This could be awkward. President Joe Biden, who called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the campaign trail, will “recalibrate” relations in his first call with King Salman, the White House said yesterday. The conversation will be all the more strained because of today’s public release of American intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 killing and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The implications are enormous, from billion-dollar arms deals to renegotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran, to improved relations between the Arab world and Israel.
2. Germany Convicts Syrian Officer of Crimes Against Humanity
In a global first, a German court convicted a former intelligence officer of being an accessory to crimes against humanity in the first trial of a member of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. Prosecutors levied the historic accusations using the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows national courts to pursue charges for international war crimes committed in foreign lands. Human rights activists rejoiced at Eyad al-Gharib’s sentence of four and a half years for transporting dissidents to be tortured, while former Col. Anwar Raslan still stands trial for overseeing the torture of at least 4,000 prisoners.
3. Vaccine Progress Tilts Toward Developing Nations
It’s spreading. Ghana became the first nation to receive coronavirus vaccines through the COVAX initiative — a scheme to distribute 2 billion doses globally to reduce disparities between rich and poor nations. That effort has been boosted by U.S. regulators declaring that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is safe and effective: Its single-shot mechanism and ordinary refrigeration requirement will ease logistics in places where resources are scarce. Meanwhile, vacation havens like Greece are pushing for “vaccine passports” to boost travel, while France and Germany worry about discrimination against the unvaccinated. EU leaders will debate the issue today.
Jerome Powell raised the roof. The Dow closed at record highs Wednesday after the Federal Reserve chairman signaled continued accommodations due to the still-suffering pandemic economy. While his testimony lifted all boats, the Fed itself was sinking from technological failures that crippled its ability to facilitate money transfers for banks, businesses and government agencies for hours. Stable for now, Fed officials blamed an “operational error.” U.S. stock futures trading was mixed overnight, but could get a new boost from the prospect of congressional action on Democrats’ $1.9 trillion stimulus package Friday.
We Heard You! Responding to our question about cryptocurrency, Frank C. of Florida said that while crypto is here to stay, it’s “not an easy world to navigate, and requires extensive study. If one is not fully informed, one can get burned. It is not the same as investing in a stock.”
Based on the HISTORY channel documentary series, OZY and HISTORY are proud to bring you your new podcast obsession: The Food That Built America. Hear about the bold visionaries behind some of the most recognizable brands on the planet. Today, Dick and Mac McDonald created an innovative restaurant in San Bernardino, California. But it took an ambitious salesman named Ray Kroc to turn McDonald’s into a fast food empire. Listen now onApple Podcasts,Spotify,Stitcher or wherever else you get your podcasts.
Call it the Facebook Act. In a decision that’s reverberating around the world, Australia’s government yesterday enacted the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, which requires online giants like the social network and Google to pay news organizations for their content. The legislation, which prompted Facebook to block all Australian news last week, requires tech titans to negotiate with local publishers over fees, with a mandatory arbitration process if that fails. Last year Google threatened to pull out of Australia over the proposal, but ended up pledging $60 million in revenue-sharing agreements with publishers there.
2. Amnesty: Navalny No Longer ‘Prisoner of Conscience’
Consider him canceled. Human rights group Amnesty International announced it no longer classes Russian dissident Alexei Navalny as a “prisoner of conscience,” saying his previous comments “reach the threshold of hate speech.” As a nationalist politician back in the 2000s, the imprisoned opposition leader pushed anti-immigrant policies and made bigoted statements like comparing Chechen rebels to cockroaches. While he’s cast off that brand of politics, Navalny hasn’t denounced those statements either. Some suspect the recent focus on his past remarks was orchestrated by the Kremlin, but Amnesty said it will nonetheless keep campaigning for Navalny’s release.
What do you think? Does Navalny’s intolerance negate his standing on the world stage? Respond to this email, including your first name, last initial and city or state and we may included your view in the PDB.
3. Spain Takes Down Last Statue of Franco
Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair. The dictator has been dead for 45 years, but it was a “historic day” when Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla removed the country’s last public statue of Gen. Francisco Franco. His 1936 takeover of Spain, with Nazi help, began a brutal 36-year dictatorship. Melilla’s local assembly voted Monday to get rid of him, noting that it was the “only statue dedicated to a dictator still in the public sphere in Europe.” A 2007 Spanish law calls for removing such symbols, but the far-right Vox party opposed the move.
The global cement industry has spewed more carbon dioxide in recent years than all but two countries. So climate-conscious builders in India are seeking sustainable alternatives, OZY reports. One goes back to the dawn of history: sun-dried mud bricks. Making these building blocks with solar energy rather than fossil fuels lets some architects feel “close to Earth,” as one of them put it. While convincing people to change mainstream construction habits is an uphill battle, for those with few resources, it’s a way to help themselves as well as the planet.
It’s the team to beat. The Australian city hasn’t yet been picked to host the 2032 Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee Wednesday announced Brisbane would be its top choice under a new selection process. That means potential rivals like Doha, Qatar, and Budapest, Hungary, may want to reconsider their expensive bid efforts. Meanwhile, Japan’s new Olympics minister hopes to make the best of Tokyo’s postponed 2020 event. She announced yesterday that competitors for the July games won’t have to get COVID-19 inoculations, while the World Anti-Doping Agency encouraged athletes to get shots anyway.
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