З початку грудня в Китаї через COVID-19 померли майже 60 тисяч людей – Reuters
Різке зростання захворюваності на коронавірусну інфекцію почалося в Китаї на початку грудня, невдовзі після того, як у країні вирішили послабити карантинні заходи
Різке зростання захворюваності на коронавірусну інфекцію почалося в Китаї на початку грудня, невдовзі після того, як у країні вирішили послабити карантинні заходи
Внаслідок ракетного обстрілу військ РФ Кривого Рогу Дніпропетровської області одна людина загинула, частково зруйновано газопровід, пошкоджено будинки, дитячі садки і школи, повідомив у Telegram начальник військової адміністрації міста Олександр Вілкул.
«Орки здійснили чергові теракти. По Кривому Рогу було випущено 5 авіаційних керованих ракет, 4 ракети наші ППО збили. Одна влучила в приватний сектор. За уточненими даними, пошкоджено декілька десятків приватних будинків, три школи, два дитячих садочки, багатоквартирні будинки та адміністративна будівля. Частково зруйновано газопровід. Обстеження прилеглих територій триває. Один чоловік (1989 р.н.) загинув», – повідомив Вілкул.
За його словами, також ще один чоловік 1975 р.н. має забійну рану чола
На місці розгорнуто штаб, працюють всі рятівні та аварійні служби, додав Вілкул.
Криворізька окружна прокуратура розпочала досудове розслідування через ракетну атаку на Кривий Ріг за фактом «порушення законів і звичаїв війни, поєднаним із умисним вбивством», повідомили у прокуратурі. Тривають першочергові слідчі дії.
14 січня Росія двічі за день атакувала Україну ракетами. Усього, за даними ЗСУ, українські військові збили 25 із 38 російських ракет різних типів.
Через влучання в об’єкти інфраструктури влада попередила про обмеження в подачі енергоносіїв у низці регіонів. Крім ураження об’єктів критичної інфраструктури, постраждала і цивільна.
У Дніпрі російська ракета влучила у житловий будинок. Наразі відомо про10 загиблих і понад 60 поранених.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, boasted of his forces’ prowess on Saturday amid a simmering rivalry with the defense ministry over who should get credit for leading Russia’s assault on the Ukrainian town of Soledar.
After months of tension between Prigozhin and the military establishment, the split was laid bare on Friday when the defense ministry claimed the capture of Soledar — which Ukraine disputed — and initially made no mention of Wagner’s role in months of brutal fighting for the salt-mining town in Ukraine’s east.
In a video message, Prigozhin described Wagner as a fully independent force with its own aircraft, tanks, rockets and artillery.
“They are probably the most experienced army that exists in the world today,” he said.
The short video contained no overt new criticism of the regular army, whose failings Prigozhin has lambasted in the past. But it did nothing to dispel the sense of resentment he has previously expressed that the private military group has not been properly recognized for its role in the Ukraine war.
Prigozhin appeared in camouflage fatigues alongside a man he identified as the commander of the capture of Soledar, during what he said was a trip to award medals to his fighters.
Criticism fueled by failures
Prigozhin’s criticism of the military has been fueled by a long list of Russian failures in Ukraine, including major retreats in the northeast last September and the abandonment of the southern city of Kherson in November.
In recent months he has stepped up the role of Wagner, the private group he founded in 2014, and added to its ranks by recruiting thousands of convicts from Russian prisons.
But its growing profile has led to friction with the regular army and outright competition this week over who should get credit for capturing Soledar — a victory which, if confirmed, would be the first that Russia has achieved since last summer.
Ukraine said on Saturday its forces were fighting to hold onto control of Soledar, contradicting Russian claims to have captured the town.
“Soledar remains under control of our military,” Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said in a video posted on Telegram app, adding that there was street fighting and fighting outside the city and Russian forces were incurring huge losses.
Reuters could not verify the battlefield accounts.
Prigozhin complained on Friday about what he called constant attempts to “steal victory” from Wagner and belittle its achievements.
After omitting any reference to Wagner in its first statement on the capture of the town, the defense ministry issued an unusual follow-up on Friday in which it cited the “courageous and selfless actions” of Wagner assault squads.
The wrangling was a hot topic among Russia’s influential war bloggers, with one of them, Alexander Kots, describing it as ugly and regrettable.
Nearly 11 months into the war, President Vladimir Putin finds himself having to balance the influence of Prigozhin and the defense establishment while seeking to boost his depleted forces and wrest back the initiative from Ukraine.
