VOA Interview NASA Astronaut Victor Glover

VOA’s Kane Farabaugh spoke with NASA Astronaut Victor Glover ahead of Monday’s scheduled Artemis launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. While the launch was postponed, NASA’s quest to return to the moon and eventually send humans to Mars remains a priority for the U.S. space agency.


your ad here

more ...

Musk Cites Whistleblower as New Reason to Exit Twitter Deal

Elon Musk and Twitter lobbed salvos at each other Tuesday in the latest round of legal filings over the billionaire Tesla CEO’s efforts to rescind his offer to buy the social media platform. 

Musk filed more paperwork to terminate his agreement to buy Twitter, this time based on information in a whistleblower complaint filed by Twitter’s former head of security. Twitter fired back by saying his attempt to back out of the deal is “invalid and wrongful.” 

In an SEC filing, Musk said his legal team notified Twitter of “additional bases” for ending the deal on top of the ones given in the original termination notice issued in July. 

In a letter to Twitter Inc., which was included in the filing, Musk’s advisers cited the whistleblower report by former executive Peiter Zatko — also known by his hacker handle “Mudge.” 

Zatko, who served as Twitter’s head of security until he was fired early this year, alleged in his complaint to U.S. officials that the company misled regulators about its poor cybersecurity defenses and its negligence in attempting to root out fake accounts that spread disinformation. 

The letter, addressed to Twitter’s Chief Legal Officer Vijaya Gadde, said Zatko’s allegations provide extra reasons to end the deal if the July termination notice “is determined to be invalid for any reason.” 

Billionaire Musk has spent months alleging that the company he agreed to acquire undercounted its fake and spam accounts, which means he doesn’t have to go through with the $44 billion deal. Musk’s decision to back out of the transaction sets the stage for a high-stakes legal battle in October. 

In a separate SEC filing, Twitter responded to what it called Musk’s latest “purported termination,” saying it’s “based solely on statements made by a third party that, as Twitter has previously stated, are riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies and lack important context.” 

The company vowed to go through with the sale at the price agreed with Musk. 

 


your ad here

more ...

Excitement Over Cryptocurrency Tinged With Fear

The price of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has fallen dramatically in recent months. Still, many investors are excited about the future of digital currencies despite the risks. VOA’s Michelle Quinn reports from San Francisco.


your ad here

more ...

Arizona Governor to Focus on Semiconductors in Taiwan Visit 

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday for a visit focused on semiconductors, the critical chips used in everyday electronics that the island manufactures.

Ducey is on a mission to woo suppliers for the new $12 billion Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. (TSMC) plant being built in the state. He is traveling with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce president and the head of the state’s economic development agency.

Ducey is to meet with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, business leaders and university representatives in the semiconductor industry, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

American states are competing to attract a multibillion-dollar wave of investment in chip factories as the U.S. government steps up spending on expanding the U.S. semiconductor industry with a recently passed law. Last week, the Indiana governor visited Taiwan for a similar purpose.

U.S. officials worry that the country relies too heavily on Taiwan and other Asian suppliers for processor chips used in smartphones, medical devices, cars and most other electronic devices.

Those worries have been aggravated by tensions with China over technology and security. The potential for disruption was highlighted by chips shortages due to the coronavirus pandemic that sent shockwaves through the auto and electronics industries.

Taiwan produces more than half the global supply of high-end processor chips.

Beijing, which claims self-ruled Taiwan as its territory, fired missiles into the sea near the island starting on Aug. 4 after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited, disrupting shipping and air traffic, and highlighting the possibility that chip exports might be interrupted.

A law approved by Congress on July 29 promises more than $52 billion in grants and other aid to develop the U.S. semiconductor industry and a 25% tax credit for investors in chip factories in the United States.

State governments are now promising tax breaks and grants to lure chip factories they hope will become centers for high-tech industry.

Intel Corp., the only major U.S. producer, announced plans in March 2021 to build two chip factories in Arizona at a cost of $20 billion. The company has had another facility in Arizona since 1980.

In January, Intel announced plans to invest $20 billion in a chip factory in Ohio.

TSMC., headquartered in Taiwan and which makes chips for Apple Inc. and other customers, announced plans last year to invest $3.5 billion in its second U.S. manufacturing site in North Phoenix, Arizona.

TSMC’s first U.S. semiconductor wafer fabrication facility is in Camas, Washington. It also operates design centers in San Jose, California, and Austin, Texas.

South Korea’s Samsung Electronics says it will break ground in 2024 for a $17 billion chip factory near Austin, Texas. The state says it is the biggest single investment to date in Texas.


your ad here

more ...

