What We're Watching: Poles to the Polls

Poland's Choice – The past 30 years have been good to Poland. Its trade unionists helped advance the fall of Communism in the late 1980s. Its newly capitalist economy began to grow in 1992. The country joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. Poland hasn't suffered a recession in 27 years. Yet, the country's politics have shifted toward anti-EU populism. The current government, led by the Justice and Development Party, has brought the judiciary and media under its thumb, and has condemned resulting criticism from Brussels. On Sunday, Poles go to the polls for an election that will determine whether Poland continues in this direction. A strong economy is widely expected to lift the governing party to victory.


A Gulf Attack? Earlier today, there was a large explosion aboard an Iranian tanker in the Persian Gulf. Early reports suggest the vessel was struck by two missiles, but that's not yet clear this morning. Oil from the tanker has spilled but the crew is reportedly safe. The hit comes just weeks after tensions in the region soared following an attack on Saudi Arabia's main oil production facility. That attack was claimed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, but both the US and Saudi blamed Iran. At the time, President Trump decided not to strike back at Iran on Saudi Arabia's behalf, instead sending a small contingent of US troops to Saudi Arabia to bolster the kingdom's defenses.

Beijing and Apple's Core Business – A day after China's state media took aim at Apple Inc. for serving as an "escort" for Hong Kong "rioters," the tech giant pulled an app – known as HKmap.life – from its iPhone app store. Beijing's beef? The app was helping protesters coordinate their movements by tracking the location of Hong Kong police through crowdsourced data. Apple's cost-benefit calculation isn't hard to grasp: The greater China region, Apple's third largest market, accounts for about $44 billion per year. This particular app has entangled the Silicon Valley giant in the same China-Hong Kong fight that has ensnared other large businesses, most recently the US-based National Basketball Association (NBA). As Beijing's patience with Hong Kong's protests wears thin, we're watching to see how much more aggressive it will become with companies caught in the crossfire.

Floyd Shivambu's Wedding Bills – Floyd Shivambu is a member of South Africa's Parliament and deputy to Julius Malema and his firebrand leftist political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). A South Africa expert and good friend introduced your Friday author to Mr. Shivambu in 2013, just as the EFF was beginning to make news. During our meal, Shivambu explained that EFF's exposure of South Africa's corrupt political elite would help the upstart party become one of the most important in Africa. When I asked Shivambu how the EFF raised money, he told me that all its cash came from the sale of the party's trademark red berets. Six years later, Mr. Shivambu faces a parliamentary investigation of allegations he paid for his 2017 wedding from a political slush fund.

Drudge Vs. Trump – A new Fox News Poll released on Wednesday found that 51 percent of those surveyed want Donald Trump impeached and removed from office. The president isn't happy about it, but he may have an even more significant problem to contend with. Since 1995, the news aggregation website The Drudge Report has served as a reliable signal of opinion within US right-wing media. In recent weeks, the site has featured a surprising number of news items that include sharp criticism of President Trump. We're watching to see if this trend continues, and if other media outlets on the right begin to criticize Trump more openly as impeachment momentum gathers force.

What We're Ignoring

Russian-NK News – Worried about the impact of "fake news" on politics? We've got good news. On Tuesday, Russia's TASS news agency signed a cooperation agreement with the North Korean state news agency KCNA, that commits these two venerable news organizations to fight back against the "misrepresentation of information in the news environment" and to "counter the dissemination of such fake news." Problem solved. Take the rest of Friday off.

Electricity consumption in our homes contributes 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions. What if we could transform this huge contributing factor into a solution? That's what Eni's luminescent solar concentrators can do. These transparent, colored slabs can be inserted into home windows to capture solar energy and generate electricity. By adjusting to the brightness and temperature of your home, they can even save you money on heating and air conditioning costs.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

How did an entire country's media spread false news for a night?

Fascinating case study in France over the weekend. For less than a day, we thought that the most wanted men in the country had been caught in Scotland. Turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. The so-called news was actually reported quite carefully at first, on Friday night with careful words. But the language quickly moved from conditional to categorical and therefore, to misinformation through human error. What you have here is the tension between being first and being right, which has always been present in journalism but is more and more as you have these 24 hour news channels, social media, and the incredible economic pressure on news sites that are advertising based and therefore click based.

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Donald Trump announced a fresh "phase 1" trade deal with China last week, part of his ongoing bid to reduce the United States' huge trade deficit with China. The US has been buying more from China than China buys from the US for decades, but since coming into office Trump has made reducing that deficit central to his "America First" agenda. It's not easy to do. Consider that in 2018, after two full years of the Trump administration, the trade deficit with China actually swelled to its highest level since the Clinton years. That's because many perfectly healthy economic factors contribute to a trade deficit: stronger economic growth under Trump has meant more demand for foreign goods, so as long as the economy keeps humming along, it will be hard for Trump to reduce the deficit. Likewise, the strong US dollar makes foreign goods cheaper for US consumers to import, while China's own economic slowdown in 2018 decreased Chinese demand for American goods. For a historical perspective on all of this, here's a look at how the US-China trade balance has developed under each US president going back to 1993.

On Friday, we detailed the main arguments for and against President Trump's decision to withdraw US troops from a pocket of northern Syria where their presence had protected Washington's Kurdish allies against an attack from Turkey. We then asked Signal readers to let us know what they thought.

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Dangerous Chaos in Syria – Turkey's military move into northern Syria had two stated goals: to push Kurdish fighters inside Syria further from Turkey's border and to create a "safe zone" inside Syria in which Turkey could place up to two million Syrian refugees currently living in camps inside Turkey. But the Kurds have now allied with Syria's army, which is backed by Russia, and these forces are now moving north into that same territory toward Turkish troops and Arab militias backed by Ankara. Meanwhile, large numbers of ISIS fighters and their families have escaped prisons where Kurds had held them captive. Turkey's President Erdogan vows to press ahead with his operation until "ultimate victory is achieved." Pandora's Box is now wide open.

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