What We're Watching: YouTube snuffs Bolsonaro, Israel probes Pegasus, China rejects COVID inquiry (again)

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro

YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?


Israel establishes Pegasus probe: The Israeli government has set up a committee to probe recent allegations that an Israeli tech firm's surveillance software, called Pegasus, was licensed to foreign governments, and then used to spy on journalists, dissidents, and human rights activists. Seventeen media companies joined forces to cover this alleged cyber breach. NSO, the Israeli tech firm that licenses Pegasus, says it exports its products to 45 countries with approval from the Israeli government. In an interview after the alleged breach, NSO's CEO said that if the allegations of hacking are true "it is something we will not stand as a company," and claimed there was no link between the 50,000 leaked numbers and the company. NSO also says it welcomes a transparent probe that will clear the company's name. However, the group has not released any more information on its contractual agreements with various governments, like Saudi Arabia, which stands accused of human rights abuses.

China rejects another COVID origins probe: Barely five months ago, China thought it was finally done with probing the origins of the coronavirus, after a joint investigation with the World Health Organization reached the conclusion that, as the Chinese have always said, the virus most likely leaped from bats to humans, via another animal at a Wuhan wet market. Now, with US intelligence looking into the possibility that COVID may have leaked directly from a Wuhan lab — which most scientists say is less likely — Beijing doesn't want to revisit the issue again. The Chinese have turned down a WHO request for another probe, which is itself a big flashpoint in already-frosty US-China ties: the Americans say the Chinese have never been transparent about what happened in the early days of the pandemic, while the Chinese say the Americans only seek to blame China for political reasons. Whichever side you are one, it's important to clarify that a fresh investigation would aim only to ascertain whether the lab leak theory merits further study at all -- it would not reach any conclusions on its own.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

Why can't President Biden order a vaccine mandate for all Americans?

Well, the reason is it's out of his powers. The one of the fundamental challenges in the pandemic is that the federal government has actually been fairly limited in the steps they can take to stop the spread of the virus. So, that's why you've seen President Biden order masks on transit, mass transit, airplanes, and the like. But he can't order masks in workplaces because that's not within his power. That power lies within state governments. State governments and other entities, like employers, can require vaccinations before you come into their buildings, or you come back to school, or you go to work in your office. But the federal government can't do that. What Biden is doing is, allegedly, supposedly going to announce a mandate for federal workers to get vaccinated.

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"Super Mario" takes his chances: Less than five months after becoming Italy's consensus prime minister, Mario Draghi's coalition government is on shaky ground over Draghi's proposed judicial reforms. "Super Mario" — as he's known for saving the Eurozone as European Central Bank chief during the financial crisis — wants to dramatically speed up Italy's famously slow courts. But his push to reduce judicial backlogs is opposed both by the populist 5-Star Movement, the coalition government's biggest party, and by prosecutors because many cases could be scrapped before reaching a verdict. Draghi, upset that this resistance is stalling his other initiatives to cut Italian red tape, has decided to roll the dice anyway: he'll put his plan to overhaul the courts to a no-confidence vote in parliament. If Draghi wins, he gets the reforms passed without debate; if he loses, the PM technically has to resign, but he'll keep his job because he has enough votes even if the 5-Star Movement bows out of the coalition.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

What is going on in Bosnia with Bosnian Serbs boycotting all major institutions?

Well, it's a reaction against a decision that was taken by the outgoing high representative during his very last days, after 12 years of having done very little in this respect, to have a law banning any denial of Srebrenica and other genocides. But this issue goes to very many other aspects of the Bosnian situation. So, it has created a political crisis that will be somewhat difficult to resolve.

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700: Roughly 700 people arrested for joining the unprecedented July 11 anti-government protests in Cuba are still being held by the regime. They may now face mass show trials as Havana continues to crack down on dissent following the biggest challenge to its power in decades.

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