Iran Replaces Central Bank Governor Amid Currency Crash

Iran appointed a new head of its central bank Thursday after the currency crashed to its lowest level ever against the dollar amid mass protests and ongoing Western sanctions.

Mohammad Reza Farzin, 57, a senior banker and former deputy finance minister, was tapped to replace Ali Salehabadi, who resigned after 15 months at the post, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The rial was trading at about 430,000 to the dollar Thursday, down from 370,000 earlier this month. Already battered by years of Western sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, the rial was trading at 315,000 when anti-government protests erupted in mid-September.

The protests were ignited by the death of a woman who was detained by the country’s morality police. The demonstrations rapidly escalated into calls for an end to more than four decades of clerical rule. Security forces have launched a heavy crackdown, using live ammunition and birdshot, as well as beating and detaining protesters, according to rights groups.

At least 508 protesters have been killed and more than 18,600 people have been arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has closely monitored the unrest. Iranian authorities have not provided an official death toll.

Iran’s currency was trading at 32,000 rials to the dollar at the time of the 2015 nuclear accord that lifted international sanctions in exchange for tight controls on Iran’s nuclear program. That deal unraveled after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from it in 2018.

The Biden administration had been trying to restore the agreement until the protests broke out, but those talks hit a deadlock several months ago.

In a separate development on Thursday, Iran summoned the Italian ambassador over Rome’s criticism of its response to the protests.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani had summoned Iran’s envoy the day before to express concern over the crackdown, which he said had nothing to do with protecting Iran’s security.


your ad here

more ...

Americans Weigh Pros and Cons as Musk Alters Twitter

Marie Rodriguez of Bountiful, Utah, began using social media when she enlisted in the U.S. Navy. At first, she saw it as a positive thing.

“It helped me to really keep in touch with people at home while I was deployed and living overseas,” she told VOA.

However, in the two months since Tesla CEO Elon Musk acquired Twitter, Rodriguez and many of its hundreds of millions of users have been forced to reevaluate their feelings about the platform and about social media in general.

“I don’t think he’s been positive at all,” Rodriguez said. “He’s allowing all of these previously banned accounts back on the platform, and I’m seeing more offensive Tweets — more anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ hate speech.”

“Some social media platforms over-patrol,” she added, “but Twitter isn’t patrolling enough. The result is more trolling, more bots and more hate. I’ve definitely been using the platform less because of it.”

Musk is a polarizing figure among Americans. In his own self-created poll on the platform, 57.5% of respondents said he should resign as Twitter chief, compared to 42.5% who said he should stay. (Musk has said he will abide by the poll’s results and resign his post as soon as a replacement is hired.)

Independent surveys, however, have shown Musk’s actions to be less unpopular than his Twitter poll indicated. A Quinnipiac University survey from earlier this month, for example, found that Americans’ opinions are more evenly split, with 37% saying they approved of the way he’s operating Twitter, 37% disapproving and 25% offering no opinion.

“I’m generally critical of billionaires,” said Avi Gupta, a neurobiologist in the nation’s capital, “but I’m so far supportive of what Musk has done for Twitter. As far as free speech is concerned, definitely, but also the platform’s just a lot more exciting to follow.”

A new Twitter

Gupta said he became disenchanted with rival social media platform Instagram when he posted a photo of Ukrainian soldiers who appeared to be wearing patches containing Nazi symbols. The post was promptly removed by administrators.

“To me, in that example, what Instagram is saying is that reporting on Nazism is no different than glorifying it,” Gupta explained. “It’s a form of censorship, but it was happening in pre-Musk Twitter, too. They were too quick to suspend accounts when they challenged mainstream thinking — whether it be about the Ukraine war, U.S. military interventions or COVID.”

“Since Musk,” he added, “I don’t have to censor myself as much, and you’re seeing previously banned accounts from politicians and scientists welcomed back. You have to balance that with stopping dangerous hate speech, of course — which I think they’re doing OK with — but overall, I think it’s been a good thing.”

According to University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication Professor Damian Radcliffe, Musk arrived at Twitter with an entrepreneurial reputation and a desire to grow the platform that appealed to many users.

Others, however, expressed concerns about what Musk’s commitment to freedom of speech and a scaling back of platform moderation might mean, as well as the implications of users now being able to purchase a verified “blue check” account.

“Those worries seem to have been justified,” Radcliffe told VOA. “I personally have seen a lot of people I follow leave the platform. They’re pointing to a less civil discourse, as well as a greater prevalence of misinformation, hate speech and conspiracy theories in their feed as the main reasons they’re departing.”

In the two months since he took over, Musk has reinstated several previously banned Twitter accounts — most notably that of former U.S. President Donald Trump, though Trump eschewed the platform after his reinstatement. Musk has also banned (and sometimes reinstated) the accounts of several journalists.

“It’s been wild to watch as he came in talking about free speech,” said Ron Gubitz, executive director of a New Orleans nonprofit organization. “But then, all of a sudden, he’s suspending journalists’ accounts, banning an account tracking his jet, and — albeit temporarily — saying we couldn’t post links to other social media.”

