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.

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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