5 questions on Bolsonaro supporters storming Brazil's Congress
Thousands of far-right supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the country’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace on Jan. 8, 2023. In images similar to those from the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, demonstrators were seen overwhelming and beating police while breaching the security perimeter of the buildings. It comes weeks after Bolsonaro was ousted in an election that saw the return of leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The Conversation asked Rafael Ioris, an expert on Brazilian politics at the University of Denver, to explain the significance of the attack and what could happen next. Who was behind the storming of the Brazilian Congress? What we saw was thousands of hardcore supporters of Bolsonaro – those who share his extreme right-wing agenda – attempting to take matters into their own hands after the recent election. Even though Bolsonaro wasn’t there in the capital while the attack took place – he was in Florida – I believe he is ultimately responsible for what occurred. While he was in power he encouraged distrust in political institutions, advocating the closure of Congress and attacking the Supreme Court – two of the institutions targeted by demonstrators. Others were also behind what happened. Protests have been taking place for weeks, and there are big funders of the demonstrations, such as large landowners and business groups who helped pay for the busing in of thousands of Bolsonaro supporters to the capital, Brasilia. And then there is the role of the military. Leading military figures have been supportive of Bolsonaro’s extreme right agenda for a long time and even recently have displayed outright support for several pro-coup demonstrations unfolding in different parts of the country in the lead-up to the attack. The lack of security preventing the storming of key institutions in the capital also leads me to ask: Were they negligent, or were they complicit? Read more: Brazil authorities seek to punish pro-Bolsonaro rioters Can you expand on the role of the military? Street security is not a responsibility of the armed forces, but the military’s continued support for Bolsanaro’s agenda has helped provide legitimacy for the holding of such views among members of the state-run military police. And it was the military police who were tasked with keeping the demonstrations in check in Brasilia. The pro-Bolsonaro demonstrators are demanding a military intervention to overturn what they claim – with no evidence – to be a fraudulent election that saw Lula come to power. Their hope is that senior members of the military – many of whom have expressed support for Bolsonaro and sympathy for the protest camps that have been set up near army bases – would support the push to oust Lula. Brazil has a long history of the armed forces not accepting civilian rule. The last military coup was in 1964. Of course, circumstances are different now from then – when in the heat of the Cold War, the coup was supported by outside governments, including the U.S. Bolsonaro cultivated close ties to the Brazilian military by moving key military people into positions in government. Right-wing generals friendly with Bolsonaro became ministers of defense, chief of state and even the minister of health at the height of the COVID-19 crisis. Moreover, it is estimated about 6,000 active military personnel were given jobs in nonmilitary positions in government in the last eight years. Some generals in both the Navy and the Air Force especially have been supporting the protests. Since the election, you have had generals proclaim that demonstrations demanding military intervention were legitimate. I think it is fair to say that segments of Brazil’s military were encouraging what happened. But when it came down to it, the armed forces were quiet. The military may have nurtured the protest, but when it came to the idea of a traditional coup – tanks on the streets stuff – that just didn’t happen. So would you characterize this as an attempted coup? That is a central question. As events unfurled on Jan. 8, it looked more like a protest that got violent and out of hand – the level of destruction inside some of the buildings attests to that. But it was weeks in the making and well financed, in that hundreds of buses were paid for to get Bolsonaro supporters to the capital. And the expressed aim of many protesters was military intervention. So in that sense, I would say it more akin to an attempted coup. Read more: Pro-Bolsonaro rioters storm Brazil’s top government offices What does the attack tell us about democracy in Brazil? Brazil has been at a crossroads. The Bolsonaro presidency saw the country backslide on democracy, as trust in institutions eroded under attack from the president himself and through corruptions scandals. And close to half of the country voted for him despite his record of undermining democracy. But the election of Lula seems to indicate that even more want to rebuild democratic institutions in the country after four years of attack from Bolsonaro. So this could be a turning point. The media in Brazil has come out strongly in denouncing the actions of demonstrators. In the coming days and weeks, there will be investigations into what happened, and hopefully some degree of accountability. What will be key is Lula’s ability to address the anti-democractic elements of the military. Are comparisons to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol valid? Trumpism and Bolsonarismo share a narrative of stolen elections, with supporters drawn from the right who support issues such as gun rights and traditional family structures. An important difference is the role of the military. Although former military personnel were at the Jan. 6 attack in D.C., top U.S. military figures condemned it. Nor was the aim in the U.S. to see military intervention, unlike the Jan. 8, 2023, attack in Brasilia. But there are clear parallels – in both we saw extreme right-wing, powerful groups and individuals refusing to accept the direction of a country and trying to storm institutions of power. Now I’m wondering if there will also be parallels in what happens after the attack. In the U.S., authorities have done a good job punishing a lot of people involved. I’m not sure we will see the same in Brazil, as they might need to confront powerful groups within the military and police forces around the country. So, democratic actors within and outside of the county will be essential in supporting the task of defending democracy in Brazil. (This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.)
