21 February 2023

Daily Newsletter

Israel: Knesset Passes First Reading of Judicial Reform

Facts

  • As these bills passed their first reading, they will now return to the committee for further discussion before being voted on two more times to become law. This process may take several weeks or even months.
  • Early on Tuesday, Israel's Knesset — its state legislature — passed the first of three readings to turn a divisive plan by PM Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing coalition to overhaul the country's judiciary into law.
  • Some 60K people gathered on Monday outside the Knesset to demonstrate against the judicial reform as debate was set to begin in the evening, with a group of them attempting to break into the building. Hours earlier, protesters blocked major highways and interchanges across the country.
  • The proposed legislation intends to change the composition of the panel that nominates judges, giving the government a de facto majority, and prevent courts from ruling against the Basic Laws, Israel's quasi-constitution.
  • The set of bills was approved by a vote of 63 to 47 in the 120-seat Knesset as the ruling coalition, which has a majority of 64 members, pushed for the legislation despite protests against the changes over the past seven weeks.
  • While Israel's Justice Minister Yariv Levin claimed opponents are seeking to carry out a coup against PM Netanyahu, the country's Pres. Isaac Herzog warned that Israel is on the brink of a constitutional and social collapse.

Spin

Left narrative

This move by Netanyahu and his most extreme allies shows, despite a legitimate right-shift in the electorate, the prime minister actually has less control over his coalition than once thought. Facing scrutiny over bribery and fraud charges, the only way Netanyahu can maintain his power is by ripping apart Israel's long-standing democratic institutions and criminalizing judicial dissent. We are watching an authoritarian coup in real time.

Right narrative

Despite the left arguing that these judicial reform plans threaten democracy, it's actually quite the contrary. The self-appointed Israeli Supreme Court has autocratic, unchecked powers that allow it to nullify and rewrite democratically-enacted laws and policies on the basis of subjective justifications. Therefore, this move is crucial to curb the court's undemocratic excesses and protect the rule of law.

Pro-Palestine

Though there's much talk from the Israeli left that the country's democracy is under threat, for Palestinians, it has never been a democracy. Apartheid and democracy are completely mutually exclusive, and the only reason Israelis are protesting in the first place is because they want to maintain the system that has oppressed Palestinians for 75 years.

Nerd narrative

There's a 50% chance that Israel will have a national election for Knesset in 2023, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

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Nigeria: Suspected Rebels Kill 8 Police Officers Ahead of Election

Facts

  • At least eight police officers have reportedly been killed in separate attacks in recent days by suspected separatist rebels in southeastern Nigeria — less than a week before the upcoming presidential elections.
  • Local police sources said that four officers were killed on Monday in an attack on a police station in the southeastern Anambra state, and four others over the weekend when assailants opened fire on the officers and detonated explosive devices.
  • Meanwhile, Anambra State Police claimed that three suspected members of these groups were killed and two suspects were arrested in a combined police and military operation.
  • Nigeria faces numerous security threats nationwide, and the recent surge in deadly violence comes as more than 90M Nigerians are set to elect a successor to Pres. Muhammadu Buhari, who is not running again after two terms in office.
  • On Monday, the Nigerian Electoral Commission announced that voting will not be held at 240 polling stations in 28 states due to a lack of registered voters caused by insecurity.
  • Police blamed the killings on a separatist group called the Indigenous People of Biafra, along with its militant wing, the Eastern Security Network. However, the group has repeatedly denied any involvement in recent deadly attacks in the West African country.

Spin

Narrative A

In addition to the uptick in election-related violence, Nigeria has been ravaged by Boko Haram and a wave of kidnappings. But the problem goes deeper — poverty is driving young people into the arms of separatists and local gangs, with corrupt politicians fueling the violence for their own benefit. Until those in power address the problem of unemployment and hopelessness, elections will not bring peace to Nigeria.

