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Bolsonaro Rejects G7 $22M Amazon Aid Offer, Later Accepts $12M from Britain

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  • 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)

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TikTok Faces Billion Dollar Lawsuit in U.K. Over Children’s Data Collection Practices

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  • A former U.K. Children’s Commissioner is suing TikTok on behalf of a 12-year-old girl over concerns that the company mishandles the data of users under 13.
  • The lawsuit alleges that TikTok is “a data collection service that is thinly veiled as a social network” and doesn’t clearly tell children or parents how much data it collects nor how it will be used.
  • The complaint seeks several billion pounds and has transformed into a class-action suit, with millions of children across the U.K. and E.U. eligible to take part.
  • TikTok denies all the claims against it, but if the plaintiffs are victorious, then the social media company could be forced to pay thousands of pounds to each affected child.

TikTok Mishandling Data

TikTok is currently facing a serious legal challenge in the United Kingdom over how it uses and collects children’s data.

The claim was filed by former English Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield on behalf of an anonymous 12-year-old girl, although it has since transformed into a class-action lawsuit for children in the U.K. and European Union.

The legal challenge is for several billion pounds, and if successful, could lead to each affected child in the U.K. and E.U. receiving a few thousand pounds.

Longfield claims that TikTok is “a data collection service that is thinly veiled as a social network” and alleges that it takes children’s phone numbers, videos, exact location, and biometric data without sufficient warning. Particularly concerning for her are children under the age of twelve, who aren’t even supposed to use TikTok but do anyways.

Because of their age, they are supposed to get more legal protections over what’s done with their information, and that age range isn’t a small group of children. Longfield claims that 44% of children 8-12 use TikTok, which would roughly be 3.5 million children in the U.K. alone.

Those stats wouldn’t be too surprising, as according to a 2020 fact sheet published by Ofcom, the U.K.’s communication regulator, 50% of children aged 8 to 15 use TikTok.

Scott & Scoot, the law firm representing the case, added in a statement to the BBC that there is so little transparency for children and parents about what’s being done with the info that it’s “a severe breach of U.K. and EU data protection law.”

While every social media site collects large amounts of user data, Longfield targeted TikTok in particular because it had “excessive” data collection policies. Additionally, Longfield is annoyed at how easy it is for kids under 13 to use TikTok, saying, “Clearly, they know under-13s are using it, companies often say kids put the wrong age on but my view is that isn’t good enough.” 

“Knowing kids will do that, you need additional measures to provide more robust verification of children when they are online.”

Not The First Accusation

TikTok denied the accusations and said they “lack merit,” but the claims aren’t without precedent. The company is currently under investigation by the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office for knowingly hosting the data of children under-13 when it merged with Music.ly.

The company was ordered to delete the info and set up an age verification system.

In 2019, the company was hit with a $5.7 million fine by the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. for mishandling children’s data. It was also fined $155,000 in South Korea over similar issues.

The concerns over children’s data have also prompted many countries to consider various legislation to either enact or expand protections on such data. In the U.K., the Online Safety Bill is being considered by Parliament. Meanwhile, in the U.S., members from both parties in Congress have expressed interest in passing laws to curb social media companies that offer services aimed at people under 16.

Longfield’s lawsuit against TikTok is still in its early stages and what happens next remains to be seen.

See what others are saying: (TechXplore) (Reuters) (BBC)

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Netanyahu Loses Key Vote in Knesset, A First Step in Losing Power

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  • A coalition of anti-Benjamin Netanyahu parties gained control of a key committee that will set the legislative agenda as Israel tries to form a new government.
  • The major legislative victory could indicate that the opposition may have a serious chance of forming a majority government when asked to do so by President Reuven Rivlin, which will likely occur in two weeks if Netanyahu fails to do the same.
  • The pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs are all courting a group of right-wing and pro-Arab parties that have yet to declare a side.
  • Convincing all of the parties in either bloc to work together is increasingly difficult, as many have refused to do so if certain parties are brought into their coalitions, leaving Israel with the likely prospect of its fifth election in two years.

Major Roadblock

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost a key vote on Monday in the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, that could possibly lead to his fall from power. 

Bibi, as he’s known, has managed to hold onto power throughout the last two years despite his coalition lacking enough votes to form and keep a government. The latest round of elections in late March once again saw Netayanhu lacking the votes to form a majority government. 

