The World Today for May 07, 2024

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Coups and Crowing

BRAZIL

Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes conducted a five-year investigation into so-called “digital militias” who support former right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

As part of that probe, the judge banned 150 accounts on X, the social media app formerly known as Twitter, that were associated with the militias. Elon Musk, the American billionaire-entrepreneur who owns X, has however refused to comply with the order, wrote Al Jazeera.

“We are lifting all restrictions,” Musk posted on X in early April, according to CNBC. “This judge has applied massive fines, threatened to arrest our employees and cut off access to X in Brazil. As a result, we will probably lose all revenue in Brazil and have to shut down our office there. But principles matter more than profit.”

Musk added that he would expose Moraes’ corruption.

“Coming shortly, will publish everything demanded by (Alexandre de Moraes) and how those requests violate Brazilian law,” wrote Musk. “This judge has brazenly and repeatedly betrayed the constitution and people of Brazil. He should resign or be impeached. Shame, shame.”

This turn of events raises important questions, including about free speech, and the power of a tech billionaire. In Brazil, they also potentially could stoke deep divisions.

The same judge, for example, has also been investigating a coup attempt that Bolsonaro’s supporters launched in the capital of Brasilia last year after current left-wing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took the presidency from Bolsonaro in the South American country’s 2022 election.

On Jan. 8, 2023, so-called Bolsonaristas “rampaged” through the Brazilian Congress and other branches of government, trashing offices, destroying national treasures, and calling for Lula’s removal from office, explained World Politics Review. The president, however, was not in town that day. Around 70 people were injured and six were taken to hospital with serious injuries, but nobody died, CNN reported.

Today, Bolsonaro faces potential charges of insurrection. The investigation into the failed coup recently revealed, for instance, that the ex-president plotted to remain in power despite losing the popular vote, but also that his military officers threatened to arrest him, the Associated Press noted.

Bolsonaristas, meanwhile, draw parallels between their movement and the justice’s attempt to silence Musk, a darling of free-market conservatives, libertarian-leaning right-wingers, free-thinking futurists, and others worldwide, wrote the Guardian. Recently, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters have taken to the streets in Rio de Janeiro to support the entrepreneur.

Musk’s critics at the New Republic, meanwhile, contended that he was meddling in Brazilian affairs.

Regardless, amid the protests and the outrage flowing from X, Bolsonaro was recently indicted for falsifying his Covid-19 vaccination data, marking the first indictment for the embattled far-right leader, Le Monde reported. And, the French newspaper noted, more is sure to come.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Forcing Ground

ISRAEL/ GAZA

Israel on Monday issued orders for the evacuation of 100,000 Palestinians in Rafah, a sign that it is moving forward on its plan for a ground invasion of the Gazan city despite criticism by Western allies and a Hamas agreement to a ceasefire deal, the Associated Press reported.

An Israeli Defense Forces official said Tuesday morning that Israel has established “operational control” of the Gazan side of the Rafah crossing with Egypt, even as half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population is sheltering in Rafah, after leaving their homes across the enclave because of the war. As a result, most of Israel’s allies, including the United States, oppose a ground invasion into Rafah over concerns of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Still, Israel counters that it has designated a makeshift camp along the coast a “safe” zone, wrote the newswire. Lt. Col. Nadav Shoshani, a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), said the tens of thousands of Palestinians were moved to a humanitarian zone called Muwasi in advance of a “limited scope” operation.

Hamas – which led an attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people and unleashed the war – and other key negotiators for a cease-fire, including Qatar, have warned that the invasion would add another obstacle to peace negotiations.

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees has refused to follow the IDF’s evacuation orders. Aid organizations, meanwhile, dispute that the camp is a safe zone.

Meanwhile, Hamas on Monday agreed to a Qatari-Egyptian ceasefire proposal that Israel had already agreed to, the Washington Post reported.

In the first of three phases, militants would release 33 women, children and elderly hostages, with three released every three days in exchange for dozens of Palestinian prisoners, the official said. On the 34th day, Hamas would give Israel a list of all remaining hostages.

At the same time, Palestinians would be allowed to return to their homes, Israeli troops would withdraw from the most populated areas inside Gaza and there would be a surge in humanitarian aid. All military aviation would cease for eight hours a day, and 10 hours on hostage-release days.

Still, it’s the second and third phases that are in dispute between the two sides.

Tell It To the Judge

ITALY

Italy’s right-wing government has been moving to silence intellectuals through defamation lawsuits, and the latest example is a philosopher being sued by Prime Minister Georgia Meloni’s brother-in-law, according to the Guardian.

The case centers on statements made in April 2023, when Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida, who is married to Meloni’s sister, addressed Italy’s demographic decline at a trade union conference, saying his country was at risk of “ethnic replacement.”

