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Biden Tells Netanyahu He Expects “Significant De-Escalation Today” in Gaza Conflict as Violence Continues

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Following Biden’s demand, Netanyahu met with his military staff and said Israel is “determined to continue” its operation until its aim is met.


Biden Calls for “Significant De-Escalation”

Based on a description from White House aides about a Monday phone call between President Joe Biden and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it appears the U.S. may be changing course and backing off its support of Israel.

Early Wednesday morning, White House aides described to White House reporters that in the phone call, President Biden told Prime Minister Netanyahu he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire.” Despite the possible shift in U.S. policy, it comes with some major caveats.

It’s unclear what “significant de-escalation” actually means, and that ambiguity leaves a lot to be desired for people who wish the administration was more active in stopping the violence. Additionally, it’s unclear just how seriously Netanyahu will actually take the warning because he has since made it clear, after meeting with his military staff, that Israel is “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.”

Additionally, the prime minister told foreign ambassadors Wednesday morning, “You can either conquer them, and that’s always an open possibility, or you can deter them.”

“We are engaged right now in forceful deterrence, but I have to say, we don’t rule out anything. We’re not standing with a stopwatch. We want to achieve the goals of the operation. Previous operations lasted a long time so it is not possible to set a timeframe,” Netanyahu later added.

Criticism of $735 Billion Arms Sale

Adding to what has been seen as a mixed-U.S. stance on the situation, the White House approved a $735 billion arms deal with Israel for devices that help make guided missiles; leading many to wonder how serious the administration is about peace.

The missile sale was actually in the works well before the current fighting began and was a routine sale. Per protocol, the White House informed Congress about the sale on May 5, and Congress has 15 days to object. Since then, fighting has broken out, but Democrats and Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — the group that would need to object — made it clear they aren’t going to.

Even if the sale is routine, the reality on the ground has changed, causing many to point to the negative optics of selling devices to Israel that are believed to be used against buildings, including homes, in Gaza.

This has led to a pretty significant rift within the Democratic Party, with some like Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) tweeting, “We cannot just condemn rockets fired by Hamas and ignore Israel’s state-sanctioned police violence against Palestinians — including unlawful evictions, violent attacks on protestors & the murder of Palestinian children. U.S. aid should not be funding this violence.”

There’s now a concerted effort to have the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee not just rubber-stamp every arms deal to Israel moving forward, but it remains to be seen how effective that will be. However, even if the U.S.’ position on the matter has seemingly been vague or even contradictory, other nations have a more clear stance.

Worldwide Demands For Ceasefire

Since fighting began on March 10, Egyptian and U.N. mediators have been trying to broker a ceasefire. More recently, despite American efforts to block resolutions on the U.N. Security Council, France used its position as a permanent council member to once again demand a ceasefire.

Additionally, Russia warned Israel’s ambassador Wednesday that any further civilian casualties in Gaza were unacceptable while Germany also called for a ceasefire and promised to provide aid to Palestinians once the fighting stops.

Any aid will likely be sorely needed. Since the fighting began, over 52,000 Palestinians have been displaced and nearly 450 buildings have been either destroyed or severely damaged. In total, at least 219 Palestinians have been killed in airstrikes and over 1500 wounded. For their part, Hamas has fired over 3,700 rockets into Israel, killing 12 and injuring dozens.

For the time being, it remains unclear if there was a more clear understanding of “de-escalation” between Biden and Netanyahu, and whether or not Israel will follow the demands of the U.S. President.

See what others are saying: (Politico) (CNBC) (Axios)

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Apple and Google Remove Navalny Voting App as Russian Elections Kick-Off

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The decisions from Apple and Google, which followed weeks of pressure from the Kremlin, mark a continuation in the war between Western tech companies and authoritarian governments.


Voting App Removed From App Stores

Apple and Google removed a tactical voting app designed by allies of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny from their app stores Friday, bowing to pressure from the Kremlin the same day voting began for the country’s parliamentary elections.

The Smart Voting app aimed to direct opposition voters in each of the country’s 225 districts to select whichever candidate was most likely to defeat competitors from President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

Removal of the app comes as part of the Kremlin’s broader crackdown on the work and allies of Navalny, who was given a prison sentence of two and a half years in February for violating parole for a previous conviction widely believed to be politically motivated.

Russian authorities banned the app in June when the government outlawed Navalny’s movement as an extremist organization.

For weeks, the Russian censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, threatened to fine Apple and Google if they did not remove the app, arguing it was illegal and accusing the two of election interference.

People familiar with the matter told reporters that the tech companies complied with the request after Russian officials threatened to prosecute their employees based in the country.

Response and Backlash

Kremlin authorities welcomed the companies’ decision, which they painted as necessary legal compliance.

