The World Today for May 04, 2023

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Loose Lips


Massachusetts Air National Guard Airman First Class Jack Teixeira was a Cyber Transport Systems journeyman, or an IT specialist. The 21-year-old now stands accused of making classified documents public since at least late February, potentially jeopardizing US national security, Reuters explained. He posted the secret info, incidentally, on a social media platform where video gamers and other virtual communities hang out.

The leaks were embarrassing to say the least. They detail, for example, how the Pentagon has concluded that Taiwan could not withstand a Chinese missile attack, reported NBC News. The disclosures also suggest that the US has been spying on Israel, Ukraine, and South Korea – all hotspots, obviously, where the US might unsurprisingly want high-quality intelligence.

Leaders in those countries were not amused. South Korean legislators called the revelations proof of a violation of their national sovereignty, Vice News wrote. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said he would request “appropriate measures” in light of the developments, added the Korean Herald, an English-language newspaper based in Seoul. The leak, incidentally, came just before President Joe Biden and the first lady were to host the South Korean president and his wife for a state visit. Needless to say, it was awkward.

Meanwhile, American officials have sought to calm their allies. Speaking at Ramstein Air Base in Germany recently, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin depicted the leaks as an attempt to divide the Western coalition backing Ukraine, reported the Associated Press. Many of the secret documents contained info on the war in Ukraine and deliveries of Western weapons to the Ukrainians.

The leaked documents describe how Ukraine’s air defenses are on the brink of collapse, for example, information that could undermine the resolve of its partners. At the same time, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was not pleased. “It’s definitely a bad story,” he said. “It’s not profitable for us … It is not beneficial to the reputation of the White House, and I believe it is not beneficial to the reputation of the United States.”

Meanwhile, the secret files also paint a bleak picture of Russia’s situation, according to the New York Times. Russian officials are, for example, fighting each other over casualty numbers, even as more wounded soldiers come back from the front.

The leaks also shone a light on other Russian hijinks around the globe. They suggest that Egypt, a nominal ally of the US, had been on the brink of selling weapons to Russia, as leaders in Moscow are shopping around the world for more munitions as the war drags on, the Washington Post noted. Egypt is a major recipient of American economic and military aid.

The Guardian compared Teixeira to the many famous leakers who have become hero whistleblowers or destructive traitors, depending on one’s point of view – ranging from Daniel Ellsberg uncovering dubious US policy in the Vietnam War to Edward Snowden exposing the US government’s extensive surveillance of telecommunications inside the US, and abroad.

Teixeira certainly won’t be the last of his kind.


The Showdown


Tech giant Google clashed with Brazilian authorities this week over a divisive new bill aimed at curbing “fake news” that is also coming under fire from other tech firms and social media platforms, the Financial Times reported.

The fight began when Google promoted an article on its homepage titled “This bill will make your Internet worse,” in reference to the proposed legislation.

The article prompted anger from Brazilian officials with Justice Minister Flávio Dino announcing this week that he has asked antitrust regulators to investigate “abusive practices” by the tech giant.

Dino also ordered Google to label the article as advertising and promote another advert that highlighted the benefits of the law, threatening to fine the company about $200,000 per hour if it failed to comply.

The firm later removed the link from its homepage and has not commented on the matter.

Google is one of many companies critical of the proposed “fake news” bill. Conservative lawmakers and free speech advocates have also condemned the proposal.

Brazil’s left-wing government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva proposed the bill to combat the spread of misinformation.

It aims to hold tech companies accountable for illegal or extremist content by imposing strict requirements on their handling of such material. If passed, the law would require social media platforms to remove criminal content and could hold them liable for any harm caused by paid content. Failure to remove posts quickly enough could result in fines.

The bill has been called draconian and criticized for being rushed through Congress without proper committee discussions. Critics fear it may be abused by special interests.

