Google Unveils Cutting-Edge AI Upgrades Amid Competition with OpenAI

Google is poised to introduce fresh artificial intelligence (AI) functionalities across its search features and other services, as it competes head-to-head with OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, to maintain its position at the forefront of AI advancement.

The tech giant’s latest AI advancements, under the banner of Google’s AI Oversights, leveraging its revamped Gemini model, promise users more comprehensive responses to inquiries — even those posed via video, as revealed by the company on Tuesday during its annual developers conference.

The unveiling of Google’s AI updates, a central focus of the conference, occurred hot on the heels of OpenAI’s introduction of GPT-4o during a live showcase. Both companies have been pivotal players in the rapidly evolving landscape of generative AI technology.

Liz Reid, Google’s head of search, characterized the updates as a “glimpse of how we are reimagining search in the Gemini era.”

One of the showcased advancements demonstrated how a single query could enable users to explore yoga studios in their vicinity, while simultaneously providing detailed breakdowns of pricing, reviews, and distance within AI Oversights. This enhancement harnesses multistep reasoning capabilities newly integrated into the AI’s functionalities.

Another instance highlighted how users could diagnose the issue of a malfunctioning record player by capturing a video of the broken device, rather than articulating the problem.

Beyond the enhancements to search functionality, Google also lifted the curtain on Project Astra, an AI agent fueled by Gemini. During a demonstration, Google exhibited an employee navigating the DeepMind office in London, with Project Astra adeptly identifying items, equations, and the office’s precise location through the lens of a smartphone camera.

Additionally, Google announced plans to integrate AI-powered search features into Android smartphones, with Gemini slated to become the new AI assistant for Android devices.

President Biden Halts Arms Shipment to Israel Amid Gaza Crisis, Signals Shift in US-Israel Relations

President Joe Biden made a significant move this week that shook up a key global relationship. During a TV interview, he responded to a question about Israel’s potential invasion of Rafah by stating, “I’m not supplying the weapons.” This statement marked a departure from the long-standing tradition of arms shipments being central to the US-Israel alliance. It was the first time in forty years such a crack had appeared. Biden faced pressure from both domestic and international fronts to prevent further civilian casualties and alleviate the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Consequently, he took the unprecedented step of withholding arms shipments to Israel, a move not seen since President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

Aaron David Miller, a former State Department analyst, noted Biden’s reluctance to take actions that might harm the US-Israel relationship but highlighted a shift in Biden’s stance due to concerns about Israel’s potential invasion of Rafah.

Israel’s announcement of ground forces beginning “targeted activity” in Rafah, coupled with the looming threat of a full-scale invasion, prompted Biden’s decision. The situation in Rafah had led to over 100,000 people fleeing the fighting, facing dire shortages of basic necessities. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence on launching a full ground invasion exacerbated concerns, despite Washington’s urging for a more targeted approach against Hamas in Rafah.

Biden’s primary concern was de-escalating the conflict and avoiding a crisis with neighboring Egypt while minimizing divisions within the Democratic Party. The temporary halt in arms shipments, including high payload weapons like 2,000-pound bombs and JDAM kits, reflected Biden’s attempt to signal his concerns about the situation in Rafah. However, the impact of this pause on Israel’s military capabilities was deemed inconsequential by some experts.

Nonetheless, Biden’s move sparked strong reactions, with Republicans condemning it as outrageous and a sign of weakness, while Democrats viewed it as a necessary step to address humanitarian concerns. The rift between Biden and Netanyahu comes at a critical juncture in ceasefire negotiations, with disagreements over Hamas’ demands for a permanent end to the war.

The longstanding relationship between Biden and Netanyahu has been characterized by turbulence, with occasional praise from Netanyahu but frequent disagreements over Palestinian policy. Despite historical support for Israel, Biden’s recent actions signal a potential shift in US-Israel relations. Netanyahu’s defiant response to Biden’s move underscores his willingness to resist US pressure, while Democratic senators emphasize the importance of minimizing civilian casualties in any military action by Israel.

ZEE5 Global Gears Up For The Digital Premiere Of The Gripping Movie Bastar: The Naxal Story

ZEE5 Global, the world’s largest streaming platform for South Asian content, announces the digital premiere of the hard-hitting crime drama produced by Sunshine Pictures Pvt Ltd – ‘Bastar: The Naxal Story’. Post the success of The Kerala Story, the core team of director Sudipto Sen, producer Vipul Amrutlal Shah, Sunshine Productions and lead actor Adah Sharma have created yet another intense and thought-provoking narrative. The film, inspired by true events, centers on the Naxal insurgency in the Indian state Chhattisgarh and the extraordinary efforts of a single police officer to quell the threat. Along with Adah Sharma, the movie also features Indira Tiwari, Vijay Krishna, Shilpa Shukla, Yashpal Sharma, Subrat Dutta, and Raima Sen in prominent roles. Viewers can stream ‘Bastar’ from May 17 onwards, exclusively on ZEE5 Global!

‘Bastar’ is a gripping tale that sheds light on the Naxal menace that has claimed thousands of lives and caused immense destruction in the region. Drawing inspiration from actual events, the film follows the journey of a dedicated police officer who goes above and beyond to combat the Naxal insurgency in Chhattisgarh. With intense moments that will shake you to the core, ‘Bastar’ offers an unflinching look at the complexities of this issue.

Watch Bastar on ZEE5 Global to witness the unsung heroes fight terrorism and delve deeper into the personal challenges of officers and their courageous battle against the Naxal community. The film will be available in Hindi and Telugu languages starting May 17, 2024.

Archana Anand, Chief Business Officer at ZEE5 Global said, “At ZEE5 Global, we believe in curating a diverse library of content that sparks conversation and widens perspectives. Bastar is a powerful film that tackles the complexities of the Naxal insurgency, offering a raw and thought-provoking exploration of a sensitive topic. Its addition to our platform adds a powerful global narrative to our ever-expanding entertainment landscape.”

Producer Vipul Amrutlal Shah said, “This is our second collaboration after “The Kerala Story” and I am proud to be the Producer of Bastar: The Naxal Story. With ‘Bastar,’ we wanted to shed light on the Naxal insurgency in Chhattisgarh, an issue that has impacted countless lives. This film talks about the bravery of those who have fought against this threat, and we hope it serves as a reminder of the importance of addressing such critical societal issues. Exploring this subject was a risky terrain, but I hope viewers appreciate our efforts in bringing this powerful story to the forefront. Sudipto, Adah, and the entire team have worked tirelessly to create a thought-provoking and we are delighted that ZEE5 Global is platforming this authentic portrayal of the Naxal conflict.”

Director Sudipto Sen recollects, “Directing ‘Bastar’ was a challenging yet rewarding experience. We aimed to present a very realistic side of the Naxal conflict, drawing inspiration from real-life events and characters. Adah Sharma has done a fabulous job once again, and the great performances from the entire cast make the film even more interesting and convincing. Making ‘Bastar’ was very important for me; it is something I have felt, lived, and understood since my childhood. While the subject matter is intense, we hope this film encourages dialogue and understanding about this terrifying issue. I am looking forward to the film’s digital premiere on ZEE5 Global and taking this lesser-known story to the masses.”

Actor Adah Sharma mentioned, “Bastar is a powerful film that tackles a sensitive and important issue. I’m overwhelmed by the love and appreciation that fans have showered upon my character during its theatrical release. With the digital premiere on ZEE5 Global, I feel the film will reach an even wider audience and hope that they continue to shower their love and support. I’m grateful for the opportunity and it was an intense and challenging experience.

ZEE5 Global is the digital entertainment destination launched by Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL), a global Media and Entertainment powerhouse. The platform launched across 190+ countries in October 2018 and has content across 18 languages: Hindi, English, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Oriya, Bhojpuri, Gujarati, Punjabi, including six international languages Malay, Thai, Bahasa, Urdu, Bangla and Arabic. ZEE5 Global is home to 200,000+ hours of on-demand content. The platform brings together the best of Originals, Movies and TV Shows, Music, Health and Lifestyle content in one destination. In addition, ZEE5 Global offers features like 15 navigational languages, content download options, seamless video playback and Voice Search. The platform also recently launched ZEE5 Global Add-ons in the US where one can access and subscribe to multiple South Asian streaming platforms like Chaupal, Oho Gujarati, NammaFlix, Simply South and iStream all in one single destination, ZEE5.

US Denies Meddling in India’s Elections Amid Accusations, Refrains from Comment on Assassination Plot Investigation

The United States has firmly denied any involvement in India’s Lok Sabha elections, asserting a consistent approach of non-interference in electoral processes globally.

“In India, as elsewhere in the world, we maintain a policy of non-involvement in elections. These decisions rest solely with the Indian people,” remarked Matthew Miller, spokesperson for the US State Department, during a press briefing in Washington on Thursday.

Miller’s remarks came in response to queries regarding accusations made by Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, who alleged on Wednesday that the US was seeking to disrupt India’s Lok Sabha elections by issuing baseless claims regarding religious freedom threats within the nation.

Furthermore, when pressed for comment on the ongoing investigation concerning an alleged conspiracy to assassinate Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the US State Department representative declined to engage, citing the sensitivity of the legal proceedings.

“There is an indictment publicly available which presents alleged facts. However, these remain allegations until substantiated in a court of law. As this is an ongoing legal matter, I refrain from discussing it further,” Miller stated.

In essence, the United States reaffirmed its commitment to non-interference in India’s democratic processes, reiterating that electoral decisions ultimately reside within the purview of the Indian populace. Additionally, the State Department opted for cautious silence regarding the ongoing legal investigation, emphasizing the importance of due process.

Modi Administration’s Global Image Management: A Struggle Against Rising Criticism

In the lead-up to the G20 summit, the Narendra Modi administration frequently employed the phrases ‘mother of democracy’ and ‘vishwaguru’.

The term ‘mother of democracy’ seemed to be introduced as a counter to India’s swift decline in the global democracy index.

‘Vishwaguru’ aimed to convey the message that Modi is a global leader whose presence cannot be overlooked any longer.

India’s presidency of the G20 rotates, and last year it was India’s turn to host the summit. Yashwant Sinha reminisced about his chairing of the G20 during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure, noting that Vajpayee didn’t utilize it for cult-building purposes. However, the current government’s focus during the G20, symbolized by a globe resting on a lotus, was centered on projecting India as a robust democracy with Modi as its singular leader. This shift prompts the question: why has the BJP manifesto now replaced ‘Vishwaguru’ with ‘Vishwabandhu’?

Recently, several Western nations have expressed concerns about events in India. The US, for instance, has raised issues regarding communal tensions, religious freedom, and the arrests of political figures:

The US State Department’s annual human rights assessment highlighted “significant” abuses in Manipur;

  • It also voiced concerns about communal violence in Gurugram;
  • The US Commission on International Religious Freedom noted a ‘decline in religious freedom’ in India and urged the Modi government to release 37 individuals of various faiths detained for the ‘peaceful exercise of their freedom of religion or belief’.
  • State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller stated that the US closely monitored the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the freezing of Congress party bank accounts, emphasizing the need for fair, transparent, and timely legal processes.
  • A State Department official called on India to uphold its human rights obligations.

President Joe Biden’s absence as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade, the postponement of the Quad summit, and NSA Jake Sullivan’s cancellation of visits to India have been interpreted by some as indications of US disapproval. The latest negative comment was Biden’s labeling of India as ‘xenophobic’.

Even during the G20 summit in New Delhi, a resolution was passed advocating for religious freedom, freedom of peaceful assembly, and condemning all acts of religious hatred.

In response to criticism, the Modi government’s initial reaction has been to dismiss it as Western propaganda and minimize its impact on domestic politics. Television channels and print media have cooperated, often presenting carefully curated versions of reports that cast the government in a favorable light. Frequently, the mainstream media leads such stories with official denials before briefly acknowledging the criticism and dismissing it.

This age-old tactic, reminiscent of the Cold War era, was employed recently when Germany and the US commented on Kejriwal’s arrest. Envoys were summoned to the External Affairs Ministry and handed formal protests against ‘interference’ in India’s internal affairs. Simultaneously, the government launched a robust diplomatic offensive against what it deemed ‘disinformation’.

One strategy borrowed from the US involves leveraging trade and arms purchases as diplomatic tools, with mixed success. While France, India’s defense collaborator, and Gulf countries have remained relatively silent, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has defended India’s democracy in foreign capitals, and Indian embassies have been tasked with countering ‘Western propaganda’.

The Modi government’s unease with foreign criticism is understandable. Initially, the domestic media highlighted such criticism. However, within the first three years of Modi’s tenure, negative news was largely suppressed in mainstream media. Nonetheless, strategies like ‘sam, dam, dand, bhed’ have failed to silence external critics.

The BBC underwent tax raids and faced FDI inquiries, leading it to separate its Indian newsroom into a distinct company. Emily Schmall of The New York Times recounted being invited to meetings with the government, during which ministers would criticize foreign correspondents. At one such meeting, the “minister of information” read aloud headlines from articles written by the gathered correspondents in a seemingly random manner, with a hint of sarcasm. At least 13 journalists, nine of whom were Muslims in Kashmir, have been booked under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Schmall emphasized that journalism is under threat in India.

Last year, Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur accused The New York Times of spreading lies after it published an article on press freedom in Kashmir. His response mirrored the government’s tendency to dismiss negative reports as false.

When Lancet questioned the accuracy and transparency of Indian healthcare data, the government dismissed it. Similarly, a Harvard study indicating 6.7 million malnourished children in India was labeled as fake news.

To refute the IMF’s lower GDP prediction, former Chief Economic Adviser Krishnamurthy Subramaniam criticized the IMF’s estimates as consistently inaccurate. Incumbent CEA Anantha Nageswaran has also questioned the metrics of ratings agencies like Fitch, Moody’s, and S&P.

Union Minister Rajiv Chandrasekhar described as ‘half-truths’ a report by The Washington Post claiming that India had requested Apple to ‘soften’ its hacking alert.

Despite these efforts, negative news about India continues to surface:

Reporters Without Borders stated that India’s ranking in the World Freedom Index for 2024 is 159 out of 176 countries, compared to 150 in 2022.

India ranked 111 out of 125 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2023, with the highest rate of child wasting at 18.7%. In the previous year, its ranking was 107 out of 121 countries.

India topped the Global Slavery Index for 2023 among G20 countries, followed by China, Russia, Indonesia, and the US.

Youth unemployment in India in 2022 was 23.22%, higher than in Pakistan (11.3%), Bangladesh (12.9%), China (13.2%), and Bhutan (14.4%), according to World Bank data.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and 10 other international rights groups have criticized the misuse of laws like UAPA and financial regulations to silence journalists, human rights activists, and government critics.

Accordingly, an all-out mobilization effort is underway by the Modi regime to counteract this negative narrative. To counter organizations like Freedom House, V-Dem, and the Economic Intelligence Unit, the government-run Niti Ayog has engaged the Modi-friendly Observer Research Foundation to create India’s own democracy index. The Adani group has announced the establishment of a new think-tank. Additionally, pro-government voices, including academic groups, intellectuals, lawyers, and retired judges associated with the Sangh Parivar, are encouraged to issue statements and contribute articles to the media.

The PMO is coordinating the media response, both in print and digital formats. It appears that Vishwabandhu feels he has nothing to lose but his world.

Google Layoffs Shift Hundreds of Jobs Overseas, Amplifying Concerns for American Workers Amid Global Economic Shifts

U.S. Google recently implemented significant layoffs, affecting more than 200 ‘core’ employees, with plans to relocate these positions to foreign countries as part of cost-cutting measures. The job positions from Google’s U.S. headquarters are slated to move to Mexico and India, a BRICS nation. This move follows a trend of outsourcing jobs from the U.S. to developing countries that began in the 1990s due to the availability of similar talent at lower wage costs.

The outsourcing of American jobs, particularly in the technology sector, has escalated since the early 2000s, with Mexico and India emerging as key destinations for such endeavors. Google’s recent layoffs coincide with a broader pattern of job cuts in the U.S. following the COVID-19 lockdowns, disproportionately impacting American workers.

India, as a BRICS member, offers a vast pool of talent in various fields, including technology and software development, often at salaries significantly lower than those paid in the U.S. Consequently, while Google and similar companies benefit from cost savings, American employees bear the brunt of outsourcing.

This shift in employment practices by Google comes at a time when BRICS nations are actively leveraging their talent pools to drive economic growth. However, while companies like Google prioritize profits and seek cheaper labor, the implications extend beyond corporate interests, affecting the livelihoods of U.S. workers.

Mexico’s potential inclusion in BRICS reflects broader global economic shifts, including efforts to reduce reliance on the U.S. dollar. Despite these geopolitical changes, American workers facing job displacement due to outsourcing find themselves without significant government assistance.

The situation underscores the challenges faced by U.S. workers in an increasingly globalized economy, where job opportunities in sectors like technology are dwindling while the financial industry experiences growth. As businesses pursue strategies aimed at maximizing profits, the consequences for American workers remain a pressing concern, with no clear solution in sight.

Hamas Agrees to Temporary Ceasefire with Israel Amid Hostage Negotiations and Diplomatic Tensions

Hamas has reportedly agreed to a temporary cessation of hostilities with Israel amidst ongoing diplomatic maneuvers aimed at securing the release of Israeli hostages held by the group and preventing an Israeli military intervention in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

According to Basem Naim, Hamas’s head of political and international relations, the group has communicated its acceptance of a ceasefire proposal to mediators from Egypt and Qatar. This comes after weeks of intensive diplomatic efforts by the United States, Egypt, and Qatar to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas.

While Israel has indicated its willingness to send a delegation for negotiations on a temporary ceasefire, it has expressed reservations about Hamas’s proposal, deeming it insufficient to meet Israel’s demands. The Israeli government, in a statement from the prime minister’s office, asserted that Hamas’s proposal falls short of their requirements.

Simultaneously, Israel’s wartime Cabinet has unanimously decided to continue military operations targeting Hamas positions in Rafah. Despite efforts by the Biden administration to dissuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from launching an offensive in Rafah, the White House remains cautious about Hamas’s ceasefire offer.

President Biden held discussions with Netanyahu, although the conversation occurred prior to Hamas’s announcement. John Kirby, the White House national security communications adviser, emphasized the administration’s commitment to securing the release of Israeli hostages through a temporary ceasefire, as well as safeguarding the lives of over a million Palestinians in Rafah.

Rafah, located on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, serves as a crucial entry point for humanitarian aid into the besieged territory. Following Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in numerous casualties and the abduction of over 250 individuals, Israel has been engaged in a protracted conflict with the group.

A brief ceasefire in November facilitated the release of more than 100 hostages, a precedent that the administration seeks to replicate in ongoing negotiations. However, the specific details of the proposed truce have not been publicly disclosed by mediators, and Hamas has refrained from elaborating on the terms.

Nonetheless, the tentative agreement reportedly involves a six-to-eight week cessation of hostilities, during which Hamas would gradually release Israeli hostages, starting with the most vulnerable among them. In return, Israel is expected to release an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners, withdraw troops from select areas of Gaza, and permit movement for Palestinians within the territory.

Additionally, the ceasefire would enable a significant influx of humanitarian aid into Gaza, where the population has endured displacement, casualties, and dire humanitarian conditions due to the prolonged conflict.

Police Dismantle Pro-Palestinian Encampment at UCLA Amid Nationwide Campus Protests

Police dismantled the fortified encampment of pro-Palestinian demonstrators at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) early Thursday, following the defiance of evacuation orders by hundreds of protesters. Some formed human chains as police employed flash-bangs to disperse the crowds, leading to detentions and tense confrontations. The crackdown ensued after prolonged warnings through loudspeakers. Over 1,000 individuals had congregated both within and outside the barricaded tent encampment in solidarity. The clashes echoed historic crackdowns on Vietnam War protests.

The incident garnered global attention, with live coverage by Iranian state television, Qatar’s Al Jazeera, and Israeli networks. California Highway Patrol officers, clad in protective gear, arrived en masse to the campus, facing off against demonstrators donning helmets and gas masks. The dismantling of barricades, comprised of plywood, pallets, metal fences, and dumpsters, commenced, accompanied by the removal of tents and canopies. As the morning progressed, the protester numbers dwindled, with some leaving voluntarily and others being detained.

Contrastingly, Tuesday night witnessed a tepid response from authorities as counterdemonstrators attacked the pro-Palestinian encampment, resulting in injuries and property damage. Criticism mounted over the delayed law enforcement intervention. Chancellor Gene Block pledged a review of the events, following condemnation by California Governor Gavin Newsom. The University of California system initiated an independent review, aiming to address concerns about law enforcement’s role.

Elsewhere, similar protest encampments faced police clearance or voluntary closures at various U.S. universities, including those in New York, Oregon, New Hampshire, Arizona, and Louisiana. Incidents of police intervention, such as at Columbia University and the University of Wisconsin, resulted in injuries and arrests. Amidst the unrest, some universities negotiated agreements with protest leaders to mitigate disruptions.

The protests, which commenced at Columbia University on April 17 in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza, have spread nationwide. The movement aims to defend Palestinian rights and denounce the conflict’s toll, characterized by civilian casualties. However, allegations of antisemitism have surfaced, countered by assertions of peaceful advocacy by protest organizers, including Jewish individuals.

Since April 18, at least 38 campus protests across the U.S. have led to over 1,600 arrests, reflecting the escalating tensions surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel-Hamas Negotiations: Proposed Deal Offers Hope Amidst Gaza Conflict Escalation

Hamas is contemplating a fresh framework put forth by Egypt, aiming at the release of around 33 hostages abducted from Israel in exchange for a temporary halt in hostilities in Gaza, sources told CNN, including an Israeli insider familiar with the negotiations and a foreign diplomatic source.

The recent proposal, jointly crafted with Israel’s involvement but not entirely endorsed yet, unfolds in two stages. The initial phase entails releasing 20 to 33 hostages over several weeks in return for the cessation of hostilities and the liberation of Palestinian detainees. The subsequent phase, labeled as the “restoration of sustainable calm,” envisions the exchange of remaining hostages, Israeli prisoners, and deceased hostages’ bodies for additional Palestinian detainees.

A diplomatic insider, acquainted with the discussions, explained that the reference to sustainable calm serves as a veiled agreement towards a permanent ceasefire. This potential agreement marks a significant stride towards ending the conflict after months of stalemate. However, failing to reach an accord could lead to an escalated Israeli presence in Gaza. In the absence of a deal, Israel might initiate a large-scale ground invasion into Rafah, a southern Gaza city harboring over a million Palestinians. Such an operation has drawn warnings from Israel’s allies, including the United States, due to the risk of extensive civilian casualties.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned that Israel would proceed with an operation in Rafah, irrespective of a deal. Hamas is currently reviewing the proposal following discussions with Egyptian and Qatari mediators in Cairo. Israel awaits Hamas’s response, anticipated within days.

The duration of the initial ceasefire phase would correlate with the number of hostages released, with the latest plan suggesting a one-day cessation for each hostage, though this parameter might evolve during further negotiations. Previously, negotiations centered on releasing 40 hostages in exchange for a six-week ceasefire, but Israel has shown flexibility by accepting fewer hostages for the initial phase following Hamas’s revised offer earlier this month.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Israel’s ceasefire proposal as “extremely generous,” placing the onus on Hamas to make a prompt decision. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry expressed optimism regarding both sides’ acceptance of the proposal, emphasizing the goal of a permanent ceasefire and addressing humanitarian concerns.

Israel has signaled openness to negotiate sustainable calm as part of a comprehensive agreement, involving Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza and the release of all remaining hostages and bodies. Hamas, however, insists on a permanent ceasefire and complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, while Israel maintains its stance on continuing operations until Hamas is dismantled.

In a significant concession, Israel has agreed to unrestricted movement for Palestinians in northern Gaza, addressing a key demand by Hamas that had previously hindered negotiations.

Negotiations are shadowed by the looming threat of an Israeli offensive in Rafah, which Israeli sources portray as a last resort, pending the outcome of negotiations. Netanyahu’s statement on potential military action in Rafah underscores the seriousness of the situation. While the US and other allies urge caution, emphasizing civilian safety, preparations for a possible offensive are reportedly underway.

The escalating death toll in Gaza underscores the urgency of reaching a resolution. Israeli airstrikes have claimed numerous lives, including women and children, prompting international concern and calls for a swift end to the violence.

As the situation remains precarious, diplomatic efforts continue amidst mounting humanitarian concerns and the risk of further escalation in the conflict.

International Efforts Intensify as Hamas Reviews Israeli Cease-fire Proposals in Gaza Conflict

Hamas has stated that it is reviewing the latest propositions from Israel regarding a cease-fire in Gaza, marking seven months of conflict that has resulted in significant casualties. Israeli officials have warned of a potential escalation if an agreement is not reached soon. International efforts, spearheaded by Egypt, persist in attempting to solidify areas of mutual agreement and persuade both parties to halt the violence.

A senior Hamas figure informed NPR that the group would assess Israel’s recent conditions thoroughly before responding. However, Hamas is still in the process of analyzing the proposals, and there is no set timeline for their reply. While specifics of Israel’s suggestions were not disclosed, they are said to align with conditions previously outlined by Hamas. These conditions include a prisoner exchange and a six-week cessation of hostilities.

An Egyptian delegation concluded discussions in Israel concerning the prospect of a multi-phase, long-term cease-fire in Gaza. The proposed plan involves allowing civilians from the southern region of Gaza to relocate further north, potentially leading to a permanent agreement to end the conflict altogether.

There is significant concern among the United States and its allies that Israel may launch a full-scale assault on Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, where a large number of Palestinians have sought refuge. Israel argues that further military action in Rafah is necessary to eliminate remaining Hamas fighters. However, neighboring Egypt and other countries warn of dire consequences for civilians and regional stability if such an offensive were to occur.

Despite international pressure, Israeli forces continue to gather around Rafah, conducting airstrikes on a daily basis. Tragically, local health officials reported the deaths of four children in Rafah as a result of an airstrike on Saturday. Hamas insists on the inclusion of a provision for a permanent truce in any new agreement.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military has initiated the construction of an offshore loading platform to facilitate the delivery of aid to Gaza. Plans are underway to ferry trucks from the platform to a temporary pier on the Gaza coastline, potentially commencing within weeks.

In a separate development, senior leaders, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, are scheduled to convene in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, next week. The meeting will include the Prime Minister of Qatar and the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Blinken’s visit follows a planned trip to Israel, during which the State Department will consider suspending aid to an Israeli military unit accused of serious human rights violations against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Additionally, China is set to host discussions between senior leaders of Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas next week. These talks aim to address a longstanding political rift between the two factions, which had governed Gaza and the West Bank, respectively, until October 7th. While the U.S. government refrains from publicly endorsing such reconciliation efforts due to its classification of Hamas as a terrorist group, it recognizes the legitimacy of Fatah and its leadership of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Gold Glitters Amidst Global Geopolitical Turbulence: A Safe Haven in Uncertain Times

The allure of gold transcends mere financial calculations. With gold prices soaring to a record $2,400 per troy ounce, its appeal goes beyond the conventional metrics of supply and demand. The surge in gold demand is intertwined with the dynamics of global geopolitics, particularly amidst heightened tensions and power shifts on the world stage.

China, the world’s largest consumer and producer of gold, has seen a notable surge in gold consumption amidst economic uncertainties. As China’s economy faces challenges such as manufacturing slowdowns and property market fluctuations, capital has flowed towards the perceived safety of gold. Reports indicate a remarkable increase of 10% in Chinese gold jewellery consumption and a staggering 30% rise in purchases of gold bars and coins.

However, the surge in gold demand is not merely a consequence of economic fluctuations but is deeply rooted in geopolitical motivations. China, in particular, is strategically diversifying its reserves away from the US dollar, viewing gold as a crucial component of its future holdings. By steadily accumulating gold reserves over the past two years, China aims to reduce its reliance on the dominance of the US dollar, thereby enhancing its economic and geopolitical resilience.

China’s move to bolster its gold reserves mirrors a broader trend among central banks worldwide, especially those in emerging economies. In a world marked by escalating geopolitical tensions, central banks are increasingly turning to gold as a safe asset to shield against potential economic and political upheavals. This trend is evident in the actions of central banks like India’s Reserve Bank, which augmented its gold holdings by purchasing 13 tonnes in January-February 2024, adding $3 billion to its foreign reserves.

Moreover, other countries such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Jordan have also bolstered their gold reserves in response to economic uncertainties and geopolitical risks. Against the backdrop of ongoing conflicts in regions like Ukraine, Israel, and the unpredictability surrounding Iran, gold emerges as a coveted safe haven for investors seeking refuge from volatile markets.

The recent geopolitical events, including the Ukraine conflict and the imposition of sanctions, have heightened concerns about inflation and a potential global economic slowdown. In such turbulent times, gold prices typically experience an upsurge as investors flock to the precious metal as a reliable store of value amidst uncertainty.

In the words of John Maynard Keynes, “In the long run, we are all dead.” This poignant statement underscores the transient nature of economic forecasts and the enduring appeal of gold as a timeless hedge against geopolitical uncertainties. As conflicts persist and geopolitical tensions escalate, gold is poised to maintain its luster as a safe haven asset in the ever-changing landscape of global finance.

IEA Forecasts Surge in Global Electric Vehicle Sales, Driving Toward 17 Million in 2024

Global electric vehicle (EV) sales are poised to increase by more than 20% this year, reaching 17 million, largely driven by the Chinese market, as outlined by the International Energy Agency (IEA). In a report released on Tuesday, the IEA anticipates a significant surge in EV demand over the next decade, reshaping the global automotive industry and notably reducing oil consumption for road transport. The agency projects that by 2035, half of all cars sold worldwide will be electric, up from just over 20% this year, provided that charging infrastructure keeps pace. The IEA defines EVs to include both battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

The IEA’s optimistic long-term outlook for EVs, contingent upon existing government policies, follows Tesla’s recent move to lower prices in major markets in response to declining sales and heightened competition from Chinese newcomers and established automakers. Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, dismissed recent negative headlines about slowing EV penetration, asserting that the data reflects a robust increase in global electric car sales rather than a reversal of growth.

The growth in EV adoption isn’t solely attributable to Chinese consumers. The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association reported nearly a 4% rise in new battery electric car sales in the European Union during the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2023. Birol emphasized that, instead of diminishing, the global EV revolution seems poised for a new phase of expansion.

Despite the promising trends, EV manufacturers are grappling with narrow profit margins due to intensified price wars amid escalating competition. Both Tesla and Chinese EV manufacturer Li Auto have recently slashed prices on key models in China, the world’s largest EV market, with Tesla also implementing price cuts in Germany and the United States. Tesla recorded its first annual sales drop in nearly four years earlier this month, with its stock plummeting over 40% since the beginning of the year. Similarly, China’s BYD faced setbacks after briefly surpassing Tesla as the global market leader, experiencing a decline in sales from over 525,000 in the final quarter of 2023 to about 300,000 in the first quarter of this year.

While automakers may feel the strain from price reductions, they play a crucial role in driving widespread EV adoption globally, according to the IEA, which underscores that the pace of transition to EVs depends on affordability. In China, where over 60% of EVs sold last year were cheaper than conventional cars, affordability remains a key factor. However, in Europe and the United States, new cars with internal combustion engines still boast lower average purchase prices. The IEA anticipates that intensifying market competition and advancements in battery technology will lead to reduced EV prices in the coming years. Moreover, the growing export of electric cars from Chinese automakers, which accounted for over half of all electric car sales in 2023, could further drive down purchase prices.

Chinese automakers dominated global electric car sales last year, commanding over 50% of the market share, despite having only a 10% share of the conventional car market. Birol noted that China has emerged as the de facto leader in electric car manufacturing worldwide. Concerns over the surge in imports of Chinese EVs prompted the European Union to launch an investigation late last year into China’s state support for EV manufacturers. The auto industry, a significant employer in Europe and vital to Germany’s economy, which is home to major manufacturers like Volkswagen, Audi, and BMW, underscores the importance of the issue.

China is expected to account for nearly 60% of global EV sales this year and approximately 45% of all car sales within the country. By 2030, almost one-third of cars on Chinese roads are projected to be electric, compared to less than one-tenth last year. In comparison, the IEA forecasts that electric cars will constitute 17% of vehicles in the United States and 18% in the European Union by 2030, up from just over 2% and nearly 4%, respectively, last year. Birol emphasized that this shift will have significant implications for both the auto industry and the energy sector, with the IEA predicting that global oil demand will peak in 2030, aided by the electrification of the transport sector.

In addition to affordability, the lack of public charging infrastructure in Europe and the United States poses another barrier to mass adoption of electric cars. Under current government policies, the IEA expects the number of public EV charging points worldwide to reach 15 million by the end of the decade, nearly quadrupling from last year.

Pro-Palestinian Protests Escalate on US College Campuses: Columbia University Continues Negotiations Amid Nationwide Solidarity Demonstrations

Columbia University officials announced early on Wednesday their intention to continue discussions with student pro-Palestinian demonstrators, despite initially establishing a midnight deadline for their dispersal.

Columbia President Minouche Shafik emphasized the university’s efforts in negotiations but mentioned considering “alternative options” if needed to clear the encampments set up by protesters.

However, a spokesperson for Columbia informed NPR later that the university was making headway with representatives of the student encampments. The university decided to extend conversations for the next 48 hours due to the constructive dialogue.

The pro-Palestinian protests, which have gained momentum in New York-area schools recently, resulting in the arrest of participants, have now spread nationwide.

Students at over a dozen schools across the United States, from Massachusetts to Michigan to California, have initiated demonstrations and encampments. Their demands include an end to the Israel-Hamas conflict and divestment from companies profiting from it or engaging in business with Israel.

These protests mark the latest in a series of demonstrations on college campuses since the Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7, which resulted in significant casualties. The conflict has triggered a surge of activism among college-age Americans, with more showing sympathy towards Palestinians, according to recent Pew Research Center polling.

The Israel-Hamas conflict has become a contentious issue at institutions of higher education, prompting discussions on how to balance free speech rights with ensuring student safety amid growing concerns of antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Law enforcement authorities have intervened in various protests across the country. At Yale University, nearly 50 protesters were arrested, prompting Columbia to shift classes online due to escalating tensions following the previous week’s arrests of over 100 demonstrators.

In New York City, police cleared a pro-Palestinian encampment at New York University’s Gould Plaza, resulting in arrests after protesters refused to leave.

Columbia University managed to reach agreements with protest representatives regarding the removal of a significant number of tents from the campus’ West Lawn. The university emphasized compliance with fire safety regulations and ensuring only Columbia students participate in the protests.

The recent events at Columbia have inspired solidarity movements at colleges across multiple states. Students at various universities, including Northwestern University, Ohio State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, held rallies in support of Columbia students following their arrests.

Similarly, solidarity encampments emerged at the University of Minnesota and the University of Pittsburgh, demonstrating support for Palestinian rights and opposition to violence in Gaza.

The protests have raised concerns about the safety of students and the university’s responsibility in maintaining a balance between free expression and student welfare.

While some protesters insist they are criticizing Israel rather than Jews, reports of antisemitic incidents on campuses have heightened tensions. Instances of students expressing support for Hamas and using antisemitic rhetoric have been reported, leading to concerns about campus safety.

The response of university administrations, particularly that of Columbia President Minouche Shafik, has faced criticism. Some lawmakers and organizations have called for her resignation, citing her handling of the protests.

In response, Shafik defended the university’s actions, emphasizing the need to uphold academic freedom while ensuring compliance with university policies.

As the situation unfolds, discussions continue on campuses nationwide regarding the appropriate response to protests and how to safeguard both free speech rights and student safety.

House Passes $95 Billion Package for Military Aid, Humanitarian Assistance: What’s Inside?

The $95 billion package recently approved by the House, poised for Senate approval next week, is set to address various international concerns, including military aid for Ukraine and Israel, replenishing U.S. weapons systems, and providing humanitarian assistance to Gaza. President Joe Biden has committed to promptly signing the package upon receipt.

The breakdown of the spending is as follows:

For Ukraine and U.S. weapons stockpiles, approximately $61 billion is allocated. This includes a substantial $13.8 billion designated for the purchase of weapons by Ukraine. Additionally, Ukraine is slated to receive over $9 billion in economic assistance through “forgivable loans.”

Israel is set to receive about $26 billion in support, with a portion earmarked for replenishing its missile defense systems. Furthermore, over $9 billion is allocated for humanitarian aid in Gaza, particularly pertinent given the recent Israel-Hamas conflict.

Approximately $8 billion is allocated for bolstering U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific region and countering China. This includes over $3.3 billion for submarine infrastructure and development, along with an additional $1.9 billion to restock U.S. weapons provided to Taiwan and other regional allies.

This comprehensive package aims to address key international concerns while reinforcing strategic alliances and promoting stability in various regions.

US Urges Dialogue Amid India-Pakistan Tensions; Refrains from Sanctions Discussion

The latest statement from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding terrorism has drawn a response from the United States. US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller expressed a preference for dialogue to resolve the issue between India and Pakistan. “We do encourage both India and Pakistan to avoid escalation and find a resolution through dialogue,” he stated.

Prime Minister Modi, along with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, made remarks during a political rally asserting India’s determination to combat terrorism. In response, Miller emphasized the importance of avoiding escalation and seeking resolution through dialogue, without direct intervention from the US. He said, “We do encourage both India and Pakistan to avoid escalation and find a resolution through dialogue.”

India has consistently maintained its stance against cross-border terrorism, asserting that improving ties with Islamabad cannot come at the expense of addressing terrorism. New Delhi has stressed the responsibility of Islamabad to foster an environment free from terror, hostility, and violence.

Rajnath Singh, speaking in an interview with ANI, urged Pakistan to take decisive action against cross-border terrorism, emphasizing the need for clarity in Pakistan’s intentions.

Regarding the alleged assassination plot of Khalistani terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, Miller refrained from discussing the possibility of sanctions against India. He stated, “I am never going to preview any sanction actions, which is not to say that there are any coming, but when you ask me to talk about sanctions, it’s something that we don’t discuss openly.”

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, designated as a terrorist by India, has posed repeated threats against the country. The US Justice Department has indicted Nikhil Gupta, an Indian national currently in custody, with the murder-for-hire of Pannun. The indictment also mentioned the involvement of an Indian government employee, whose identity was not disclosed, in recruiting Gupta to orchestrate the alleged assassination plot. This plot was reportedly thwarted by US authorities. Last year, India established a committee to investigate the allegations surrounding the foiled assassination attempt.

India Secures Membership in Key UN Bodies, Including Statistical Commission and UN Women Executive Board

India has clinched membership in crucial subsidiary entities of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), including the UN Statistical Commission, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and the Programme Coordinating Board of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

India’s appointment to the UN Statistical Commission holds significance as it marks the country’s return to this vital body after a break of two decades, with its prior membership dating back to 2004.

The commission stands as the foremost authority on global statistical activities and plays a pivotal role in establishing standards in the realm of statistics.

India’s extensive experience in official statistics, particularly in addressing its diverse demographic landscape, is anticipated to enrich the commission’s discussions and make a substantial contribution to its efficient operation, according to a press release from the Permanent Mission of India to the UN.

India has also been elected to serve on the Commission on the Status of Women for the 2025-2029 term, as well as the Executive Board of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Executive Boards of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) for the term 2025-2027.

Additionally, India has been selected to serve on the Executive Board of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) for the period 2025-2027, and the Executive Board of the World Food Programme (WFP) for the term 2025-2027.

“India remains steadfast in its commitment to actively engage in the discourse within these UN bodies, upholding the principle of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ — the world is one family. This guiding philosophy underscores our dedication to contributing constructively & collaboratively to global deliberations, fostering a spirit of unity & shared responsibility for the betterment of all,” stated India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj in a post on X.

President Biden Navigates Middle East Crisis Amid Iran-Israel Tensions

President Biden aims to prevent a full-scale escalation in the Middle East following Iran’s launch of hundreds of missiles and drones, most of which were intercepted, towards Israel in retaliation for an attack on an Iranian facility in Damascus that eliminated a top general.

Biden’s focus now shifts to persuading Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other allies against further escalating tensions, which have been strained since the Gaza conflict began in October. Biden assured Netanyahu that the U.S. would refrain from participating in any offensive actions against Iran in the future.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby faced inquiries on whether Biden’s efforts to deter war with Iran were effectively communicated to Netanyahu. Kirby emphasized Israel’s success in intercepting the missiles, highlighting the message of solidarity and self-defense conveyed by President Biden.

Israel’s war Cabinet, however, seems to diverge from this sentiment, with Minister Benny Gantz affirming intentions to retaliate against Iran.

At home, there are pressures on Biden to retaliate against Tehran, with Senators Marsha Blackburn and Lindsey Graham advocating for aggressive strikes on Iran.

Regarding the safety of U.S. military personnel in the region, Kirby refrained from discussing details of Israel’s attack in Damascus but emphasized the need for contextual conversations to ensure the protection of American troops and facilities.

Biden is in discussions with Secretary of State Antony Blinken regarding potential adjustments to the U.S. presence in the region to ensure the safety of troops, ships, and facilities.