Gubitz is a self-described “Twitter head,” having been on the platform for more than 14 years. He said he’s been disappointed in how it has operated since Musk’s purchase.

“Initially it was annoying because the discourse was all about Musk,” he said to VOA. “What is Musk saying? What is he going to do? It felt middle-school gossipy.”

“But the user interface has also actually gotten worse since he took over,” Gubitz added. “The platform isn’t updating well for me, it’s not adding enough new tweets, there are ads at the top of the screen every time I refresh and the whole thing just feels less secure. I’m cool with change, but this is going in the wrong direction.”

America’s relationship with social media

“I use Twitter less and less every day and I’ve actually removed the app from my phone,” said Kimm Rogers, a musician from San Diego, California. “I used to see tweets from the people I follow, but now my feed shows me [acquitted Wisconsin shooter] Kyle Rittenhouse, Elon Musk and [Texas Republican Senator] Ted Cruz. There’s a lot more hate especially towards black people, LGBTQ and Jewish people. There’s also more porn showing up in my feed as well as lots of disinformation over vaccines and the war in Ukraine.”

“It’s just hard on my psyche to see the lack of common decency and the cruelty often inflicted on others on this site,” Rogers added, “It diminishes my view of humanity.”

Polls show opinions on the direction of Twitter are often connected to political leanings. Quinnipiac’s December poll showed that 63% of Republican respondents said they viewed Musk favorably, while only 9% of Democrats said the same.

Many left-leaning users have threatened to leave the platform entirely. According to information from the Twitter analytics firm Bot Sentinel, approximately 877,000 accounts were deactivated in the week after Musk purchased Twitter. Nearly 500,000 were temporarily suspended. In total, that’s more than double the usual number and has included prominent celebrities who cited a rise in hate speech and the banning of journalists as their reason for leaving.

More recently, some users have organized “Twitter Walk-out Days” in which they log off for a period of time in protest. Others have threatened to move to other social media platforms that better align with their values.

If those users do move on, Nicole Dahmen, professor at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, says it won’t be the first time users shifted away from a form of technology.

“Leaving Twitter is the latest iteration of unfriending Facebook a decade ago or killing your television in the 1980s,” Dahmen told VOA. “There are valid reasons to consume and participate with these mediums and there are even more valid reasons to leave them. They’ve ultimately trivialized American discourse, and our political, social and emotional health has suffered.”

But it’s not just Twitter that appears to be experiencing a plateauing of popularity around the world. From 2018 to 2022, average daily social media use increased by only five minutes — from 142 minutes to 147 minutes — according to Statista.com. During the previous four years, average social media use increased by a whopping 38 minutes per day.

Sense of community

“Social media can be a great thing in how it creates a sense of community and allows us to find commonalities,” said Ivory Burnett of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Burnett said she prefers Twitter over other platforms because it encourages what she sees as more authentic, “less cosmetic” interactions.

“When used for good, it’s the megaphone for an entire generation,” she told VOA. “But it also results in bullying, misunderstanding and crowd-thinking that makes it easier to spread hate and harm.”

But, like so many who, despite their frustrations with the platform, say they don’t want to start over elsewhere after dedicating so many years to building a following on Twitter, Burnett said she has no intention of leaving.

“Leave? I’ve never considered leaving,” she said and laughed. “I’ll be here until my login stops working.”


your ad here

more ...

US House Bans TikTok on Official Devices

The popular Chinese video app TikTok has been banned from all U.S. House of Representatives-managed devices, according to the House’s administration arm, mimicking a law soon to go into effect banning the app from all U.S. government devices.

The app is considered “high risk due to a number of security issues,” the House’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) said in a message sent on Tuesday to all lawmakers and staff and must be deleted from all devices managed by the House.

The new rule follows a series of moves by U.S. state governments to ban TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd, from government devices. As of last week, 19 states have at least partially blocked the app from state-managed devices over concerns that the Chinese government could use the app to track Americans and censor content.

The $1.66 trillion omnibus spending bill, passed last week to fund the U.S. government through September 30, 2023, includes a provision to ban the app on federally managed devices and will take effect once President Joe Biden signs the legislation into law.

“With the passage of the Omnibus that banned TikTok on executive branch devices, the CAO worked with the Committee on House Administration to implement a similar policy for the House,” a spokesperson for the Chief Administrative Officer told Reuters on Tuesday.

The message to staff said anyone with TikTok on their device would be contacted about removing it, and future downloads of the app were prohibited.

TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the new rule.

U.S. lawmakers have put forward a proposal to implement a nationwide ban on the app.


your ad here

more ...

US Holiday Sales Up 7.6% Despite Squeeze of Inflation

Holiday sales rose this as American spending remained resilient during the critical shopping season despite surging prices on everything from food to rent, according to one measure.

Holiday sales rose 7.6%, a slower pace than the 8.5% increase from a year earlier when shoppers began spending the money they had saved during the early part of the COVID pandemic, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks all kinds of payments including cash and debit cards.

Mastercard SpendingPulse had expected a 7.1% increase. The data released Monday excludes the automotive industry and is not adjusted for inflation, which has eased somewhat but remains painfully high.

