What We're Watching & What We're Ignoring

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

Billionaire kingmakers in US politics – The man who brought the world the venti caramel Frappuccino shook up US politics over the weekend, telling 60 Minutes that he's "seriously considering" running for president as a "centrist independent." Former Starbucks boss Howard Schultz, estimated to be worth $3 billion, certainly has the cash to mount a credible outsider challenge. But Democrats and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, another independent-minded billionaire who has toyed with a presidential bid, warned the move could split opposition to Donald Trump, helping the incumbent president win another term. Trump himself questioned whether Schultz had "the guts" to enter the race. We're watching this closely, because a well-funded independent run would add an extra shot of crazy to the 2020 contest.

The concerns of America's intelligence chiefs – The leaders of America's major intelligence agencies presented their annual threat assessment to the Senate yesterday. The report highlighted the fracturing of America's global alliances and growing strategic alignment between China and Russia as two major threats. On other issues, like North Korea and Iran, the intelligence community and Trump administration are decidedly out of step. Trump has been at odds with the experts before, but this year he'll also be facing an emboldened Democratic majority in the House, making it harder to downplay the disconnect.

WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

Theresa May's latest Brexit "victory" – Yesterday, the UK's embattled prime minister scored a pyrrhic victory with the defeat of a bill that would have forced her to delay Brexit unless a "no deal" scenario, in which ties with the EU are abruptly severed, is categorically ruled out. Parliament also passed an amendment calling on May to modify a section of the current deal that temporarily maintains the free flow of goods and people along the North Irish border, spurring hopes that there might actually be a Brexit agreement that can gain the support of Parliament. But here's the problem: the EU has made clear for months it isn't willing to budge on the issue. This "victory" smells more like a prelude to defeat.

Cambodia's record-breaking propaganda – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is taking a novel approach to exciting the country's youthful population about his aged, authoritarian government: calling in the Guinness Book of World Records. Since 2015, the strongman ruler and his 36-year-old son, Hun Many, have engineered a string of record-breaking stunts, including the world's biggest sticky rice cake (8,900 pounds), longest scarf (3,772 feet), our personal favorite, a 2,015 person Madison line dance, and most recently, in November, the world's longest dragon boat (286 feet). We're ignoring these obvious marketing ploys, and watching this video about a record-breaking cat that's longer than a baseball bat instead.

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And go deeper on topics like cybersecurity and artificial intelligence at Microsoft on The Issues.

Last weekend, world leaders, security experts, and business executives flocked to the Hotel Bayrischer Hof in Munich for the 55th annual Munich Security Conference. What's the Munich Security Conference? Think of it a bit like Davos, but with policymakers in dark suits rather than billionaires in Gore-Tex.

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Speaking of trans-Atlantic rifts, we've written previously about the US pushback against Huawei, arguably the world's most geopolitically significant technology company. The Trump administration has been trying to convinceits European allies to ban the Chinese tech giant from their next-generation 5G information networks, citing national security risks. Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even warned of consequences for countries that don't toe Washington's line on the issue.

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Over the past 20 years, hundreds of millions of people in China have been pulled out of poverty by their country's staggering economic growth. Beijing today is a rising power on the global stage. That's all pretty great, and yet the country still ranks beneath war-torn Libya and perpetually melancholy Russia in the United Nations World Happiness Report. This week's Economist hazards a guess about what really makes people smile or scowl, but here's how China stacks up for joy against other countries.