Zelenskyy to meet Biden, address Congress as war rages on
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was making his way to Washington on Wednesday for a summit with President Joe Biden and to address Congress in his first known trip outside the country since Russia’s invasion began in February. Zelenskyy said on his Twitter account that the visit was “to strengthen resilience and defense capabilities” of Ukraine and discuss cooperation between his country and the U.S with Biden. The highly sensitive trip is taking place after 10 months of a brutal war that has seen tens of thousands killed and wounded on both sides of the conflict, along with devastation for Ukrainian civilians. It also comes as U.S. lawmakers are set to vote on a year-end spending package that includes about $45 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine and as the Pentagon prepares to send Patriot surface-to-air missiles to the country to defend itself. Zelenskyy headed abroad after making a daring and dangerous trip Tuesday to what he called the hottest spot on the 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) front line of the conflict, the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s contested Donetsk province. He praised Ukrainian troops for their “courage, resilience and strength” as artillery boomed in the background. In a statement Tuesday night, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden looks forward to the visit and that the address to Congress will demonstrate “the strong, bipartisan support for Ukraine.” “The visit will underscore the United States’ steadfast commitment to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes, including through the provision of economic, humanitarian, and military assistance,” she said. Zelenskyy was scheduled to meet with Biden at the White House in the afternoon and then join Biden for a news conference in the East Room. He was expected to address Congress in the evening. In her invitation to Zelenskyy to address a joint meeting of Congress at the U.S. Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “the fight for Ukraine is the fight for democracy itself” and that lawmakers “look forward to hearing your inspiring message of unity, resilience and determination.” U.S. and Ukrainian officials have made clear they don’t envision an imminent resolution to the war and are preparing for fighting to continue for some time. Biden has repeated that while the U.S. will arm and train Ukraine, American forces will not be directly engaged in the conflict. Biden and Zelenskyy first discussed the idea of a visit to Washington during their most recent phone call, on Dec. 11, and a formal invitation followed three days later, said a senior U.S. administration official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the visit. Zelenskyy accepted the invitation on Friday and it was confirmed on Sunday, when the White House began coordinating with Pelosi to arrange the congressional address. The White House consulted with Zelenskyy on security for his departure from Ukraine and travel to Washington, including the risk of Russian action while Zelenskyy was briefly out of the country, the official added, declining to detail the measures taken to safeguard the Ukrainian leader. The official said the U.S. expected Russia to continue its attacks on Ukrainian forces and civilian infrastructure targets despite the trip. Read more: US to send $3 billion in aid to Ukraine as war hits 6 months The tranche of U.S. funding pending before Congress would be the biggest American infusion of assistance yet to Ukraine — even more than Biden’s $37 billion emergency request — and is meant to ensure that support flows to the war effort for months to come. On Wednesday, the U.S. was also set to announce that it will send a major package of $1.8 billion in military aid to Ukraine that will for the first time include a Patriot missile battery and precision guided bombs for its fighter jets, U.S. officials said. The aid signals an expansion by the U.S. in the kinds of advanced weaponry it will send to Ukraine to bolster its air defenses against what has been an increasing barrage of Russian missiles in recent weeks. The package will include about $1 billion in weapons from Pentagon stocks and $800 million in funding through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, officials said. The decision to send the Patriot battery comes despite threats from Russia’s Foreign Ministry that the delivery of the advanced surface-to-air missile system would be considered a provocative step and that the Patriot and any crews accompanying it would be a legitimate target for Moscow’s military. It’s not clear exactly when the Patriot would arrive on the front lines in Ukraine, since U.S. troops will have to train Ukrainian forces on how to use the high-tech system. The training could take several weeks, and is expected to be done in Germany. To date, all training of Ukraine’s forces by the U.S. and its Western allies has taken place in European countries. The visit comes at an important moment as the White House braces for greater resistance when Republicans take control of the House in January and give more scrutiny to aid for Ukraine. GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has said his party’s lawmakers will not write a “blank check” for Ukraine. Biden and Zelenskyy frequently have talked by phone as the White House arranges new tranches of military assistance for Ukraine. The calls have been mostly warm, with Biden praising Ukraine for remaining steadfast against the Russians and Zelenskyy thanking the U.S. president for support. The one exception was a June phone call soon after Biden notified Zelenskyy that an additional $1 billion package was headed to Ukraine. Zelenskyy didn’t miss a beat in ticking off the additional assistance he said Ukraine needed. That irked Biden, who underscored to Zelenskyy the American people’s generosity. But the brief moment of tension hasn’t caused any lasting difficulty, according to officials familiar with the episode. Pelosi, who visited Zelenskyy earlier this year in Kyiv, encouraged lawmakers to be on hand for Wednesday evening’s address by the Ukrainian leader. “We are ending a very special session of the 117th Congress with legislation that makes progress for the American people as well as support for our Democracy,” Pelosi wrote Tuesday in a letter to colleagues. “Please be present for a very special focus on Democracy Wednesday night.” Later at the Capitol she said of Ukrainians, “They are fighting for democracy for all of us.” Read more: Russia warns of ‘consequences’ if US missiles go to Ukraine Russia’s invasion, which began Feb. 24, has lost momentum. The illegally annexed provinces of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia remain fiercely contested. With the fighting in the east at a stalemate, Moscow has used missiles and drones to attack Ukraine’s power equipment, hoping to leave people without electricity as freezing weather sets in. In a video released by his office from the Bakhmut visit, Zelenskyy was handed a Ukrainian flag and alluded to delivering it to U.S. leaders. “The guys handed over our beautiful Ukrainian flag with their signatures for us to pass on,” Zelenskyy said in the video. “We are not in an easy situation. The enemy is increasing its army. Our people are braver and need more powerful weapons. We will pass it on from the boys to the Congress, to the president of the United States. We are grateful for their support, but it is not enough. It is a hint — it is not enough.” For his part, Putin on Tuesday hailed the “courage and self-denial” of his forces in Ukraine — but he did so at a ceremony in an opulent and glittering hall at the Kremlin in Moscow, not on the battlefield. At the Kremlin ceremony, Putin presented awards to the Moscow-appointed heads of the four illegally annexed regions of Ukraine. In a video address honoring Russia’s military and security agencies, he praised the security personnel deployed to the four regions, saying that “people living there, Russian citizens, count on being protected by you.” Putin acknowledged the challenges faced by the security personnel. “Yes, it’s difficult for you,” he said, adding that the situation in the regions is “extremely difficult.”
