Russian law’s long arm reaches obscure Siberian church

At the top of a hill bathed in the autumn colors of pines, birches and larches, Alexei Demidov stopped for a few minutes of quiet prayer. He directed his thoughts to his religion teacher, known as Vissarion, hoping he could feel her energy.

As he prayed, a group of small bells rang from a slender wooden gazebo. They belonged to the Church of the Last Testament, founded in 1991 by Vissarion. Except then his name was Sergei Torop, and he was just a former policeman and an amateur artist.

Today, Demidov and thousands of other church members regard Vissarion as a living god. The Russian state, however, considers him a criminal.

For nearly three decades, Torop and his followers practiced their faith in relative obscurity and without government interference.

But it ended in September 2020, when he and two assistants were taken by helicopter in a dramatic operation led by federal security services. The Russian commission of inquiry, the highest federal prosecuting authority in the country, accused them of “creating a religious group whose activities may impose violence on citizens”, allegations they deny.

A year later, the three men are still being held without criminal charge in a prison in the industrial city of Novosibirsk, 1,000 miles from their religious community. No trial is scheduled.

Since coming to power at the turn of the century, President Vladimir Putin has gone to great lengths to silence critics and prevent any person or group from gaining too much influence. He has kicked out and locked up oligarchs, silenced the media, and tried to disparage political opposition – like Alexei Navalny.

The state has also cracked down on non-conformist religious organizations, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, which were banned in 2017 and declared an “extremist” organization, along with activists from the Islamic State group.

Although there are accusations of extortion and mistreatment of members of the Last Testament Church, academics and criminal justice experts say Torop’s arrest underscores the intolerance of the government on anything that deviates from the mainstream – even a small fringe group living in the middle of the forest, led by a former policeman who claims to be God.

“There is an idea that there is a definite spiritual essence of Russian culture, i.e. conservative values, etc., which is in danger,” said Alexander Panchenko, director of the Center for Anthropology of religions at the European University of St. Petersburg, which was invited to serve as an expert witness in an administrative proceeding which could deprive the church of its legal status as a church, an act which he said was based on ” false accusations “.

“One way or another, the new religious movements are now also dangerous,” Panchenko said.

Roman Lunkin, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the European Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, compared the crackdown on religious groups to a 2012 law on “ foreign agents ”which has been used against journalists and activists critical of the government or its conservative policies.

“There has not been any court case involving the Last Testament Church that has proven any psychological or other abuse, such as financial extortion,” Lunkin said. “This is just anti-sectarian hysteria.”

He said the extreme remoteness of the church worked against that. “Hardly anyone will miss them or try to defend them, even in liberal Russian circles,” he said.

Since Russia emerged from an era of atheistic communism after the breakup of the Soviet Union, its myriad religions have featured an array of proselytes, gurus, and teachers such as Torop. When he founded his church three decades ago, thousands of spiritual seekers flocked to hear him as he gave gnomic lectures at events across the former Soviet Union. He adopted the name Vissarion, which he said meant “to give life” and was given to him by God.

His “Last Testament”, a new age text describing a set of principles, focused on self-improvement, self-governance and community.

Many believers abandoned their cities, jobs, and even their spouses in the hope of building a better world in the harsh conditions of a Siberian taiga forest, which at that time was a four-hour walk from the road. (unpaved) nearest.

“It was a euphoric time, even though it was so difficult,” said Ivanna Vedernikova, 50, who joined the church in 1998 and married one of Torop’s arrested associates. “We lived in tents and produced electricity by hand, but we knew we were building a new society. “

The community of Abode of Dawn now consists of around 80 families living in the mountains, along with thousands more – no one knows exactly how many because the organization does not keep a list – spread across several villages around 90 minutes from road, along the Kazyr river.

On Sundays, Vissarion descended from his residence above the circular village, the Celestial Abode, and answered questions from the faithful, which were collected by an assistant and assembled into a series now consisting of 23 volumes in gilded relief.

These days, his disciples communicate with him in prison every night at 10:05 pm in a ritual they call “sliyaniya”, which means integration or mingling; they address their thoughts to him for 15 minutes, and he addresses them in his thoughts.

When they arrested Torop last year, Russian authorities relied on accusations from several former members of the community, who spoke of conditions in its first decade of existence. Elena Melnikova, whose husband is a former church member, told Russian state media that although there was no obligation to donate money, it was encouraged.

