, and some analysts treat pork consumption as an important indicator of the financial well-being of China's middle class. A serious outbreak of African Swine Flu is expected to push pork prices 70 percent higher over the second half of this year, which will hit ordinary Chinese pockets hard. By some estimates, half of China pigs have been culled, but there are also reports that some farmers have avoided the expense of slaughtering infected pigs, raising fears that the disease will continue to spread. The central government takes this problem seriously enough to call on local officials to boost large-scale hog farming. So far, China's "Year of the Pig" is just not going well.

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Buy or sell: The iPhone

I'll make both arguments. First, buy. The new iPhone 11 didn't blow people's mind. But it's a pretty good phone. But what is most impressive is they lowered the prices on many of their phones and they offer a really good trade ins. So you can take your old iPhone, trade it in, get a discount on a new one. It's a pretty good deal. On the other hand, if the question is more: Is the iPhone still the unadulterated leader in innovation? Maybe not. The event was not quite as transformative as some of these events have been.

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1.2 million: Surging jihadist terrorism in Burkina Faso has pushed the country to the brink of humanitarian crisis, as attacks displace people from their homes and destroy critical infrastructure and hospitals. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, 1.2 million Burkinabe are threatened with famine and malnutrition, and access to healthcare has dwindled. Experts say the violence is a spillover from the scourge of jihadism in neighboring Mali.

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