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What We're Watching & What We're Ignoring

What We're Watching

The stock market It's been a rough month on Wall Street, with US stocks on track for their worst December performance since 1931. Here's why it matters, politically: President Trump is right when he says he has presided over one of the strongest US economies in recent memory.

Even the most committed partisans can't really quibble with the numbers. And yet, the president's party just lost 40 seats in the House. Trump himself remains also fairly unpopular heading into the 2020 campaign season, with fewer than 43 percent of Americans approving of his job performance. What happens if the economy starts to slump?

The rule of law in Poland – Poland's right-wing president, Andrzej Duda, formally reinstated around a third of the country's supreme court judges who had been forced into early retirement after the ruling Law and Justice party passed a law lowering the mandatory retirement age. The move came hours ahead of a deadline to comply with an October order from Europe's high court to scrap the law, which was seen by critics as an attempt to wipe out judicial independence and cement the ruling party's control over the bench. It is an important reversal and suggests Poland's nationalist see a need to ease confrontation with the EU ahead of European parliamentary elections and national elections next year.

What We're Ignoring

Russian internet trolls – A pair of reports published by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Monday painted a grim picture of foreign trolls run amok on social media during the 2016 US presidential election, including evidence of a sustained campaign to discourage African American voters from showing up at the polls. Documenting misinformation is important. But it's only a first step in addressing the more fundamental challenge facing democracies that are committed to both free speech and an open internet: figuring out how to get voters of all political stripes to think twice before reading, passing along, and acting on the information trolls promote.

America's growing cheese stockpiles – US cheese reserves are hitting new records – with 1.4 billion pounds socked away in cold storage as of the last count. It's partly due to Americans consuming more fancy foreign fromage, but experts say Mexican and Chinese tariffs on US cheddar and American cheese are also to blame. Fortunately, the holidays are here, and quick back-of-the envelope calculation shows that the current surplus amounts to a mere 5 pounds of cheese for every man, woman, and child in the United States. I, for one, will be doing my best to make a dent. Come on, America: you've got this.

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

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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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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


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