Sri Lanka’s President Says IMF Talks Nearing Successful End

Sri Lanka’s president said Tuesday that his bankrupt country’s talks with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package have successfully reached final stages as he presented an amended budget that seeks to tame inflation and hike taxes.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is also the finance minister, said in a speech in Parliament that his government will soon start negotiating debt restructuring with countries that provide loans to Sri Lanka.

Declaring that Sri Lanka is on the “correct course in the short term for recovery,” Wickremesinghe warned the country must prepare for at least 25 years of a national economic policy, staring with the 2023 budget.

An IMF team is visiting Sri Lanka and is expected to end the current round of talks on Wednesday.

Prior to the visit, the IMF said that because Sri Lanka’s public debt is unsustainable, the IMF’s executive board will need assurances by Sri Lanka’s creditors that debt sustainability will be restored before any bailout program begins.

Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt exceeds $51 billion — of which it must repay $28 billion by 2027.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis with acute monthslong shortages of essentials like fuel, medicine, and cooking gas due to a severe foreign currency dearth. Though cooking gas supplies were restored through World Bank support, shortages of fuel, critical medicines and some food items continue.

Wickremesingh delivered his first budget proposal after he was elected by Parliament in July to cover the remainder of the five-year term of ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Wickremesinghe said that the United Nations along with other international organizations has launched a program to ensure food security. Schools have reopened and universities have resumed classes after long closures, he said. However, long fuel lines have reappeared after a quota system seemed to have brought them under control over the past weeks.

“I thought things are improving,” salesperson Asanka Chandana said. “For several weeks in May and June, we faced severe hardships, but things were getting better over the last two weeks after the introduction of the quota system. Now it looks like the shortage is still there and we are back to the square one.”

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said lapses in distribution, delays in unloading, and payments for orders by fuel stations have created long lines. He said the issues will be sorted out within days.

Wickremesinghe also said that his administration’s fiscal program envisages government revenue increasing to around 15% of GDP by 2025 from 8.2% at the of end 2021. He also aims to reduce public sector debt from around 110% of GDP in 2021 to less than 100% in the medium term.

He also vowed to control inflation to a mid-single digit level, and proposed a value added tax increase to 15% from the current 12%. Other taxes approved in May will soon come into operation, he said.

The new budget comes amid a relative calm following months of public protests that led to the ouster of Wickremesinghe’s predecessor and his family members from power. Protesters accused the once-powerful Rajapaksa family of being responsible for the economic crisis through corruption and mismanagement.

Rajapaksa fled the country in July and resigned after protesters stormed his official residence. He is now in Thailand. Party leaders say he is expected to return from exile early in September and have asked Wickremesinghe to provide him with security and facilities to which a former president is legally entitled.

Since becoming president, Wickremesinghe has cracked down on protesters and dismantled their main camp outside the president’s office. The use of a harsh anti-terror law to detain a protest leader has led to the United States and European Union raising human rights concerns.

On Tuesday, police fired tear gas on students demonstrating against the detention of a student leader also under anti-terror laws.

“I don’t see a significant change except there is a new person in the office of the president,” political analyst Jayadeva Uyangoda said, as criticism mounted that Wickremesinghe was an extension of the Rajapaksas’ administration.

“No opposition party seems to be willing to join Mr. Wickremesinghe’s proposed all-party government for two reasons: they think Mr. Wickremesinghe lacks legitimacy and they are not happy with the dominance of the Rajapaksa party,” Uyangoda said.


your ad here

more ...

Elon Musk Subpoenas Twitter Whistleblower Ahead of Trial

Elon Musk’s legal team is demanding to hear from Twitter’s whistleblowing former security chief, who could help bolster Musk’s case for backing out of a $44 billion deal to buy the social media company. 

Former Twitter executive Peiter Zatko — also known by his hacker handle “Mudge” — received a subpoena Saturday from Musk’s team, according to Zatko’s lawyer and court records. 

The billionaire Tesla CEO has spent months alleging that the company he agreed to acquire undercounted its fake and spam accounts — and that he shouldn’t have to consummate the deal as a result. 

Zatko’s whistleblower complaint to U.S. officials alleging Twitter misled regulators about its privacy and security protections — and its ability to detect and root out fake accounts — might play into Musk’s hands in an upcoming trial scheduled for Oct. 17 in Delaware. 

Zatko served as Twitter’s head of security until he was fired early this year. 

 


your ad here

more ...

US Navy Turns to Driverless Ships for Indo-Pacific Strategy

As the U.S. military continues to consider China’s military strength in the Indo-Pacific region, the U.S. Navy is turning to driverless ships to multiply its forces. VOA’s Jessica Stone takes us along for a closer look at this military innovation. Camera: Keith Lane


your ad here

more ...

NASA Moon Rocket on Track for Launch Despite Lightning Hits 

NASA’s new moon rocket remained on track to blast off on a crucial test flight Monday, despite a series of lightning strikes at the launch pad.