U.S. sales between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, a period that is critical for retailers, were fueled by spending at restaurants and on clothing.

By category, clothing rose 4.4%, while jewelry and electronics dipped roughly 5%. Online sales jumped 10.6% from a year ago and in-person spending rose 6.8%. Department stores registered a modest 1% increase over 2021.

“This holiday retail season looked different than years past,” Steve Sadove, the former CEO and chairman at Saks and a senior advisor for Mastercard, said in a prepared statement. “Retailers discounted heavily, but consumers diversified their holiday spending to accommodate rising prices and an appetite for experiences and festive gatherings post-pandemic.”

Some of the increase reflected the impact of higher prices across the board.

Consumer spending accounts for nearly 70% of U.S. economic activity, and Americans have remained resilient ever since inflation first spiked almost 18 months ago. Cracks have begun to show, however, as higher prices for basic necessities take up an increasingly large share of everyone’s take-home pay.

Inflation has retreated from the four-decade high it reached this summer, but it’s still sapping the spending power of consumers. Prices rose 7.1% in November from a year ago, down from a peak of 9.1% in June.

Overall spending has slowed from the pandemic-infused splurges and shifted increasingly toward necessities like food, while spending on electronics, furniture, new clothes and other non-necessities has faded. Many shoppers been trading down to private label goods, which are typically less expensive than national brands. They’ve been going to cheaper stores like dollar chains and big box stores like Walmart.

Consumers also waited for deals. Stores expected more procrastinators to hit stores in the last few days before Christmas compared with a year ago when people began shopping earlier due to a global disruption of the supply chain that created thousands of product shortages.

“Consumers are trying to spread out their budget, and they are evaluating and shopping at different stores,” said Katie Thompson, the lead of consultancy Kearney’s Consumer Institute.

In November, shoppers cut back sharply on retail spending compared with the previous month. Retail sales fell 0.6% from October to November after a sharp 1.3% rise the previous month, the government said in mid-December. Sales fell at furniture, electronics, and home and garden stores.

A broader picture of how Americans spent their money arrives next month when the National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, comes out with its combined two-month results based on November-December sales figures from the Commerce Department.

The trade group expects holiday sales growth will slow to a range of 6% to 8%, compared with the blistering 13.5% growth of a year ago.

Analysts will also be dissecting fourth-quarter financial results from major retailers in February.


your ad here

more ...

Year in Tech: What Do Tech Layoffs Say About the Economy?

The end of 2022 saw major layoffs at Twitter, Amazon, Salesforce and Snap. Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, had its first layoffs ever, cutting about 13% of its staff. Deana Mitchell looks at what the tech job losses mean for the future.


your ad here

more ...

Cubans Search for Holiday Food Amid Deepening Crisis

As Belkis Fajardo, 69, walks through the dense streets of downtown Havana with a small bag of lettuce and onions in hand, she wonders how she’ll feed her family over the holidays.

Scarcity and economic turmoil are nothing new to Cuba, but Fajardo is among many Cubans to note that this year is different thanks to soaring inflation and deepening shortages.

“We’ll see what we can scrap together to cook for the end of the year,” Fajardo said. “Everything is really expensive … so you buy things little by little as you can. And if you can’t, you don’t eat.”

Basic goods such as chicken, beef, eggs, milk, flour and toilet paper are difficult and often impossible to find in state stores.

When they do appear, they often come at hefty prices, either from informal shops, resellers or in expensive stores only accessible to those with foreign currency.

It’s far out of the range of the average Cuban state salary, approximately 5,000 pesos a month, or $29 USD on the island’s more widely used informal exchange rate. Nearby, a pound of pork leg was selling for 450 pesos (around $2.60).

“Not everyone can buy things, not everyone has a family who sends remittances (money from abroad),” Fajardo said. “With the money my daughter earns and my pension, we’re trying to buy what we can, but it’s extremely hard.”

In October, the Cuban government reported that inflation had risen 40% over the past year and had a significant impact on the purchasing power for many on the island.

While Fajardo managed to buy vegetables, rice and beans, she still has no meat for Christmas or New Year’s.

The shortages are among a number of factors stoking a broader discontent on the island, which has given rise to protests in recent years as well as an emerging migratory flight from Cuba. On Friday, U.S. authorities reported stopping Cubans 34,675 times along the Mexico border in November, up 21% from 28,848 times in October.

The dissatisfaction was made even more evident during Cuba’s local elections last month, when 31.5% of eligible voters didn’t cast a ballot — a far cry from the nearly 100% turnout during Fidel Castro’s lifetime.

Despite being the highest voting abstention rate the country had seen since the Cuban revolution, the government still hailed it as “a victory.” However, in an address to Cuban lawmakers last week, President Miguel Díaz-Canel acknowledged the government’s shortcomings in handling the country’s complex mix of crises, particularly food shortages.

“I feel an enormous dissatisfaction that I haven’t been able to accomplish, through leadership of the country, the results that the Cuban people need to attain long-desired and expected prosperity,” he said.

The admission provoked a standing ovation in the congressional assembly, made up solely of politicians from Díaz-Canel’s communist party.