Even so, analysts noted that the bill comes at a time of growing concerns over the spread of misinformation through social media. The issue gained prominence after thousands of supporters of former conservative President Jair Bolsonaro stormed and vandalized the country’s political institutions in the capital earlier this year.

Many of the rioters repeated allegations spread in far-right chat rooms that the October presidential elections that Bolsonaro lost were rigged.

‘The Tragedy of a Society’


A teenage boy shot and killed eight children and a security guard at a school in the Serbian capital Wednesday, an incident that has rocked the Balkan nation where school shootings are extremely rare, CNN reported.

Serbia’s Interior Ministry said the unnamed 13-year-old boy opened fire at the Vladislav Ribnikar Elementary School in Belgrade, where he also injured six other children and one teacher.

It added that the alleged attacker used his father’s gun. Police apprehended the young shooter after the shooting. Officials have not provided a motive for the attack, but said the boy had drawn up a list of targets almost a month before the shooting.

As the age of criminal responsibility in Serbia is 14 prosecutors said they may not be able to prosecute the suspect, the BBC reported, but his parents were also arrested and his father is charged with offenses against general security.

Mass shootings in Serbia and the Balkan region are very rare, with none reported at schools in recent years, wrote NBC News.

Officials said, meanwhile, that Serbia has a high level of gun ownership following its war with Kosovo in the late 1990s. In 2018, a report found that the country has the third highest level of gun ownership in the world.

Even so, Serbia maintains stringent firearms regulations and has implemented amnesties for gun owners to surrender or register illegal weapons.

Great Expectations


French Polynesian voters elected a pro-independence party in the archipelago’s elections, a victory that has renewed calls for a referendum on independence for France’s sprawling South Pacific overseas territory, Politico reported.

The Tavini Huiraatira party of former President Oscar Temaru won 38 of the 57 seats in parliament, securing an absolute majority in the second round of the vote.

Turnout was just under 70 percent, up 10 percent over the first round, according to Radio New Zealand.

The new parliament – chosen for a five-year term – is set to gather in the coming weeks to nominate a new president for the French overseas territory.

Although French Polynesia already enjoys a degree of autonomy with some control over policies such as healthcare and education, higher education and defense policies remain under French control.

Since 2013, French Polynesia has been on the United Nations’ decolonization list, but France has refused to recognize the UN decision and refuses to participate in a UN-supervised process.

The issue of independence has been a longstanding one, with observers noting that winning an absolute majority has given the Tavini Huiraatira party its strongest chance yet of achieving independence.

Still, any such move would require France’s approval.

French Interior and Overseas Minister Gérald Darmanin congratulated the victors on their win, while pledging to “continue to improve the daily life of our Polynesian fellow citizens.”


Agents of the Empire

Between 200 BCE and 100 CE, the Xiongnu nomadic culture dominated the Eurasian steppes, covering a vast territory from modern-day Kazakhstan to the edge of China.

These mounted warriors from what is now Mongolia were also a persistent threat to their Chinese neighbors and one of the reasons the Great Wall of China was built.

Still, there are lingering questions about the nomadic group, including whether they were a centrally-controlled empire or a loose confederacy of tribes.

Now, a new study combining archaeology and genetics has found that the Xiongnu employed female royalty to build and maintain their large, multi-ethnic empire, Science Magazine reported.

In 2007, archaeologists discovered two cemeteries from the edge of the empire, located near the border between present-day Mongolia and China: One contained the tombs of aristocrats, while another was a less fancy graveyard for local elites.

Genetic testing showed that the skeletons in some of the richest graves were female, and were not just any women: Further analysis revealed they were closely related to people from the core of the Xiongnu empire whose DNA had been analyzed in earlier research.

The research team explained that this evidence suggests that Xiongnu relied on high-ranking female relatives to knit their far-flung territory together. The lavishness of frontier graves also suggested that they were not just mere partners but would serve as active agents of the empire to help control local elites.

“Now we know men aren’t the only ones with bling,” said co-author Brian Miller. “Throughout their life and into death, these were important players in the community.”

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