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What We're Watching: New US Supreme Court justice, Morales can go back to Bolivia, Nile dam talks resume

Judge Amy Coney Barrett is sworn in as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as her husband Jesse Barrett and President Donald Trump watch on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 26, 2020

SCOTUS battle rages on: In a major victory for US President Donald Trump just a week out from the presidential election, the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, who was then swiftly sworn into office at a nighttime ceremony at the White House. Barrett, a conservative who was tapped to replace deceased Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just 46 days out from the presidential election, is the first Supreme Court justice to be confirmed in over 150 years without the support of a single member of the minority party. Democrats are furious, saying that Republicans — who blocked Obama from filling a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016, arguing at the time that the seat should only be filled after the next US president was elected some nine months later — have cynically backtracked on their own assertions. Democrats have also called the rushed confirmation process "illegitimate." Pressure is now mounting on Joe Biden (specifically, from the progressive wing of his party) to expand the size of the Supreme Court should he win in November, so Democrats can install liberal justices to offset the crucial court's hard-right shift.

Evo Morales' likely return: A Bolivian judge on Tuesday dismissed an arrest warrant for alleged sedition and terrorism against former president Evo Morales, paving the way for Morales, who led the country from 2006 to 2019, to return to Bolivia without fear of detention. Although the warrant was thrown out over a technicality, the investigation against Morales continues. If Morales does return, he'll still likely be expected to show up in court to face the charges, which stem from his alleged role organizing roadblocks in the wake of the disputed 2019 election. Morales initially claimed victory in last year's vote, but the military forced him to resign amid allegations of vote-buying and civil unrest. He has since lived in self-imposed exile in Mexico and Argentina, but vowed to return if Luis Arce, the candidate aligned with his socialist MAS party, won the October 18 October presidential election (he did, in a landslide). Now that Morales will likely be back soon, we're watching to see how his physical presence in Bolivia will affect Arce's first moves as president, given how the new president — a UK-educated economist who seeks to end Bolivian political polarization — distanced himself from Morales during the campaign.

Nile dam talks are back on: Negotiators from Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan were set to meet (again) on Tuesday to discuss the controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Upper Nile river, which Addis Ababa says it needs to generate electricity but Cairo and Khartoum say will leave their farmers' crops dry. Nearly two months after Cairo walked out of the last round of talks over Addis Ababa's new timeline to fill the reservoir, the latest discussions have been overshadowed by an outside player, the United States, after President Trump suggested Cairo could "blow up the dam" if an agreement is not reached soon. Trump's comments outraged the Ethiopians, who have long complained that the Americans have blatantly favored their Egyptian allies in US mediation efforts. Ethiopia also resents Trump's decision to cut over $100 million in US development aid after Addis Ababa soured on a US-brokered deal to end the dispute. As the three interested parties return to the negotiating table, they will be closely monitoring the result of next week's US election — will a future Biden administration be as keen as Trump to back Egypt?

Knowing the secrets of the Earth requires a great deal of exploration and intellectual curiosity. Fit for this job is geologist Giuseppe Valenti, Eni's Senior Vice President, whose role is to explore below the Earth's surface and understand the history, movements and age of each single grain of sand. Today, he is able to go underground without leaving the office thanks to new technologies and advanced x-rays that relay real-time data. Though working in the lab is distinctly different from his past adventures traveling the world, Giuseppe is not nostalgic for the past. He says he will always be Indiana Jones in spirit.

Watch the latest Faces of Eni episode to learn more about Giuseppe's inspirational life.

The person a US president taps to assume the coveted role of secretary of state, the nation's top diplomat, says a lot about that president's foreign policy ambitions and global vision.

Indeed, the selection of Henry Kissinger (Nixon and Ford), James Baker (George H.W. Bush), Hillary Clinton (Obama) and Rex Tillerson (Trump) to head the State Department, provided an early window into the foreign policy priorities — or lack thereof — of their respective bosses.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, happy Monday, Thanksgiving week. Things starting to look increasingly normal in terms of outlook, in terms of having all of these vaccines. I understand that the next few months in the United States are going to be incredibly challenging, but so much easier when you see that there's light at the end of the tunnel and you know where that's coming. Most recently, the AstraZeneca announcement, which for me, in some ways is a bigger deal globally, even than what we've seen from Moderna and Pfizer, because it doesn't require freezing, it's just refrigeration, which means that countries around the world that don't have the infrastructure to deal with this cold chain requirements of these vaccines will be able to use another set of vaccines with different technology. That's not just AstraZeneca, it will be Johnson and Johnson. It's the Russians. It's the Chinese.

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Although the United States and the European Union have comparable population sizes, until recently the trajectories of their COVID-19 outbreaks have been vastly different, with the EU seeming to have kept the pandemic mostly in check during the summer months. The US has now surpassed twelve million total infections as most states, particularly in the Midwest, are fighting massive outbreaks. But now Europe is doing even worse: states across the continent are seeing an uptick in average infection and mortality rates that dwarf those of the US, leading several European countries to implement fresh national lockdowns. Here's a look at the seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases, and three-day rolling averages of new deaths and new deaths per capita in the EU vs the US since March.

Guatemala in crisis: In the latest unrest to hit the streets of a Latin American capital, a group of demonstrators — angry about a controversial new budget — set fire to the Guatemalan parliament building over the weekend. The budget, negotiated largely in secret while the country reels from the impact of the pandemic and back-to-back hurricanes, cuts funding for healthcare, education, and human rights organizations while boosting money for infrastructure and — get this — adds more than $50,000 for lawmakers' meal stipends. The mostly peaceful protesters, along with the Catholic Church, are demanding at a minimum that President Alejandro Giammattei veto the budget, but some on the streets are calling for him and his whole government to step down entirely. Vice President Guillermo Castillo has offered to do just that, but only if the president jumps ship with him. Can Giammattei find a solution or is this a rerun of 2015, when mass protests unseated the government of then-President Otto Perez Molina? With its economy battered by the pandemic and natural disasters, Guatemala can ill afford a prolonged crisis.

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The 2020 US Election


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