What We’re Watching: Kim Jong-un is messing with our emotions!

Kim Jong-un keeps everybody waiting – Christmas has come and gone without the promised "gift" from the North Korean dictator, but we're still watching to figure out what he's up to. Maybe Kim chickened out and decided not to test a new ICBM as some experts feared. Or maybe he's just waiting until his year-end deadline for progress in talks with the US lapses before lashing out. Maybe he really meant Orthodox Christmas, which falls on January 6th. Or perhaps Chinese and Russian efforts to convince the UN to roll back some sanctions have changed his thinking. Whatever the case, we expect that North Korea will continue to make headlines in the new year – and not in a good way.


Iran's reaction to US airstrikes – US warplanes struck at Iranian proxy militias in Iraq and Syria over the weekend, killing 25 fighters allegedly in response to the death on Friday of a US civilian contractor in a rocket attack in Iraq. Iran, which uses its proxies to maintain military and political influence in Iraq and Syria, has warned of a tough response. We'd note that neither side has killed members of the other's military, but we are watching closely to see if and how this may escalate.

Strange political bedfellows in Austria, a trend? – The center-right Austrian People's Party is reportedly on the verge of agreeing to form a government with the left-wing Greens. A deal would return People's Party leader Sebastian Kurz to the prime ministership just months after a corruption scandal brought down the party's coalition with the far-right Freedom Party. We're watching this story because it shows how ideologically flexible European mainstream parties may need to be in order to stay in power.. For example, could this merger of odd political bedfellows persuade Germany's center-right CDU to turn to Germany's Greens if Chancellor Merkel's grand coalition with the center-left SPD falls apart next year?

What We're Ignoring

The Pope's call for communication – Pope Francis called on the faithful last week to put away their mobile phones while at the dinner table. His Holiness is making an undeniably laudable point: spending less time hunched over our phones would almost certainly mean better conversations, more meaningful relationships, and possibly a better world. But we do wonder where the Pope's 18 million Twitter followers got this news.

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As the coronavirus pandemic has plunged much of the world economy into turmoil, you've probably heard a lot about what might happen to "supply chains," the vast networks of manufacturing and shipping that help create and deliver all those plastic toys, iPhones, cars, pills, pants, yogurt, and N95 face-masks you've been waiting on.

The future of global supply chains is an especially important question for China, the world's manufacturing powerhouse. Some countries and companies now worry about relying too much on any single supplier for consumer and medical goods, let alone one where the government hid the first evidence of what became a global pandemic and sometimes enforces trade and investment rules in seemingly arbitrary ways. The US-China trade war — and the vulnerabilities it reveals for manufacturers — certainly don't help.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Got through the Fourth of July. Pretty rough one for 2020 here in the United States. Still in the thick of it as we see caseload exploding in the United States. But really, the virus is all about developing markets right now. Poor countries around the world very soon, with the exception of the US and the UK, all of the top 10 countries around the world in terms of coronavirus caseload will be poorer countries. Let's keep in mind, these are countries that test a lot less, which means the actual numbers, in the United States the experts are saying probable likelihood of total cases is about 10x what we've actually seen in the US, in emerging markets and most of them, it's more like between 20 and 100. In other words, this is really where the virus now is.

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Many countries around the world — mostly democracies in the Americas, Asia, and Europe — have condemned China's recent move to implement a draconian new security law for Hong Kong that in effect ends the autonomy granted to the territory when it reverted from British control to Chinese rule in 1997. However, last week 52 countries expressed support for China's decision at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Most of these countries either owe China a lot of money or are relatively authoritarian regimes themselves — but not all of them. Here's a look at the China-debt exposure and freedom rankings of the countries that took Beijing's side on the new Hong Kong law.

0: The trial in the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi opened in a Turkish court on Friday, but 0 of the 20 Saudi agents accused of the gruesome murder were actually in the courtroom. Saudi Arabia says its own closed-door trial over the slaying was sufficient, and has so far refused to extradite the suspects to Turkey, where Khashoggi was killed.

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