She said some food items were banned and seeking medical attention was difficult.

The church came to attention in 2000 when two children died because the community is so remote that they couldn’t get medical help in time. But Melnikova also said conditions have mellowed since the early days.

The charges stem from a vague Soviet-era law used to punish unregistered groups such as Baptists, Evangelicals and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lunkin said. The prosecution did not respond to messages requesting information on the status of the case.

In interviews last month with more than two dozen church members, none said they had been abused or strained financially, and all said they could come and go freely for work or life. ‘school. They said the church did not place a financial burden on them. When authorities searched Torop’s home, they found only 700 rubles (about $ 10).

Torop and his church have not been politically active or have spoken out against the government. Instead, worshipers believe that their very independence from normal Russian life is what made their church a target. “We have created an autonomous society and our freedom is dangerous for the system,” said Alexander Komogortsev, 46, a disciple who was a police officer in Moscow for 11 years before moving to one of the larger villages there. three years. .

“We showed how it is possible to live outside the system,” he said, exclaiming over a breakfast of salads and potato dumplings how rewarding it was to work with. his hands.

Tanya Denisova, 68, a follower since 1999, said the church focused on God’s judgment, not politics. She moved to the village in 2001, after divorcing her husband, who did not want to join the church.

“We came here to get away from politics,” she said.

Like the other devotees, Denisova has a vegetarian diet, mainly foods grown in her large garden. Images of Vissarion, nicknamed “the professor,” and reproductions of his paintings hang in many rooms of his home.

Each village where the faithful live, including Denisova’s Petropavlovka, functions as a “united family”, with heads of families meeting each morning after a brief prayer service to discuss urgent community work for the day, and with Weekly evening sessions where community members can resolve conflicts, seek help or offer help.

At a recent meeting, members approved two new marriages after making sure engaged couples were ready for the wedding.

In India, Facebook grapples with an amplified version of its problems

On February 4, 2019, a Facebook researcher created a new user account to see what it was like to discover the social media site as a person living in Kerala, India.

For the next three weeks, the account operated under one simple rule: follow all recommendations generated by Facebook’s algorithms to join groups, watch videos, and explore new pages on the site.

The result was a flood of hate speech, disinformation and celebrations of violence, which were documented in an internal Facebook report released later in the month.

“As a result of this test user’s news feed, I have seen more images of deceased people in the past three weeks than I have seen in my entire life,” the Facebook researcher wrote.

The report was among dozens of studies and notes written by Facebook employees grappling with the platform’s effects on India. They provide glaring evidence of one of the most serious criticisms leveled by human rights activists and politicians against the global enterprise: it settles in a country without fully understanding its potential effects on local culture and politics, and does not deploy the necessary resources to act on problems once they arise.

With 340 million people using Facebook’s various social media platforms, India is the company’s largest market. And Facebook’s problems on the subcontinent present an amplified version of the problems it has faced around the world, compounded by a lack of resources and a lack of expertise in India’s 22 officially recognized languages.

The internal documents, obtained by a consortium of news agencies that included the New York Times, are part of a larger cache of material called The Facebook Papers. They were collected by Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager who became a whistleblower and recently testified before a Senate subcommittee on the company and its social media platforms. References to India were scattered among documents filed by Haugen with the Securities and Exchange Commission in a complaint earlier this month.

The documents include reports of how bots and fake accounts linked to ruling party and opposition figures wreaked havoc in national elections. They also detail how a plan championed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to focus on “meaningful social interactions,” or exchanges between friends and family, led to more misinformation in India, especially during the pandemic.

Facebook did not have enough resources in India and was unable to tackle the problems it had introduced there, according to its documents. Eighty-seven percent of the company’s overall budget for time spent classifying disinformation goes to the United States, while only 13% goes to the rest of the world – even though North American users represent only 10% of users of the social network. daily active users, according to a document outlining Facebook’s resource allocation.

Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson, said the numbers were incomplete and did not include the company’s third-party fact-checking partners, most of whom are located outside of the United States.

This unbalanced focus on the United States has had consequences in a number of countries in addition to India. Company documents have shown that Facebook has put in place measures to demote disinformation in Myanmar’s November elections, including disinformation shared by Myanmar’s military junta.

