What we are watching: EU power plays, Japan vs South Korea, and an Ethiopian Pandora's Box

What we are watching: EU power plays, Japan vs South Korea, and an Ethiopian Pandora's Box

Women in Power in Europe — European leaders have chosen German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, an ally of chancellor Angela Merkel, as their pick for president of the European Commission. The surprise choice came after deadlock sank the prospects of other leading candidates favored by the bloc's various political factions. At the same time, Christine LaGarde, the French head of the International Monetary Fund, was selected as the next head of the European Central Bank. If the European Parliament approves the new leadership slate in November, it'll be the first time that women have occupied the two most important EU jobs.

Abiy's Challenge — Abiy Ahmed has opened Pandora's Box in Ethiopia. Prime minister since April 2018, he's earned international praise by ending a 20-year war with neighboring Eritrea, freeing hundreds of political prisoners, and lifting bans on political parties. But this opening of the country's politics has encouraged competition for land among some of Ethiopia's 80 ethno-linguistic groups, provoking violence that has made internal refugees of nearly three million people. Abiy has shown that he wants to build a more open society, and we're watching to see if there's enough good will among the largest ethnic groups to negotiate an end to conflicts quelled in the past only by dictatorial governments.

Japan vs South Korea trade spat — On Monday, Tokyo slapped export controls on sensitive technology exports to South Korea, as a bilateral dispute between the countries over Japan's 20th century colonization of the Korean peninsula escalates. In recent months, South Korea has demanded that Japanese firms compensate laborers who say they were forced into virtual slavery when Japan occupied the peninsula between 1910 and 1945. Talks have broken down since Japanese firms refused to comply with the demand and Korean authorities began seizing some of their assets. We are watching to see how history shapes the present in this spat between the second and third largest economies in Asia.

What we are ignoring:

Russians' declining belief in the paranormal — A recent survey flagged by the Moscow Times suggests that Russians' belief in aliens, psychics, witchcraft, and other paranormal activity has plunged to a 30-year low, after surging during the reality TV era. We're ignoring this story because it's probably just what Vladimir Putin and the ghost of Grigori Rasputin WANT you to think. The truth is out there, Signal readers.

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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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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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?

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