The conflict has exposed poor Russian tactics and confusion in the chain of command, an impression confirmed this week by another shake-up that saw Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov take command of the war, replacing a general appointed only three months earlier.
In the light of that, Prigozhin’s boasts about Wagner had a pointed feel to them.
“The commanders consult with the fighters, and the management consults with the commanders,” he said. “It is the strictest discipline that gives us these possibilities. Therefore Wagner has moved forward and will continue to move forward.”
У Держслужбі з надзвичайних ситуацій повідомляють, що врятовано 37 людей (з них 6 дітей)
The recent discovery of classified documents at U.S. President Joe Biden’s former office at a think tank in Washington and his home in Delaware has invited comparisons to a case involving former President Donald Trump’s handling of government records.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday that he was appointing a special counsel to examine the Biden documents case, just weeks after he named a special counsel to investigate Trump’s handling of classified documents at his Florida estate.
Meanwhile, Representative Jim Jordan, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said on Friday that the panel will investigate the Justice Department’s handling of both cases, saying “we have a similar situation happening to President Biden.”
But with much of both investigations under wraps, legal experts cautioned against drawing hasty comparisons.
“I think it’s very early to be making comparisons generally as there is more information publicly known about the Mar-a-Lago matter and other matters than there are about the [current] president’s case,” said Jordan Strauss, a former federal prosecutor now a managing director at Kroll.
Here is a look at the similarities and differences between the two cases and the stakes for Biden and Trump:
What documents were found
Both cases involve classified documents, including some marked “top secret.”
Federal investigators have recovered more than 300 documents with classified markings that left the White House with Trump, according to court documents.
About 100 of those documents, some of them classified as “top secret,” were seized during the FBI’s August 2022 search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
By comparison, Biden’s personal lawyers say they found a “small number” of classified documents – said to number fewer than a dozen – at the Washington office of the Penn Biden Center on Nov. 2, 2022, and another “small” batch at Biden’s Delaware home on Dec. 20.
But legal experts said the substance of the documents is more important than their number.
“What matters to me … is what those documents were,” said Charles Stimson, a former federal prosecutor and deputy assistant secretary of defense who is now a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “I mean you could have one document that had special compartmentalized information in it that could be incredibly damaging if disclosed to the wrong people versus 40 documents that were classified but not as important.”
The government has not disclosed the content of the classified documents under investigation, but news reports have suggested that among the records recovered from Trump was sensitive information about China and Iran’s missile program.
CNN reported this week that the 10 documents found in Biden’s office included “intelligence memos and briefing materials” about Ukraine, Iran and the United Kingdom.
What criminal charges could Biden and Trump face?
Under the Presidential Records Act, presidential records belong to the government and must be handed over to the National Archives and Records Administration at the end of a president’s term in office.
What is more, the Espionage Act of 1917 prohibits the improper disclosure, publishing or mishandling of classified information.
Inadvertently taking classified documents home or to another unauthorized location doesn’t always result in a criminal penalty.
From prosecutors’ perspectives, far more important is what someone does when they find documents that they are not authorized to keep.
In Biden’s case, his lawyers say they turned over the documents to the government without delay and that they’re cooperating with the National Archives and the Justice Department.
In Trump’s case, the FBI executed a search warrant of Mar-a-Lago for documents in his possession after he failed to turn them over in response to a May 2022 subpoena.
Strauss said the Justice Department investigation of Trump’s handling of classified documents appears to be more focused on “what the former president’s actions were after receiving the demand and the subpoena.”
With the investigation into the Biden documents case, “it’s too early to know exactly what the focus will be on President Biden,” Strauss said.
“Depending on how this is handled, can be anything from a simple security violation all the way up to a much more serious crime, and that’s all very fact dependent,” Strauss said.
Who are the special counsels?
Citing “extraordinary circumstances,” Garland has appointed separate special counsels to investigate the Trump and Biden documents cases.
Jack Smith, a former chief of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, is leading the investigation of Trump’s handling of documents.
Robert Hur, a former U.S. Attorney and Justice Department official under Trump, is heading the Biden probe.
A special counsel is a quasi-independent prosecutor appointed when a perceived conflict of interest might cast doubt on the integrity of a Justice Department investigation.
While the appointment of a semi-independent prosecutor will shield the investigations from any perception of undue political influence, it is ultimately the attorney general who will decide whether to file any criminal charges against either Trump or Biden, Stimson said.
“And so that process has to play out.”