The company rolled back the measures after the election, despite research showing they reduced views of inflammatory posts by 25.1% and photos containing disinformation by 48.5%. Three months later, the military carried out a violent coup in the country. Facebook said that after the coup, it implemented a special policy to suppress praise and support for violence in the country, and then banned the Myanmar military from Facebook and Instagram.

In Sri Lanka, people were able to automatically add hundreds of thousands of users to Facebook groups, exposing them to hateful content and inciting violence. In Ethiopia, a nationalist youth militia successfully coordinated calls for violence on Facebook and posted other inflammatory material.

Facebook has invested heavily in technology to find hate speech in various languages, including Hindi and Bengali, two of the most widely used languages, Stone said. He added that Facebook has halved the number of hate speech people see around the world this year.

“Hate speech against marginalized groups, including Muslims, is on the increase in India and around the world,” Stone said. “So we’re improving the app and we’re committed to updating our policies as hate speech evolves online. “

In India, “there is certainly a question about resources” for Facebook, but the answer is not “just to spend more money on the problem,” said Katie Harbath, who spent 10 years at Facebook as as Director of Public Policy and worked directly on securing national elections in India. Facebook, she said, needs to find a solution that can be applied to countries around the world.

Facebook employees have been performing various tests and conducting field studies in India for several years. This work increased ahead of the 2019 Indian national elections; At the end of January of the same year, a handful of Facebook employees traveled to the country to meet with colleagues and talk to dozens of local Facebook users.

According to a note made after the trip, one of the main demands from users in India was that Facebook “take action against the kinds of misinformation linked to real harm, especially politics and tensions between religious groups.”

Ten days after the researcher opened the fake account to study disinformation, a suicide bombing in the disputed Kashmir border region sparked a wave of violence and an upsurge in accusations, disinformation and conspiracies between Indian and Pakistani nationals.

After the attack, anti-Pakistani content began to circulate in the groups recommended by Facebook to which the researcher had joined. Many groups, she noted, had tens of thousands of users. Another report from Facebook, released in December 2019, found that Indian Facebook users tended to join large groups, with the country’s median group size of 140,000 members.

Graphic messages, including a meme showing the beheading of a Pakistani national and corpses wrapped in white sheets on the ground, circulated among the groups she joined.

After the researcher shared her case study with colleagues, her colleagues commented on the published report that they were concerned about misinformation about the upcoming elections in India.

Two months later, after the national elections began in India, Facebook implemented a series of measures to stem the flow of disinformation and hate speech in the country, according to an internal document titled Indian Election Case Study.

The case study painted an optimistic picture of Facebook’s efforts, including adding more fact-checking partners – the third-party point-of-sale network that Facebook works with to outsource fact-checking – and increasing the amount of fact-checking. misinformation he deleted. He also noted how Facebook had created a “political whitelist to limit public relations risk,” essentially a list of politicians who were given a special fact-checking exemption.

The study did not note the huge problem the company was facing with robots in India, nor issues such as voter suppression. During the election, Facebook saw a spike in bots – or fake accounts – linked to various political groups, as well as efforts to spread misinformation that could have affected people’s understanding of the voting process.

In a separate report produced after the election, Facebook found that over 40% of the most common views or impressions in West Bengal were “fake / inauthentic”. An inauthentic account had accumulated over 30 million impressions.

A report released in March showed that many of the issues raised in the 2019 election persisted.

In the internal document, titled Adversarial Harmful Networks: India Case Study, Facebook researchers wrote that there were groups and pages “filled with inflammatory and deceptive anti-Muslim content” on Facebook.

The report says there have been a number of dehumanizing messages comparing Muslims to ‘pigs’ and ‘dogs’, and misinformation claiming that the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, calls on men to rape female members of their families.

Much of the material circulated around Facebook groups promoting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing, nationalist Indian paramilitary group. The groups challenged the increase in the Muslim minority population in West Bengal and near the Pakistani border, and posted articles on Facebook calling for the expulsion of Muslim populations from India and promoting a law to control the Muslim population. .

Facebook knew that such harmful posts were proliferating on its platform, the report said, and it needed to improve its “classifiers,” which are automated systems capable of detecting and removing posts containing violent and inciting language. Facebook has also been reluctant to designate Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as a dangerous organization due to “political sensitivities” that could affect the functioning of the social network in the country.