Congress moves to ban TikTok from US government devices
TikTok would be banned from most U.S. government devices under a government spending bill Congress unveiled early Tuesday, the latest push by American lawmakers against the Chinese-owned social media app. The $1.7 trillion package includes requirements for the Biden administration to prohibit most uses of TikTok or any other app created by its owner, ByteDance Ltd. The requirements would apply to the executive branch — with exemptions for national security, law enforcement and research purposes — and don’t appear to cover Congress, where a handful of lawmakers maintain TikTok accounts. TikTok is consumed by two-thirds of American teens and has become the second-most popular domain in the world. But there’s long been bipartisan concern in Washington that Beijing would use legal and regulatory power to seize American user data or try to push pro-China narratives or misinformation. ByteDance did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It has previously noted that TikTok is incorporated in the U.S. and is bound by American laws. Speaking Friday, CIA Director William Burns said Beijing can “insist upon extracting the private data of a lot of TikTok users in this country and also to shape the content of what goes on to TikTok as well to suit the interests of the Chinese leadership.” “I think those are real challenges and a source of real concern,” Burns told PBS. He declined to take a position on congressional efforts to limit TikTok. Read more: TikTok to take legal action against US government over ban House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was pushing to include the TikTok provision in the big year-end bill, her office said. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican who authored a version of the TikTok bill that passed the Senate last week, called the government device ban “the first major strike against Big Tech enacted into law.” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., has co-sponsored legislation to prohibit TikTok from operating in the U.S. altogether. He called the government device ban an appropriate initial step and said there was a “groundswell of support” for wider action. “We’re not just talking about Republicans and Democrats and independents,” said Krishnamoorthi, a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “We’re talking about parents who are concerned broadly about social media and TikTok in particular.”
Congress removes Peru's president amid political unrest
The president of Peru was ousted by Congress and arrested on a charge of rebellion Wednesday after he sought to dissolve the legislative body and take unilateral control of the government, triggering a grave constitutional crisis. Vice President Dina Boluarte replaced Pedro Castillo and became the first female leader in the history of the republic after hours of wrangling between the legislature and the departing president, who had tried to prevent an impeachment vote. Boluarte, a 60--year-old lawyer, called for a political truce and the installation of a national unity government. “What I ask for is a space, a time to rescue the country,” she said. Lawmakers voted 101-6 with 10 abstentions to remove Castillo from office for reasons of “permanent moral incapacity.” He left the presidential palace in an automobile that carried him through Lima’s historic downtown. He entered a police station and hours later federal prosecutors announced that Castillo had been arrested on the rebellion charge for allegedly violating constitutional order. Witnesses saw some small-scale clashing between police and some protesters who had gathered near the station. “We condemn the violation of constitutional order,” federal prosecutors said in a statement. “Peru's political constitution enshrines the separation of powers and establishes that Peru is a democratic and sovereign Republic ... No authority can put itself above the Constitution and must comply with constitutional mandates.” Also read: Peru extends state of emergency due to COVID-19 amid fourth wave Fluent in Spanish and Quechua, Boluarte was elected as vice president on the presidential ticket that brought the center-left Castillo to power July 28, 2021. During Castillo’s brief administration, Boluarte was minister of development and social inclusion. Shortly before the impeachment vote, Castillo announced that he was installing a new emergency government and would rule by decree. He ordered a nightly curfew starting Wednesday night. The head of Peru's army then resigned, along with four ministers, including those over foreign affairs and the economy. The Ombudsman's Office, an autonomous government institution, said before the congressional vote that Castillo should turn himself in to judicial authorities. After years of democracy, Peru is in the midst of a constitutional collapse “that can't be called anything but a coup,” the statement