PLUS: How Mexico got its jacarandas, and an Inuit comedy series.
Donald Trump is indicted
Former U.S. President Donald Trump was indicted by a New York City grand jury over alleged hush-money payments to an adult-film star, making him the first ex-president to face criminal charges. Trump was “caught off guard” by the timing of the developments, The New York Times reported. He called the charges “political persecution” and a “witch hunt,” but he is expected to turn himself in on Tuesday. Trump’s fellow Republicans rallied around him, with Ron DeSantis — his main rival for the presidential nomination — calling the indictment “un-American,” while House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy said it had “irreparably damaged” the country. Critics voiced worry over the potential for violence among his supporters. “Trump … does not care what bonfire he lights,” David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, wrote.
The indictment comes a full half-century on from the first time prosecutors targeted Trump, alleging in 1973 that he and his father discriminated against Black tenants in renting apartments. It is one of several cases Trump faces related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat, and more questions could emerge: The same prosecutors are also examining a separate payment from Trump to a former Playboy model, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The charges against Trump immediately impacted the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race. One expert told The Washington Post that there was “not an explicit prohibition” against someone convicted of a crime running for president, though others argued the law was murky. It was too early to tell whether Trump could rally Republican voters to his cause. Prominent Republican politicians issued calls for donations from supporters — though little of the money was to be directed to the former president. Noting his “sheer gravitational force,” the conservative National Review magazine concluded: “The 2024 Republican presidential primaries will be almost entirely about Donald Trump, just the way he wants it.”
International reaction to the indictment focused on its unprecedented nature, and noted concerns for U.S. democracy and stability. The Italian daily la Repubblica voiced worry over the possibility of street violence, while Germany’s Handelsblatt argued the charges would fuel “Trump’s war on democracy.” Yet while the moves against Trump are unprecedented in the U.S., other democracies have pursued former leaders: Israel jailed ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for bribery and obstruction of justice, South Korea’s former President Park Geun-hye was imprisoned over corruption charges, and Nicolas Sarkozy of France has twice been sentenced over illegal campaign financing and influence-peddling.
Moderna agreed to build a $500 million mRNA vaccine facility in Nairobi, its first in Africa. The continent produces only 0.1% of the world’s vaccines, despite having 15% of its population. The African Union wants the continent to cover 60% of its own demand by 2040. The political difficulty of exporting vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic meant that many people in the West, where most of the vaccine factories are, were on third jabs before hundreds of millions in Africa had their first, leading to calls for the development of mRNA factories in developing nations. mRNA vaccines can be rapidly repurposed for new pathogens to respond to new pandemics. The new Moderna factory should produce 500 million doses annually, including COVID-19 shots.
Turkey gave Finland the green light to join NATO. Sweden and Finland had both applied to join after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but Ankara blocked them until they fulfilled various demands. Finland met those demands, and the Turkish Parliament voted unanimously to allow its accession. The NATO Secretary-General said he looked forward to raising Finland’s flag when it is formally admitted in July, and told Politico that he hoped Sweden would follow after Turkey’s elections in May. Finland’s Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, while popular overseas, faces a close fight in elections on Sunday and may be voted out: The Finnish public is concerned over the state of the public finances.
Moscow’s plans to recruit a further 400,000 troops, although presented as a drive for volunteer professionals, will likely involve press-ganging, Britain said. Russian media reported that authorities are starting a new round of recruitment, on top of the 500,000 brought into the army last year. The Institute for the Study of War said Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree authorizing 147,000 conscriptions, more than previous years, and that thousands of those troops will have to train in Belarus because Russian training capacity is stretched. The ISW also said Putin was unlikely to deploy conscripts to the front lines, “due to concerns for the stability of his regime” because of the draft’s unpopularity.