For the last few weeks, Netanyahu has been working to cobble together a coalition government. Two weeks ago, he was finally given a four-week deadline by President Reuven Rivlin.

While Netanyahu retains the title of Prime Minister, he doesn’t get to set the legislative agenda without a majority. The authority to set the agenda is granted to the powerful Arrangements Committee. The Prime Minister received his first major defeat in his efforts to set up a government when the anti-Netanyahu opposition managed to get a majority in the Knesset and gain a majority of the seats on the committee. 

Netanyahu made efforts to secure control of the committee, but like his previous attempts to form a government, he relied on the votes from the pro-Arab Islamist Ra’am party, which instead voted with the opposition. 

The move isn’t a complete shock, as small parties such as Ra’am and the right-wing Yamina party compose a central role in the situation by consistently playing both sides in an effort to get a better deal and more power.

Unclear Future

While Netanyahu has lost control of the Arrangements Committee, it’s unclear if that will translate into a long-term majority for the anti-Netanyahu coalition. 

Many of the wildcard players have issues with parties in both coalitions, with some members of each vowing to back out if the others join. 

For example, Netanyahu needs Ra’am to be able to form a government, but its status as a pro-Arab Islamist party puts it into conflict with a large pro-Jewish party in Netanyahu’s bloc, which vowed to back out if Ra’am was brought into the coalition. The opposition faces similar issues trying to get some of the right-wing parties on board to work with Ra’am, as well.

Netanyahu has two more weeks to try and form a government. If he can’t, President Rivlin will likely turn to the leaders in the opposition with a similar request. If no one is able to form a government, then Israel will head to its fifth election in two years.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (Metro) (Jerusalem Post)

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New Zealand Considers Banning Cigarettes For People Born After 2004

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  • New Zealand announced a series of proposals that aim to outlaw smoking for the next generation with the hopes of being smoke-free by 2025.
  • Among the proposed provisions are plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and possibly prohibit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004; effectively banning smoking for that generation.
  • Beyond that, the level of nicotine in products will likely be significantly reduced, setting a minimum price for tobacco and heavily restricting where it can be sold.
  • The proposals have proven to be popular as one in four New Zealand cancer deaths are tobacco-related, but some have criticized them as government overreach and worry a ban could lead to a bigger and more robust black market.

Smoke Free 2025

New Zealand announced sweeping new proposals on Thursday that would effectively phase out the use of tobacco products, a move that is in line with its hopes to become a smoke-free country by 2025.

Among a number of provisions, the proposals include plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and bar anyone born after 2004 from buying tobacco products. Such a ban would effectively end tobacco sales after a few decades. The government is also considering significantly reducing the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, prohibiting filters, restricting locations where tobacco products can be purchased, and setting a steep minimum price for tobacco.

“We need a new approach.” Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verral said when announcing the changes on Thursday. 

“About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, and we need to make accelerated progress to be able to reach [a Smoke Free 2025]. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”

The proposals received a large welcome from public health organizations and local groups. Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, an advocate for smoke-free Maori communities, told The Guardian that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country.” 

The Cancer Society pointed out that these proposals would help combat health inequities in the nation, as tobacco stores were four times more likely to be in low-income neighborhoods, where smoking rates are highest.

Not Without Flaws

The proposals weren’t completely without controversy. There are concerns that a complete ban could bankrupt “dairy” store owners (the equivalent to a U.S. convenience store) who rely on tobacco sales to stay afloat. 

There are also concerns that prohibition largely doesn’t work, as has been seen in other nations with goods such as alcohol or marijuana. Many believe a  blanket ban on tobacco will increase the incentive to smuggle and sell the products on the black market. The government even acknowledged the issue in a document outlining Thursday’s proposals. 

“Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling,” the document said.

Some are also concerned about how much the government is intervening in people’s lives.

“There’s a philosophical principle about adults being able to make decisions for themselves, within reason,” journalist Alex Braae wrote. 

The opposition ACT party also added that lowering nicotine content in tobacco products could lead to smokers smoking more, a particular concern as one-in-four cancer cases in New Zealand are tobacco-related.

See what others are saying: (Stuff) (Independent) (The Guardian)

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