Complicating any decision by Garland is a long-standing Justice Department legal opinion that states a sitting president can’t be indicted.
“So it definitely makes things harder for the Justice Department, particularly for a Justice Department that is so publicly committed to restoring faith in the rule of law,” Strauss said.
In Siversk, a town north of Soledar that could be next in line for the Russian advance, Oleksandr Kuzenko and his neighbors took solace in an old tradition Friday as they hunkered down in their basement shelter.
Malanka, New Year Eve’s in the Julian calendar, is best known for famed mid-January celebrations in western Ukraine featuring colorful costumes, masks and gatherings.
But for 64-year-old Kuzenko and his neighbors of 30 years, three elderly women he helps care for, the holiday celebration was sparse.
A few garlands of tinsel decorated the thick blanket hung over the entrance to the only room housing a stove in the basement where they have taken shelter since their town was ravaged by shelling.
The eastern Ukrainian town of Siversk faced fierce strikes over the summer, as Moscow’s troops tried and failed several times to capture it.
A sign pinned to the blanket read: “Happy New Year 2023, year of the rabbit, year of victory!” It was illuminated by one of the three candles they have left, already half-burned down.
‘Let them shoot’
“We are staying strong, trying to survive, waiting for the war to end,” Kuzenko told AFP, seated at a table bearing a couple of small plates of food they were sharing.
Nearby, one of his neighbors, 69-year-old Lyubov, stirred a pot of scraps for the many abandoned pets they now look after.
But the war may be far from over for Siversk.
It risks becoming a frontline town again, as the Russian defense ministry declares victory, a claim denied by Ukraine, in Soledar, about 30 minutes’ drive south.
But with no gas, electricity or water, let alone internet, many of the 1,700 people local officials say still live in Siversk and the surrounding settlements hear little of the news at the front.
“We don’t have a radio,” said Kuzenko, just “word of mouth.”
“Some say that Soledar is surrounded, others say that it is not surrounded. Let the military decide what will happen next,” he said.
Near the steep steps leading into Kuzenko’s shelter, 55-year-old Oleksandr Sirenko said he hoped Ukraine’s troops would hold fast, as he chopped window frames and bits of floor into smaller pieces to burn for firewood.
“We only hope they don’t retreat,” he said. “We are afraid, but where should we go?”
‘We are not afraid’
Scratching a dog’s ear outside the basement where she has lived since March, first with 17 people, now only six, Valentyna Kuteyko, 61, said: “Siversk has been surrounded more than once.
“What else is there to hit?” she asked.
As the sound of artillery rumbled along the street, she said she would, nonetheless, “stay here, try to live and to survive.”
“We are not afraid, let them shoot,” she added.
Dmytro Afanasiev, 34, said he knew little of the news from the front, just wanted the killing to stop.
“We aren’t worried about what could happen because of Soledar; we are worried that many people are dying,” he said.
Even as intense fighting grinds on mere kilometers away, authorities and volunteers are trying to maintain basic services, said Oleksiy Vorobyov, the head of the Siversk civil-military administration.
They hand out basic goods and even make minor repairs to buildings or restore some garbage collection.
The aid deliveries provide stoves, firewood, food and generators, he said. But the remaining residents “all lack one thing: Peace.”
Retired general Petr Pavel scored a narrow win over billionaire former premier Andrej Babis in the first round of the Czech presidential election Saturday, securing a solid base for a runoff in two weeks, nearly complete results showed.
The post does not carry executive authority but has significant powers in appointing prime ministers, central bank chiefs and nominating judges for the constitutional court.
Presidents also have a limited say in foreign affairs and are chief army commanders.
Results from 99.7% of the voting districts showed Pavel won with 35.4%, ahead of Babis with 35.0%.
Both Pavel, a former general staff chief and NATO military committee chairman, and opposition leader Babis who was prime minister in 2017-2021, would likely be more pro-Western than the retiring incumbent Milos Zeman, who promoted tighter ties with China, and until the invasion of Ukraine last year, Russia.
Pavel, 61, is strongly pro-Western and supports further military aid for Ukraine, as well as adoption of the euro.
Babis, who built a chemicals, farming and media empire now registered in trust funds, would be a smaller change as he shares Zeman’s warm relations with Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who has been at odds with European Union partners over the rule of law.
Babis also has spoken against more Czech military aid for Ukraine. The current center-right government, which decides on that policy, is among Kyiv’s staunchest supporters in the West.