said. International reaction was at times outpaced by events. United States Amb. Lisa Kenna called on Castillo via Twitter to reverse his decree to dissolve Congress, saying the U.S. government rejected any “extra-constitutional” actions by the president to interfere with Congress. A short time later the Congress voted to remove Castillo. Mexico Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said via Twitter that given recent events in Peru, Mexico had decided to postpone the Pacific Alliance summit scheduled for Dec. 14 in Lima. He said he regretted the recent developments and called for democracy and human rights to be respected. The administration of Chilean President Gabriel Boric lamented the political situation in Peru and trusted that the crisis would be resolved through democratic mechanisms. Spain's government strongly condemned the break in constitutional order and congratulated the country on righting itself democratically. Castillo had said in an unusual midnight address on state television ahead of the vote that he would never stain “the good name of my honest and exemplary parents, who like millions of Peruvians, work every day to build honestly a future for their families.” The peasant-turned-president said he’s paying for mistakes made due to inexperience. But he said a certain sector of Congress “has as its only agenda item removing me from office because they never accepted the results of an election that you, my dear Peruvians, determined with your votes.” Castillo has denied allegations of corruption against him, saying they’re based on “hearsay statements by people who, seeking to lighten their own punishments for supposed crimes by abusing my confidence, are trying to involve me without evidence.” Federal prosecutors are investigating six cases against Castillo, most of them for alleged corruption, under the theory that he had used his power to profit from public works. The power struggle in Perú’s capital has continued as the Andes and its thousands of small farms struggle to survive the worst drought in a half-century. Without rain, farmers can’t plant potatoes, and the dying grass can no longer sustain herds of sheep, alpacas, vicuñas and llamas. Making matters worse, avian flu has killed at least 18,000 sea birds and infected at least one poultry producer, endangering the chicken and turkeys raised for traditional holiday meals. The government also confirmed that in the past week, the country has suffered a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 4.3 million Peruvians have been infected, and 217,000 of them have died. The first president to come from a poor farming community in the nation’s history, Castillo arrived in the presidential palace last year without any political experience. He changed his cabinet five times during his year and a half in office, running through 60 different cabinet officials, leaving various government agencies paralyzed. Although Castillo is the first president to be investigated while still in office, the probes are no surprise in a country where nearly every former president in the last 40 years have been charged with corruption linked to multinational corporations, such as the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. Since 2016, Perú has been entrenched in political crises, with congresses and presidents trying to eliminate each other in turn. President Martín Vizcarra (2018-2020) dissolved Congress in 2019 and ordered new elections. That new legislature removed Vizcarra the next year. Then came President Manuel Merino, who lasted less than a week before a crackdown killed two protesters and injured 200 more. His successor, Francisco Sagasti, lasted nine months before Castillo took over. Castillo on Wednesday became the second ex-president currently in custody in the country. A former Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori, is serving a 25-year sentence for murder and corruption charges dating to his 1990-2000 rule.
India's Sonia Gandhi tests positive for Covid
India's main opposition Congress party's chief Sonia Gandhi has contracted Covid for the second time in two months. The 75-year-old widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is currently in home isolation in the national capital, a senior Congress leader tweeted on Saturday. "Congress President Sonia Gandhi tested positive for Covid-19 today. She will remain in isolation as per government protocol," Jairam Ramesh, a former federal minister, wrote. In June this year too, Gandhi tested positive for coronavirus and had to be admitted to a hospital for treatment. Read: Sonia Gandhi in hospital due to Covid issues, party says condition stable Gandhi's son Rahul and daughter Priyanka had earlier tested positive for Covid-19. Gandhi's health has been a subject of rumours in the Indian media. More than a decade ago, she underwent a surgery at a hospital in the US for an undisclosed medical condition.
