Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching

Padmaavat — A new film opened this week in India. Padmaavat, based on a 16th century epic poem, is the story of a fictional Hindu queen and legendary Muslim king. Spoiler alert: He kills her husband in battle, and she protects her honor by throwing herself on his funeral pyre.


Rumors that an earlier version of the film included a dream sequence of romance between the Muslim king and Hindu queen, denied by the filmmaker, have provoked death threats against the cast and bomb threats against theaters showing the film. Courts have blocked attempts to ban the film. Riots followed the opening, and a group of 300 women has petitioned the Indian government for the right to kill themselves to protest the film. As we’ve noted before, the rise in Hindu extremism in India is a disturbing trend that deserves close watch in 2018.

Brazil Beyond Lula — On Wednesday, an appeals court in Brazil upheld a corruption conviction against former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, better known as Lula, that bars him from running for president again this year. This court won’t have the last word on that, but the smart people we talk to think Lula probably wouldn’t win even if he were allowed on the ballot, whatever this week’s polls say. Brazilians will likely vote for change this October. We’ll be watching in coming weeks to see what form that change might take.

What We're Ignoring

Iran’s Austerity — Iran’s parliament will soon approve a request from President Hassan Rouhani for a more-than-40 percent cut in the popular cash transfer program that triggered localized unrest earlier this month. This is part of Rouhani’s ongoing effort to get Iran’s financial house in order. Expect more protests around the country, some of them colorful, but public anger in unlikely to have any bigger impact on government this time around.

Saudi Arabia’s Camel Beauty Contest — At the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a traditional dromedary beauty contest now held outside Riyadh, camels are judged by, among other things, the size and shape of their lips, cheeks, heads, and knees. For many years, your Signal team has condemned the objectification of camel beauty. But no more protests. We’re ignoring this contest going forward because a dozen camels were disqualified this year for using Botox. Think this story is fake? It isn’t. Ask the Italian Postal Police.

The Academy Awards — Speaking of rigged contests, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced nominees for this year’s Oscars on Tuesday, and for the 90th year in a row, not a single member of your Signal team was nominated. Wish I could say we’re surprised.

We pay little attention to the waves of the sea, yet they are the greatest unused source of renewable energy in the world. Meet ISWEC and Power Buoy, two interesting new technologies used to harness this energy. Learn more about the extraordinary power of waves in this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series, where we investigate interesting facts and trends about energy.

Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

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A controversial new World Health Organization report on the origins of the coronavirus that suggests it likely originated from a bat but transferred to humans via an intermediary animal. Could the virus have emerged from a Chinese lab, as former CDC Director Robert Redfield recently suggested? That's the least likely scenario, says the WHO's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan. "The betacoronaviruses are very, very common in bats and there's a lot of genetic similarity between the SARS-CoV2 and many of the viruses in the...bat species," Dr. Swaminathan told Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

2.8 billion: Chinese regulators fined e-commerce giant Alibaba a record $2.8 billion — about four percent of its 2019 revenue — for abusing its dominant market position and forcing merchants to operate exclusively on its platform. Alibaba founder Jack Ma has fallen out with Beijing in recent months after the billionaire publicly criticized China's regulators for stifling innovation in technology.

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Vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens before the rest of the world, has been effective for rich nations like the United States and Israel. But leaving behind so much of the global population isn't just a humanitarian issue. It could prolong the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization's Chief Scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, who argues that what the global vaccination effort most urgently lacks are doses, not dollars. In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, she calls for a large increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and suggests we may be seeing alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Listen: Soumya Swaminathan calls for a massive increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants, in a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. Dr. Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, argues that vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens ahead of the rest of the world, will only prolong the pandemic because a virus does not stop at any national border. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and discusses when she thinks the world's children should get vaccinated. In addition, she suggests we may see alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

India, the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is one of the countries worst affected by climate change. But it takes issue with those now asking it to clean up its act. Why, the Indians ask, should we give up our right to get rich by burning fossil fuels like you developed economies have done for generations?

That's precisely the message that India's energy minister had for the US and other wealthy nations at a recent Zoom summit after they pressured Delhi to set a future deadline for net zero emissions. For India, he explained, such targets are "pie in the sky" aspirations that do little to address the climate crisis the country faces right now.

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The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are nearly a year away, but discussion of a potential boycott is already stoking tensions on both sides of the US-China relationship. Officials in Washington and other Western capitals are coming under mounting pressure from activists to respond to human rights abuses in China. An increasingly assertive Beijing, meanwhile, vigorously rejects any foreign criticism of what it regards as internal issues.

The last time the US boycotted an Olympics was in 1980, when it withdrew from the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviet Union repaid in kind by skipping the Games in Los Angeles. Would the US and its allies do something like that again? And how might China respond? Eurasia Group analysts Neil Thomas and Allison Sherlock explain the drivers of the boycott movement and its possible fallout.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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