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Brazil Supreme Court Launches Investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro

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  • Brazil’s Supreme Court has launched an investigation into allegations that President Bolsonaro tried to interfere with the federal police by firing the head of the organization, which is the equivalent of Brazil’s FBI.
  • The allegations were brought forward by Brazil’s former Justice Minister who resigned on Friday because of Bolsonaro’s actions.
  • Brazilian newspapers allege that Bolsonaro fired the chief because the federal police were investigating two of Bolsonaro’s sons: one for embezzlement and mafia ties, and one for running a criminal fake news ring.
  • If wrongdoing is found, the investigation will likely form the basis of an impeachment trial. 

Investigation Launched

The Brazilian Supreme Court officially launched an investigation Monday evening into allegations that President Jair Bolsonaro attempted to interfere with the federal police for his own political gain.

The allegations were brought forward by Brazil’s former Justice Minister, Sérgio Moro. Moro made the accusation on Friday while announcing his resignation after Bolsonaro fired  Maurício Valeixo, the chief of the federal police force, which is the Brazilian equivalent of the FBI.

In his resignation speech, Moro said Bolsonaro fired Valeixo so that he could interfere with investigations and get access to classified information. Moro also claimed that Bolsonaro had told him multiple times he wanted to replace Valeixo with someone who would let him do so.

“The president emphasized to me, explicitly, more than once, that he wanted someone who was a personal contact, whom he could call, from whom he could get information, intelligence reports,” Moro said.

The former Justice Minister also reportedly sent photos of messages between him and the president to a popular nightly news show that seemed to back up his allegations.

Bolsonaro denied the accusations during a national address on Friday and said it was well within his power to fire the police chief.

“The appointment is mine, the prerogative is mine and the day I have to submit to any of my subordinates I cease to be president of the republic,” he said.

Questionable Timing

However, some believe that the timing of Bolsonaro’s decision is highly suspicious.

Over the weekend, at least two prominent Brazilian newspapers claimed that Bolsonaro decided to fire Valeixo now because the federal police investigating a criminal fake news operation were closing in on his son, Carlos Bolsonaro, who is a state lawmaker.

According to those reports, the federal police are investigating Carlos Bolsonaro because they suspect him of being a key leader of a criminal scheme that spreads false information to threaten and intimidate Brazilian authorities.

On top of that, another one of the president’s sons, Flávio Bolsonaro, who is a Senator, is also under federal police investigation for his alleged involvement in a money-laundering scheme and ties to the mafia.

All three Bolsonaro men have all denied the accusations.

Path to Impeachment

The decision to launch the investigation is quite significant because it is the first step on the path to impeachment.

Right now, the Supreme Court has given the federal police 60 days to carry out an investigation. If they find that Bolsonaro engaged in illegal wrongdoing, those allegations could form the basis for an impeachment trial, but it is unclear how far that will go. 

On Tuesday, Bolsonaro appointed the director of Brazil’s intelligence agency, Alexandre Ramagem, to be the chief of the federal police.

Ramagem oversaw security for Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign and is reportedly a close family friend. Now, the new head of the body investigating Bolsonaro is not only an ally of his but a personal contact— exactly what Moro said the president wanted all along.

Ramagem is also a friend of Carlos Bolsonaro, according to some Brazilian news outlets, which circulated a picture of the two at a New Year’s Eve party last year that was posted on Carlos’s Instagram.

Even if an impeachment trial were to go forward, before moving to the Supreme Court, any indictment would have to be approved by the lower house of Congress, which is currently full of Bolsononaro’s supporters.

Approval Ratings

At the same time, these allegations, which have been described by some as the worst political crisis since he took office, also come as Bolsonaro has been significantly weakened politically.

Bolsonaro is a mountain of criticism for his continued efforts to downplay the coronavirus, which has killed over 4,600 people in Brazil— the most deaths in all of South America.