Of the 22 officially recognized languages ​​in India, Facebook said it has trained its artificial intelligence systems in five. (He said he had human reviewers for others.) But in Hindi and Bengali, he still didn’t have enough data to properly vet content, and much of the content targeting Muslims “n ‘is never reported or implemented,’ according to the Facebook report. .

Five months ago, Facebook was still struggling to effectively suppress hate speech against Muslims. Another company reports on detailed efforts by Bajrang Dal, an extremist group linked to the Hindi nationalist political party Bharatiya Janata Party, to post articles containing anti-Muslim narratives on the platform.

Facebook plans to designate the group as a dangerous organization because it “incites religious violence” on the platform, according to the document. But he hasn’t done it yet.

“Join the group and help lead the group; increase the number of group members, friends, ”said a post seeking recruits on Facebook to disseminate Bajrang Dal’s messages. “Fight for truth and justice until the unjust are destroyed. “

Sri Lanka Seeks $ 500 Million Loan From India To Buy Fuel Amid Forex Crisis

The Sri Lankan government said on Saturday it was continuing efforts to secure a $ 500 million loan from India to secure fuel supplies amid the severe crisis. currency crisis in the island nation.

“The proposal has been sent to the Treasury for approval and would then be submitted to Cabinet,” Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila said.

He said the Cabinet had already approved a loan of $ 3.6 billion from Oman for the purchase of fuel.

Gammanpila said the continued supply of fuel can only be guaranteed until January of next year as the island faces a currency crisis and higher world prices.

Long lines have been seen at fuel pumps since Thursday amid speculation that retail prices are being hiked by the national fuel company.

Lanka IOC (LIOC), the subsidiary of the Indian Oil Corporation in Sri Lanka, had raised retail prices of gasoline and diesel by Rs 5 per liter. The new prices went into effect from midnight Thursday in the wake of rising global oil prices.

Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, a state-owned company, has asked the government to allow prices to rise because of its losses.

Gammanpila has ruled out a price revision for the time being. He also blamed the opposition for spreading rumors of an impending fuel shortage in the country.

Rising global oil prices have forced Sri Lanka to spend more on oil imports this year. The country’s oil bill jumped 41.5% to $ 2 billion in the first seven months of this year compared to last year.

Sri Lanka faces a severe currency crisis after the pandemic hit the country’s income from tourism and remittances, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa said last month.

The country’s gross domestic product contracted a record 3.6 percent in 2020 and its foreign exchange reserves fell by half in one year to just $ 2.8 billion in July.

This has led to a 9 percent depreciation of the Sri Lankan rupee against the dollar over the past year, making imports more expensive.

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Joe Biden says US will stand up for Taiwan

US President Joe Biden said on Thursday that the United States will stand up for Taiwan and pledge to defend the island claimed by China as its own territory.

“Yes, we made a commitment to do that,” Biden told a CNN town hall when asked if the United States would stand up for Taiwan.

UK faces energy ‘massacre’ of 20 other suppliers, says Scottish Power

The UK energy market faces an outright slaughter that could force at least 20 suppliers out of business next month alone, unless the government revises the energy price cap, the chief executive said on Thursday from Scottish Power, Keith Anderson.

Natural gas prices have skyrocketed this year as economies reopened after Covid-19 lockdowns and strong demand for liquefied natural gas in Asia drove supplies to Europe, sending shockwaves through industries dependent on cheap energy.

“There is a significant risk that the market will shrink to five or six companies,” Anderson told the Financial Times. Scottish Power is owned by Iberdrola.

“We expect, probably within the next month, that at least 20 more vendors will eventually go bankrupt,” Anderson told Sky. “We are now going to start to see relatively well-run, good, commercially sound businesses go bankrupt because they simply cannot pass the cost of the product on to customers.”

The price cap, set by the regulator Ofgem, limits the cost of energy for around 11 million people on supplier default tariffs. It is reviewed twice a year.

Anderson said regulator Ofgem and the government should consider changing the cap before its next review scheduled for April so suppliers can pass on their cost spikes sooner.

Without government and regulatory intervention, “we risk falling into absolute sleepwalking,” Anderson said.

China has been an aggressor against India; must be held responsible for breaking the rules: American diplomat

China has been an aggressor against India along the Himalayan border, a senior US diplomat appointed by President Joe Biden as his next envoy to Beijing told lawmakers, saying the US must hold the Chinese government to responsible for not following the rules.