Congress sends landmark gun violence compromise to Biden
The House sent President Joe Biden the widest ranging gun violence bill Congress has passed in decades Friday, a measured compromise that at once illustrates progress on the long-intractable issue and the deep-seated partisan divide that persists. The Democratic-led chamber approved the election-year legislation on a mostly party-line 234-193 vote, capping a spurt of action prompted by voters’ revulsion over last month’s mass shootings in New York and Texas. The Senate approved the measure late Thursday by a bipartisan 65-33 margin. The White House said Biden would sign the bill and deliver remarks on it Saturday morning. Every House Democrat and 14 Republicans — six of whom won’t be in Congress next year — voted for the measure. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., underscored its significance to her party by taking the unusual step of presiding over the vote and announcing the result from the podium, to huzzahs from rank-and-file Democrats on the chamber’s floor. Among Republicans backing the legislation was Rep. Liz Cheney of gun-friendly Wyoming, who has broken sharply with her party’s leaders and is helping lead the House investigation into last year’s Capitol insurrection by supporters of then-President Donald Trump. In a statement, she said that “as a mother and a constitutional conservative,” she believed the bill would curb violence and enhance safety, adding: “Nothing in the bill restricts the rights of responsible gun owners. Period.” READ: School massacre continues Texas’ grim run of mass shootings Impossible to ignore was the juxtaposition of the week’s gun votes with a pair of jarring Supreme Court decisions on two of the nation’s most incendiary culture war issues. The justices on Thursday struck down a New York law that has restricted peoples’ ability to carry concealed weapons, and Friday it overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating the protection for abortion that case had ensured for a half-century. The bill, crafted by senators from both parties, would incrementally toughen requirements for young people to buy guns, deny firearms from more domestic abusers and help local authorities temporarily take weapons from people judged to be dangerous. Most of its $13 billion cost would go to bolster mental health programs and for schools, which have been targeted in Newtown, Connecticut, Parkland, Florida and many other infamous massacres. It omits far tougher restrictions Democrats have long championed like a ban on assault-type weapons and background checks for all gun transactions, but is the most impactful firearms violence measure Congress has approved since enacting a now-expired assault weapons ban in 1993. The legislation was a direct result of the slaying of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, exactly one month ago, and the killing of 10 Black shoppers days earlier in Buffalo, New York. Lawmakers returned from their districts after those shootings saying constituents were demanding congressional action, a vehemence many felt could not be ignored. “This gives our community the sorely needed hope that we have been crying out for, for years and years and years,” Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., whose 17-year-old son was shot dead in 2012 by a man complaining his music was too loud, told supporters outside the Capitol. “Understand and know that this bill does not answer all of our prayers, but this is hope.” Speaking haltingly, Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., said he was backing the bill for his father, shot to death 30 years ago to the day, the 58 people killed in a 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas “and so many other Americans who are victims and survivors of gun violence.” For conservatives who dominate the House GOP, it came down to the Constitution’s Second Amendment right for people to have firearms, a protection key for many voters who own guns. “Today they’re coming after our Second Amendment liberties, and who knows what it will be tomorrow,” Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the House Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, said of Democrats. Pelosi said with Thursday’s gun ruling by the justices, “the Trump-McConnell court is implicitly endorsing the tragedy of mass shootings and daily gun deaths plaguing our nation.” That was a reference to the balance-tipping three conservative justices appointed by Trump and confirmed by a Senate that was run by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. But House Republicans used the gun debate to praise both court decisions. “What a great day for the babies, and as the speaker described it, the Trump-McConnell Supreme Court,” said Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Wis. Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., said the firearms decision has “electrified the country and left radicals seething — the Constitution means what it says.” In the Senate, every Democrat and 15 Republicans backed the compromise. Just two of those GOP senators face reelection next year. But overall, fewer than one-third of GOP senators and just 1-in-15 House Republicans supported the measure. That means the fate of future congressional action on guns seems dubious, even as the GOP is expected to win House and possibly Senate control in the November elections. McConnell kept careful tabs on the negotiations that produced the bill and voted for it, partly in hopes it would attract moderate suburban voters whose support the GOP will need in its November bid for Senate control. In contrast, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and other GOP leaders of the more conservative House opposed it. The legislation was opposed by firearms groups like the National Rifle Association. But groups backing gun curbs like Brady and Everytown for Gun Safety weren’t the only ones backing it. Support also came from the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The talks that produced the bill were led by Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. Under the compromise, background checks for gun buyers age 18 to 20 will now include an examination of their local juvenile records. The accused shooters in Uvalde and Buffalo were both 18. People convicted of domestic abuse who are current or former romantic partners of the victim — not simply spouses or people who lived or had children with the person they abused — will be prohibited from acquiring firearms. That closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole.” There will be money to help states enforce “red flag” laws that help authorities temporarily take guns from people considered threatening and for other states’ violence prevention programs. More people who sell weapons would have to become federally licensed gun dealers and need to conduct background checks. Penalties for gun trafficking are strengthened, billions of dollars are provided for behavioral health clinics and school mental health programs and there’s money for school safety initiatives, though not for personnel to use a “dangerous weapon.”