As a result, Bolsonaro’s approval ratings have fallen, and many of his key allies to jumped ship. Now, Moro’s departure could hurt him even more.

According to reports, Moro was one of the most popular ministers in Bolsonaro’s administration. He was well known for being the judge that oversaw the high-profile anti-corruption investigation known as Operation Car Wash.

For Bolsonaro, who was elected after running on a strict anti-corruption platform, Moro brought in an important base of supporters, as well as the appearance that the administration had a strong respect for the rule of law. 

But now, Bolsonaro is likely to lose at least part of that base and that key support, and the fallout from the political turmoil is already being reflected in polls.

According to the Washington Post, one poll from Monday showed that 57% of Brazilians supported Bolsonaro’s impeachment.

However, another poll from Monday found that 48% oppose impeaching Bolsonaro while 45% of those want to see him impeached— though that difference is within the margin of error for the poll.

Notably, that same poll also found that 52% of those polled thought Moro was telling the truth and only 20% said they believed Bolsonaro’s version.

Another thing to note is the fact that there is a solid precedent for impeachment in Brazil. Just since the military dictatorship ended in the 1980s, three presidents have been impeached, the most recent of whom was former President Dilma Rousseff, who removed in 2016 for breaking budgetary laws.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (The Guardian)

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Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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Greta Thunberg To Skip U.N. Climate Change Conference, Citing Vaccine Inequality

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  • Young environmental activist Greta Thunberg will not attend the U.N.’s climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland this November.
  • “Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem,” the 18-year-old tweeted Friday, adding, “Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions.”
  • Since rollouts began late last year, 40% of vaccines have been administered in wealthy and Western countries, according to The Washington Post.
  • Scientists have warned that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg Points To Vaccine Inequality

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she is skipping the UN’s climate change conference.

The COP26 summit is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November, but 18-year-old Thunberg told BBC she won’t attend because she’s concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on attendance.

In a Twitter thread Friday, she responded to a headline about her plans to miss the summit.

“Of course I would love to attend…But not unless everyone can take part on the same terms. Right now many countries are vaccinating healthy young people, often at the expense of risk groups and front line workers (mainly from global south, as usual…),” she wrote.

“Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem.”

“Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions,” the teen continued.

Thunberg went on to say that if the summit is delayed, it doesn’t mean urgent action should too.

“We don’t have to wait for conferences nor anyone or anything else to dramatically start reducing our emissions. Solidarity and action can start today,” she added before noting that digital alternatives for the conference would also be insufficient.

“High speed internet connection and access to computers is extremely unequal in the world. In that case we would lack representation from those whose voices need to be heard the most when it comes to the climate crisis,” she wrote.

Data on Global Vaccine Distribution Efforts

According to The Washington Post, nearly 20% of people in the United States are now vaccinated, but many other countries are unlikely to hit that same metric by the end of the year, even with international assistance through the Covax program.

Current projections predict it could be years before developing countries distribute enough doses to come close to herd immunity, which scientists say requires inoculating around 70-80% of a population.

Since rollouts began late last year, enough shots have been distributed to fully vaccinate about 5% of the world’s population, but The Post reported that the vast majority have been administered in wealthy and Western countries.

Around 40% of vaccines have been given in 27 wealthy nations that include only 11% of the world’s population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

That’s pretty concerning because scientists also warn that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg’s comments are a blow for U.K. organizers, who have already postponed the conference once from last November because of the pandemic. Even now, there has been speculation that it could be delayed again this year.

Thunberg would not play a formal role at the conference but her decision not to attend is a significant symbolic moment.

At COP25, the young climate change activist gave a headline speech and she typically attends major climate events of this nature. On top of that, reports say this summit was slated to be one of the most consequential climate conferences since the 2015 Paris accord.

On the agenda for this year’s conference discussions were country-level plans for cutting carbon emissions, along with progress on the Paris agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (CNBC) (The Washington Post)

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