The 322-foot (98-meter) Space Launch System rocket is the most powerful ever built by NASA. It’s poised to send an empty crew capsule into lunar orbit, a half-century after NASA’s Apollo program, which landed 12 astronauts on the moon.

Astronauts could return to the moon in a few years, if this six-week test flight goes well. NASA officials caution, however, that the risks are high and the flight could be cut short.

In lieu of astronauts, three test dummies are strapped into the Orion capsule to measure vibration, acceleration and radiation, one of the biggest hazards to humans in deep space. The capsule alone has more than 1,000 sensors.

Officials said Sunday that neither the rocket nor capsule suffered any damage during Saturday’s thunderstorm; ground equipment also was unaffected. Five lightning strikes were confirmed, hitting the 600-foot (183-meter) towers surrounding the rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The strikes weren’t strong enough to warrant major retesting.

“Clearly, the system worked as designed,” said Jeff Spaulding, NASA’s senior test director.

More storms were expected. Although forecasters gave 80 percent odds of acceptable weather Monday morning, conditions were expected to deteriorate during the two-hour launch window.

On the technical side, Spaulding said the team did its best over the past several months to eliminate any lingering fuel leaks. A pair of countdown tests earlier this year prompted repairs to leaking valves and other faulty equipment; engineers won’t know if all the fixes are good until just a few hours before the planned liftoff.

After so many years of delays and setbacks, the launch team was thrilled to finally be so close to the inaugural flight of the Artemis moon-exploration program, named after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology.

“We’re within 24 hours of launch right now, which is pretty amazing for where we’ve been on this journey,” Spaulding told reporters.

The follow-on Artemis flight, as early as 2024, would see four astronauts flying around the moon. A landing could follow in 2025. NASA is targeting the moon’s unexplored south pole, where permanently shadowed craters are believed to hold ice that could be used by future crews.


your ad here

more ...

Tunisia Hosts Japanese-African Economic Cooperation Meeting

African heads of state, representatives of international organizations and private business leaders gathered in Tunisia on Saturday for the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, a triennial event launched by Japan to promote growth and security in Africa.

Economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, a food crisis worsened by Russia’s war in Ukraine, and climate change are among the challenges facing many African countries expected to define the two-day conference.

Tensions among African countries also weighed on the meeting: On Friday, Morocco announced a boycott of the event and recalled its ambassador to Tunisia to protest the inclusion of a representative of the Polisario Front movement fighting for independence for Western Sahara.

The conference comes as Russia and China have sought to increase their economic and other influence in Africa.

While 30 African heads of state and government attended the event in Tunis, Tunisia’s capital, many key talks are being held remotely, including those involving Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the summit.

The Japanese government created and hosted the first TICAD summit in 1993. The conferences now are co-organized with the United Nations, the African Union and the World Bank. The summits have generated 26 development projects in 20 African countries.

This year, discussion around an increase of Japanese investments in Africa is anticipated, with particular focus on supporting start-ups and food security initiatives. Japan has said it plans to provide assistance for the production of rice, alongside a promised $130 million in food aid.

The Africa Center for Strategic Studies, an academic institution of the U.S. Defense Department, compared the conference’s format to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, “where government, business, and civil society leaders participate on an equal basis.”

However, this weekend’s summit has sparked controversy in Tunis, which faces its own acute economic crisis, including a recent spike in food and gasoline shortages.

Critics have spoken about the organizers’ alleged “white-washing” of the city, which has seen cleaner streets and infrastructure improvements in preparation for the conference summit. One local commentator said the North African capital looked like it had applied makeup to impress participants.

Meanwhile, the journalists’ union in Tunisia issued a statement Friday condemning restrictions on reporting and information around the summit.

Morocco’s complaint stemmed from Tunisia inviting the Polisario Front leader to attend. Morocco annexed Western Sahara from Spain in 1975, and the Polisario Front fought to make it an independent state until a 1991 cease-fire. It’s a highly sensitive issue in Morocco, which seeks international recognition for its authority over Western Sahara.

“The welcome given by the Tunisian head of state to the leader of the separatist militia is a serious and unprecedented act, which deeply hurts the feelings of the Moroccan people,” Morocco’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Morocco announced its withdrawal from the conference and the recall of its ambassador for consultations. But the ministry said the decision does not “call into question the commitment of the Kingdom of Morocco to the interests of Africa.”


your ad here

more ...

Powell: Fed’s Inflation Fight Could Bring ‘Pain,’ Job Losses

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell delivered a stark warning Friday about the Fed’s determination to fight inflation with more sharp interest rate hikes: It will likely cause pain for Americans in the form of a weaker economy and job losses.

