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.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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.

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:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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