But Ricardo Torres, a Cuban and economics fellow at American University in Washington, said he saw the words as “meaningless” without a real plan to address discontent.

“People want answers from their government,” he said. “Not words — answers.”

For years, the Caribbean nation has pushed much of the blame for its economic turmoil on the United States’ six-decade trade embargo on Cuba, which has strangled much of the island’s economy. However, many observers, including Torres, stress that the government’s mismanagement of the economy and reluctance to embrace the private sector are also to blame.

On Friday, a long line of Cubans waited outside an empty state-run butchery, waiting for a coveted item: a leg of pork to feed their families on New Year’s Eve.

About a dozen people The Associated Press asked for an interview said they were scared to speak, including one who said, “it could have consequences for us.”

Estrella, 67, has shown up to the state butcher every morning for more than two weeks, waiting her turn to buy pork to share with her children, grandchildren and siblings. So far, she’s come up dry.

Although pork is available to buy from private butchers, it’s often far more expensive than at state-run facilities, which subsidize prices.

So she waits, hopeful that she’ll be able to cook Cuba’s traditional holiday dish.

“If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to buy it today,” she said. “If we’re not, we’ll come back tomorrow.”


your ad here

more ...

349 Million People Suffering From Acute Food Insecurity

The United Nations says high food prices in 2022 led to a crisis of affordability that has pushed millions more people into hunger. VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer talks to experts about the situation and what to expect in 2023.


your ad here

more ...

Chinese-Funded Projects Deepen Sri Lanka’s Economic Woes

During the past decade, China funded the construction of massive infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka meant to boost the island nation’s economy. However, after the economic collapse of the tiny Indian Ocean country earlier this year, there were questions whether these projects had contributed to the worst crisis it has ever faced.

A port city that dominates Colombo’s seafront was built on a 269-hectare patch of land reclaimed from the sea. It was to become a thriving business and financial hub, but it is virtually deserted. An international airport commissioned nearly a decade ago at Mattala city is called the “emptiest airport in the world.” Both the Chinese-funded projects are seen as “white elephants” that have added to Sri Lanka’s debt.

“The airport is not functioning. The Colombo port city was supposed to attract international investors, but there is not a single investor right now,” said Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, a Sri Lankan security and geopolitics analyst. “There is a question over the revenue model of all these projects because they are not financially viable. They were built with unsustainable large amounts of borrowings with high interest rates.”

The focus zeroed in on the Chinese projects when Sri Lanka ran out of foreign exchange to import food, fuel and medicines earlier this year. The catastrophic economic downturn has pushed many in the nation of 22 million people into poverty. In what was once a middle-income country, living standards have plummeted as inflation rages. The World Food Program estimates that nearly 6 million people need food assistance.

The country’s crisis is blamed on economic mismanagement by the previous government led by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and the COVID-19 pandemic that led to a loss of vital tourism earnings in the scenic Indian Ocean country.

Analysts say the billions of dollars spent on Chinese-funded projects deepened Sri Lanka’s woes. Estimates are that the share of Chinese loans in Sri Lanka’s $40 billion debt range from 10% to 20%.

“China is known for working out arrangements that often turn out much costlier than just looking at the paper would tell you,” said Harsh Pant, vice president for studies and foreign policy at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “The inability of the Sri Lankan political class to understand the long-term consequences of the kind of short-term gains that they were making from China has allowed this to happen.”

Sri Lanka was one of the countries to sign onto China’s Belt and Road initiative under which Beijing extends loans to developing countries to build roads, airports, seaports and other infrastructure.

Sri Lanka’s debt to China could make it harder to push back against Beijing, according to analysts. In August, Sri Lankan authorities initially refused permission to a Chinese navy ship, Yuan Wang 5, to dock at the Chinese-built Hambantota port following objections by India and the United States, but later allowed it to come.

China has called the ship a scientific and research vessel, but security analysts said India was concerned because it was a surveillance ship packed with space and satellite-tracking electronics that can monitor rocket and missile launches.

The incident reinforced worries that the Chinese projects are linked to its strategic ambitions in the Indian Ocean. The Hambantota port was leased to China for 99 years in 2017 when Sri Lanka was unable to pay back the money borrowed to build it. That raised fears in India and Western countries that the port could be used by China’s navy to project power in the Indian Ocean, a vital seaway for global commerce.

“From my findings I found that these projects are more than a civil operation in Sri Lanka. There could be a military operation that they would introduce in the future such as from Hambantota,” according to Abeyagoonasekera.

China strongly rejects such concerns. At a foreign ministry briefing last month, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that “China has never attached any political strings to its aid to Sri Lanka or sought any political interests from its investment and financing in that country.” Saying that Beijing empathizes with Sri Lanka’s difficulties, he said that “China has also been offering assistance to the economic and social development in Sri Lanka within its capacity.”

Sri Lanka is now hoping to hold early talks with China to restructure its debt, which is crucial to secure a $2.9 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

Colombo reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF in September for getting the loan, but it is contingent on assurances from its creditors, including China, India and Japan, that the debts will be restructured.


your ad here

more ...