Narrative B

Nigeria should not be characterized by simplistic notions of election violence and widespread insecurity. Since it emerged from a military dictatorship in 1999, it has become a vibrant democracy on the international stage. Moreover, electoral reforms during Buhari's second term have increased public confidence in the electoral process, and it is also a good sign that the polls will not be based on religious criteria. If Nigeria continues on the path of democracy, it has a chance of overcoming violence.

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Prosecutors Downgrade Baldwin’s Charges in Shooting Case

Facts

  • A spokeswoman for the District Attorney said Monday that the decision to amend the charges against Baldwin was made "to avoid further litigious distractions.” Prosecutors filed the amended charges Friday, according to court filings.
  • Actor Alec Baldwin will not face the possibility of enhanced sentencing in a case involving the fatal 2021 shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film Rust, according to a court filing that was made public Monday.
  • Baldwin and Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer on set, were each charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter. Their lawyers argued that the Santa Fe County [New Mexico] district attorney had incorrectly charged them under a new law that took effect after the shooting.
  • Hutchins, 42, died in the hospital after she was shot in the chest by a prop gun fired by Baldwin whose lawyer, Luke Nikas, has said the actor "had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun — or anywhere on the movie set."
  • The initial charges against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed were punishable by up to five years in jail because of a "firearm enhancement penalty" that went into effect in 2022. The reduced charges are punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $5K fine. Involuntary manslaughter is a charge brought when unintentional negligence results in death.

Spin

Narrative A

Even if this killing was accidental, Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed's actions were still criminal. The pair were horrendously negligent in how they handled the gun. Hutchins' tragic death was avoidable, and those responsible must be held to account.

Narrative B

This was an incredibly rare tragedy unforeseen by anyone on the film crew. First of all, both Gutierrez-Reed and Baldwin were told by weapons professionals the gun wasn’t loaded. Second, it was Hutchins who told Baldwin to point the gun toward her as she was setting up the camera for a scene. Wrongfully indicting people won't bring Hutchins back and won't serve justice.

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Report: McCarthy Gives Tucker Carlson Jan. 6 Footage

Facts

  • Carlson told Axios that the footage would "reveal... what actually happened on January 6," hinting that it could provide an alternative, more pro-Trump version of events from that day.
  • McCarthy previously promised to release the footage on Jan. 12, just days after becoming Speaker earlier this year. During that press conference he said, "I think the American public should actually see all what happened instead of a report that’s written for a political basis."
  • McCarthy reportedly didn't consult House Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies (D-N.Y.) about the footage — all of which the now-defunct Jan. 6 committee had access to but refused to release for security reasons. He allegedly did not consult GOP leadership before making his decision per CNN.
  • Though it's yet unclear whether McCarthy will release the footage to the general public, Democrats will likely be preparing a defense against the claims Carlson will make on his show.
  • US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has reportedly given Fox News host Tucker Carlson access to 41K hours of footage from the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. Sources have told Axios that Carlson's team sorted through the video last week and that the show will begin airing footage in the coming weeks.
  • While Carlson has called the riots a "forgettably minor outbreak by recent standards" and Washington "a regime of secrecy and deceit," the Jan. 6 congressional committee hearings did play numerous excerpts of the footage last year.

Spin

Republican narrative

The fact that Democrats from the Jan. 6 Kangaroo Court are crying foul over this news makes it all the more exciting. While they cite "security" reasons for not wanting Tucker to have access to the footage, they're actually afraid the surveillance video will show how fraudulent their hearings were. By giving this footage to the most prominent news host in the country, McCarthy has given the American people a chance to decide for themselves whether Jan. 6 was an insurrection, a harmless mob, or even a government false flag operation.

Democratic narrative

Beyond potentially obstructing ongoing federal investigations into the insurrectionists, the new Republican majority has chosen to give a far-right conspiracy theorist access to surveillance video so that he can carefully curate election-denying segments of late-night television. After a lackluster midterm election performance, the GOP has no substantive legislation to offer, so, instead, they'll continue living in the past and try again to persuade their voters that when they lose it's because of a "government conspiracy" against them.