The message landed with a thud on Wall Street, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average down more than 1,000 points for the day.

“These are the unfortunate costs of reducing inflation,” Powell said in a high-profile speech at the Fed’s annual economic symposium in Jackson Hole. “But a failure to restore price stability would mean far greater pain.”

Investors had been hoping for a signal from Powell that the Fed might moderate its rate increases later this year if inflation were to show further signs of easing. But the Fed chair indicated that that time may not be near, and stocks tumbled in response.

Runaway price increases have soured most Americans on the economy, even as the unemployment rate has fallen to a half-century low of 3.5%. It has also created political risks for President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats in this fall’s elections, with Republicans denouncing Biden’s $1.9 trillion financial support package, approved last year, as having fueled inflation.

Dow, Nasdaq sag

The Dow Jones average finished down 3% Friday, its worst day in three months. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite shed nearly 4%. Shorter-term Treasury yields climbed as traders built up bets for the Fed to stay aggressive with rates.

Some on Wall Street expect the economy to fall into recession later this year or early next year, after which they expect the Fed to reverse itself and reduce rates.

A number of Fed officials, though, have pushed back against that notion. Powell’s remarks suggested that the Fed is aiming to raise its benchmark rate — to about 3.75% to 4% by next year — yet not so high as to tank the economy, in hopes of slowing growth long enough to conquer high inflation.

“The idea they are trying to hammer into the market’s head is that their approach makes a rapid pivot to [rate cuts] unlikely,” said Eric Winograd, an economist at asset manager AllianceBernstein. “They are going to stay tight even when it hurts.”

After raising its key short-term rate by a steep three-quarters of a point at each of its past two meetings — part of the Fed’s fastest series of hikes since the early 1980s — Powell said the Fed might ease up on that pace “at some point,” suggesting that any such slowing isn’t near.

Powell said the size of the Fed’s rate increase at its next meeting in late September — whether one-half or three-quarters of a percentage point — will depend on inflation and jobs data. An increase of either size, though, would exceed the Fed’s traditional quarter-point hike, a reflection of how severe inflation has become.

The Fed chair said that while lower inflation readings that have been reported for July have been “welcome,” he added that “a single month’s improvement falls far short of what [Fed policymakers] will need to see before we are confident that inflation is moving down.”

Drop in inflation

On Friday, an inflation gauge that is closely monitored by the Fed showed that prices actually declined 0.1% from June to July. Though prices did jump 6.3% in July from 12 months earlier, that was down from a 6.8% year-over-year jump in June, which had been the highest since 1982. The drop largely reflected lower gas prices.

In his speech Friday, Powell noted that the history of high inflation in the 1970s, when the central bank sought to counter high prices with only intermittent rate hikes, shows that the Fed must stay focused.

“The historical record cautions strongly against prematurely” lowering interest rates, he said. “We must keep at it until the job is done.”

What particularly worries Powell and other Fed officials is the prospect that inflation would become entrenched, leading consumers and businesses to change their behavior in ways that would perpetuate higher prices. If, for example, workers began demanding higher pay to match higher inflation, many employers would then pass on those higher labor costs to consumers in the form of higher prices.

Many analysts speculate that Fed officials want to see roughly six months or so of lower monthly inflation readings, similar to July’s, before stopping their rate hikes.

Powell’s speech was the marquee event of the Fed’s annual economic symposium at Jackson Hole, the first time the conference of central bankers is being held in person since 2019, after it went virtual for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rapid hikes

Since March, the Fed has implemented its fastest pace of rate increases in decades to try to curb inflation, which has punished households with soaring costs for food, gas, rent and other necessities. The central bank has lifted its benchmark rate by 2 full percentage points in just four meetings, to a range of 2.25% to 2.5%.

Those hikes have led to higher costs for mortgages, car loans and other consumer and business borrowing. Home sales have been plunging since the Fed first signaled it would raise borrowing costs.

At last year’s Jackson Hole symposium, Powell listed five reasons he thought inflation would be “transitory.” Yet it has persisted, and many economists have noted that those remarks haven’t aged well.

Powell indirectly acknowledged that history at the outset of his remarks Friday, when he said that “at past Jackson Hole conferences, I have discussed broad topics such as the ever-changing structure of the economy and the challenges of conducting monetary policy.”

“Today,” he said, “my remarks will be shorter, my focus narrower and my message more direct.”


your ad here

more ...

Experts Worry Digital Footprints Will Incriminate US Patients Seeking Abortions

The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of protections for abortion rights has intensified scrutiny of the personal data that technology firms collect. Apple, Facebook and Google typically comply with legal requests for user data. For women who live in states where most abortions are now illegal, their smartphones and devices could be used against them. Tina Trinh reports.
Videographer: Saqib Ul Islam, Greg Flakus Video editor: Tina Trinh


your ad here

more ...

