Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching

Will he or won’t he? — Later today, President Trump will decide whether to effectively scrap the Iran nuclear deal. We don’t think he’ll do it and, as UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson made clear on Thursday, US allies won’t back such a decision. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are working on legislation that would make the deal permanent by eliminating the “sunset provisions” on Iran’s nuclear restrictions. If Iran implements its long-term enrichment program — which the deal allows but Trump opposes — US secondary sanctions would be reimposed.


Protests in Tunisia — This is the place where the Arab Spring began. Tunisia is rightly considered the one true democratic success story that emerged from that upheaval, but its democracy has hardly been a model of stability. Hundreds have been arrested following anti-austerity protests in several cities. Seven years and nine governments later, the economic pain continues.

Boris Nemtsov Street — Here’s another sign that much of Washington doesn’t share President Trump’s benign view of Putin’s Russia. The Washington DC City Council voted Wednesday to rename the street in front of the Russian Embassy in honor of Boris Nemtsov, an opposition figure murdered near the Kremlin three years ago. Various makeshift memorials to Nemtsov in Moscow, installed by his supporters, have repeatedly been removed or vandalized. Maybe Russia will respond to Washington’s move by naming the street in front of the US Embassy in Moscow after Edward Snowden.

Kim Jong-un’s birthday — Dear Leader, you thought we forgot, didn’t you? You thought, “I’ll just execute anyone who tries to make my birthday (January 8) a national holiday so that no one over at Signal remembers the day and agonizes over what to get me this year.” Fat chance, old friend. Your Celine Dion tickets are in the mail!

What We're Ignoring

The cultural invasion of Iran — Iran’s High Council of Education has announced a ban on the teaching of English in primary schools to repel a “cultural invasion” from the West. Looks like an ineffectual response from Iran’s conservatives to recent protests in the country, the largest since 2009.

The Skype Inauguration — Pro-independence parties in Catalonia have reportedly agreed to inaugurate Carles Puigdemont, who remains in self-imposed exile in Brussels, as president via Skype. This is not a decision any intelligent algorithm would have made.

Norishige Kanai — A Japanese astronaut told the world this week that he had grown nine centimeters taller in space. That’s more than 3.5 inches. (It’s common for astronauts to grow two or three centimeters as a lack of gravity allows the spine to lengthen.) “I grew like some plant in just three weeks,” Kanai tweeted from space. “I’m a bit worried whether I’ll fit in the Soyuz seat when I go back.” Later, Kanai admitted a measurement mistake; he had grown just two centimeters or three-quarters of one inch. C’mon, Kanai-san, astronauts have to know how to measure things. We do like tweets from space though.

"I knew that history was my life's calling."

On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

A few weeks ago, a Signal reader emailed me to ask why so much of our coverage of the world is so damn dark. Aren't there any good news stories out there?

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There's a lot of doom and gloom in the world these days, and much cause for pessimism. Still, the advent of new technologies and scientific advancements has lifted billions out of poverty and increased quality of life for many over the last half century. Since 1990, global average life expectancy has increased by eight years to 73, while GDP per capita has also grown exponentially, doubling over the past decade alone. We take a look at how life expectancy and GDP per capita have evolved globally from 1960-2019.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

Why can't President Biden order a vaccine mandate for all Americans?

Well, the reason is it's out of his powers. The one of the fundamental challenges in the pandemic is that the federal government has actually been fairly limited in the steps they can take to stop the spread of the virus. So, that's why you've seen President Biden order masks on transit, mass transit, airplanes, and the like. But he can't order masks in workplaces because that's not within his power. That power lies within state governments. State governments and other entities, like employers, can require vaccinations before you come into their buildings, or you come back to school, or you go to work in your office. But the federal government can't do that. What Biden is doing is, allegedly, supposedly going to announce a mandate for federal workers to get vaccinated.

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American gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee, 18, stunned spectators around the world with her breathtaking performance in Tokyo Thursday that earned her the gold.

Here are some interesting facts about Suni Lee, the gymnast queen:

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"Super Mario" takes his chances: Less than five months after becoming Italy's consensus prime minister, Mario Draghi's coalition government is on shaky ground over Draghi's proposed judicial reforms. "Super Mario" — as he's known for saving the Eurozone as European Central Bank chief during the financial crisis — wants to dramatically speed up Italy's famously slow courts. But his push to reduce judicial backlogs is opposed both by the populist 5-Star Movement, the coalition government's biggest party, and by prosecutors because many cases could be scrapped before reaching a verdict. Draghi, upset that this resistance is stalling his other initiatives to cut Italian red tape, has decided to roll the dice anyway: he'll put his plan to overhaul the courts to a no-confidence vote in parliament. If Draghi wins, he gets the reforms passed without debate; if he loses, the PM technically has to resign, but he'll keep his job because he has enough votes even if the 5-Star Movement bows out of the coalition.

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700: Roughly 700 people arrested for joining the unprecedented July 11 anti-government protests in Cuba are still being held by the regime. They may now face mass show trials as Havana continues to crack down on dissent following the biggest challenge to its power in decades.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

What is going on in Bosnia with Bosnian Serbs boycotting all major institutions?

Well, it's a reaction against a decision that was taken by the outgoing high representative during his very last days, after 12 years of having done very little in this respect, to have a law banning any denial of Srebrenica and other genocides. But this issue goes to very many other aspects of the Bosnian situation. So, it has created a political crisis that will be somewhat difficult to resolve.

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