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Italy: Venice Canals Run Dry Amid Drought Concerns

Facts

  • Legambiente also reported low levels in the Po River — which delivers water to northern Italy — with it receiving 61% less water than usual at this time of year.
  • On Monday, Italy's Legambiente environmental organization warned that the country's lakes and rivers are facing an extreme lack of water amid growing concerns over another drought, with Venice experiencing unusually low tides after weeks of dry winter weather.
  • The conditions are a drastic change as Venice typically faces concerns over intense flooding, with the city's worst tidal surge in more than 50 years occurring in 2019, causing more than $1.1B in damage. This saw the development of MOSE, an anti-flooding project meant to protect the city from tidal surges due to be completed by the end of 2023.
  • This follows Italy's worst drought in 70 years last summer, which saw the country declare a state of emergency in the regions surrounding Po.
  • This past weekend, the water levels slumped to 65 cm below average — past the minimum mark of 60 cm when navigating the canals becomes dangerous.
  • With the Alps having received less than 50% of the normal amount of snowfall — along with a lack of rain, a full moon, sea currents, and a high-pressure environment — Venice's canal water levels have fallen so low that gondolas, water taxis, and ambulances face significant navigation challenges.

Spin

Narrative A

Despite being currently afflicted with drought, in the long-term, Venice — which evidently faces a host of challenges at the hands of climate change — is most notably threatened by floods. With the possibility of Venice sinking beneath the water as early as 2100, Italy has taken action to save its prized city by enacting the Mose project, which will install 78 automated gates to protect the city from storm surges. Once complete, this will be one of the first mechanisms to aid Venetians in their centuries-long battle against inundation.

Narrative B

Venice isn't only at risk of being inundated by water but also by millions of tourists who show little appreciation or respect for the city's beauty. Even when the city is overrun with floodwaters, elevated dry paths are constructed for their continued enjoyment while generations of residents face losing their homes. Venetians are battling climate change to preserve their way of life while tourists roam the city looking for a good time.

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Day 363: Putin Blasts West and Withdraws from Nuclear Treaty in Major Address

Facts

  • "We aren’t fighting the Ukrainian people," Putin said, before repeating the grievance that Ukraine's population "have become hostages of the Kyiv regime and its Western masters, which have effectively occupied the country." The speech, which also addressed a range of domestic issues, additionally announced that Russia would suspend its participation in the last remaining nuclear treaty with the US — the so-called New START treaty signed in 2010.
  • In a press conference following Putin's speech, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he regretted Russia's decision, adding that it makes the world a more dangerous place. "I’m calling on Russia today to reconsider its decision to suspend its participation in the New START agreement. We have to remember that this is one of the last major arms control agreements we have," he said.
  • In a State of the Nation address on Tuesday, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin sought to justify the invasion of Ukraine by alleging that the US and NATO sought to destroy Russia when they launched "not just a military and information, but an economic aggression" against Moscow. "They have not achieved success in either of these areas," he said. "The initiators of the sanctions are punishing themselves."
  • Meanwhile, after visiting Ukraine a day earlier, US Pres. Joe Biden arrived in Poland on Tuesday where he also gave an address later in the day. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said: "We did not set this speech up as some kind of head-to-head. This is not a rhetorical contest with anyone else. This is an affirmative statement of values and vision for what the world we’re both trying to build and defend should look like."
  • On the ground, at least six civilians were killed and 12 more injured in Russian shelling of the Kherson region on Tuesday. One civilian was also reportedly injured in Russian attacks on the Kharkiv region over the past day.
  • Putin further alleged that the Russian government submitted draft treaties on security guarantees to the US and NATO in December 2021 — three months before the invasion — but said they were ignored in favor of enacting plans in Ukraine that threatened Russia's security.

Spin

Pro-establishment narrative

Despite using it to try to defend his unprovoked war of aggression, Putin's address repeated a litany of disproven grievances against the US and NATO while failing to take any responsibility for his illegal actions in Ukraine. The speech has not helped his case on the international stage.

