What We're Watching: Kim Jong-un as Santa

Kim Jong-un as Santa – With US nuclear talks stalled, Kim Jong-un has been trying to grab President Trump's attention in recent months by, for example, lobbing more rockets into the Sea of Japan, and today making good on threats to again call Trump a "dotard." But North Korea's supreme leader is also trying out some scary Santa shtick. This week, a North Korean official criticized efforts to restart the nuclear talks and said (ominously) that it's "entirely up to the US what Christmas gift it will select to get." We ignored his "Epitome of Civilization Village" in our Wednesday edition, but we admit we're curious to see what stunt Kim might dream up next.


A Ukrainian wall? – Next week, the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France will meet for the first time in more than three years to discuss the war in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists, which has so far killed more than 13,000 people. A senior advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky warned this week that Ukraine might build a wall to separate the Russia-backed breakaway provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk from the rest of Ukraine unless the Kremlin agrees to a ceasefire and prisoner swap. Failure to reach an agreement next week will again raise a painful question for Ukrainians: Should Ukraine recognize the renegade provinces as independent in order to deprive Russia of its foothold in Ukraine? Or do the Ukrainian people believe that such a surrender of territory is unthinkable?

France on strike - Nationwide protests against proposed pension reforms brought France to a standstill on Thursday, shutting down Paris' sprawling public transport system and leaving schools and hospitals unstaffed. The strikes – dubbed "black Thursday" by French media – started when President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to overhaul France's 42 separate retirement schemes in order to offset the country's ballooning deficit. France has one of the world's most generous pension systems, and French politicians tinker with it at their peril. For now, Macron is going full steam ahead (unlike last year, when he dropped a fuel tax hike because of the Yellow Vest protests). But growing social discontent is still his biggest challenge. After last year's protests he softened up his image and returned from the political dead, but can Macron defuse this latest crisis and keep the calm for another two years to win re-election?

Kashmiris lose WhatsApp – This week, at least one million Kashmiris had their WhatsApp accounts suddenly wiped from the platform, and no one knew why. It soon became clear that the Facebook-owned messaging app automatically disables accounts after 120 days of inactivity. Why were so many Kashmiris inactive for so long? Because four months ago India's government revoked the legal autonomy of Kashmir— India's only Muslim-majority state – and shut down the region's phone and internet communications, making it impossible for Kashmiris to use WhatsApp. India is WhatsApp's largest single market, and many Kashmiris rely on it to communicate with dispersed family and friends. Now they will be doubly cut off from their loved ones beyond Kashmir's borders.

What We're Ignoring

Sisi vs Tuktuk – The Egyptian government wants to do away with tuk-tuks, the popular motorized rickshaws that careen through the capital's streets, beeping and blaring Arab pop music. They pollute, yes. And they are a nuisance for some drivers, yes. But they are also a source of informal livelihood and transport for millions of lower-income people in one of the world's most crowded cities. Ya raagel, as they say in Egypt, this seems like a battle the government isn't going to win easily.

Microsoft has a long-standing commitment to child online protection. First and foremost, as a technology company, it has a responsibility to create software, devices and services that have safety features built in from the outset. Last week, in furtherance of those commitments, Microsoft shared a grooming detection technique, code name "Project Artemis," by which online predators attempting to lure children for sexual purposes can be detected, addressed and reported. Developed in collaboration with The Meet Group, Roblox, Kik and Thorn, this technique builds off Microsoft patented technology and will be made freely available to qualified online service companies that offer a chat function.

Read more at Microsoft On The Issues.

Vladimir Putin has ruled Russia for twenty years, but he has a problem: his current presidential term ends in 2024, and the constitution prevents him from running for re-election then.

As a result, the question of what he'll do in 2024 has been on the minds of Russia's oligarchs, spooks, bureaucrats, and a lot of ordinary folks, as well. After all, over the past two decades, Putin has made himself, for better and for worse, the indispensable arbiter, boss, and glue of Russia's sprawling and corrupted system of government. As the current speaker of Russia's legislature once said, "Without Putin, there is no Russia." Not as we currently know it, no.

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It's been nine years since Libya's long-time despot Muammar Qaddafi was killed in a violent uprising, bringing the oil-rich country to the brink of civil war. That conflict entered a new stage last year when violence between warring factions competing for territory intensified around Tripoli, Libya's capital, leading to the displacement of some 300,000 civilians. In recent weeks, fighting has intensified again, and ceasefire talks have failed. Here's a look at who's who and how we got here.

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India's supreme court to weigh in on citizenship law – India's southern state of Kerala filed a lawsuit in India's Supreme Court, claiming that a contentious new citizenship law that's caused nationwide protests is discriminatory and violates India's secular constitution. Kerala is the first state to legally challenge the new law backed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party, which opens a path to Indian citizenship for migrants from neighboring countries— provided that they are not Muslims. In addition to the Kerala action, at least some of the 60 petitions filed by individuals and political parties are also likely to be heard by the court next week. Amid a climate of deepening uncertainty for India's 200 million Muslims, we're watching closely to see how the court rules.

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Vladimir Putin has held power for twenty years now, alternating between the prime minister's seat and the presidency twice. He has made himself so indispensable to Russia's political system that even the speaker of the legislature has mused that "without Putin, there is no Russia." The constitution says he can't serve as president again after his current term ends in 2024 – but he'll find a way to keep power somehow. As he starts to lay those plans, here's a look back at his approval rating over the past two decades.