What We're Watching: A Dammed Denial in the Nile

Britain's Supreme Court – The UK's Supreme Court will rule as soon as the end of this week on whether it was unlawful for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to suspend Parliament for several weeks during a critical period ahead of the 31 October Brexit deadline. A court in Scotland said it was, arguing that Johnson misled the Queen into suspending Parliament in order to limit MPs' ability to block Johnson's plans to lead the UK out of the EU with a deal or not. But a court in England took the government's position that none of this is for the courts to decide. So now the highest court in the land will rule on the matter. The wily Johnson says he'll abide by what the justices say. Let's see. (Weird trivia: the UK has had a Supreme Court for only ten years.)


Denial of The Nile – Ethiopia, one of the world's fastest growing economies, has been building a massive hydroelectric dam on the Nile in order to boost its industries. Sudan, next door, is in favor of the project too. But Egypt, which is downstream of both and relies on the river for 90 percent of its freshwater, is very sensitive about it, and the two sides have in the past exchanged veiled threats of war over the river. That's why we're alarmed to learn that ongoing negotiations about water rights between Cairo and Addis Ababa have reportedly broken down again, just days ahead of a big meeting between the three countries. The Ethiopians say the dam will begin operating by the end of next year – but without a negotiated compromise, that could turn into a deadline for major conflict.

What We're Ignoring

Marco Rubio on Islands – "I will begin exploring ways to cut off ties with Solomon Islands including potentially ending financial assistance and restricting access to U.S. dollars and banking." So tweeted Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida on Tuesday, in response to the "shameful" decision by the Solomons, a group of islands east of Australia, to cut ties with Taiwan in favor of closer ties with China. Some of the archipelago nation's 600,000 people are probably wondering what action the US will take against itself, since Washington recognized China and ended formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1978. In any case, the implications of all this for Taiwan are negligible.

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How did an entire country's media spread false news for a night?

Fascinating case study in France over the weekend. For less than a day, we thought that the most wanted men in the country had been caught in Scotland. Turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. The so-called news was actually reported quite carefully at first, on Friday night with careful words. But the language quickly moved from conditional to categorical and therefore, to misinformation through human error. What you have here is the tension between being first and being right, which has always been present in journalism but is more and more as you have these 24 hour news channels, social media, and the incredible economic pressure on news sites that are advertising based and therefore click based.

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Donald Trump announced a fresh "phase 1" trade deal with China last week, part of his ongoing bid to reduce the United States' huge trade deficit with China. The US has been buying more from China than China buys from the US for decades, but since coming into office Trump has made reducing that deficit central to his "America First" agenda. It's not easy to do. Consider that in 2018, after two full years of the Trump administration, the trade deficit with China actually swelled to its highest level since the Clinton years. That's because many perfectly healthy economic factors contribute to a trade deficit: stronger economic growth under Trump has meant more demand for foreign goods, so as long as the economy keeps humming along, it will be hard for Trump to reduce the deficit. Likewise, the strong US dollar makes foreign goods cheaper for US consumers to import, while China's own economic slowdown in 2018 decreased Chinese demand for American goods. For a historical perspective on all of this, here's a look at how the US-China trade balance has developed under each US president going back to 1993.

On Friday, we detailed the main arguments for and against President Trump's decision to withdraw US troops from a pocket of northern Syria where their presence had protected Washington's Kurdish allies against an attack from Turkey. We then asked Signal readers to let us know what they thought.

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Dangerous Chaos in Syria – Turkey's military move into northern Syria had two stated goals: to push Kurdish fighters inside Syria further from Turkey's border and to create a "safe zone" inside Syria in which Turkey could place up to two million Syrian refugees currently living in camps inside Turkey. But the Kurds have now allied with Syria's army, which is backed by Russia, and these forces are now moving north into that same territory toward Turkish troops and Arab militias backed by Ankara. Meanwhile, large numbers of ISIS fighters and their families have escaped prisons where Kurds had held them captive. Turkey's President Erdogan vows to press ahead with his operation until "ultimate victory is achieved." Pandora's Box is now wide open.

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