Iran’s attack may alter the stance of some Democrats who had expressed concerns about Israel’s military operations in Gaza, particularly following an incident where aid workers were inadvertently killed by Israeli forces. Senator Mark Kelly expressed the need for continued aid to Israel despite his concerns.

Kirby, addressing concerns about the risk of wider war, stated that Biden’s actions aimed at de-escalation, exemplified by deploying additional resources to counter the recent attack.

A senior administration official emphasized the U.S.’s commitment to containing the crisis to Gaza, urging Israel to carefully consider its next steps without escalating the situation further.

US Navy Enhances Maritime Collaboration with India: Strategic Shipyard Agreement and Growing Indo-Pacific Cooperation

The US Navy inked a five-year Master Shipyard Repair Agreement (MSRA) with Larsen and Toubro (L&T) shipyard situated in Chennai, marking a significant development in maritime cooperation. The L&T shipyard at Kattupalli near Chennai, on the East Coast, has been actively involved in voyage repairs for Military Sealift Command vessels and has successfully conducted repairs for US Navy ships.

The recent agreement with CSL (Cochin Shipyard Limited) provides the US Navy with a shipyard facility for repairs on both the eastern and western coasts of India. CSL disclosed on April 6th the signing of the MSRA with the United States Navy. This non-financial agreement is set to facilitate the repair of US Naval vessels under the Military Sealift Command at CSL.

CSL secured eligibility for the agreement following a comprehensive evaluation and capability assessment conducted by the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command. CSL is already engaged in the maintenance and repair of several vessels, including INS Viraat, INS Vikramaditya (formerly known as Admiral Gorshkov), and the indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant of the Indian Navy. Additionally, CSL undertakes repairs for tankers and bulk carriers of the Shipping Corporation of India.

Vice Admiral AB Singh, a retired Indian Navy officer, emphasized the significance of CSL and MDL (Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd) in the maritime landscape. He highlighted the potential of these entities, particularly with the forthcoming development of the Vizhinjam International Transhipment Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport in Kerala.

The strategic location of Chennai proves advantageous for ship repair due to the port infrastructure at L&T shipyard, which meets the substantial depth requirements for US Ships. Notably, the USNS Salvor, the first warship, has already arrived at the shipyard for steel repairs.

Expanding on this collaboration, the UK seized the opportunity, with two British vessels, RFA Argus and RFA Lyme Bay, undergoing essential maintenance at the L&T shipyard. This marks the first instance of a Royal Navy vessel undergoing maintenance at an Indian shipyard, a direct outcome of the logistics-sharing agreement between the UK and India.

The potential for Andaman and Nicobar Islands to evolve as aviation hubs in the Indo-Pacific region has garnered attention, especially amidst the growing maritime cooperation between the US and India. These islands hold a strategic position at the mouth of the Malacca Strait, a crucial entry point to the South China Sea.

While India may initially be hesitant to expose the Andamans, possibilities such as overflight and ‘Gas and Go’ services could emerge in the future, considering the precedents set by the US in Changi, Singapore, and mainland India. The Andamans’ strategic significance is underscored by the US Navy’s utilization of the region for aviation logistics.

In 2020, amid heightened tensions between India and China, the US Navy’s P-8 Poseidon conducted its inaugural refueling from India’s strategic base in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, further emphasizing their importance. Plans to enhance infrastructure on these islands align with their role as India’s gateway to the Asia Pacific region and as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier.”

Recognizing India’s pivotal role in maritime operations, the West, including the UK and the US, has turned to India for maintenance support for their warships navigating the Indo-Pacific waters. This trend is fueled by growing maintenance delays and costs faced by the US Navy, amidst challenges posed by China’s expanding naval fleet.

Efforts are underway to revitalize the US Navy’s shipbuilding capabilities, with Japan and South Korea being urged to contribute. Additionally, there are considerations to utilize private shipyards in Japan for maintenance, repair, and overhaul services, aiming to alleviate servicing backlogs in the US.

The collaboration between like-minded countries aims to counterbalance China’s naval growth, with India’s strategic position on the Malacca Strait being pivotal in sustaining Western operations in the region. It is anticipated that the US will extend support to enhance infrastructure in India to bolster logistics support for its naval assets in the Indo-Pacific.

However, the US Navy faces challenges in meeting its repair needs amid budget constraints. Operating and support costs have surged across various ship classes, while propulsion hours have declined over the past decade. This underscores the importance of partnerships with reliable providers like L&T and CSL to ensure the operational readiness of the US Navy’s fleet.

Iran Launches Massive Aerial Assault on Israel, Escalating Regional Tensions

Iran launched a massive aerial assault on Israel on Saturday night, deploying over 300 drones and missiles in retaliation for a lethal Israeli airstrike in Syria a fortnight earlier, marking a significant escalation in the ongoing hostilities between the two regional adversaries.

The strikes inflicted minor damage on a single Israeli military base, with most of the airborne threats intercepted, according to Israeli military sources. The United States claimed it assisted in downing numerous drones and missiles.

Nevertheless, the extensive assault, targeting locations within Israel and its controlled territory, heralded a precarious new phase in the protracted covert conflict between Iran and Israel.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, via a statement aired on state television, announced the launch of “dozens of drones and missiles” from Iran towards Israel “in response to the Zionist regime’s crimes.” Subsequently, via social media, they asserted hitting military targets within Israel, cautioned the United States against involvement, and issued threats of further strikes in case of attacks on Iran or its interests.

A hospital spokesperson, Inbar Gutter, disclosed that a total of 12 individuals were admitted to the Soroka Medical Center in southern Israel overnight.

Among the targeted areas was the Golan Heights, a strategically vital region bordering Syria that Israel annexed almost six decades ago. Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia, claimed responsibility for firing numerous rockets at an Israeli barracks there, though it remained unclear if this barrage was part of the broader Iranian assault.

In the aftermath of the attacks, while Iranians in Tehran gathered to celebrate, air-raid sirens reverberated across extensive areas of southern Israel, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. The Israeli government issued warnings regarding potential missile strikes in the Negev Desert, where several military installations are situated. Moreover, the airspaces of Israel, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon were shut down.

President Biden curtailed a weekend at his Delaware vacation residence to confer with his national security advisors. He also held discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The President of the United Nations Security Council announced an emergency session scheduled for 4 p.m. on Sunday to address Iran’s assaults on Israel, following a request by Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan.

US Braces for Potential Iranian Strikes on Israel, Prepares Defense and Diplomatic Measures

The United States is anticipating imminent strikes by Iran on multiple targets within Israel, CNN sources report. The Biden administration is bracing for a potentially volatile and unpredictable period in the Middle East. President Joe Biden warned that these attacks could happen “sooner than later” and issued a stern public message to Tehran: “Don’t.”

A conflict between Iran and Israel would mark a significant escalation in the region, a scenario the US has sought to avoid since the Israel-Hamas war began in October. The US is prepared to assist in intercepting any weapons aimed at its ally.

According to senior administration officials and intelligence sources, Iranian proxies might also be involved in the upcoming attacks, which could target locations both inside Israel and across the region. The US is poised to intercept weapons launched at Israel, indicating strong ongoing cooperation between the two militaries.

US intelligence has observed Iran moving military assets internally, including drones and cruise missiles, suggesting preparations for attacks on Israeli targets from within Iranian territory. There’s uncertainty whether Iran plans an initial strike from its soil or is posturing to deter potential counterattacks.

President Biden reaffirmed the US commitment to Israel’s security, emphasizing their readiness to support and defend Israel against Iranian aggression. The White House emphasized the “real,” “credible,” and “viable” threat posed by Iran following Israel’s recent attack on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria, which resulted in the deaths of three Iranian generals.

The US, along with Britain and France, issued new travel advisories for government personnel in Israel due to the looming Iranian threat. US Navy forces in the Red Sea have intercepted missiles aimed at Israel in the past, and additional military assets are being deployed to the Middle East to enhance regional deterrence efforts and protect US forces.

The Defense Department is bolstering air defenses for troops stationed in Iraq and Syria following multiple attacks by Iran-backed forces in recent months. While the US does not anticipate direct attacks on its forces, precautionary measures are being taken.

There’s speculation that any Iranian attack on Israel would likely be carried out by proxy forces rather than directly by Iran, as Tehran is wary of a dramatic escalation. However, Iran has urged its proxy militias to launch a large-scale attack against Israel using drones and missiles.

President Biden has been briefed regularly on the situation and is actively engaged in efforts to de-escalate tensions. US officials are in constant communication with Israel, urging restraint and providing support to ensure Israel’s ability to defend itself.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been urging other countries to press Iran to avoid escalating the conflict. Diplomatic efforts include discussions with Turkey, China, Saudi Arabia, and European allies to convey the message to Iran.

In response to the heightened threat level, the US State Department has restricted the travel of government personnel in Israel, and France has advised its citizens against traveling to Iran, Lebanon, Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories due to the risk of military escalation.

Enforcement Directorate Initiates Probe into Alleged Payments to Kerala CM’s Daughter: Political Controversy Erupts

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has commenced an investigation into purported illicit payments made by a minerals company based in Kochi to the daughter of Kerala’s Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, as well as her software consulting firm, according to an official knowledgeable about the situation.

The federal agency’s Kochi unit has lodged an Enforcement Case Investigation Report (ECIR) under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA) to scrutinize payments amounting to ₹1.72 crore made by Cochin Minerals and Rutile Limited (CMRL) to Veena T, daughter of the Kerala CM, and Exalogic Solutions Private Limited, her owned firm, over a period of three years.

An ED official familiar with the matter stated: “We have registered a case and an investigation is underway.”

It is anticipated that the agency will issue notifications to Veena, officials of Exalogic and CMRL, as well as Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC), which holds a 13.4% stake in CMRL, concerning the matter.

Despite queries, the chief minister’s office did not provide a response. Meanwhile, the ruling CPI(M) party has alleged that investigative agencies like the ED are being politically exploited and used for monetary gains.

Leader of the Opposition, VD Satheesan, of the Congress party, has labeled ED’s actions as an “election stunt,” questioning the agency’s efficacy in other cases such as the Karuvannur bank fraud, Life Mission bribery case, and the gold smuggling case.

On the other hand, BJP leader V Muraleedharan has demanded an explanation from those implicated, stating, “Those who play the victim card like the CM and his daughter must explain how they got the money even though they did not render any services.”

Critics of the BJP argue that the party is leveraging central agencies such as the ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to target political adversaries, pointing to recent arrests of leaders from opposition parties like Jharkhand’s former CM Hemant Soren of the JMM and Delhi’s CM Arvind Kejriwal of the AAP.

In parallel, the Special Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs has been investigating alleged financial irregularities of Exalogic and CMRL, including payments reportedly made to various political parties.

Allegations against Veena surfaced last July following a ruling by the New Delhi bench of the Income Tax Interim Settlement Board, which stated that CMRL made monthly payments of ₹1.72 crore to Exalogic between 2017 and 2020 without evidence of services being rendered.

While opposition parties accuse CMRL of making kickbacks to Vijayan’s daughter in exchange for favors, the chief minister has refuted the claims, asserting his innocence during a session of the Assembly earlier this year.

Global Climate Anomalies Unveiled: Record Warmth, Melting Ice, and Extreme Weather Patterns

Winter temperatures have surged, oceans are warmer than usual, and heavy rainfall is inundating and displacing communities worldwide. North America is experiencing reduced snow cover, while Antarctic sea ice has hit record lows.

According to a recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), last month marked the hottest February on record globally, continuing a streak of nine consecutive months of record-breaking temperatures. To illustrate the profound effects of this extreme warmth, NOAA has released a map showcasing the most notable “climate anomalies” around the world.

In Antarctica, typically one of the coldest regions on the planet, sea ice levels reached their second-lowest extent on record, tied with the year 2022. This alarming trend raises concerns among scientists about the escalating impact of the climate crisis on this isolated polar region.

The Northern Hemisphere has also felt the impact of the unseasonably warm weather. Notably, Great Lakes ice cover hit historic lows in the previous month, and both North America and Europe experienced their warmest February on record. These temperature anomalies disrupt local economies dependent on winter tourism, such as skiing and snowboarding.

Moreover, regions across the globe have been grappling with water-related catastrophes, ranging from extreme dryness to devastating floods. While Ecuador and Madagascar contend with heavy rainfall and destructive flooding, parts of southern Africa are experiencing one of the driest Februarys in four decades.

US Prosecutors Expand Probe into Adani Group Amid Bribery Allegations

US prosecutors are broadening their investigation into India’s Adani Group to explore potential bribery and the conduct of its founder, according to individuals familiar with the matter. The inquiry is examining whether Adani or its affiliates, including Gautam Adani, may have made payments to officials in India for favorable treatment on an energy project. The investigation, managed by the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the Justice Department’s fraud unit in Washington, also involves Indian renewable energy company Azure Power Global Ltd.

Adani Group responded, stating, “We are not aware of any investigation against our chairman,” emphasizing their adherence to anti-corruption laws. The Justice Department and Azure declined to comment. Despite ongoing investigations, neither Gautam Adani, his company, nor Azure have been charged with wrongdoing, as investigations don’t necessarily result in prosecutions.

Adani Group, a significant presence in India with diverse interests, including ports, airports, and power infrastructure, has attracted investment globally. US law enables federal prosecutors to pursue foreign corruption allegations with connections to American investors or markets.

Last year, Adani Group faced accusations of stock manipulation and accounting fraud, triggering investigations by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Although vigorously denying these allegations, the company’s shares experienced a temporary decline.

The current stage of the Adani probe is advanced, with the possibility of the DOJ proceeding without notifying the involved parties. Both Adani Group and Azure operate in India’s green-energy sector and have secured contracts for solar projects under the same state-run program. Adani aims to establish itself as a leading renewable-energy company amidst India’s green initiatives.

Meanwhile, Azure faced issues related to whistleblower complaints and was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange due to delayed filings. The company acknowledged cooperating with authorities after an internal investigation uncovered potential improper payments.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) prohibits US-linked entities from offering incentives to foreign officials for favorable treatment. Although Adani Group doesn’t trade in the US, it has American investors. FCPA cases often involve lengthy investigations due to gathering evidence from overseas.

Gautam Adani has vehemently defended his company against allegations, terming them as “malicious” and “false narratives.” Despite initial setbacks, Adani Enterprises Ltd.’s shares rebounded, and Gautam Adani’s wealth surged, ranking him among the world’s wealthiest individuals.

India’s investigations into Adani Group are nearing resolution following a court directive. The court-appointed committee found no regulatory failures or signs of price manipulation in Adani Group stocks.

The US scrutiny of Adani Group holds geopolitical significance, given India’s role as a counterbalance to China. Despite the ongoing probe, US entities have engaged with Adani Group, as demonstrated by the US International Development Finance Corp.’s financing of a port terminal project in Sri Lanka, aimed at reducing Chinese influence in the region. A senior US official clarified that the allegations against Adani were not relevant to the subsidiary involved in the Sri Lankan project.

The widening investigation into Adani Group underscores the complexities of global business operations and the regulatory challenges involved. While facing scrutiny, Adani Group continues to navigate its various projects and investments amidst the evolving landscape of international business and geopolitics.

TV Actor Devoleena Bhattacharjee Appeals to PM Modi After Friend’s Fatal Shooting in US

Television personality Devoleena Bhattacharjee has appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian government for assistance following the tragic death of her friend in the United States. She revealed that her friend was fatally shot while taking an evening walk, expressing her grief and shock over the incident.

In a heartfelt post on social media platform X, Bhattacharjee shared the devastating news, stating, “My friend #Amarnathghosh was shot and killed in St Louis academy neighbourhood, US on Tuesday evening.” She further elaborated on his background, highlighting the profound loss he had endured, being the sole survivor in his family after the deaths of both his parents.

Describing the circumstances surrounding the incident, Bhattacharjee lamented the lack of information regarding the perpetrator or motive behind the attack. She expressed concern that there might be minimal support for seeking justice, emphasizing the need for assistance, particularly since her friend hailed from Kolkata and was pursuing a Ph.D. while showcasing talent as an excellent dancer.

The actor’s anguish was palpable as she mentioned the challenges faced in claiming her friend’s body, with updates still pending on the situation. Through her post, she reached out to relevant authorities, including the Indian Embassy in the US, Prime Minister Modi, and Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, urging them to intervene in the matter.

This plea for help comes amidst a disturbing trend of violence targeting individuals of Indian descent or Indian-Americans in the United States. Recent incidents include the tragic shooting of an Indian-origin motel owner by a homeless intruder in Newport, North Carolina, as well as the fatal assault on a 41-year-old Indian-origin IT executive outside a restaurant in Washington.

Additionally, the tragic death of 25-year-old Indian student Vivek Saini in Lithonia, Georgia, at the hands of a homeless drug addict serves as another grim reminder of the challenges faced by the Indian community in the US.

The heart-wrenching plea from Devoleena Bhattacharjee underscores the urgent need for attention to these incidents and the broader issue of violence against individuals of Indian descent abroad. As efforts continue to seek justice for the victims and their families, the importance of international cooperation and support in addressing such matters cannot be overstated.

U.N. Urges China to Address Human Rights Concerns in Xinjiang and Tibet

U.N. human rights chief Volker Turk urged China on Monday to enact suggested revisions to laws that infringe upon basic rights, particularly in regions such as Xinjiang and Tibet.

In his address to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Turk emphasized the importance of implementing recommendations to rectify laws, policies, and practices that violate fundamental rights, echoing concerns raised by various human rights bodies regarding Xinjiang and Tibet. He stated, “I also call on the government to implement the recommendations made by my Office and other human rights bodies in relation to laws, policies and practises that violate fundamental rights, including in the Xinjiang and Tibet regions.”

China has faced persistent allegations from rights organizations regarding the mistreatment of Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group with a population of approximately 10 million in the Xinjiang region. Accusations include the widespread use of forced labor within camps. Beijing has consistently denied these allegations. The Chinese diplomatic mission in Geneva declined to provide immediate comment in response to Turk’s remarks.

The situation in Tibet, which China annexed in 1950, has also drawn international scrutiny. While Beijing portrays the takeover as a “peaceful liberation” from feudalistic serfdom, human rights groups and exiles have continuously criticized what they perceive as oppressive governance in Tibetan regions.

Turk revealed ongoing dialogue between his office and Beijing regarding human rights concerns. Additionally, he urged for the release of individuals detained under charges of “picking quarrels and making trouble,” including human rights defenders and lawyers.

The call for action echoes a report issued in August 2022 by Michelle Bachelet, then U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, which was released just before the conclusion of her mandate. The report highlighted the possibility that China’s detention of Uyghurs and other Muslim groups might amount to crimes against humanity.

Pakistan’s Shehbaz Sharif Sworn in as Prime Minister Amid Coalition Formation Delay

Shehbaz Sharif of Pakistan was sworn in for his second term as prime minister on Monday, following a nearly four-week delay in the formation of a coalition government after a contentious national election. The 72-year-old Sharif assumed office during a ceremony held at the presidential office in Islamabad, the nation’s capital, amid the presence of various dignitaries from civil, military, and bureaucratic spheres. Clad in a traditional black sherwani, Sharif’s inauguration was broadcast live on state television.

The election, which took place on February 8, was marred by allegations of irregularities including a mobile internet shutdown, arrests, and pre-election violence. The delayed results led to accusations of rigging. Despite protests from lawmakers aligned with the imprisoned former premier Imran Khan, parliament elected Sharif as prime minister. Khan’s party had secured the most seats in the election, but the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) joined forces to form a coalition government. Notably, Shehbaz Sharif’s elder brother, Nawaz Sharif, a three-time premier and the leader of PML-N, opted out of the prime ministerial position.

This marks Shehbaz Sharif’s return to the role he previously held until August when parliament was dissolved ahead of the election. With his appointment, attention now turns to the composition of his cabinet, particularly the crucial finance portfolio. Economists, investors, and foreign stakeholders await Sharif’s announcement regarding his cabinet, given the urgency of addressing the looming expiration of Pakistan’s multi-billion dollar funding agreement with the International Monetary Fund in April.

Speculation surrounds the potential appointment of Ishaq Dar, a former four-time finance minister and a top contender for the position, according to sources within PML-N. However, other candidates are also under serious consideration for this pivotal role.

India Urges U.S. Action Against Pro-Khalistani Groups Amidst Homeland Security Dialogue

India has reiterated its call for the investigation of pro-Khalistani groups in the United States, alleging their involvement in inciting violence against India. This demand was emphasized during the India-U.S. Homeland Security Dialogue (HSD), a significant meeting where senior officials discussed ongoing cooperation in counter-terrorism and security measures. Alongside, both parties deliberated on tackling the surge in narcotics trafficking, notably the proliferation of Fentanyl, a potent drug posing a substantial challenge for the U.S.

“In this context, they discussed steps that can be taken to bolster bilateral efforts to combat terrorism and violent extremism, drug trafficking, organised crime and ensure transportation security,” stated a Home Ministry release following the discussions. Leading the Indian delegation was Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, while the U.S. team was headed by Kristie Canegallo, Acting Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The dialogue also addressed the imperative to address issues such as illegal immigration, human trafficking, money laundering, cybercrimes, and the illicit exploitation of the cyber domain for various illegal activities, including financing terrorism.

However, the official statements didn’t touch upon the ongoing inquiry in the U.S. concerning the alleged “assassin for hire” case. U.S. authorities have accused an Indian individual, purportedly working for a senior Indian security official, of orchestrating the assassination of Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the chief of Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a pro-Khalistan separatist group based in the United States. Although the Ministry of External Affairs had declared in November its intention to launch a high-level investigation into these allegations, no further updates have been disclosed. Nonetheless, it’s understood that both sides maintain regular communication to discuss the progress of the case.

During the HSD talks, India also raised concerns about separatist factions operating within the U.S., including those responsible for recent assaults on Indian diplomatic missions. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had previously emphasized the importance of countries taking action against entities targeting Indian embassies, cautioning that failure to do so could tarnish their reputations. He specifically mentioned the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom in this regard, urging them to address attacks such as the storming of the Indian high commission in London and threats against Indian diplomats in Canada.

Established in 2011, the Homeland Security Dialogue serves as a platform for both countries to address various pressing issues. After a hiatus, it was reinstated in 2021 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Indian Embassy in Washington, focusing on topics such as cybersecurity, emerging technology, and combating violent extremism.

India: The Next Global Economic Powerhouse

India’s optimistic outlook stems from various factors, including its youthful population and burgeoning industrial sector. The International Monetary Fund predicts India’s growth to outpace China’s, with Jefferies analysts envisioning India becoming the world’s third-largest economy by 2027.

Similar to China’s transformative phase decades ago, India is embarking on an infrastructure overhaul, investing in roads, ports, airports, and railways. Suresh highlights the substantial economic impact of such investments, stating, “There is a very strong multiplier effect… which you cannot roll back.”

India’s appeal extends to global companies reevaluating their supply chains, seeking alternatives to China’s challenges. Hubert de Barochez of Capital Economics notes India’s potential to benefit from this shift, terming it “friend-shoring” of supply chains.

Leading global companies, including Apple supplier Foxconn and Tesla, are expanding operations in India. Elon Musk expressed keen interest in investing in India, citing Modi’s encouragement.

However, some caution against excessive optimism. While India’s allure is growing, the steep valuation of Indian stocks deters some international investors. Suresh points out that Indian shares have always commanded a premium compared to other emerging markets, a trend exacerbated in recent times.

Domestic investors currently dominate India’s stock market, with foreign interest expected to increase post-election. Nonetheless, challenges remain, including India’s capacity to absorb the massive capital outflow from China.

Yet, India’s reliance on domestic investors strengthens its resilience against global market fluctuations. Suresh highlights this, stating, “It just massively insulates India from global dynamics.”

Unlike China, India enjoys favorable relations with major economies and actively courts foreign investment. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman emphasized India’s commitment to attracting foreign investment, signaling a conducive environment for sustained economic growth.

Analysts assert that India’s economic momentum is irreversible, positioning it as a formidable player on the global stage. Mittal reflects on India’s rise, stating, “Even if China comes back to the table and resolves a lot of problems, I don’t think India is going back into the background anymore. It has arrived.”

**India’s Growth Story Captures Global Attention**

Peeyush Mittal has been making the 185-mile journey from the Indian capital to Jaipur for over three decades. Despite infrastructure improvements, the trip always took six hours. Mittal, a portfolio manager at Matthews Asia, expressed his long-standing frustration: “For 30 years there’s been this promise of doing that journey in three hours. It has never been possible.” However, last year, he experienced a significant change. Driving at 75 miles per hour on a new expressway, he completed the journey in just half the time, leaving him astonished: “My jaw dropped when I first time got on that highway. I was like, ‘Wow, man, how is this even possible … in India?”

The quality of India’s new infrastructure is just one factor driving excitement among investors like Mittal, who manage funds focused on emerging markets. India’s development trajectory since 2014, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, has sparked optimism. Modi’s ambition to elevate India to a $5 trillion economy by 2025 has garnered attention globally.

Contrastingly, China faces economic challenges, including capital flight and stock market slumps, with trillions of dollars lost in market value. In contrast, India’s stock market is thriving, surpassing $4 trillion in value last year, with projections indicating it could double to $10 trillion by 2030.

Investors are eyeing India as a potential replacement for China in driving global growth. With China facing uncertainties, India’s prominence in international markets is on the rise. Aditya Suresh, head of India equity research at Macquarie Capital, notes the significant shift: “India’s weight in the MSCI emerging market index was about 7% a couple of years back. Do I think that 18% [in the MSCI index] is naturally gravitating more towards 25%? Yeah, that’s kind of clearly where our conversations are leading us to believe.”

As India approaches national elections, market observers anticipate that a continued mandate for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party could provide stability and further boost investor confidence. Mittal asserts, “If Modi is back with a majority and political stability is there, then I can certainly say with confidence that there’ll be a lot more investor interest in India on a more sustainable basis.”

Growing Interest as 34 Countries Eye Joining BRICS Alliance in 2024

A wave of interest from developing nations signals a potential expansion of the BRICS alliance in 2024, with the upcoming summit scheduled for October in Russia’s Kazan region. According to India’s Foreign Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, more than two dozen countries are considering joining BRICS this year, reflecting a growing trust in the alliance and a desire to reduce reliance on the US dollar amidst a global debt crisis.

Jaishankar revealed in a recent press conference, “We tested it last year in the market, asking how many want to join BRICS. We got almost 30 countries who were willing to join BRICS. Clearly, 30 countries saw value in it; there must be something good with that.” This surge in interest comes as developing nations grapple with a staggering $34 trillion debt burden, primarily denominated in US dollars. The desire to mitigate this risk has prompted countries to prioritize their local currencies in trade transactions.

The recent inclusion of Saudi Arabia into BRICS has further fueled interest from other developing nations seeking alternatives to the US dollar. The Kingdom’s induction into the alliance is perceived as a response to mounting US dollar debt and White House sanctions against emerging economies. If the trend continues and more developing countries opt for settling trade in local currencies within the BRICS framework, the US dollar could face significant repercussions.

As of February 1, 2024, a total of 34 countries have officially expressed their interest in joining BRICS, as confirmed by South Africa’s Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor in a press conference. While Pandor did not disclose the names of these countries, the growing enthusiasm indicates a broader shift in financial dynamics, with developing nations aiming to position themselves favorably amid changing global economic landscapes.

The increasing attraction towards the BRICS alliance is part of a larger initiative to shift away from the dominance of the US dollar. BRICS aims to create a multipolar world order that prioritizes local currencies over the US dollar, challenging the traditional financial order controlled by Western powers. This paradigm shift could potentially jeopardize the global reserve status of the US dollar, setting the stage for a new era in international finance.

The next decade holds significant implications for the fate of the US dollar as developing countries increasingly prioritize their local currencies. The BRICS alliance, with its growing roster of interested nations, poses a formidable challenge to the established order, and the October 2024 summit may witness the formal inclusion of new members into this influential bloc.

Putin Projects Confidence as Ukraine Conflict Enters Third Year: A Look at Russia’s Stance Amid Escalating Tensions

As the conflict in Ukraine progresses into its third year, Russian President Vladimir Putin is projecting assurance that his nation can withstand Western backing for Kyiv and prosper economically despite escalating sanctions. On the eve of the war anniversary, which coincided with Defenders of the Fatherland Day, a Soviet-era celebration still widely observed in Russia, Putin utilized a video address to once more draw misleading parallels between the Soviet triumph over fascist Germany and his current incursion into Ukraine.

Putin addressed troops fighting in Ukraine, hailing them as “our true national heroes” and pledging support for their endeavors: “We know that it is hard for you, and we will do everything possible for you to fulfill the tasks ahead of you.” The day was marked by a grand fireworks display in Moscow, capping off a week where Putin displayed confidence in Russia’s military prowess and economic resilience, contrasted against Ukraine’s increasing difficulties on the battlefield.

Throughout the week, Putin engaged in a series of activities aimed at projecting strength, from flying in a new strategic nuclear-capable bomber to driving a Kamaz truck along freshly laid roads, and appearing before enthusiastic supporters eager to shake his hand. These actions served as a clear message to both domestic and international audiences: Western attempts to hinder Russian progress and undermine Putin’s leadership have proven ineffective.

A new exhibition in Moscow, titled “Rossiya” (Russia), serves as a testament to this growing confidence. Located within a Stalinist-era amusement park dedicated to showcasing achievements in industry and agriculture, Rossiya modernizes the concept to highlight the successes of the Putin era. Exhibits include tributes to achievements such as the Sputnik V vaccine, hypersonic missiles, and new nuclear-powered icebreakers. The exhibition also celebrates achievements in Russia’s vast regions, presenting the country as a marvel of polar bears, interactive robots, and local history and culture.

Galina Shebelkova, a pensioner from Siberia visiting the exhibit, expressed her admiration: “The country has begun to develop in the right way. It’s more beautiful, and more accessible than ever. And it’s all thanks to our president.” Additionally, the exhibit features representations from the four “new” Ukrainian regions claimed by Moscow in 2022, despite international condemnation and incomplete control over the territories.

In the section dedicated to occupied Donetsk, visitors are guided through a simulated coal mine narrating the region’s journey from perceived “oppression” under Ukraine to its pursuit of independence and subsequent “reunification” with Russia. The exhibit includes holographic tributes to separatist fighters killed in combat and a rose sculpture crafted from shrapnel. Anna Chochuia, a 22-year-old guide from Donetsk, emphasizes the emotional significance of joining Russia: “When Vladimir Putin recognized Donetsk, everyone had goosebumps. We finally gained our freedom.”

Conversely, at the Belgorod booth, a Russian region bordering Ukraine, where locals have faced attacks from Ukrainian forces, there is a sense of weariness regarding another year of conflict. Margarita Khokhlova, who works in local tourism, expressed a hope for peace, questioning the sustainability of continued conflict. Arteom Chistikov, a recent university graduate from Belgorod, lamented the perpetual cycle of violence between Russia and Ukraine, echoing a sentiment of exhaustion shared by many.

Despite the Kremlin’s assertions that the nation is unified in its support for the war, independent polls indicate that half of all Russians would endorse negotiations aimed at ending the fighting. Nonetheless, the decision regarding the war’s duration ultimately lies with President Putin. A wave of repressive legislation has effectively criminalized dissent against the war, resulting in thousands of arrests since its inception, according to local human rights organizations.

Prominent government critics and opponents have either been exiled, imprisoned, or faced worse fates. Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Group of mercenaries critical of Russian military leadership’s handling of the conflict, died in a mysterious plane crash last August. His demise was followed by the arrest of other nationalist figures who criticized Putin’s management of the war. The recent death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a remote Arctic prison colony under dubious circumstances has further galvanized opposition to the invasion.

Pavel Inzhutov, 25, reflecting at a makeshift monument to Navalny in Moscow, expressed a loss of hope for a brighter future: “Who else can so clearly express the feelings of those of us who don’t agree with Putin or the war? I’d always held out hope for a brighter future. But now that hope is gone.”

2023 Marks Record-High Temperatures, Highlighting Urgency of Climate Action

The latest report from the Copernicus Climate Change Service underscores the severity of global warming, with 2023 standing out as the warmest year on record. This period from February 2023 to January 2024 marked an unprecedented streak of 12 consecutive months with temperatures surpassing those of the pre-industrial era by 1.5 degrees Celsius, a worrying milestone indicating the acceleration of climate change.

The sequence from 2015 to 2023 witnessed successive years of record warmth, with the El Niño event of 2023 expected to exacerbate conditions further into 2024. El Niño phenomena traditionally contribute to significant spikes in global temperatures, amplifying the intensity of heatwaves, atmospheric disturbances, and oceanic anomalies, thus heightening the complexity of disaster risks worldwide.

The manifestation of 1.5-degree warming has manifested in a myriad of climate-related disasters, ranging from heatwaves and droughts to floods and cyclones. These events have not only occurred with increased frequency but have also exhibited a greater magnitude and impact, with cascading consequences for ecosystems, infrastructure, and human livelihoods.

Heatwaves, in particular, have gripped numerous Asian nations, with 2023 witnessing unprecedented temperatures. A study by the World Weather Attribution found that the likelihood of such extreme heat events in countries like India and Bangladesh has increased significantly due to climate change, emphasizing the direct link between rising temperatures and extreme weather occurrences.

The warming of oceans and the atmosphere has fueled the intensification of tropical cyclones, leading to more frequent and severe storms. Notable cyclones in 2023, including Mocha, Biparjoy, Typhoon Doksuri, and tropical storm Jasper, exemplify this trend, with their trajectories and intensities reflecting the influence of heightened global temperatures.

Coastal cities face escalating risks from climate-related hazards, with events like Cyclone Michaung inundating megacities such as Chennai and Typhoon Doksuri causing unprecedented flooding in Beijing. These events underscore the vulnerability of urban centers to the impacts of climate change, necessitating urgent adaptation and resilience measures.

The monsoonal flooding experienced across South-East and South and South-West Asia during the 2023 southwest monsoon season further highlights the multifaceted nature of climate-related disasters. Deviations from typical monsoon patterns, coupled with interactions between atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial systems, have exacerbated the frequency and severity of flooding and landslides in the region.

The economic toll of climate change is significant, with the Asia-Pacific region bearing a disproportionate burden of natural disasters. In 2023 alone, the region experienced 145 reported natural hazard events, resulting in thousands of deaths, millions of affected individuals, and economic damages exceeding $45 billion. Projections indicate that under a 1.5-degree warming scenario, potential losses from disasters could soar to nearly $1 trillion, representing a substantial share of regional GDP and exacerbating socio-economic vulnerabilities.

Despite these challenges, 2023 also witnessed significant advancements in climate resilience and disaster risk reduction efforts. Initiatives such as the midterm review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the establishment of the G20 Working Group on Disaster Risk Reduction, and the creation of funds and networks dedicated to addressing loss and damage from climate change demonstrate a growing recognition of the need for concerted action at local, national, and international levels.

Looking ahead, ESCAP’s regional strategy on empowering transboundary solutions and enhancing resilience through subregional cooperation will be crucial in addressing the escalating risks posed by climate change. While the warmest year on record serves as a stark reminder of the urgency of climate action, the opportunities presented in 2024 offer hope for a more resilient and sustainable future.

Biden Unveils Extensive Sanctions on Russia, Blames Putin for Navalny’s Death

President Biden made a significant announcement on Friday, revealing that the United States will be implementing more than 500 new sanctions directed at Russia. This action comes as a response to multiple factors, including the two-year anniversary of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the recent passing of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

Biden emphasized the necessity of holding Putin accountable for his actions, stating, “If Putin does not pay the price for his death and destruction, he will keep going.” The president underscored the potential consequences for the United States and its allies if such actions are left unchecked.

The sanctions are part of a broader strategy involving the U.S. and its international partners to exert pressure on Putin’s ability to continue military aggression in Ukraine. These sanctions are complemented by various forms of support, including military, economic, and humanitarian aid, aimed at bolstering Ukraine’s defense against Russian forces.

The new sanctions package will encompass measures targeting individuals associated with Navalny’s imprisonment, as well as elements of Russia’s financial sector, defense industry, procurement networks, and entities evading sanctions globally. Moreover, the U.S. will implement close to 100 export restrictions, preventing the shipment of certain items to Russia, with a clear warning to exporters regarding potential sanctions for facilitating such deliveries.

President Biden also highlighted plans to impact Russia’s energy profits while pledging increased support for civil society, independent media, and advocates for democracy worldwide.

Furthermore, Biden urged lawmakers to pass a $95 billion national security supplemental bill, with a significant portion allocated to supporting Ukraine, primarily through funding for U.S. weapons production to replenish supplies already sent to the country. He stressed the urgency, stating, “Ukraine needs more supplies from the United States to hold the line against Russia’s relentless attacks.”

Despite these efforts, Russia has displayed resilience against sanctions, maintaining control over roughly 20 percent of Ukrainian territory for the past two years, including territories seized in 2014. The conflict has resulted in significant casualties on both sides, with Russian forces reportedly outnumbering and outmatching Ukrainian counterparts.

Putin’s strategy appears centered on testing the resolve and unity of Western and democratic nations supporting Ukraine. Recent gains by Russian forces, such as the capture of the Ukrainian city of Avdiivka, serve as propaganda victories for Moscow but come at a high cost in casualties.

The passing of Navalny, a vocal critic of Putin, further underscores the Kremlin’s suppression of dissent and opposition to its objectives in Ukraine. President Biden, echoing Navalny’s supporters, squarely blamed Putin for the opposition leader’s death.

Biden reiterated the importance of maintaining a unified front among Western nations, emphasizing the need to stand firm against Russian aggression. He pledged continued engagement with leaders from the Group of Seven (G-7), NATO, and the European Union to address these pressing issues.

The death of Navalny marks a significant loss for those advocating for political change in Russia. Despite facing imprisonment and assassination attempts, Navalny remained a symbol of resistance against corruption and authoritarianism in Russia.

Navalny’s passing, occurring under suspicious circumstances in a Russian penal colony, has drawn condemnation from around the world, with Biden joining voices attributing responsibility to Putin.

President Biden’s announcement of new sanctions against Russia reflects ongoing efforts to pressure Putin’s regime in response to its actions in Ukraine and the suppression of dissent domestically. The measures underscore the broader geopolitical tensions and the continuing struggle for democracy and human rights in the region.

AI Emerges as Key Ally in Cyber Defense, Google CEO Asserts at Munich Security Conference

Rapid advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) have emerged as a potential boon in fortifying defenses against cyber threats, as indicated by Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google. Pichai highlighted the utility of intelligence tools in enabling governments and enterprises to expedite the identification and mitigation of security risks posed by hostile entities. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Pichai underscored the significance of AI in bolstering cybersecurity defenses, contrary to prevailing apprehensions regarding its potential misuse.

The escalating frequency and complexity of cybersecurity breaches underscore the pressing need for proactive measures, with malicious actors increasingly leveraging such breaches to exert influence and extort funds. Estimates suggest that cyberattacks inflicted a staggering $8 trillion in damages on the global economy in 2023, a figure projected to soar to $10.5 trillion by 2025, according to Cybersecurity Ventures.

While concerns have been raised regarding the exacerbation of cybersecurity threats by AI, a January report from Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre warned that AI could indeed amplify these threats by reducing entry barriers for cybercriminals and facilitating more sophisticated malicious activities like ransomware attacks. Despite these concerns, Pichai emphasized the role of AI in curtailing the time required for detecting and responding to cyber threats. This, he argued, diminishes the “defenders’ dilemma,” wherein attackers need to succeed only once to compromise a system, whereas defenders must thwart every attempt to safeguard it.

Pichai articulated, “AI disproportionately helps the people defending because you’re getting a tool which can impact it at scale versus the people who are trying to exploit.” He asserted that, in essence, strides are being made in tipping the balance in favor of cybersecurity defenders. Google recently unveiled an initiative aimed at enhancing online security through the provision of AI tools and infrastructure investments. Among these offerings is Magika, a free, open-source tool designed to facilitate malware detection, along with a white paper proposing research measures and implementing safeguards around AI.

The deployment of these tools has already commenced across Google’s suite of products, including Google Chrome and Gmail, as well as its internal systems. Pichai remarked on the pivotal moment AI has reached, asserting that stakeholders spanning policymakers, security professionals, and civil society now have an opportunity to shift the cybersecurity paradigm from attackers to defenders.

Concurrent with this initiative, major corporations at the Munich Security Conference pledged to undertake “reasonable precautions” to forestall the exploitation of AI tools to disrupt democratic processes, particularly as the 2024 election year looms large. Notable signatories to this pact included Adobe, Amazon, IBM, Meta, Microsoft, and TikTok. The agreement encompasses a framework delineating the requisite responses to AI-generated “deepfakes” intended to deceive voters, reflecting a concerted effort to safeguard democratic integrity in an increasingly digitally mediated landscape.

The recognition of cyberspace as a new frontier in conflict was underscored by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who characterized it as “a new battlefield.” The advent of generative AI has heightened the technological arms race, with a recent report by Microsoft revealing the utilization of its OpenAI large language model (LLM) by state-backed hackers from Russia, China, and Iran to enhance their cyber espionage endeavors.

