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What We're Watching & What We're Ignoring


Theresa May's Next Gambit – After the historic defeat of her Brexit bill almost a month ago, the British prime minister has been scrambling to come up with a new plan. Yesterday, she delivered an update to the House of Commons on her efforts to renegotiate with the European Union, which have, somewhat predictably, proven fruitless. For now, May is playing a high-stakes game of chicken, hoping the EU will make concessions to assuages hardline Brexiteers at home before the March 29 exit date. But she could also quickly pivot toward a much softer stance, opting to maintain close UK-EU trade relations, if it presents the only clear way forward. We're watching to see how the UK prime minister plays her next big move.

Ivan Duque at the White House – Colombia's president will meet Donald Trump in Washington tomorrow, and Venezuela is top of the agenda. No country is more affected by Venezuela's meltdown than neighboring Colombia, which has already absorbed over a million refugees. The US has staged humanitarian aid for Venezuela in Colombia, but National Security adviser John Bolton's recently revealed chicken scratches about "5,000 soldiers to Colombia" has raised the prospect that something more serious is afoot. Duque and Trump will also discuss the contentious case of Jesus Santrich, a prominent FARC militant and drug trafficker whom Washington wants Bogota to extradite. The catch? Extraditing the notorious guerilla leader might violate the terms of Colombia's 2016 peace deal with the FARC.


India's Highly Sped Up Trains – Over the weekend, India's railway minister tweeted out a video showing the country's "first semi-high speed train…zooming past at lightening [sic] speed." The Vande Bharat Express has reportedly exceeded 180 kilometers per hour in tests. That's way below the 250-plus kilometers per hour achieved by the world's most advanced high speed rail lines, but it's a step forward for India's clunky rail service. Still, we're ignoring this attempt to burnish India's industrial development credentials, because the video appears to have been doctored to show the train moving at double the speed of the original footage.

Europe's Weltpolitikfähigkeitsverlustvermeidungsstrategie – For those in the back, that's German for a "strategy to prevent the loss of the capability to shape world affairs." We're ignoring this made up word, coined by the British historian Timothy Garton Ash at a kickoff event for the upcoming Munich Security Conference. Yes, the world order is disintegrating. No, we don't know who will pick up the pieces. Sure, Brexit will diminish the ability of both the UK and the EU to shape world affairs. But you try saying Weltpolitikfähigkeitsverlustvermeidungsstrategie three times fast. Bet you can't.

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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