California Phasing Out Gas Vehicles in Climate Change Fight 

California set itself on a path Thursday to end the era of gas-powered cars, with air regulators adopting the world’s most stringent rules for transitioning to zero-emission vehicles.

The move by the California Air Resources Board to have all new cars, pickup trucks and SUVs be electric or hydrogen by 2035 is likely to reshape the U.S. auto market, which gets 10% of its sales from the nation’s most populous state.

But such a radical transformation in what people drive will also require at least 15 times more vehicle chargers statewide, a more robust energy grid and vehicles that people of all income levels can afford.

“It’s going to be very hard getting to 100%,” said Daniel Sperling, a board member and founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California-Davis. “You can’t just wave your wand, you can’t just adopt a regulation — people actually have to buy them and use them.”

Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom told state regulators two years ago to adopt a ban on gas-powered cars by 2035, one piece of California’s aggressive suite of policies designed to reduce pollution and fight climate change. If the policy works as designed, California would cut emissions from vehicles in half by 2040.

More to come

Other states are expected to follow, further accelerating the production of zero-emissions vehicles.

Washington state and Massachusetts already have said they will follow California’s lead and many more are likely to — New York and Pennsylvania are among 17 states that have adopted some or all of California’s tailpipe emission standards that are stricter than federal rules. The European Parliament in June backed a plan to effectively prohibit the sale of gas and diesel cars in the 27-nation European Union by 2035, and Canada has mandated the sale of zero-emission cars by the same year.

California’s policy doesn’t ban cars that run on gas — after 2035 people can keep their existing cars or buy used ones, and 20% of sales can be plug-in hybrids that run on batteries and gas. Though hydrogen is a fuel option under the new regulations, cars that run on fuel cells have made up less than 1% of car sales in recent years.

The switch from gas will drastically reduce emissions and air pollutants. Transportation is the single largest source of emissions in the state, accounting for about 40% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The air board is working on different regulations for motorcycles and larger trucks.

California envisions powering most of the economy with electricity, not fossil fuels, by 2045. A plan released by the air board earlier this year predicts electricity demand will shoot up by 68%. Today, the state has about 80,000 public chargers. The California Energy Commission predicted that needs to jump to 1.2 million by 2030.

The commission says car charging will account for about 4% of energy by 2030 when use is highest, typically during hot summer evenings. That’s when California sometimes struggles to provide enough energy because the amount of solar power diminishes as the sun goes down. In August 2020, hundreds of thousands of people briefly lost power because of high demand that outstripped supply.

That hasn’t happened since, and to ensure it doesn’t going forward, Newsom, a Democrat, is pushing to keep open the state’s last-remaining nuclear plant beyond its planned closure in 2025. Also, the state may turn to diesel generators or natural gas plants as a backup when the electrical grid is strained.

More than 1 million people drive electric cars in California today. Their charging habits vary, but most people charge their cars in the evening or overnight, said Ram Rajagopal, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University who has studied car charging habits and energy grid needs.

If people’s charging habits stay the same, once 30% to 40% of cars are electric, the state would need to add more energy capacity overnight to meet demand, he said. The regulations adopted Thursday require 35% of vehicle sales to be electric by 2026, up from 16% now.

But if more people charged their cars during the day, that problem would be avoided, he said. Changing to daytime charging is “the biggest bang for the buck you’re going to get,” he said.

Both the state and federal government are spending billions to build more chargers along public roadways, at apartment complexes and elsewhere to give people more charging options.

The oil industry believes California is going too far. It’s the seventh-largest oil-producing state and shouldn’t wrap its entire transportation strategy around a vehicle market powered by electricity, said Tanya DeRivi, vice president for climate policy with the Western States Petroleum Association, an industry group.

“Californians should be able to choose a vehicle technology, including electric vehicles, that best fits their needs based on availability, affordability and personal necessity,” she said.

Some difficulties seen

Many car companies, like Kia, Ford and General Motors, are already on the path to making more electric cars available for sale, but some have warned that factors outside their control like supply chain and materials issues make Californians’ goals challenging.

“Automakers could have significant difficulties meeting this target, given elements outside of the control of the industry,” Kia Corp.’s Laurie Holmes told the air board before its vote.

As the requirements ramp up over time, automakers could be fined up to $20,000 per vehicle sold that falls short of the goal, though they’ll have time to comply if they miss the target in a given year.

The new rules approved by the air board say that the vehicles need to be able to travel 150 miles (241 kilometers) on one charge. Federal and state rebates are also available to people who buy electric cars, and the new rules have incentives for car companies to sell electric cars at a discount to low-income buyers.