Ex-Facebook manager criticizes company, urges more oversight
While accusing the giant social network of pursuing profits over safety, a former Facebook data scientist told Congress Tuesday she believes stricter government oversight could alleviate the dangers the company poses, from harming children to inciting political violence to fueling misinformation. Frances Haugen, testifying to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, presented a wide-ranging condemnation of Facebook. She accused the company of failing to make changes to Instagram after internal research showed apparent harm to some teens and being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation. Haugen’s accusations were buttressed by tens of thousands of pages of internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job in the company’s civic integrity unit. But she also offered thoughtful ideas about how Facebook’s social media platforms could be made safer. Haugen laid responsibility for the company’s profits-over-safety strategy right at the top, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg, but she also expressed empathy for Facebook’s dilemma. Haugen, who says she joined the company in 2019 because “Facebook has the potential to bring out the best in us,” said she didn’t leak internal documents to a newspaper and then come before Congress in order to destroy the company or call for its breakup, as many consumer advocates and lawmakers of both parties have called for. Haugen is a 37-year-old data expert from Iowa with a degree in computer engineering and a master’s degree in business from Harvard. Prior to being recruited by Facebook, she worked for 15 years at tech companies including Google, Pinterest and Yelp. Read: Outage highlights how vital Facebook has become worldwide “Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy,” Haugen said. “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people.” “Congressional action is needed,” she said. “They won’t solve this crisis without your help.” In a note to Facebook employees Tuesday, Zuckerberg disputed Haugen’s portrayal of the company as one that puts profit over the well-being of its users, or that pushes divisive content. “At the most basic level, I think most of us just don’t recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted,” Zuckerberg wrote. He did, however, appear to agree with Haugen on the need for updated internet regulations, saying that would relieve private companies from having to make decisions on social issues on their own. “We’re committed to doing the best work we can, but at some level the right body to assess tradeoffs between social equities is our democratically elected Congress,” Zuckerberg wrote. Democrats and Republicans have shown a rare unity around the revelations of Facebook’s handling of potential risks to teens from Instagram, and bipartisan bills have proliferated to address social media and data-privacy problems. But getting legislation through Congress is a heavy slog. The Federal Trade Commission has taken a stricter stance toward Facebook and other tech giants in recent years. “Whenever you have Republicans and Democrats on the same page, you’re probably more likely to see something,” said Gautam Hans, a technology law and free speech expert at Vanderbilt University Haugen suggested, for example, that the minimum age for Facebook’s popular Instagram photo-sharing platform could be increased from the current 13 to 16 or 18. She also acknowledged the limitations of possible remedies. Facebook, like other social media companies, uses algorithms to rank and recommend content to users’ news feeds. When the ranking is based on engagement — likes, shares and comments — as it is now with Facebook, users can be vulnerable to manipulation and misinformation. Haugen would prefer the ranking to be chronological. But, she testified, “People will choose the more addictive option even if it is leading their daughters to eating disorders.” Haugen said a 2018 change to the content flow contributed to more divisiveness and ill will in a network ostensibly created to bring people closer together. Read: Whistleblower: Facebook chose profit over public safety Despite the enmity that the new algorithms were feeding, she said Facebook found that they helped keep people coming back — a pattern that helped the social media giant sell more of the digital ads that generate the vast majority of its revenue. Haugen said she believed Facebook didn’t set out to build a destructive platform. “I have a huge amount of empathy for Facebook,” she said. “These are really hard questions, and I think they feel a little trapped and isolated.” But “in the end, the buck stops with Mark,” Haugen said, referring to Zuckerberg, who controls more than 50% of Facebook’s voting shares. “There is no one currently holding Mark accountable but himself.” Haugen said she believed that Zuckerberg was familiar with some of the internal research showing concerns for potential negative impacts of Instagram. The subcommittee is examining Facebook’s use of information its own researchers compiled about Instagram. Those findings could indicate potential harm for some of its young users, especially girls, although Facebook publicly downplayed possible negative impacts. For some of the teens devoted to Facebook’s popular photo-sharing platform, the peer pressure generated by the visually focused Instagram led to mental health and body-image problems, and in some cases, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts, the research leaked by Haugen showed. One internal study cited 13.5% of teen girls saying Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse and 17% of teen girls saying it makes eating disorders worse. She also has filed complaints with federal authorities alleging that Facebook’s own research shows that it amplifies hate, misinformation and political unrest, but that the company hides what it knows. After recent reports in The Wall Street Journal based on documents she leaked to the newspaper raised a public outcry, Haugen revealed her identity in a CBS “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday night. As the public relations debacle over the Instagram research grew last week, Facebook put on hold its work on a kids’ version of Instagram, which the company says is meant mainly for tweens aged 10 to 12. Read: Ex-Facebook manager alleges social network fed Capitol riot Haugen said that Facebook prematurely turned off safeguards designed to thwart misinformation and incitement to violence after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election, alleging that doing so contributed to the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. After the November election, Facebook dissolved the civic integrity unit where Haugen had been working. That was the moment, she said, when she realized that “I don’t trust that they’re willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous.” Haugen says she told Facebook executives when they recruited her that she wanted to work in an area of the company that fights misinformation, because she had lost a friend to online conspiracy theories. Facebook maintains that Haugen’s allegations are misleading and insists there is no evidence to support the premise that it is the primary cause of social polarization. “Today, a Senate Commerce subcommittee held a hearing with a former product manager at Facebook who worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with (top) executives – and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question. We don’t agree with her characterization of the many issues she testified about,” the company said in a statement.