TOUGH SECOND ROUND FOR BABIS
Pavel took aim at Babis, calling him populist and a threat. “The danger is that we would start sliding not only toward populism but also start veering off the course we followed the past 230 years, clearly pro-democratic, pro-Western, pro-European,” he said after the partial results were known.
Pollsters have given Pavel an edge over Babis in a second round as he is likely to attract more of the people voting for the six other candidates who did not make it past the first round.
In third place was economics professor Danuse Nerudova, with 13.9%. She conceded defeat and congratulated Pavel, saying she would meet him to offer support.
“There is still a great evil here, and it is called Andrej Babis,” she told supporters and reporters.
Pavel has been endorsed by the center-right Cabinet, while Babis has framed the vote as a show of dissatisfaction with the government’s response to high inflation and energy prices.
Running with Zeman’s backing, Babis has pledged to put pressure on the Cabinet to provide more aid to households, and to bring checks on the coalition which has a majority in both houses in parliament.
For some voters, there has been frustration that three decades after the end of Communist Party rule, the first-round winners were members of that ruling party prior to the end of its rule in 1989.
Pavel started his military career in the 1980s, and he went through military intelligence training. Babis worked in foreign trade and was registered as a secret police informant, which he denies.
While prime minister, Babis was found in conflict of interest by the European Commission because of subsidies paid to his Agrofert business empire, which is in a trust. He was cleared this week in an EU subsidy fraud case.
Голова Дніпропетровської ОВА Валентин Резніченко повідомив, що наразі жертвами російського удару по 9-поверхівці у Дніпрі є п’ятеро людей.
«Поранені 27 людей. Серед них шестеро дітей. Усі у лікарні. Горіть у пеклі, російські недолюдки… Уже п’ятеро загиблих», – написав він у Telegram.
У свою чергу, мер Дніпра Борис Філатов повідомив, що розбирати завали будуть всю ніч.
«Цілий район знеструмлений повністю та відключений від систем життєзабезпечення», – повідомив мер.
Заступник голови ОПУ Кирило Тимошенко повідомив, що людей із постраждалого будинку знімають кранами, вони сигналізують ліхтярами і мобільними телефонами. Раніше сьогодні Тимошенко повідомляв про щонайменше 15 врятованих.
У МЗС пояснюють: президент здійснює закордонні поїздки залежно від безпекової ситуації в Україні та інших факторів
Раніше повідомлялося про руйнування щонайменше одного під’їзду 9-поверхівки у Дніпрі
Polish scientist Maciej Walczak has been released from prison in Iran and has returned to Poland, the Polish foreign ministry said Saturday.
“Achieving this goal was one of the priorities of Poland’s diplomatic and consular services last year,” the ministry said in a statement.
In July, Iranian state television reported that the Revolutionary Guards had arrested several foreigners for acts that included taking soil samples in restricted areas. The report identified one of those as Walczak. He had been held in Iran since September 2021.
With rain-soaked California expected to see more stormy weather over the weekend and into next week, Gov. Gavin Newsom, and other state and federal officials pleaded with residents Friday to stay alert to possibly more flooding and damage.
A series of storms has walloped the state since late December, leaving at least 19 people dead. On Friday, 6,000 people were under evacuation orders and another 20,000 households were without power, said Nancy Ward, the director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
Homes have flooded, levees breached and topped, and mudslides and hurricane-force winds have slammed parts of the state, including a tornado touchdown in Northern California, she said at a press briefing with Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who was in California to tour damage.
“People will become complacent, but the ground is saturated. It is extremely, extremely dangerous,” Ward said. “And that water can continue to rise well after the storms have passed.”
The ongoing atmospheric river pattern brought showers to Northern California early Friday, and additional surges of moisture, which will be even stronger, are expected to again spread rain and snow elsewhere in the state over the coming days.
In the last 18 days, a state plagued by drought has averaged more than 23 centimeters of rainfall a day — a remarkable amount that has seen some locations meet their average annual rainfall already, said David Lawrence, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
A Saturday storm will bring widespread, powerful rainfall and heavy mountain snowfall — with wind gusts of up to 97 kph and the possibility of more trees falling and power outages, he said.
There have been at least 19 storm-related deaths, and half of those have involved motorists, with some of the deaths preventable if drivers had heeded road closure signs, said Sean Duryee, acting commissioner of the California Highway Patrol.
On Friday, Newsom visited the upscale community of Montecito in Santa Barbara County — which had been evacuated earlier in the week — on the fifth-year anniversary of the mudslide that killed 23 people and destroyed more than 100 homes in the coastal enclave.