Pro-Russia narrative

As Putin rightly highlighted, Russia tried to engage the US and NATO on security guarantees before the conflict started — the efforts were ignored and followed by a further buildup of NATO presence on Russia's borders. The blame for this conflict lies with the West for flagrantly posing an unacceptable security risk that prompted a defensive military operation.

Nerd narrative

There's a 12% chance that there will be more than four deaths between Russia and NATO forces outside of Ukraine before July 1, 2023, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

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South Korean Court Recognizes Same-Sex Couples' Rights

Facts

  • In its judgment, the appellate court noted the spousal coverage system under the NHIS was not just for families as defined by law, and protecting the rights of minorities is the "biggest responsibility" of the court as the "last bastion" of human rights.
  • On Tuesday, the Seoul High Court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to spousal coverage under the national health insurance service (NHIS) and that denying insurance coverage based on sexual orientation amounts to discrimination.
  • The decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed by So Seong-wook in 2021 against the NHIS after the state health insurer revoked spousal coverage for his partner Kim Yong-min as they were a gay couple.
  • The landmark decision overturned a lower court ruling in January 2022 that a same-sex dependent was ineligible for benefits as the union isn't considered under the country's common-law marriage statute.
  • This ruling — now heading to the Supreme Court — is the first time the country has recognized the rights of a same-sex couple. The NHIS has indicated that it intends to challenge the decision.
  • While South Korea doesn't legally recognize same-sex marriage, gay relationships aren't criminalized.

Spin

Left narrative

Though there's still a long way to go to end discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, the ruling is a positive step for LGBTQ+ rights as it moves South Korea closer to achieving marriage equality. Societal norms have changed considerably since these laws were put in place, and it's only suitable that the law changes to keep up with the times.

Right narrative

While everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, should be protected from discrimination, this ruling directly contradicts South Korea's legal and moral stance on traditional family and marriage — the bedrock of its society — and likely won't hold up in the Supreme Court.

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Fifth Person Confirmed to be Cured of HIV

Facts

  • Referred to as "the Dusseldorf patient" to protect his privacy, news surrounding the individual's successful treatment was first announced in 2019, however, researchers could not confirm he had been officially cured at the time.
  • Researchers have announced a man in Dusseldorf, Germany, has been cured of HIV through a stem cell transplant. The patient is only the third person to have been cured of the condition using the treatment and the fifth individual in history.
  • The patient said in a statement that he was "proud" of the worldwide team of doctors that helped cure him of both leukemia and HIV, and revealed that he celebrated the 10-year anniversary of his transplant on Valentine's Day last week.
  • The patient was diagnosed with HIV in 2008 as well as leukemia in 2011. Stem cell transplants take stem cells from the bone marrow or blood of a donor, replacing a sick patient's own white blood cells.
  • This week's announcement has confirmed that the 53-year-old patient still has no detectable virus in his body capable of infection despite halting HIV medication four years ago.
  • While the findings follow the successful treatments of a man in 2007 as well as a woman last year, researchers have noted that such a transplant is "neither low-risk nor an easily scalable procedure." Furthermore, the genetic mutation that protects against HIV is reportedly detected only in a small percentage of people of Northern European descent.

Spin

Narrative A

Although not easily scalable, this treatment is still a relevant strategy to potentially help mass remission. With three patients now cured, in the long fight against HIV, AIDS, and cancer, another case of viral remission provides reason for hope for the future.

Narrative B

Due to the specific nature of the treatment and its high risk, it's unlikely that bone-marrow replacement will be rolled out on a larger scale to those who do not have leukemia. While the news is regardless positive, the road to fully curing HIV still promises to be long and difficult — if not impossible.

