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.
To unpack recent events, GZERO Media interviewed Ali Safavi, a longtime member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran — the main political opposition group to Iran's theocracy — whose leaders have lived in exile for decades. Safavi has taught at several American universities and has been an analyst for Western media outlets. He was also involved in the campaign to remove the Mujahedin-e Khalq movement — which the NCRI is closely linked to — from the lists of terrorist groups in the US (2012) and Europe (2009).
The MEK was formed in the 1960s by leftist-student groups to overthrow the American-backed Shah. While its supporters view it as a freedom movement advocating democratic reform in Iran, its detractors condemn the MEK's militaristic past. Indeed, many Iranians shunned the group for joining forces with Saddam Hussein against Tehran during the brutal Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). (Meanwhile, accusations of cult-like tendencies plague the group today.)
This conversation with Ali Safavi has been edited for length and clarity.
GD: What do you make of the latest protests in Iran and what, if anything, makes them different from previous mass demonstrations?
AS: I think the recent protests have to be seen in the context of the developments of the past few months in Iran. Obviously what has happened is the continuation of four nationwide uprisings that erupted in Iran since 2017. And if anything, it goes to show that despite all the repressive measures that the regime has put in place, particularly since November 2019, that it cannot extinguish the flames of resistance and opposition to the regime.
Over the past year and a half, the most effective and closest ally of the Iranian regime has been the coronavirus. The regime has basically invested in the strategy of mass casualties — it is not providing the necessary assistance to the people. It seems that the Iranian people are emerging from the burden of the coronavirus and expressing their pent up anger and their demands for freedom and liberty.
The scope of the uprising this time is also different. Already there have been protests in 14 different provinces. And the interesting feature of all of these protests is the unanimity in the slogans that people express: "down with the dictator," "down with absolute rule of the clergy," and "down with Khamenei."
GD: Are those slogans new? Have they not been used before?
AS: Yes they have. But I think what is important is that, ostensibly, the protest in Khuzestan was over water shortage, but it quickly became political. The protest yesterday in Tehran was because of electricity cuts. So yes, people have different and specific grievances, but at the end of the day, the root cause of all of these calamities is the regime in Tehran. Today is the 13th or the 14th day of what began in Khuzestan in early July. And so it goes to show that the regime clearly cannot contain the protests; the regime is at its weakest and most fragile state in its 40-year history.
GD: Realistically, what role can the NCRI play in affecting change considering that your group is not actually in the country?
AS: While of course it is true that the leadership of the NCRI has been in exile, that is not to say that its network has been absent within the country. In every city that you see protests now, there have been hundreds of MEK members or sympathizers who have been executed by this regime in the past. And of course these people have families and many of them have children who are now grown up. And so the people that you see out in the streets, the fact that they repeat the very slogans that the MEK or the NCRI have been promoting for years goes to show the effectiveness of our movement.
GD: What do you think the Biden administration should be doing now vis-à-vis Iran policy?
AS: The Democratic Party and President Biden's platform during the election was that human rights and democracy will be front and center [in his administration]. He [Biden] should remain true to that pledge. And I think, for example, what happened in Khuzestan with eight people being killed, according to Amnesty International, required a decisive condemnation on the part of the administration. But what do we see? They are observing. Observation is not enough. You have to condemn Iran. Iranian people need to know that the Western world and particularly the United States stands with them in the real struggle for emancipation and freedom.
This whole JCPOA discussion is fruitless and helpless and is to the detriment of the Iranian people. Are they really going to lift the sanctions against Khamenei, the man who is responsible for, among other things, the 1988 massacre?
GD: What about the argument that these economic sanctions hurt ordinary Iranians?
AS: I think this is a false narrative that the pro-Iran lobby propagates in Western capitals. Remember, during Ahmadinejad's presidency Iran had $600 billion worth of oil revenues. Where did that money go? Why are 12 million Iranians hungry every night? Iran is a country with the second largest gas reserves in the world. Giving concessions to this regime has not improved the lives of average Iranians, and giving concession to this regime has not empowered the so-called moderates within this region.