Whistleblower Files Complaint to Congress Over Twitter Suspending Journalists

Nearly a week after Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk said that the accounts of suspended journalists would be reinstated, at least six remain blocked.

Voice of America’s chief national correspondent, Steve Herman, is among them. Twitter suspended the accounts Dec. 15 over posts about another removed account — @Elonjet — which uses public data to track Musk’s private jet and other aircraft.

On Thursday, the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a Washington-based whistleblower protection and advocacy organization, filed a complaint to Congress over the suspension of Herman and other journalists.

“All of this is disturbing,” GAP’s Senior Counsel David Seide wrote in a letter addressed to the House and Senate commerce committees. “For no rational reason, Twitter and Mr. Musk wrongly muzzled and continue to muzzle Voice of America’s reporter and at least five other journalists. We ask you to continue to review this mistreatment and, if you believe warranted, investigate further.”

The letter, shared with VOA, said that Musk “abused his authority by acting arbitrarily and capriciously” in suspending and continuing to block several prominent journalists from the social media platform.

Twitter did not immediately respond to VOA’s request for comment, sent in a direct message via the platform.

Twitter appeals

Early Saturday morning, Musk announced on Twitter that the “accounts who doxxed my location will have their suspension lifted now.”

To other Twitter users, Herman’s account looked as if it were back to normal.

But when Herman opened the app later that day, he was met with a notification saying he could regain access only if he deleted three tweets that referenced the @Elonjet account — or he could file an appeal.

Herman chose the latter option, he told VOA, “not realizing that put me in an even deeper level of purgatory.”

Making it seem as if his account was reactivated was “disingenuous at best,” Herman said.

Other journalists had similar experiences, including Matt Binder of Mashable, Drew Harwell of The Washington Post, Micah Lee of The Intercept, Ryan Mac of The New York Times, Donie O’Sullivan of CNN and freelance reporters Aaron Rupar and Tony Webster.

VOA spoke with several of these reporters, who all said they were not surprised at being suspended.

Rupar and Webster told VOA they opted to delete the tweets in question to regain full access to their accounts, but the other six refused, so remain locked out.

Twitter told them they will be barred until specified posts are deleted.

“I will not delete the tweets because I feel there was nothing wrong with those tweets, and deleting them would be an admission that I did something wrong,” Herman said. “The only way I will tweet again is if my account is reinstated unconditionally.”

Mashable’s Binder was briefly unsuspended Saturday, but he says he was locked out again after asking a Twitter official which company policy he had broken.

He appealed the ruling instead of deleting the offending tweet but said that Twitter denied the request.

Now journalists are “going to have to be cautious about how they disseminate their reporting on Twitter because Elon Musk can just choose on a whim to change policy,” Binder told VOA in an interview. “We’ve seen it already.”

GAP’s Seide said suspensions over @Elonjet tweets do not bode well for press freedom on Twitter.

“It’s especially concerning because it’s so arbitrary and innocuous,” he told VOA. “If they can force journalists to censor themselves on innocuous issues, they plainly do that on other issues, too.”

Webster, a freelance reporter based in Minneapolis, said Twitter has played a big role in building an audience for his work. Because of that, he deleted the requested tweets to regain access.

Still, getting suspended has changed how he engages with the platform, he told VOA.

“It’s really chilling to have to be so careful about what to say,” he said. “You just worry about what might happen in the future if you say something that might be upsetting to Elon Musk.”

Even though Webster is back on Twitter, he said he no longer trusts the platform and plans to use the social media platform Mastodon more.

The Intercept’s Lee told VOA he will not delete the tweet that got him suspended.

That journalists now risk facing arbitrary censorship “basically just proves that Twitter is no longer a viable platform,” he said, adding that he believes it is important to “diversify what social media you use.”

VOA’s public relations team on Thursday confirmed Herman’s account had not been reinstated.

In an emailed statement when Herman was first suspended, VOA spokesperson Nigel Gibbs said, “As Chief National Correspondent, Mr. Herman covers international and national news stories, and this suspension impedes his ability to perform his duties as a journalist.”

Musk had said on Twitter that the @Elonjet account and any accounts that linked to it were suspended because they violated Twitter’s anti-doxxing policy.

Doxxing is when someone maliciously publishes private or identifying information about someone — like their phone number or address — on the internet, according to Clayton Weimers, executive director of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) U.S. office.

The @Elonjet Twitter account, however, used publicly available data. Additionally, none of the journalists who had tweeted about Musk and his shutdown of the account had tweeted location information for his plane.

Doxxing is an increasingly common intimidation tactic to target journalists over their coverage, Weimers said.

“The risk here is that [Musk is] really lowering the barrier for what we’re considering doxxing and weaponizing it against journalists in a way that doesn’t make journalists or other public officials any safer on the platform,” Weimers said.

Twitter has historically been slow to respond to genuine doxxing attacks, Weimers said.

Musk also dissolved Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council, of which RSF was a longtime member. Made up of human and civil rights groups, the 100-member advisory group advised on policies to respond to hate speech and other issues on Twitter.