Nerd narrative

There is a 40% chance that before 2032 a vaccine against HIV-1 will be approved by the USA, UK, EU, or Canada, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

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Final Arguments Scheduled in Musk's $56B Tesla Pay Plan Trial

Facts

  • On Tuesday, lawyers for Tesla CEO Elon Musk and shareholder Richard Tornetta were scheduled to begin presenting their closing arguments to a Delaware judge in the trial over Musk's $56B compensation package from Tesla.
  • She's the same judge who presided over the showdown between Musk and Twitter last year when he attempted to terminate a $44B deal to take over the social media platform. Musk eventually completed the purchase.
  • Tesla hit 11 of the 12 performance and financial targets while its value briefly skyrocketed to $1T in 2021 from $50B when the package was arranged.
  • The judge could come to a decision as soon as Tuesday, determining whether Musk commanded the board's approval of the compensation plan.
  • This comes after a five-day trial last November during which Musk testified about the inception of the 2018 pay package, whether its performance goals were difficult to achieve, and whether it was precisely described to investors.
  • Tornetta claims the CEO shouldn't have been able to dictate the terms of the compensation plan, which allows him to buy 1% of the company's stock at a deep discount for every milestone achieved. Tornetta is seeking to have it fully rescinded or revoked.

Spin

Narrative B

This compensation plan was granted to Musk — who took on high risk to achieve a high reward — because of his paramount role in Tesla's success. Though Tesla skeptics ridiculed his decisions at the time, Musk's management has resulted in the carmaker increasing its value from $59B to $600B and achieving almost all its stipulated performance targets.

Narrative A

This compensation plan is clearly excessive. Musk has benefited from his influence over the board's committee – which falsely claimed it had no conflicts of interest – and been rewarded for his part-time management role at Tesla, largely on the grounds of milestones that had already been achieved when shareholders voted.

Nerd narrative

There's a 50% chance that Tesla's market capitalization will be at least 1.94 trillion dollars by Jan. 1, 2030, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

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Russian Banks, Economy Perform Better than Anticipated

Facts

  • Despite sanctions imposed by Western nations in response to the war in Ukraine, Russian banks have reportedly rebounded by conducting internal business with the state, buoyed by the country’s growing defense budget and record corporate account surplus.
  • Following the start of the war, Russia's banking sector initially saw a combined 1.5T ruble ($20B) first-half loss in 2022 but reportedly rebounded to a 203B ruble profit for the year.
  • In his annual State of the Nation address, Putin said the West underestimated Russia’s economic strength and added that “the participation of the ruble” in Russia’s international transactions doubled compared to 2021. He also says that Russia and its partners are working towards a “safe system of international transactions” independent from Western currencies.
  • Instead, Russia’s economy reportedly only shrunk by 2.1% in 2022, largely attributed to the country’s oil market. While energy exports to Europe plummeted, countries like India and China bought the available oil, albeit at a discount.
  • Meanwhile, internal and foreign entities alike predicted a double-digit contraction for Russia’s economy last year, with Russia’s Economic Ministry predicting a greater than 12% decrease in the gross domestic product (GDP) and the World Bank predicting an 11.2% contraction in April 2022.
  • Russia’s statistics agency Rosstat published the data on Monday ahead of Pres. Vladimir Putin’s highly anticipated speech to parliament. Some analysts, however, have questioned Rosstat’s figures.

Spin

Pro-Russia narrative

Despite the entire Western world seeking to destroy Moscow and its economy, it stood strong and weathered the economic war. Western countries underestimated the strength of Russia, which is a fast-adapting nation that will not only endure but will also continue to innovate.

Anti-Russia narrative

While its economy may have fared better than some estimates, Russia still faced a loss due to its war in Ukraine, which has been a complete disaster on a multitude of fronts. Since the war, Russia has become an economic afterthought, seeing over 1k global companies leave in addition to crippling oil sanctions that sunk its energy revenues. Despite claims to the contrary, Putin did irreparable damage to Russia’s economy.

Nerd narrative

There's a 50% chance that Russia's nominal GDP will be at least 1.48T USD in 2023, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

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