He thanked members of the California National Guard for clearing debris out of a catch basin that was constructed after the mudslide in order to divert rain. He also asked residents to exercise caution, and to heed warnings from public safety and law enforcement.
“I know how fatigued you all are,” Newsom said. “Just maintain a little more vigilance over the course of the next weekend.”
On Monday, President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration to support storm response and relief efforts in more than a dozen counties, but Newsom is still waiting on the White House to declare a major disaster declaration that would provide more resources.
Flood warnings were in effect for the Salinas River in an agricultural valley about 145 kilometers south of San Francisco. At least 8,094 hectares of farmland were at risk of flooding, the National Weather Service said.
In some parts of Northern California, cars were submerged, trees uprooted, and roofs blown off homes.
In Southern California, authorities determined that a storm-related sewage spill into the Ventura River was much bigger than initially thought. Two Ojai Valley Sanitary District sewer lines damaged on Jan. 9 spilled more 53 million liters, the Ventura County Environmental Health Division said Thursday. Warning signs have been placed along the river and beaches.
East of Los Angeles, Santa Anita Park proactively canceled Saturday’s horse-racing event, an eight-race card, due to the rain forecast. Those races will be run as extras on three subsequent days, the track said.
Damage assessments, which have already started, are expected to surpass $1 billion.
Ukraine’s capital was hit with a series of explosions Saturday. Officials said critical infrastructure was hit in Kyiv but did not reveal what was damaged. Explosions were heard in the city’s Dniprovskyi district, and fragments of a missile are reported to have fallen on a nonresidential area in the Holosiivskyi district.
Also Saturday, the British Defense Ministry posted an analysis of a deployment Wednesday of at least 10 vessels of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (BSF) from the Novorossiysk Naval Facility. The ministry posted on Twitter, “Given the type and number of vessels putting to sea at the same time, the activity is likely a fleet dispersal in response to a specific threat to Novorossiysk that Russia believes it has identified.”
“It is unlikely that the deployment signifies preparation of unusual maritime-launched cruise-missile strikes,” the post said. “It is highly unlikely that the fleet is preparing for amphibious assault operations. The BSF largely remains fixed by perceived threats from Ukraine, and continues to prioritize force protection over offensive or patrol operations.”
The fate of Soledar in Ukraine’s Donbas region is hanging in the balance as Russia claimed Friday that its forces had seized the salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine and Ukraine saying the fighting continues.
If Moscow’s claims bear out, it would be Russia’s first big battlefield gain after multiple military setbacks.
Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern military command, told Reuters that Soledar had not yet been captured.
Reuters was not immediately able to verify the situation in the town, which has become one of the bloodiest battlegrounds of the entire war, now in its 11th month.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address Friday that fighting continued in the town as well as in other parts of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region.
“The tough battle for Donetsk continues. The battle for Bakhmut and Soledar, for Kreminna, for other towns and villages in the east of our state continues,” he said.
CNN was also reporting Friday that units of the Ukrainian military insisted the battle is ongoing.
“Local battles continue in the city,” the 46th Airmobile Brigade said Friday on Telegram. “Orcs [Russians] are pressing from the outskirts to the center. Apparently, they are trying to bring down to the center those of our units who did not have time to leave the city. You will not succeed, Russians.”
Ukrainian officials said Thursday more than 500 civilians were trapped inside Soledar, including 15 children.
If Soledar’s capture is achieved, military experts say it would allow Russian forces, and the mercenary Wagner Group helming the operation, to more readily target nearby Bakhmut.
The fighting in the area reportedly also has spurred infighting between Russia’s defense establishment and the Wagner’s multimillionaire leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin. According to Reuters, he has criticized the failings of the regular Russian army, and he issued a premature claim earlier this week that Soledar had already fallen.
Prigozhin has also complained that Russia’s Defense Ministry has not given the Wagner Group credit for its fight in Soledar. On Friday evening, the ministry changed course and issued a statement acknowledging the group’s role.
“As for the direct storming of Soledar’s city quarters occupied by the armed forces of Ukraine, this combat task was successfully accomplished by the courageous and selfless actions of volunteers from the Wagner assault detachments,” Russia’s Defense Ministry said.
The cracks within the Russian military command have widened after a reshuffle in military leadership earlier this week, when Russia’s Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov was placed in direct charge of Russia’s forces in Ukraine. Some analysts said the move was a slapping down of Prigozhin, while also lining up Gerasimov as the fall guy if the war continues to go badly for Russia.