Military display rolls into Brazil capital before tense vote
Brazil’s military staged an unusual convoy of troops and armored vehicles through the capital on Tuesday — an event announced only a day before and that coincided with a scheduled vote in Congress on one of President Jair Bolsonaro’s key proposals. Scores of vehicles and hundreds of soldiers paraded past the presidential palace as Bolsonaro looked on, then continued past the congressional building and Defense Ministry. The navy issued a statement saying the convoy had been planned long before the congressional vote. But it was announced only on Monday and critics said it looked like an attempt to intimidate opponents of a president who has often praised the country’s past military dictatorship. Military parades in the capital are usually limited to independence day events. Tuesday’s procession was described as a ceremonial invitation for Bolsonaro to attend annual navy exercises that are held in a town outside the capital. The army and air force also are participating for the first time. Congress’ lower house earlier had scheduled a Tuesday vote on constitutional reform that Bolsonaro has crusaded for: requiring printed receipts from some electronic ballot boxes that the president alleges are prone to fraud. READ: Brazil reopens amid looming threat from delta variant The parade upset some lawmakers. Omar Aziz, the president of a Senate probe into the government’s COVID-19 pandemic response, said the parade was “a clear attempt to intimidate lawmakers and opponents. He (Bolsonaro) imagines he is showing strength, but he is showing a president weakened by investigations.” Critics allege that Bolsonaro, who trails rivals in early opinion polls, is trying to sow doubt among his passionate supporters about the 2022 election results, setting the stage for potential conflicts similar to those spawned by former U.S. President Donald Trump’s allegations of fraud in the United States. Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo, a lawmaker, on Monday reinforced the family’s close association with Trump by posting on social media what appeared to be a recent photo of himself standing alongside the former U.S. leader and saying he (Eduardo) is “on the side of men with unblemished reputations and the moral authority to walk down the street, head held high.” Tuesday’s military procession shows Bolsonaro is either a poor judge of the political climate or is knowingly straining against democratic norms, said Kai Kenkel, a specialist on Brazil’s military at Rio de Janeiro’s Pontifical Catholic University. “We still need to know for sure whether there is a connection between Bolsonaro’s agenda and the motivations of the navy to do this, because the navy has been much more careful not to make political statements,” Kenkel told The Associated Press. Electoral authorities have repeatedly denied any problems with the voting system and Bolsonaro has failed to present proof despite a Supreme Court order to substantiate his allegations. The president has repeatedly insulted Luis Roberto Barroso, a Supreme Court justice and the electoral court’s president, accusing him of working to benefit former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has been leading in the polls. Tuesday’s measure is a watered-down version of an initial proposal to adopt printouts at all of the nation’s voting ballot boxes — a bill rejected last week by a congressional committee. Electoral authorities and even many of Bolsonaro’s political allies oppose the plan, saying it attacks a nonexistent problem and would create opportunity for vote buying. The call for a vote appeared to be a bid by lower house Speaker Arthur Lira, a Bolsonaro ally, to settle the dispute for good and ease tensions. On Monday, Lira called the military exercise taking place the same day as the vote a “tragic coincidence.″ Bolsonaro has repeatedly hammered on the fraud claims to rally supporters and shows no sign of dropping the issue. “We will do everything for our freedom, for clean, democratic elections and public count of votes,” he told backers Saturday at a rally in Santa Catarina state. Any election without that isn’t an election.” He led another rally, a motorcycle convoy, in the capital on Sunday. “It isn’t just now that there are rumors about fraud in the ballot boxes, but now there’s this proposal and he (Bolsonaro) resolved to go in head first,” said Maria da Silva, a 61-year-old homemaker from Sao Paulo. “I trust him.” Juan Gonzalez, the U.S. National Security Council’s senior director for the Western Hemisphere, told reporters on Monday that Biden administration officials were “very candid” speaking last week with Bolsonaro about elections, particularly in light of parallels with what has happened in the U.S. READ: As Brazil tops 500,000 deaths, protests against president “We were also very direct, expressing great confidence in the ability of the Brazilian institutions to carry out a free and fair election with proper safeguards in place and guard against fraud,” Gonzalez said. “And we stressed the importance of not undermining confidence in that process, especially since there were no signs of fraud in in prior elections.
Mega Cabinet rejig on the cards of Modi govt?
A mega Cabinet expansion is on the cards of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government ahead of next year's crucial assembly polls in five Indian states and the 2024 general election. Though there has been no official word on the possible Cabinet rejig, UNB has learnt that as many as 28 new faces, including a few from West Bengal, could be inducted into the Council of Ministers this month. Read: Twin blasts rock Indian Air Force base in first-ever drone attack Modi's Cabinet currently has 53 Ministers. This would be the first Cabinet expansion since his nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept back to power in 2019 general election, decimating the opposition Congress. In fact, the names of at least three BJP leaders from the eastern state of Bengal -- Jagannath Sarkar, Shantanu Thakur and N Pramanik -- are doing the rounds. Bengal shares its border with Bangladesh. Modi's nationalist party lost badly to firebrand Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress in April-May's polls in Bengal. Mamata bucked anti-incumbency to pull off a landslide victory in the polls. Bengal had witnessed the most high-profile contest in India's recently held state polls. While Mamata harped on being Bengal’s daughter, the BJP asked people to vote for "change and socio-economic development". Read:Two back-to-back blasts rock Indian Air Force station UNB has also learnt that former Congress lawmaker Jyotiraditya Scindia and former Chief Minister of northeastern state of Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal, are likely to be part of the Cabinet expansion. Scindia, who served as a minister in the previous Congress-led federal government,defected to the BJP last year and helped the saffron outfit reclaim its bastion in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. Sonowal, on the other hand, made way for his deputy Himanta Biswa Sarma as Assam Chief Minister after the BJP swept to power for the second time in a row in the recently concluded assembly polls in the state. Others who could be part of the Cabinet rejig are former deputy chief minister of the eastern Indian state of Bihar, Sushil Modi, and former chief minister of the western state of Maharashtra, Narayan Rane. Read: India cuts Middle East oil imports as it seeks to diversify energy sources Nine serving Ministers in the Modi Cabinet, including Piyush Goyal and Smriti Irani, who currently hold additional portfolios, may have to relinquish the extra ministries to make way for the new faces, sources said. "Five Indian states, including Uttar Pradesh in the north, are to go to polls next year. It's said that the party which wins Uttar Pradesh gets India. This is because the state has 80 parliamentary seats," said Rama Sharma, a Delhi-based political analyst.
