What We're Watching: EU sues Poland, pandemic widens global gender gap, Niger foils coup attempt

 Supporter of Judge Igor Tuleya stands with a banner in front of the National Public Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw, Poland January 20, 2021.

EU takes Poland to top court: In a significant escalation in the ongoing row between Brussels and Warsaw, the EU has referred Poland to Europe's top court, citing concerns over its undermining of judicial independence. Brussels has long expressed concern about the dilution of democratic norms under President Andrzej Duda and his ruling Law and Justice party, which came to power in 2015. Since then, Duda has given broad powers to the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, which has purged and suspended Polish judges who are critical of government actions and cut the salaries of judges who oppose changes to the judicial system. Brussels has long been at loggerheads with member states Hungary and Poland, both of which are led by "illiberal" populists. This came to a head last year when Brussels included a provision in the bloc's pandemic recovery package that made disbursement of funds contingent on respecting EU rule-of-law norms.


COVID reverses gender equality progress: It's well established that the cultural and economic impacts of the pandemic have hit women particularly hard. Now, a new World Economic Forum report says that 2020 was so devastating for gender equality globally that it will likely take another 151 years — 36 more than estimated just 12 months ago — to close the global gender gap. Interestingly, the area where the gap grew the most — 2.6 percent — in 2020 is politics. While many countries made progress on women's political representation, those gains were overshadowed by the poor performance of a smaller group of economic heavyweights including China, India and Japan, which have poor records when it comes to female participation in politics. As women-led movements aiming to reshape politics around the world gather steam, we're watching to see whether such grassroots pressure will succeed in creating long term change.

More unrest in Niger: After gunfire was heard before dawn close to the presidential palace in Niamey, Niger's capital, the government swiftly declared it had foiled a coup attempt by several members of the army. The fresh wave of unrest comes just two days before the inauguration of newly elected President Mohamed Bouzom. Details of the attempted coup are sketchy, but at least some soldiers are not happy about Bouzom's runoff election victory over former president Mahamane Ousmane, who himself was toppled in a coup in the mid 1990s. Ousmane rejected the December results, citing vague allegations of fraud, and his supporters rioted on the streets of Niamey to show their outrage. The coup attempt raises fears of further political unrest in coup-prone Niger, which was looking forward to its first-ever peaceful transition of power after incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou stepped down. This comes as Niger is also suffering a wave of attacks by jihadists, who will surely benefit from more political instability in one of the world's poorest countries. Will Bouzom, a former interior minister known for being tough on terror, be able to get the situation under control?

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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