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?

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For more on our collective efforts to combat Covid-19 around the world visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Did you know that COVID-19 is caused by 5G networks? Were you aware that you can cure it with a hairdryer, cow urine, or a certain drug that isn't fully FDA-approved yet?

None of these things is true, and yet each has untold millions of believers around the world. They are part of a vast squall of conspiracy theories, scams, and disinformation about the virus that is churning through the internet and social media platforms right now.

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15: So far, 15 US states and territories have delayed their primaries amid coronavirus fears, with many expanding vote-by-mail options to protect voters' health. Six of them have picked June 2, which is now an important date to watch.

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The danger to informal workers grows: Coronavirus lockdowns have created a world of uncertainty for businesses and workers around the world. But one group of people that could be hit particularly hard are those working in the so-called "informal economy," where workers lack formal contracts, labor protections, or social safety nets. Nowhere is this challenge more widespread than in Africa, where a whopping 85 percent of the work force toils in the informal sector. These workers, which include street vendors, drivers, and the self-employed, don't have the luxury of working from home, which makes social distancing unviable. As a result, many continue to go to work, risking exposure to the virus, because not turning up is often the difference between putting food on the table and starving. What's more, even where governments are trying to provide support, many people lack bank accounts, complicating efforts to get them aid. In Nigeria, for example, some 60 percent of people do not even have a bank account, according to the World Bank.

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As Europe inches past the peak of COVID-19 deaths and the US slowly approaches it, many poorer countries are now staring into an abyss. As bad as the coronavirus crisis is likely to be in the world's wealthiest nations, the public health and economic blow to less affluent ones, often referred to as "developing countries," could be drastically worse. Here's why:

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