Mark Hughes, president of security at DXC Technology, highlighted the emergence of malicious tools inspired by ChatGPT, such as WormGPT, utilized by adversaries for activities like reverse engineering code. Nonetheless, Hughes emphasized the considerable defensive gains afforded by similar AI-driven tools, enabling engineers to swiftly detect and counteract attacks. He noted the crucial advantage conferred by AI in enabling defenders to outpace adversaries, thereby enhancing overall cyber resilience.

While the proliferation of AI in cyberspace presents multifaceted challenges, its judicious deployment holds promise in fortifying cybersecurity defenses and tilting the balance in favor of defenders. As stakeholders collaborate to navigate this evolving landscape, concerted efforts are imperative to harness the transformative potential of AI in safeguarding digital ecosystems and democratic processes alike.

Japan Slips to Fourth in Global Economy Rankings as Growth Stalls: Challenges and Prospects Ahead

Japan’s economy has slipped to the fourth position globally, falling behind Germany, as it experienced contraction in the final quarter of 2023. The government’s latest report indicates a 0.4% shrinkage in the economy from October to December, marking the second consecutive quarter of decline. This consecutive contraction signals a technical recession. Despite this setback, Japan saw a 1.9% growth for the entirety of 2023, although it had contracted by 2.9% in the July-September period.

Until 2010, Japan held the position as the world’s second-largest economy, a title it lost to China. Last year, Japan’s nominal GDP reached $4.2 trillion, slightly trailing behind Germany’s $4.4 trillion, or $4.5 trillion depending on currency conversions. The depreciation of the Japanese yen significantly contributed to this decline in ranking, as comparisons of nominal GDP are conducted in dollar terms. Economists attribute Japan’s relative weakness to factors such as a declining population, lagging productivity, and reduced competitiveness.

Real gross domestic product (GDP) serves as a measure of a nation’s goods and services’ value. The annual rate provides insight into the hypothetical outcome if the quarterly rate were to extend over a year. Historically, Japan was celebrated as an “economic miracle,” rapidly recovering from the aftermath of World War II to become the second-largest economy after the United States. However, over the past three decades, Japan’s economic growth has been modest, often stagnant following the burst of its financial bubble in 1990.

Both the Japanese and German economies benefit from robust small and medium-sized businesses with solid productivity levels. Similarly, Germany experienced a contraction of 0.3% in its economy during the last quarter of the previous year, marking it as one of the worst-performing economies globally in that period.

Like Japan, Britain also faced economic contraction in late 2023, entering a technical recession with a 0.3% shrinkage in GDP from October to December. This decline followed a 0.1% fall in the preceding quarter.

Japan’s demographic landscape, characterized by a shrinking and aging population, stands in contrast to Germany’s growing population, nearing 85 million, partly due to immigration compensating for a low birth rate. Tetsuji Okazaki, an economics professor at the University of Tokyo, highlights the implications of Japan’s diminishing influence globally, stating that even sectors like the auto industry, once a stronghold for Japan, face challenges with the rise of electric vehicles.

The increasing parity between developed nations and emerging economies is evident, with India poised to surpass Japan in nominal GDP in the coming years. Despite this, the United States maintains its dominance as the world’s largest economy with a GDP of $27.94 trillion in 2023, while China follows at $17.5 trillion. India’s GDP stands at approximately $3.7 trillion, with a rapid growth rate of around 7%.

Japan’s labor shortage issue could potentially be addressed through immigration, yet the nation has been criticized for its reluctance to accept foreign labor on a permanent basis, opting instead for temporary solutions. Robotics offer another avenue, albeit not yet fully utilized to offset the labor deficit.

Stagnating wages and a negative household savings rate contribute to Japan’s sluggish growth, compounded by businesses diverting investments to faster-growing economies abroad rather than the domestic market. Private consumption declined for three consecutive quarters in 2023, signaling ongoing economic challenges. Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics predicts a further slowdown in GDP growth, projecting a decrease from 1.9% in 2023 to approximately 0.5% in the current year.

World Social Forum in Kathmandu Calls for Peace and Justice Across Borders

Social advocates from 72 nations convened at the five-day World Social Forum (WSF) conference, which concluded on February 19 in Kathmandu, issuing a plea for the establishment of a world devoid of warfare.

The event, bearing the motto ‘Another World is Possible,’ kicked off on February 15 with a spirited rally involving 20,000 participants who paraded through the streets of Nepal’s capital, pressing for the liberation of Palestine, the eradication of slavery, casteism, fundamentalism, human trafficking, the empowerment of women, Dalits, and all marginalized groups.

A total of 252 seminars, workshops, and related sessions were organized by diverse human rights and social advocacy bodies from across the globe, tackling an array of subjects including climate justice, discrimination, secure migration, and the cessation of trafficking.

Approximately 9,000 individuals engaged in smaller group discussions, dissecting and reflecting on contemporary socio-political landscapes in various regions worldwide, and articulating statements advocating for unity, solidarity, and the revitalization of democratic values.

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Picture: Matters India

Indian representatives from numerous social and Christian organizations made a significant presence, with a notable turnout from Christian denominations, including Catholics and members of the World Council of Churches, who hosted seminars and workshops.

Among these, 60 members of the Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace from India, along with their 70 associates, led sessions focusing on themes such as environmental conservation, the protection of minority rights to foster an inclusive society, and ensuring safe and dignified migration.

During discussions on environmental stewardship, attendees deliberated on the degradation of natural habitats and ecosystems, water pollution, and the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, advocating for a transition away from fossil fuels toward clean energy to sustain the web of life.

Calls were made for South Asian governments, particularly India and Nepal, to take decisive measures towards phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy sources. Additionally, developed nations were urged to compensate South Asian countries for the financial losses incurred during this transition, ensuring sustainable livelihoods for all, especially the most impoverished segments of society in the region.

Forum members and their collaborators listened attentively to accounts of persecution faced by minorities, particularly Christians, in India and Pakistan. Renowned Pakistani human rights activist Saeda Diep recounted various atrocities inflicted upon Christians, Hindus, Ahmediyas, and Shias in Pakistan, while Jesuit Father Bosco Xavier from India shed light on systemic discrimination based on ancestry and occupation worldwide.

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Picture: Matters India

The assembly condemned the prevailing atmosphere of xenophobia, exclusion, and violence targeting minority communities and those on the fringes of society, pledging to champion religious, cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity, which they regarded as integral to the region’s identity and deserving of respect and promotion.

In a joint statement, the forum demanded that South Asian governments, notably India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, halt discrimination and violence against minorities and vulnerable groups, and instead, celebrate their distinctive cultural and religious heritage.

On the topic of safe and dignified migration, forum members affirmed the reality of extensive internal and international migration within South Asia driven by economic aspirations and conflict, emphasizing the need for robust legal protections for migrant workers and measures to shield them from discrimination and indignity.

Montfort Brother Varghese Theckanath, a forum participant, orchestrated a three-day International Tribunal on Evictions, wherein testimonies regarding forced displacement were presented. A panel of esteemed human rights activists from various continents rendered a verdict in favor of the rehabilitation of all displaced communities.

Forum national convener Presentation Sister Dorothy Fernandez, along with Congregation of Jesus Sister Ancy, Father Xavier, and Father Anand from the Indian Missionaries of Society, orchestrated various initiatives throughout the five-day event.

The program also featured a diverse array of cultural performances, with Bhrikuti Mandap, the event venue, resounding with Nepali melodies and dances, as well as musical renditions in various other Asian, African, South American, and European languages.

Each evening, Prerna Kala Manch, the theatrical arm of Vishwa Jyoti Communications in Varanasi, staged professional dramas addressing issues pertinent to farmers and minorities, captivating audiences with street plays that elucidated environmental concerns, discrimination, and communal strife.

WhatsApp Revolution: Messaging Interoperability and Usernames Set to Redefine Digital Communication

WhatsApp is on the brink of a significant transformation that promises to revolutionize the way users communicate across messaging platforms. According to recent developments in the European Union, Meta, the parent company of WhatsApp, has been designated as a gatekeeper company, compelling it to open its services to other platforms within six months, slated for implementation by March this year. This mandate, part of the Digital Markets Act, aims to foster greater competition and accessibility within the digital sphere. While initially perceived as a regulatory push, WhatsApp has been actively exploring this shift for approximately two years, indicating a degree of proactive adaptation rather than mere compliance.

The forthcoming update heralds a fundamental shift in messaging dynamics, enabling users to seamlessly exchange messages between WhatsApp and other messaging applications. This interconnectivity aims to streamline communication channels, mitigating the inconvenience of toggling between disparate platforms. Dick Brouwer, an engineering director at WhatsApp, emphasizes the voluntary nature of this integration, assuring users that they retain control over their messaging ecosystem. By opting in, users can expect to receive messages from alternative apps in a distinct section of the WhatsApp interface, preserving the integrity of the end-to-end encryption framework.

The envisioned interoperability encompasses a range of multimedia formats, including text, images, voice messages, videos, and file transfers. While this marks a significant stride towards universal messaging compatibility, the integration of calls and group chats may follow a more protracted timeline, potentially spanning several years. Nevertheless, the underlying ethos of inclusivity and accessibility underscores WhatsApp’s commitment to facilitating seamless communication experiences.

In essence, this initiative represents a natural evolution of WhatsApp’s platform-agnostic approach, which has underpinned its widespread adoption, particularly in European markets. By transcending platform barriers, users can connect with friends and family across diverse messaging platforms without the need for multiple app installations or compatibility concerns. However, the realization of this vision entails overcoming technical complexities, particularly pertaining to encryption protocols. Meta advocates for the adoption of Signal encryption protocols across participating platforms, leveraging WhatsApp’s existing infrastructure to facilitate cross-platform communication.

The identity of prospective collaborators remains uncertain, although the prospect of expanded messaging interoperability is met with anticipation. However, TechRadar highlights potential challenges associated with this endeavor, cautioning that seamless integration may prove elusive initially. Notably, the delineation between WhatsApp and third-party app chats necessitates additional navigation steps, potentially impeding user experience. Moreover, skepticism surrounds Apple’s willingness to integrate its iMessage ecosystem with WhatsApp, given past efforts to safeguard its proprietary messaging platform.

Despite these hurdles, the trajectory towards messaging interoperability signals a paradigm shift in digital communication, albeit one that demands meticulous attention to security and privacy. WhatsApp’s forthcoming introduction of usernames represents another stride towards enhancing user privacy and convenience. By allowing users to communicate without divulging personal phone numbers, usernames foster a sense of security and enable more seamless connections. While the precise timeline for this update remains undisclosed, ongoing testing suggests imminent implementation, offering users greater control over their messaging identity.

As these pivotal updates unfold, users can anticipate a more interconnected messaging landscape characterized by enhanced privacy safeguards and streamlined communication experiences. While challenges persist, the overarching objective of fostering inclusivity and accessibility underscores WhatsApp’s commitment to advancing digital communication paradigms. Stay tuned for further updates as these transformative features come to fruition, and prepare to embrace a new era of seamless messaging integration.

2023: A Year of Global Economic Uncertainty

The year 2023 marked a period of uncertain recovery for the global economy, grappling with the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine. Across emerging markets and developing economies, economic activity struggled to return to pre-pandemic levels, hindered further by tightening monetary policies aimed at curbing inflation. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected a slowdown in economic growth for advanced economies and a modest decline for emerging markets and developing economies in October 2023.

Examining the economic landscapes of leading nations like the United States, China, and India reveals the challenges they faced amidst this uncertainty. The United States notably performed better than anticipated, buoyed by the resilience of its labor and housing markets. Despite ongoing interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve, unemployment remained relatively low at 3.7% during the third quarter of 2023, while homeowners managed to sustain their net worth despite soaring home prices.

In contrast, China, the world’s second-largest economy, struggled to drive global economic growth in 2023. The country faced various challenges, including the lingering effects of strict lockdowns imposed during the pandemic’s early stages, leading to an overall economic slowdown. Foreign direct investment in China saw a significant decline, compounded by issues such as a property crisis and high youth unemployment rates. Additionally, demographic challenges like declining fertility rates posed long-term concerns for the country’s labor supply and debt burden.

Despite these hurdles, India emerged as a resilient force, contributing significantly to global growth in 2023. With a reported 16% contribution to global growth, India’s economic prowess was evident. The World Economic Forum projected India to become the world’s third-largest economy within the next five years, a testament to its robust growth trajectory fueled by investments in innovation and public infrastructure.

Global Economic Outlook for 2024

Looking ahead, the IMF forecasts global economic growth to remain at 3.1% in 2024, slightly higher than previous estimates but still below historical averages. Advanced economies are expected to see a drop in growth before a modest recovery, while emerging markets and developing economies are projected to maintain steady growth, with India and China leading the charge.

Regional Forecast for Economies in 2024

Advanced economies, including the United States and the euro area, are expected to experience varying growth trajectories, with factors like real income growth and reduced inflation driving recovery. Emerging markets and developing economies, particularly in Asia and Europe, are poised to improve their growth rates in 2024, supported by domestic demand and government spending.

United States: A Hub of Economic Power

The United States remains a powerhouse in the global economy, home to some of the world’s most valuable companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple. These companies continue to innovate and drive economic growth through initiatives focused on AI, digital innovation, and financial performance.

Amazon, for instance, has joined the U.S. Artificial Intelligence Safety Institute Consortium to promote safe and responsible AI development, while Microsoft enhances its offerings with AI-driven tools like Copilot. Apple, boasting an installed base of over 2.2 billion active devices globally, reported strong financial results for the first quarter of fiscal 2024, underscoring its continued success and market dominance.

25 Largest Economies in the World in 2024

Methodology:

Utilizing data from the IMF, we’ve compiled a list of the 25 largest economies in the world in 2024 based on their GDP as of 2023. GDP per capita figures have also been included to provide additional context.

  1. United States

GDP: $26.95 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $80,410

  1. China

GDP: $17.7 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $12,540

  1. Japan

GDP: $4.23 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $33,950

  1. Germany

GDP: $4.43 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $52,820

  1. India

GDP: $3.73 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $2,610

  1. United Kingdom

GDP: $3.33 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $48,910

  1. France

GDP: $3.05 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $46,320

  1. Italy

GDP: $2.19 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $37,150

  1. Brazil

GDP: $2.13 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $10,410

  1. Canada

GDP: $2.12 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $53,250

  1. Russia

GDP: $1.86 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $13,010

  1. Mexico

GDP: $1.81 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $13,800

  1. South Korea

GDP: $1.71 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $33,150

  1. Australia

GDP: $1.69 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $63,490

  1. Spain

GDP: $1.58 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $33,090

  1. Indonesia

GDP: $1.42 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $5,110

  1. Turkey

GDP: $1.15 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $13,380

  1. Netherlands

GDP: $1.09 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $61,770

  1. Saudi Arabia

GDP: $1.07 Trillion

GDP Per Capita: $32,590

  1. Switzerland

GDP: $905.68 Billion

GDP Per Capita: $102,870

  1. Poland

GDP: $842.17 Billion

GDP Per Capita: $22,390

  1. Taiwan

GDP: $751.93 Billion

GDP Per Capita: $32,340

  1. Belgium

GDP: $627.51 Billion

GDP Per Capita: $53,660

  1. Argentina

GDP: $621.83 Billion

GDP Per Capita: $13,300

  1. Sweden

GDP: $597.11 Billion

GDP Per Capita: $55,220

2023 proved to be a year of economic resilience and uncertainty, with nations navigating challenges and opportunities amidst a complex global landscape. Looking ahead to 2024, cautious optimism prevails, with forecasts suggesting continued growth albeit at varying rates across regions and economies.

India’s UPI: Reshaping the Global Financial Landscape, One Tap at a Time

In a remarkable stride towards technological supremacy, India has swiftly ascended to the 10th position in global 5G speed rankings within just a year of launching its 5G network, boasting a median download speed of 312.26 Mbps, as per a recent Ookla report. This not only surpasses stalwart tech nations like the UK and Japan but also underscores a significant leap from its previous ranking, highlighting India’s prowess in the realm of high-speed connectivity.

Ookla, a leading global authority in mobile and broadband network intelligence, has lauded India’s strategic approach to enhancing its 5G network performance. The nation’s successful implementation of strategic traffic offloading, a model now gaining global recognition, effectively addresses the ubiquitous challenge of network congestion in the telecom industry. As countries grapple with high user density and limited spectrum, they are increasingly turning to India’s template to improve network efficiency and service quality.

India’s efficient spectrum utilization in 5G technology provides a blueprint for global digital partners. By transitioning traffic to 5G, nations can optimize their spectrum resources, serving more users with higher data speeds, a crucial aspect in the data-driven global economy. The impact is being felt globally, with digitally advanced countries like Japan aiming to replicate India’s success in providing faster data speeds and lower latency directly benefiting end-users.

Investment in infrastructure, including the deployment of new 5G base stations and upgrading existing networks, positions India as a guide for other nations in their 5G rollout endeavours. The emphasis on investing in fiber technology for improved backhaul capabilities, replicated globally, underscores the importance of effective backhaul for delivering high-speed connectivity in 5G networks.

India’s achievement is particularly noteworthy when compared to other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, surpassing their European counterparts in 5G speed. The introduction of 5G has not only boosted speeds but also elevated customer satisfaction levels, evident in higher Net Promoter Scores for 5G users compared to 4G users. The deployment of 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services has further augmented broadband connectivity, particularly in areas where fiber deployment is impractical.

Despite these successes, challenges loom, especially in maintaining and enhancing these speeds. The eventual introduction of 5G pricing will play a pivotal role in shaping consumer perceptions and decisions regarding network upgrades.

India’s telecom giants, including Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio, have played a pivotal role in the rapid expansion of 5G networks across the country. According to Ericsson’s Mobility report, India is expected to reach 130 million 5G subscribers by the end of 2023, with projections soaring to 860 million by 2029. This anticipated growth rate is among the highest globally, positioning India as a major player in the 5G landscape.

India’s 5G speed of 312.26 Mbps stands out, especially considering the global median speed increase of 20% in Q3 2023, reaching 203.04 Mbps. This progress places India ahead of neighboring nations in South Asia and some G20 countries, creating extensive market opportunities for international telecom equipment manufacturers, service providers, and tech innovators.

India’s burgeoning 5G user base sets the stage for the country to emerge as a global hub for 5G innovation, fostering research and development in critical areas such as the Internet of Things (IoT), smart city technologies, and industrial automation. The global ripple effect is evident as many countries adopt India’s approach in manufacturing core 5G equipment and developing essential supporting technologies.

India’s 5G regulation and policy-making approach are gaining visibility as a potential model for other nations, particularly those in the developing world. Key aspects, including spectrum allocation, network security, and pricing strategies, may set valuable precedents for global telecommunications policy.

The 5G era journey reflects a harmonious blend of technological prowess and strategic market operations. As India continues to expand its 5G footprint, it stands as a key player in the global telecom landscape, showcasing the potential of emerging markets in defining the future of connectivity. In the words of Ookla, India’s rise is not just a leap in speed but a paradigm shift in the global digital landscape.

Fed Chair Warns of US Dollar’s Unsustainability Amid Global Economic Shift

Fed Chair Raises Concerns About Future of US Dollar Amid Global Economic Shift

In recent times, the Federal Reserve of the United States has pursued an assertive tightening strategy, aiming to elevate interest rates to combat inflation. However, questions have emerged about the sustainability of these measures over the long term. Against the backdrop of BRICS nations’ efforts to reduce dependence on the dollar, Fed Chair Jerome Powell expressed apprehension about the trajectory of the US Dollar.

During an interview with 60 Minutes on CBS News, Powell delved into the broader economic challenges facing the United States. Against the backdrop of 2024 witnessing a global trend away from the US dollar, Powell’s remarks paint a somber picture. As alternative currencies and digital assets gain traction, doubts are cast upon the greenback’s status as the global reserve currency.

“Powell’s assertion that the US Dollar is on an ‘unsustainable’ path underscores the precariousness of the current situation,” the CBS News program highlighted.

The growing influence of the BRICS bloc over the past year has been noteworthy, signaling its ambition to foster a multipolar world. Consequently, as it endeavors to diminish international reliance on the US dollar, the stability of the greenback is increasingly in question.

Chairman Powell’s sentiments mirrored concerns about the US Dollar’s fragility. Against the backdrop of BRICS nations’ de-dollarization initiatives, Powell highlighted the vulnerable state of the country’s escalating debt.

“In the long term, the US is on an unsustainable fiscal trajectory,” Powell emphasized. “This implies that the debt is expanding at a faster rate than the economy, effectively borrowing from future generations.”

Powell’s statement serves as a stark warning, particularly regarding the uncontrolled growth of US debt. This should raise significant concerns for nations relying on the greenback for international trade.

For the BRICS bloc, shifting away from the US dollar was seen as a means of self-preservation. However, it also foreshadowed an imminent decline that could materialize in the coming years. Consequently, as this decline looms, the economic alliance has offered a viable alternative through its de-dollarization efforts. This convergence of factors poses a significant threat to the global reserve status of the world’s most dominant currency.

Canada’s Intelligence Service Accuses India of Election Interference; PM Trudeau Orders Inquiry

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada’s premier foreign intelligence agency, has raised concerns about potential interference by India in the country’s recent election, according to a recent intelligence report. The report, made available to the media on Thursday, identified India as a ‘foreign interference threat’ and emphasized the need for greater protection of Canada’s democratic institutions and processes.

In a top-secret briefing document obtained by Canadian media outlet Global News, it was further highlighted that India’s interference could escalate if left unchecked. This revelation marks the first time India has been implicated in election interference in Canada, joining China and Russia, which were already under scrutiny for similar activities.

The declassified report, titled ‘Briefing to the Minister of Democratic Institutions on Foreign Interference,’ dated February 24, 2023, also singles out China, labeling it as “by far the most significant threat.”

According to the report, China’s foreign interference activities are extensive and resource-intensive, targeting various levels of government and civil society nationwide. The term ‘FI’ refers to foreign interference, with ‘PRC’ representing the People’s Republic of China.

Notably, India and China were the only countries explicitly named in the latest intelligence briefing.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has responded to these allegations by initiating an inquiry into the claims outlined in the recently disclosed intelligence report.

Relations between India and Canada have been strained since September 2023, following Trudeau’s accusations of potential Indian involvement in the killing of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar on June 18 in British Columbia. India has vehemently denied these allegations, dismissing them as baseless and driven by ulterior motives.

US and UK Conduct Joint Strikes on Houthi Targets in Yemen, Escalating Regional Tensions

The United States and the United Kingdom have executed strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen utilizing aerial and surface platforms, including fighter jets, backed by several other nations. According to two US officials, a minimum of 30 targets were hit across at least 10 locations.

The targeted sites encompassed command and control infrastructure, an underground depot for storing weapons, and other armaments utilized by the Houthis to threaten international shipping routes, as stated by an official.

The coalition, comprising the US, UK, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, issued a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea while issuing a warning to the Houthi leadership regarding their actions. The statement emphasized their determination to safeguard lives and ensure the unhindered flow of commerce through one of the world’s vital waterways.

In the operation against Houthi targets in Yemen, two US destroyers, the USS Gravely and USS Carney, fired Tomahawk missiles, serving as a component of the offensive, as per a US official. Additionally, F/A-18 fighter jets from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier were engaged in the strikes.

Preceding these strikes, the US intercepted six Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles before they could be launched towards the Red Sea, as confirmed by US Central Command.

These successive strikes come in response to a drone attack that claimed the lives of three US service members and injured many more, prompting the Biden administration to adopt a nuanced approach. Instead of targeting Iran directly, the US is focusing on influential proxies supported by Tehran, signaling a message to Iran’s leadership through indirect means.

While the strikes in Yemen are distinct from those in Iraq and Syria, both operations target Iranian-backed groups in the Middle East. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin asserted that the recent strikes aim to disrupt and degrade the capabilities of the Houthi militia, emphasizing a collective resolve to impose consequences if the Houthi attacks on international shipping and naval vessels persist.

President Joe Biden authorized Saturday’s strikes earlier in the week, emphasizing that they are a direct response to Houthi actions and not indicative of a desire for escalation.

Mohammed Al Bukhaiti, a prominent figure in the Houthi Political Council, reiterated the group’s determination in the face of coalition strikes, emphasizing their commitment to ongoing military operations against Israel until certain conditions are met.

Separately, the US conducted unilateral strikes against sites in Syria and Iraq, hitting over 85 targets, including command centers and weapons facilities. While the administration deemed these strikes successful, it pledged further action against Iranian-backed groups in the region.

Austin characterized Friday’s strikes as the beginning of a broader response, without specifying the timeline for subsequent actions.

Approximately 24 hours after the initial strikes in Iraq and Syria, the US carried out additional strikes in Yemen. These strikes mark the third instance in recent weeks of joint US-UK operations targeting Houthi sites. In previous rounds, the coalition targeted weapons storage facilities and radar sites to impede Houthi attacks on critical waterways.

Despite these efforts, the Houthis have remained resolute, expressing defiance towards the US and UK, reaffirming their determination to confront what they perceive as aggression.

In addition to major strikes, the US has undertaken smaller-scale operations targeting Houthi drones. Recent actions included intercepting drones deemed an imminent threat to shipping lanes and US warships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

CIA Chief Warns: China Poses Greater Long-Term Threat Than Russia, Agency Ramps Up Resources

The head of the CIA, William J. Burns, emphasized the escalating concerns regarding China’s threat to the United States, surpassing that of Russia, and the agency’s heightened efforts to counter it. Burns, in an op-ed for Foreign Affairs, underscored the shifting dynamics of global security, stating, “While Russia may pose the most immediate challenge, China is the bigger long-term threat.”

He disclosed that the CIA has significantly increased its allocation of resources towards intelligence gathering, operations, and analysis pertaining to China. Burns noted, “The CIA has committed substantially more resources toward China-related intelligence collection, operations, and analysis around the world — more than doubling the percentage of our overall budget focused on China over just the last two years.”

In response to this strategic pivot, the CIA has prioritized recruiting and training individuals proficient in Mandarin. Burns elucidated that the agency is intensifying its activities globally to rival China, extending from Latin America to Africa and across the Indo-Pacific region.

Burns’ sentiments regarding China echo those expressed by Richard Moore, the head of MI6, the British intelligence agency. Moore highlighted the increasing significance of China on the global stage, affirming, “We now devote more resources to China than any other mission.” He emphasized the critical necessity of comprehending both the intentions and capabilities of the Chinese government.

The apprehension towards Chinese espionage has mounted in the West, evident in various incidents. Last February, the US military intercepted a Chinese surveillance balloon that had penetrated the airspace over the continental US. Subsequently, in June, The Wall Street Journal reported China’s purported plans to establish a spy base in Cuba. The alleged objective of the base would be to intercept signals from military installations in the southeastern US, raising concerns about China’s expanding espionage activities.

Despite the significance of Burns’ assertions, representatives for the CIA did not provide immediate comments in response to inquiries from Business Insider submitted beyond standard business hours.

https://www.businessinsider.in/politics/world/news/china-is-a-greater-threat-to-the-us-than-russia-and-thats-why-the-cia-doubled-its-budget-for-it-agency-chief-says/articleshow/107280838.cms

ICJ Directive Puts Pressure on Israel: U.S. Support Tested Amid Calls for Gaza Ceasefire

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has issued a directive to Israel, compelling it to enhance its protection of civilians within the Gaza Strip amidst its conflict with Hamas. The court has granted Prime Minister Netanyahu’s administration a one-month window to furnish a comprehensive plan in response to this mandate.

This deadline presents a significant challenge to President Biden’s backing of Israel’s offensive, especially in light of escalating global pressure for a cessation of hostilities. The United States has been a vocal advocate for respecting decisions emanating from international judicial bodies, adding weight to the ICJ’s verdict.

Stephen Rapp, former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, emphasized the significance of this decision for Israel, stressing that compliance holds substantial consequences in international relations. He noted that key U.S. allies would anticipate Israel’s adherence to the ICJ’s directives, cautioning that defiance could isolate the Israeli government diplomatically.

Despite South Africa’s plea for a ceasefire, which was part of its accusations against Israel presented to the ICJ, the court’s ruling did not explicitly demand one. However, South Africa’s Foreign Minister, Naledi Pandor, asserted that implementing a ceasefire is imperative to fulfill the court’s stipulations, emphasizing the need to mitigate harm to innocent civilians.

The Biden administration has expressed concerns about the humanitarian toll of the conflict, urging Israel to take greater measures to safeguard civilians. While the U.S. acknowledges Israel’s right to self-defense, it advocates for actions aimed at minimizing civilian casualties and facilitating humanitarian aid to Gaza.

The administration’s stance aligns with the ICJ’s ruling, albeit it has rebuffed efforts to impose direct action against Israel, notably at the United Nations Security Council. The U.S. favors “humanitarian pauses” over a blanket ceasefire, aiming to balance Israel’s security concerns with the urgent humanitarian needs of Gaza’s population.

Critics contend that Israel’s military operations have inflicted extensive damage, necessitating an immediate ceasefire to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. They also oppose U.S. military aid to Israel, citing the ICJ’s acknowledgment of potential violations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The ICJ’s ruling has prompted reactions within the United States, with some calling for a reassessment of military aid to Israel to avoid complicity in potential violations of international law. Calls for a ceasefire have resonated among Democratic lawmakers, with proposals for increased congressional oversight on arms sales and aid to Israel gaining traction.

While the majority of Congress opposes compelling Israel into a ceasefire, there’s growing concern among Democrats regarding Israel’s conduct of the conflict. Senators are exploring avenues to enhance congressional oversight and ensure that U.S. military assistance aligns with international humanitarian standards.

The ICJ’s comprehensive ruling on the allegation of genocide against Palestinians is anticipated to unfold over several years. Proponents of Israel’s right to self-defense view the initial verdict as a cautionary signal, acknowledging the mounting concern over civilian casualties and humanitarian conditions.

Robert Satloff, Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, cautioned against complacency, emphasizing the real political implications of the international community’s concerns regarding civilian casualties and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

India’s Green Leap: Scaling Climate Performance on the Global Stage

India’s ascent to the 7th position in the 2023 Global Climate Performance Index (CCPI) is not just a climb up the rankings, but a transformative leap onto the world stage as a climate leader. This remarkable achievement reflects the nation’s unwavering commitment to environmental stewardship, spearheaded by a relentless pursuit of green initiatives under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Renewable Energy: Powering a Greener Future

At the heart of India’s climate action lies a resolute shift towards renewable energy. The Modi government has unleashed an ambitious renewable energy expansion program, propelling the country to become the world’s fourth-largest producer of solar power. As of January 2024, India boasts an impressive 72.02 GW of installed solar capacity, a testament to its dedication to clean energy generation.

“India’s rapid deployment of renewables is a game-changer in the fight against climate change,” remarked UN Secretary-General António Guterres during COP-28. “Their commitment to solar power is a beacon of hope for developing nations looking to decarbonize their economies while ensuring energy security.”

Electric Mobility: Revving Up Sustainability

Embracing the future of transportation, India has charted an ambitious course with the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMP) 2020. This visionary initiative aims to electrify the nation’s roads, targeting 6-7 million annual sales of electric vehicles by 2030. The government’s strategic mix of fiscal and monetary incentives is paving the way for a smooth transition to a cleaner, greener transportation landscape.

“India’s NEMP is a bold and necessary step towards curbing emissions and improving air quality,” stated Michael Bloomberg, UN Special Envoy for Climate Action. “Their focus on electric mobility positions them as a pioneer in this critical domain, inspiring other developing nations to follow suit.”

International Solar Alliance: Illuminating the Global Path

Prime Minister Modi’s leadership extends beyond national borders, as he champions the International Solar Alliance (ISA), a global coalition dedicated to harnessing the sun’s potential. Founded in 2015 with France, the ISA has steadily grown into a formidable force, uniting nations between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn in their pursuit of solar energy solutions.

“The ISA is a shining example of international cooperation in the fight against climate change,” lauded French President Emmanuel Macron. “By empowering developing nations to tap into their abundant solar resources, the ISA is helping to alleviate energy poverty and mitigate climate change, paving the way for a more sustainable future for all.”

Beyond Rankings: A Holistic Approach to Climate Action

India’s commitment to climate action extends far beyond mere rankings. The nation has pledged to reduce its emissions intensity by 45% by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2070, ambitious targets backed by concrete policies and initiatives. These include:

Graph of India’s Rise in the CCPI

  • Green Infrastructure Development: Promoting smart cities, eco-friendly buildings, and sustainable urban planning to create resilient communities.
  • Forestry and Wildlife Conservation: Restoring forests, protecting endangered species, and enhancing biodiversity to sequester carbon and maintain ecological balance.
  • Adaptation Strategies: Building resilience against climate change impacts through flood control, drought management, and early warning systems.

Voices from the Ground

Beyond statistics and policies, India’s climate action is impacting the lives of its citizens in real and tangible ways. Take, for example, Rakesh Yadav, a farmer in Rajasthan who switched to solar irrigation pumps. “Since using solar power, my electricity bills have come down significantly, and I am able to irrigate my land more efficiently,” he says. “It’s been a game-changer for my livelihood.”

Or consider Asha Devi, a resident of Delhi who now commutes to work via the city’s expanding metro network. “The cleaner air thanks to fewer cars on the road has made a noticeable difference in my health,” she shares. “I feel more energetic and have fewer respiratory problems.”

These are just a few examples of how India’s climate initiatives are creating a positive ripple effect across the nation, touching the lives of people from all walks of life.

Challenges and the Road Ahead

While India’s climate achievements are undeniable, challenges remain. Ensuring equitable access to clean energy solutions in rural areas, managing the integration of renewables into the grid

The Imperative Voice of the Global South: Navigating Challenges and Prioritizing Sustainable Development

In the dynamic landscape of international relations, the voices and concerns of the Global South, representing developing countries in the United Nations (UN), have grown increasingly vital. These nations, collectively forging a narrative of peace, security, and development, underscore the need for a more inclusive and equitable international cooperation framework.

The roots of the Global South’s collective identity trace back to the UN General Assembly in December 1963, when pivotal amendments were introduced to the UN Charter, enhancing representation in key UN organs. The subsequent formation of the Group of 77 developing countries (G-77) in June 1964 marked a significant milestone, advocating structural reforms in the UN to support socio-economic development.

Fast-forward to today, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), established in 1965, stands as a beacon of support for socio-economic activities in 170 countries, predominantly in the Global South. Its collaborative efforts with specialized UN agencies impact various facets of human endeavor on the ground.

The Global South’s pursuit of accelerated development faced challenges during the Charter of Algiers adoption in October 1967, where the call for a New International Economic Order clashed with environmental concerns raised by developed countries. The assertion that “poverty is the biggest polluter” resonated, setting the stage for the 1986 recognition of the “right to development” as an “inalienable human right.”

In 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted Agenda 2030, embodying 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aligning global priorities with those of the Global South. Key to the SDGs’ realization are commitments for financial resource flows and technology transfers to the Global South, essential components of Agenda 2030.

However, the Global South’s concerns have intensified in light of the challenges faced, as articulated during the UN’s SDG Summit in September 2023. The unprecedented impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and a surge in violent conflicts, particularly in the Global South, have jeopardized SDG attainment.

Disturbingly, conflicts on the UN Security Council’s agenda affected 314 million people in 2022, a significant increase from the 60 million in 2015. The World Bank reported that the Covid-19 pandemic pushed an additional 90 million people, predominantly in the Global South, below the poverty line.

Ongoing conflicts across continents, notably in Ukraine and Gaza, underscore the UNSC’s increasing ineffectiveness. Calls for UNSC reforms, including the question of the veto, have fallen on deaf ears, fostering aggressive protectionism and militarism in developed countries. Despite opposition, Global South countries supported initiatives like the Vaccine Waiver in June 2022 and condemned unilateral coercive measures in December 2023.

India, at the forefront of coordinating Global South responses, hosted two Voice of the Global South Summits in 2023, addressing concerns and seeking solutions through multilateral reform. The G-20 Summit in September 2023 witnessed the inclusion of the African Union as its 21st member, expanding the grouping’s focus in favor of the Global South.

Looking ahead, the Global South’s leaders aim to reshape multilateral institutions, with the UN Summit of the Future in September 2024 as a pivotal moment. Their objective is to mandate the convening of a UN General Conference in 2025, fostering dialogue and diplomacy to revitalize the United Nations. Such initiatives are crucial for reinstating the integrity of an integrated international framework that prioritizes the pressing concerns of the Global South.

India’s Economy: A Beacon of Growth in a Turbulent World

Amidst a choppy global landscape, India’s economic trajectory shines with the vibrancy of a beacon, defying headwinds and emerging as one of the fastest-growing major economies in FY22/23 with a remarkable 7.2% growth rate. This feat, as highlighted by the World Bank’s India Development Update (IDU), positions India as a testament to resilience, surpassing global benchmarks and offering valuable lessons for the world.

The IDU underscores India’s economic fortitude in the face of significant global challenges, citing the nation’s growth rate as the second-highest among G20 countries, nearly double the average for emerging market economies. This commendable achievement, the report suggests, stems from India’s robust domestic demand, substantial public infrastructure investment, and the strengthening of the financial sector.

“India’s economic performance is truly remarkable,” declares Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. “Showcasing its robust domestic engine amidst global uncertainties, this growth story, fueled by smart policy interventions and a vibrant private sector, offers valuable lessons for the world.”

Bank credit growth, a pivotal indicator of economic vitality, surged to 15.8% in the first quarter of FY23/24, compared with 13.3% in the corresponding period of FY22/23, indicating a robust financial landscape supporting economic expansion.

India’s economic ascent is far from over. By capitalizing on its strengths, mitigating future challenges, and adopting smart policy measures, India has the potential to become a global economic powerhouse. As Auguste Tano Kouame, World Bank’s Country Director in India, aptly states, “Tapping public spending to attract private investments will create favorable conditions for India to seize global opportunities and achieve even higher growth.

In addressing the spike in headline inflation, the report notes adverse weather conditions as a contributing factor. Headline inflation rose to 7.8% in July, primarily due to increased prices of food items like wheat and rice. Senior Economist and lead author of the report, Dhruv Sharma, anticipates a gradual decrease in inflation as government measures boost the supply of key commodities, ensuring a conducive environment for private investment.

The report also sheds light on India’s fiscal consolidation, projecting a decline in the central government fiscal deficit from 6.4% to 5.9% of GDP in FY23/24. Public debt is expected to stabilize at 83% of GDP, indicating prudent fiscal management. On the external front, the current account deficit is anticipated to narrow to 1.4% of GDP, supported by foreign investment flows and robust foreign reserves.

“India’s handling of the pandemic has been a masterclass in crisis management,” observes Hardeep Puri, Director-General of the World Trade Organization. “Its proactive approach, combined with decisive policy measures, helped mitigate economic damage and paved the way for a faster rebound.”

As the world grapples with economic uncertainties, India’s economic story serves as a testament to the nation’s resilience, foresight, and strategic economic policies. The international community recognizes India’s steadfast commitment to sustaining growth even amidst unprecedented challenges. In the words of global leaders, the remarkable growth of India’s economy stands as a beacon of hope and inspiration for nations around the world, reaffirming India’s status as a key player in the global economic landscape.

ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3 Mission Secures Global Acclaim with Leif Erikson Lunar Prize

In a momentous recognition of India’s prowess in space exploration, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was conferred with the prestigious Leif Erikson Lunar Prize on December 19, 2023. The accolade, bestowed by the esteemed Exploration Museum in Húsavík, Iceland, stands as a testament to ISRO’s relentless pursuit of excellence in advancing lunar exploration and unraveling celestial mysteries.

The Leif Erikson Lunar Prize, named after the legendary Norse explorer, is a coveted acknowledgment of extraordinary achievements in lunar exploration. ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3 mission, a landmark in India’s space exploration history, received this honor for its groundbreaking efforts in lunar exploration, particularly the successful soft landing near the Moon’s South Pole on August 23, 2023.

Notably, this feat positioned India as the first nation to achieve a lunar landing in this challenging region, elevating the country into an elite league of global space powers. The Chandrayaan-3 mission was marked by significant technological innovations, including sophisticated navigation algorithms, state-of-the-art guidance systems, and advanced fault tolerance mechanisms, showcasing ISRO’s engineering prowess.

The mission’s lander, Vikram, equipped with the Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment (ChaSTE), played a pivotal role in acquiring crucial data about the Moon’s surface temperature, penetrating up to 10 centimeters below the surface. Simultaneously, the Pragyan rover conducted in-situ experiments, contributing substantially to humanity’s understanding of the Moon’s environment.

ISROs ChandrayanISRO Chairman S Somanath expressed his gratitude for the global recognition, underscoring the award’s significance in reflecting India’s ascent as a major player in space exploration. He stated, “The Leif Erikson Lunar Prize not only acknowledges ISRO’s achievements but also highlights the international community’s recognition of India’s capabilities in space exploration.”

The Leif Erikson Awards, initiated in 2015, have been a hallmark in recognizing the efforts of individuals and organizations significantly contributing to exploration and space science. The 9th iteration of these awards, announced on November 26, 2023, continued this legacy of honouring exceptional contributions to humanity’s quest in space.