Biden and Congress face a summer grind to create legislation
Until recently, the act of governing seemed to happen at the speed of presidential tweets. But now President Joe Biden is settling in for what appears will be a long, summer slog of legislating. Congress is hunkered down, the House and Senate grinding through a monthslong stretch, lawmakers trying to draft Biden’s big infrastructure ideas into bills that could actually be signed into law. Perhaps not since the drafting of the Affordable Care Act more than a decade ago has Washington tried a legislative lift as heavy. It’s going to take a while. Read: Biden promotes milestone of 300M vaccine shots in 150 days “Passing legislation is not a made-for-TV movie,” said Phil Schiliro, a former legislative affairs director at the Obama White House and veteran of congressional battles, including over the health care law. Biden appears comfortable in this space, embarked on an agenda in Congress that’s rooted in his top legislative priority — the $4 trillion “build back better” investments now being shaped as his American Jobs and American Families plans. To land the bills on his desk, the president is relying on an old-school legislative process that can feel out of step with today’s fast-moving political cycles and hopes for quick payoffs. Democrats are anxious it is taking too long and he is wasting precious time negotiating with Republicans, but Biden seems to like the laborious art of legislating. On Monday, Biden is expected to launch another week of engagement with members of both parties, and the White House is likely at some point to hear from a bipartisan group of senators working on a scaled-back $1 trillion plan as an alternative. At the same time, the administration is pushing ahead with the president’s own, more sweeping proposals being developed in the House and Senate budget committees, tallying as much as $6 trillion, under a process that could enable Democrats to pass it on their own. Initial votes are being eyed for late July. “This is how negotiations work,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said during last week’s twists and turns of the infrastructure negotiations. “We continue to work closely with Democrats of all views — as well as Republicans — on the path forward. There are many possible avenues to getting this done, and we are optimistic about our chances,” Bates said. During his administration, President Donald Trump had the full sweep of Republican control of the House and Senate for the first two years of his tenure, but the limits of legislating quickly became clear. Trump tended to govern by tweet, rather than the more traditional legislative process, bursting out with policy ideas and official administrative positions often at odds with his party in Congress. Read:Biden trip takeaways: Respect, optimism, some skepticism The Trump-era results were mixed, and Republicans were unable to clinch their top legislative priority, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. But they went on to secure a sizable achievement when Trump signed the GOP tax cuts into law at the end of 2017. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who is a leader of today’s bipartisan negotiations, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Trump, too, proposed an infrastructure package. If Biden sticks with the bipartisan talks he could not only fulfill a campaign promise but “keep his pledge of doing things across the aisle and getting something done,” Portman said. “Everybody wants to do infrastructure,” he said. Even as Biden reaches for a bipartisan deal, skeptical Democrats are wary of a repeat of 2009, when Barack Obama was president and they spent months negotiating the details of the Affordable Care Act with Republicans. Eventually Democrats passed the package that became known as “Obamacare” on their own. Lawmakers also have been energized by the speed at which Congress was able to approve COVID-19 relief — the massive CARES Act at the start of the pandemic in 2020 and more recently Biden’s American Rescue Plan in February. They are eager for swift action on these next proposals. Biden’s strategy this time is a two-part approach. He is trying to secure a bipartisan deal on roads, bridges and broadband — the more traditional types of infrastructure — while also pursuing the broader Democratic priorities package. The budget committees are preparing some $6 trillion in spending on what the White House calls the human infrastructure of Americans’ lives with child care centers, community colleges and elder care in Biden’s plans, adding in Democrats’ other long-running ideas. Among them, expanding Medicare for seniors with vision, hearing and dental services, and lowering the eligibility age to 60. Regardless of whether Biden succeeds or fails in the on-again-off-again talks with Republicans, Democrats will press on with their own massive package, the president at least having showed he tried. “There are two kinds of negotiation,” said Democrat Barney Frank, the former congressman and committee chairman from Massachusetts who was central to many Obama-era legislative battles. “One that will be successful and give you a good bill,” he said, and the other that will be unsuccessful, but will at least “take away any stigma of being partisan.” Read:Biden abroad: Pitching America to welcoming if wary allies Congress is eyeing an end-of-summer deadline to launch the budget reconciliation process, which would allow passage of the bills on majority votes, notably in the now split 50-50 Senate where 60 votes are typically required to advance legislation. After that, the House and Senate would prepare the actual packages for votes in fall. As the process drags on, it’s a reminder that it took more than a year in Congress to pass Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in spring 2010. “Tweets are so easy,” Schiliro said. “Legislating is different from that, so to develop good legislation takes time.”