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.

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.