A video purporting to show the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin was debunked as a deepfake this week, the most recent in a spate of realistic AI-generated images and videos depicting world leaders. The video, shared on Facebook by a Zambian lawmaker and a pro-Ukraine account, was viewed roughly 2 million times. Experts told USA Today the video had clear signs of being fake, including details like handcuffs that weren’t realistic. Earlier this month, open-source journalist Eliot Higgins used the image generator Midjourney to create fake photos of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s arrest, and was subsequently banned from using the platform.
More than a million Argentines fell below the poverty line in the last six months of 2022, new data showed.Despite the country’s unemployment rate being at 6.3% — the lowest since 2015 — almost 40% of Argentinians live below the poverty line, as salaries failed to keep up with soaring inflation. Experts warned that 2023 will be even worse, El País reported. President Alberto Fernandez, who will stand for reelection in October, arrived at the Presidential Palace on an anti-poverty platform, but is almost certain to finish his first term with worse figures than he inherited.
Berlin’s famous Pergamon museum will shut for 14 years for a $1.7 billion renovation. The UNESCO world heritage site houses the vast Pergamon Altar, a 115-foot-wide, 2,200-year-old stonework from an ancient Greek kingdom. One section already closed in 2013 and will reopen in four years — the rest will be shut from October until at least 2037. The museum was damaged in World War II and neglected under the East German communist regime, and is in danger of collapsing. The project has been delayed for years, meaning it will take longer and cost more than it should have: “A debacle caused by poor planning,” said Die Welt.
The new Indian Premier League cricket season opens today, with a $6-billion-dollar rights battle taking place behind the scenes. Disney had exclusive broadcast rights for five years, but while it has kept the TV rights, India’s Reliance now controls the league’s digital streaming. The IPL is the world’s most lucrative cricket tournament, and reverses the usual flow of sports stars from the developing world to rich Western leagues — England star Ben Stokes plays for the Chennai Super Kings today. Streaming has changed the way sports around the world are viewed: Amazon now owns partial streaming rights for (American) football as well as (real) football, and is rumored to be among the bidders for the NBA.
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. WikimediaCommons/Gage Skidmore
The X-Files will be rebooted, the 1990s sci-fi classic’s creator said. Chris Carter told a podcast that Black Panther director Ryan Coogler is “going to remount The X-Files with a diverse cast.” Nostalgia for fin-de-millénaire art is rife: It was recently confirmed that Denzel Washington will appear in Ridley Scott’s sequel to 2000’s beloved swords-and-sandals epic Gladiator, due for release next year. Hollywood loves ransacking its own history, but Coogler’s and Washington’s involvements should give fans hope that the new versions won’t besmirch fond memories.
On his return from an official visit to Washington in 1930, Mexican President Pascual Ortiz Rubio, awed by the beautiful spectacle of the U.S. capital’s cherry blossoms, ordered for Mexico City’s streets to be lined with the trees.
However, the gardener in charge of the project, Tatsugoro Matsumoto, a Japanese immigrant, soon noticed Mexico’s winters weren’t cold enough for the sakuras to blossom. His solution: plant jacarandas, an Amazonian deciduous tree — which, like cherry blossoms, lose their foliage every winter, but are much better adapted to Mexico’s climate.
Matsumoto’s jacarandas now dot the Mexican capital, blooming every spring with lilac flowers that draw millions of people and carpet the city’s pavements like the illustration by Victor Solis, one of Mexico’s best-known cartoonists, shows above. “I was told this tree always creates hope,” a Mexican psychologist told The New York Times. “The jacaranda is kindness.”
Netflix commissioned a new comedy series created by Inuit women. The untitled project by television writer-producer Stacey Aglok MacDonald and filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril will follow the story of an Inuk mother trying to change her future in a small Arctic town in Canada. “This series is full of stories that come straight from our hearts and our funny bones,” the pair said in a recent statement. Netflix will produce the series — set to be filmed entirely in Nunavut, a Canadian territory with a population of just over 38,000 — in partnership with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Indigenous media outlet APTN.