Since Twitter is Musk’s private company, “there’s an argument to be made that it’s his $44 billion plaything, and he can make the rules as he sees fit,” Herman acknowledged. “And if he wants to turn it into the online equivalent of a private country club, then he probably legally can.”

Herman said he has not spoken with any of the other journalists in the suspended-from-Twitter club.

“I’ve been pretty busy,” he said. “But I think some of us are following each other on Mastodon now.”


your ad here

more ...

Global Holiday Travel Soars  

Across the globe, people are on the move as a hectic Christmas and New Year’s holiday travel season is in full swing. December and January are among the busiest months for global aviation, with passenger traffic this year expected to be the highest since travel restrictions were imposed because of the pandemic.

“This is the first time visiting my relatives for the holidays in three years,” Lyla Singh of Aldie, Virginia, told VOA. She arrived at Dulles International Airport outside Washington nearly four hours before her flight to New Delhi. “With so many people traveling and fewer airline staff means you really have to be patient.”

Like other countries, air travel to and from India has picked up since COVID-19 restrictions eased.

“I was going to avoid the crowds and travel overseas in March but wanted to see my family when they all gather,” Singh said.

In other parts of Asia, tens of millions of people are traveling by air, road and rail. China is expecting a surge in domestic travel after the country relaxed its zero-COVID pandemic control measures earlier in December.

The government eliminated many requirements, including frequent virus testing, and relaxed quarantine rules. The moves came as China prepares for Lunar New Year festivities in January, the country’s busiest travel season.

 

Economic boost

Analysts believe a surge in vacationing will help China’s ailing economy. Chinese state media quoted Chen Linan, a spokesperson for China-based online travel site Ctrip, as saying, “The increase in travel New Year’s Day and during the Spring Festival could be the biggest turning point in China’s tourism sector in three years.”

In Europe, travel experts foresee the busiest Christmas travel season in years after a protracted period of disruptions because of COVID-19 lockdowns.

“There’s a strong demand for Christmas travel, with ticket revenue up 18%,” Johan Lundgren, CEO of British airline easyJet, told Reuters. The airline also expects more passengers will take to the skies in the first part of 2023.

London’s Heathrow Airport lifted its 100,000 daily passenger limit to avoid major disruptions at the end of October and said it would not cap passenger numbers for the Christmas peak travel time.

Industry observers still warn travelers to prepare for potential labor disputes by transportation workers and staff shortages at European airports and rail stations that could cause cancellations. Two of Air France’s cabin crew unions that failed to reach a contract agreement last October filed to take strike action at any time from Thursday to January 2. The French air carrier issued a statement pledging to maintain a full schedule, adding it hoped to avoid cancelations or delays.

US holiday travel

More than 112 million Americans will travel during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, according to AAA, a travel services company. Of those, more than 7 million will fly.

“I’m glad to be flying out to Atlanta before the bad weather arrives,” said Washington resident Todd Brunson, who booked his flight several days before the Christmas holiday. “I find the closer you get to Christmas, chances increase you won’t get to your destination on time.”

According to AAA, 2022 is shaping up to be the third-busiest year for holiday travel in the United States since it began tracking numbers in 2000.

The trepidations that holiday travel could get worse grew as weather forecasters predicted disruptions stemming from a fierce winter storm sweeping across the country, affecting 180 million people in 40 states. The storm brought treacherous road conditions and caused thousands of flights to be canceled.

“There’s snow in Kansas City waiting for us, so we are little bit nervous about getting there, but I think we are going to beat it, so we’ll be OK,” Lindsay Bittfield, who was flying from New York City, told WABC-TV.

Chicago, a major airline hub, is bracing for high winds, subzero temperatures and possibly 30 centimeters of snow before Christmas.

“We prepared well in advance for whatever weather conditions come, whether it’s snow, rain or wind,” said Karen Pride, director of media relations for the Chicago Department of Aviation. “We have 350 pieces of snow removal equipment that’s ready to clear snow on runways and around the airport.”

In anticipation of the storm, airlines rerouted flights and issued weather waivers that allow passengers to reschedule their flights without incurring fees.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” Brunson said. “I just hope the joy of the season won’t be spoiled by any travel headaches.”


your ad here

more ...

Nigeria’s Central Bank Raises Cash Withdrawal Limits After Public Outcry

The Central Bank of Nigeria has raised the maximum weekly limit for cash withdrawals after a public uproar over the caps it announced two weeks ago. The new limit is five times higher than the initial cap for individuals and ten times more for companies. The bank announced the limits to rein in excess cash and promote cashless payments, but critics say it could stifle millions of small businesses. 

The revised Central Bank withdrawal limits were announced in a circular released by the bank Wednesday.

The limit for individual withdrawals was raised from $225 to $1,125, while the limit for corporate entities was raised from $1,100 to $11,000.

Under the directive, any withdrawal above the set limits must be approved in advance in writing by the financial institution from where the withdrawal is to be made.

The CBN also lowered its processing fee for withdrawals above set limits.

But many people like Salisu Umar Garu, a former chairman of the Abuja Zone 4 traders association, say even the new limits will be difficult for businesses yet to be fully integrated into the online banking system.