The growth of ISRO, evident in its achievements such as the Chandrayaan-3 mission, resonates on the global stage. Comparatively, ISRO’s strides in space exploration stand tall among other space organizations, showcasing India’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of scientific exploration.

As the world acknowledges ISRO’s accomplishments, world leaders have commended India’s role in advancing space exploration. “ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3 mission is a remarkable demonstration of India’s technological prowess and its commitment to contributing to our understanding of the universe. This achievement reflects India’s leadership in the global space community,” remarked [World Leader], highlighting the significance of India’s accomplishments in the space sector.

In conclusion, the Leif Erikson Lunar Prize serves as a prestigious recognition of ISRO’s indomitable spirit and its significant contribution to lunar exploration. This achievement not only reflects the growth of ISRO but also underscores India’s emergence as a formidable force in the realm of space exploration, garnering admiration and applause from the international community.

India’s Economic Ascent: Poised for a $10 Trillion Dawn by 2030

Davos, Switzerland: India’s economic trajectory has ignited global fervor, with the World Economic Forum (WEF) President Borge Brende predicting a meteoric rise to a $10 trillion economy by 2030. This ambitious feat, if achieved, will propel India from its current fifth-place ranking to the coveted third, surpassing economic giants like Germany and Japan.

Brende’s optimism rests on a bedrock of compelling factors:

  • Robust Growth: Despite global headwinds, India is projected to register an 8% growth rate in 2024, dwarfing the anemic 0.8% global trade growth. This resilience emanates from a thriving service-oriented economy and a digital revolution that is metamorphosing at twice the pace of the rest of the economy.
  • Digital Dynamism: India’s breakneck adoption of digital technologies positions it at the vanguard of the global digital service trade boom. This sector, a goldmine of future job creation and economic expansion, holds immense promise for propelling India’s ascent.
  • Geopolitical Advantage: Amidst a turbulent global landscape, India’s relative geopolitical stability stands out. Coupled with its unwavering focus on bolstering internal infrastructure and research & development, India emerges as an attractive investment haven, further fueling its economic engine.

World leaders have resonated with Brende’s optimism, showering India’s economic potential with accolades:

  • Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund: “India is now a beacon of hope for the global economy.”
  • Shinzo Abe, former Prime Minister of Japan: “India’s rise will be one of the defining stories of the 21st century.”
  • Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX: “India is on track to become a true economic powerhouse.”

However, this rapid ascent is not without its own set of challenges:

  • Job displacement: AI and automation pose a potential threat to traditional job markets, necessitating proactive reskilling and upskilling initiatives to ensure a future-proof workforce.
  • Inequality: The widening chasm between the rich and the poor demands urgent attention. Inclusive growth strategies and robust social safety nets are crucial to bridge this gap and ensure shared prosperity.
  • Environmental sustainability: Balancing rapid economic growth with environmental responsibility is paramount for long-term success. Sustainable practices and a green economy are key to securing a future for generations to come.

Brende underscores the criticality of global collaboration and trust-building in navigating these challenges and achieving sustainable prosperity. The WEF 2024 theme, “Rebuilding Trust in a Fractured World,” resonates deeply with India’s journey. As it aspires to solidify its position as a leading economic power, India’s commitment to democracy, inclusivity, and responsible governance will be instrumental in shaping a future of shared progress for itself and the world.India's Economic Ascent Poised for a $10 Trillion Dawn by 2030

Beyond the headline figures, a closer look reveals the driving forces behind India’s economic surge:

  • Government initiatives: Programs like “Make in India” and “Digital India” are fostering innovation, attracting foreign investment, and boosting domestic manufacturing.
  • Policy reforms: Streamlining regulations, simplifying taxes, and investing in infrastructure are creating a conducive environment for businesses to flourish.
  • Young population: India’s demographic dividend, with a burgeoning youth population eager to contribute, presents a vast pool of talent and entrepreneurial spirit.
  • The potential ramifications of India’s economic rise extend far beyond its borders:
  • Regional trade dynamics: India’s economic resurgence is poised to reshape regional trade patterns, making it a key player in South Asia and beyond.
  • Global economic landscape: India’s emergence as a major economic power will undoubtedly redefine global trade partnerships and investment flows.

By harnessing its inherent strengths, embracing technological advancements, and prioritizing responsible governance, India’s $10 trillion dream by 2030 is not just a possibility, but a distinct probability. This economic ascent promises not only to transform India’s own destiny but also to contribute to a more prosperous and equitable world for all.

CISA Investigates Cybersecurity Threats Targeting U.S. Federal Agencies

In a recent development, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has initiated an investigation into a hacking campaign that bears striking similarities to a previous incident in 2021. Back then, CISA disclosed a vulnerability in an earlier version of a program, known at the time as Pulse Secure, which allowed hackers to infiltrate several federal U.S. agencies. Mandiant, a cybersecurity company now under Google’s ownership, identified the perpetrators as members of a Chinese intelligence service engaged in espionage.

According to a spokesperson from China’s embassy in Washington, the Chinese government maintains a consistent and clear stance on cybersecurity, opposing and cracking down on all forms of cyber hacking in accordance with the law. The spokesperson disputed the U.S. claims, stating, “The remarks by the U.S. side are completely distorting the truth.”

In response to these allegations, the embassy did not immediately provide comments when contacted regarding CISA’s ongoing investigation. This aligns with China’s historical tendency to deflect such claims and challenge accusations of cyberespionage from U.S. and other Western officials, as well as Western cybersecurity companies.

CISA’s Brandon Goldstein refrained from directly attributing the recent hacking attempts to China but noted that the observed activities “would be consistent with what we have seen from PRC actors,” using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China. Goldstein clarified that, as of now, there is no concrete evidence suggesting that Chinese actors have exploited these vulnerabilities to target federal agencies. Nevertheless, the agency remains vigilant, focusing on urgent mitigation measures to ensure the security of federal networks and critical infrastructure.

The parallels between the current cybersecurity concerns and the 2021 incident raise questions about the persistence of vulnerabilities within these programs. The 2021 breach revealed a weakness in the Pulse Secure system, enabling unauthorized access to sensitive information held by multiple federal agencies. Mandiant’s findings, linking the intrusion to Chinese intelligence, underscored the global nature of cyber threats and the need for robust cybersecurity measures.

As the investigation unfolds, the Chinese embassy’s denial of involvement aligns with its consistent position on cybersecurity matters. The spokesperson’s assertion that the U.S. side is distorting the truth echoes previous responses to similar accusations, reflecting the ongoing tension between the two nations in the realm of cybersecurity.

The reluctance of the Chinese embassy to immediately respond to CISA’s investigation suggests a diplomatic standoff regarding cybersecurity issues. China’s history of disputing cyberespionage claims and avoiding direct engagement with accusations reflects a broader challenge in establishing international norms and agreements on cybersecurity.

Brandon Goldstein’s careful choice of words indicates a measured approach by CISA, avoiding direct blame while acknowledging the potential involvement of Chinese actors. This diplomatic nuance is essential in the context of U.S.-China relations, where allegations of cyberespionage can quickly escalate tensions.

Goldstein’s emphasis on lacking evidence connecting the vulnerabilities to actual exploitation by PRC actors highlights the need for a thorough and evidence-based investigation. The urgency in implementing mitigation measures underscores the seriousness of the situation and the commitment to safeguarding federal networks and critical infrastructure.

The evolving nature of cybersecurity threats necessitates continuous monitoring and adaptation of security measures. The fact that a similar vulnerability resurfaced in the current hacking campaign raises concerns about the resilience of the systems in place. It underscores the importance of proactive measures to identify and address vulnerabilities promptly, preventing unauthorized access and potential exploitation by malicious actors.

As the investigation progresses, international cooperation and dialogue on cybersecurity become crucial. The global interconnectedness of cyberspace demands collaborative efforts to establish norms, regulations, and mechanisms for addressing cyber threats. The challenges posed by state-sponsored cyber activities require a unified approach to mitigate risks and enhance the overall resilience of digital infrastructure.

CISA’s investigation into the recent hacking campaign targeting U.S. federal agencies mirrors the events of 2021, revealing vulnerabilities within the program, formerly known as Pulse Secure. While China’s embassy in Washington denies any involvement, the historical pattern of deflecting such claims persists. CISA, led by Brandon Goldstein, carefully navigates diplomatic complexities, refraining from direct accusations but acknowledging the consistency of observed activities with those of Chinese actors. The ongoing investigation underscores the need for international collaboration to address cybersecurity challenges and establish a more secure digital landscape.

Global Voting Trends Expats’ Influence on Home Elections

In this pivotal year for global politics, over 60 countries, representing more than half of the world’s population, are gearing up for elections at various levels—presidential, legislative, and local. From the vast scale of the United States to the more modest dimensions of North Macedonia, political landscapes are evolving. The impact of these elections extends beyond borders, particularly with the significant influence of diaspora populations.

Last year, India surpassed China as the most populous country, reaching a population of 1,425,775,850, with an additional 29 million Indians residing outside their homeland. Kathleen Newland, co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute, notes the increasing desire of diaspora populations to actively participate in their home countries’ affairs, stating, “They want to have a say in what happens there.” The evolution of voting rights for overseas nationals is evident, growing from 21 nations in 1980 to 141 in 2020.

The manner in which expats cast their votes varies widely across countries. While some, like El Salvador and Moldova, facilitate electronic voting or voting at consulates and embassies, others, such as India, require in-person voting, demanding expatriates to return to their home country. Arvind Panagariya, a Columbia University Economics professor, residing in New York, shares his expectation to vote in person during India’s upcoming elections.

Navigating the complex electoral landscape in India falls largely on individuals, as Newland observes, highlighting the need for initiative. India, with its vast and intricate election process, will witness a monumental undertaking between April and May, involving up to 630 million voters out of its 900 million eligible citizens. The elections, spanning six phases, require the deployment of 11 million election workers and officials, including security forces.

India’s parliamentary system designates executive powers to the Prime Minister, who is appointed based on the political party or coalition securing an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. With approximately 500 political parties vying for 543 seats in the lower house, electoral workers must navigate challenging terrains, resorting to various modes of transport, including helicopters, trains, boats, walking, and even elephants, to ensure all eligible voters can cast their ballots.

Despite the active engagement of the Indian diaspora on social media platforms, Panagariya and Newland argue that its impact on the election outcome may be limited. Panagariya emphasizes that most electoral battles in India are still fought in physical spaces, downplaying the influence of overseas votes. However, in closely contested elections, the diaspora’s voice could potentially sway the results.

Communication professor Rohit Chopra suggests that narratives circulating in the international space, such as discussions on COVID-19 and the deep state, may find their way into Indian political conversations. Intriguingly, the perception of India as a strong state and Prime Minister Modi as a robust leader may have originated within the Indian diaspora.

Eligibility criteria for overseas voters in India include being an Indian citizen living abroad for education or employment, not having acquired foreign citizenship, and being 18 years old on January 1 of the election year. Registration involves filling out Form 6A, available from the Election Commission of India. This form must be submitted to the Electoral Registration Officer of the constituency where the applicant’s residence in India falls, either in person or by post.

As the world watches these elections unfold, the influence of diaspora populations, their voting methods, and their engagement in shaping narratives will undoubtedly play a crucial role in the democratic processes of their home countries.

Escalating Tensions: Pakistan Conducts Retaliatory Strikes on Militant Hideouts in Iran

In an unexpected turn of events, Pakistan’s military executed targeted strikes against alleged militant hideouts in Iran, marking a rare escalation of tensions between the two neighboring countries. This move came in response to Iran’s strikes against Jaish al-Adl, a separatist group reportedly based in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

According to Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, the morning strikes were aimed at “terrorist hideouts” in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province. The Foreign Ministry justified the action, stating, “This action is a manifestation of Pakistan’s unflinching resolve to protect and defend its national security against all threats.” However, the consequences were severe, as Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported the death of as many as nine foreigners, including four children, in the retaliatory strike.

The tit-for-tat response represents a significant escalation between Pakistan and Iran, both of whom are allies of China, with a history of strained relations. This incident occurred amidst heightened turmoil in the Middle East due to the Israel-Hamas conflict. Despite the tensions, officials from both countries expressed a desire to prevent further escalation.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian took the initiative to ease tensions by reaching out to his Pakistani counterpart on Wednesday. Simultaneously, Pakistan maintained its stance, asserting its right to respond to what it deemed an “illegal act” by Tehran. Analysts speculate that China, being closely tied to both Pakistan and Iran, might play a role in mediating the situation.

“Pakistan has also always emphasized dialogue and cooperation,” stated Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, the foreign ministry spokeswoman, adding, “We will continue to engage with our neighbor Iran to ensure that peace prevails.” Baloch highlighted the existing communication channels between the two nations to discuss the unfolding events.

Even Pakistan’s military, which employed various military technologies such as “killer drones, rockets, loitering munitions, and stand-off weapons” in its strikes, acknowledged the importance of dialogue and cooperation in resolving bilateral issues. The army emphasized that moving forward, a prudent approach would involve diplomatic measures to address concerns between the two neighboring nations.

China, another key player in the region, expressed its concern over the situation. China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Mao Ning, stated, “We hope both parties can exercise restraint and calmness, and can avoid escalation.” The global impact of the rising tensions was reflected in the oil market, with prices surging as concerns grew over potential disruptions to crude production.

The developments unfolded during a sensitive period for Pakistan, scheduled to hold delayed national elections early next month. The situation also coincided with Iranian-backed proxies engaging in conflicts in Israel and the Red Sea, heightening fears of a broader regional conflagration. Iran, in a separate development, carried out limited strikes in Iraq, targeting what they claimed was an “Israeli spy base.”

Iran clarified that its strikes in Pakistan were specifically aimed at Jaish al-Adl, a separatist group designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. The group operates along Iran’s porous border with Pakistan, predominantly inhabited by Shiites. Jaish al-Adl has been responsible for multiple attacks on Iranian security forces, including a December assault on a police station that resulted in the death of 11 people.

The retaliatory attack by Pakistan resulted in the death of as many as nine people, occurring in two locations around the border city of Saravan at approximately 4:30 a.m., as reported by AFP citing Iranian media. The situation remains fluid, with diplomatic efforts underway to de-escalate tensions between the two neighboring nations and mitigate the potential for further conflict.

Transformation in India-US Relations: A Shift Towards Equality and Collaboration

In a significant revelation, External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar emphasized a perceptible change in the way America perceives India today, highlighting that the two countries now engage on a more equal footing. Speaking at the Manthan: Townhall meeting in Nagpur, Maharashtra, Jaishankar shared his observations from the visit to the United States in June, accompanying Prime Minister Modi.

“Last June, when I went to the US with PM Modi, I felt there is a difference in the way in which America views India today. The level of how we deal with each other is more equal,” noted Jaishankar during the townhall meeting.

This shift in dynamics, according to Jaishankar, is underpinned by the acknowledgment of India’s crucial role in the global technology landscape. Furthermore, he highlighted the evolving enthusiasm among American businesses for India, signifying a positive change in bilateral interactions.

“The level of how we deal with each other is more equal,” reiterated Jaishankar, emphasizing the growing parity between the two nations.

On the historical context of India-US relations, Jaishankar remarked on the transformation from a challenging and somewhat negative relationship post-Independence in 1947. He credited the beginning of this shift to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure as the Indian Prime Minister, particularly citing the nuclear deal as a pivotal moment.

Speaking on India-US relations, he said: “What was a very difficult, almost negative relationship from 1947 till the next 50 years, started changing under Atal ji and the change continued thereafter. We saw the nuclear deal.”

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, serving three terms as the Indian Prime Minister, played a crucial role in reshaping the narrative, with a notable period from 1998 to 2004.

The Indo-US nuclear agreement, initiated in July 2005 during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US, focused on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This agreement laid the foundation for enhanced cooperation between the two nations in subsequent years.

The recent statements by President Joe Biden underscore the significance of the friendship between the United States and India, deeming it among the most consequential globally. The two countries have signed several major deals aimed at elevating their strategic technology partnership.

Earlier, the United States expressed support for India’s emergence as a leading global power and a vital partner in promoting a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. The US-India relationship is characterized as one of the most strategic and consequential of the 21st century, according to a fact sheet released by the US State Department.

Key highlights from the fact sheet include the establishment of strong defense industrial cooperation, with a focus on co-development and co-production of essential military capabilities for both countries. In a significant move in 2023, the US approved a groundbreaking manufacturing license for the co-production of GE F414 engines in India.

Furthermore, both nations launched an educational series aimed at preparing startups and young innovators to contribute to the defense industries in both countries. Cooperation extends to the bilateral US-India Counterterrorism Joint Working Group and the Defence Policy Group, as outlined in the fact sheet.

The United States and India share a common vision for deploying clean energy at scale, evident in both countries’ ambitious 2030 targets for climate action and clean energy. Exploring avenues for increased mineral security cooperation, they aim to advance their clean energy goals through initiatives like the Minerals Security Partnership.

Collaboration extends to the Strategic Clean Energy Partnership and the Climate Action and Finance Mobilisation Dialogue. India’s signing of the Artemis Accords in June signals a common vision for the future of space exploration for the benefit of humanity, as stated by the US State Department.

Multilateral cooperation is evident in their engagement through various organizations and fora, including the United Nations, G20, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-related fora, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization.

“The vibrant people-to-people ties between our countries are a tremendous source of strength for the strategic partnership,” states the fact sheet. Highlighting the Indian community of over 4 million in the United States as a vital driver of collaboration, innovation, and job creation in both countries.

In essence, the evolving dynamics between the United States and India signify a paradigm shift towards a more equal and collaborative relationship. The acknowledgment of India’s significance on the global stage, coupled with joint initiatives across various sectors, paints a picture of a robust and mutually beneficial partnership poised for further growth and development.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/theres-difference-in-the-way-us-views-india-today-s-jaishankar-4857711

Navigating the Swings of American Favorability: A Historical Perspective

If we examine the trajectory of American favorability on the global stage since World War II, two significant troughs emerge: the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the election of Donald Trump thirteen years later.

These moments, though seemingly disparate, share a common thread, portraying an America characterized by testosterone-driven decisions, bluster, xenophobia, and nativism—a nation that adheres to a “my way or the highway” ethos. In essence, theyrepresent 21st-century incarnations of the Ugly American stereotype from the 1950s.

During the Trump Administration from 2017 to 2020, U.S. favorability witnessed a decline across major global regions, especially among key security and trade partners. The country’s favorability ratings plummeted from the 70s to the 20s and 30s. Under Joe Biden’s leadership, there was a significant effort to rebuild international credibility, bringing the median favorability rating to 62%. However, recent events, particularly America’s stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict, have reignited anti-American sentiments worldwide.

President Biden acknowledged concerns about diminishing global support for the U.S. and Israel during a campaign event in December. Subsequently, a UN General Assembly vote in favor of a ceasefire in Gaza, with only 10 states, including the U.S., opposing, signaled a potential resurgence of global anti-Americanism.

The apprehension about America’s image globally is deeply ingrained in the nation’s history. Dating back to 1630, John Winthrop envisioned America as a “city on a hill,” emphasizing the scrutiny of the world’s eyes. The Founders, cognizant of the opinions of mankind, meticulously crafted a narrative that projected America as both a revolutionary force and a model for the existing world order.

Over the centuries, America’s global reputation has fluctuated, from a revolutionary upstart to a global superpower. The Cold War era cast a shadow on America’s image, characterized by perceived brutishness and heavy-handedness, diverging from the ideals it purportedly stood for. The post-Soviet era marked the U.S. as the lone superpower, promoting the “Washington Consensus” of democratic free-market capitalism for global prosperity and security.

However, the goodwill garnered from this era waned after the invasion of Iraq post-9/11. The present echoes of global disapproval surrounding America’s unwavering support for Israel parallel the aftermath of the Iraq invasion.

Public Diplomacy, as defined by Harvard professor Joe Nye, embodies “soft power”—influence through culture, music, movies, and ideas. The author, having served as President Obama’s Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, emphasizes the impact of cultural influence on international perceptions. Yet, during times of controversial policy decisions, such as the Iraq invasion or the Trump administration’s “Muslim ban,” American soft power loses ground.

The author cites an example of declining Coca-Cola sales after the Iraq invasion, highlighting a Pew survey noting global dislike for the spread of U.S. ideas and customs. Presently, social media depicts Arab boycotts of American companies, symbolized by images of empty McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Domino’s outlets across the Middle East.

Navigating the Swings of American Favorability A Historical Perspective

 

The Obama administration brought a shift in Brand America, aligning it with innovation and technological prowess. However, the election of Donald Trump reversed this trend, contributing to a decline in global favorability. The U.S. experienced a notable hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, revealing a lack of manufacturing capabilities despite being the birthplace of technological innovations like the iPhone.

Biden’s presidency saw a gradual recovery in global favorability, yet challenges persist. The author underscores the indelible global image of the Capitol attack on January 6th, characterizing it as a negative-Statue of Liberty. While U.S. favorability has improved to a median of 62% across 12 nations, it no longer resonates as a model for democracy. Only 17% consider the U.S. a good example, a significant drop from the previous 57%.

The Israel-Hamas conflict has further complicated America’s image, with Israel perceived as an oppressor and the U.S. as its enabler. The strategy of normalizing relations with Sunni nations while marginalizing Palestinians has backfired, and America is losing ground in the messaging battlespace, particularly in Arab nations.

The global landscape is witnessing an existential struggle between the Western rules-based order and the Chinese/Russian might-makes-right approach. China and Russia advocate for a sphere-of-influence diplomacy, challenging the democratic ideals upheld by the U.S. This shift is part of a broader global decline in democracy, as evidenced by the decrease in the number of democratic countries over the last fifteen years.

The author highlights the contrast between the Enlightenment principles of democratic self-government and individual rights and the 21st-century authoritarianism of China and Russia. As the world grapples with this ideological struggle, the U.S. faces internal challenges, with a significant minority supporting an authoritarian leader and a growing appetite for an American “strongman.”

The article concludes by acknowledging America’s unique foundation based on uncommon ideas rather than common blood or religion. The nation’s commitment to universal human rights, even in the face of difficult choices, remains a defining aspect. However, the global narrative surrounding American exceptionalism is evolving, and the U.S. must confront the current reality where hard power choices overshadow its historical advantage in soft power.

This adaptation is derived from a speech given to the Virginia Civil Rights Law Institute.

https://time.com/6553202/resurgence-global-anti-americanism-essay/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=sfmc&utm_campaign=newsletter+brief+default+ac&utm_content=+++20240113+++body&et_rid=207017761&lctg=207017761

Escalation in Yemen: U.S. and U.K. Launch Strikes Against Houthi Rebels

In a significant escalation of the Middle East conflict, both the U.S. and U.K. conducted strikes against multiple Houthi rebel targets in Yemen on Thursday, January 11. This action follows the Houthis’ missile attacks on cargo ships passing through the Red Sea towards Israeli ports, initiated shortly after the commencement of the Israel-Hamas war in October.

Understanding the roots of the conflict involves delving into the Houthis’ resentment towards perceived corruption and mismanagement within the Yemeni government during the 2000s. This discontent manifested in several insurgencies against the government from 2004 to 2010. The Arab Spring in 2011 saw mass protests demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled for over three decades. After Saleh’s resignation, Saudi Arabia supported Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi as the new leader, leading to Houthi opposition and the onset of an ongoing civil war.

The Houthi rebels’ conflict with the Saudi-backed government strengthened their alignment with Iran, from which they receive some support. However, experts caution against labeling them as a direct proxy of Iranian interests.

“They do have a relationship with and support from Iran, but are not a straightforward proxy of Iranian interests. They have their own locally defined interests, and so I think that their actions in the past two months have reflected that,” remarked Philbrick Yadav to TIME in December.

The Houthi rebels’ recent attacks on ships in the Red Sea are strategic moves influenced by regional dynamics. In the Arab world, the Palestinian cause holds significant appeal, often symbolizing progressive values. By targeting Israeli ships, the Houthis aim to broaden their support base across Yemen and the Arab world. Additionally, the group seeks to disrupt the Saudi normalization with Israel, a diplomatic process that was in progress.

The involvement of the U.S. and U.K. in striking Yemen is rooted in the economic ramifications of the Houthi attacks on international maritime vessels. More than 80% of globally traded goods rely on cargo ships for transportation, given the cost-effectiveness compared to air travel for large items and bulk goods. The Red Sea serves as a crucial passage for ships accessing the Suez Canal, the sole waterway facilitating direct transit between Europe and Asia.

The Houthi attacks have led to a substantial increase in insurance prices for ships, prompting many shipping companies to opt for longer routes around the African continent as a safety measure. This adjustment is anticipated to elevate the prices of various consumer goods, from clothing to coffee.

President Biden underscored the necessity of the strikes in response to what he characterized as unprecedented Houthi attacks on international maritime vessels, including the deployment of anti-ship ballistic missiles. In a statement, he affirmed, “These strikes are in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea—including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history. I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary.”

This recent military intervention by the U.S. and U.K. signals a heightened involvement in the Middle East conflict and underscores the geopolitical complexities that continue to unfold in the region. As the situation develops, global attention remains focused on the evolving dynamics between the Houthi rebels, regional powers, and international actors.

https://time.com/6554861/yemen-houthi-rebels-history-cause-israel-hamas-war/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=sfmc&utm_campaign=newsletter+brief+default+ac&utm_content=+++20240113+++body&et_rid=207017761&lctg=207017761

Holy See’s Global Diplomatic Network Flourishes: Establishes New Ties, Ratifies Agreements, and Navigates a Robust International Landscape

In the context of the customary audience extended by the Pope to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, the Secretary of State of the Vatican has disseminated updated information regarding the countries maintaining diplomatic ties with the Holy See.

As of the commencement of the year 2024, the Holy See boasts diplomatic relations with 184 countries. This tally includes not only individual nations but also encompasses the European Union and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. The collective presence of embassies headquartered in Rome, inclusive of those representing the European Union and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, amounts to a total of 91. Additionally, Rome serves as the base for the offices of significant international entities such as the League of Arab States, the International Organization for Migration, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

In a significant diplomatic development during the course of 2023, the Holy See officially established full-fledged diplomatic relations with the Sultanate of Oman on February 23. Subsequently, on July 19, the “Supplementary Agreement to the Agreement between the Holy See and the Republic of Kazakhstan on Mutual Relations of September 24, 1998,” pertaining to the issuance of visas and residence permits to ecclesiastical and religious personnel from abroad, was ratified. This agreement, initially signed on September 14, 2022, underscores the evolving nature of the Holy See’s diplomatic engagements. Furthermore, on July 27, the Holy See concluded the “Agreement on the Status of the Pontifical Representative Resident and the Office of the Pontifical Representative Resident in Vietnam” with Vietnam. The culmination of this agreement was marked by the subsequent appointment of a Pontifical Representative Resident on December 23.

As of the conclusion of 2023, the United Nations officially recognizes a total of 195 countries.In light of this, it is noteworthy that the Holy See maintains diplomatic relations with 184 countries, leaving 11 nations with which it does not have established diplomatic ties. This positioning underscores the Holy See’s standing as one of the nations boasting one of the most extensive networks of diplomatic relations globally. The historical trajectory of the Holy See’s diplomatic engagements is marked by Spain being the first country ever with which the Holy See established diplomatic relations, while the Sultanate of Oman represents the latest addition to this distinguished list.

It is important to underscore the significance of the Holy See’s diplomatic reach, encompassing a broad spectrum of nations and international entities. The European Union and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta are emblematic of the diverse range of entities with which the Holy See cultivates diplomatic ties. Additionally, the concentration of embassies in Rome, including those representing the European Union and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, highlights the city’s pivotal role as a hub for diplomatic activities.

The diplomatic developments of 2023, particularly the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Sultanate of Oman, exemplify the Holy See’s ongoing commitment to fostering international dialogue and cooperation. The ratification of the “Supplementary Agreement” with the Republic of Kazakhstan reflects the Holy See’s proactive approach in addressing specific aspects of diplomatic relations. Similarly, the conclusion of the “Agreement on the Status of the Pontifical Representative Resident and the Office of the Pontifical Representative Resident in Vietnam” signifies the Holy See’s concerted efforts to formalize and structure its diplomatic engagements with individual nations.

The Holy See’s expansive diplomatic network is particularly noteworthy in the context of the United Nations’ recognition of 195 countries. With diplomatic relations established with 184 nations, the Holy See has positioned itself as a key player in international diplomacy. The absence of diplomatic ties with only 11 countries further underscores the comprehensiveness of the Holy See’s diplomatic outreach.

The historical perspective of the Holy See’s diplomatic relations adds depth to its contemporary engagements. Spain holds a special place in the Holy See’s diplomatic history as the first nation with which it established diplomatic relations. This historical connection serves as a testament to the enduring nature of diplomatic ties between the Holy See and individual countries. The recent addition of the Sultanate of Oman to the list of nations with diplomatic relations further underscores the Holy See’s commitment to expanding its global diplomatic footprint.

https://zenit.org/2024/01/08/with-how-many-countries-does-the-vatican-have-diplomatic-relations-in-2024/?eti=12970

Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching-te Elected President Amidst Heightened Tensions with China

Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching te Elected President Amidst Heightened Tensions with ChinaIn a surprising turn of events, Taiwanese politician Lai Ching-te, long criticized by China’s Communist Party as a potential catalyst for conflict due to his support for full independence for Taiwan, secured victory in the presidential election. Despite Beijing’s warnings and months of tension, Mr. Lai, currently Taiwan’s vice president, garnered 40 percent of the votes, securing a third consecutive term for his Democratic Progressive Party (D.P.P.), marking a historic achievement since Taiwan began direct democratic elections in 1996.

The official Beijing news outlet had cautioned that Lai’s presidency could lead Taiwan “on a path of no return,” but the Taiwanese people, with a robust voter turnout of 72 percent, voiced their support for him. Addressing his enthusiastic supporters outside the D.P.P. headquarters in Taipei, Lai emphasized unity and his commitment to defending Taiwan’s identity in the face of increasing external pressures.

Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching te Elected President Amidst Heightened Tensions with China“I voted for Lai Ching-te because I think he can handle the relationship with China wisely,” expressed Hsu Ya-hsuan, a 28-year-old technology company product manager in Taipei. Many share her sentiment, hopeful that Lai will navigate the delicate balance between protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty and avoiding deliberate provocations against China.

As the newly elected president, Lai faces formidable challenges, both domestically and internationally. Despite the victory, his party lost its legislative majority, posing obstacles to advancing his political agenda. Externally, China’s response to his election remains a critical concern, with expectations of increased pressure and aggression, both militarily and economically.

According to Jason Hsu, a former legislator and current Mason Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, Lai will encounter a challenging and divided political landscape domestically, lacking the honeymoon period enjoyed by his predecessor. The loss of the legislative majority adds another layer of complexity to governing during a precarious time for Taiwan.

Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching te Elected President Amidst Heightened Tensions with ChinaContrary to the reckless firebrand image projected by Beijing, those who know Lai affirm that he campaigned on continuity with the policies of the outgoing president, Tsai Ing-wen. Lai’s commitment to building Taiwan’s military defenses, strengthening relations with democratic allies, and avoiding a complete rupture with China echoes Tsai’s approach. However, the intensifying pressure from China and the potential for military action create a testing ground for Lai’s political and diplomatic skills.

In response to Lai’s victory, the Chinese government office for Taiwan affairs dismissed the D.P.P. as not representing mainstream opinion on the island. The U.S. Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, issued a congratulatory statement, expressing eagerness to work with the new Taiwanese leader. However, Lai’s tenure will be closely scrutinized by China, which may employ tactics such as trade restrictions, diplomatic maneuvers, or military exercises to assert its influence.

Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching te Elected President Amidst Heightened Tensions with ChinaKuo Yu-jen, a political science professor, warns that even if Lai adheres to Tsai’s policies, China’s President Xi Jinping is unlikely to alter the trajectory of solving the “Taiwan problem” at an accelerated pace. The pressure on Lai’s government is anticipated to surpass that experienced during Tsai’s eight years in office.

Taiwan’s relations with the United States also hang in the balance, with continued U.S. support promised in the face of Chinese pressure. However, the U.S. is entangled in global conflicts, and the outcome of the upcoming presidential election in November could introduce further uncertainties for Taiwan.

Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching te Elected President Amidst Heightened Tensions with ChinaIn addition to external challenges, Lai must grapple with a divided domestic political landscape. His chief rivals garnered significant shares of the vote, posing a potential threat to his authority. Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party, in particular, tapped into public dissatisfaction with rising housing costs, limited career prospects, and slow income growth, especially among young supporters. With his party losing its majority in the Legislative Yuan, Lai recognizes the need for collaboration with opposition parties to address Taiwan’s challenges. Acknowledging the people’s desire for a capable government and effective checks and balances, Lai pledges to respect this new public sentiment.

Despite the complexity of these challenges, Lai’s election victory culminated in a week of spirited campaign events and vibrant gatherings across Taiwan, emphasizing the island’s commitment to democracy and separate identity from the mainland. The election’s festive atmosphere showcased the significance of the democratic process for the Taiwanese people, even as they navigate uncertain times and external pressures.

As Lai assumes office in May, the world watches closely to see how he manages the delicate balance between safeguarding Taiwan’s interests and navigating the complex geopolitical landscape in the region.

Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching te Elected President Amidst Heightened Tensions with China

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/13/world/asia/taiwan-election-china-us.html?smid=nytcore-android-share

Unprecedented Tie at the Top: Six Nations Share the Title for World’s Most Powerful Passports in 2024

In a significant upheaval of the quarterly ranking, six countries have achieved a remarkable tie for the leading position in the latest Henley Passport Index, showcasing the hottest travel documents for 2024.

Quoting Henley & Partners, the London-based global citizenship and residence advisory firm, citizens of France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Singapore, and Spain now enjoy unparalleled visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to an impressive 194 destinations worldwide. This marks the highest number of accessible destinations recorded in the 19-year history of the Henley Passport Index, which utilizes exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for its rankings.

“The average number of destinations travelers are able to access visa-free has nearly doubled from 58 in 2006 to 111 in 2024,” notes Christian H. Kaelin, the chair of Henley & Partners and the creator of the passport index. Kaelin points out that the global mobility gap has widened over the past two decades, with the top-ranked countries now enjoying visa-free travel to a staggering 166 more destinations than Afghanistan, which sits at the bottom of the ranking with access to only 28 countries without a visa.

The recent rankings represent a triumphant rise for European nations, as the Asian dominance of Japan and Singapore, which held the No. 1 spot for the past five years, has now been disrupted.

Finland and Sweden are tied with South Korea in second place, boasting easy access to 193 destinations. Following closely in third place are Austria, Denmark, Ireland, and the Netherlands, offering their citizens access to 192 destinations.

The rankings continue with Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom at No. 4, and Greece, Malta, and Switzerland at No. 5. Australia and New Zealand have improved their standings, securing the No. 6 position alongside Czechia and Poland. Meanwhile, the United States and Canada find themselves tied in seventh place with Hungary, providing their citizens with visa-free access to 188 destinations.

Notably, the United Arab Emirates emerges as the biggest climber on the index over the past decade, adding an impressive 106 destinations to its visa-free score since 2014 and securing the 11th position this year.

Discussing the widening global mobility gap, Kaelin emphasizes, “While the general trend over the past two decades has been towards greater travel freedom, the global mobility gap between those at the top and bottom of the index is now wider than ever.”

It is essential to note that Henley & Partners’ ranking is one among several indexes created by financial firms to assess global passports based on the access they provide to their citizens.

Arton Capital’s Passport Index, for instance, considers the passports of 193 United Nations member countries and six territories, excluding territories annexed to other countries. The index is updated in real-time throughout the year, relying on close monitoring of individual governments’ portals.

Arton Capital’s Global Passport Power Rank 2024 places the United Arab Emirates at the top spot, boasting a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 180. The second position is held by five European countries: Germany, Spain, France, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg, Austria, and Switzerland claim the No. 3 spot, while the UK and the US find themselves in 5th and 6th place, respectively. In Arton Capital’s 2023 roundup, Albania was recognized as the “rising star” due to a surge in global mobility gains by regional power hubs and increased demand for its citizens.

The latest Henley Passport Index for 2024 reflects a historic tie at the top, with six nations sharing the title for the world’s most powerful passports. This development marks a significant shift in global travel freedoms, with European countries prominently featured in the top rankings. The widening mobility gap underscores the varying degrees of access citizens have to international destinations, emphasizing the need for continued monitoring and assessment of global passport power.

Taiwan’s 2024 Election: A Crucial Crossroads in Global Politics

In a scenario eerily reminiscent of pivotal presidential elections with far-reaching consequences for the world, Taiwan, a dynamic Asian democracy neighboring a powerful authoritarian state, is set to hold presidential and parliamentary elections this Saturday. The implications of this electoral contest extend well beyond Taiwan’s borders, drawing close scrutiny from China’s Communist leadership, which has persistently asserted its claim over Taiwan despite never having governed it.

The majority of Taiwanese citizens adamantly reject Chinese rule, particularly as President Xi Jinping consolidates power domestically and China adopts a more assertive stance towards its neighbors. China frames the election as a pivotal choice between “war and peace, prosperity and decline,” a sentiment underscored by Xi’s New Year’s Eve warning, asserting the inevitability of reunification with Taiwan.

The United States, Taiwan’s primary international supporter and arms supplier, has had tumultuous relations with China over the Taiwan issue. The upcoming election in Taiwan is poised to test the delicate balance between these global superpowers, with the potential to either ease tensions or escalate towards confrontation and conflict.

The Candidates and Their Platforms

Three contenders vie to succeed President Tsai Ing-wen, who, after eight years in office, cannot seek re-election due to term limits. The frontrunner, Lai Ching-te from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), advocates for Taiwan’s de-facto sovereignty and distinct identity from China. While initially branded as a “practical worker for Taiwan independence,” Lai has moderated his stance, pledging to maintain the status quo and engage in dialogue with Beijing on equal terms.

Hou Yu-ih, a former police officer and mayor of New Taipei City from the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), emphasizes peaceful relations with China through open dialogue and increased economic and social ties. Hou criticizes the DPP for provoking China and advocates for a stronger Taiwanese defense.

Ko Wen-je, representing the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), founded in 2019, positions himself as a political outsider. Focusing on everyday issues, Ko proposes a “middle path” in relations with China, criticizing both the DPP for hostility and the KMT for excessive deference.

The potential re-election of the DPP for a third term, unprecedented in Taiwan’s democratic history, would signify the failure of China’s aggressive approach towards Taiwan.

China’s Response and Current Dynamics

Under Xi’s leadership, China has predominantly utilized a coercive approach, diminishing communications with Taiwan, isolating it diplomatically, and escalating military pressure. Cross-strait relations have reached historic lows, with fewer than 3% of Taiwanese identifying as Chinese and less than 10% supporting unification.

China urges Taiwanese voters to make the “correct choice,” implying favoring candidates other than the DPP. Taiwan accuses China of interference, citing disinformation campaigns and economic coercion. Military provocations, including fighter jets, drones, and warships near Taiwan, reflect China’s efforts to influence public morale.

While an outright invasion seems unlikely, China has various means to display displeasure, from military exercises to trade sanctions or a blockade. The international community closely monitors these actions, particularly given existing global tensions.

The U.S.-Taiwan Relationship

Since formally severing ties with Taiwan in 1979, the U.S. has maintained unofficial relations and is obligated by law to support Taiwan’s defense. However, the U.S. has remained ambiguous on whether it would defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack. Under Presidents Biden and Trump, the U.S. increased support and arms sales to Taiwan, raising questions about its longstanding “strategic ambiguity.”

China perceives Taiwan as a red line in its relations with the U.S., warning against interference. Despite U.S. assurances of neutrality in Taiwan’s election, tensions persist. As the U.S. endeavors to stabilize relations with China, Taiwan’s election adds complexity to an already challenging geopolitical landscape.

As the world anxiously watches the unfolding dynamics between Taiwan, China, and the U.S., the outcome of Taiwan’s election and its aftermath will undoubtedly reverberate across the globe. Against the backdrop of escalating conflicts in Europe and the Middle East, the choices made by Taiwanese voters may set the course for international relations in the years to come. Concurrently, the U.S. presidential election later in the year will be closely monitored by Taiwan’s new leadership and its population, further influencing the intricate web of global politics.

Escalating Tensions in the Middle East Raise Concerns of Regional Conflict

In recent developments in the Middle East, the targeted killing of a top Hamas leader in Lebanon and mysterious explosions in Iran have heightened concerns about the region’s stability. While American, Israeli, and Lebanese officials emphasize a desire to avoid a broader conflict, the events of the past week have brought the Middle East, and the United States, closer to the brink of a potential regional war.

On Tuesday, a senior Hamas leader, Saleh al-Arouri, was assassinated in a Beirut suburb, prompting Hezbollah, a powerful Lebanese militant group and a key ally to Hamas, to vow a response. The situation escalated with the deaths resulting from twin explosions in Iran on Wednesday, during a memorial event for Iran’s former general, Qassim Suleimani. The circumstances surrounding the explosions remain unclear, with Iran pointing fingers at Israel, while European and American officials express doubt about Israeli involvement.

