What We're Watching: Panama’s Election and A Fresh Old Face in Argentina

Panama's election – On Sunday, voters in Panama will head to the polls to choose a new president. Corruption looms large in the first election since the 2016 release of the Panama Papers exposed the involvement of Panamanian banks and politicians in money laundering and transnational kickback schemes. But one conspicuously absent issue is: China. Panama and Beijing have become a lot closer in recent years, in part because of the Central American nation's critical position in global trade (the canal, yes). We're watching to see not only who wins the election, but how the next president balances between Panama's traditional allies in Washington and a more assertive China.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's poll numbers – Things just keep getting worse for Argentine President Mauricio Macri. A business-friendly centrist who rose to power in 2015, Mr. Macri is expected to seek reelection in October. But the economy is collapsing around him and now polls show that his likely opponent, former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, would beat him in a head-to-head runoff by a whopping 9 points. That's true even though Ms. Kirchner favors a return to questionable protectionist policies and currently faces charges for bribery, embezzlement, and money laundering.

What We're Ignoring: King Thai's the Knot and A War on Weekends

A royal wedding in Thailand – Thai King in Waiting Maha Vajiralongkorn announced this week that he's gotten married, just days before his long-awaited coronation. The lucky bride is Suthida Tidjai, a former flight attendant promoted to a position within the royal guard and given a generalship in the Thai military. We are ignoring this because, for one thing, she is Vajiralongkorn's fourth wife (watch out Larry King!), but mainly because the bigger story in Thailand is that social tensions are still high following elections in which the military junta that runs the country is accused of rigging the vote. Monarchic nuptials seem like a distraction.

Italy's War on the War on Weekends – The populist coalition of Lega and the Five Star Movement is now debating a measure that would force stores to close on Sundays, in order to get Italians to spend more time in church and with their families. We are ignoring this, because for one thing, anyone who has spent time in Italy knows that Italian shopkeepers are perfectly capable of making themselves scarce on Sunday without a formal law. But more importantly, the measure could cost some 2 billion euros in tax revenue and imperil 150,000 jobs.

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."

More Show less

The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.

More Show less

Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.

3: The US has recruited Australia to join its nascent mission of protecting ships in the critical Strait of Hormuz. Along with Britain and Bahrain, Australia is now the third country to join the US-led maritime mission, as high seas brinksmanship with the Iranians continues.

More Show less