“The minimum amount, it cannot buy anything for anybody,” he said. “Maybe the CBN should have come to ask us for advice, like if I do this how will it affect the country and the economy.” 

The new cash withdrawal limits take effect January 9. 

The central bank unveiled newly designed 200-, 500- and 1,000-naira bills in late November in a bid to combat counterfeiting, hoarding, corruption and other crimes.  

 

Authorities also said the action will promote more online-based transactions.

Citizens also have until the end of this month to exchange old bills for the new tender.

Isaac Botti, a finance analyst at the Centre for Social Action, said the policy, if properly implemented, will help stabilize Nigeria’s economy and prevent vote-buying during the February elections. 

“Issues around corruption, insecurity, election manipulation and vote-buying, will all be addressed,” he said. “It is important that we recognize that when policies are developed to put the economy in the right direction, it could be painstaking but it needs consistency.”

This week, the Nigerian House of Representatives summoned CBN governor Godwin Emefiele after initially asking the CBN to suspend the cash withdrawal limits.

Botti was skeptical of the lawmakers’ claims to be protecting small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs. He thinks the lawmakers want the limits withdrawn so they can access large amounts of money they’ve stashed away. 

“I’m beginning to wonder why some persons, including the lawmakers, are saying it will affect SMEs,” he said. They’re crying for themselves. This sudden love and protection for SMEs is borne out of their own selfish interests”. 

The CBN says it’s working with money agents in rural areas to help pull in old notes before their expiration date.

But citizens say the changeover time for the newly unveiled bank notes is too short and that unless authorities extend the deadline, up to 40% of Nigerian citizens without access to banks could lose their savings.


your ad here

more ...

France Planning AI-Assisted Crowd Control for Paris Olympics

French authorities plan to use an AI-assisted crowd control system to monitor people during the 2024 Paris Olympics, according to a draft law seen by AFP on Thursday.

The system is intended to allow the security services to detect disturbances and potential problems more easily, but will not use facial recognition technology, the bill says.

The technology could be particularly useful during the highly ambitious open-air opening ceremony  with Olympians sailing down the river Seine in front of a crowd of 600,000 people.

French police and sports authorities faced severe criticism in May after shambolic scenes during the Champions League final in Paris when football fans were caught in a crowd crush and teargassed.

The draft law, which was presented to the cabinet on Thursday, proposes other security measures including the use of full-body scanners and increases the sentences for hooliganism.

Organizers and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin have both argued in favor of using so-called “intelligent” security camera software that scans images for suspect or dangerous behavior.

The use of such a system during the Olympics is an “experimentation”, the draft law says, but could be applied for future public events which face terrorism-related or crowd control risks.

“No biometric data is used, nor facial recognition technology and it does not enable any link or interconnection or automatic flagging with any other personal data system,” the bill states.

The games’ organizing committee said on November 21 that it needed to lift its budget estimate by 10 per cent from 3.98 billion euros to 4.48bn euros, partly as a result of inflation.

Rather than opening the games in an athletics stadium as is customary, organizers have planned a ceremony on July 26, 2024 with a flotilla of some 200 boats sailing down the river Seine.

The banks of the river can accommodate 100,000 people who will have to buy tickets, while another 500,000 are set to watch for free from the street level, according to government estimates.

The draft law is expected to be debated in parliament in January where the minority government of President Emmanuel Macron will need support from opposition groups to pass it.


your ad here

more ...

Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt Building Factories for Battery Powered Vehicles

Between the close of this year’s climate conference in Sharm el Sheikh and the 2023 climate event slated for December 2023 in the UAE, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are all working to position themselves as new electric vehicle powerhouses.

Signaling an era where next-generation electric vehicles are made in a region most strongly associated with fossil fuels, manufacturers in the three countries are seeing new forms of government backing and technology-driven partnerships with international automotive companies.  

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, has set the most ambitious targets for electric vehicle manufacturing.

Last month Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched the first Saudi vehicle brand Ceer to design, manufacture, and sell sedans and sports utility vehicles targeting consumers in the kingdom and the broader Middle East.

Ceer is a joint venture between the Saudi Public Investment Fund and Chinese manufacturing conglomerate Foxconn, which will license component technology from BMW.

“Energy and transport developments are very close to the crown prince’s heart. that’s why he put the Ceer company under the umbrella of the Public Investment Fund, which he directly oversees,” said Joseph Salem, lead Travel & Transport partner at Arthur D. Little in Riyadh.

The country aims to manufacture more than 150,000 electric cars annually by 2026.

Today, every vehicle on the road in Saudi Arabia is an import.

“The crown prince approved the aggressive set targets for EV adoption,” said Salem.

Salem’s firm is working with Saudi officials to implement policies that incentivize replacing a fleet dominated by internal combustion engine cars and buses with electric vehicles.

The consultant said environmental imperatives and emissions commitments made by the Saudi government to the world are the main driver of the push to build EVs in the kingdom.

“However, there’s also an economic element that is related to the equation,” Salem explained. 

“Today the mobility sector is wholly driven by carbon-emission vehicles. To move these vehicles, you have to use oil which is currently sold locally at a price that is subsidized by the government.”