But some representatives of business groups and rural areas said they fear electric cars will be too expensive or inconvenient.

“These regulations are a big step backwards for working families and small businesses,” said Gema Gonzalez Macias of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.

Air board members said they are committed to keeping a close eye on equity provisions in the rules to make sure all California residents have access.

“We will not set Californians up to fail, we will not set up the other states who want to follow this regulation to fail,” said Tania Pacheco-Warner, a member of the board and co-director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at California State University-Fresno.


your ad here

more ...

For First Time, Facebook, Twitter Take Down Pro-US Influence Operation

This summer, for the first time, Facebook and Twitter removed a network of fake user accounts promoting pro-Western policy positions to foreign audiences and critical of Russia, China and Iran, according to a new report.

The accounts, which violated the companies’ terms of service, “used deceptive tactics to promote pro-Western narratives in the Middle East and Central Asia” and were likely a series of covert campaigns spanning five years, according to the report from Stanford University and Graphika, a social media analytics firm.

Twitter and Facebook, which shared their data about the accounts with the researchers, haven’t publicly identified what entities or organizations were behind the campaigns, the researchers said. Twitter identified the U.S. and Britain as the campaigns’ “presumptive countries of origin,” and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, identified the U.S. as the country of origin, according to the report.

In recent years, internet firms have shut down online influence operations stemming from authoritarian regimes in China, Russia and Iran. The discovery of a U.S.-based online influence operation using many of the same techniques, such as fake people and fake followers to push a narrative, raises questions about who is behind the effort, its goals and whether the operation is effective.

When asked Thursday by VOA whether the U.S. military had created the fake accounts, Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said officials would need to look at the data provided by Facebook or Twitter. He said that the U.S. military does conduct “military information support operations around the world.”

“Obviously, I’m not going to talk about ongoing operations or particular tactics, techniques and procedures, other than to say that we operate within prescribed policies,” he said.

Linking to media, other sites

The researchers noted that the fake social media accounts often posted links to sham media sites as well as “sources linked to the U.S. military,” such as websites in Central Asia that name U.S. Central Command as their sponsor.

In addition, these inauthentic accounts linked to articles from Voice of America, the federally funded international broadcaster, and its sister organization, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the report said. Sham media sites copied stories from BBC Russia, VOA and other sources.

Several suspended social media accounts were linked to sham media accounts operating in Persian, such as Dariche News, which claimed to be an independent media outlet and had some original content. But, the report added, “many of their articles were explicit reposts from U.S.-funded Persian-language media, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Radio Farda and VOA Farsi.”

USAGM responds

On Thursday, the United States Agency for Global Media, the agency that oversees VOA and RFE/RL, said it didn’t have knowledge of these accounts.

“USAGM maintains only its own official social media accounts and websites, using the highest standards to ensure that official accounts are fact-based, accessible and verifiable,” said Lesley Jackson, a spokesperson, in an email.

USAGM doesn’t work with other U.S. government agencies or other groups to promote news content through fake social media accounts, Jackson confirmed. 

“With its mission to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy, USAGM will always promote the free flow of credible information to those in need and stand against misinformation, disinformation and censorship,” Jackson said.

Tactics

The online influence campaigns’ tactics were similar to those of other such campaigns and included doctoring photos to create fake accounts and using hashtags and petitions to attempt to build support.

One set of accounts in Central Asia focused on Russia’s military activities in the Middle East and Africa, but shifted in February to the war in Ukraine, “presenting the conflict as a threat to people in Central Asia,” the report said.

The accounts linked to a petition, whose authorship was unclear, “calling for the Kazakh government to ban Russian TV channels,” the report said.

The researchers said that the tactics of the inauthentic accounts didn’t really work to generate engagement. Most of the posts and tweets received only a handful of likes or retweets. A majority of the accounts had fewer than 1,000 followers.

Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report. 


your ad here

more ...

China’s Youth Unemployment Nearly 20% 

In 1999, fewer than 1 million people graduated from college in China. This year, a record-breaking 10.7 million new college graduates joined the Chinese job market.

And many of them face a tough time finding jobs, according to official data.

Youth unemployment in China reached 19.9% in July, according to the latest data released by the country’s National Bureau of Statistics. That’s the highest rate since Beijing started publishing the index in January 2018, when the rate was as low as 9.6%.

July’s high unemployment rate for youth aged 16-24 — up from a previous record high of 19.3% in June — is largely due to an economic slump that China has been experiencing over the past few years, multiple China analysts told VOA Mandarin. That economic downturn has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and Beijing’s strict containment restrictions, including the “Zero COVID” policy, which reduced exports and consumer spending.

“They’re reaping what they’re sowing at the moment, and what they’ve sown for the last two years has not been great for the job market,” said Zak Dychtwald, CEO of the Young China Group, a consulting firm that does market research on youth in China.

