- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has refused to accept $22 million in aid from the G7 countries until French President Emmanuel Macron apologizes to him for previous comments, as part of an ongoing feud.
- Shortly after the rejection, Brazil accepted an offer of $12 million from the British government.
- Although climate scientists say the fires are likely to worsen in the coming weeks and could affect global weather patterns, Bolsonaro said Tuesday, “We’re fighting the wildfires with great success.”
Bolsonaro Accepts British Aid
After rejecting a $22 million aid offer from the G7 countries on Tuesday, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro accepted $12 million from Britain to help fight the fires raging through the Amazon rainforest.
“In a week where we have all watched horrified as the Amazon rainforest burns before our eyes, we cannot escape the reality of the damage we are inflicting on the natural world,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.
“The planet faces two immense threats: climate change and biodiversity loss,” Johnson added. “These are two sides of the same coin — it is impossible to solve one challenge without fixing the other. We cannot stop climate change without protecting the natural environment and we can’t restore global nature without tackling climate change.”
The Canadian government has also offered Bolsonaro $11 million, though the Brazilian government has not yet announced whether it will accept or reject the offer.
Brazil Rejects $22 Million G7 Aid Package
The decision to reject the G7 aid package rests on two demands by Bolsonaro, the first being that French President Emmanuel Macron personally apologize as part of an ongoing feud.
Prior to this weekend’s G7 Summit — where leaders from the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, and Canada convened in France — Bolsonaro blasted the nations for discussing the Amazon rainforest without Brazil present.
“The French President’s suggestion that Amazonian issues be discussed at the G7 without the participation of the countries of the region evokes a misplaced colonialist mindset in the 21st century,” Bolsonaro said.
World leaders, however, still agreed to release the aid package immediately, leading to Bolsonaro’s rejection. That rejection stems from a feud where Macron claimed Bolsonaro lied to him about climate commitments during trade talks at the Osaka G20 Summit in June.
Tensions between Bolsonaro and Macron have recently escalated over the fires and ramped up against earlier this week when Balsonaro took a shoot at Macron’s wife. When the French president’s wife was compared to Bolsonaro’s wife on his Facebook page, Bolsonaro commented, “don’t humiliate the guy,” a comment that Macron called “disrespectful.”
On Monday, Bolsonaro doubled down, questioning Macron’s motives in addressing the fires by insinuating that he is trying to curb France’s agricultural competition with Brazil.
“We cannot accept that a President, Macron, would launch unreasonable and gratuitous attacks on the Amazon,” Bolsonaro tweeted, “nor disguise his intentions behind the idea of an ‘alliance’ of G-7 countries to ‘save’ the Amazon, as if we were a colony or a no-man’s land.
In addition to the apology, Bolsonaro also stipulated that Brazil will not accept aid where it does not have complete sovereignty over how to distribute the money.
Tuesday, Macron responded to Bolsonaro in a speech, saying the fires are a world issue.
“We respect your sovereignty,” he said. “It’s your country. The Amazon forest is a subject for the whole planet. We can help you reforest. We can find the means for your economic development that respects the natural balance. But we cannot allow you to destroy everything.”
The Amazon on Fire
The fires have been tearing through the Amazon Rainforest for about a month and are part of a massive 80% increase in fires from 2018. Experts estimate 430 square miles of land has been lost to the fires, with 3,500 square miles being scorched.
Smoke billowing from the fires has caused the state of Amazonas — where part of the forest is located — to declare a state of emergency. On the other side of the country, the smoke turned the midday sky black.
Experts believe the fires to be caused by humans. They said because the rainforest is so wet and humid, it would be unlikely the fires resulted from natural causes, especially since the region has not experienced any extreme weather.
Additionally, many are blaming Bolsonaro for rolling back environmental protections and promoting deforestation for efforts like mining, with one method for clearing forests being known as “slash and burn.”
Over the period from August 8 to August 22, a NASA infrared camera captured rising carbon monoxide levels resulting from the fire.
Climate scientists contend that one of the reasons why the fires are so critically important is because of the role the Amazon plays in trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
While Macron asserted on Twitter that 20% of the world’s oxygen comes from the Amazon, scientists argue the comparison is inaccurate because the Amazon recycles all but a small amount of the oxygen it generates; however, they said the better comparison is that of a sink, with the Amazon intaking massive amounts of carbon dioxide to regulate global temperature.
Now, they said that ability is being compromised and, worse, the fires create a feedback loop where the Amazon is losing crucial carbon-absorbing resources while the fires pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
While the world’s oxygen supply is not in danger, experts also warn many endangered species are.
Experts also expect the fires to become more intense in the coming weeks, despite Bolsonaro and his defense minister claiming the situation is “returning to normal.” Climate scientists also fear that could disrupt global weather patterns.
Tuesday night, Bolsonaro doubled down, saying, “We’re fighting the wildfires with great success” after President Donald Trump backed Bolsonaro on Twitter.
“I have gotten to know President @jairbolsonaro well in our dealings with Brazil. He is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil – Not easy,” Trump said. “He and his country have the full and complete support of the USA!”
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (CNN) (CBC)
U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.
The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.
New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle
A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.
Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.
In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.
The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.
Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.
However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased.
In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.
High Court Ruling
The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.”
“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.
If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.
Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.
U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe
The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.
More Information About Omicron
Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.
One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.
Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa — where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.
Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.
In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.
Studies on Vaccine Efficacy
Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.
On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.
According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses.
By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.
Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.
Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)
40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox
The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.
Camels Booted From Beauty Contest
More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.
The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.
However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”
Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.
An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.
“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”
While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.
In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.