What We're Watching: Frozen Texas, another Nigerian kidnapping, Super Mario's next level

What we're watching: Frozen Texas, another Nigerian kidnapping, Super Mario's next level

Texas on ice: Winter storms and uncharacteristically freezing weather have plunged the normally toasty US state of Texas into a severe crisis, as power grids knocked offline by the cold had left nearly 3 million people without electricity by Wednesday morning. The state's 29 million residents are now subject to rolling blackouts. Like everything else in America, the situation in Texas has already become a partisan football. Republicans skeptical of renewable energy seized on a handful of frozen wind turbines to argue that the failure of clean energy sources was responsible for the crisis, but data show the collapse in energy supply is overwhelmingly the result of natural gas infrastructure being knocked offline by the cold (pipelines in Texas generally aren't insulated.) In addition, because of resistance to federal regulation, Texas' grid runs with lower reserve power margins and no connection to surrounding state grids, meaning that no power can be imported when a crisis strikes. The sustainability of that model is likely to be the subject of fierce political wrangling in coming months, and will likely spill over into debates on Capitol Hill about "Green Stimulus." For now, millions of Texans are shivering, and not happy about it.


Another school kidnapping in Nigeria: Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has sent his security chiefs to coordinate the rescue of 42 people — including 27 children — abducted by gunmen from a school in the central state of Niger. Such kidnappings are a recurring tragedy in Nigeria: in 2014, Boko Haram militants abducted 276 schoolgirls, prompting the #BringBackOurGirls viral campaign, and just two months later they kidnapped close to 400 schoolchildren in northeastern Katsina state. This time, however, the kidnappers are reported to be not Islamist militants but an armed gang holding the hostages for ransom money. It's the first major test for the country's new military command, which Buhari reshuffled less than a month ago to better respond to Nigeria's multiple security crises, including a recent spike in... kidnappings. Will Buhari's top brass be up to the task of freeing the hostages without coughing up some cash?

"Super Mario" vs Italian red tape: Newly minted Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced on Wednesday a raft of ambitious reform proposals to help his country recover from its pandemic-induced economic crisis and attract fresh investment. His wish-list includes overhauling the income tax system, spending big on education and research, digitizing Italy's antiquated public administration systems, and speeding up the country's sluggish courts. But can he succeed where previous Italian PMs have failed? Draghi has two things going for him. First, unlike his predecessors who had to mop up the Italian debt crisis a decade ago, he won't be constrained by unpopular austerity restrictions when he starts spending Italy's share of the EU coronavirus relief fund. And second, Draghi poses no direct threat to any political party because he doesn't intend to stay on after his government's term expires in two years. Draghi is still hailed for saving the Eurozone a decade ago, but tackling Italy's entrenched and famously bloated bureaucracy may prove to be an even badder Bowser for the man known as "Super Mario."

"I knew that history was my life's calling."

On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

Alcohol. It's a dangerous drug that has ruined countless lives and derailed many a global summit. But it's also humanity's oldest social lubricant, a magical elixir that can fuel diplomatic breakthroughs, well into the wee hours of the night. As Winston Churchill once quipped, "I've taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me." On GZERO World, we take a deep dive down the bottle and examine the role alcohol has played in society, politics, and global summitry—from the earliest hunter-gatherer days to that memorable Obama Beer Summit in 2009. Joining Ian Bremmer is philosopher Edward Slingerland, whose new book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way Into Civilization makes a compelling, if nuanced, case for alcohol's place in the world.

Also: since alcohol isn't the only social drug, a look at the state of marijuana legalization across the US and around the world.

A few weeks ago, a Signal reader emailed me to ask why so much of our coverage of the world is so damn dark. Aren't there any good news stories out there?

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Listen: A deep dive down the bottle to examine the role alcohol has played in society, politics, and global summitry—from the earliest hunter-gatherer days to that memorable Obama Beer Summit in 2009. Joining Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast is philosopher Edward Slingerland, whose new book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way Into Civilization makes a compelling, if nuanced, case for alcohol's place in the world.

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.

There's a lot of doom and gloom in the world these days, and much cause for pessimism. Still, the advent of new technologies and scientific advancements has lifted billions out of poverty and increased quality of life for many over the last half century. Since 1990, global average life expectancy has increased by eight years to 73, while GDP per capita has also grown exponentially, doubling over the past decade alone. We take a look at how life expectancy and GDP per capita have evolved globally from 1960-2019.

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:

Why can't President Biden order a vaccine mandate for all Americans?

Well, the reason is it's out of his powers. The one of the fundamental challenges in the pandemic is that the federal government has actually been fairly limited in the steps they can take to stop the spread of the virus. So, that's why you've seen President Biden order masks on transit, mass transit, airplanes, and the like. But he can't order masks in workplaces because that's not within his power. That power lies within state governments. State governments and other entities, like employers, can require vaccinations before you come into their buildings, or you come back to school, or you go to work in your office. But the federal government can't do that. What Biden is doing is, allegedly, supposedly going to announce a mandate for federal workers to get vaccinated.

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American gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee, 18, stunned spectators around the world with her breathtaking performance in Tokyo Thursday that earned her the gold.

Here are some interesting facts about Suni Lee, the gymnast queen:

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"Super Mario" takes his chances: Less than five months after becoming Italy's consensus prime minister, Mario Draghi's coalition government is on shaky ground over Draghi's proposed judicial reforms. "Super Mario" — as he's known for saving the Eurozone as European Central Bank chief during the financial crisis — wants to dramatically speed up Italy's famously slow courts. But his push to reduce judicial backlogs is opposed both by the populist 5-Star Movement, the coalition government's biggest party, and by prosecutors because many cases could be scrapped before reaching a verdict. Draghi, upset that this resistance is stalling his other initiatives to cut Italian red tape, has decided to roll the dice anyway: he'll put his plan to overhaul the courts to a no-confidence vote in parliament. If Draghi wins, he gets the reforms passed without debate; if he loses, the PM technically has to resign, but he'll keep his job because he has enough votes even if the 5-Star Movement bows out of the coalition.

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