Nicholas Burns told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday that the United States will challenge China where it needs to be, including when Beijing takes action that runs counter to values ​​and American interests; threaten the security of the United States or its allies and partners; or undermine the rules-based international order.

“Beijing has been an aggressor against India along its Himalayan border; against Vietnam, the Philippines and others in the South China Sea; against Japan in the East China Sea; and launched a campaign of intimidation against Australia and Lithuania, ”Burns said.

China claims sovereignty over the entire South China Sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have counterclaims.

Beijing is engaged in highly controversial territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. He built and militarized many of the islands and reefs he controls in the region. Both regions are renowned for being rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources and are also vital for world trade.

Burns said that “the Chinese genocide in Xinjiang and the abuses in Tibet, its stifling of Hong Kong autonomy and freedoms, and its intimidation of Taiwan are unjust and must end.”

Beijing’s recent actions against Taiwan are particularly reprehensible and the United States is right to continue to adhere to its one-China policy, he said.

“We are also right to support the peaceful settlement of disputes and to oppose unilateral actions that undermine the status quo and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state, but China views the autonomous island as a separatist province. Beijing does not exclude a possible use of force to achieve unification.

Burns told lawmakers the United States will compete and compete vigorously with China where it should, including on jobs and the economy, critical infrastructure and emerging technologies.

It will cooperate with China where it is in its best interests, including on climate change, the fight against narcotics, global health and non-proliferation, he told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

China, he said, seeks to become the most powerful military, economic and political actor in the Indo-Pacific.

“We must stand with our allies and partners to defend a free and open Indo-Pacific, including maintaining America’s commercial and military superiority in 21st century technology.

“We must also hold the PRC (People’s Republic of China) responsible for disregarding the rules of trade and investment, including its theft of intellectual property, the use of public subsidies, the dumping of goods and the unfair labor practices.

“These actions are hurting American workers and businesses,” Burns added.

The border standoff between the Indian and Chinese military erupted on May 5 last year following a violent clash in areas of Lake Pangong and the two sides have gradually stepped up their deployment by bringing in tens of thousands of soldiers as well as heavy weapons.

Following a series of military and diplomatic talks, the two sides completed the disengagement process in the Gogra region in August and on the northern and southern shores of Pangong Lake in February.

Each camp currently has approximately 50,000 to 60,000 troops along the Actual Line of Control (LAC) in the sensitive area.

If China is testing a new orbital weapon, it’s not much of a surprise

Written by William J. Broad

The report that emerged over the weekend sounded alarming: China, a rising military power, unexpectedly fired a new space weapon two months ago. It circled the planet and then re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, hovering at speeds much faster than the speed of sound towards a destination in Chinese territory.

As a military capability, bombarding a target from orbit in this manner could overcome existing missile defenses. But many experts have expressed doubts about the report.

“We don’t know anything about reliable sources,” said Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astronomer who tracks global space launches. The U.S. military unit reporting the orbital events has not released any information about a launch by China in August that matches the reported claim about a weapons test, McDowell said.

“Every aspect of this story has question marks,” he added.

Has China Really Tested and Developed a Surprise Space Weapon? Here are some of the known military and technical points about the system, as well as some of the answers and uncertainties regarding the flight test.

What was reported on the China flight test?

The Financial Times reported on Saturday that in August China flight tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile that circled the world before heading for its target. The newspaper, giving one of the few details on the test, said the weapon missed its target by about two dozen kilometers.

The report relied on a variety of anonymous sources, including one who said the weapon test surprised the U.S. Secret Service. “We have no idea how they did this,” the newspaper said, citing an anonymous source.

Did China admit having carried out the test?

On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry said there was a flight test of a reusable spacecraft, not a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile. During a regular press briefing, Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, called it a routine test.

“There are a lot of companies around the world that have done similar tests,” he said.

Previously, Zhao had been criticized by Western experts on China for making unsubstantiated claims and exposing conspiracy theories.

China initially gave August as the test date, but later said the vehicle was tested in July, according to Bloomberg News. Last year in September, the state-owned company that oversees China’s space industry announced the testing of a reusable experimental spacecraft that completed a low-earth orbit flight.

Is it true that this test launch was a surprise?