GD: What's your response to detractors who say the NCRI, formerly designated a terror group by the US State Department, has a violent past, and that there isn't a constituency today in Iran that supports the group?
AS: When [former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini declared a reign of terror in June 1981, basically eliminating the last vestiges of peaceful political activity, the MEK had no choice, but to defend itself. And of course, that right is recognized even by the Catholic Church, that whenever you have no other means of defending yourself, you can use whatever means are necessary. Nobody welcomes violence, but it is not we that dictate the form of this struggle. It is the enemy that does that.
We have always said to all of those who say we don't have any semblance of support inside Iran: Okay. Let's have a free election and see who the people of Iran will vote for. If they vote for us, fine. If they don't, that's also fine. We have been an opposition movement for 56 years. We're perfectly willing to be an opposition movement for another 56 years.
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July 28, 2021
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
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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?
Tunisians are fed up. Over the past year, Tunisians have repeatedly taken to the streets in the largest numbers in a decade to decry the stagnant economy, rising inequality, inadequate public services, and dwindling job opportunities for young people (even before the pandemic, youth unemployment was already at 36 percent, the highest rate in North Africa.) Young Tunisians led the protests, often battling trigger-happy police.
COVID, of course, made everything worse. It crushed Tunisia's labor-intensive tourism industry, and forced thousands of Tunisian migrants to hop on boats across the Mediterranean headed for Europe via Italy, which saw a five-fold increase in arrivals in 2020. Right now, COVID infections rates are soaring while barely 7 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
More broadly, the people feel politicians remain as corrupt as they were under Ben Ali, and have failed to deliver on the promise of democracy to provide a better life for ordinary Tunisians. Trust in the system has plunged after highly fragmented parliaments have created a series of fragile coalition governments that slow-walk meaningful reforms, leaving the country in economic stagnation and a permanent political stalemate.
Constitutional crisis. Saied's sudden move has created a constitutional crisis because it's unclear he had the authority to dissolve the government on his own.
A former constitutional law professor who was elected as an independent in late 2019 to root out endemic corruption, the president says he's within his constitutional powers to govern by decree until he appoints a new PM. It's an unusually out-of-character performance by Saied, who styles himself as a moderate statesman and whom many Tunisians jokingly refer to as "Robocop" for putting audiences to sleep with his monotone delivery during speeches.
However, the moderate Islamist Ennadha party, as the largest force in parliament and the coalition government, insists it must nominate the next prime minister. (Ennadha — which was banned by Ben Ali for being inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood — has always been part of democratic coalition governments and won the 2019 parliamentary election, but fell short of an outright majority.)
The problem is that the separation of powers under Tunisia's mixed presidential-parliamentary system is somewhat confusing: just weeks ago, Saied and Mechichi were squabbling about who controls internal security amid the former's broader plans to reform the constitution. Interestingly, the constitution says a special court should resolve those disputes… but (surprise!) the executive and legislative powers still haven't agreed on how to set it up.
Next moves. Whether you think it's a power grab or a necessary intervention to address a crisis, Saied's action has captured the zeitgeist by moving against a political establishment that most Tunisians have long resented. However, it's hard to imagine how he will be able to govern once he restores parliament because he doesn't have a party of his own. As president, he controls the military, but the reformist Robocop would rather make Tunisian democracy work than become dictator of a police state.
At a minimum, the situation creates more urgency for Tunisia's politicians to fix a system that — imperfect as it may be — gives the people a lot more of a say than in any other country that experienced the Arab Spring.
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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.
What's happening in Tunisia and how will it affect the broader region?
Well, massive unlimited employment, lots of corruption from the government and also COVID on top of all of that. And just, remember this was the one country that kind of successfully had a transition during the Arab Spring and didn't revert to authoritarianism. But it's a weak constitution, there's lots of open contestations in terms of what some of these rules really mean, who has power, what the separation of powers look like. And what ended up occurring was the president sacked the prime minister and suspended parliament and used the military in so doing. And it's absolutely unclear he has a constitutional mandate to do so. A lot of people demonstrating saying, this is awesome. A lot of people demonstrating saying this is illegal and a coupe. The United States in contact with the president and expressing both concern but also support in this early day. Economically these guys are in a lot of trouble and political stability kind of doesn't exist right now. So look, lots of countries around the world on the back of COVID going to experience much more political instability, Tunisia leading the pack in North Africa right now.
