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.

In July, Microsoft took legal action against COVID-19-related cybercrime that came in the form of business email compromise attacks. Business Email Compromise (BEC) is a damaging form of cybercrime, with the potential to cost a company millions of dollars. Even the most astute can fall victim to one of these sophisticated schemes. The 2019 FBI cybercrime report indicates that losses from Business Email Compromise attacks are approximately $1.7 billion, which accounts for almost half of all losses due to cybercrime. As more and more business activity goes online, there is an increased opportunity for cybercriminals to target people in BEC attacks and other cybercrime. Their objective is to compromise accounts in order to steal money or other valuable information. As people become aware of existing schemes and they're no longer as effective, the tactics and techniques used by cybercriminals evolve.

To read about how Microsoft is working to protect customers, visit Microsoft on the Issues

"Go ahead, take it," President Putin says to you.

"Take what?" you ask.

"This Covid vaccine," he continues, turning a small syringe over in his hands. "It's safe. Trust me. We… tested it on my daughter."

Would you do it? Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting that a lot of people will say yes. On Tuesday he announced that Russia has become the first country to register a COVID-19 vaccine, and that mass vaccinations will begin there in October.

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The global race is on to develop a vaccine against COVID-19. While it usually takes many years to develop and widely distribute vaccines, scientists around the world are now trying to get one ready within an unprecedented time frame: 12-18 months. And while there is some international cooperation in that effort, there's also fierce competition among countries, as everyone wants to develop a vaccine on their home turf first, not only for prestige, but also to get their citizens at the front of the line for the shots when they are available. There are hundreds in development, but to date only eight vaccines have progressed to Phase III of the clinical trial process, meaning they are being tested on thousands of people and the results are compared with those who receive a placebo drug. Phase III is the final stage before approval. Who's gotten there so far?

45: A new poll says that 45 percent of Italians would support leaving the European Union if the UK economy remains in a "good state" five years after Brexit. Calls for a national referendum on "Italexit" are gaining steam in Italy, where a new anti-EU party is capitalizing on the sentiment that the EU abandoned at the country at its darkest hour with COVID-19 (despite Italy later getting the lion's share of the EU's coronavirus rescue package).

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Anyone with a pulse and a smartphone probably knows by now that the US-China rivalry is heating up these days, and fast. (If you know anyone who doesn't, get them a Signal subscription.)

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