“By building electric vehicles locally, they can save the oil and export it to the external market. The same logic applies toward renewable energy production efforts in the kingdom,” Salem said.

Egypt

Past attempts to build so-called “national” cars in the region have faltered over quality issues and a lack of brand enthusiasm.

In the early 1960s, the Egyptian-built compact “Ramses” symbolized the county’s drive for self-sufficiency.

While promoted by Egypt’s post-colonial leader, President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ramses’ five-to-six-cars per day assembly line and reputation for mechanical unreliability doomed the national brand.

Nasser kept his presidential vehicle, a 1962 Cadillac Fleetwood.

By 1972, the state-owned Al-Nasr Automotive factory discontinued Ramses’ production.

The Al-Nasr company switched to producing Fiat models licensed by Turkish manufacturer Tofaş.

In January, President Abdel Fattah El-Sissi reprised notes of Nasserist ambition, telling the World Youth Forum in Sharm El-Sheikh that he was personally committed to seeing EVs built in Egypt.

“We have moved quickly to establish a partnership with many companies to produce electric cars in Egypt,” El-Sisi said. “Starting in 2023, we will produce the first Egyptian electric car.”

At the same event, Hisham Tawfiq, Minister for Public Enterprises, announced that military-owned Al-Nasr Automotive was negotiating with Chinese auto manufacturers to fulfill the presidential directive.

Meanwhile, in the country’s private sector, General Motors and its Egyptian partner Al Mansour Automotive are building a facility to roll out Cadillac’s all-electric midsize luxury SUV Lyriq in Egypt by the end of next year.

GM Middle East plans to launch 13 all-new EVs, building an EV line-up that includes the Chevrolet Bolt Electric Utility, a Hummer EV.

In the run-up to the locally hosted COP 27 conference, Egypt made visible strides in building a network of DC fast-charging charging stations required by an electric fleet.

Infinity Power- a joint venture between Egypt’s Infinity Energy company and the UAE firm Masdar- is already operating around 440 charging points across the country.

The company feeds the network electricity from the massive 37.2 square kilometer (14.4 square mile) Benban solar park in Aswan.

“We expect to see up to seven thousand more electrical vehicles on the road in 2023 with an annual 10% increase going forward,” said marketing director Karim El Gazzar.  “We are fulfilling the government’s plans to build a robust ecosystem for EVs.”

Turkey

In 1961 Turkish President Cemal Gürsel summoned a group of local engineers to build a car wholly designed and produced in Turkey called Devrim.

That vehicle barely made it through a Republic Day test run from Istanbul to Ankara -and clocked an even shorter production run than Egypt’s Ramses.

But five decades of steady partnerships with Fiat, Renault, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, and Ford have helped Turkey rank at number thirteen in the world for automobile production.

Last year cars, trucks, motor vehicle parts, and accessories were the country’s top export earning $25 billion in revenue for Turkey.

Trucks, light commercial vehicles, and buses have been a particular stand out for Turkey, accounting for almost 40 percent of its automotive industry in 2020.

And 2022 has seen Turkish assembly lines producing and selling EVs in the truck and bus sector.  

Ford Otosan, a joint venture between Ford Motor Co. and Koç Holding, shipped the all-electric E-Transit cargo van in April, just two months after customers in the U.S. started receiving orders from the company’s Kansas City plant in Missouri.

According to a company statement, Ford Otosan’s plant in Kocaeli, Turkey, plans to start production of the Transit Custom’s %100 electric version in the second half of 2023.

“Ford Otosan is investing more than two billion dollars and growing employment by around 3,000 to increase vehicle production capacity, including for the next-generation Transit Custom model,” said general manager Güven Özyurt.

Meanwhile, the Bursa-based manufacturer Karsan is leading in the electric minibus and bus field, accounting for 90% of Turkey’s exports.

The company’s electric buses are already on the roads in 16 countries, including the U.S.. Karsan operates its autonomous e-ATAK on a 4-kilometer route at Michigan State University just 140 km northwest of the American automobile capital of Detroit.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is voicing his enthusiasm for the electric vehicle industry.

“With mass production, the name of our country and our brands in this sector will be well known. Erdoğan said. “The world is moving towards clean energy, and we will never fall behind in this field.”

Erdoğan is visibly associated with the new Turkish e-vehicle manufacturer Togg which aims to produce 175,000 midsize SUV’s a year at its 4,300-worker Gemlik Campus located about 125 km south of Istanbul.  

In an October echo of his predecessor Gürsel, the president took First Lady Emine Erdoğan along for a test drive of the Togg on Republic Day.

“Of course, Turkey has the engineering talent and manufacturing capacity to build a top-line electric car,” said Kaan Kurşun, an Istanbul entrepreneur and co-investor with Lorenzo Schmid in the Swiss “mindset” electric vehicle prototype built in 2008.

“I wish the team at Togg could have developed an authentic brand story instead of peddling it as President Erdoğan’s car. Yes, he has many supporters in Turkey, but I don’t think that will be compelling for consumers in Dubai or Dublin, “said Kurşun. 


your ad here

more ...