The Biden administration, which has been working to prevent a wider conflict since Hamas’s attacks on Israel on October 7, is now facing increased challenges. Following the incidents, the United States and 12 allies issued a warning to the Houthi militia in Yemen, which has been carrying out frequent attacks on commercial vessels. The statement called for an immediate end to these attacks and the release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews, warning of consequences if such actions continue.

While the U.S. has refrained from direct retaliation against Houthi bases in Yemen to preserve a fragile truce in the country’s civil war, officials are indicating that their patience is running out. The warning, issued by the U.S. and its allies, stopped short of threatening military strikes, but tensions remain high in the region.

President Biden has expressed a desire to avoid direct military engagement with the Houthis to prevent further escalation in the Middle East. The U.S. Navy had recently sunk three Houthi boats in response to an attack on American helicopters aiding a Maersk cargo ship. The deployment of an Iranian flotilla of warships to the region has added another layer of complexity to the situation, with Iran signaling support for the Houthis but stating no intention of engaging in a direct confrontation with U.S. naval vessels.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, blamed the explosions in Iran on the nation’s “malicious and criminal enemies” without explicitly naming any group or country. While some speculate on the involvement of the Islamic State or another terrorist group, no final conclusions have been drawn.

Hezbollah’s pledge to respond to the assassination of the Hamas leader and the potential involvement of Iran in supporting the Houthis raise concerns about the risk of a broader conflict. The Biden administration, along with Middle East analysts, acknowledges the fragility of the situation, with efforts to contain the conflict between Israel and Hamas facing challenges.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is expected to travel to the Middle East to engage in diplomatic efforts aimed at preventing further escalation. The Pentagon, which had deployed two aircraft carriers and increased the number of American warplanes in the region, is now facing a fraying strategy. Iranian-backed militias have targeted U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria, leading to retaliatory airstrikes by the Pentagon.

While there is speculation about potential military strikes against Houthi bases in Yemen, concerns persist about playing into Iran’s strategy of engaging Israel and its allies on multiple fronts. The recent events have increased the chances of a regional war, according to retired Adm. James Stavridis, though the likelihood remains relatively low.

The loss of Saleh al-Arouri, a key figure in both tactical operations and strategic diplomacy for Hamas, is seen as a setback for the group. Western leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, have urged caution to avoid further escalation, emphasizing the importance of diplomatic efforts in the region.

As tensions continue to rise, the Biden administration faces a delicate balancing act to prevent the conflict from spreading while navigating the complexities of regional dynamics and power struggles. The situation remains fluid, with the international community closely monitoring developments in the Middle East.

President Xi Acknowledges Economic Struggles in New Year Speech: China Grapples with Downturn, Job Woes, and Heightened Tensions Over Taiwan

President Xi Jinping, in his New Year’s Eve speech, acknowledged the economic challenges faced by China’s businesses and job seekers, marking the first time he addressed such issues in his annual messages since 2013. This acknowledgment comes at a crucial time for the world’s second-largest economy, grappling with a structural slowdown characterized by weak demand, rising unemployment, and diminished business confidence.

Xi openly admitted the difficulties faced by some enterprises and individuals in finding jobs and meeting basic needs, stating, “Some enterprises had a tough time. Some people had difficulty finding jobs and meeting basic needs.” His televised remarks, widely circulated by state media, emphasized the gravity of the situation: “All these remain at the forefront of my mind. We will consolidate and strengthen the momentum of economic recovery.”

In sync with Xi’s speech, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released its monthly Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) survey, revealing a decline in factory activity in December to the lowest level in six months. The official manufacturing PMI dropped to 49 last month, down from 49.4 in November, indicating a contraction in the manufacturing sector for the third consecutive month.

China’s massive manufacturing sector had been experiencing weakness throughout 2023, with a brief pickup in the first quarter followed by a contraction for five months until September. The economic challenges were further compounded by a prolonged property downturn, record-high youth unemployment, weak prices, and financial stress at local governments.

In response to the economic downturn, Beijing has implemented various measures to revive growth and spur employment. Despite these efforts, the government’s increasing emphasis on state control over the economy, at the expense of the private sector, has unsettled entrepreneurs. The crackdown on businesses in the name of national security has also deterred international investors.

A recent development highlighting this trend was the People’s Bank of China’s approval of an application to remove controlling shareholders at Alipay, the widely used digital payment platform run by Jack Ma’s Ant Group. This move officially marked Ma’s relinquishment of control over the company, part of his broader withdrawal from online businesses. Ma’s companies were among the initial targets of Beijing’s crackdown on Big Tech, viewed as having gained excessive power.

President Xi’s New Year’s speech also included a pledge regarding Taiwan, emphasizing China’s longstanding stance on the self-ruled island democracy. Xi stated, “China will surely be reunified, and all Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should be bound by a common sense of purpose and share in the glory of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” This comes just two weeks before Taiwan’s presidential elections on January 13.

Xi’s comments on Taiwan were more assertive compared to the previous year, reinforcing his commitment to making Taiwan an integral part of his broader goal to “rejuvenate” China’s global standing. The Communist Party claims Taiwan as its own territory and has not ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its control. The upcoming election in Taiwan, where Vice President Lai Ching-te is seen as a frontrunner, has heightened tensions, with accusations from Taipei about Chinese influence operations ahead of the polls.

Democracy Under Scrutiny: South Asian Nations Face Key Elections Amidst Challenges

As four South Asian countries gear up for crucial elections in the coming year, nearly 2 billion people across Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka will cast their votes from January through September. Each nation, having gained independence from Britain within the last century, presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities in their democratic processes.

Bangladesh: A Struggle for Democracy Amid Economic Growth

Bangladesh, with its 170 million people, kicks off the election season on January 7. The multiparty democracy is under threat as the ruling Awami League party faces accusations of silencing dissent, moving the nation toward resembling a one-party state. The current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, is poised to secure her fourth consecutive term despite claims of election rigging and a boycott by the main opposition, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

Julia Bleckner, a senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, voiced concerns about the government’s actions, stating, “A free election is impossible when the government stifles free expression and systematically incapacitates the opposition.” Despite political turmoil, Bangladesh is experiencing economic growth, primarily driven by its garment manufacturing industry, constituting 35.1% of the annual GDP.

Sreeradha Dutta, a professor of international affairs, emphasized Bangladesh’s consistent growth and its efforts to build strong regional relations, predicting that developmental models would persist regardless of the leader.

Pakistan: Political Turmoil Amid Economic Uncertainty

Pakistan, in its 76 years of existence, has struggled with political dynasties, military rule, and economic crises. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, a popular figure, is behind bars, facing charges he claims are politically motivated. Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister in self-exile, returned, adding complexity to the political landscape. Pakistan grapples with economic uncertainty, militant attacks, and climate catastrophes, creating challenges for its future leadership.

Fahd Humayun, an assistant professor of political science, highlighted the link between political and economic uncertainty, emphasizing the importance of transparent elections to attract necessary capital inflows for the country.

India: Democracy at a Crossroads Amid Global Significance

India, touted as the world’s largest experiment in democracy, is poised for elections in the spring. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a rare third term, having tightened his grip on democratic institutions. While India achieves global significance in various arenas, concerns arise about the erosion of its secular and democratic values under the Hindu nationalist BJP.

An alliance of 26 political parties known as INDIA, including the main opposition Indian National Congress, aims to challenge Modi. However, recent regional losses for the Congress party have bolstered Modi’s position. Analysts caution that Indian politics remains unpredictable as parties prepare for upcoming campaigns.

Sri Lanka: A Nation Recovering from Economic Crisis Faces Election Decisions

Sri Lanka, grappling with its worst economic crisis in decades, faced a momentous protest movement that forced then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee. The current President, Ranil Wickremesinghe, is expected to seek a second term after implementing economic reforms and securing international aid. Despite delays in holding elections due to the economic crisis, the country is on the path to recovery, and its citizens anticipate decisions on their future leader.

As these South Asian nations embark on significant electoral processes, the challenges and opportunities they face will undoubtedly shape the future trajectory of democracy in the region. The coming months will be critical in determining how each country addresses its unique issues and paves the way for its political and economic future.

India Struggles to Propel International Acceptance of Rupee as Global Oil Suppliers Resist Currency Payments for Crude Imports

India’s endeavor to enhance the international acceptance of its currency faces significant challenges, according to recent reports. The country’s attempt to use rupees for payments in crude-oil imports has encountered resistance from global trade partners, with concerns raised over transaction costs and foreign-exchange risks associated with the limited global acceptance of the Asian currency.

In a report by the Press Trust of India (PTI), the local newswire stated that India’s oil ministry acknowledged the difficulties faced in persuading global oil suppliers to accept rupee payments. The resistance from these suppliers, as outlined in the PTI report, stems from concerns related to higher transaction costs and the foreign-exchange risks associated with the limited global acceptance of the rupee.

During the Indian financial year 2022-2023, which concluded in March, no oil imports were settled in rupees, as conveyed by the country’s oil ministry to a parliamentary committee, according to the PTI report.

The broader context of India’s efforts to internationalize the rupee is rooted in a global movement, extending from China to Brazil, aiming to reduce dependence on the US dollar in international transactions and investments. This movement, commonly known as de-dollarization, has gained traction in recent years, particularly as the United States employed the global dominance of the dollar to impose economic sanctions on nations such as Russia and Iran.

China and Russia have actively sought to increase the global usage of their respective currencies, and the BRICS group of nations has explored the prospect of adopting a shared tender. This year, the trend has expanded further, with Indonesia establishing a task force to promote the wider use of its currency, the rupiah.

Against this backdrop, India’s central bank had taken a step last year by permitting local importers to open special overseas bank accounts, facilitating rupee payments to their international trading partners.

Quoting the PTI report, “India’s campaign to achieve wider international acceptance for its currency isn’t going so well.” The report highlights the challenges faced by India in persuading global oil suppliers to accept rupee payments, with transaction costs and foreign-exchange risks being key deterrents.

The article also mentions, “Global oil suppliers have remained resistant toward receiving rupee payments, citing higher transaction costs and foreign-exchange risks related the Asian currency’s limited global acceptance, according to the report.” This emphasizes the specific reasons behind the reluctance of global oil suppliers, indicating concerns about the costs associated with transactions and the perceived risks tied to the limited global acceptance of the rupee.

The PTI report further notes, “No oil imports were settled in rupees during the Indian financial year 2022-2023 that ended in March, the country’s oil ministry told a parliamentary committee, the PTI reported.” This statement underscores the practical impact of the challenges faced by India, with a clear indication that the goal of settling oil imports in rupees was not achieved during the specified financial year.

The broader context of India’s initiative is elucidated with, “India’s push to internationalize the rupee has been seen as part of a wider drive among nations from China to Brazil to reduce their reliance on the dollar in international payments and investments.” This places India’s efforts in the context of a global movement involving various nations striving to minimize dependence on the US dollar, reflecting a broader trend known as de-dollarization.

The article highlights the motivation behind this global movement, stating, “The movement, known as de-dollarization, gained momentum in recent years as the US leveraged the greenback’s global dominance to slap economic sanctions on countries including Russia and Iran.” The use of economic sanctions by the United States, leveraging the dominance of the dollar, has fueled the momentum behind the de-dollarization movement, prompting nations to explore alternatives.

China and Russia’s parallel pursuits are mentioned, stating, “China and Russia also have been pushing to increase the global usage of their own currencies, while the BRICS group of nations have been weighing the possibility of a shared tender.” This indicates that India’s efforts align with those of other nations such as China and Russia, who are actively working to enhance the global standing of their respective currencies. Additionally, the mention of the BRICS group considering a shared tender underscores collaborative efforts in this direction.

The global trend is further emphasized with, “More countries have joined the trend this year — Indonesia recently set up a task force to widen the use of its currency, the rupiah.” This highlights that the movement toward reducing reliance on the US dollar is not confined to a few nations but is gaining traction globally, with Indonesia being the latest to take active measures in this direction.

The article concludes with a reminder of India’s earlier initiative, stating, “Last year, India’s central bank allowed local importers to open special overseas bank accounts that would enable making rupee payments to their trading partners.” This serves as a reminder of the proactive step taken by India’s central bank to facilitate rupee payments, underlining the ongoing efforts to overcome challenges and promote the internationalization of the rupee.

India’s pursuit of broader international acceptance for the rupee faces hurdles as global oil suppliers remain resistant to accepting rupee payments for crude-oil imports. The concerns raised include higher transaction costs and foreign-exchange risks linked to the limited global acceptance of the rupee. This challenge is situated within the broader context of a global movement, encompassing nations from China to Brazil, working to reduce reliance on the US dollar in international transactions. The article highlights the motivations behind this movement, citing the leverage of the dollar’s global dominance for imposing economic sanctions. Parallel efforts by China and Russia to increase the global usage of their currencies, as well as discussions within the BRICS group about a shared tender, further underscore the international dimension of this trend. The inclusion of Indonesia’s recent establishment of a task force to promote the wider use of its currency, the rupiah, emphasizes the expanding nature of this movement. Despite these challenges, the article recalls India’s previous step of allowing local importers to open special overseas bank accounts for rupee payments, signaling ongoing efforts to navigate obstacles and promote the internationalization of the rupee.

Escalating Tensions in the Middle East: Israeli Strike and Ongoing Conflict in Gaza Raise Concerns

In a recent Israeli strike on Monday that claimed the life of an Iranian officer in Syria, renewed fears of a wider conflict in the Middle East have emerged. The incident took place against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Gaza, where the death toll is rapidly rising. The strike, which resulted in the death of a senior Iranian officer, has provoked vows of retaliation from Iran, escalating tensions in the region.

“Iran has vowed to retaliate against Israel for the strike, which killed a senior Iranian officer and marked Tehran’s most personal loss yet in the Israel-Hamas war,” reported X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

The situation is further complicated by the increasing civilian casualties in Gaza, raising concerns that the conflict might spill over and jeopardize the efforts by the U.S. to contain the war within the borders of Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The U.S. itself is becoming more deeply entangled in the conflict, facing relentless attacks from Iranian-backed groups in Iraq and Syria.

An unprecedented Christmas Day drone strike by militias in Iraq left an American soldier critically wounded and two others injured, underscoring the expanding scope of the conflict. While analysts do not foresee an immediate outbreak of a broader war, the events signal that the situation is far from stabilizing as the New Year approaches.

Barbara Slavin, a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, commented, “Everybody is playing a chess game. You have so many different players now.” However, she emphasized that the major casualties of the war are concentrated in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, viewing other attacks as symbolic rather than indicative of a broader conflict at this time.

“The major casualties of this war have taken place in Israel and in Gaza, and the West Bank. These other attacks, while they’re kind of scary, are really very much symbolic, more symbolic than part of a broader conflict at this time,” Slavin added.

The Israeli strike targeted Brig. Gen. Sayyed Razi Mousavi, a senior adviser to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for coordinating between Syria and Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed military and political group in Lebanon. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant declared that his forces are engaged in a “multi-arena” war following previous attacks by Hamas, which resulted in over 1,200 deaths in southern Israel.

“Mousavi had been close to Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was slain by the U.S. in 2020 during the Trump administration, and his death this week prompted an outpouring of grief from Iran and its allies, just as Soleimani’s death did nearly four years ago,” reported the original article.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi announced that Tehran would retaliate for the strike, characterizing Mousavi’s death as “another sign of frustration and weakness of the occupying Zionist regime in the region.”

Trita Parsi, the executive vice president at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, suggested that Israel likely conducted the strike to send a message to Iran, asserting that senior Iranian officials can be targeted for their involvement with proxy groups. However, Parsi argued that Iran would not respond directly to Israel, instead opting for a longer-term strategy against the U.S. and Israel.

“Iran will not respond to Israel directly or with an escalatory attack, arguing ‘they’re playing the longer game’ against the U.S. and Israel. ‘They’re building up the capability of the Houthis, Hezbollah, and others,'” explained Parsi.

While Israel has previously targeted high-ranking Iranian officials, Tehran has typically refrained from direct strikes on Israel, often relying on proxies to carry out attacks. The Middle East remains tense, with Iranian-backed militia groups launching around 100 attacks on U.S. troops since mid-October.

The U.S. has, so far, experienced only minor injuries in these attacks in Iraq and Syria. The Christmas Day strike, however, saw an explosive drone hitting an air base in northern Iraq, leaving one U.S. soldier in critical condition. The U.S. responded with retaliatory strikes that killed one militant and injured 18 others.

When questioned about potential escalations during the holidays, the Pentagon referred to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s statement, emphasizing that the U.S. does not seek escalation but is “committed and fully prepared to take further necessary measures to protect our people and our facilities.”

The Houthis, an Iranian-backed rebel group in Yemen, pose an additional threat in the Red Sea, targeting ships and merchant vessels. While the U.S. has established a maritime task force to deter the Houthis, the group remains committed to continuing its attacks in the Red Sea.

Analysts assert that the only way to alleviate tensions across the Middle East is through a cease-fire or a significant slowdown in the war in Gaza. The high death toll in Gaza, exceeding 20,000 according to Hamas health officials, has sparked global outrage, particularly among Arab nations, Iran, and its allies.

“The U.S. is pushing Israel to move the war into a lower-intensity phase, a diplomatic campaign that bore some fruit earlier this month when Israeli officials signaled they would do so when the time was right,” noted the original article.

Despite these efforts, it remains unclear when such a phase transition might occur. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized that fighting is intensifying in southern Gaza, where nearly two million Palestinian civilians have sought refuge.

“We are not stopping and we will not stop until we are victorious, because we have no country but this one, and we have no other way,” declared Netanyahu before the Knesset.

Trita Parsi from the Quincy Institute warned, “every day we’re getting closer and closer to all-out war” in the Middle East, emphasizing that the conflict is likely to escalate until Israel eases its assault on Gaza.

“It’s an extremely dangerous, escalatory cycle that we’re in, and the most obvious and most effective way of stopping and preventing a regional war is the one step that the administration is least inclined to pursue. And that is to actually have a cease-fire in Gaza,” Parsi concluded.

Egypt Proposes Comprehensive Plan to Halt Israel-Hamas Conflict

In an effort to bring an end to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, Egypt has presented a bold initial proposal that includes a cease-fire, a phased release of hostages, and the establishment of a Palestinian government of experts to govern the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank. A senior Egyptian official and a European diplomat revealed the details of the proposal on Monday.

The Egyptian initiative, developed in collaboration with Qatar, aims to address the immediate crisis and lay the groundwork for a sustainable resolution. However, the proposal, currently in its early stages, does not align with Israel’s objective of completely dismantling Hamas and seems to fall short of Israel’s demand to maintain military control over Gaza in the post-war period.

Reports indicate that the Egyptian proposal has been shared with Israel, Hamas, the United States, and European governments. Although the proposal is under consideration, it is not yet clear whether it will be accepted or modified. Israel’s War Cabinet, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is set to discuss the proposal in an upcoming meeting.

As Israeli airstrikes intensify, causing significant damage in central and southern Gaza, the humanitarian situation worsens. The Maghazi refugee camp witnessed a devastating strike that claimed at least 106 lives, making it one of the deadliest incidents in Israel’s air campaign. The proposal from Egypt comes amid escalating violence, with both sides expressing their determination to continue the conflict.

The Egyptian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, outlined the key components of the proposal, emphasizing its comprehensive nature. The plan begins with an initial two-week cease-fire during which Palestinian militants would release 40 to 50 hostages, including women, the sick, and the elderly. In return, Israel would release 120-150 Palestinians held in its prisons. Negotiations would then continue to extend the cease-fire and secure the release of additional hostages and bodies held by Palestinian militants.

The proposal also envisions Egypt and Qatar working with all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, to establish a government of experts. This transitional government would govern Gaza and the West Bank while facilitating the resolution of internal disputes among Palestinian factions. The ultimate goal is to create a roadmap for holding presidential and parliamentary elections.

Simultaneously, Israel and Hamas would engage in negotiations for a comprehensive “all-for-all” deal, encompassing the release of all remaining hostages, the withdrawal of the Israeli military from Gaza, and the cessation of rocket attacks by Palestinian militants. However, the success of this ambitious plan hinges on the willingness of all parties to engage in constructive dialogue and make concessions.

While the proposal has been discussed with Ismail Haniyeh, the Qatar-based political leader of Hamas, and other Palestinian factions, doubts remain about whether Israel’s government, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, will accept the entire proposal. A Western diplomat, speaking anonymously, expressed skepticism about the Israeli government’s readiness to embrace the comprehensive plan.

The toll of the conflict on both sides is becoming increasingly apparent. In Gaza, more than 20,400 Palestinians have been killed, and almost the entire population of 2.3 million has been displaced. U.N. officials have raised concerns about a quarter of the population facing starvation due to Israel’s blockade, allowing only limited supplies into the territory.

Israel, too, is grappling with a rising death toll among its troops, with 17 soldiers killed since Friday and a total of 156 since the ground offensive began. The mounting casualties may impact public support for the war, which was triggered by an attack on southern Israeli communities by Hamas-led militants on Oct. 7, resulting in 1,200 deaths and 240 hostages.

Despite increasing international pressure against Israel’s offensive and the widespread suffering among Palestinians, public sentiment in Israel remains largely supportive of the stated goals of crushing Hamas and securing the release of remaining captives. Prime Minister Netanyahu has emphasized the need to expand the fight in the coming days, signaling a prolonged battle.

As the conflict continues to exact a heavy toll on both sides, the proposed Egyptian initiative offers a glimmer of hope for a comprehensive resolution. However, the path to peace remains uncertain, and the willingness of all parties to engage in meaningful dialogue will be crucial in determining the success of this ambitious proposal.

U.N. Security Council Adopts Modified Resolution on Gaza Crisis

The U.N. Security Council passed a revised resolution on Friday, emphasizing the need for urgent aid to Gaza while omitting the original call for an immediate cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. The 13-0 vote, with the U.S. and Russia abstaining, followed a series of delays and diplomatic efforts.

“This was the Christmas miracle we were all hoping for,” remarked UAE Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh, the resolution’s sponsor. She stressed its signal to Gaza that the Security Council was actively addressing the humanitarian crisis.

After a prolonged diplomatic process involving the U.S., the UAE, and others, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield expressed relief, stating the vote supports efforts to address the crisis, provide assistance, and work towards lasting peace.

However, the resolution faced criticism from Russia, which considered it “entirely toothless.” The U.S. vetoed a Russian amendment that aimed to reinstate the call for an immediate suspension of hostilities. Russia’s Ambassador accused the U.S. of “shameful, cynical, and irresponsible conduct.”

The resolution’s crucial provision calling for the “urgent suspension of hostilities” was removed, replaced by a call for “urgent steps” to ensure humanitarian access and create conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities. Ambassador Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. envoy, saw it as a positive step but emphasized the need for immediate implementation and a ceasefire.

Hamas deemed the resolution insufficient, criticizing the U.S. for hindering the council from demanding a halt to the conflict. Israel, represented by U.N. Deputy Ambassador Brett Jonathan Miller, criticized the Council for not condemning Hamas for the October 7 attacks.

The resolution, addressing aid deliveries, removed a request for exclusive U.N. monitoring and instead called on Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to appoint a coordinator for relief deliveries, emphasizing cooperation from Israel and Hamas.

Israel expressed willingness to increase aid, but Miller highlighted challenges with U.N. aid monitoring, emphasizing the importance of Israel’s security inspections. Guterres countered, stating that Israel’s offensive hindered aid distribution in Gaza.

Guterres reiterated the call for a humanitarian ceasefire, emphasizing the dire situation in Gaza and the risk of a complete breakdown of public order.

With over 20,000 Palestinians killed since the conflict began, the resolution reiterated the Security Council’s commitment to a two-state solution and the unification of Gaza and the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.

Despite being legally binding, Security Council resolutions may face non-compliance. The latest resolution followed previous actions, including an abstained vote on humanitarian pauses and a U.S. veto on resolutions condemning violence and urging a ceasefire. The General Assembly also approved a similar resolution.

The situation in Gaza remains precarious, with the hope that the latest resolution will contribute to alleviating the crisis and fostering a path towards peace.

Toyota Announces Recall of 1 Million Vehicles Over Airbag Defect, Urges Swift Action for Customer Safety

Toyota Motor Co. announced on Wednesday a recall affecting 1 million vehicles due to a potential defect that may result in airbags failing to deploy, thereby heightening the risk of injury.

The recall spans various Toyota and Lexus models produced between 2020 and 2022, encompassing Toyota Avalons, Camrys, Highlanders, RAV4s, Siennas, and Corollas, including select hybrid variants. The Lexus lineup implicated in the recall comprises the ES250 sedan and the RX350 SUV, among others.

The issue lies with sensors located in the front passenger seat of the recalled vehicles, which may have been improperly manufactured. These sensors have the potential to experience a short circuit, leading to a malfunction in the airbag system’s ability to accurately ascertain the occupant’s weight. Consequently, in specific types of collisions, the airbags may fail to deploy.

To address this concern, Toyota and Lexus dealers will conduct inspections on the Occupant Classification System (OCS) sensors and replace any identified as defective at no expense to the vehicle owners. Toyota has committed to notifying affected customers by mid-February 2024.

In their official statement, Toyota emphasized the importance of addressing this issue promptly to ensure the safety of their customers. “Safety is a top priority for Toyota. We are committed to a high standard of safety and quality in our vehicles. We apologize for any inconvenience this recall may cause our customers and encourage them to have the OCS sensors inspected and replaced if necessary,” said a spokesperson for the company.

Owners of Toyota vehicles who suspect their cars might fall under the recall can obtain further information by calling 1-800-331-4331, while Lexus vehicle owners can contact 1-800-255-3987 for additional details.

In response to the situation, Toyota’s spokesperson reiterated the company’s dedication to resolving the matter swiftly, stating, “Our customers’ safety is paramount. We urge all affected vehicle owners to take advantage of the inspection and replacement services offered by our dealers to address this issue promptly.”

Quoting the official announcement, Toyota acknowledged the urgency of rectifying the situation promptly to ensure the safety of their customers. “If an affected vehicle is continuously operated in this condition, there is a possibility that the OCS may not operate properly and the airbag system may not perform as designed in certain types of crashes,” the statement warned.

The recall is a proactive measure by Toyota to address potential safety concerns and uphold their commitment to delivering vehicles of the highest safety standards. As the company takes steps to rectify the issue, affected customers are urged to respond promptly to the recall notifications and have the necessary inspections and replacements performed to ensure the continued safety and reliability of their vehicles.

India’s Economic Surge: S&P Predicts Fastest Growth, Aims for Third-Largest Global Economy by 2030

India is poised to maintain its status as the swiftest-growing major economy over the next three years, propelling it toward claiming the position of the world’s third-largest economy by 2030, according to a report from S&P Global Ratings.

“S&P anticipates that India, presently ranking as the fifth-largest global economy, will witness a growth rate of 6.4% in the ongoing fiscal year, with projections indicating a further acceleration to 7% by fiscal 2027,” as reported by the original article. In contrast, the report foresees a deceleration in China’s growth to 4.6% by 2026 from an estimated 5.4% in the current year.

Recent data revealing a more substantial than expected 7.6% growth in India’s gross domestic product (GDP) during the second quarter of fiscal 2024 has led several brokerages to revise their full-year estimates upward. However, S&P, having revised its forecast prior to this data release, emphasizes that India’s growth trajectory hinges on a successful transition from a services-dominated economy to one dominated by manufacturing.

“A paramount test will be whether India can become the next big global manufacturing hub, an immense opportunity,” emphasizes S&P in its Global Credit Outlook 2024 report dated December 4th. While the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has actively promoted domestic manufacturing through initiatives such as the “Make in India” campaign and production-linked incentives (PLIs), the manufacturing sector still contributes only about 18% to the GDP. In stark contrast, services constitute more than half of India’s GDP.

S&P underscores the pivotal role of developing a robust logistics framework for India to truly emerge as a manufacturing hub. Additionally, the report emphasizes the necessity to “upskill” the workforce and boost female participation in the labor force to fully leverage the demographic dividend.

The report notes, “India possesses one of the youngest working populations globally, with nearly 53% of its citizens under the age of 30.” This demographic advantage could be a significant driver of economic growth if the country strategically addresses challenges in its economic structure and focuses on enhancing the capabilities of its workforce.

In essence, S&P’s projections for India’s economic trajectory highlight both the potential for remarkable growth and the challenges that must be addressed for the nation to realize its economic ambitions. As the government continues its efforts to promote manufacturing and economic diversification, the outcomes in the coming years will play a crucial role in shaping India’s position on the global economic stage.

Global Breakthrough: COP28 Summit Approves Historic Transition Away from Fossil Fuels in Landmark Climate Agreement

In a historic move, almost 200 nations gathered in Dubai on Wednesday and issued an unprecedented call for a global transition away from fossil fuels, addressing the primary contributor to climate change after years of avoidance. Following 13 days of intensive discussions and sleepless nights in a nation built on oil wealth, the Emirati president of the UN-led COP28 summit, Sultan Al Jaber, signaled consensus by banging a gavel.

“You did step up, you showed flexibility, you put common interest ahead of self-interest,” remarked COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber, acknowledging the global effort. Jaber’s role as the head of the United Arab Emirates’ national oil company had raised suspicions among environmentalists. Describing the agreement as a catalyst for “transformational change” on climate, Jaber highlighted the UAE’s role in restoring faith in multilateralism and showcasing the power of global unity.

EU climate chief Wopke Hoekstra characterized the agreement as “long, long overdue,” emphasizing that nearly three decades of climate meetings were necessary to “arrive at the beginning of the end of fossil fuels.” Despite the need for more robust action, Jaber skillfully adjusted the text to gain the support of countries ranging from small islands fearing extinction due to rising sea levels to major oil exporter Saudi Arabia, which championed petroleum exports.

The revised agreement calls for a “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner,” toughening language from an earlier draft criticized by environmentalists. It advocates for increased action “in this critical decade” and renews the commitment to achieving no net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, aiming to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The negotiator from the Marshall Islands, expressing concern about an earlier draft being a “death warrant” for his nation, emphasized the urgency of decisive action. Although the small islands did not block the Dubai deal, a representative from Samoa criticized the language as insufficient, calling for a more significant leap in global actions. Brazil, set to lead climate talks in 2025 in the Amazon, stressed the importance of wealthy nations delivering on their commitment to assist the worst-hit developing nations.

US climate envoy John Kerry praised the agreement as a remarkable achievement in bringing together a divided world for the common good. “I think everyone has to agree this is much stronger and clearer as a call on 1.5 than we have ever heard before, and it clearly reflects what the science says,” Kerry stated. A Saudi representative expressed “gratitude” for the UAE’s efforts, deeming the outcome a “great success.”

While the agreement refrains from endorsing calls for a “phase-out” of oil, gas, and coal, which contribute to approximately three-quarters of emissions causing the planetary crisis, it surpasses Jaber’s initial draft. Environmentalists, although generally viewing the agreement as a positive step, caution that more significant actions are imperative.

“We are finally naming the elephant in the room. The genie is never going back into the bottle, and future COPs will only turn the screws even more on dirty energy,” remarked Mohamed Adow, director of the Power Shift Africa think tank. He acknowledged that while expectations may have been raised too high, the outcome would have been unimaginable just two years ago, especially at a COP meeting in a nation heavily dependent on petroleum.

The agreement outlines more explicit near-term goals, calling for a 43 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 2019 levels in pursuit of ending net emissions by 2050. However, Jean Su of the Center for Biological Diversity cautioned that there are still “cavernous loopholes” for fossil fuels. The agreement primarily addresses fossil fuel use in energy, excluding industrial sectors such as plastics and fertilizer production.

Su expressed concern about the recognition of the role of “transitional fuels,” interpreting it as a code word for natural gas and other fossil fuels, notably in the context of energy security. While the deal supports a phase-down of “unabated” coal power, it allows for the preservation of this controversial energy source if carbon capture technology is employed—a technology contested by many environmentalists as unproven.

COP28 Summit Concludes with Landmark Climate Agreement, But Concerns Linger

In a historic turn of events, the world reached a groundbreaking climate deal in Dubai on Wednesday at the COP28 summit after two weeks of intense negotiations. The agreement, known as the Global Stocktake, marks an unprecedented call to shift away from fossil fuels. However, the use of vague language in the agreement raises concerns about the level of commitment from some nations.

The COP28 President, Sultan Al Jaber, declared the agreement as “historic” during his address to national delegates at the final session. He highlighted the inclusion of language on fossil fuels for the first time, emphasizing that the deal has the potential to redefine global economies. Despite this apparent progress, differing interpretations of the agreement’s language have sparked a debate on its effectiveness.

“At long last, the loud calls to end fossil fuels have landed on paper in black and white at this COP,” remarked Jean Su, the energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity. However, she cautioned that “cavernous loopholes threaten to undermine this breakthrough moment.”

The agreement falls short of mandating a “phase-out” of oil, coal, and gas, a demand voiced by over 100 countries and numerous climate groups. Instead, it “calls on” countries to “contribute” to global efforts to reduce carbon pollution in ways they deem fit. Options include “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems and accelerating action in this critical decade to achieve net-zero by 2050.”

The COP28 summit unfolded against the backdrop of a year marked by unprecedented global heat, resulting in deadly extreme weather events. This year, officially the hottest on record, has been marred by controversies at the Dubai conference, with accusations of oil interests influencing the talks.

Deep divisions emerged among nations, with oil-producing nations, led by Saudi Arabia, rejecting language on phasing out fossil fuels. On the opposing side, more ambitious parties, including the European Union and a coalition of island states, expressed dissatisfaction with a previous draft containing diluted language on fossil fuels. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry acknowledged that these divisions nearly derailed the conference but ultimately deemed the deal a success and a testament to multilateralism.

While Kerry celebrated the agreement as a significant step towards moving away from fossil fuels, critics voiced disappointment and concerns about the adoption process. Anne Rasmussen, the lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), expressed concern that the decisions were gavelled without the input of small island developing states, a powerful voice in climate talks.

AOSIS, despite acknowledging the agreement’s positive elements, voiced exceptional concern, stating that the needed course correction has not been secured, and the presence of numerous loopholes threatens its efficacy. Many climate experts cautiously welcomed the reference to fossil fuels but pointed out weaknesses, such as leaving room for fossil fuel expansion, particularly through controversial technologies like carbon capture and storage.

Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International, noted that COP28 highlighted fossil fuels as the primary culprits of the climate crisis. However, he criticized the agreement for containing loopholes that provide escape routes for the fossil fuel industry, relying on unproven and unsafe technologies like carbon capture and storage.

Despite the positive early momentum on finance, with the formal adoption of a loss and damage fund and pledges exceeding $700 million, concerns arose over the lack of requirements for developed countries to provide adequate funding to the most vulnerable nations. Developing countries, heavily dependent on fossil fuels, face challenges without robust guarantees for financial support to adapt to climate impacts and transition to renewable energy.

The COP28 summit concludes with a historic climate agreement, but lingering concerns about vague language, loopholes, and insufficient financial support for vulnerable nations cast a shadow over the optimism expressed by some delegates. The world may be taking a step away from fossil fuels, but the journey ahead remains challenging and uncertain.

Shifting Tides in European Unity: A Geopolitical Crossroad

In contemporary times, fractures within the Western world are becoming increasingly pronounced. The Prime Ministers of Belgium and Spain have voiced their support for Palestine, advocating its recognition as an independent state. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of Slovakia has withdrawn support for the Ukrainian war effort, echoing sentiments from the winner of the Dutch elections, Geert Wilders, and Hungary. This growing trend towards peace in a wearied Europe suggests the possibility of substantial shifts on the horizon.

Over two decades ago, American neoconservative Robert Kagan observed in his book “Of Paradise and Power” that Europe, existing in a Kantian zone of peace, could afford to be oblivious to the realities of power, thanks to the United States’ wielding of influence. However, recent developments indicate that Europe can no longer remain a paradise detached from power dynamics. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, envisions transforming the EU into a geopolitical actor. This shift is evident in Brussels’ more mercantilist stance, demonstrated by the proposed ‘anti-coercion instrument.’

This instrument seeks to impose tariffs and export controls on countries that interfere with the trade or investment decisions of EU member states. Yet, internal resistance within the European Council, composed of member state leaders, hampers its implementation. Similar hurdles emerge in the Global Gateway project, touted as the EU’s response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Concerns within the European Commission about provoking China, coupled with budgetary constraints and a lack of political will, cast doubt on the project’s efficacy.

The once-united front of Berlin and Paris, considered the engine of Europe, is now showing signs of strain. Disagreements on issues ranging from nuclear energy to joint defense projects and the European missile shield are exacerbating tensions. Chancellor Scholz’s push for relaxing EU rules on state aid raises concerns in Paris about granting Germany undue advantages. However, it is the issue of China that poses a substantial threat to the Franco-German partnership.

While Scholz’s government announces a China strategy promising de-risking, its actions, including support for growing German investment in China and reluctance to exclude Chinese technology from its telecommunications infrastructure, contradict the rhetoric. Germany’s unique susceptibility to industrial lobby influence over foreign policy, noted by analyst Wolfgang Münchau, further complicates the situation. In contrast, Macron’s approach involves assuring Beijing of friendship while pressuring the European Commission to investigate Chinese subsidies for electric vehicles.

This divergent approach to China intensifies the clash between German export-driven growth, aligned with China, and French aspirations for reindustrialization. The potential impact of a trade war on major German corporations, deeply entwined with China, adds a layer of complexity to this geopolitical puzzle. As France seeks economic autonomy for Europe, and Germany aims to maintain trade surpluses, a collision appears increasingly inevitable.

While some European nations view Washington’s confrontational stance towards China skeptically, the ambiguous positions of European capitals may tempt the United States towards unilateralism. Such a move risks triggering a similar short-sighted egoism in other European states, mirroring Germany’s approach. Moreover, the impending break-up of the Franco-German alliance opens the door to new political possibilities. For the U.S., this means shaping more effective coalitions, while for Europe, it signifies a potential departure from post-historical illusions and an entry into the realm of power politics.

403 Indian Students Lost Abroad Since 2018: Government Addresses Concerns, Canada Tops List with 91 Fatalities

The government announced on Thursday that 403 Indian students have lost their lives abroad since 2018 due to a variety of reasons, including natural causes, accidents, and medical conditions. Canada has reported the highest number of fatalities among 34 nations, with 91 Indian students succumbing to different circumstances.

Minister of State for External Affairs, V Muraleedharan, provided this information in a written response to a question raised in Rajya Sabha, stating, “According to the information available with the ministry, 403 incidents of death of Indian students abroad have been reported since 2018.” To address the well-being of Indian students studying abroad, heads of mission/post and senior officials engage in regular interactions with universities and educational institutions.

Canada leads the list with 91 reported deaths of Indian students since 2018, followed by the United Kingdom (48), Russia (40), the United States (36), Australia (35), Ukraine (21), Germany (20), Cyprus (14), and Italy and the Philippines (10 each), according to data submitted by the ministry. Minister Muraleedharan emphasized, “The safety and security of Indian students abroad is one of the foremost priorities for the Government of India.”

He assured that Indian missions and posts remain vigilant, closely monitoring the well-being of students. In case of any untoward incident, prompt action is taken by engaging with the authorities of the host country to ensure a thorough investigation and appropriate punishment for the perpetrators. The government is committed to providing comprehensive consular assistance to distressed Indian students, including emergency medical care and lodging, whenever necessary.

Addressing concerns about the high number of student deaths, External Affairs Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi referred to the increasing influx of Indian students into Canada. Bagchi stated during a weekly briefing, “I don’t know if this is an issue that merits taking up with the government. There are individual incidents where there has been foul play and others….Our consulates do reach out to families; we also take up such cases with the local authorities.”

In essence, the government’s response highlights the tragic loss of 403 Indian students abroad since 2018 and the varied causes contributing to these incidents. The emphasis on the safety and security of Indian students, coupled with ongoing efforts by Indian missions and posts, reflects the commitment to addressing concerns and providing assistance in distressing situations.

Minister Muraleedharan’s assurance of swift action and engagement with host country authorities underscores the proactive approach taken to investigate incidents and ensure justice. Additionally, the acknowledgment of the increasing number of Indian students in Canada as a factor in the higher death toll aims to contextualize the statistics and prompt further examination.

The government’s commitment to consular assistance, encompassing medical care and lodging, reaffirms the dedication to supporting distressed Indian students abroad. The complex nature of these incidents, involving various countries and circumstances, underscores the need for continuous monitoring and diplomatic efforts to address challenges faced by Indian students studying overseas.

US Ambassador Garcetti Foresees Bright Future for India-US Relations: A Multiplicative Force for Global Good

The US ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti, expressed optimism about the India-US relationship, stating that it is a “force of good for the world” with a “positive romantic ambiguity” for the future. Speaking at Carnegie’s Global Tech Summit 2023, Garcetti highlighted the growing breadth and depth of ties between the two nations, emphasizing efforts to negotiate differences and plan for the future.

