What We're Watching & What We're Ignoring

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

The Brexit War of Words – The French and Italians aren't the only ones trading verbal jabs in Europe this week. After European Council President Donald Tusk speculated publicly on a "special place in Hell" for Brexit supporters who lack "even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely," Brexit-backer Sammy Wilson of Northern Ireland attacked Tusk as a "devilish, trident wielding, euro maniac." This is good stuff. We're big fans of hilariously creative insults.

Judgment Day in Kuala Lumpur – Judgment Day is nearly here for Najib Razak. On February 12, the former Malaysian prime minister's corruption trial is scheduled to begin in Kuala Lumpur, and Malaysians are expecting to hear prosecutors explain how Najib amassed multiple homes and sacks of cash, jewelry, and other luxury items, as well as $681 million in his private bank account. Has Malaysia, one of Southeast Asia's most dynamic economies, really turned a corner on corruption? We'll be watching for the verdict.

Japan's Elderly Crime Wave – In 1997, about 5 percent of crimes in Japan were committed by people over the age of 65. By 2017, the percentage had risen to 20. Why? Some say Japan's pension system isn't generous enough and that the elderly are choosing prison, where they're guaranteed three meals a day, over poverty. Others add that many older Japanese would rather live within a prison community than isolated and lonely on the outside. Whatever the cause, this is a problem worth studying in all countries with fast-expanding populations of pensioners.

WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

Shaolin Sheep – Can sheep do Kung Fu? See for yourself. Your Friday author is ignoring the threat posed by flying sheep, because he would never do anything to get a sheep this mad.

Russian Witches – Forget the "witch hunt" in Washington. The Signal team has located the real thing in Moscow. On Tuesday, a group of self-described Russian witches gathered in the Russian capital for a "circle of power" intended to strengthen Vladimir Putin and return his enemies to the abyss. They wore black robes and chanted things like "Come up with the greatness, power of Russia, direct the way of Vladimir Putin right and correctly." We're ignoring this hocus pocus, because we're frankly even less worried by this than by sheep who do Kung Fu.

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."

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The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.

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Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.

3: The US has recruited Australia to join its nascent mission of protecting ships in the critical Strait of Hormuz. Along with Britain and Bahrain, Australia is now the third country to join the US-led maritime mission, as high seas brinksmanship with the Iranians continues.

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