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What We’re Watching: Hong Kong Apps, Russia-Ukraine Prisoner Swap, Brexit by the Letter

What We’re Watching: Hong Kong Apps, Russia-Ukraine Prisoner Swap, Brexit by the Letter

Brexit by the Letter? Britain's parliament is now suspended ("prorogued") for five weeks. Opposition MPs have made clear they won't give PM Boris Johnson the elections he wants until a law is implemented that blocks the potential for a no-deal Brexit. They've also voted to force Johnson to ask the EU for an extension of the October 31 Brexit deadline. What spectacular political gymnastics will Johnson conjure up next to avoid complying with this? Will he send the required letter asking the EU for that extension, and then send another that says he was joking? Send the letter, but call on a sympathetic EU government to veto the extension request? Call a vote of no-confidence in his own government to force elections? Resign? All these options are under discussion in the British press. And now that colo(u)rful Commons Speaker John Bercow vows to leave his post on October 31, will he pursue a career as a wrestling referee?


Hong Kong Crowdsourced Protest Maps Violent protests and police crackdowns continued this weekend despite chief executive Carrie Lam's decision to withdraw the extradition bill that started it all. Thousands of activists gathered outside the US embassy Sunday to sing the Star Spangled Banner and ask for American help to "liberate" their city, while on Monday students formed human chains to support calls for a more accountable government. The basic problem remains: the protesters want more self-rule than China's hardline President Xi Jinping is willing to deliver. We're also watching how technology is quite literally shaping the protests: activists have developed real-time crowd-sourced maps that indicate where the police are, along with an amazing phone-to-phone "ripple" transmission system that is meant to overcome slow cellular data speeds. Check out Quartz's feature on it here.

Russia and Ukraine Exchange Prisoners — Russia and Ukraine exchanged dozens of prisoners this weekend in a move that European and American leaders hailed as a step toward ending the five-year long conflict over eastern Ukraine and Crimea. The freed prisoners include 24 Ukrainian sailors captured by the Russian Navy in a clash last fall, a Ukrainian filmmaker accused by Moscow of terrorism, and a Russian citizen who was involved in the separatists' downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in 2014. We are watching to see if this is really, as President Trump says, a "first giant step towards peace." We are skeptical, because the basic problem of the Ukraine conflict is intractable: Russia wants Kyiv to give the Russian-backed eastern provinces a measure of influence over Ukraine's foreign policy, but that's not something Ukraine's parliament can agree to. And forget about Russia ever giving back Crimea.

What We're Ignoring

Saudi Arabia's Bid to Influence the Influencers Over the past few months Saudi Arabia has tried to bleach the stain left by allegations that its agents murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October. One approach has been to fly Western Instagram influencers to the kingdom to show their followers how progressive and cool it is to visit (there are reports that Riyadh will begin issuing tourist visas for the first time later this month.) There are many reasons to want to visit Saudi Arabia – we'd love to see in person how Crown Prince Mohamed is cautiously liberalizing some areas of society while also ruthlessly crushing dissent. But the chance to mingle with clueless Western "influencers" like Aggie Lal posing in orientalist fantasy getups isn't one of them.

The role of the public library has evolved over time. As we move online at an even faster rate, knowledge, entertainment and opportunities for education and employment are found on the internet. Those living in well-connected, affluent places may have come to take internet access for granted. But there is a digital divide in the U.S. that has left people at a disadvantage – particularly since the arrival of COVID-19.

Finding ways to overcome that divide in a sustainable, community-led way could help bring the benefits of the internet to those who need it most. One solution is to use technologies such as TV white space to facilitate wireless broadband – as Microsoft's Airband Initiative is doing. To read more about Microsoft's work with public libraries, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Who does Vladimir Putin want to win the US election? Given the Kremlin's well-documented efforts to sway the 2016 vote in Donald Trump's favor, it's certainly a fair question. And while there's no solid evidence that Russian interference had any decisive effect on the outcome four years ago, the Trump administration itself says the Kremlin — and others — are now trying to mess with the election again.

So let's put you in Vladimir Putin's size 9 shoes as you weigh up Donald Trump vs Joe Biden while refreshing your own personal PyatTridsatVosem (FiveThirtyEight) up there in the Kremlin.

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Less than a week out from Election Day, 66 million Americans have already cast their ballots, and many of those are people who are voting "early" for the first time because of the pandemic. In fact, the early vote total alone this year is already equal to nearly half of all ballots cast in the 2016 general election, suggesting that 2020 turnout could reach historic levels. Most important, however, is how things are playing out in key battleground states where the outcome of the US election will be determined. In Texas, for instance, a huge surge in early voting by Democrats this year has raised the possibility that a state which has been won by Republican candidates since 1976 could now be up for grabs. Here we take a look at early voting in battleground states in 2020 as compared to 2016.

In a national referendum on Sunday, Chileans overwhelmingly voted in favor of a new constitution. But, why are people in this oasis of political stability and steady economic growth in South America willing to undo the bedrock of the system that has allowed Chile to prosper for so long?

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Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

One week before the US election. What do other world leaders want to happen?

Well, I mean, let's face it. Outside the United States, most of the world's leaders would prefer to see the back of Trump. An America first policy was not exactly made for non-Americans. That was not the intended demographic audience. Trump doesn't really care. In fact, to a degree, it's kind of a selling point that a lot of foreign leaders don't want Trump. It's showing that Trump is strong in negotiations and indeed is doing better for the American people.

That's largely BS, but occasionally it's true. I mean, his willingness to use American power to force the Mexican government to actually tighten up on Mexico's Southern border and stop immigration from coming through. AMLO would have much rather that not have happened, but the fact that it did was an America first policy, that rebounded to the benefits of the United States. And there are other examples of that. But generally speaking, it would be better for the US long-term, and for the world, if we had more harmonious, smoother relations with other countries around the world, certainly pretty much all the Europeans would much rather see Trump lose. The United Kingdom is the significant exception given the nature of Brexit, and the fact that Trump has been in favor of that, like being called Mr. Brexit by five or six Brits or however many did.

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