Watching and Ignoring

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Trump and Cuba — Last year, the Trump administration banned US citizens from doing business with dozens of entities linked to Cuba’s military and security services. In the process, the president indulged one of his favorite pastimes: undoing stuff Obama did. But 20 years ago, a report in Newsweek alleged that representatives of a Trump company had gone to Cuba to explore business opportunities in violation of the Cuba embargo. As Cuba moves beyond the Castros, might Trump want to outdo Obama again, this time by ending the embargo, while creating new opportunities for the family business?


Killer robots — To extend my fascination with 1968 another week, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the release of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the greatest film ever made that you should never start watching after 9pm. In other news, governments met in Geneva this week to discuss whether and how to regulate killer robots. Officials call them “Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems,” but they’re talking about killer robots.

Buhari’s bid —Despite unanswered questions about the state of his health, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari announced Monday that he’ll run for re-election. The vote will be held next February. Buhari is 75, and he spent several months in London last year receiving treatment for an undisclosed illness. In 2015, Buhari’s inauguration marked the first peaceful transfer of power from one party to another in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, since the country returned to democracy in 1999. But his poor health has contributed to fears that the corruption- and terrorism-plagued country lacks effective leadership. Within hours of his announcement, Buhari boarded a plane for London, though officials won’t say whether he plans to receive medical treatment there.

WHAT WE’RE IGNORING

The Myanmar verdicts — On Wednesday, a military court in Myanmar sentenced seven Myanmar soldiers to 10 years in prison with hard labor for “contributing and participating” in the murder of 10 Rohingya Muslims. The evidence suggests there were a whole lot more than seven people involved in crimes against the Rohingya. And as of this writing, two Reuters journalists arrested for investigating this crime are still in jail.

A “Protect Mueller” Law — The Senate Judiciary Committee may vote on a bipartisan bill designed to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of President Trump. The measure would reportedly give any special counsel 10 days after being fired to challenge the dismissal in court. We’re skeptical this proposal will ever go to the full Senate for a vote.

Hódmezővásárhely — Five weeks ago, I highlighted the Hungarian town of Hódmezővásárhely, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party had just taken a 16-point shock defeat in an election for mayor. “Is this a harbinger of electoral trouble for Orban,” I wrote? Hardly. Orban and Fidesz won a landslide victory in national elections this week. Extensive research (a one-minute Google image search) assures us that Hódmezővásárhely, aka “The Peasant Paris,” is a lovely town, but we’ll now go back to ignoring it.

Each month, Microsoft receives about 6,500 complaints from people who've been victims of tech support scams. But it's not just Microsoft's brand that the scammers leverage; fraudsters have pretended to be from a number of other reputable tech companies and service providers. These scams will remain an industry-wide challenge until sufficient people are educated about how they work and how to avoid them.

To measure the scope of this problem globally, Microsoft commissioned YouGov for a new 2021 survey across 16 countries. Results from the 2021 survey reveal that, globally, fewer consumers have been exposed to tech support scams as compared to the 2018 survey. However, those people who continued with the interaction were more likely to have lost money to the scammers than we saw in our previous survey. To read the highlights of the survey, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Next week, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner who is ideologically and personally close to Iran's 82 year-old supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will be inaugurated as Iran's president. This power transition comes as the country experiences a fresh wave of protests that started in Iran's southwest over water shortages earlier this month and has since spilled over into dozens of provinces.

Some close observers of Iranian society and politics say that popular discontent there is now more widespread than it has been in years, making the Iranian regime more vulnerable than ever.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

QR codes are everywhere. Are they also tracking my personal data?

Well, a QR code is like a complex barcode that may be on a printed ad or product package for you to scan and access more information. For example, to look at a menu without health risk or for two-factor verification of a bank payment. And now also as an integral part of covid and vaccine registration. QR codes can lead to tracking metadata or personal data. And when your phone scans and takes you to a website, certainly the tracking starts there. Now, one big trap is that people may not distinguish one kind of use of QR codes from another and that they cannot be aware of the risks of sharing their data.

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Was the world so focused on climate change that warning signs about the COVID-19 pandemic were missed? Historian and author Niall Ferguson argues that, while the climate crisis poses a long-term threat to humanity, other potential catastrophes are much more dangerous in the near future. "We took our eye off that ball," Ferguson says about COVID, "despite numerous warnings, because global climate change has become the issue that Greta Thunberg said, would bring the end of the world. But the point I'm making in DOOM [his new book] is that we can end the world and a lot of other ways, much faster." Ferguson spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview for GZERO World.

Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

As COVID-19 cases rise, are vaccine mandates coming?

Oh, you just want to get me in more trouble. Yeah, some mandates are coming, but they're not national mandates in the United States. In some cases, you're looking at federal and state employees, in some cases you're looking at lots of individual corporations, universities, and such. I mean I've already been to a number of events where vaccines have been mandated in New York. You've got this Excelsior Pass if you want to go to the Brooklyn Nets games, as I certainly do. You show it off and that gets you in with your vaccine. So I think it's really going to be a decentralized process. But clearly, given Delta variant and the number of people that are getting sick and dying because they're not vaccinated, you're going to see moves towards more mandates, as a consequence.

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Castillo takes over in Peru: After almost two months of protests, baseless allegations of fraud from his rival in the runoff election, and even rumblings of a coup, Pedro Castillo will be sworn in as president of Peru on Wednesday. A former rural school-teacher famous for riding on horseback, wearing a cowboy hat and waving a giant pencil to show how much he cares about education, Castillo has big plans to achieve big change. But he won by just a razor-thin margin in a deeply divided country, and Peru's dysfunctional political system will likely hobble his attempts to get major legislation passed. Moreover, despite having moderated his positions, half of the country still sees him as a communist who might turn Peru into another Venezuela. Castillo's most immediate task is dealing with the twin crises of a deadly pandemic and a COVID-fueled economic crisis that has hit poor Peruvians — his base — the hardest.

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13: The two Koreas have restored their communication hotline almost 13 months after Pyongyang abruptly cut it in response to Seoul not doing enough to prevent North Korean defectors from sending propaganda leaflets across the shared border. The hotline was established in 2018 following a historic meeting between North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

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