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The Vatican’s role in U.S.-Cuban détente was years in the making

ERIC REGULY

Pope Francis finished 2014 with a bang. The man of God, it turns out, can also work his magic on decidedly Earthly matters. Last week, he brokered a détente between the United States and Cuba that, five decades after it started, should finally end the Cold War for Cuba. If Pope John Paul II was instrumental in tearing down the Iron Curtain, it was Pope Francis who finished the job.

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North Korea is only part of the story about cyberthreats

COLIN ROBERTSON

What should have been another mindlessly entertaining, forgettable holiday flick is now cyberfuel for a much bigger story.

That the Seth Rogan comedy, The Interview, with its Kim Jong-un assassination sub-plot would unleash the hacking of Sony Pictures; that the studio would cancel the picture; that the FBI would name North Korea as the perpetrator; and that U.S. President Barack Obama would vow to “respond proportionately”; has moved it from Hollywood farce to national security crisis.

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New York Times poll highlights the debate over the ‘American Dream’

DAVID SHRIBMAN

Of all the events in the United States this month–the wrangling over the budget on Capitol Hill, the Republican victory over a veteran Democrat in an important Senate runoff in Louisiana, the firestorm over the CIA report, the early maneuvering for advantage in the presidential race–the most startling and most important may have been one poll finding and one headline on the front of the Business pages of The New York Times the other day.

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New electoral mandate for Abe, same economic mire for Japan

NATHAN VANDERKLIPPE

Each December at a temple outside Kyoto, a priest wields a brush and, with a dramatic flourish, smears a kanji character onto a white sheet. The ritual marks the selection of the Japanese character of the year, done by popular submission, and it’s not a bad reflection of the spirit of the times.

Last year was “rin,” which means “ring” and had echoes of the 2020 Olympic Games Japan was awarded in September, 2013. It was a hopeful time. The charismatic globe-trotting prime minister Shinzo Abe, and his Abenomics, had given the nation’s economy a jolt, and its people the prospect of a release from years of economic melancholy.

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Entrenched impunity for despots in developing world

ROBERT I. ROTBERG

Citizens subject to unjust and tyrannical developing world despots have lost another major protection against misrule and leader-perpetrated violence. World order is now unable readily to curtail ethnic cleansing. Impunity seems to have triumphed, and the Canadian-born Responsibility to Protect norm been weakened.

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As oil prices continue to slide, what North America really needs is a common energy strategy

COLIN ROBERTSON

A North American energy strategy to help kickstart continental competitiveness. It is a tall order for our energy ministers who meet in trilateral discussion next week in Washington.

The Canadian, American and Mexican ministers - Greg Rickford, Ernest Moniz and Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, respectively - meet as followup to the leaders’ summit held last February in Toluca, Mexico. Their assignment: to promote common strategies on renewables, energy efficiency, infrastructure, innovation, and trade.

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Karl Marx on the comeback trail in Germany

JOANNA SLATER

Thuringia is a smallish state in central Germany known for its abundant forests and winter sports. It rarely makes national headlines. But on Friday, something happened there that will go down as a turning point in post-Cold War history.

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany’s far-left party succeeded in taking power at the state level in Thuringia – the first such victory since the country was reunified in 1990. The party, which now goes by the name “die Linke,” or “the Left,” is the direct heir to the Communist Party that once ran East Germany.

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Murder of American teacher shocks expats, officials in UAE

SONIA VERMA

For Canadians living in the Persian Gulf, something about this story felt horribly familiar: Last Monday, someone wearing a niqab and flowing abaya walked into Abu Dhabi’s Boutik Mall. The person walked into a public bathroom and waited. About an hour later, Ibolya Ryan, a 47-year-old American kindergarten teacher, walked into the same bathroom while her 11-year-old twin sons, Aidan and Adam, waited for her in a nearby coffee shop. Inside the bathroom, Ms. Ryan was stabbed to death.

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What I learned while reporting in Ferguson

OMAR EL AKKAD

On Thursday night in Portland, Oregon, where I live, there was another protest. The demonstrators blocked a few streets downtown; they went to the Moda Center, where the Trailblazers were in a tight one with the Indiana Pacers. They were marching because another grand jury had decided not to indict another cop for killing another unarmed black man. The incident they were protesting this time happened in Staten Island, the full width of the continent away. But they were angry nonetheless – not only because of what happened, but of the underlying, centuries-old imbalances that allow such a thing to happen. It was a protest against an act but also against a system.

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How the Islamic State brought Iran and the U.S. together

PATRICK MARTIN

Kurds are pinching themselves this week to make sure they’re not dreaming – Did their Kurdistan regional government really reach agreement Tuesday with the federal government in Baghdad that gives the semi-autonomous northern enclave just about everything it ever hoped for in an oil production arrangement?

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A year after Mandela’s death, a gloom has descended on South Africa

GEOFFREY YORK

On Friday morning, to mark the first anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death, South Africans will ring bells, blare sirens and blow vuvuzelas for three minutes. That cacophony will be followed by three minutes of silence.

The entire event – six minutes and seven seconds – is meant to symbolize the 67-year political career of the anti-apartheid hero who helped liberate South Africa from the oppression of white-minority rule. It will be followed by prayers and political speeches at a memorial service, where the lofty rhetoric will flow like wine.

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Scrapping of pipeline shows Putin has left Russia with very few friends

MARK MacKINNON

For much of this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin has seemed to be playing one move ahead of the West in the showdown over Ukraine. But the cancellation of a multibillion-dollar pipeline project – one that would have delivered Russian gas to Europe while bypassing Ukraine – shows Mr. Putin’s gamesmanship has left Moscow with very few friends it can rely on.

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U.S. midterms barely over; it’s time to think of 2016

DAVID SHRIBMAN

It’s started.

The midterm congressional elections are barely over, and the turkey leftovers from American Thanksgiving are still turning up – turkey tetrazzini, anyone? – but what is beginning to be served up in this most remote but most political of states is presidential politics.

Presidential campaigns start early here; the New Hampshire primary, the first in the nation, is a full 15 months away, an eternity in Canadian politics but a mere blink in time in American politics. Last month, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton created a flurry when she flew into New Hampshire to campaign for Democratic candidates, attracting a notable crowd and helping Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Governor Maggie Hassan win re-election. Scouting parties on behalf of other candidates – Republicans as well as Democrats – have been sighted in Concord, the state capital, and Manchester, the state’s largest city.

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‘The Church is finished’ – Iraq’s Christians under siege

PATRICK MARTIN

The giant cross, framed by a sweeping arch, can be seen for blocks peering out from above the two- and three-storey buildings in the Baghdad neighbourhood of Karada.

“Christians live here,” it seems to say, or at least they once did.

The modern-looking Church of Our Lady of Salvation is one of a vanishing number of Christian institutions in war-torn Iraq. The invasion of the radical Islamic State movement has destroyed churches and monasteries and greatly accelerated the decline of Christian numbers, a drop that began in 2004.

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