The World Today for December 23, 2020

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Of Freedoms and Free-For-Alls

Leaders in the Solomon Islands are considering a ban on Facebook in order to promote “national unity” as well as end defamation and cyber bullying in the archipelago country that spans almost 900 miles in the South Pacific.

“…freedom of expression and freedom of the media is a lot of responsibility,” said Minister of Communications Peter Shanel Agovaka, according to Voice of America. “You don’t just go out and say things out of the ordinary to your neighbors. It’s about using it wisely, communicating, sharing information and so on, and not abusing people.”

Critics of the ban noted that Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare pushed for the measure after reports surfaced of his government’s incompetence and corruption relating to funds appropriated for relief efforts associated with the coronavirus pandemic, Gizmodo reported.

Human rights groups like Amnesty International claimed the proposed ban was “a brazen attack on free expression” that violated the country’s constitution as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.

Judges and others in the Solomon Islands will likely determine which side prevails. But similar disputes are occurring around the world as policymakers grapple with how to regulate social networks and other tech innovations that facilitate communication and commerce but also arguably have paved the way for foreign meddling in domestic elections, an epidemic of false information as well as loneliness and increased cultural polarization and political partisanship around the world.

A whopping 64 percent of Americans feel social media has exerted a negative effect on life in the US, a Pew Research Center poll found recently.

It’s no surprise then that many countries are moving to regulate social media, as Euronews detailed. (These moves are separate and less drastic than antitrust actions against Facebook.) Advocates for changes believe, as the New York Times explained, that humans can intervene and improve the platforms that now permit inappropriate and hateful speech as well as misinformation to flourish.

India recently – and controversially – began a process to more closely regulate content on online news portals, content providers such as Netflix and news published on social media platforms, reported Al Jazeera. Civil rights activists accuse the government of censorship and targeting those who criticize them.

Ireland, meanwhile, is considering imposing fines of more than $20 million for failing to protect children and others from harmful content. American officials are also considering removing social media’s current protections for liability from content their users post, Investor’s Business Daily wrote. Australia could force Google and other platforms to pay news organizations that have struggled in the digital era, Voice of America noted, because for too long, the social media platforms have benefited from journalists ensuring quality for free.

Interested in knowing more? Just look on your feeds for updates.




The Endless Vote

Israel is headed for its fourth election in under two years after its divided government collapsed early Wednesday, the Guardian reported.

The governing coalition between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz failed to reach an agreement on the budget before Tuesday’s deadline. The failure to reach a deal resulted in the dissolution of parliament. New elections are slated for March 2021.

Netanyahu and Gantz entered in a power-sharing deal earlier this year – with both agreeing to share the position of prime minister with Netanyahu serving the first 18 months and Gantz the remainder of the three-year term.

Analysts suggested that Netanyahu might have wanted the government to fall because he is facing a lengthy corruption trial in February that he would rather fight as prime minister. Critics say Netanyahu ultimately hopes to form a new government capable of appointing loyalists to sensitive positions who could grant him immunity or dismiss the charges against him.

However, some believe a new poll could shift the makeup of Israel’s political parties, which could be disadvantageous for Netanyahu.

Gideon Saar, a key figure in Netanyahu’s Likud party, had attempted to oust Netanyahu during last year’s primaries. Earlier this month, he created a new party, which is expected to boost its ranks with Likud defectors that don’t want Netanyahu in power anymore, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, the prospects of Israel’s center-left bloc appear worse than in previous contests because its leader, Gantz, entered into the ill-fated alliance with Netanyahu, thereby losing the support of much of his disappointed base, while the bloc has been left leaderless.


A Dirty State

Rio de Janeiro state police arrested outgoing Mayor Marcelo Crivella Tuesday on charges of corruption in relation to a kickback scheme, the latest of the seemingly endless graft scandals to embroil the country and especially Rio over the past five years, the Associated Press reported.

Authorities said that Crivella has close links with businessman Rafael Alves, whose brother was the head of the city’s tourism office: The businessman was also arrested Tuesday over allegations that he chose which companies would win contracts, and promised to award them in exchange for payments.

Crivella called his arrest unfair and said that he was “the mayor who most fought corruption.”

The evangelical bishop and ally of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro was scheduled to leave office next month after losing the mayoral election against his predecessor, Eduardo Paes.

Crivella is the latest figure in Brazil and especially the state of Rio de Janeiro to be dogged by corruption charges.

In August, Governor Wilson Witzel was suspended from office when a top court linked him to irregularities in health spending earmarked for the fight against Covid-19. Wilson is also facing impeachment proceedings: If he is convicted, his position goes to another official under investigation, Deputy Governor Cláudio Castro.

Corruption probes in recent years have resulted in the jailing of five of Rio’s former governors. One of them remains behind bars.


A Relentless Quest

US federal prosecutors filed charges this week against another suspect related to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people, the majority of them Americans, USA Today reported.

Former Libyan intelligence officer Abu Agila Mohammad Masud was accused of helping make the bomb that exploded aboard the Boeing 747 while it was flying over the small Scottish town en route from London to New York.

Masud was long believed to be a co-conspirator in the attack but evidence of his involvement only emerged in 2012 following the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya.

Libyan authorities then interrogated Masud and later provided US authorities with a copy of the interview, as well as evidence allegedly linking him to the making of the bomb.

US officials believe Masud was also involved in the 1986 bombing of the LaBelle Discotheque in Berlin, West Germany, which killed two American servicemen and one Turkish woman.

Masud remains in Libyan custody pending a US extradition request to face terror charges.

The development adds a new chapter to one of the world’s longest and most extensive terrorism investigations, which pursued dozens of leads and interviewed thousands of people.

In 2001, Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi became the only person to be convicted in relation to the attack. While serving his sentence, Scottish authorities released him in 2009 on humanitarian grounds after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

He died in 2012 in Tripoli, Libya, at the age of 60.


The Dark Tower

It’s no secret that the ancient Aztecs sacrificed humans to their deities but what they did with the remains is the stuff of nightmares.

Among them was the infamous “tower of skulls” in Mexico’s capital, a creepy infrastructure composed of hundreds of human skulls, the Independent reported.

Five years ago, archaeologists unearthed the tower in the center of Mexico City but recently found a new section of the horrifying monument.

The new team counted about 119 new skulls of men and women – and at least three belonged to children, due to their size and underdeveloped teeth.

The new find puts the number of skulls at 603.

Known as the Huey Tzompantli, the tower was built sometime between 1486 and 1502 and was one of seven displays of human skulls in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, in modern-day Mexico City.

The macabre tower is said to have terrified Spanish conquistadors and was mentioned in the writings of Spanish conquistadors Hernan Cortes and Bernal Diaz del Castillo.

No one knows who was killed or why but researchers believe the poor souls were killed as sacrifices to the gods.

“Although we can’t say how many of these individuals were warriors, perhaps some were captives destined for sacrificial ceremonies,” archaeologist Raul Barrera told Reuters.

Holiday Promo

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 18,236,614 (+1.08%)
  2. India: 10,099,066 (+0.24%)
  3. Brazil: 7,318,821 (+0.76%)
  4. Russia: 2,905,196 (+0.93%)
  5. France: 2,547,577 (+0.47%)
  6. UK: 2,116,609 (+1.78%)
  7. Turkey: 2,062,960 (+0.94%)
  8. Italy: 1,977,370 (+0.68%)
  9. Spain: 1,829,903 (+0.59%)
  10. Germany: 1,570,371 (+2.22%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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