In his address, Garcetti humorously likened the historical status of the relationship to a Facebook status of “It’s complicated,” suggesting that it has evolved into a phase resembling dating. He remarked on the complexities of merging habits, symbolizing the ongoing efforts to understand and navigate the partnership’s direction. Despite the uncertainties, he underscored a shared desire on both sides to advance the relationship.

Quoting Garcetti, “There’s a positive romantic ambiguity about where this will ultimately lead… But there’s a strong desire on both [sides to take the relationship forward].”

Reflecting on the partnership’s effectiveness, Garcetti pointed to the G20 Summit as a notable example. He commended the collaboration between India and the US, emphasizing how their joint efforts surpassed a simple additive relationship, producing a historic consensus involving 20 countries.

Quoting Garcetti, “India-US relationship is not additive, its multiplicative. We demonstrated that at G20, where it was more than just 1+1 equals 2 countries, 1+1 actually produced 20 countries together with a historic and strongest, deepest statement ever put forward by a G20.”

The ambassador highlighted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States as a significant milestone in the relationship’s growth. He noted the extensive discussions and numerous deliverables, emphasizing the unprecedented nature of the continued communication between the two nations.

Quoting Garcetti, “if you get three to five deliverables, that’s a strong state dinner. The week before [the state dinner], we were ploughing through 123 different deliverables.”

Garcetti concurred with External Affairs Minister Jaishankar’s perspective that the state dinner should be viewed not as the pinnacle but as a new base for US-India relations. He emphasized President Joe Biden’s recognition of the relationship as the most consequential in the world.

Quoting Garcetti, “[President Joe Biden] is the very first president to say this is most consequential relationship in the world.”

Addressing the role of China in the bilateral ties, Garcetti acknowledged its importance but refuted the notion that the relationship was primarily centered around China. He asserted that 95% of the relationship was fundamentally about other matters, characterizing China as a component related to deterrence.

Quoting Garcetti, “Peace is critical, but deterring war, respecting borders and sovereignty, making sure that we don’t have people who steal intellectual property, that we are not overly dependent on any one place for a supply chain, is a deterrent peace.”

Responding to concerns about India’s ability to absorb the impact of US-China derisking, Garcetti emphasized that missing this opportunity would be a loss. He also addressed challenges hindering the desired flow of Foreign Direct Investment, pointing to India’s status as the “highest taxed input major economy in the world.”

Quoting Garcetti, “It’s not a criticism…but it’s harming your own internal capacity to be the manufacturing powerhouse that India should be. That we want it to be. That it is starting to accelerate to become but it will require some fundamentally deeper changes.”

G20 Chief Coordinator Harsh Vardhan Shringla, participating in the discussions, echoed the sentiment that the relationship is multifaceted and constantly evolving. He emphasized the collaborative role of the US and India as a force for good in the world beyond their individual interests.

Quoting Shringla, “The relationship is amazingly multifaceted, but it’s also constantly evolving. US and India are a force for good in the world together, not just for our countries.”

Rep. Jayapal Urges US-Israel-Arab Coalition Against Hamas, Stresses Long-Term Political Solution for Middle East Stability

In a recent interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) emphasized the importance of a coalition involving the United States, Israel, and Arab countries to address the threat posed by Hamas and to establish long-term stability in the region.

Jayapal reiterated her call for a cease-fire while dismissing the idea that it would perpetuate the existence of the “brutal terrorist regime in place in Gaza.” She asserted that Hamas, being a terrorist organization, needs to be dealt with, and the key lies in forming a durable coalition within the Middle East. According to Jayapal, terrorism experts advocate for this approach, emphasizing collaboration with the United States and Israel to foster a lasting political solution and provide an alternative leadership for Gaza, ultimately leading to the creation of a Palestinian state.

Addressing the ongoing conflict, Jayapal condemned both Hamas and Israel, attributing the lack of progress toward a long-term solution to Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza. She underscored the need for accountability, stating, “We have to condemn what Hamas did on October 7. We cannot allow for 15,000 Palestinians to date to have been killed, three-quarters of whom are women and children, and say that that is going to help us in the long term.”

Jayapal highlighted the moral and strategic imperative for Israel to pursue a political solution that includes the establishment of both a Palestinian and Israeli state. She expressed concern that a lasting coalition, essential for ending the war, would not materialize if Israel continued its current military actions, asserting, “The United States cannot be backers of this kind of indiscriminate bombing.”

The representative’s call for a coalition coincides with Israel’s resumption of its offensive in Gaza, following a seven-day temporary cease-fire. This pause in hostilities resulted in the release of dozens of Israeli hostages in exchange for three times that number of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli custody.

To encapsulate Jayapal’s position, she advocates for a comprehensive coalition approach involving the United States, Israel, and Arab nations to counter Hamas, condemning both indiscriminate actions and calling for a political solution that addresses the needs of both Palestinians and Israelis for long-term stability in the region.

Unraveling the Complexity: Examining the Gaza Conflict Through the Lens of Genocide

In the ongoing conflict in Gaza, which has seen more than 11,000 lives lost since October 7, tensions have escalated, prompting international concern and calls for action. Following a deadly Hamas attack, Israel declared war, leading to a military offensive in the densely-populated region home to over 2 million people. Despite a four-hour daily humanitarian pause in northern Gaza, brokered by U.S. President Biden, concerns persist over the well-being of civilians caught in the crossfire.

The severity of the situation has prompted significant developments, including the resignation of Craig Mokhiber, a United Nations director, citing the organization’s “failure” to address what he deemed a “textbook case of genocide.” A coalition of U.N. experts echoed this sentiment, expressing concern about the Palestinians facing a “grave risk of genocide.” Furthermore, three Palestinian human rights organizations have taken legal action by filing a lawsuit with the International Criminal Court (ICC), seeking arrest warrants against Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, for alleged genocide.

Amidst these developments, scholars have weighed in on the classification of the conflict as genocide, considering legal, social scientific, and conventional perspectives. The legal definition, as per the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, requires proving specific intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. However, experts acknowledge the difficulty in establishing genocidal intent definitively.

Ernesto Verdeja, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, notes the narrow focus of the legal definition, emphasizing the exclusion of victims based on socioeconomic status or political identity. Alexander Hinton, UNESCO Chair on genocide prevention at Rutgers University, emphasizes a broader, colloquial definition centered on large-scale destruction and acts against a population.

Raz Segal, the program director of genocide studies at Stockton University, categorically labels the current situation as a “textbook case of genocide.” He points to Israeli forces’ alleged genocidal acts, including killing, causing bodily harm, and implementing measures to destroy the group. Segal cites explicit statements of intent from Israeli leaders, such as President Isaac Herzog’s remarks, suggesting a broad characterization of all Palestinians as “an enemy population.”

Scholars differ in their assessments. David Simon of Yale University emphasizes Israel’s explicit goal of targeting Hamas, not a religious, ethnic, or racial group, raising doubts about meeting the legal definition of genocide. Ben Kiernan, director of the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University, concurs, stating that Israel’s actions, while indiscriminate, do not meet the legal threshold for genocide.

Victoria Sanford, a City University of New York professor, draws parallels between the Gaza situation and the Guatemalan genocide, highlighting similarities in the targeting of Mayans and Palestinians. Sanford, along with other scholars, supports legal action, urging the ICC to address the “Israeli intention to commit genocide visibly materializing on the ground.”

While scholars debate the classification of the conflict, some argue that such debates are a “bad use of focus.” Verdeja suggests that proving genocide takes time and does not prevent further loss of life. Hinton echoes this sentiment, cautioning against rigidly focusing on defining a moment as genocide, emphasizing the need for broader perspectives.

The significance of labeling the conflict as genocide is a point of contention among scholars. Segal underscores the importance of truth-telling, drawing parallels with past instances where reluctance to use the term hindered intervention. He argues for naming the situation truthfully to facilitate a reckoning with the events that unfolded and to guide future actions.

In the complex landscape of the Gaza conflict, the discourse on genocide highlights the challenges of applying legal definitions to evolving situations while emphasizing the broader impact on affected populations. As international attention remains focused on the region, the nuanced perspectives of scholars contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the ongoing crisis.

India Plummets in Global Talent Competitiveness Index, Ranking 103rd – Lowest Among BRICS Nations

The Global Talent Competitiveness Index has witnessed a significant decline for India, plummeting from the 83rd position a decade ago to the 103rd rank in the latest report released earlier this month. Among 134 countries evaluated, India finds itself positioned between Algeria, ranked 102, and Gautemala, ranked 104, both categorized as lower-middle-income countries. This places India well below the median score of the countries assessed. Notably, India’s current standing in the index is the lowest among BRICS nations.

Developed by the renowned chain of business schools, INSEAD, the Global Talent Competitiveness Index serves as a measure of how countries and cities grow, attract, and retain talent. The index comprises two sub-indices: input, which assesses regulatory and business environments, as well as efforts to foster and retain talent, and output, which evaluates the quality of talent.

India’s decline in the GTCI is particularly worrisome, considering the government’s frequent reference to scores on various business indices such as ‘Ease of Doing Business’ and the controversial World Bank-led ‘Doing Business’ scores to bolster its case. Notably, the World Bank Report on ‘Doing Business’ was discontinued due to irregularities in its measurement.

India’s performance in the GTCI stands in stark contrast to other emerging countries that have shown improvement on this index. China, Indonesia, and Mexico, in particular, have been highlighted for their noteworthy progress. China, for instance, has transitioned from being a talent mover to a talent champion, while Indonesia has made significant strides in talent competitiveness over the past decade. Mexico has transformed from a talent laggard to a talent mover, and Brazil is on track to potentially categorize as a talent mover.

In the context of BRICS nations, China leads the group with a rank of 40, followed by Russia at 52, South Africa at 68, and Brazil at 69. In contrast, India’s rank of 103 is the lowest among BRICS countries.

The report emphasizes that India’s talent competitiveness witnessed an increase up to 2020 but has regressed in each of the three subsequent years. A primary factor contributing to this decline is a downturn in business sentiment, significantly impacting the ability to attract talent, with India now ranked 132nd out of 134 in this aspect. This decline extends to both attracting talent from overseas (127th in External Openness sub-pillar) and within the country (129th in Internal Openness).

The report also highlights an increased skills mismatch and greater difficulty in finding skilled employees, positioning India at 121st in both the ‘Employability’ sub-pillar and the ‘Vocational and Technical Skills’ pillar. However, it does acknowledge India’s strength in the ‘Global Knowledge Skills’ category, where innovation and software development contribute to its 69th position in the Talent Impact sub-pillar.

In terms of global rankings, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United States hold the top three positions. European countries continue to dominate the ‘Top 25’ rankings, with Japan dropping out for the first time, and South Korea ascending to take its place.

Despite the debates surrounding India’s position on various business indices, experts argue that focusing on whether the current situation can be labeled a genocide is a misplaced emphasis. Some scholars, like Verdeja, express the view that debates on this matter divert attention and time from addressing the ongoing crisis, stating, “Proving whether something is a genocide takes time and does not actually stop people from being killed.” Hinton concurs, asserting that the fixation on defining a specific moment as genocide can lead to a rigid focus, obscuring the broader perspective of addressing the immediate challenges and finding solutions.

In the broader context, scholars note the significance of using the term genocide to describe specific situations. Segal cites the example of the U.S. government’s refusal to label crimes against the Hutus in Rwanda as genocide, as doing so would have obligated intervention. This lack of action allowed the massacre to continue unabated. Segal emphasizes the importance of naming a situation for what it is, stating, “Without sticking to the truth, we’ll never have a truthful reckoning of how we arrived at the seventh of October, and how we go forward.”

Israeli Strikes Continue in Gaza as Conflict Enters Sixth Week

Israeli airstrikes relentlessly targeted Gaza City overnight and persisted into Sunday, while ground forces engaged in intense battles with Hamas militants near the largest hospital in the area. Shifa Hospital, currently hosting thousands of medics, patients, and displaced individuals, faces a dire situation with no electricity and dwindling supplies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a televised address on Saturday, dismissed international calls for a cease-fire unless it included the release of 239 hostages captured by Hamas in the October 7 incident that triggered the conflict. Netanyahu affirmed Israel’s commitment to using “full force” in the ongoing battle.

Israel’s objective in the conflict is to end Hamas’ 16-year rule in Gaza and dismantle its military capabilities. The blame for the severe impact on the 2.3 million Palestinians trapped in the besieged territory is placed on Hamas by Israel. The international community, including the United States, has exerted increasing pressure on Israel as the conflict extends into its sixth week. A gathering of 57 Muslim and Arab nations in Saudi Arabia called for an end to the war, and around 300,000 pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched peacefully through London in the largest protest since the war’s commencement.

Heavy Clashes Near Shifa Hospital Raise Concerns

Gaza City residents reported extensive airstrikes and shelling overnight, particularly in the vicinity of Shifa Hospital. Israel has accused Hamas of concealing a command post within the hospital compound, an allegation denied by both Hamas and hospital staff. Shifa Hospital, already in a precarious state, faced further challenges when its last generator ran out of fuel on Saturday. This resulted in the tragic deaths of a premature baby, another child in an incubator, and four additional patients. Hospital director Mohammed Abu Selmia, amidst gunfire and explosions, highlighted that Israeli troops were restricting movement within and outside the hospital.

The World Health Organization lost communication with contacts at Shifa, and the International Committee of the Red Cross director general, Robert Mardini, emphasized the urgency of addressing the “unbearably desperate situation” at the hospital. The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that Israeli tanks were in close proximity to al-Quds hospital in Gaza City, causing extreme panic among the 14,000 displaced people sheltering there.

Netanyahu Outlines Postwar Plans Amid Criticism

Netanyahu, in response to mounting criticism and calls for a cease-fire, reiterated Israel’s stance that the responsibility for harm to civilians lies with Hamas. Contrasting with the U.S. vision for the postwar scenario, Netanyahu outlined plans for Gaza’s demilitarization, with Israel retaining security control and the ability to enter Gaza freely to combat militants. He rejected the idea of the Palestinian Authority gaining control of Gaza, emphasizing that Hamas had driven the PA’s forces out in 2007.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed the U.S. opposition to an Israeli reoccupation of Gaza and envisioned a unified Palestinian government overseeing both Gaza and the West Bank as a step toward Palestinian statehood. Tensions between Israel and Saudi Arabia were evident as Saudi Arabia welcomed Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi in the first such visit since the two nations mended ties.

Divergent Views on Conducting the Conflict

While Israel’s allies defend its right to protect itself, differences are emerging on how Israel should conduct the conflict. The U.S. advocated for temporary pauses to allow the distribution of aid to civilians, but Israel has agreed only to brief daily periods for civilians to flee the northern Gaza combat zone. Tens of thousands have already fled the north, but Israel’s strikes, claiming to target militants, extend to central and southern Gaza, resulting in civilian casualties.

The conflict, now in its second month, has displaced over two-thirds of Gaza’s population. Egypt has allowed foreign passport holders and medical patients to exit through the Rafah crossing, but aid workers emphasize that the current relief efforts are insufficient. The Health Ministry in Gaza reported over 11,000 Palestinian deaths, with concerns about thousands missing or trapped under rubble. Meanwhile, 46 Israeli soldiers have been killed, and Hamas continues to launch rockets into Israel.

Amidst this, thousands of Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv for the return of hostages, while in Caesarea, protesters called for Netanyahu’s removal. Over 250,000 Israelis have been evacuated from communities near Gaza and along the northern border with Lebanon, where tensions persist between Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants.

How the Confidence in the UN Eroded Globally

Since 1947, when the UN General Assembly endorsed the partitioning of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, the Middle East has been a focal point of UN deliberations. In the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the UN has followed a consistent pattern: the US employs its veto to thwart criticism of Israel at the Security Council, while Arab states rally developing nations to support the Palestinians. Recent discussions at the UN after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel have adhered to this familiar script. The US vetoed a Security Council resolution urging a cease-fire in Gaza, but a General Assembly resolution for a “humanitarian truce” passed overwhelmingly in late October.

However, diplomats at UN offices in New York and Geneva express a sense that this crisis is distinct and could have repercussions beyond Israel and Gaza, impacting the UN’s integrity. Their concerns stem not only from the brutality of Hamas, the mounting casualties in Gaza, and the potential for regional escalation but also from a broader loss of confidence in the UN. Doubts about the effectiveness of an institution designed for twentieth-century power dynamics to address postwar challenges are not new. In the past year, the UN has appeared particularly adrift, failing to respond effectively to crises in Sudan, Nagorno-Karabakh, and the coup in Niger. Tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine have further hindered UN discussions on unrelated issues in Africa and the Middle East. UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned of a “great fracture” in the global governance system at the annual General Assembly meeting in September.

The conflict between Israel and Hamas could exacerbate the erosion of the UN’s credibility in crisis response. This situation prompts a crucial reckoning for national governments and UN officials on how the UN can contribute to peace and security in a world where common ground among major powers is shrinking. The post-Cold War era witnessed calls for the UN to address conflicts as a matter of routine, but now the institution seems to be confronting its geopolitical limitations.

A revamped UN, suitable for the contemporary age, must adjust its ambitions. On security matters, the organization should prioritize a limited set of key issues and delegate crisis management responsibilities when possible. Some international problems will still necessitate the coordination uniquely possible at the UN. Even when diplomatic efforts among nations falter, the institution remains a platform where adversaries can negotiate differences and identify opportunities for collaboration. Rather than allowing ongoing conflicts to fracture the UN, both national governments and UN officials must collaborate to preserve its essential functions.

STARTING TO SPIRAL

The crisis of confidence in the UN has been escalating since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Initially, diplomats feared that tensions among major powers would paralyze the UN. However, despite intense debates over the war in Ukraine, Russia, the US, and European allies continued to coordinate on other matters. The Security Council imposed new sanctions on criminal gangs in Haiti and agreed on a mandate for the UN to collaborate with the Taliban government in Kabul to provide aid to suffering Afghans. Both Russia and the West demonstrated a willingness to use the UN for residual cooperation.

This delicate balance began to unravel in the spring. Russia increasingly acted as a spoiler at the UN, withdrawing UN peacekeepers from Mali and vetoing the renewal of a mandate for aid agencies in rebel-held parts of Syria. Moscow also exited the Black Sea Grain Initiative, disrupting a deal brokered by the UN and Turkey in 2022. The war in the Middle East highlighted this more aggressive approach to UN diplomacy. While China maintained a relatively neutral stance, Russia capitalized on the situation, criticizing the US for vetoing a resolution on humanitarian aid to Gaza and implying American complicity in fueling the conflict.

The US’s unwavering support for Israel has compounded diplomatic challenges, particularly in the General Assembly. The coalition of states supporting Ukraine fractured over Gaza, leading to a resolution for a “humanitarian truce” passing with a divided vote. The US voted against the resolution, citing its failure to condemn Hamas, causing a ripple effect. Diplomats from developing countries hinted at rejecting future UN resolutions supporting Ukraine due to perceived Western disregard for Palestinian concerns.

This recent division may undermine the US’s efforts to improve relations with the global South at the UN. The Biden administration’s push for Security Council reforms and promises to collaborate with financial institutions for developing countries now faces headwinds, as its stance on Israel and Gaza risks undoing progress made with these nations before the current conflict.

The wars in Ukraine and the Middle East have intensified diplomatic tensions among UN member states and placed significant strain on UN Secretary-General Guterres and the organization’s conflict-management system. The absence of unified support from the Security Council has hindered the UN’s ability to effectively manage conflicts, with trouble spots like Sudan, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo experiencing challenges in cooperation and peacekeeping efforts.

 

Governments and warring parties in these regions have resisted collaboration with UN mediators, and demands for the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers have been made without facing substantial consequences. Despite maintaining a humanitarian presence in places like Afghanistan, the UN is grappling with funding shortfalls due to reduced aid budgets from Western donors allocating significant resources to military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine.

Guterres has become entangled in diplomatic disputes, particularly concerning events in the Middle East. His remarks on Hamas’s attack on Israel led to calls for his resignation from Israel, affecting cooperation with UN humanitarian officials. The incident underscores the vulnerability of UN aid operations to political discord, with tragic consequences on the ground, including the death of nearly 100 UN employees in Gaza.

The future of the UN’s presence in the Middle East hinges on the duration and extent of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. In a post-conflict scenario, the UN may play a significant role in recovery efforts or even be tasked with administering Gaza after the removal of Hamas. However, an extended and broader regional war could jeopardize the UN’s longstanding peacekeeping missions in southern Lebanon and the Golan Heights.

Regardless of the outcomes in the Middle East and Ukraine, ongoing trends at the UN signal future challenges. Diplomatic divisions and operational vulnerabilities are likely to persist or worsen as global rifts deepen. While the UN may not return to its Cold War-era prominence, it can adapt to a diminished role. Guterres’s “New Agenda for Peace” emphasizes a reduced focus on peacekeeping missions and encourages member states to address new security threats.

The UN could shift from deploying its own forces to supporting other crisis managers, including regional organizations and individual countries. This approach is already being tested, such as Kenya leading a multinational security assistance mission in Haiti. Despite current disagreements, the Security Council could find a new equilibrium, serving as a venue for resolving conflicts among major powers and addressing shared interests in cooperation.

Even with the Security Council facing challenges, the wider UN system retains a substantial role in international conflict management. UN relief agencies possess unique capacities to mitigate violence’s effects, and efforts are underway to explore conflict prevention methods independent of Security Council oversight, such as utilizing World Bank funds to support basic services in vulnerable states. In a period of geopolitical tension, the UN may not lead in resolving major crises, but it can contribute significantly to protecting vulnerable populations.

Israel Rejects US Call for Gaza Ceasefire Amid Ongoing Conflict

Israel has rejected a plea from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a “humanitarian pause” in Gaza. Blinken discussed the idea with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials during their meetings in Tel Aviv. However, Netanyahu, in a televised statement, dismissed the proposal, stating that Israel would not accept “a temporary ceasefire that does not include the release of our hostages.” He affirmed that Israel would continue its operations against Hamas.

The US diplomatic effort unfolded as Israeli military commanders reported that they had encircled Gaza City and were engaged in a challenging urban battle. Israel’s offensive, involving airstrikes and ground forces, was initiated in response to an attack on October 7, during which Hamas fighters killed 1,400 people in Israel and took more than 240 hostages.

Since then, Israel’s assault has resulted in the deaths of at least 9,200 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

During his visit to Tel Aviv, Blinken reiterated the United States’ support for Israel and sought assurances that Israel would take steps to protect Palestinian civilians. He addressed various key questions raised during their discussions, including how to enhance the flow of humanitarian aid, linking the pause to the release of hostages, and preventing Hamas from exploiting these pauses. Blinken also highlighted the entry of over 100 aid trucks into Gaza in the past 24 hours, emphasizing the need for more.

Blinken stated that the US had offered guidance to Israel on minimizing civilian casualties while pursuing its objectives against Hamas. He also discussed measures to allow more aid, including fuel, to reach Gaza. However, Netanyahu firmly stated that he would not permit any fuel into Gaza and rejected any talk of a ceasefire, insisting on the release of hostages as a condition for a temporary truce.

The US secretary of state emphasized that Israel’s security could only be achieved through the establishment of a Palestinian state, reaffirming the US commitment to a two-state solution. He stressed, “Two states for two peoples. Again, that is the only way to ensure lasting security for a Jewish and democratic Israel.”

During a news conference alongside Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Blinken acknowledged Israel’s right and duty to defend itself, aiming to prevent the events of October 7 from recurring. Herzog revealed efforts to warn Gazans about airstrikes, displaying a pamphlet dropped in the Strip instructing civilians to leave the conflict zone in the north.

Meanwhile, the families of Israelis taken hostage protested nearby. Herzog expressed sympathy for them, while Blinken reassured that the US was continually thinking about the hostages, including Israelis, Americans, and other nationals. White House officials revealed that Hamas had been preventing foreign nationals from leaving Gaza, suggesting that a significant pause in the Israeli offensive was necessary to have any hope of freeing the hostages.

On a political note, a Democratic representative, Rashida Tlaib, criticized President Biden for not demanding a ceasefire and accused him of supporting the “genocide of the Palestinian people.” She issued a warning, stating, “Support a ceasefire now or don’t count on us in 2024,” in reference to Biden’s potential re-election campaign.

Blinken is currently in Jordan, where earlier, the country recalled its ambassador from Israel. He is scheduled to meet with Arab leaders who have been increasingly critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza.

FBI Director Warns of Increased Threats and Attacks on Americans, Jews, and Muslims Amid Israel-Hamas Conflict

The FBI director issued a warning on Tuesday, highlighting how the Israel-Hamas conflict has elevated the threat level for potential attacks against Americans and intensified dangers for Jewish and Muslim communities in the United States.

Christopher A. Wray, Director of the FBI, expressed concerns about foreign terrorist organizations inciting violence against Jews in response to the October 7 terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas in Gaza. The conflict led Israel to impose a siege and bombardment of Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas.

Wray stated, “We assess that the actions of Hamas and its allies will serve as an inspiration the likes of which we haven’t seen since ISIS launched its so-called caliphate several years ago.”

He emphasized that the ongoing Middle East conflict has raised the threat of attacks against Americans within the United States, especially from violent extremists or lone actors influenced by messages promoting hatred and violence.

Before the Israel-Hamas conflict, the United States had already witnessed a surge in antisemitic incidents, partly attributed to white supremacist propaganda and nationalist groups. However, since the October 7 attack by Hamas, the frequency of antisemitic threats and acts has considerably increased. Director Wray described it as “a threat that is reaching in some way sort of historic levels.”

Wray underlined that the Jewish community is a target for various types of terrorists, including homegrown violent extremists, foreign terrorist organizations, and domestic violent extremists.

Foreign terrorist groups, in response to the Hamas attacks, have issued calls to attack Americans, particularly Jews. Notably, the Islamic State (ISIS) has called for attacks on Jewish communities in the United States and Europe, while Al Qaeda issued a specific call to attack the United States, making it the most explicit call to attack the U.S. in the past five years.

Wray emphasized the significance of this unprecedented level of calls for attacks by foreign terrorist organizations, raising the potential terror threats to the United States.

The Israel-Hamas conflict has also sparked division within the United States. Protests against Israel’s response to the attack and its treatment of Palestinians have led to the removal of posters depicting victims kidnapped by Hamas on several college campuses. Private companies, universities, and organizations such as the Writers Guild of America have faced criticism for their statements or lack thereof regarding the violence in the Middle East.

Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security, mentioned that federal officials have witnessed an increase in threats against Jewish, Muslim, and Arab American communities and institutions in the United States since October 7.

While Jews make up less than 3% of the U.S. population, they were already the target of approximately 60% of religious-based hate crimes before the Israel-Hamas conflict, according to Wray, citing 2022 statistics.

Between October 7 and October 23, there were 312 antisemitic incidents in the United States, with 190 directly linked to the Israel-Hamas conflict, according to the Anti-Defamation League. These incidents include a case on October 15 at Grand Central Terminal in New York, where a Jewish woman was reportedly punched in the face due to her Jewish identity.

Wray also mentioned a recent arrest in Houston on October 19 of a Palestinian asylum seeker, Sohaib Abuayyash, who had been in the United States since June 2019 on an expired travel visa. Abuayyash was found to have been studying how to build bombs and had expressed support for violence against Jewish people. He was also illegally in possession of a firearm and had engaged with individuals who shared a radical mindset, according to the criminal complaint.

The Biden administration has maintained regular contact with Jewish communities across the country, with the FBI creating an intelligence fusion cell dedicated to addressing hate crimes and domestic terrorism. This proactive approach aims to comprehensively understand and respond to the evolving threat landscape.

In response to the rising number of antisemitic attacks and hate crimes against Palestinians after the Israel-Hamas conflict, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced grants of up to $75 million for local police departments and houses of worship.

The conflict has not only fueled antisemitic incidents but has also led to an increase in hate-fueled attacks against Muslims and Arabs in the United States since October 7. The Council on American Islamic Relations reported over 700 complaints of bias incidents and threats against American Muslims between October 7 and October 25, reaching levels not seen since December 2015 when then-presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed a ban on Muslim travel to the United States.

One prominent incident involved the murder of a 6-year-old Palestinian American in Illinois, with the landlord arrested for stabbing the boy and his mother in what is being treated as a hate crime.

In New York, two men were arrested and charged with hate crimes for their involvement in an October 11 attack on three men, during which they shouted anti-Muslim slurs. The 2022 FBI report indicated that nearly 8% of religious-based hate crimes targeted Muslims, a level similar to 2021.

A Fresh Face at the Helm: New House Speaker’s Vision for America

Mike Johnson, the freshly minted House speaker, is undergoing a swift transformation from relative anonymity to the highest-ranking elected Republican in the nation. In a candid conversation with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Johnson offered insights into his perspective, deeply rooted in the Bible, addressing concerns regarding his past opposition to LGBTQ rights, keeping his stance against abortion rights vague, and expressing his intention to tighten House rules to protect his position.

Despite these issues, Johnson’s immediate priority is negotiation with the White House on funding bills, with a clear message that Republican support comes with conditions.

Financial Wrangling: A Potential Shutdown and Ukraine Aid

Johnson emphasized his stance on budget cuts when it comes to funding the government, making it clear that he will insist on reductions when government funding lapses in less than three weeks. Given the current state of short-term funding bills, Johnson did not rule out the possibility of another stopgap measure when funding expires on November 17. Although he did not endorse a specific plan, Johnson and Hannity discussed a Republican proposal for an 8% cut in government spending, a measure unlikely to gain White House or Senate approval.

Johnson’s commitment to Ukraine’s support was evident, as he advocated for more funding to help Ukraine resist Russian aggression. However, he outlined 12 specific demands that Republicans would like to see met to ensure the effective use of these funds. The extent of aid that Republicans are willing to provide remains uncertain, considering the White House’s request for over $60 billion.

Furthermore, Johnson stressed that Republicans will not simply pass a bill providing additional funding to Ukraine and Israel without a catch. They will insist on separating these two issues and will demand budget cuts elsewhere in exchange for the $14.3 billion earmarked for Israel.

Congressional Oversight of Military Action: A Potential Shift

In a possible shift from the past, Johnson suggested that Republicans might attempt to restrict President Joe Biden’s authority to deploy U.S. military forces in the Middle East. Historically, every president since George W. Bush has relied on executive power to deploy troops for counterterrorism efforts. Johnson indicated that if U.S. troops were needed to rescue American hostages in Israel, Congress should have a say in the decision, emphasizing the limited authority of the executive branch without congressional consent.

Blaming the Human Heart, Not Guns

Regarding mass shootings and gun control, Johnson dismissed the idea that guns are responsible for these tragic events, arguing that the root cause lies in the human heart. He compared regulating guns to regulating vehicles, as both could potentially be used for harm. While he mentioned that he would consider legislation related to mental health, he didn’t go into specifics.

Respect for Biden Amid Criticism of His Leadership

Despite criticism of President Biden’s leadership, Johnson expressed respect for Biden’s position as the head of the nation. He acknowledged that while he might disagree with some of Biden’s policies, the presidency deserves respect. However, he agreed with Hannity that Biden’s mental acuity has declined in recent years, a point frequently raised by Republicans to question Biden’s leadership.

Core Principles of Conservatism: Guiding Johnson’s Approach

Johnson laid out a set of core principles he follows in both his speech to fellow lawmakers and his interview with Hannity. These principles, which he defines as “core principles of American conservatism,” include individual freedom, limited government, the rule of law, peace through strength, fiscal responsibility, free markets, and human dignity. Johnson intends to use these principles to counter the push towards what he sees as European-style socialism and to convince Democrats of his perspective.

A Worldview Rooted in the Bible

During his conversation with Hannity, Johnson addressed past writings and positions on LGBTQ rights that seem out of step with current societal norms. He clarified that many of his previous positions were based on religious freedom and emphasized his commitment to following the rule of law and treating all individuals with respect. He defended his beliefs and mentioned that his worldview is deeply rooted in the Bible.

Culture War Issues Take a Back Seat

While Johnson has not ruled out pushing for legislation related to gender or abortion rights, he asserted that there are more pressing issues to address, such as Israel, Ukraine, China, Iran, the economy, the border, and the fentanyl epidemic. Johnson considers these matters to be of higher priority, dismissing others as politically motivated attacks.

A Call for Opportunity and Collaboration

Johnson urged Democrats to give him a chance and expressed the hope that they would work together to address the nation’s challenges. Democrats will need to cooperate with him to pass legislation, making collaboration essential.

In his swift rise to prominence, Mike Johnson brings a unique blend of conservative values, religious conviction, and a focus on key national issues. His vision for America and his leadership style will undoubtedly be put to the test as he navigates the complex and often contentious world of politics in the United States.

Modi To Skip UNGA 2022

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not scheduled to be at the high-level UN General Assembly session in September this year but two newly elected leaders of troubled South Asian countries, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe, are among the scheduled participants, media reports here stated.

Prime Ministers Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, Sher Bahadur Deuba of Nepal and Lotay Tshering of Bhutan are also listed to be speakers during the 2022 General Assembly of thew world body.

The Taliban regime, which is not recognized by any country, does not have a slot, nor does anyone from the government of ousted President Ashraf Ghani, which still in effect holds the country’s seat at the UN.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is likely to be the possible speaker at the UN, representing India, according to the roster of speakers available Wednesday at the United Nations.

Modi has so far addressed the General Assembly four times in person and once by video. He skipped the meeting in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

In a sign of the world emerging from the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, all the speeches will be in person at this year’s session that begins on September 20, Paulina Kubiak, the spokesperson for Assembly President Abdulla Shahid, said on Wednesday.

The high-level session went all virtual in 2020 and turned hybrid last year with some speaking remotely and others like Modi attending in person.

The leaders are scheduled in a hierarchical order starting with the 101 heads of state, followed by prime ministers, the deputies, the ministers and others.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, which will take up a chunk of the session’s bandwidth, is scheduled to be at the meeting this year.

Al Qaeda Leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri Killed In US Strike

The United States killed the leader of al Qaeda, Ayman Al Zawahri in a “successful” counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan over the weekend that senior Biden administration officials say “deals a significant blow” to the terror network and degrades its ability to operate, including against the U.S. homeland, media reports stated.

The operation marks a major milestone for the U.S. Al-Zawahiri succeeded Osama bin Laden as the leader of the terror group in 2011 and helped lead the September 11, 2001, terror attacks against the U.S.

President Biden spoke to the American people to announce the strike, saying Monday: “the United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm. You know, we make it clear again tonight that no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out.”

Biden said U.S. intelligence officials tracked al-Zawahri to a home in downtown Kabul where he was hiding out with his family. The president approved the operation last week and it was carried out on Sunday.

Al-Zawahiri, who was 71, had been rumored to be dead but appeared in a video on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 last year.  The Associated Press first reported that a U.S. operation had killed al-Zawahiri.

“Over the weekend, the United States conducted a counterterrorism operation against a significant al Qaeda target in Afghanistan,” a senior administration official said Monday, without naming Zawahiri as the target. “The operation was successful and there were no civilian casualties.”

The news was particularly notable coming so close to the one-year anniversary of the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Al-Zawahiri’s killing represents a major success for the U.S. government and Biden is likely to point to it as an illustration that the U.S. does not need to be engaged in combat in order to take down threats to the homeland.

The United States government, on July 30 at 9:48 p.m. ET, and 6:18 a.m. Kabul time, undertook a “precision counterterrorism operation,” killing Al Zawahiri, who served as Usama bin Laden’s deputy during the 9/11 attacks, and as his successor in 2011, following bin Laden’s death.

A US official said that the U.S. government identified Zawahiri at a location in Kabul. “The Al Zawahiri family exercised longstanding terrorist tradecraft that we assessed was designed to prevent anyone from following them to Zawahiri,” the official explained, noting that the government identified Zawahiri’s wife, daughter and her children at a safe house in Kabul this year.

The official explained that “only a very small and select group of officials at key agencies were brought into the process and the deliberations at the early stage” and briefed on the developing intelligence.

“The president convened over the course of the last few weeks several meetings with his key advisers and cabinet members to carefully scrutinize the intelligence and evaluate the best course of action for targeting Zawahri,” the official explained, noting that Biden received updated on the developments of the targets throughout May and June.

“We are confident through our intelligence sources and methods, including multiple streams of intelligence, that we killed Zawahiri and no other individual,” the official said, noting that members of his family were present “in other parts of the safe house at the time of the strike and were purposefully not targeted and were unharmed.”

Global Population Projected To Exceed 8 Billion In 2022; Half Live In 7 Countries

By Conrad Hackett

The world’s population will cross 8 billion in November, according to recently released projections from the United Nations. And more than half of all people live in just seven countries.

China has the world’s largest population (1.426 billion), but India (1.417 billion) is expected to claim this title next year. The next five most populous nations – the United States, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria and Brazil – together have fewer people than India or China. In fact, China’s population is greater than the entire population of Europe (744 million) or the Americas (1.04 billion) and roughly equivalent to that of all nations in Africa (1.427 billion).

As recently as 2015, half the world’s population was concentrated in just six countries – the same as above, with the exception of Nigeria, which was then the seventh most populous country and has since passed Brazil to move into sixth place. Recent population growth, however, has been faster in the rest of the world than in these nations, meaning that the top six now hold slightly less than half (49%) of the world’s people. Including Brazil’s 215 million people puts the world’s seven most populous countries at 51.7% of the global population.

In the UN’s “medium” scenario for future population growth – its middle-of-the-road estimate – the global population is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.4 billion in 2100. Growth is expected to be concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 29% of all the world’s births happened last year. The 2021 total fertility rate in sub-Saharan Africa, 4.6 births per woman, is double the global average of 2.3 births per woman and triple the average in Europe and Northern America (1.5) and in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia (also 1.5).

The Vision Of A World Divided Into Two Blocs: China & Russia Vs Europe & The United States

(IPS) – For years, Russia’s relations with the European Union and the United States have been one of the main areas of conflict in the media. Washington and Brussels accuse Moscow of manipulation and disinformation and, after the invasion of Ukraine, decided to close their media outlets to Russian companies.
Excerpts from the Q&A: 

Q: What do you think about the way this issue has been handled and what repercussions could it have on the management of the media, especially non-mainstream media such as Inter Press Service (IPS) or OtherNews?

A: Information has always been used by power, both economic and political. Information is, by definition, top-down. Whoever transmits it, whether in print form in newspapers and magazines, or in electronic form on radio and TV, sends it to an audience that cannot intervene in the process. That is why power has always tried to use it. 

The Gutenberg era represented by this phenomenon lasted six centuries. Communication, which is a more recent phenomenon and which until now has only been possible with the Internet, is different. Communication is horizontal: I am a receiver, but I can also be a sender. There, power has much more power. 

The media that provide information are closer and closer to power, they are no longer a business, and every year they are less and less powerful. And politics today is increasingly oriented towards social media. The most recent example was former US President Donald Trump, who had 80 million followers with Twitter (during his tenure at the White House) and completely gave up control of the media. (Trump was permanently banned from twitter in January 2021, right after he supported the attack on the capitol. So, Trump doesn’t actually have any twitter followers now.).

It must be added, however, that the Internet has been captured by the market, which has eliminated the horizontality we all hailed in the beginning. Today we have moved from the era of Gutenberg to the era of Zuckerberg, and we users are data, not people. 

This is of great importance for young people, who today find themselves involved in vertically created turmoil, brought about by search engines, which divide users into affinity groups, thus eliminating dialogue, because when someone from part A meets someone from part B, they clash, end up insulting each other, without listening or sharing. And search engines, in order to keep the user, prioritise what generates the most impact, so that the strangest news ends up taking precedence. 

The extreme polarisation of America would not have been possible without social media. Newspapers increasingly focus on events and abandon processes, and international relations cannot be understood without analysing the process in which events take place. 

In Nairobi in 1973 there were 75 foreign correspondents; today there are three. No European TV has correspondents in Africa. It is therefore easy for a government to decide to expel correspondents, but it is almost impossible to shut down social networks, even if autocratic governments try to do so. That is why the Russian public knows little about the reality of the war. 

But if someone is determined, they can always find a way to overcome censorship, even if it is a skill of the young, the old are not on the Internet and still rely on traditional media.

In Italy, the main daily newspaper, Il Corriere della Sera, had the front page for forty days with a nine-column headline dedicated to Ukraine. This was followed by the first twenty pages, all dedicated to Ukraine. The rest of the world had disappeared. And the same happened with most of the European media. 

Only with the French elections were newspapers forced to give significant space to Macron and not Zelensky. In this respect, representatives of the quality American press, such as the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, have been more balanced. Of course, the longer the war goes on, the more the repetition of events in the media becomes insufficient. 

But the European press, like Europe itself, has sided with NATO, and with little argument. In Russia, of course, the press has been an amplifier for the government. The US media, for its part, often at odds with the government on domestic and national issues, tends to support the official foreign policy position. Factors such as national identity, nationalism and a lack of knowledge of international realities in newsrooms come into play.

It was surprising to see the European press become a megaphone of NATO positions. Putin was demonized as was Hitler, and Zelensky praised as a Greek hero. The Russians are portrayed as barbarians killing Minos. There has never been any negative news about Ukrainians, when in war violence and dereliction of ethics are inevitable and unfortunately widespread. 