The market may be even more discouraging to recent graduates and other jobseekers than the official figures suggest, said Dorothy Solinger, a professor emerita at the University of California, Irvine, who studies unemployment in China.

China’s “unemployment statistics are notoriously wrong,” Solinger told VOA Mandarin. “I’m surprised they’re announcing that it’s this high now, but it makes me think it may be even higher.”

Due to lengthy, pandemic-driven lockdowns in Shanghai and Beijing between March and May, the World Bank projected that China’s economic growth will slow to 4.3% in 2022, which is 0.8% lower than its original December estimate.

The pandemic “has made production and operation difficult, which has reduced the ability to attract jobs,” said Liu Pengyu, the spokesperson of China’s Washington, D.C. embassy, in an email.

“As the economy recovers and policies to stabilize employment, especially policies and measures to help young people find jobs, are strengthened, the employment situation on the whole will gradually improve and remain stable,” he added.

The pandemic isn’t the only culprit, Dychtwald told VOA Mandarin, since the issue of overall unemployment has been on Beijing’s radar for decades.

“For years, one of China’s biggest issues has been creating enough jobs for its educated class of young people,” Dychtwald said in an interview. “It’s just always been hard — and especially these last five or 10 years — to have the job market keep pace with the education rates.”

Even though unemployment is a perennial issue in China, that doesn’t mean the current unemployment rates don’t matter. Far from it, experts told VOA Mandarin, especially with the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party approaching in the fall, where President Xi Jinping is expected to secure a third term despite economic fallout from the pandemic, banking scandals and business practices that have caused a backlash and led some homeowners to stop paying their mortgages in protest.

The Chinese public will probably demand that Xi does more to address the unemployment crisis, especially ahead of the upcoming congress, according to Li Qiang, founder of the New York-based NGO China Labor Watch.

“This data may give him a wake-up call. This road is very difficult and will also affect the country’s political stability,” Qiang told VOA Mandarin.

Or as Dychtwald said, “If the government doesn’t address [unemployment], then it’s a potential powder keg, politically.”

Beijing has long maintained policies and programs to stimulate the economy and job growth, and much Chinese Communist Party rhetoric and art celebrates labor and workers, according to experts VOA interviewed. As one 2021 article in the state outlet Xinhua put it, “Only hard work brings happiness.”

In January, Xi wrote in the CCP’s journal Qiushi that no matter how much China  develops, the country must “steer clear of the idleness-breeding trap of welfarism.”

Manfred Elfstrom is an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, whose research focuses on China, social movements, labor, and authoritarianism. To him, Xi’s article suggests the high youth unemployment rate China faces is of great concern to the CCP.

“If you are critical of people being ‘idle’ and relying on the government, then you also presumably feel pressure to deliver on job opportunities,” he told VOA Mandarin.

But it’s not just the CCP feeling the pressure. One of the most important factors impacting China’s younger generations is “the pressure to get ahead,” Dychtwald said, referring to “immense” social and familial expectations to excel in school, snare a well-paying job, marry and own property. “Pressure is the defining word.”

The CCP presents itself as a protector of the country and its people, so it’s more or less expected that the government will create an environment where people can find jobs, experts including Dychtwald said. With the realization that Beijing may not be meeting its end of the bargain comes dissatisfaction and disillusionment, particularly among the country’s youth.

China’s entrenched culture of overwork — which Dychtwald says is common in other countries like Singapore and South Korea — alongside fewer job prospects and relatively lower wages gave way to China’s “lying flat” movement in 2021.

The movement urges young people “to opt out of the struggle for workplace success, and to reject the promise of consumer fulfilment,” according to a 2021 Brookings Institution report.


your ad here

more ...

Biden Announces Long-Awaited Student Debt Forgiveness Plan

President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced his long-awaited plan to deliver on his campaign promise to provide $10,000 in debt cancellation for millions of Americans — and up to $10,000 more for those with the greatest financial need.

Borrowers who earn less than $125,000 a year, or families earning less than $250,000, would be eligible for the $10,000 loan forgiveness, Biden announced in a tweet. For recipients of Pell Grants, which are reserved for undergraduates with the most significant financial need, the federal government would cancel up to an additional $10,000 in federal loan debt.

Biden is also extending a pause on federal student loan payments for what he called the “final time” through the end of 2022. He was set to deliver remarks Wednesday afternoon at the White House to unveil his proposal to the public.

If his plan survives legal challenges that are almost certain to come, it could offer a windfall to a swath of the nation in the run-up to this fall’s midterm elections. More than 43 million people have federal student debt, with an average balance of $37,667, according to federal data. Nearly a third of borrowers owe less than $10,000, and about half owe less than $20,000. The White House estimates that Biden’s announcement would erase the federal student debt of about 20 million people.