Probably not. The most eye-catching aspect of the story – that China’s weapon circled the globe before rushing towards its target – is an old trick. The technology was pioneered in the 1960s by the Soviet Union. Then it was known as the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, or FOBS. It is so named because it never reaches a complete orbit of the Earth but only a fraction.

David Wright, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has long studied space developments, said some descriptions of the test launch were alarmist.

“Any country that can put something in space could do it,” he said. “And we should certainly not be surprised that China can do this given the sophistication of its space program.”

Some experts see China as a challenge to US dominance in space exploration. In the past year alone, the country returned soil samples from the Moon, landed a rover on Mars and launched two crews of astronauts to the country’s new space station.

The nation is also digging hundreds of new silos for long-range nuclear missiles, building an arsenal of anti-satellite weapons, and regularly launching more rockets into space than any other country.

That the weapon was identified as hypersonic – meaning it flew at more than five times the speed of sound – is also not surprising. The United States began investigating this technology over half a century ago, and a report from RAND Corp. in 2017 reported that more than two dozen countries, including China, were experimenting with how to achieve hypersonic flight. North Korea also claimed to have recently tested such a weapon.

How did the Biden administration react?

The Pentagon has spoken of China’s military progress in general but has not discussed the claimed test. “We will not comment on the details of these reports,” John F. Kirby, chief defense spokesperson, said in a statement. “We have made clear our concerns about the military capabilities that China continues to pursue – capabilities that only increase tensions in the region and beyond.”

A senior US official, who spoke anonymously to describe the assessments of confidential information, said there was some skepticism about how the Financial Times had portrayed the Chinese test. This is not the case that a flight test did not take place, the official said, but rather the reliability of the log description.

State Department spokesman Ned Price echoed the Pentagon with no details, but in his daily briefing Monday he said: “We are deeply concerned” about the expansion China’s rapid nuclear capabilities, “including its development of new delivery systems.”

US envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad resigns months after Taliban takeover

Khalilzad will be replaced by his deputy, Tom West, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, noting that West will work closely with the US Embassy, ​​which is now based in Doha, on US interests in Afghanistan.

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West, who previously served on the National Security Council’s National Security Council Vice President and Staff, will lead diplomatic efforts and advise the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of the Office of South and Central Asian Affairs .

“As Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad is stepping down. I express my gratitude for his decades of service to the American people, ”said Blinken.

A person familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that Khalilzad tendered his resignation on Friday.

His departure follows his exclusion from the Biden administration’s first formal talks with the Taliban after the US withdrawal, held in Doha earlier in October.

In his resignation letter, according to Politico, Khalilzad said: “The political arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban has not gone as planned. The reasons are too complex and I will share my thoughts in the days and weeks to come. “

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“Going forward, I plan to contribute to the discussion and debate not only about what happened, but what should be done next,” he said according to Politico.

Afghanistan-born Khalilzad had held the post since 2018 and led negotiations with the Taliban that led to the February 2020 deal for the withdrawal of US forces this year. He then urged the hard-line Islamist movement and the West-backed government of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to negotiate a political settlement after decades of conflict.

In mid-August, the government collapsed as the Taliban swept the country and entered the capital, Kabul, unopposed. Khalilzad was left to seek help from activists in the US evacuation of US citizens and at-risk Afghans who worked for the US government.

Current and former U.S. officials told Reuters earlier that in Khalilzad’s three years in the post, he became the face of one of the biggest U.S. diplomatic failures in recent memory.

U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the veteran U.S. diplomat had renounced the militant group’s influence, continuously undermined the Afghan government and had little interest in hearing different views within the US government. CNN first reported on Khalilzad’s plan to step down.

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Microsoft says it warned Bill Gates against flirting in 2008

In 2008, Microsoft executives warned Bill Gates to stop sending flirtatious emails to an employee, but dropped the case after telling them he would quit, the company revealed on Monday.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that Brad Smith, then general counsel for Microsoft and now its president and vice president, and another executive met with Gates after the company discovered inappropriate emails to an employee of Microsoft. intermediate level.

The newspaper reported that Gates did not deny the exchanges, and Microsoft board members who were informed declined to take further action as there was no physical interaction between Gates and the employee.

Microsoft declined to comment on Monday except to confirm the Journal report. Smith did not return a request for comment made through the company.

