What We're Watching: Norway and the ISIS question

Norway's government breaks up over ISIS returnee – Norway's right-wing Progress Party said it will resign from the country's four-party coalition government over the prime minister's decision to bring home a Norwegian woman affiliated with the Islamic State in Syria. The woman, who left Norway for the conflict zone in 2013, was arrested shortly after arriving in Oslo with her two children, on suspicion of being a member of ISIS. Prior to her return, she had been held in the Al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria, along with thousands of other family members of ISIS fighters. The defection of Norway's anti-immigrant Progress Party undercuts Prime Minister Erna Solberg's parliamentary majority, likely making it hard for her to pass laws in parliament. This case reflects an increasingly common problem for European countries: the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate has largely collapsed but what should countries do about the return of former fighters and their families to societies that don't want them?


Falling tensions along the Nile – Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan last week agreed to a draft deal to defuse tensions over Ethiopia's plan to dam a portion of the Nile River, a vital source of water and a strategic trade route that flows through all three countries. The deal, which is due to be finalized at a meeting in Washington on January 28-29, will involve filling the soon-to-be-completed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in stages during the region's wet season. The idea is to manage water levels to balance Ethiopia's need to generate electricity with Sudan and Egypt's need to access water trapped by the dam during droughts and other water shortages. We're watching this story, because Egypt had earlier threatened military action over Ethiopia's plans, which would have stoppered the source of 85 percent of its water. Negotiations over the final details could still throw the agreement for a loop.

Venezuela one year on – A year ago, with Venezuela mired in a harrowing political and humanitarian crisis, the US and dozens of other democracies recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president, and slapped heavy sanctions on the regime of strongman Nicolas Maduro. But while Guaido still has strong foreign support – he's just met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and is reportedly en route to Davos – the reality is that Maduro remains firmly in power at home. With the support of Russia and, more tacitly, China, Maduro has maintained the loyalty of his top generals, and succeeded in dividing and cowing the opposition. Guaido's approval ratings have fallen below 40%, as once-lively support for the opposition has flagged in the absence of real progress. What's more, there isn't a whole lot of scope for tighter international sanctions at this point, and virtually no chance that Washington would intervene militarily. Puppet Regime called this one right.

What We're Ignoring

The Earth sandwich – On Monday, Etienne Naude, a student at Auckland University in New Zealand, realized his dream to create an "Earth sandwich." He placed a slice of white bread on a beach in Auckland at the same moment that a stranger he recruited online placed a slice of bread directly across the globe, 12,724 kilometers (7,906 miles) away, in a field in southern Spain. Precise placement of the two bread slices was determined by careful computation of longitude and latitude using Google maps. We're ignoring this story for two reasons. One, white bread, Etienne? Really? Two, if you're going to use white bread, there better be condiments. Where are the condiments?

Are the US and China headed for a new Cold War over technology? Judging by what we heard a few days ago at the Munich Security Conference, a major trans-Atlantic gathering for world leaders and wonks, you'd certainly think so. US, European, and Chinese officials at the event all weighed in with strong words on the US campaign against Chinese 5G giant Huawei and much more. Here are the main insights we gleaned from the proceedings:

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A few weeks ago we first took a look at how a bat (possible origin of the coronavirus) could have a butterfly effect on the world economy.

China accounts for about a fifth of global economic output, a third of global oil imports, and the largest share of global exports. That means that any time the Chinese economy shudders or stumbles, the shockwaves circle the globe. And China is most certainly shuddering.

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Bloomberg takes the stage – Tomorrow's Democratic debate will be the first to feature media tycoon Mike Bloomberg, who in recent weeks has thrown hundreds of millions of dollars behind an ad campaign designed to position himself as a viable, moderate candidate who can beat Trump. As his support in national polls has climbed to nearly 20 percent, Bloomberg – who largely sat out the earlier rounds of Democratic campaigning – has come under attack for sexist comments in the past as well as his support, as NYC mayor, for "stop and frisk" policing tactics that disproportionately targeted people of color. Bloomberg will immediately be at war not only with the moderates whom he wants to displace – Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Joe Biden – but especially with the front running left-progressive Bernie Sanders. It will likely be quite ugly and we're certainly tuning in.

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150: As the Chinese government continues to expand travel restrictions, hoping that reducing human contact will stop the virus from spreading further, at least 150 million people are now facing government restrictions dictating how often they can leave their homes. That's more than 10 percent of the country's total population who are currently on lockdown. Some 760 million are under partial, locally enforced restrictions.

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