Proponents say cancellation will narrow the racial wealth gap — Black students are more likely to borrow federal student loans and at higher amounts than others. Four years after earning bachelor’s degrees, Black borrowers owe an average of nearly $25,000 more than their white peers, according to a Brookings Institution study.

Still, the action is unlikely to thrill any of the factions that have been jostling for influence as Biden weighs how much to cancel and for whom.

Biden has faced pressure from liberals to provide broader relief to hard-hit borrowers, and from moderates and Republicans questioning the fairness of any widespread forgiveness. The delay in Biden’s decision has only heightened the anticipation for what his own aides acknowledge represents a political no-win situation. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Biden’s intended announcement ahead of time.

The continuation of the coronavirus pandemic-era payment freeze comes just days before millions of Americans were set to find out when their next student loan bills will be due. This is the closest the administration has come to hitting the end of the payment freeze extension, with the current pause set to end Aug. 31.

Details of the plan have been kept closely guarded as Biden weighed his options. The administration said Wednesday the Education Department will release information in the coming weeks for eligible borrowers to sign up for debt relief. Cancellation for some would be automatic, if the department has access to to their income information, but others would need to fill out a form.

Current students would only be eligible for relief if their loans were originated before July 1, 2022. Biden is also set to propose capping the amount that borrowers pay monthly on undergraduate loans at 5% of their earnings.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden was initially skeptical of student loan debt cancellation as he faced off against more progressive candidates for the Democratic nomination. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., had proposed cancellations of $50,000 or more.

As he tried to shore up support among younger voters and prepare for a general election battle against President Donald Trump, Biden unveiled his initial proposal for debt cancellation of $10,000 per borrower, with no mention of an income cap.

Biden narrowed his campaign promise in recent months by embracing the income limit as soaring inflation took a political toll and as he aimed to head off political attacks that the cancellation would benefit those with higher take-home pay. But Democrats, from members of congressional leadership to those facing tough reelection bids this November, have pushed the administration to go as broad as possible on debt relief, seeing it in part as a galvanizing issue, particularly for Black and young voters this fall.

Democrats are betting that Biden, who has seen his public approval tumble over the past year, can help motivate younger voters to the polls with the announcement.

Although Biden’s plan is changed from he initially proposed during the campaign, “he’ll get a lot of credit for following through on something that he was committed to,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who worked with Biden during the 2020 election.

A survey of 18- to 29-year-olds conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics in March found that 59% of those polled favored debt cancellation of some sort — whether for all borrowers or those most in need — although student loans did not rank high among issues that most concerned people in that age group.

Some advocates say Biden’s plan still falls short.

“If the rumors are true, we’ve got a problem,” Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, which has aggressively lobbied Biden to take bolder action, said Tuesday.

“President Biden’s decision on student debt cannot become the latest example of a policy that has left Black people — especially Black women — behind,” he said. “This is not how you treat Black voters who turned out in record numbers and provided 90% of their vote to once again save democracy in 2020.”

John Della Volpe, who worked as a consultant on Biden’s campaign and is the director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, said the particulars of Biden’s announcement were less important than the decision itself.

“It’s about trust in politics, in government, in our system. It’s also about trust in the individual, which in this case is President Biden,” Della Volpe said.

Republicans, meanwhile, see a political upside if Biden pursues a large-scale cancellation of student debt ahead of the November midterms, anticipating backlash for Democrats — particularly in states where there are large numbers of working-class voters without college degrees. Critics of broad student debt forgiveness also believe it will open the White House to lawsuits, on the grounds that Congress has never given the president the explicit authority to cancel debt on his own.

The Republican National Committee on Tuesday blasted Biden’s expected announcement as a “handout to the rich,” claiming it would unfairly burden lower-income taxpayers and those who have already paid off their student loans with covering the costs of higher education for the wealthy.

Biden’s long deliberations have led to grumbling among federal loan servicers, who had been instructed to hold back billing statements while Biden weighed a decision.

Industry groups had complained that the delayed decision left them with just days to notify borrowers, retrain customer service workers and update websites and digital payment systems, said Scott Buchanan, executive director of the Student Loan Servicing Alliance.

It increases the risk that some borrowers will inadvertently be told they need to make payments, he said.

“At this late stage I think that’s the risk we’re running,” he said. “You can’t just turn on a dime with 35 million borrowers who all have different loan types and statuses.”


your ad here

more ...

Ukrainian Company Repairs Broken Drones to Help Military

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are playing a huge part in the war in Ukraine. But keeping them in the air can be challenging. One Ukrainian company is doing just that and more. Kateryna Markova has the story. Camera – Viktor Petrovych.


your ad here

more ...