Gates’ private office said in a written statement that “these allegations are false, recycled rumors from sources that have no direct knowledge and in some cases have significant conflicts of interest.” He declined to comment further.

The warning reported in 2008 came more than a decade before alleged similar behavior led the tech giant to hire a law firm in 2019 to investigate a letter from an engineer who said that she had had sex with Gates for several years.

The investigation preceded Gates’ departure from Microsoft’s board of directors last year, but was only revealed publicly after Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates announced in May that they had decided to end the their 27-year marriage. The divorce was granted in August. The former couple still jointly run the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Gates was CEO of Microsoft until 2000 and since then has gradually reduced his involvement in the company he founded with Paul Allen in 1975. He left his daily role at Microsoft in 2008 and served as chairman of board of directors until 2014..

Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw told the Journal that the 2008 warning from company executives came shortly before Gates retired as a full-time employee. Shaw told the newspaper that Gates suggested meeting the employee outside of work in flirtatious and inappropriate but “not overtly sexual” emails.

The latest disclosure about Gates comes in addition to concerns voiced by a Microsoft investor asking its shareholders to support a proposal that would require the company to investigate and report on its workplace harassment policies.

“Reports of Bill Gates’ inappropriate relationships and sexual advances towards Microsoft employees have only exacerbated concerns, calling into question the culture established by senior executives and the role of the board of directors in upholding them. responsible culprits “, indicates Arjuna Capital’s proposal on Microsoft’s agenda. annual meeting of shareholders next month.

Microsoft urged investors to reject the proposal in a note filed with regulators last week, arguing that it is not necessary because the company has already adopted plans to publicly report on how it is implementing its policies on sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

Kamala Harris advocates for Biden’s climate agenda in Lake Mead sinking

“Look where the water has gone for just the last 20 years,” she said, referring to the mineral “tub ring” that marks where the water pipe used to be. water from the tank. “This space is greater than the height of the Statue of Liberty.”

The vice president presented the administration’s infrastructure and social safety net agenda as critical to tackling the effects of climate change – which scientists say is intensifying extreme weather events such as sea waves. heat and droughts.

Democrats have struggled to gain support from some members of their party, who want to cut its price tag by $ 3.5 trillion.

Harris argued for the package by connecting man-made climate change to the scene she was standing near, saying the emissions are “part of what contributes to these drought conditions.”

“The bipartite agreement on infrastructure, combined with the ‘Build Back Better’ program, is about what we need to do to invest in things like recycling and reuse of water, what we can do in terms of desalination. water, which we can do in terms of implementing drought contingency plans, ”said Harris.

Water levels in Lake Mead – created in the 1930s by the construction of dams on the Colorado River – have fallen to record levels. Federal officials declared the first-ever water shortage in the Colorado River in August, meaning Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will receive less water than normal next year amid severe severe weather. drought in the West.

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In September, Reclamation released projections showing an even worse outlook for the river.

While California is untouched by next year’s cuts, the country’s most populous state has experienced one of its driest years on record while battling dozens of catastrophic wildfires.

Advocating for the $ 1,000 billion public works infrastructure deal, Harris referred to the “good union jobs” the spending program would create, citing pipefitters, electricians and plumbers as examples. This plan was passed by the Senate months ago and is awaiting House approval.

It contains approximately $ 8 billion for Western water supply projects, including desalination technology to make seawater usable, upgrading rural water infrastructure, and building water recycling capacity. worn.

Harris also spoke about the Biden administration’s proposed civilian Climate Corps, which he said would create hundreds of thousands of jobs by building trails, restoring streams and helping stop devastating wildfires.

The vice president’s visit to Nevada coincided with the administration’s launch of a long-awaited plan by environmentalists and public health groups to regulate toxic industrial compounds.

Sometimes referred to as ‘forever chemicals’, substances known as PFAS are used in cookware, carpets, fire-fighting foams and other products and have been found in public drinking water systems. , private wells and even food.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday that it will set drinking water limits for PFAS and require manufacturers containing PFAS in their products to report their toxicity.

Harris met with federal and regional water officials such as Tanya Trujillo, assistant home secretary for water and science, and U.S. officials Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford of Nevada on Monday.

Adopting Biden’s social services and climate change plans would serve future generations, Harris said, “in a way that will not only be about life, but also… beautiful places like Lake Mead.” .