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.

The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace launched in 2018 with the commitment of signatories to stand up to cyber threats like election interference, attacks on critical infrastructure, and supply chain vulnerabilities. Last week, on the first anniversary of the call, the number of signatories has nearly tripled to more than 1,000 and now includes 74 nations; more than 350 international, civil society and public sector organizations; and more than 600 private sector entities. These commitments to the Paris Call from around the world demonstrate a widespread, global, multi-stakeholder consensus about acceptable behavior in cyberspace.

Read More at Microsoft On The Issues.

What changes now that the U.S. softened its position on Israeli settlements?

Well, I mean, not a lot. I mean, keep in mind that this is also the administration that moved the embassy to Jerusalem, from Tel Aviv. Everyone said that was going to be a massive problem. Ultimately, not many people cared. Same thing with recognition of Golan Heights for Israel. This is just one more give from the Americans to the Israelis in the context of a region that doesn't care as much as they used to about Israel - Palestine.

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Bolivia's polarizing interim president: After Bolivian president Evo Morales and his deputies were pushed out of office for rigging last month's presidential election, little-known opposition Senator Jeanine Añez took office as interim leader. Añez has promised to guide the country toward a "national consensus" ahead of new elections in January, but she's already risked deepening political divides. On day one, she lugged a giant bible into office, in a perceived swipe at Morales, who had elevated popular indigenous traditions that the ultra-conservative Ms. Añez once called "satanic." She's also abruptly reoriented the country's foreign ties toward Latin America's conservative governments. On her watch, at least eight pro-Morales protesters have been killed by the authorities. Morales himself, exiled in Mexico, says he's the victim of a coup and wants to run in the elections. Añez says he's barred, but his MAS political party still controls both houses of congress and has to be a partner for any smooth transition. Some compromise is necessary, but things don't seem to be going that way.

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2,887: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has now broken a century-old record to become the longest serving PM in Japan's history, at 2,887 days. It's a stunning feat for a premier who made a political comeback after quitting in 2007 due to a series of embarrassing scandals.

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