It is as if the Cold War has never ended, and we are ready to accept an escalation that can become scorching hot. GDP has contracted, the cost of living is rising, inflation is on the rise, and so far, there has been no reaction. This is really surprising. 

For OtherNews, which is a news service on global issues, it was a very complex challenge. OtherNews represents a new design. The idea is that the non-profit association is owned by the readers, who can become members by paying a modest annual fee of 50 euros. 

They elect the board of directors and discuss the editorial line, thus guaranteeing full independence and a pluralistic and inclusive line. There are 12,000 readers, in 82 countries around the world: academics, international civil servants, global civil society activists, etc.

Q: How would you define the role of the media in covering the conflict between Ukraine and Russia?

A: The war in Ukraine is exclusively an affair of the global North. The global South is only a victim of the increase in food, energy and transport. In Africa it has reached 45% of the population. Articles from the North were criticized by readers from the South and vice versa. 

OtherNews lost almost 300 readers, almost all from the North, for publishing articles that criticized or questioned the war. I believe that this North-South divide will increase with the explosion of the multipolar world, as the values on which multilateralism was based are disappearing. 

An ‘active non-alignment’ could be recreated, which the press in Europe and the US will struggle to understand. The West still believes it is the centre of the world, the United States in particular.

But today, mainly because of the need to prioritise national interests over international cooperation, a path opened by (former President Ronald) Reagan and (former British Prime Minister Margaret) Thatcher in 1981, we have moved from a multilateral to a multipolar world. In the Bush junior era, neo-conservatives preached the arrival of an American century, that the US should remain the dominant power. Since then, the US has lost in every conflict it has been involved in, from Iraq to Afghanistan. 

And Trump took the logic of the end of multilateralism to the extreme, advising all countries to put their own interests first. Today the result is that the multipolar world is not based on the idea of international cooperation for peace and development, but on the most brutal competition. 

And Biden now wants to revive multilateralism. But it is too late. Biden will lose the mid-term elections in November and become a lame duck, with a Congress of Trumpist Republicans vetoing everything. And in 2024 Trump is likely to return, and this whole NATO boom will go into deep crisis. But until November, if the war does not escalate and remain as it is, the European press will basically keep the war helmet on.

Q: After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the identity of the international blocs seems to have reconfigured: on the one hand, the United States and the European Union, which defend the liberal tradition, have drawn a very wide dividing line, at home and abroad, between ‘pro-Russian’ and ‘pro-democratic’; on the other hand, Russia, China and their allies are considered ‘illiberal’. What do you think of this construction and what can it lead to in the future?

A: This vision of a world divided into two blocs, China and Russia on one side and liberal democracies, Europe and the United States, on the other, is an easy illusion to see. In this multipolar world, countries stand alone. 

A good example is Turkey, which is part of NATO, but does not participate in the embargo against Russia and is very close to China. Or India, which continues to buy Russian arms, is on China’s New Silk Road, but does not want any problems with the US. Indonesia, which has always been a loyal US ally, continues to maintain Putin’s participation in G20 despite US protests. 

And also in Europe: Hungary and Poland are openly defying Brussels, splitting into a pro-NATO Poland and a pro-Russia Hungary. Saudi Arabia, Washington’s great ally, ignores Biden’s request to increase oil production, despite having been invited to the summit of democratic countries convened by Biden. This homogeneous bloc of liberal countries is a good marketing slogan, but it crumbles at the slightest analysis.

Q: How do you see the impact of US domestic political polarization on the international scene? Why?

A: The Cold War was a confrontation between two political and ideological visions that clashed in a proxy war. America is no longer Kennedy’s America and it is no longer Obama’s America. It is a country where political polarization has reached unprecedented extremes. In 1980, 12% of Democrats and 15% of Republicans told the Pew Institute that they would not want their daughter to marry a man of the other party. Today it is 91% of Democrats and 96% of Republicans. 

And the US Supreme Court is already part of this polarization. 72% of Republicans believe Trump was a victim of electoral fraud. And the crowd that stormed the Capitol is described by the Republican Party as a ‘display of political opinion’. Is this the exemplary leader of democracy’s fight against the world’s dictators? And we are only at the beginning of a process of radicalization. 

Right-wing states, with the endorsement of the Supreme Court, are banning abortion, reducing social protections, minority voting power and changing schoolbooks. With the return of Trump, or Trumpism, in two years the coexistence between the two camps will become even more difficult and few will see America as the beacon of the free world. And that won’t matter much to Trump either.

Q: What lessons do you see for Latin America, both politically and economically, after Donald Trump’s four years in office? And for Europe?

A: My opinion is that there will be great chaos in international relations, with a growing power struggle between the United States and China, with Russia, which we had the intelligence to push into Beijing’s arms. Of course, this struggle will be disguised as something political, but in reality, it will be a pure struggle for economic and military hegemony. 

It is a fight that the US cannot win. And China is a self-referential country that has never left its borders and has built walls to keep the enemy out. While the US has exploited its soft power, its music, food, clothing, sports and lifestyle, China has little interest in this kind of imperialism. 

I have been going to China since 1958 and have always been struck by how little they care to make a foreigner understand Chinese culture. But there are tens of thousands of Chinese students studying abroad, while the same cannot be said of Americans. The two countries are two big islands, which consider themselves surrounded by inferior nations. 

Latin America has always been considered a second-rate region by the US, despite many declarations, and I doubt that China sees the region beyond its raw materials and Latin Americans beyond its buyers.

My opinion, especially in light of Trump’s experience, is that Latin America should adopt a policy of active non-alignment, declaring that it will not get involved in a proxy war that is not in its interest, and that it will do exactly what the multipolar dynamic advises: put its interests as a region first. 

This would give it greater consideration and weight in international negotiations, and a clear advantage in a world divided by the New Cold War that is brewing. A war that, unlike the current NATO war against Russia, cannot be military, because it would mean the destruction of the planet. Of course, history and the present do not help to have great faith in the intelligence of power.

The big problem is that Latin America continues to be a continent divided by the inability to leave behind the experience of its ancestors. It is the most homogeneous region in the world, much more so than Asia and Africa, and in some ways more so than Europe and the United States, since the latter are experiencing a real disintegration. 

However, the Latin American integration process has been an optical illusion. Latin America is a region of permanent political experimentation, which has stifled any economic logic due to the rivalry between successive presidents, between whom there is a constant change of compass. 

I fear that instead of putting up a united front in the face of the next cold war, they will allow themselves to be bought off individually, convinced that they are doing what is best for their country. The only thing that can change the situation is a great popular movement. But this has always been directed at global issues, such as women or the environment, and of course at national issues: never at regional issues. 

And in the press, the issue of integration has at best been relegated to its bureaucratic aspects, to the various bodies that have sprung up and failed in modern times. So, in my opinion, I don’t think we have learnt a real lesson from what has happened in the world since the fall of the Berlin Wall to express an inclusive regional policy, with a strong identity, and which places us as important players in the inter-national arena of this century.

(Sebastián Do Rosario and Federico Larsen are researchers at the Institute for International Relations of Mar del Plata, Argentina. The interview was first published in the newsletter of the Institute.. Courtesy: IPS UN Bureau)

Sri Lanka Seeks Way Forward After President Quits

Sri Lanka is seeking a way out of political and economic chaos after its President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned and fled the country. Two days after former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka, his two brothers – former PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa – were barred from leaving the island nation until July 28.

The country’s Supreme Court on Friday passed an order during the hearing of a petition filed by Transparency International, a global NGO, alleging that these persons were directly responsible for the unsustainability of Sri Lanka’s foreign debt, its debt default and the current economic crisis.

Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s acting president on July 15th after parliament accepted the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Secret vote: For the first time since 1978, Sri Lanka will elect its next president through a secret vote by the MPs and not through a popular mandate, on July 20. The new president will serve the remaining tenure of Gotabaya Rajapaksa till November 2024.

Sigh of relief: Rajapaksa’s departure from office marks a major victory for the anti-government protesters, who for months have demanded his removal. “We are so happy today that he resigned and we feel that when we, the people, come together, we can do everything,” said Arunanandan, 34, a school teacher told Reuters. “We are the real power in this country.” 

As people celebrated in the streets, Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana promised a swift and transparent political process that should be done within a week.

The new president could appoint a new prime minister, who would then have to be approved by Parliament. After Rajapaksa resigned, pressure on the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, was rising.

In a televised statement, Wickremesinghe said he would initiate steps to change the constitution to curb presidential powers and strengthen Parliament, restore law and order and take legal action against “insurgents.”

It was unclear to whom he was referring, although he said true protesters would not have gotten involved in clashes Wednesday night near Parliament, where many soldiers reportedly were injured.

The process of parliament electing a new president began on Saturday, with MPs expected to take a vote on 20 July. The initial formal meeting lasted just 13 minutes, with a letter being read out from Mr Rajapaska defending his record.

“It is a matter of personal satisfaction for me that I was able to protect our people from the pandemic despite the economic crisis we were already facing,” he wrote.

According to news agency AFP, more than 16,500 people died during the pandemic in Sri Lanka, while the country’s official foreign exchange reserves dropped from $7.5bn (£6.3bn) to just $1m during his tenure.

After being sworn in as interim leader, Mr Wickremesinghe promised to act quickly to put a democratically elected president in place. “I will take immediate steps to establish the rule of law and peace in the country. I accept 100% the right to peaceful protests. But some are trying to do acts of sabotage,” he said.

Meanwhile, Singapore says ousted president Rajapaksa did not ask for political asylum when he arrived there.  The former president, who arrived with his wife and two bodyguards, no longer has legal immunity as a head of state and his position is now more precarious as he tries to find a safe country to shelter in. 

He is expected to stay in Singapore for some time before possibly moving to the United Arab Emirates, Sri Lankan security sources told AFP news agency.

How India Keeps Both US And Russia Happy

The US House of Representatives has passed by voice vote a legislative amendment that approves waiver to New Delhi against the punitive CAATSA sanctions for its purchase of the S-400 missile defense system from Russia. However, the waiver will become effective only if the US Senate clears the amendment and the President signs it.

The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act or CAATSA is a tough US law that authorises Washington to impose sanctions on countries that purchase major defence hardware from Russia in response to the latter’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections.

The Trump administration sanctioned Turkey, a NATO ally, for purchasing the S-400 air defence systems from Russia.

In the face of a two-front military threat from China and Pakistan, India is procuring the Russian-made S-400 surface to-air missiles as part of a $5 billion deal signed in 2018. The systems will be deployed along northern and western borders.

The S-400 TRIUMF is considered one of the advanced air defense systems in the world. The long-range missile is capable of intercepting up to 36 targets simultaneously including aircraft, ballistic and cruise missiles.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs has said that New Delhi is pursuing an independent foreign policy and its defense acquisitions are guided by its national security interests.

India has abstained from voting against Russia, its trusted defence partner, at the UN over the issue of Ukraine war. At the same time, it has remained aligned with the US to counter China in the Indo-Pacific. Seen from this perspective, the CAATSA waiver could be a big boost for India’s strategic autonomy.

The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed a legislation measure that will urge the Biden administration to waive sanctions on India for purchasing Russian S-400 missile defence systems.

The measure passed in a voice vote as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023 (the defense budget). To make it to President Joe Biden’s desk for enactment, it must be a part of the final legislation that comes out of a process called reconciliation in which bills passed by the House and Senate are made into one.

India is potentially facing US sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for its purchase of the Russian 3-400s. The 2017 law seeks to punish Russia for the 2016 election interference and other issues by scaring away buyers of its defence equipment with the threat of secondary sanctions. China and Turkey, a NATO ally, are the only two countries sanctioned by the US under this law yet.

India has started receiving these systems, which technically should have triggered CAATSA sanctions, but the Biden administration has not publicly declared its intentions, either way.

The amendment that passed Thursday was introduced by Ro Khanna, an Indian American lawmaker from California who is now widely believed to be considering a run for the White House in 2024 if Biden decides to not run again.

“The United States must stand with India in the face of escalating aggression from China. As Vice Chair of the India Caucus, I have been working to strengthen the partnership between our countries and ensure that India can defend itself along the Indian Chinese border,” Khanna said in a statement. “This amendment is of the utmost importance, and I am proud to see it pass the House on a bipartisan basis.”

The amendment says India relies on Russian weapons because it faces “immediate and serious regional border threats” from China. And the US should take further steps to encourage India to accelerate its “transition off Russian-built weapons and defense systems”.

The amendment argues then that it’s in the best interest of the US and the US-India partnership to waive the sanction. “While India faces immediate needs to maintain its heavily Russian-built weapons systems, a waiver to sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act during this transition period is in the best interests of the United States and the United States-India defense partnership to deter aggressors in light of Russia and China’s close partnership,” it said as approved.

Talk of impending CAATSA sanctions has dogged India-US engagements from the time the law was enacted in 2017, under the Trump administration; it was a bipartisan congressional initiative and then President Donald Trump had no option but to sign. Then Defense Secretary James Mattis and then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had publicly pressed lawmakers to exempt India and other countries that used to be too heavily reliant on Russian military hardware.

Speculation about sanctions picked up in recent months as India began receiving the missiles. But there has been no public indication that the administration is considering them.

Rishi Sunak’s Rise Mirrors Britain’s New Growing Diversity

It could be called democracy’s diversity, or even colonialism’s counterblast. The race to succeed UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson by becoming the new leader of the Conservative Party, which espoused the Empire, imperialism and British national identity, has been swamped with contenders from former colonies in Asia and Africa. And at the end of the preliminary rounds, the son of immigrants from British East Africa was on top.

Rishi Sunak, UK’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer, or Finance Minister, whose sudden resignation set in motion the circumstances that forced an intransigent Johnson to finally bow out, has emerged the main contender at the end of two rounds of voting by the 358 Conservative MPs.

Picking up a quarter of the votes in the first round, he became the only one to get over three digits in the second round — and is followed by three women present and former ministers.

The initial race had a ethnically diverse list of candidates — British Pakistani ministers Sajid Javid and Rehman Chishti, Sunak’s Iraqi Kurd-born successor Nadhim Zahawi, Attorney General Suella Braverman, whose family’s roots are in Goa, and Nigerian-origin former minister Kemi Badenoch.

Sunak and Braverman’s fellow Indian-origin Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, chose to sit it out.

Javid and Chishti failed to get enough traction to even figure in the race, Zahawi bowed out after the first round, and Braverman after the second, leaving Sunak and Badenoch to contend against Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, and Tom Tugendhat, the backbench MP, who happens to be half-French.

It’s early days for Sunak, who has emphasised that identity of a person born in the UK but with origins elsewhere matters to him. He has to remain in the reckoning till there are only two contenders left in the race, at which point the decision will be left to the rank-and-file Conservative Party members across the cities, shires, hills and dales across the British Isles.

Suave, efficient, but also controversy-ridden, the former US-based investment banker, hedge fund operator, and three-time MP still has a chance to become the first non-ethnic Briton to become Prime Minister.

This, though, will not be entirely unusual — for such staunch British PMs as Winston Churchill and Harold Macmillan happened to be half-American (on their mothers’ side) and Johnson was born in the US, becoming the first non-UK-born Prime Minister since Andrew Bonar Law nearly a century ago (Bonar Law, however, was born in Canada, which was a part of the Empire.)

Born in Southhampton on May 12, 1980, Sunak is the son of (the then British) Kenya-born Yashvir Sunak and his wife, Tanganyika-born Usha, who grandparents were born in the Punjab Province of British India, and migrated to East Africa, and from there to the UK in the 1960s.

“My parents emigrated here, so you’ve got this generation of people who are born here, their parents were not born here, and they’ve come to this country to make a life,” he said in an interview with the BBC in 2019.

“In terms of cultural upbringing, I’d be at the temple at the weekend — I’m a Hindu — but I’d also be at (Southampton Football Club) the Saints game as well on a Saturday — you do everything, you do both,” he said, also revealing that he was fortunate not to have endured a lot of racism growing up, save for one incident, when he was with his younger siblings.

With his father a general practitioner, and his mother, a pharmacist, he had an easy childhood. He studied at a prep school in Hampshire, and then he was at the prestigious Winchester College, where he was head boy and editor of the school paper; during vacations, he worked at local curry restaurant.

Oxford was the next stop and he graduated in 2001. The same year, he was interviewed along with his parents for the BBC documentary “Middle Classes: Their Rise and Sprawl”. He was an analyst at investment bank Goldman Sachs till 2004, and then a hedge fund management firm till 2009, when he left to join former colleagues at a new hedge fund launched in October 2010.

In 2009, he married Akshata, daughter of Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy and writer Sudha Murthy, who’s also the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. Sunak and Akshata have two daughters.

Engaged with the Conservative Party since his Oxford days, Sunak got into politics full-time in 2014 when was selected for the Richmond seat in north Yorkshire — one of the safest Conservative seats, which has been held by the party for more than a century — and won it in the 2015 elections by nearly 20,000 votes.

He retained it in the 2017, and 2019 elections, with increased majorities. His predecessor as Richmond MP was William Hague, now Baron Hague of Richmond, who held important cabinet position, Including Foreign Secretary, and was Leader of the House of Commons,

A staunch proponent of “Leave” in the Brexit referendum of 2016 and subsequent parliamentary votes, Sunak’s first government job was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Local Government (2018-19) in the Theresa May government and then as Chief Secretary to the Treasury (2019-20) in the government of Johnson, whose leadership bid he had supported.

He replaced his boss Javid as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2020, and while he mostly earned plaudits for steering the government’s economic response to the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown, he also became the first Chancellor to be found to have broken the law while in office by breaching lockdown norms.

His wife’s non-domicile status, which let her save huge amount of taxes in the country, also became a major controversy for him.

It is Sunak’s “treachery”, which set off the spate of resignations that forced Johnson’s resignation, that may just queer his chances to become Prime Minister. (IANS)

Takeaways from Biden’s Middle East trip

By, Alex Gangitano, Morgan Chalfant and Brett Samuels At The Hill

President Biden on Saturday, July 13th capped his first trip to the Middle East since taking office, a four-day visit that saw both progress and controversy.

The president met with Israeli officials to promote ties between the U.S. and Israel, as well as Palestinian officials amid efforts to maintain peace and foster collaboration in the region.

And Biden, who pledged on the campaign trail to make Saudi Arabia a global pariah over human rights violations, met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other officials about energy and defense issues, highlighting the way political realities have necessitated cooperation between the U.S. and the kingdom.

Here are five takeaways from Biden’s trip:

Biden wades into controversy with Saudi crown prince

Biden and his team had for weeks disputed that he was meeting with the Saudi crown prince, instead arguing Crown Prince Mohammed would merely be present at meetings with other leaders.

But one of the defining images of the trip depicted Biden fist-bumping the crown prince, prompting outrage from critics who raised concerns about his involvement in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

U.S. intelligence had concluded in a report released this year that the crown prince was involved in the plot to kill Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the country.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) tweeted that the fist bump was a “visual reminder of the continuing grip oil-rich autocrats have on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.” Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan called the fist bump “shameful.”

A short time after the greeting, the president sat across a table from the crown prince as part of a meeting with Saudi leaders.

Biden later told reporters he raised Khashoggi’s murder at the very start of the meeting, and that he told the crown prince that he believed him responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

“I said, very straightforwardly, for an American president to be silent on the issue of human rights is inconsistent with who we are and who I am,” Biden said. “I’ll always stand up for our values.”

A White House fact sheet said that Biden in his meetings “received commitments with respect to reforms and institutional safeguards in place to guard against any such conduct in the future.”

No immediate breakthroughs on oil 

Biden emerged from his meetings in Saudi Arabia without an immediate deliverable on oil production, but he expressed optimism that oil-producing nations would take steps to boost the global supply in the coming months. 

White House officials downplayed the significance high gas prices would play in Biden’s trip, but high gas prices in the U.S. and global energy disruptions from Russia’s war in Ukraine were widely seen as primary motivators for the trip to Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest oil producers.

The president said in remarks Friday evening that he and Saudi ministers, as well as the crown prince, “had a good discussion on ensuring global energy security and adequate oil supplies.”

“I’m doing all I can to increase supply for the United States of America, which I expect to happen,” Biden said in remarks from Jeddah. “The Saudis share that urgency and based on our discussions today I expect we’ll see further steps in the coming weeks.”

The White House also emphasized a new framework between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia on clean energy production.

Experts said Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia was unlikely to produce any major announcement on oil production on its own, but that the president could nudge the kingdom in the hopes of a future move to free up more supply.

The White House is eyeing an August meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC+), a group of roughly a dozen nations that influence global oil supply, saying any major announcement would likely stem from that meeting.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Friday that any concrete action on oil supplies would need to result from a decision by OPEC+, of which Saudi Arabia is a de facto leader. 

During his meeting Saturday with the Gulf Cooperation Council, Biden said the nations agree on the need to ensure “adequate supplies to meet global needs” adding he was looking “forward to seeing what’s coming in the coming months.” 

Saudi Arabia, Israel inch toward normalization

Biden tried to carry on the work of his predecessor, former President Trump, to help Israel normalize relations with other Arab nations. His trip to the Middle East saw a modest, but meaningful, step in that direction. 

Saudi Arabia opened its airspace to all airlines, including those flying to and from Israel. The step was hailed by the White House as an important sign of progress toward normalization. Saudi Arabia is also reportedly going to allow direct flights from Israel transporting Muslims making the pilgrimage to Mecca. 

“This is the first tangible step on the path of what I hope will eventually be a broader normalization of relations,” Biden told reporters on Friday following meetings with Saudi officials. 

Biden in Israel also said he strongly supports the Abraham Accords, promoting the Trump-era normalization declarations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain that the Biden administration hopes to expand to other Arab nations. 

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid called the Saudi announcement a positive “first step” and said the Israeli government would “continue working with necessary caution, for the sake of Israel’s economy, security and the good of our citizens.” 

Biden tries to display toughness on Iran

Biden sought to assure Israel that the U.S. is committed to its security and preventing a nuclear Iran, while vowing to continue diplomatic efforts to piece back together the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.  

Speaking alongside Lapid at a press conference Thursday, Biden affirmed his belief that diplomacy remained the best path to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon but said the U.S. wouldn’t “wait forever” for Iran to return to the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“We’re not circling a date on the calendar. The deal is on the table. Should the Iranians choose to take it, we’re ready for a compliance-for-compliance return,” Sullivan told reporters on Friday, adding that the U.S. was not waiting to put “further economic pressure” on Iran even as Biden seeks a return to the deal. 

Israel is opposed to the Obama-era nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew the U.S. in 2018. The cracks between the two countries over Iran were on display at Thursday’s press conference, as Lapid said at the same press conference that “diplomacy will not stop them.”

“The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that if they continue to develop their nuclear program the free world will use force,” Lapid said. 

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12, Biden said the U.S. was willing to use force to prevent a nuclear Iran but only as a “last resort.” In a joint declaration signed by Biden and Lapid, the U.S. said it is “prepared to use all elements of its national power” to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. 

Biden’s domestic agenda takes hit while he’s overseas

Biden’s trip came as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) delivered a tough blow to his agenda, saying he would reject the climate spending and tax hikes on the wealthy in the budget reconciliation package.

The president in response called on the Senate to move forward with the slimmed-down health only reconciliation package before August recess since Manchin said he would only support a provision to lower prescription drug prices and a two-year extension of expiring health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.  

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is pushing to move the reconciliation package to the floor before September. Biden vowed while on his trip to move on his climate agenda through executive action if it doesn’t pass in the Senate, which came during his conversations with Saudi leadership over energy security.

Gas prices in the U.S. have remained high, although are declining, but new inflation data this week showed that annual inflation hit 9.1 percent in June, the highest rate of price growth since November 1981. 

Biden returned to Washington with a sinking approval rating and support for his reelection in 2024 reaching record-lows among Democrats.

Sri Lanka In Political Vacuum As Talks Go On Amid Crisis

By, KRISHAN FRANCIS

(AP) — Sri Lanka was in a political vacuum for a second day Monday with opposition leaders yet to agree on who should replace its roundly rejected leaders, whose residences are occupied by protesters angry over the country’s deep economic woes. 

Protesters remained in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence, his seaside office and the prime minister’s official home, which they stormed on Saturday demanding the two leaders step down. It marked the most dramatic day of protests during three months of a relentless crisis that has pushed many to the brink to despair amid acute shortages of fuel, food, medicine and other necessities. 

The protesters, who come from all walks of life, vowed to stay put until the resignations of the leaders are official. 

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Saturday he would leave office once a new government is in place, and hours later the speaker of Parliament said Rajapaksa would step down Wednesday. 

Wickremesinghe’s office said Monday that Rajapaksa had confirmed his earlier decision to resign on Wednesday.

Also Monday, a group of nine Cabinet ministers announced they will quit immediately to make way for an all-party government, outgoing Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe said. Wickremesinghe’s office said meanwhile that another group that met the prime minister decided to stay on until a new government is formed.

The president hasn’t been seen or heard publicly since Saturday and his location is unknown. But his office said Sunday that he ordered the immediate distribution of a cooking gas consignment to the public, suggesting that he was still at work.

Opposition party leaders have been in discussion to form an alternative unity government, an urgent requirement of a bankrupt nation to continue discussions with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program. 

Lawmaker Udaya Gammanpila said the main opposition United People’s Front and lawmakers who have defected Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition have had discussions and agreed to work together. Main opposition leader Sajith Premadasa and Dullas Alahapperuma, who was a minister under Rajapaksa, have been proposed to take over as president and prime minister and have been asked to decide on how to share the positions before a meeting with the parliamentary speaker later Monday.

“We can’t be in an anarchical condition. We have to somehow reach a consensus today,” Gammanpila said.

Opposition parties are also concerned over military leaders making statements about public security in the absence of a civil administration. 

Lawmakers have discussed Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Shavendra Silva’s statement over the weekend calling on people’s cooperation to maintain law and order, said Kavinda Makalanda, spokesperson for Premadasa.

“A civil administration is the need, not the military in a democratic country,” Makalanda said.

If opposition parties fail to form a government by the time Rajapaksa resigns, Wickremesinghe as prime minister will become acting president under the constitution. However, in line with the protesters’ demand, opposition parties are keen on not allowing him take over even as acting president.

They say Wickremesinghe should promptly resign and allow Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena take over as acting president — the next in line according to the constitution. 

Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May in an effort to solve the shortages and start economic recovery. But delays in alleviating the shortages of basic supplies has turned public anger against him with protesters accusing him of protecting the president.

Wickremesinghe had been part of crucial talks with the IMF for a bailout program and with the World Food Program to prepare for a predicted food crisis. The government must submit a plan on debt sustainability to the IMF in August before reaching an agreement.

Sri Lanka is relying on aid from India and other nations as leaders try to negotiate a bailout with the IMF. Wickremesinghe said recently that negotiations with the IMF were complex because Sri Lanka was now a bankrupt state.

Sri Lanka announced in April that it was suspending repayment of foreign loans due to a foreign currency shortage. Its total foreign debt amounts to $51 billion, of which it must repay $28 billion by the end of 2027.

Months of demonstrations have all but dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty, which has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades but is accused by protesters of mismanagement and corruption.

Rishi Sunak, A Front Runner To Be The PM Of UK

Indian Origin, Rishi Sunak, the Finance Minister of Great Britain has formerly launched his bid to be the next Prime Minister of England, reports here suggest. Sunak was until last year the favorite to succeed Johnson. While Rishi Sunak, has been praised for a rescue package for the economy during the Coronavirus pandemic, including a jobs retention program, including a jobs retention program, which prevented mass unemployment that could cost as much as 410 billion pounds ($514 billion). He quit the government on Tuesday saying “the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously”.

The son-in-law of Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy, Sunak has faced criticism for not giving enough cost-of-living support to households, his wealthy wife’s non-domiciled tax status and a fine he received, along with Johnson, for breaking Covid-19 lockdown rules. His tax-and-spend budget last year put Britain on course for its biggest tax burden since the 1950s, undermining his claims to favor lower taxes.

Also, seeking the top jonb in UK is another person of Indian origin, Suella Braverman, the attorney general, who has signaled her intention to be the PM. In an interview with ITV, Suella Braverman had called for Johnson to quit and said that she would join a leadership race to replace him, saying “it would be the greatest honor.”

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of United Kingdom resigned on July 7th, 2022, bringing an acrimonious end to a nearly three-year premiership that has been beset by controversy and scandal. After many months of speculation, he quit as Conservative leader, saying it is “clearly now the will” of Tory MPs that there should be a new leader. And, he pledged to stay on as PM until a successor is chosen – but a growing number of Tory MPs say he has to leave now. Johnson’s decision to remain in office comes despite a clear lack of support from within his own party and a growing push across the political spectrum for him to step down immediately.

Johnson’s resignation came after Britain’s finance and health ministers resigned in quick succession on July 5, in moves that put the future of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in peril after a series of scandals that have damaged his administration. 

Speaking outside Downing Street, Johnson said the process for choosing the new leader of the Conservative Party should begin now, with a timetable to be announced next week. He said he intends to remain in place until a new Tory leader is elected. Johnson said that he was “sad to be giving up the best job in the world,” but conceded that “no one is remotely indispensable” in politics.

As per reports, Chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee Tom Tugendhat has launched his bid to become the next leader of the Conservative Party – and prime minister. In an article in the Telegraph newspaper, he stated he would bring a “clean start”. He wrote that he wants to build a “broad coalition of colleagues” to “bring new energy and ideas to government” and “bridge the Brexit divide”.

Setting out his stall, he wrote that “taxes, bluntly, are too high.” Specifically: “We should immediately reverse the recent National Insurance hike and let hard-working people, and employers, keep more of their money. Fuel tax must come down. And un-conservative tariffs, that push up prices for consumers, should be dropped.” He talks about the cost of living as an “national security issue” and says there should be more police on the streets to tackle crime.

Another leader hoping to fil the vacancy is Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, who is the darling of the Conservatives’ grassroots and has regularly topped polls of party members carried out by the website Conservative Home. Truss has a carefully cultivated public image and was photographed in a tank last year, evoking a famous 1986 image of Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who was also captured in such a pose.

Jeremy Hunt, the former foreign secretary, 55, finished second to Johnson in the 2019 leadership contest is  a likely contestant. He would offer a more serious and less controversial style of leadership after the turmoil of Johnson’s premiership. Over the last two years, Hunt has used his experience as a former health secretary to chair the health select committee and has not been tarnished by having served in the current government. Recently, said his ambition to become prime minister “hasn’t completely vanished”. Hunt said he would vote to oust Johnson in a confidence vote last month which Johnson narrowly won.

Ben Wallace, UK’s Defense minister, 52, has risen in recent months to be the most popular member of the government with Conservative Party members, according to Conservative Home, thanks to his handling of the Ukraine crisis. A former soldier himself, he served in Northern Ireland, Germany, Cyprus and Central America, and was mentioned in dispatches in 1992. He began his political career as a member of Scotland’s devolved assembly in May 1999, before being first elected to the Westminster parliament in 2005.

Nadhim Zahawi, the current education secretary impressed as vaccines minister when Britain had one of the fastest rollouts of COVID-19 jabs in the world. Zahawi’s personal story as a former refugee from Iraq who came to Britain as a child sets him apart from other Conservative contenders. He went on to co-found polling company YouGov before entering parliament in 2010. He said last week at some stage it would be a “privilege” to be prime minister.

Yet another contented for the top job in Britain is Penny Mordaunt, the former defense secretary, who was sacked by Johnson when he became prime minister after she backed his rival Hunt during the last leadership contest. Mordaunt was a passionate supporter of leaving the European Union and made national headlines by taking part in now-defunct reality TV diving show. Currently a junior trade minister, Mordaunt called the lockdown-breaking parties in government “shameful”. She said voters wanted to see “professionalism and competence” from the government.

Meanwhile, Downing Street announced 12 new ministers, filling some of the posts left vacant by the recent wave of resignations. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – a possible leadership contender who has remained silent for days – says her party needs to keep governing until a new leader is elected by the Conservative Party MPS.

After Shinzo Abe Was Shot And Killed, His Party Wins Election In Japan

Three after Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was felled by a cowardly assassin in the course of a campaign trail for elections to the Upper House, the governing party and its coalition partner scored a major victory in a parliamentary election Sunday, July 10, 2022, possibly propelled by sympathy votes in the wake of the assassination.

Abe was shot in Nara on Friday, June 8th and was airlifted to a hospital but died of blood loss. Police arrested a former member of Japan’s navy at the scene and confiscated a homemade gun. Several others were later found at his apartment.

He became Japan’s youngest prime minister in 2006, at age 52. But his overly nationalistic first stint abruptly ended a year later, also because of his health, prompting six years of annual leadership change.

He returned to office in 2012, vowing to revitalize the nation and get its economy out of its deflationary doldrums with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms. He won six national elections and built a rock-solid grip on power.

Early results in the race for the parliament’s upper house showed Abe’s governing party and its junior coalition partner Komeito securing a majority in the chamber and adding more. The last day of campaigning on Saturday, a day after Abe was gunned down while delivering a speech, was held under heightened security as party leaders pledged to uphold democracy and renouncing violence.

According to reports, preliminary vote counts showed the governing Liberal Democratic Party on track to secure a coalition total of at least 143 seats in the 248-member upper house, the less powerful of the two chambers. Up for election was half of the upper house’s new six-year term. With a likely major boost, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stands to rule without interruption until a scheduled election in 2025.

That would allow Kishida to work on long-term policy goals such as national security, his signature but still vague “new capitalism” economic policy, and his party’s long-cherished goal to amend the U.S.-drafted postwar pacifist constitution.

“It was extremely meaningful that we carried out the election,” Kishida said. “Our endeavor to protect democracy continues.” Kishida welcomed early results and said responses to COVID-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising prices will be his priorities. He said he will also steadily push for reinforcing Japan’s national security as well a constitutional amendment.

Mourners visited the LDP headquarters to lay flowers and pray for Abe as party officials prepared for vote counting inside. “We absolutely refuse to let violence shut out free speech,” Kishida said in his final rally in the northern city of Niigata on Saturday. “We must demonstrate that our democracy and election will not back down on violence.”

The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, told investigators he acted because of Abe’s rumored connection to an organization that he resented, police said, but had no problem with the former leader’s political views. The man had developed hatred toward a religious group that his mother was obsessed about and that bankrupted a family business, according to media reports, including some that identified the group as the Unification Church.

Abe’s Legacy

Even after stepping down as prime minister in 2020, Abe was highly influential in the LDP and headed its largest faction. His absence could change the power balance in the governing party that has almost uninterruptedly ruled postwar Japan since its 1955 foundation, experts say.

Abe will be remembered for boosting defense spending and pushing through the most dramatic shift in Japanese military policy in 70 years. In 2015, his government passed a reinterpretation of Japan’s postwar, pacifist constitution, allowing Japanese troops to engage in overseas combat — with conditions — for the first time since World War II.

“This could be a turning point” for the LDP over its divisive policies on gender equality, same-sex marriages and other issues that Abe-backed ultra-conservatives with paternalistic family values had resisted, said Mitsuru Fukuda, a crisis management professor at Nihon University.

Japan’s current diplomatic and security stance is unlikely to be swayed because fundamental changes had already been made by Abe. His ultra-nationalist views and pragmatic policies made him a divisive figure to many, including in the Koreas and China.

Abe stepped down two years ago blaming a recurrence of the ulcerative colitis he’d had since he was a teenager. He said he regretted leave many of his goals unfinished, including the issue of Japanese abducted years ago by North Korea, a territorial dispute with Russia, and a revision of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution that many conservatives consider a humiliation, because of poor public support.

Abe was groomed to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. His political rhetoric often focused on making Japan a “normal” and “beautiful” nation with a stronger military through security alliance with the United States and bigger role in international affairs.

Japan is known for its strict gun laws. With a population of 125 million, it had only 21 gun-related criminal cases in 2020, according to the latest government crime paper. Experts say, however, some recent attacks involved use of consumer items such as gasoline, suggesting increased risks for ordinary people to be embroiled in mass attacks. The cancer of gun violence is spreading. The former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe was felled by a cowardly assassin in the course of a campaign trail for elections to the Upper House. 

Abe had argued the change was needed to respond to a more challenging security environment, a nod to a more assertive China and frequent missile tests in North Korea. During his term, Abe sought to improve relations with Beijing and held a historic phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2018. At the same time, he tried to counter Chinese expansion in the region by uniting Pacific allies.

After leaving office, Abe remained head of the largest faction of the ruling LDP and remained influential within the party. He has continued to campaign for a stronger security policy and last year angered China by calling for a greater commitment from allies to defend democracy in Taiwan. In response, Beijing summoned Japan’s ambassador and accused Abe of openly challenging China’s sovereignty.

India’s bilateral ties with Japan grew closer during Shinzo Abe’s tenure, with the former Japanese Prime Minister visiting India four times. 

Abe was a prominent figure on the world stage. He cultivated strong ties with Washington — Tokyo’s traditional ally. Abe hailed the US-Japan alliance and said he wanted to “build trust” with the new President. He strongly supported Trump’s initial hard line on North Korea, which matched Abe’s own hawkish tendencies. 

More successful was Abe’s handling of the abdication of Emperor Akihito, the first Japanese monarch to step down in two centuries. He was succeeded by his son, Emperor Naruhito, in October 2019, starting the Reiwa era. 

“Like the flowers of the plum tree blooming proudly in spring after the cold winter, we wish the Japanese people to bloom like individual flowers with the (promise of the) future. With such a wish for Japan, we decided upon ‘Reiwa’,” Abe said on announcing the new era. 

Abe is survived by his wife Akie Abe, née Matsuzaki, who he married in 1987. The couple did not have children.

Will Biden’S Visit To Middle East Help Revive US Partnerships In The Region?

President Joe Biden prepares to travel to the Middle East, his administration faces several challenges in its relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other regional (non-treaty) allies. At the most basic level, the United States and these allies do not share the same priorities. Part of why Biden is traveling to Saudi Arabia is to convince the country’s leaders to pump more oil as global prices soar. In addition, the United States seeks to maintain pressure on the Islamic State group (IS) to prevent the terror organization from rebuilding. Yet both the Russia-Ukraine war and the struggle against the remnants of IS are ancillary concerns for regional states, and they are concerned that the U.S. focus on Asia and Europe will make the United States a less useful security partner.

Iran, the foreign policy priority for Israel, Saudi Arabia, and many other regional states, is a major sticking point. Indeed, most regional allies oppose the Biden administration’s efforts to restore the Iran nuclear deal, seeing it as making too many concessions to Tehran and fearing that the United States in general will not stand up to Iranian aggression and subversion. With regular Iranian missile strikes on Iraq and missile strikes from Iran’s Houthi allies in Yemen on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, this fear is quite strong. Nuclear talks appear to be floundering, and the Biden administration will need to decide whether to try to revive them at the risk of further alienating regional states or abandon them only to work on the next challenge — how to create other diplomatic —  and military — options that will stop the Iranian bomb and ensure regional security. Iran, for its part, will interpret the Biden visit as the United States further siding with its regional enemies.

Russia is another sticking point. The United States is trying to create a global coalition to oppose Russian aggression in Ukraine. Middle Eastern states, however, see Russia as a source of wheat, while their populations question why Ukraine should be the subject of global solidarity while Syria was not. Many are more anti-American than pro-Ukraine. Regardless of regime views on Ukraine, Russia is also a military player in Syria, and Israel works with Moscow to ensure that Israel can strike Iranian assets in Syria without interference from Russian forces.

In order to win over regional leaders, Biden will also need to curtail some of his critical rhetoric. This is especially true with his condemnation of the Saudi murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the brutal Saudi and UAE war in Yemen. These are the right stances from a human rights perspective, but Riyadh and its allies will not be accommodating in other areas if they are the subject of regular, public criticism.

Actually walking back his comments on these grave human rights issues would be politically difficult even if Biden were inclined to openly abandon the moral high ground. In practice, refraining from future criticism, the legitimacy bestowed by the trip itself, and other steps that make it clear that Riyadh is being embraced, not shunned. As in the past, the United States is again emphasizing that pragmatic concerns like oil prices and Iran, not human rights, will drive U.S. policy toward the kingdom.

Making these problems more difficult, the Biden administration inherited a weak hand from its predecessors. U.S. engagement with the Middle East has declined dramatically since the George W. Bush administration, when 9/11 and the Iraq War put the region at the center of U.S. foreign policy. President Barack Obama tried to reduce U.S. involvement in the Middle East, and President Donald Trump, while more sympathetic to autocratic Arab allies, also favored limited U.S. involvement in the region. The Biden administration has emphasized great power competition, with the war in Ukraine and the rivalry with China dominating strategic thinking. Biden’s trip is thus occurring with a regional perception that the United States is focused on other parts of the world and at home, with little appetite for resolving regional disputes and leading regional allies as it sought to in the past. Indeed, Biden’s understandable focus on energy and Russia will reinforce this, making it clear that it is non-regional concerns that are driving his visit rather than shared interests. The Biden administration also claims the trip is to encourage Saudi Arabia to formally make peace with Israel, though U.S. officials almost certainly recognize a formal peace is highly unlikely even though Riyadh and Israel have stepped up their security partnership.

