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What We’re Watching: Trudeau hangs on, Mali sanctions lifted, US stimulus uncertainty

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Reuters

Canadian government survives confidence vote: Against the backdrop of intense political discord and an ethics controversy that caused his approval ratings to plummet in recent months, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government will live to see another day after surviving a confidence vote in parliament. Building on a "bold" plan for Canada's post-pandemic revival delivered last month (which many analysts criticized as lacking sufficient detail), Trudeau presented his plan for economic and social recovery — including the creation of 1 million new jobs in the near term — in what's called a parliamentary "Throne Speech." After some political wrangling, his minority Liberal government held on after a 77-152 vote, avoiding a snap election thanks to the support of the left-leaning New Democratic Party. A string of ethics scandals (in which the PM was found to have violated federal conflict of interest rules) has cratered support for Trudeau, a former darling of the center left. We're watching to see whether his ambitious recovery initiative will also steer Trudeau's own political bounce back.


Mali post-coup sanctions lifted: The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has removed the border and trade sanctions placed on Mali in the wake of the August 5 coup, a day after the ruling junta appointed a 25-member transitional government led by the former defense minister that will call elections within 18 months. The move represents an about-face for the regional economic power bloc, which initially made lifting the crippling sanctions contingent on a full transition to civilian rule but acquiesced to military officials taking over key roles, likely to prevent jihadists from filling the power vacuum by taking over parts of the country like they did right after another coup eight years ago. ECOWAS recognition and lifting of the sanctions are big wins for the junta leaders, who can now claim legitimacy for their uprising and resume business with neighboring countries. We're keeping an eye on the new government's ability to restore stability to post-coup Mali, which still grapples with worsening security (a problem affecting the entire Sahel), an ailing economy, and rampant corruption.

Trump's mixed signals on US stimulus: Hours after Donald Trump announced that his administration would not pursue another round of coronavirus relief legislation (which would, among other things, give cash to hard-hit Americans) until after the November election (if he is reelected), the US President walked back his original tweet, urging Democrats and Republicans to agree on a relief package for US airlines, small businesses, as well as direct payments to individual Americans. In response to the flip-flop, the US stock market tanked and later bounced bank, while both parties were left confused about how to move forward. It's unclear why Trump appeared willing to risk further hurting US businesses — and workers — to boost his reelection odds by gambling the stimulus deal on his (unlikely) victory. Either way, it appears that Congressional Republicans might have convinced the president to backtrack after the Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell warned of dire economic consequences if an aid package is not passed — and fast. Meanwhile, negotiations remain deadlocked. Will there be a breakthrough before November 3?

Microsoft has been looking at ways its technology and resources can help address some of the challenges journalism faces, and the company shared some of the initial work. It includes a new community-based pilot program that looks at ways to provide journalists and newsrooms new tools, technology and capacity, and expand reach for local news outlets. It also includes a new pro bono program, also in pilot form, to provide legal support to journalists and smaller newsrooms, and an expansion of AccountGuard to help protect journalists from cyberattacks. The company will build on top of work already under way by Microsoft Research and the Microsoft Defending Democracy team that's designed to tackle issues such as disinformation. To read more about the Journalism Initiative, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, US President George W. Bush demanded that Afghanistan's Taliban government surrender Osama bin Laden and end support for al-Qaeda. The Taliban refused.

On October 7, US bombs began falling on Taliban forces. NATO allies quickly pledged support for the US, and US boots hit the ground in Afghanistan two weeks later.

Thus began a war, now the longest in US history, that has killed more than 3,500 coalition soldiers and 110,000 Afghans. It has cost the American taxpayer nearly $3 trillion. US allies have also made human and material sacrifices.

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US and Russia buy time to talk arms control: Americans and Russians are close to agreeing on a one-year extension of their last remaining nuclear arms control agreement. For months the two sides have been unable to settle on terms to extend the New START treaty, an agreement limiting long-range nuclear weapons that was hammered out by the Kremlin and the Obama administration back in 2011, and expires next February. One of the main points of contention was the Trump administration's insistence that Russia bring China into any new arms control pact. But Beijing has no interest in capping its nuclear arsenal at levels far lower than what the US and Russia have, while the Kremlin says that if China is part of it, then other Western nuclear powers like the UK and France should join as well. But those disputes will be shelved now, as Moscow and Washington have agreed to freeze their nuclear arsenals for one year and to keep talking about an extension in the meantime. Of course, the Kremlin — which proposed the one-year extension as a stopgap — can't be sure just whom they'll be talking to on the US side after January…

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It almost didn't happen — but here we are again. US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden face off tonight in the final presidential debate of the 2020 campaign.

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Three years ago, long before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, a different kind of virus spread around the world: a piece of malicious software code launched by a nation state. It paralyzed computer networks in hundreds of countries, disrupted global shipping, forced pharmaceutical factories to shut down, and inflicted an estimated $10 billion of economic damage.

On the physical battlefield, a widely accepted set of rules, backed by international law, governs conduct, with the aim of protecting soldiers and civilians. Establishing common rules or guardrails is much harder in cyberspace, where borders can't be easily defined and the tools and tactics of combat are always changing. But it has never been more urgent.

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