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What We’re Watching: Thai king is untouchable, Ugandan challenger arrested, US caves on Mexico DEA threat

Pro-demonstrators carry inflatable rubber ducks during a rally in Bangkok. Reuters

No reform for Thai monarchy: Defying the wishes of thousands of pro-democracy activists and protesters, Thailand's parliament declined to move forward constitutional reforms that would curb the powers of the king. The vote had been delayed until Wednesday due to violent clashes between protesters, royalists and the police that left 55 people injured and put inflatable rubber ducks in the crossfire. Shortly after parliament's decision, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha warned that he would use "all available laws" to end the protests, which have been going on for months, signaling that he might start enforcing Thailand's draconian lèse majesté law, which punishes any offense of perceived insult to the royal family with up to 15 years in prison. Will the streets stand down, or is the situation about to get worse?

What's going on in Uganda? The detention of Uganda's popular presidential candidate, the pop star-turned politician Bobi Wine, has set off a wave of protests across the country, prompting a heavy-handed response from police that's already resulted in at least seven deaths. Ugandan authorities say Wine was arrested for holding campaign events that breached COVID-19 restrictions, but his supporters claim that this is yet another attempt by longtime President Yoweri Museveni to quash dissent ahead of Uganda's general elections in January 2021. Museveni, who's held the top job since 1986, has used various legal tricks to tighten his grip on power, including two constitutional amendments — and he was last elected in 2016 after jailing the opposition. Meanwhile, Wine, a political newcomer, is running on a platform of change that promises to put "people" first and reverse the culture of corruption and intolerance of dissent that has defined Museveni's rule. Will he prevail?

The fate of General Cienfuegos: Last month, in a scene out of a Michael Mann film, US agents detained Mexico's former Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda at Los Angeles airport, on corruption and drug charges. At the time Cienfuegos, who headed the Mexican military from 2012 to 2018, was the highest-ranking Mexican former official ever detained in the US. Now, in a dramatic reversal, he'll be heading home to face prosecution in Mexico instead after the US dropped charges. Why? Because Mexico, which had been in the dark about the US operation, threw a fit over his arrest, reportedly threatening to kick out agents of the US Drug Enforcement Agency, which works closely with local authorities — particularly the Mexican army — to go after narcos and gangs. Now there are two questions: will Cienfuegos really see justice at home, and second, given the success of their threat, has Mexico City learned a useful pressure point for its future dealings with los yanquis?

Bank of America's $25 million jobs initiative provides Black and Hispanic-Latino individuals access to skills and training needed for jobs of the future. Learn more about the initiative, which involves partnerships with 21 community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic Serving Institutions.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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60: Africa's top public health official said Wednesday that 60 percent (780,000,000 million people) of the continent's inhabitants need to receive a COVID vaccine in the next 2-3 years in order to achieve herd immunity across Africa's 54 countries, and avoid the disease becoming endemic throughout the region. Despite recent optimism about the efficacy of several COVID vaccines, global health officials are worried that African countries will be at the back of the queue in obtaining doses.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on US politics:

Is Trump out of options now that William Barr said the DOJ found no election interference?

Trump's problem isn't William Barr not finding election interference, it's that he lost the election and he lost it by millions of votes, and he lost it in the most important key states by tens of thousands of votes. Now, this was a very close election. The three closest states, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona, Trump only lost by 44,000 votes so far, and if he'd ended up winning those three, we'd have an Electoral College tie. But the election was not close enough that Trump's strategy of trying to kick this to the courts and then getting it to go all the way to the Congress, with an alternate slate of electors, it just wasn't possible. Had the election been a little closer, he might've had a shot. But as it is, his chances are over. Joe Biden's going to be inaugurated on January 20th.

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET


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