What We’re Watching: Iranian cat cornered on nukes, Italy’s political maneuvers, Asian Americans targeted

What We’re Watching: Iranian cat cornered on nukes, Italy’s political maneuvers, Asian Americans targeted

Iran says "fine, we'll just get nukes then, are you happy?" Iran has threatened to openly pursue the development of nuclear weapons unless the United States removes the sanctions that it has placed on the Islamic Republic. The threat, which came from Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi, raises the stakes as Tehran and Washington explore ways to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the Trump administration left in 2018. Since then, the US has piled on more sanctions while Iran has breached limits on uranium enrichment. Now both sides are deadlocked over who should climb down first: Iran says the US has to drop sanctions, while Washington insists Tehran resume compliance with the original deal again before that can happen. Iran has for years officially, if not totally convincingly, denied that its nuclear program is for military use — but "if a cat is cornered," Alavi warned, "it may show a kind of behavior that a free cat would not." We were disappointed to learn that Mr Alavi passed up the opportunity to make this statement while using a cat filter on Zoom.


Italy's two Matteos: As former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi continues talks to form a new Italian coalition government, two powerful politicians named Matteo are jockeying for his attention. The first is former prime minister Matteo Renzi, who is taking credit for forcing the collapse of the previous cabinet headed by Giuseppe Conte and ushering in Draghi's appointment to avoid a fresh election in the middle of the pandemic. The second is Matteo Salvini, a former interior minister under Conte's first coalition cabinet and leader of the far-right Lega party, who is now embracing Draghi to please his wealthy northern voters after years of railing against the same Brussels bureaucracy that Draghi espoused when he led the ECB. At this point it's unclear if either Matteo, or even both, will join Draghi's government. But having a host of forces willing to offer you their support from the get-go is a rare feat in Italy, which traditionally churns through PMs at rapid pace amid a deeply fragmented and dysfunctional political system. Maybe the widely popular "Super Mario" really can save Italy — as he did with the Eurozone — after all.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans: In recent weeks, Asian Americans — particularly the elderly — have been targeted in a wave of violent attacks. The issue gained nationwide attention following the death of an 84-year-old Thai man violently pushed in San Francisco. US celebrities of Asian origin are now leading calls for justice on social media, and activists worry that it's going to get worse this weekend due to the Lunar New Year celebrations in Chinatowns across America. The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans told us that the spike in hate crimes is "the result of the hostile, xenophobic climate created by scapegoating Asian communities for the pandemic," and stressed that seniors are particularly vulnerable and isolated due to COVID mobility restrictions. We're watching to see if the Biden administration follows through on its promise to tackle racist violence against Asian Americans, and whether a successful vaccine rollout contributes to more safety for members of these communities in the US.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What is the legacy of Colin Powell?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tragically died of complications of COVID-19. He was the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first Black National Security Advisor and the first Black Secretary of State. And he leaves a legacy of a long career, dedicated almost entirely to public service.

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Can this guy defeat Viktor Orban? Hungary's opposition movement of odd bedfellows has finally settled on the person they think has the best chance of defeating PM Viktor Orbán at the ballot box: Péter Márki-Zay, a politically conservative small-town mayor from southeastern Hungary, who beat out left-leaning European Parliament member Klara Dobrev in a weekend poll. Márki-Zay has a lot going for him: as a devout Catholic and father of seven it will be hard for the ultraconservative Orbán to paint him as a progressive threat, even as Márki-Zay reaches out to reassure left-leaning groups that he will protect LGBTQ rights. What's more, Márki-Zay has little political baggage: until recently he was a marketing executive. But can the relatively inexperienced Márki-Zay keep the various opposition factions happy? The stakes couldn't be higher: since taking power more than a decade ago, Orbán has deliberately made Hungary into an "illiberal" state, cracking down on the press, undermining the rule of law, and clashing with the EU. Bonus: if Márki-Zay stays in the news, you get to say "Hódmezővásárhely" the name of the city he currently runs.

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5,600: Myanmar's military junta will release from prison 5,600 people who were jailed for protesting against last February's coup. The gesture, the first act of amnesty since the junta took power, comes just days after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which rarely interferes in members' internal affairs, said it would exclude the head of Myanmar's military from an upcoming regional meeting.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Happy Monday, everybody. And a Quick Take for you. I wanted to talk a bit about Taiwan. I'll tell you, I've talked about it in the media over the last couple of weeks and almost every questioner has been trying to prod me towards, "are we heading to war?" Then I was with some friends at the Trilateral Commission on Friday. I like that group a lot. It's one of these groups that a lot of conspiracy theorists pretend secretly run the world, like the Bilderbergers and the Council on Foreign Relations. Now having attended all three, I can tell you, if they do run the world, they are not inviting me into the rooms where they're making those decisions. If they are doing that, they're also doing a lousy job of it.

Nonetheless, it was fun until I was on stage and the first question I got was about, "Hey, so the Chinese are changing the status quo. Do you think that means we're heading towards war?" I just want to say that, first of all, I am clearly less concerned about the imminence of confrontation and military conflict between the United States and China than almost anybody out there. Accidents are certainly possible, but particularly around Taiwan, where both sides know the stakes and have made them abundantly clear for decades now, and everyone involved gets it I think it's much less likely.

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Colin Powell's legacy

US Politics

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