“They have met the lawful demands,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday. “This application is prohibited in the territory of our country. Both platforms received relevant notices and it seems they have made the decision consistent with the letter and the spirit of the law.”

Navalny’s allies and digital rights activists condemned Google and Apple for kowtowing to the demands of an authoritarian regime.

“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship,” Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny aide wrote on Twitter. “Russia’s authoritarian government and propaganda will be thrilled.”

Natalia Krapiva, a digital rights attorney with the Internet freedom group Access Now, told reporters that while it was clear Apple and Google “took this decision under pressure,” the tech companies still “owe the Russian people an explanation.”

Friday’s removals, she argued, have little precedent.

“This is really a new phenomenon to go after the app stores,” Krapiva noted.

Broader Crackdowns on Tech Companies

The move marks a continued escalation in the battle between authoritarian governments and American tech companies fighting to keep their services accessible.

In Russia, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok have faced throttling and fines in recent weeks for failing to remove calls for protests and other posts expressing dissent that the Kremlin claims are illegal.

In countries like India, Myanmar, and Turkey, authorities have increasingly pressured companies to censor political speech. Last year, Turkey passed a law that gives authorities more power to regulate social media companies. 

The Indian government is also currently in a standoff with Twitter over accusations the company has failed to comply with new internet regulations that experts say limit online speech and privacy.

Now, experts worry Google and Apple’s decision to remove Navalny’s app could encourage Russia and other authoritarian regimes to pressure tech companies by threatening to prosecute their employees.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)

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Denmark Moves To Bar Life Prisoners From Starting New Romantic Relationships After Peter Madsen Controversy

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While behind bars, the convicted murderer pursued relationships with female admirers, including a 17-year-old girl and a 39-year-old Russian artist who he married in 2020.


Legislation Proposed

Denmark’s government proposed a draft law this week aimed at preventing prison inmates serving life sentences from forming new romantic relationships behind bars. 

If passed, the proposed bill would specifically limit correspondence and visitation rights during the first 10 years of detention to people the prisoner knew before incarceration. It would also ban prisoners from sharing details about their criminal activities on social media or on podcasts. 

Demands for such legislation stemmed from public frustration over Danish inventor Peter Madsen, a 49-year-old who was convicted in 2018 for the 2017 murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall. According to prosecutors, Madsen sexually assaulted Wall while she was on board his submarine for an interview. He then dismembered her body before the submarine sank in what police said might have been an attempt to destroy evidence.

While incarcerated, Madsen reportedly pursued relationships with female admirers, including a 17-year-old girl named Cammilla Kürstein. Kürstein has admitted that she fell in love with Madsen after exchanging letters and talking on the phone with him over the course of two years.

However, she became jealous in 2020 when he ultimately married 39-year-old Jenny Curpen, a Russian artist living in self-imposed exile in Finland. Curpen has said her communication and visits with Madsen also began in 2018.

What Comes Next?

While Madsen has earned particular heat for pursuing new romance behind bars, he is far from the only incarcerated person to do so.

“We have seen distasteful examples in recent years of prisoners who have committed vile crimes contacting young people in order to gain their sympathy and attention,” Justice Minister Nick Hækkerup said when speaking of the bill.

“This must obviously be stopped,” he continued, arguing that jail should not serve as “dating centres or media platforms to brag about crimes.”

Denmark’s right-wing opposition in parliament has already signaled support for the bill, which was sent to the committee stage on Wednesday. If approved, it is expected to go into effect in January of next year.

Still, human rights experts said they expect challenges to the law. For example, Elo Rytter, of the University of Copenhagen, told the BT newspaper that it would “interfere with prisoners’ right to a private life.” She also said outlawing public statements might “raise questions about censorship.”

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

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World Anti-Doping Agency Will Review Cannabis Ban Following Sha’Carri Richardson’s Suspension

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Any changes that stem from the review will not take effect until 2023.


Cannabis Ban for Athletes Under Review

The World Anti-Doping Agency announced Tuesday that it will review whether cannabis should stay on its list of prohibited substances.

The move comes three months after the agency’s policies notably prevented U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson from competing at the Tokyo Olympics.

In July, Richardson was given a 30 days suspension and stripped of her 100-meter win at the U.S. Olympics Trials when THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, was detected in her system. At the time, Richardson admitted that she used marijuana in Oregon, where it is legal, after learning that her biological mother had died.

The runner was ultimately met with an outpouring of support from people who argued that the drug is not a performance enhancer and is legal or decriminalized in multiple U.S. states, as well as in countries around the world.

The anti-doping agency did not specifically mention Richardson in its announcement, but it did say the plan is a response to “requests from a number of stakeholders” in international athletics.

It also said that cannabis will remain banned in 2022, and any changes that stem from the review will not take effect until the following year.

See what others are saying: (NPR)(CBS)(The Hill)

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