Are you watching the Olympics? What's your favorite event?
I've been watching a little bit of the Olympics, it is in Tokyo. I turned on the NBC coverage late evening the other day. Have to say my favorite event for Summer Olympics has to be the gymnastics. And it's really sad to see the United States unable to pull off the gold to the team that was formerly known as Russia, but has had their name suspended because of all of the doping. And very sad to see Simone Biles who is in a league of her own on planet have to pull out for medical reasons. But still I think the Olympics... I've always been a fan of the Olympics. I like anything that brings the world together and has us root for humanity. That's harder to find these days and any excuse we have, I'm all for it.
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July 27, 2021
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.
Bosnian Serb boycott: Bosnian Serbs are threatening to paralyze the country's decision-making institutions over the UN peace envoy's plan to outlaw genocide denial. The envoy, who has broad executive powers under Bosnia's 1995 UN-brokered peace accord that he rarely uses, unilaterally amended the country's criminal code last week to mandate punishment for those who deny that Bosnian Serbs committed genocide and war crimes during the bloody conflict in the 1990s. (Bosnian Serbs often downplay the Srebrenica massacre, which killed 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, and celebrate their former leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, both sentenced to life in prison for genocide.) The threatened boycott is a big deal, because Bosnia's joint presidency, parliament and government — which Bosnian Serbs share with the country's Muslims and Croats — rely on participation from all three ethnicities, and there's no easy way out of this mess.Haiti's assassination probe continues: Haitian police have arrested the head of Jovenel Moïse's security detail on suspicions he was involved in the July 7 presidential assassination. So far, more than two dozen suspects have been detained, including 18 former Colombian soldiers, but we still don't know who killed Haiti's president. Right now, the most plausible theory is that wealthy Haitians living outside the country — including a Florida-based doctor with presidential ambitions of his own — hired Colombian mercenaries to take out Moïse because he wanted to break a corrupt elite's grip on power in Haiti. Meanwhile, the country remains without a head of state and in total chaos. The Biden administration has rebuffed the Haitian government's request to send in US troops to restore order, and newly appointed Prime Minister Ariel Henry has a lot of work to do before Haiti is ready for another presidential election.
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Hard Numbers: Korean hotline returns, Indian cops kill each other, COVID in Tajikistan, Eswatini MPs arrested
July 27, 2021
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.
5: Five police officers were killed in a rare shootout between cops from two neighboring states at a contested area in northeastern India. Tensions have been rising recently over a long-simmering border dispute between Assam and Mizoram (Mizoram used to be part of Assam until it became its own state in 1987).
3: Three nephews of President Emomali Rahmon reportedly beat up Tajikistan's health minister and a senior doctor after their mother, Emomali's sister, died from COVID last week. Tajikistan only recently admitted coronavirus infections after months of denying the pandemic's existence and even now insists it has the situation under control, despite rising cases and deaths.
2: Two lawmakers in Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) have been arrested and charged with terrorism after speaking out in favor of democracy in Africa's last absolute monarchy. Dozens of people have been killed in rare anti-royal protests in the country, where demonstrators resent how King Mswati III spends lavishly while most people live in poverty.
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Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some intriguing, uplifting, and quirky facts about the Games that have many people on edge.
Today — what's the smallest country (by population) to win a gold medal in a summer Olympics?
The island nation (population 63,000) erupted in joy on Tuesday when Flora Duffy won the women's triathlon in Tokyo. She smoked her rivals by finishing over a minute ahead of the second-place finisher.
"I think the whole of Bermuda is going crazy," said the 33-year-old Duffy, who as a teenager turned down the opportunity to compete for the UK, the former colonial power.
Fun fact #1: The 51-km (31.7-mile) triathlon event course is longer than the distance from end to end of Bermuda.Fun fact #2: The least populated country to win gold at a winter Olympics is... Liechtenstein in 1980 (current population 39,000).
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