Donatella di Cesare from Rome’s Sapienza University, who has written books on the link between Nazi thinking and modern-day conspiracy theories, said on television later that day that such a statement could also be found in “Mein Kampf” and Nazi ideology in general.

Di Cesare’s remarks, however, were “solely aimed at destroying a person and smearing both myself and my associates,” said Lollobrigida in the court filing. He has called the statements “defamatory” and “shameful.”

The professor, who will appear in court on May 15, said that all of this was part of a political strategy to sideline opponents of the right: “What we are seeing here is legal proceedings against a historical comparison … The aim of defamation trials like mine is not just to intimidate, but to push left-wing intellectuals outside the public discourse.”

Meanwhile, the case is just one of a growing list of legal proceedings Meloni and her right-wing allies have launched against progressive pundits criticizing their political agenda.

Historian Luciano Canfora is facing prosecution for aggravated defamation for saying in 2022 that Meloni was a “neo-Nazi at heart,” a comment that the prime minister claimed could “falsify her political identity.” And writer Roberto Saviano was fined $1,077 for calling Meloni and her power-sharing partner Matteo Salvini “bastards” for crusading against ships rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

Italy hands some of the European Union’s harshest sentences for defamation – up to six years in jail.

Despite calls for reform, including from the judiciary, Meloni’s administration has pushed back a debate on a bill aimed at protecting journalists and writers from defamation cases. Journalists face about 5,000 defamation cases in Italy annually.

During Meloni’s first year in power in Italy, Europe’s highest number of “strategic lawsuits discouraging public participation” –known as SLAPP cases and which include some defamation suits – were brought in the country, according to a recent study.

Poppy Wars

AFGHANISTAN

Farmers and residents in Afghanistan’s northeast staged unprecedented public protests over the weekend against a ban on opium poppy cultivation, a move met with military crackdowns by Taliban leaders, Voice of America reported.

The Taliban banned poppy cultivation in early 2022, months after they took over the entire country. Their anti-narcotics campaign contributed to a $1.3 billion loss in Afghan farmers’ income.

After Taliban forces started destroying poppy crops in Badashkan province, farmers and local residents took to the streets, with social media footage showing people chanting slogans against Taliban Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada.

The rare expression of public outrage was met with a violent response from security forces. Sources told VOA that law enforcement used firearms to disperse crowds and killed two people.

Army chief Qari Fasihuddin, a native of the region who investigated the incident, warned that further demonstrations would be suppressed.

Meanwhile, angry residents said they were awaiting answers to their complaints.

Afghanistan was once the world’s largest opium poppy producer. Akhundzada’s religious decree banning the plant’s cultivation has aggravated the poverty levels in Afghanistan which have increased since the Taliban retook control three years ago.

The Taliban’s ban on opium cultivation has seen the sector contract by 90 percent, according to a recent World Bank report, costing 450,000 jobs at the farm level.

Meanwhile, Badashkan and surrounding provinces, home to Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities, were not controlled by the Taliban when the group led the country in the 1990s. Analysts said that last weekend’s protests signaled obstacles to the Taliban’s control. The Taliban is mainly made up of the country’s Pashtun majority.

The international community has not recognized the Taliban government, criticizing breaches of human rights, including restrictions on female’s access to education.

DISCOVERIES

Rise of the Protector

Earth’s magnetic field has long played an important role in preserving life on the planet. Now, scientists are shedding some new light onto its early origins, Popular Mechanics reported.

The magnetic field is powered by our planet’s iron core and protects all life from being blasted by dangerous cosmic rays from the Sun and other parts of outer space.

There is still debate about when it was first formed, but a new study on iron rocks discovered the earliest known evidence of the field’s existence.

An international research team analyzed well-preserved rocks collected from Greenland’s Isua Greenstone Belt dating some 3.7 billion years ago. They explained iron content in these samples matters because it can lock in the direction and strength of a magnetic field when it crystalizes.

To probe the magnetic information, the team first demagnetized the rocks in a lab and then remagnetized them. This method has the side effect of showing how powerful Earth’s magnetic field was 3.7 billion years ago.

The findings show that the early magnetic field from the Eoarchean period – around four to 3.6 billion years ago – had a strength of 15 microteslas, which is nearly half as strong as today’s field.

The study puts the timeframe around 200 million years earlier than previous magnetic field evidence, which also brings up questions about when the earliest lifeforms emerged.

The team suggested that life was still possible some 3.7 billion years ago despite a weak magnetic field and extremely harsh conditions – when Earth was getting bombarded by powerful solar winds.

Still, the study further reinforces the case that magnetic fields are necessary for life to emerge and an eventual increase in strength allows lifeforms to flourish.

This information could also assist astronomers when searching for life elsewhere in the universe, the authors noted.

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