21 February 2023

Daily Newsletter

Israel: Knesset Passes First Reading of Judicial Reform

The Facts

  • 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.

  • 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.


The 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 narrative

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.

See sources

Nigeria: Suspected Rebels Kill 8 Police Officers Ahead of Election

The 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.


The 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.

See sources

Prosecutors Downgrade Baldwin’s Charges in Shooting Case

The Facts

  • 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.


The 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.

See sources

Report: McCarthy Gives Tucker Carlson Jan. 6 Footage

The Facts

  • 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.

  • 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.


The 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.

See sources

Italy: Venice Canals Run Dry Amid Drought Concerns

The Facts

  • 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.

  • 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.


The 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.

See sources

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

The Facts

  • 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."

  • 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.


The 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.

See sources

South Korean Court Recognizes Same-Sex Couples' Rights

The Facts

  • 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.

  • 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.


The 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.

See sources

Fifth Person Confirmed to be Cured of HIV

The Facts

  • 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.

  • 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.


The 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.

See sources

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

The 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.

  • 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.


The 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.

See sources

Russian Banks, Economy Perform Better than Anticipated

The 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.


The 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.

See sources

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