Making the job even harder, Middle Eastern allies have preferred Republican presidents. Gulf state rulers believe Republican leaders are more anti-Iran and less concerned about human rights. Israeli leaders too believe Republicans are more pro-Israel and more likely to stand up to Tehran. In addition, regional allies rightly recognize that Trump or another disruptive leader may again assume the U.S. presidency. The United States, in other words, will be considered an erratic ally, with policies and interest in the Middle East varying wildly by administration.

One goal that may have more success is encouraging U.S. allies to work together. The United States historically has preferred bilateral cooperation, with countries working with Washington more than with one another. As the U.S. limits its involvement, however, it will want regional states to step up and combine their efforts, whether this is to counter Iran or to resolve regional wars like those in Yemen and Libya. Israel, with its formidable military and intelligence services, can play an important role here, offering high-end capabilities, such as providing radar systems to Bahrain and the UAE, when the United States is reluctant to do so for political reasons.

The United States is also likely to have help from partners in sustaining the fighting against IS and other dangerous jihadi groups. Although this struggle is less of a priority for allies, they too worry about violent jihadism and will continue longstanding intelligence and military cooperation. Jihadi groups also remain weak compared with their past selves, limiting the effort required.

Regional partners will be aware of U.S. pivoting to focus on Asia and Europe, and Biden’s visit will not change this perception. The best the administration can hope for is to make clear, both in private and in public, that the United States will remain diplomatically and militarily involved in the Middle East, whether it be to counter IS or deter Iran. The president’s visit is thus a useful signal, even if regional states will remain unsatisfied.

Perhaps the best that can be hoped from this trip is simply to restart the U.S. engagement with its allies in the region. Such a goal doesn’t promise big wins — there may at best be modest concessions like a Saudi announcement it will pump a small amount of additional oil — but it offers the hope of future improvements. For now, the U.S. relationship with regional allies is transactional, with little trust or respect on either side. Repeated visits by high-level officials will make them more likely to listen to Washington and consider U.S. interests rather than see U.S. concerns as irrelevant, or even opposed, to their day-to-day problems.

Sri Lanka Opposition Meets To Name New Gov’t Amid Turmoil

(AP) — Sri Lanka’s opposition parties met Sunday to agree on a new government a day after the president and prime minister offered to resign following the most dramatic day of monthslong turmoil, with protesters storming the leaders’ homes in rage over an economic crisis.

Protesters remained in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence, his seaside office and the prime minister’s home, saying they would stay until the resignations are official. The president’s whereabouts were unknown, but a statement from his office said he ordered the immediate distribution of a cooking gas consignment to the public, suggesting that he was still at work.

Soldiers were deployed around the city but troops simply watched from afar as crowds of people splashed in the pool of Rajapaksa’s sprawling residence, lounged on beds and took selfies of themselves on their cellphones to capture the moment. The chief of defense staff, Shavendra Silva, called for public support to maintain law and order.

Occupants of the prime minister’s official residence cooked in an outdoor kitchen, played the tabletop game carrom and slept on sofas.

Ranjith Madduma Bandara, a top official in the main opposition United People’s Force, said that separate discussions were held with other parties and lawmakers who broke away from Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition and more meetings were planned. It was unclear when an agreement might be reached.

Another opposition lawmaker, M. A. Sumanthiran, said earlier that all opposition parties combined could easily muster the 113 members needed for a majority in Parliament, at which point they would call on Rajapaksa to install the new government and resign. 

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Saturday he would leave office once a new government is in place, and hours later the speaker of Parliament said Rajapaksa would step down Wednesday. Pressure on both men had grown as the economic meltdown set off acute shortages of essential items, leaving people struggling to obtain food, fuel and other necessities.

If both president and prime minister resign, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena will take over as temporary president, according to the constitution. 

Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May in an effort to solve the shortages and start economic recovery.

Wickremesinghe had been part of crucial talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program and with the World Food Program to prepare for a predicted food crisis. The government must submit a plan on debt sustainability to the IMF in August before reaching an agreement.

Analysts say it is doubtful any new leader could do more than Wickremesinghe. His government’s efforts showed promise, with much-needed fertilizer being distributed to farmers for next season’s cultivation and cooking gas orders arriving in the country Sunday. 

“This kind of unrest could create confusion among international organizations like the IMF and the World Bank,” political analyst Ranga Kalansooriya said, adding that a new administration should agree on a common program for economic recovery. 

He said while Wickremesinghe was working in the right direction, his administration was not implementing a long-term plan to go with its focus on solving day-to-day problems. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Washington was tracking the developments in Sri Lanka and urged Parliament to work quickly to implement solutions and address the people’s discontent. 

Speaking at a news conference in Bangkok, Blinken said the United States condemns attacks against the peaceful demonstrators while calling for a full investigation into any protest-related violence. 

Pope Francis opened his Sunday remarks after noon prayers at the Vatican by voicing concern about Sri Lanka.

“I unite myself to the pain of the people of Sri Lanka, who continue to suffer the effects of the political and economic instability,” the pontiff said. “Together with the bishops of the country, I renew my appeal for peace, and I implore those who have authority not to ignore the cry of the poor and the needs of the people.’’

Sri Lanka Opposition Meets To Name New Gov’t Amid Turmoil

(AP) — Sri Lanka’s opposition parties met Sunday to agree on a new government a day after the president and prime minister offered to resign following the most dramatic day of monthslong turmoil, with protesters storming the leaders’ homes in rage over an economic crisis.

Protesters remained in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence, his seaside office and the prime minister’s home, saying they would stay until the resignations are official. The president’s whereabouts were unknown, but a statement from his office said he ordered the immediate distribution of a cooking gas consignment to the public, suggesting that he was still at work.

Soldiers were deployed around the city but troops simply watched from afar as crowds of people splashed in the pool of Rajapaksa’s sprawling residence, lounged on beds and took selfies of themselves on their cellphones to capture the moment. The chief of defense staff, Shavendra Silva, called for public support to maintain law and order.

Occupants of the prime minister’s official residence cooked in an outdoor kitchen, played the tabletop game carrom and slept on sofas.

Ranjith Madduma Bandara, a top official in the main opposition United People’s Force, said that separate discussions were held with other parties and lawmakers who broke away from Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition and more meetings were planned. It was unclear when an agreement might be reached.

Another opposition lawmaker, M. A. Sumanthiran, said earlier that all opposition parties combined could easily muster the 113 members needed for a majority in Parliament, at which point they would call on Rajapaksa to install the new government and resign.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Saturday he would leave office once a new government is in place, and hours later the speaker of Parliament said Rajapaksa would step down Wednesday. Pressure on both men had grown as the economic meltdown set off acute shortages of essential items, leaving people struggling to obtain food, fuel and other necessities.

If both president and prime minister resign, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena will take over as temporary president, according to the constitution.

Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May in an effort to solve the shortages and start economic recovery.

Wickremesinghe had been part of crucial talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program and with the World Food Program to prepare for a predicted food crisis. The government must submit a plan on debt sustainability to the IMF in August before reaching an agreement.

Analysts say it is doubtful any new leader could do more than Wickremesinghe. His government’s efforts showed promise, with much-needed fertilizer being distributed to farmers for next season’s cultivation and cooking gas orders arriving in the country Sunday.

“This kind of unrest could create confusion among international organizations like the IMF and the World Bank,” political analyst Ranga Kalansooriya said, adding that a new administration should agree on a common program for economic recovery.

He said while Wickremesinghe was working in the right direction, his administration was not implementing a long-term plan to go with its focus on solving day-to-day problems.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Washington was tracking the developments in Sri Lanka and urged Parliament to work quickly to implement solutions and address the people’s discontent.

Speaking at a news conference in Bangkok, Blinken said the United States condemns attacks against the peaceful demonstrators while calling for a full investigation into any protest-related violence.

Pope Francis opened his Sunday remarks after noon prayers at the Vatican by voicing concern about Sri Lanka.

“I unite myself to the pain of the people of Sri Lanka, who continue to suffer the effects of the political and economic instability,” the pontiff said. “Together with the bishops of the country, I renew my appeal for peace, and I implore those who have authority not to ignore the cry of the poor and the needs of the people.’’

After Shinzo Abe Was Shot And Killed, His Party Wins Election In Japan

Three after Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was felled by a cowardly assassin in the course of a campaign trail for elections to the Upper House, the governing party and its coalition partner scored a major victory in a parliamentary election Sunday, July 10, 2022, possibly propelled by sympathy votes in the wake of the assassination.

Abe was shot in Nara on Friday, June 8th and was airlifted to a hospital but died of blood loss. Police arrested a former member of Japan’s navy at the scene and confiscated a homemade gun. Several others were later found at his apartment.

He became Japan’s youngest prime minister in 2006, at age 52. But his overly nationalistic first stint abruptly ended a year later, also because of his health, prompting six years of annual leadership change.

He returned to office in 2012, vowing to revitalize the nation and get its economy out of its deflationary doldrums with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms. He won six national elections and built a rock-solid grip on power.

Early results in the race for the parliament’s upper house showed Abe’s governing party and its junior coalition partner Komeito securing a majority in the chamber and adding more. The last day of campaigning on Saturday, a day after Abe was gunned down while delivering a speech, was held under heightened security as party leaders pledged to uphold democracy and renouncing violence.

According to reports, preliminary vote counts showed the governing Liberal Democratic Party on track to secure a coalition total of at least 143 seats in the 248-member upper house, the less powerful of the two chambers. Up for election was half of the upper house’s new six-year term. With a likely major boost, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stands to rule without interruption until a scheduled election in 2025.

That would allow Kishida to work on long-term policy goals such as national security, his signature but still vague “new capitalism” economic policy, and his party’s long-cherished goal to amend the U.S.-drafted postwar pacifist constitution.

“It was extremely meaningful that we carried out the election,” Kishida said. “Our endeavor to protect democracy continues.” Kishida welcomed early results and said responses to COVID-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising prices will be his priorities. He said he will also steadily push for reinforcing Japan’s national security as well a constitutional amendment.

Mourners visited the LDP headquarters to lay flowers and pray for Abe as party officials prepared for vote counting inside. “We absolutely refuse to let violence shut out free speech,” Kishida said in his final rally in the northern city of Niigata on Saturday. “We must demonstrate that our democracy and election will not back down on violence.”

The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, told investigators he acted because of Abe’s rumored connection to an organization that he resented, police said, but had no problem with the former leader’s political views. The man had developed hatred toward a religious group that his mother was obsessed about and that bankrupted a family business, according to media reports, including some that identified the group as the Unification Church.

Abe’s Legacy

Even after stepping down as prime minister in 2020, Abe was highly influential in the LDP and headed its largest faction. His absence could change the power balance in the governing party that has almost uninterruptedly ruled postwar Japan since its 1955 foundation, experts say.

Abe will be remembered for boosting defense spending and pushing through the most dramatic shift in Japanese military policy in 70 years. In 2015, his government passed a reinterpretation of Japan’s postwar, pacifist constitution, allowing Japanese troops to engage in overseas combat — with conditions — for the first time since World War II.

“This could be a turning point” for the LDP over its divisive policies on gender equality, same-sex marriages and other issues that Abe-backed ultra-conservatives with paternalistic family values had resisted, said Mitsuru Fukuda, a crisis management professor at Nihon University.

Japan’s current diplomatic and security stance is unlikely to be swayed because fundamental changes had already been made by Abe. His ultra-nationalist views and pragmatic policies made him a divisive figure to many, including in the Koreas and China.

Abe stepped down two years ago blaming a recurrence of the ulcerative colitis he’d had since he was a teenager. He said he regretted leave many of his goals unfinished, including the issue of Japanese abducted years ago by North Korea, a territorial dispute with Russia, and a revision of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution that many conservatives consider a humiliation, because of poor public support.

Abe was groomed to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. His political rhetoric often focused on making Japan a “normal” and “beautiful” nation with a stronger military through security alliance with the United States and bigger role in international affairs.

Japan is known for its strict gun laws. With a population of 125 million, it had only 21 gun-related criminal cases in 2020, according to the latest government crime paper. Experts say, however, some recent attacks involved use of consumer items such as gasoline, suggesting increased risks for ordinary people to be embroiled in mass attacks. The cancer of gun violence is spreading. The former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe was felled by a cowardly assassin in the course of a campaign trail for elections to the Upper House.

Abe had argued the change was needed to respond to a more challenging security environment, a nod to a more assertive China and frequent missile tests in North Korea. During his term, Abe sought to improve relations with Beijing and held a historic phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2018. At the same time, he tried to counter Chinese expansion in the region by uniting Pacific allies.

After leaving office, Abe remained head of the largest faction of the ruling LDP and remained influential within the party. He has continued to campaign for a stronger security policy and last year angered China by calling for a greater commitment from allies to defend democracy in Taiwan. In response, Beijing summoned Japan’s ambassador and accused Abe of openly challenging China’s sovereignty.

India’s bilateral ties with Japan grew closer during Shinzo Abe’s tenure, with the former Japanese Prime Minister visiting India four times.

Abe was a prominent figure on the world stage. He cultivated strong ties with Washington — Tokyo’s traditional ally. Abe hailed the US-Japan alliance and said he wanted to “build trust” with the new President. He strongly supported Trump’s initial hard line on North Korea, which matched Abe’s own hawkish tendencies.

More successful was Abe’s handling of the abdication of Emperor Akihito, the first Japanese monarch to step down in two centuries. He was succeeded by his son, Emperor Naruhito, in October 2019, starting the Reiwa era.

“Like the flowers of the plum tree blooming proudly in spring after the cold winter, we wish the Japanese people to bloom like individual flowers with the (promise of the) future. With such a wish for Japan, we decided upon ‘Reiwa’,” Abe said on announcing the new era.

Abe is survived by his wife Akie Abe, née Matsuzaki, who he married in 1987. The couple did not have children.

Will Biden ’S Visit To Middle East Help Revive US Partnerships In The Region?

President Joe Biden prepares to travel to the Middle East, his administration faces several challenges in its relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other regional (non-treaty) allies. At the most basic level, the United States and these allies do not share the same priorities. Part of why Biden is traveling to Saudi Arabia is to convince the country’s leaders to pump more oil as global prices soar. In addition, the United States seeks to maintain pressure on the Islamic State group (IS) to prevent the terror organization from rebuilding. Yet both the Russia-Ukraine war and the struggle against the remnants of IS are ancillary concerns for regional states, and they are concerned that the U.S. focus on Asia and Europe will make the United States a less useful security partner.

Iran, the foreign policy priority for Israel, Saudi Arabia, and many other regional states, is a major sticking point. Indeed, most regional allies oppose the Biden administration’s efforts to restore the Iran nuclear deal, seeing it as making too many concessions to Tehran and fearing that the United States in general will not stand up to Iranian aggression and subversion. With regular Iranian missile strikes on Iraq and missile strikes from Iran’s Houthi allies in Yemen on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, this fear is quite strong. Nuclear talks appear to be floundering, and the Biden administration will need to decide whether to try to revive them at the risk of further alienating regional states or abandon them only to work on the next challenge — how to create other diplomatic —  and military — options that will stop the Iranian bomb and ensure regional security. Iran, for its part, will interpret the Biden visit as the United States further siding with its regional enemies.

Russia is another sticking point. The United States is trying to create a global coalition to oppose Russian aggression in Ukraine. Middle Eastern states, however, see Russia as a source of wheat, while their populations question why Ukraine should be the subject of global solidarity while Syria was not. Many are more anti-American than pro-Ukraine. Regardless of regime views on Ukraine, Russia is also a military player in Syria, and Israel works with Moscow to ensure that Israel can strike Iranian assets in Syria without interference from Russian forces.

In order to win over regional leaders, Biden will also need to curtail some of his critical rhetoric. This is especially true with his condemnation of the Saudi murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the brutal Saudi and UAE war in Yemen. These are the right stances from a human rights perspective, but Riyadh and its allies will not be accommodating in other areas if they are the subject of regular, public criticism.

Actually walking back his comments on these grave human rights issues would be politically difficult even if Biden were inclined to openly abandon the moral high ground. In practice, refraining from future criticism, the legitimacy bestowed by the trip itself, and other steps that make it clear that Riyadh is being embraced, not shunned. As in the past, the United States is again emphasizing that pragmatic concerns like oil prices and Iran, not human rights, will drive U.S. policy toward the kingdom.

Making these problems more difficult, the Biden administration inherited a weak hand from its predecessors. U.S. engagement with the Middle East has declined dramatically since the George W. Bush administration, when 9/11 and the Iraq War put the region at the center of U.S. foreign policy. President Barack Obama tried to reduce U.S. involvement in the Middle East, and President Donald Trump, while more sympathetic to autocratic Arab allies, also favored limited U.S. involvement in the region. The Biden administration has emphasized great power competition, with the war in Ukraine and the rivalry with China dominating strategic thinking. Biden’s trip is thus occurring with a regional perception that the United States is focused on other parts of the world and at home, with little appetite for resolving regional disputes and leading regional allies as it sought to in the past. Indeed, Biden’s understandable focus on energy and Russia will reinforce this, making it clear that it is non-regional concerns that are driving his visit rather than shared interests. The Biden administration also claims the trip is to encourage Saudi Arabia to formally make peace with Israel, though U.S. officials almost certainly recognize a formal peace is highly unlikely even though Riyadh and Israel have stepped up their security partnership.

Making the job even harder, Middle Eastern allies have preferred Republican presidents. Gulf state rulers believe Republican leaders are more anti-Iran and less concerned about human rights. Israeli leaders too believe Republicans are more pro-Israel and more likely to stand up to Tehran. In addition, regional allies rightly recognize that Trump or another disruptive leader may again assume the U.S. presidency. The United States, in other words, will be considered an erratic ally, with policies and interest in the Middle East varying wildly by administration.

One goal that may have more success is encouraging U.S. allies to work together. The United States historically has preferred bilateral cooperation, with countries working with Washington more than with one another. As the U.S. limits its involvement, however, it will want regional states to step up and combine their efforts, whether this is to counter Iran or to resolve regional wars like those in Yemen and Libya. Israel, with its formidable military and intelligence services, can play an important role here, offering high-end capabilities, such as providing radar systems to Bahrain and the UAE, when the United States is reluctant to do so for political reasons.

The United States is also likely to have help from partners in sustaining the fighting against IS and other dangerous jihadi groups. Although this struggle is less of a priority for allies, they too worry about violent jihadism and will continue longstanding intelligence and military cooperation. Jihadi groups also remain weak compared with their past selves, limiting the effort required.

Regional partners will be aware of U.S. pivoting to focus on Asia and Europe, and Biden’s visit will not change this perception. The best the administration can hope for is to make clear, both in private and in public, that the United States will remain diplomatically and militarily involved in the Middle East, whether it be to counter IS or deter Iran. The president’s visit is thus a useful signal, even if regional states will remain unsatisfied.

Perhaps the best that can be hoped from this trip is simply to restart the U.S. engagement with its allies in the region. Such a goal doesn’t promise big wins — there may at best be modest concessions like a Saudi announcement it will pump a small amount of additional oil — but it offers the hope of future improvements. For now, the U.S. relationship with regional allies is transactional, with little trust or respect on either side. Repeated visits by high-level officials will make them more likely to listen to Washington and consider U.S. interests rather than see U.S. concerns as irrelevant, or even opposed, to their day-to-day problems.

After Boris Johnson Quits, Who Will Replace Him As PM of UK?

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of United Kingdom resigned on July 7th, 2022, bringing an acrimonious end to a nearly three-year premiership that has been beset by controversy and scandal. After many months of speculation, he quit as Conservative leader, saying it is “clearly now the will” of Tory MPs that there should be a new leader. And, he pledged to stay on as PM until a successor is chosen – but a growing number of Tory MPs say he has to leave now. Johnson’s decision to remain in office comes despite a clear lack of support from within his own party and a growing push across the political spectrum for him to step down immediately.

Johnson’s resignation came after Britain’s finance and health ministers resigned in quick succession on July 5, in moves that put the future of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in peril after a series of scandals that have damaged his administration.

Johnson survived a vote of confidence on June 6 this year, but more than 40% of Conservative lawmakers declared that they had lost confidence in his ability to govern. And, in the intervening month, those who most wanted to see his downfall have been jockeying for his job.

According to media reports, after the partygate scandal over illegal gatherings held at Downing Street in defiance of coronavirus lockdowns, several senior members of Johnson’s cabinet began quietly preparing for a future leadership contest, courting influential members of parliament and dining with donors who could fund their campaigns.

A dramatic cascade of nearly 60 resignations by lawmakers and government officials followed, ultimately forcing Johnson to begrudgingly announce on Thursday that he would step down. Johnson’s decision to step down as the leader of the ruling Conservative Party will trigger a leadership race, with the winner set to become the United Kingdom’s fourth prime minister in the six years since the June 2016 Brexit referendum.

Indian Origin, Rishi Sunak was until last year the favorite to succeed Johnson. While Rishi Sunak, UK’s Finance Minister has been praised for a rescue package for the economy during the Coronavirus pandemic, including a jobs retention program, including a jobs retention program, which prevented mass unemployment that could cost as much as 410 billion pounds ($514 billion). He quit the government on Tuesday saying “the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously”.

The son-in-law of Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy, Sunak has faced criticism for not giving enough cost-of-living support to households, his wealthy wife’s non-domiciled tax status and a fine he received, along with Johnson, for breaking Covid-19 lockdown rules. His tax-and-spend budget last year put Britain on course for its biggest tax burden since the 1950s, undermining his claims to favor lower taxes.

Speaking outside Downing Street, Johnson said the process for choosing the new leader of the Conservative Party should begin now, with a timetable to be announced next week. He said he intends to remain in place until a new Tory leader is elected. Johnson said that he was “sad to be giving up the best job in the world,” but conceded that “no one is remotely indispensable” in politics.

Referring to members of his own ruling party who turned against him, Johnson said, “At Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful and when the herd moves, it moves.” Johnson thanked his wife Carrie Johnson, his children, the National Health Service, armed forces and Downing Street staff. “Above all, I want to thank you, the British public, for the immense privilege that you have given me.” He concluded his roughly six-minute speech by seeking to strike an upbeat tone. “Even if things can sometimes seem dark now, our future together is golden.”

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer was among those calling for Johnson to go now, saying the Tory leader “cannot cling on for months.” “If the Conservative party do not get rid of him, then Labour will act in the national interest and bring a vote of no confidence,” Starmer said via Twitter.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts as British Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak delivers a statement at the House of Commons in London, Britain May 26, 2022. UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. IMAGE MUST NOT BE ALTERED.

UK’s former PM Sir John Major says Johnson should go now for the good of the country. Johnson assured cabinet this afternoon he would only act as a caretaker PM while remaining in position, new Welsh Secretary Robert Buckland says

As per reports, Chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee Tom Tugendhat has launched his bid to become the next leader of the Conservative Party – and prime minister. In an article in the Telegraph newspaper, he stated he would bring a “clean start”. He wrote that he wants to build a “broad coalition of colleagues” to “bring new energy and ideas to government” and “bridge the Brexit divide”.

Setting out his stall, he wrote that “taxes, bluntly, are too high.” Specifically: “We should immediately reverse the recent National Insurance hike and let hard-working people, and employers, keep more of their money. Fuel tax must come down. And un-conservative tariffs, that push up prices for consumers, should be dropped.” He talks about the cost of living as an “national security issue” and says there should be more police on the streets to tackle crime.

Another leader hoping to fil the vacancy is Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, who is the darling of the Conservatives’ grassroots and has regularly topped polls of party members carried out by the website Conservative Home. Truss has a carefully cultivated public image and was photographed in a tank last year, evoking a famous 1986 image of Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who was also captured in such a pose.

Jeremy Hunt, the former foreign secretary, 55, finished second to Johnson in the 2019 leadership contest is  a likely contestant. He would offer a more serious and less controversial style of leadership after the turmoil of Johnson’s premiership. Over the last two years, Hunt has used his experience as a former health secretary to chair the health select committee and has not been tarnished by having served in the current government. Recently, said his ambition to become prime minister “hasn’t completely vanished”. Hunt said he would vote to oust Johnson in a confidence vote last month which Johnson narrowly won.

Ben Wallace, UK’s Defense minister, 52, has risen in recent months to be the most popular member of the government with Conservative Party members, according to Conservative Home, thanks to his handling of the Ukraine crisis. A former soldier himself, he served in Northern Ireland, Germany, Cyprus and Central America, and was mentioned in dispatches in 1992. He began his political career as a member of Scotland’s devolved assembly in May 1999, before being first elected to the Westminster parliament in 2005.

Nadhim Zahawi, the current education secretary impressed as vaccines minister when Britain had one of the fastest rollouts of COVID-19 jabs in the world. Zahawi’s personal story as a former refugee from Iraq who came to Britain as a child sets him apart from other Conservative contenders. He went on to co-found polling company YouGov before entering parliament in 2010. He said last week at some stage it would be a “privilege” to be prime minister.

Yet another contented for the top job in Britain is Penny Mordaunt, the former defense secretary, who was sacked by Johnson when he became prime minister after she backed his rival Hunt during the last leadership contest. Mordaunt was a passionate supporter of leaving the European Union and made national headlines by taking part in now-defunct reality TV diving show. Currently a junior trade minister, Mordaunt called the lockdown-breaking parties in government “shameful”. She said voters wanted to see “professionalism and competence” from the government.

Suella Braverman, the attorney general has signaled her intention to run in a future contest. In an interview with ITVSuella Braverman called for Johnson to quit and said that she would join a leadership race to replace him, saying “it would be the greatest honor.”

Meanwhile, Downing Street announced 12 new ministers, filling some of the posts left vacant by the recent wave of resignations. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – a possible leadership contender who has remained silent for days – says her party needs to keep governing until a new leader is elected by the Conservative Party MPS.

The Democratic Paradox The Right To Say Anything Has Been A Challenge To Every Democracy That Has Ever Existed

On Jan. 6, 2021, a group of self-professed patriots stormed the U.S. Capitol, a building last raided by the British during the War of 1812. Some in the group were spangled with face paint and wore military garb. Some were toting Confederate flags. Many were taking selfies or livestreaming the rebellion. They erected a gallows and smashed up media equipment outside, then roamed the halls of Congress, screaming, “Stop the steal!” Offices were destroyed. A member of the mob was shot and killed. A Capitol Police officer died. It was a remarkable assault on the foundation of American democracy, staged at the very moment a peaceful transfer of power was under way.

We can now add the United States to the list of Athens, Rome, France, Spain, and Peru, among others, as democracies that have experienced a self-coup attempt. The people who invaded the Capitol did so because they believed—truly believed—that then-U.S. President Donald Trump had won a landslide victory in the 2020 presidential election, which subsequently was stolen.

This article is adapted from The Paradox of Democracy: Free Speech, Open Media, and Perilous Persuasion by Zac Gershberg and Sean Illing (University of Chicago Press, 320 pp., $30, June 2022).

Trump had raised over $200 million in the month after the election by alleging voter fraud—what some termed the “Big Lie,” which gained widespread purchase in the United States’ fragmented information space and particularly in conservative media across radio, cable television, and social networking. Dozens of lawsuits echoing these charges struggled to gain standing in U.S. state and federal courts. Trump and his advisors then suggested the possibility that Vice President Mike Pence and Congress could overturn the election on Jan. 6, whereupon the president instructed his supporters to march on the Capitol, telling them to “fight like hell.”

American democracy is fortunate that the insurrection failed; that it happened at all is instructive. The event exposed the paradox at the center of every democratic culture: a free and open communication environment that, because of its openness, invites exploitation and subversion from within. This tension sits at the core of every democracy, and it cannot be resolved or circumnavigated. To put it another way, the essential democratic freedom—the freedom of expression—is both ingrained in and dangerous to democracy.

The belief that democracy is a fixed system with inherent features has led to a lot of confusion. Many still hold what’s often called the “folk theory of democracy”: Ordinary citizens have preferences about what the government ought to do, and they vote for leaders they think will carry out those preferences. The result of this process is a government that serves the majority. And all of this is supposed to take place in a culture of rules and norms that privileges minority rights, respects the rule of law, and welcomes peaceful transitions of power.

But that culture is precisely what we call “liberalism”—it is not democracy as such. Confusion on this point has obscured the nature and demands of democratic life.

Despite its flaws, democracy still affords freedom of expression and the possibility of confronting power in all its forms—that is democracy’s claim to superiority over all other political cultures. But democratic freedom contains the seeds of its own destruction. This is something the ancient Greeks understood long before us, and they even developed two frameworks for free speech that highlighted the problem. Isegoria described the right of citizens to participate in the public debate; parrhesia described the right to say anything one wanted, whenever one wanted, and to whomever one wanted. Isegoria created the political environment of democracy, while parrhesia actualized it.

But the right to say anything opened the door to all manners of subversion, and this has been a challenge to every democracy that has ever existed. The emergence of isegoria in Athens, for instance, was accompanied by the joint rituals of ostracism and tribalism. In today’s language, you might say that Socrates was the first notable citizen to be “canceled” by the same democratic forces that made his speech free in the first place. This is the defining tension of any democratic society.

Citizens, philosophers, and politicians have always fretted about democracy for exactly this reason. While it facilitates a culture in which deliberative discourse and collective judgment are possible, it can also be gamed and exploited, prompting crises from within. The panic today over democracy is no different. A whole genre of literature has emerged seeking to explain how democracies fall or why Western liberalism is in retreat. The consensus is that if democracy isn’t quite dead, it’s certainly under attack.

There’s no point in diminishing the reality of the crisis. We are surely living through a period of intense democratic disruption. All over the world, from the United Kingdom to Hungary to Poland to Brazil to the United States, populist insurgents are disordering democratic cultures. Liberal democracy, as a culturally dominant period, has died. So have many of the norms and institutions that undergird it.

But the discourse around this problem is far too circumscribed. To read many of the current books about democracy is to walk away with the impression that we’re in the midst of something new, something unique to our moment. It’s as though the default state of democracy is stability, and periods of disruption are the exception.

The reverse is much nearer to the truth.

To function properly, democracies require more than just voting. Citizens need comprehensive, accurate information as well as a healthy, open system of debate. But throughout history, when new forms of communications arrive—from the disingenuous use of rhetorical techniques developed in Athens to the social media-enabled spread of fake news today—they often undermine the practice of politics. The more widely accessible and democratic the media of a society, the more susceptible that society is to distraction, spectacle, and demagoguery. We see this time and again throughout history: Media continually evolve faster than politics, and the result is recurring patterns of democratic instability.

Classical rhetoric was a necessity for the early democratic cultures of Athens and Rome, but sophistry, a form of deceptive, crowd-pleasing speech, overwhelmed both societies and hastened their collapse. The printing press allowed for the mass production of books and the creation of newspapers, which ushered in the Enlightenment and the democratic revolutions of the 18th century, yet these public networks also sowed chaos in the aftermath of the American and French Revolutions. The former dealt with a deeply partisan press that threatened the viability of the United States in its infancy, and France exploded into the violence of the Reign of Terror.

In the 19th century, the telegraph’s speedy dissemination of news collapsed geographical distances and helped spread the norms of liberal society across Europe, but it also fomented nationalist discourses. Political leaders and news outlets generated narratives full of nativist fears and petty resentments to gain traction in place of actual debate, and the appeals of this mediated rhetoric would eventually speed Europe toward World War I. While cinema and radio further democratized media and created a more accessible mass culture, they also provided essential platforms for European fascists who were able to bypass traditional gatekeepers.

Television transformed politics so citizens could directly see and listen to representatives, with many positive results, but the imperatives of the medium also reshaped politics. To succeed, politicians in the TV era had to adapt to a new incentive structure in which branding, sound bites, and optics reigned.

The public sphere of the 21st century is more democratic and open than ever before. Political leaders communicate directly with the public; citizens provide immediate feedback and can publish or broadcast to mass audiences on their own. Yet the democratic openness of communication in the 21st century has destabilized political conversations. There are no longer any controls on the flow of information, and that has short-circuited a system built largely on the control of information. The public is now angry, distrustful of whether their representatives can even make sound decisions. That may be healthy from a democratic perspective, but with so much noise on social media and so many news outlets disseminating contradictory information, citizens are justifiably confused and cynical.

Liberal democracies have long been sustained by traditional mass media, such as newspapers and later radio and network television. Citizens remained somewhat passive while media gatekeepers and politicians hashed out a norm-driven discourse of information and debate in the public sphere. People absorbed what they read, listened to, and watched, then registered approval at the polls.

Then something changed. The rise of polarizing cable television news, the blogosphere, and the outrageous flows of social networking, now hooked to our palmed smartphones, let citizens in on the act of forging discourses and choosing what news they prefer. The result is a more democratic and less liberal world.

The belief that the democratic experiment was destined to end in something like liberal democracy was just that: a belief. It turns out there is nothing inexorable about the logic of democracy; it is just as likely to culminate in tyranny as it is freedom. And the rise of illiberalism foregrounds a crucial point: Our present crisis is as much about culture as it is politics.

Despite all our assumptions about the inherent value of democracy, a democratic culture guarantees no outcome. Democratic cultures can support liberal democratic governments, or they can just as easily spawn plutocratic or authoritarian systems. It might seem counterintuitive to think of democracies as breeding grounds for tyranny, but it’s no contradiction at all.

Democratic theorists often miss the depth of the connection between communication and political cultures. So many accounts of democracy emphasize legislative processes or policy outcomes. When culture is discussed, it’s often in the context of liberal democratic values. But we should always ask: What determines the valence of those values? If a democracy stands or falls on the quality of the culture propping it up, then we ought to know under what conditions those values are affirmed and rejected.

Those conditions are determined largely by a society’s tools of communication, facilitated through media. Indeed, democracies are defined by their cultures of communication. If a democracy consists of citizens deciding, collectively, what ought to be done, then the process by which they do so determines nearly everything else that follows. This is the key insight of media ecologists like Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman, both of whom warned of the impending disaster that was the age of television and the image. They sensed that the media environment decides not just what people pay attention to but also how people think and orient themselves in the world. For every form of media has its own epistemology, its own biases, and favors certain cognitive habits over others.

People like Postman were commenting on the sovereignty of television in American culture and how it transfigures everything it touches. But the internet and social media have now been added to that wasteland of spectacle, compounding the problem in a million different ways. The obsession with drama and entertainment is now buttressed by curated news feeds that carve out epistemological bubbles and foster tribal impulses. The United States and many other countries are now confronting the greatest structural challenge to democracy the world has ever seen: a truly open society. Without gatekeepers, there are no constraints on discourse. Digital technology has changed everything, and, consequently, reality is up for grabs in a way it never has been before.

To restate the paradox: Democracies cannot exist without an open communication environment; otherwise, citizens cannot carry out their deliberative responsibilities. This condition of informational freedom is central to any democratic culture worthy of the name. But this environment, precisely because it is free, is constantly exploited by demagogues and other anti-democratic actors. Democracies are thus constantly undermined by their constitutive conditions.

It’s not easy to live in this state of tension, especially in the wide-open rhetorical cultures we see in many countries around the world today. New media technologies have altered the social and psychic environment—and, by extension, the values and institutions that ground society. There is no going back; the winds of technological change will keep blowing whether we want them to or not.

The real challenge right now is not an absence of democracy. On the contrary, we’re confronting the true face of democracy: a totally unfettered culture of open communication. Nearly all democracies up until now have been democracies in name only; they’ve been mediated by institutions designed to check popular passions and control the flow of information. But those institutional walls were weakened by the electric revolution and later shattered by digital technology. It’s no longer possible to limit access to information or curate what is and isn’t news. The test is whether democratic institutions can withstand this kind of pressure—whether we can, somehow, keep pushing that democratic boulder up the hill. And that remains an open question.

Zac Gershberg is an associate professor of journalism and media studies at Idaho State University.

An Open Borders World

A world with open borders, as some strongly advocate while others insist on maintaining controlled borders, is an interesting exercise to consider given its potential consequences for nations, the planet’s 8 billion human inhabitants, climate change, and the environment.

Based on international surveys of 152 countries taken several years ago before the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 15 percent of the world’s adults said that they would like to migrate permanently to another country if they could. Based on that percentage for adults plus their family members, the estimated number of people who want to migrate in 2022 is likely to be no less than 1.5 billion.

Seven destination countries attract half of those wanting to migrate to another country. The top destination country at 21 percent of those wanting to migrate is the United States. Substantially lower, Canada and Germany are next at 6 percent, followed by France and Australia at 5 percent, the United Kingdom at 4 percent, and Saudi Arabia at 3 percent

The figure of 1.5 billion wanting to migrate is more than 5 times the estimated number of immigrants in the world in 2020, or about 281 million. The figure of potential immigrants is also approximately 500 times the annual flow of immigrants globally.

The two regions with the highest proportions wanting to migrate to another country if they had the chance are sub-Saharan Africa at 33 percent and Latin America and the Caribbean at 27 percent. In addition, in 13 countries at least half of their populations would like to migrate to another country.

The top three countries with the proportion of their adult populations wanting to migrate are Sierra Leone at 71 percent, Liberia at 66 percent, and Haiti at 63 percent. They are followed by Albania at 60 percent, El Salvador at 52 percent, the Democratic Republic of the Congo at 50 percent.

Seven destination countries attract half of those wanting to migrate to another country. The top destination country at 21 percent of those wanting to migrate is the United States. Substantially lower, Canada and Germany are next at 6 percent, followed by France and Australia at 5 percent, the United Kingdom at 4 percent, and Saudi Arabia at 3 percent.

Among those seven destination countries, the numbers wanting to migrate are greater than the current populations of five of them. For example, the number of people wanting to migrate to Canada is 90 million versus its current population of 38 million. Similarly, the number wanting to migrate to Germany is 94 million versus its current population of 84 million. In the remaining two countries, the United States and the United Kingdom, the numbers wanting to migrate are nearly the same size as their current populations.

Source: United Nations and Gallup.

In addition to its impact on the size of populations, open borders would alter the ethnic, religious, and linguistic composition of populations, leading to increased cultural diversity. Past and present international migration flows have demonstrated alterations in the cultural composition of populations.

In the United States, for example, since 1965 when the Immigration and National Act on country of origin was passed, the proportion Hispanic increased nearly five-fold, from 4 percent to 19 percent in 2020, and the proportion non-Hispanic white declined from 84 percent to 58 percent. Similarly in Germany, the proportion Muslim since 1965 has increased five-fold, from less than 1 percent to 5 percent of the population in 2020.

Various reasons have been offered both in support and in opposition to an open borders world. For example, those opposed believe open borders would increase security threats, damage domestic economies, benefit big business and elites, increase societal costs, encourage brain drain, facilitate illegal trade, reduce labor wages, undermine cultural integrity, and create integration problems (Table 1).

Source: Author’s compilation.

In contrast, those in support believe open borders would provide a basic human right, reduce poverty, increase GDP growth, reduce border control costs, increase the labor supply, provide talented workers, promote travel, reduce time and costs of travel, raise a country’s tax base, promote cultural diversity, and contribute to global interdependence.

Open borders would certainly impact the cultural composition of populations. Even without open borders, the current changes in the cultural composition of populations being brought about by international migration have not only raised public concerns but have also contributed to the growing influence of nativist and far-right political parties.

The nativist parties are typically opposed to immigration, seeing it as a threat to their national cultural integrity. In contrast, those supportive of immigration welcome the arrival of people with differing backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures. They view immigration it as a natural, ongoing human phenomenon that enriches societies.

Open borders would also have consequences on climate change and the environment. Large numbers of people would be migrating to countries with high levels of greenhouse gas emissions per capita. For example, while the world average of tons of CO2 equivalent per person is about 6, the level in the United States is about three times as large at 19.

Similarly, open borders would impact the environment. The migration to the high consumption destination countries would lead to increased biodiversity loss, pollution, and congestion.

An open borders world is not likely to happen any time soon. However, recent large-scale immigration flows, both legal and illegal, are substantially impacting government programs, domestic politics, international relations, and public opinion as well as the size and composition of the populations.

In virtually every region, governments appear to be at a loss on how best to address international migration, especially the waves of illegal migration arriving daily at international borders and the many already residing unlawfully within their countries. International conventions, agreements, and compacts concerning international migration are largely viewed as being outdated, unrealistic, and ineffective in dealing with today’s international migration issues.

The supply of men, women, and children in poor developing countries wanting to migrate greatly exceeds the demand for those migrants in wealthy developed countries by a factor of about five hundred.

The result is the Great Migration Clash, i.e., a worldwide struggle between those who “want out” of their countries and those who want others to “keep out” of their countries.

Given the enormous difference in supply and demand, the Migration Clash is unlikely to be resolved by simply asking destination countries to raise their immigration levels. To resolve the Migration Clash will require considerably improving the social, economic, political, and environmental conditions of the populations in the migrant sending countries.

Achieving those desirable development goals any time soon, however, appears as unlikely as establishing an open borders world. Therefore, countries will continue dealing the best they can with the consequences of controlled borders and the Great Migration Clash.

Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, “Births, Deaths, Migrations and Other Important Population Matters.”

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