What We're Watching: Iran's nuclear tug-of-war, Hong Kong's doomed democracy, Hungarian politician's "misstep"

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei alongside an activist holding an image of slain Iranian general Qassem Soleimani

Iran's nuclear tug-of-war: Hardliners in Iran's parliament passed a bill Tuesday suspending UN inspections of its nuclear sites and giving the go-ahead to massively increase uranium enrichment unless the US lifts its sanctions by February. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani opposes the measure, saying it would be "harmful" to diplomatic efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with the incoming Biden administration in the US. But Iran's parliament doesn't actually need Rouhani's approval to pass the law, and regardless, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will have the final say on policy – as always! If the law is passed, it will immediately raise the stakes for Biden, who takes office on January 20. Both he and Rouhani say they are keen to resume dialogue in hopes of reviving the nuclear deal, which President Trump walked out of in 2018. But just days after the architect of Iran's nuclear program was assassinated (likely by Israel with the US' blessing) the hurdles to even beginning those talks are rising fast.


What's next for Hong Kong's beleaguered opposition? China struck a major blow against the Hong Kong democracy movement on Wednesday, when a local court sentenced prominent democracy activist Joshua Wong to more than 13 months in prison for his role in last year's protests, while his co-defendant, Agnes Chow, was given a 10-month sentence. Wong, Chow and Ivan Lam, another member of the pro-democracy group, pleaded guilty to unauthorized assembly charges in connection with a June 2019 demonstration in which Wong shouted "no riots, only tyranny" through a loudspeaker. That protest, sparked by Beijing's attempt to extend its legal jurisdiction over Hong Kong, swelled into months of sometimes violent mass demonstrations against mainland China's broader attempts to quash the city's unique democratic institutions. As those lost steam this year amid the pandemic, Beijing imposed a draconian new security law on the city, with wide scope to punish dissent. The jailing of Wong comes just a few weeks after pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong resigned en masse over the expulsion of some of their members from the city's legislature. Can Hong Kong's once-vibrant democracy movement survive?

A Hungarian politician's delicious downfall: A prominent anti-gay member of Hungary's far-right Fidesz party has resigned his post as an EU parliamentarian after he was caught fleeing an illegal gay sex party in Brussels. Jozsef Szajer, who reportedly shimmied down a drainpipe when the police showed up to bust the soiree for violating pandemic lockdown rules, was reportedly caught on the street outside with his hands bloodied and drugs in his backpack. Szajer, a founding member of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ultraconservative Fidesz party, headed the party's delegation to the European Parliament. He was directly involved in efforts to ban gay marriage at home in Hungary. He has apologized to his family for "the misstep."

"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.

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.

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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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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700: Roughly 700 people arrested for joining the unprecedented July 11 anti-government protests in Cuba are still being held by the regime. They may now face mass show trials as Havana continues to crack down on dissent following the biggest challenge to its power in decades.

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