Within Russia, victory in Soledar could boost the power of ultra-nationalist Prigozhin, whose Wagner Group of fighters-for-hire, including convicts recruited from prison with promises of pardons, has focused on the fight in that region.
Zelenskyy remarked Friday during his nightly address on how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now on its 324th day, reportedly is eroding the Russian military establishment.
“They are already gnawing among themselves over who should be credited with some tactical advance. It’s a clear signal of failure for the enemy. And it’s another incentive for all of us to put more pressure on the occupier and to inflict heavier losses on the enemy,” he said.
A phone conversation Friday between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba centered on continuing robust security and economic assistance before the February anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine and beyond.
The top U.S. diplomat emphasized the United States’ enduring and unflinching support for Ukraine, as underscored by recent provisions of advanced air defense equipment and armored vehicles from U.S. inventories.
Finland has joined Poland in saying it could send German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine as part of a Western coalition apparently being assembled to supply them.
France also is hoping to deliver AMX 10-RC light-combat tanks to Ukraine in two months’ time, French Armed Forces Minister Sebastien Lecornu said.
A Russian foreign ministry official said Belarus may enter the conflict in Ukraine on the side of Russia. Russia used Belarus as a springboard to invade Ukraine in February 2022, but the border area is now heavily flooded making an imminent attack from there unlikely.
Ukraine’s central security agency announced Friday that it is holding counter-sabotage exercises along a section of the Ukrainian border with Belarus.
Some information for this report came from Agence France-Presse, Reuters, and The Associated Press.
Внаслідок артилерійської атаки окупантів там зруйновано три будинки, на одному з них рятувальники ліквідували пожежу
Попередньо, без постраждалих. На об’єкті критичної інфраструктури пожежа локалізована, уточнили в ОВА
У Голосіївському районі столиці, на нежитлову територію, впали обломки ракети, уточнив мер
An upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case that asks whether tech firms can be held liable for damages related to algorithmically generated content recommendations has the ability to “upend the internet,” according to a brief filed by Google this week.
The case, Gonzalez v. Google LLC, is a long-awaited opportunity for the high court to weigh in on interpretations of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. A provision of federal law that has come under fire from across the political spectrum, Section 230 shields technology firms from liability for content published by third parties on their platforms, but also allows those same firms to curate or bar certain content.
The case arises from a complaint by Reynaldo Gonzalez, whose daughter was killed in an attack by members of the terror group ISIS in Paris in 2015. Gonzales argues that Google helped ISIS recruit members because YouTube, the online video hosting service owned by Google, used a video recommendation algorithm that suggested videos published by ISIS to individuals who displayed interest in the group.
Gonzalez’s complaint argues that by recommending content, YouTube went beyond simply providing a platform for ISIS videos, and should therefore be held accountable for their effects.
The case has garnered the attention of a multitude of interested parties, including free speech advocates who want tech firms’ liability shield left largely intact. Others argue that because tech firms take affirmative steps to keep certain content off their platforms, their claims to be simple conduits of information ring hollow, and that they should therefore be liable for the material they publish.
In its brief, Google painted a dire picture of what might happen if the latter interpretation were to prevail, arguing that it “would turn the internet into a dystopia where providers would face legal pressure to censor any objectionable content. Some might comply; others might seek to evade liability by shutting their eyes and leaving up everything, no matter how objectionable.”
Not everyone shares Google’s concern.
“Actually all it would do is make it so that Google and other tech companies have to follow the law just like everybody else,” Megan Iorio, senior counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told VOA.
“Things are not so great on the internet for certain groups of people right now because of Section 230,” said Iorio, whose organization filed a friend of the court brief in the case. “Section 230 makes it so that tech companies don’t have to respond when somebody tells them that non-consensual pornography has been posted on their site and keeps on proliferating. They don’t have to take down other things that a court has found violate the person’s privacy rights. So you know, to [say] that returning Section 230 to its original understanding is going to create a hellscape is hyperbolic.”
Experts said the Supreme Court might try to chart a narrow course that leaves some protections intact for tech firms, but allows liability for recommendations. However, because of the prevalence of algorithmic recommendations on the internet, the only available method to organize the dizzying array of content available online, any ruling that affects them could have a significant impact.
“It has pretty profound implications, because with tech regulation and tech law, things can have unintended consequences,” John Villasenor, a professor of engineering and law and director of the UCLA Institute for Technology, Law and Policy, told VOA.
“The challenge is that even a narrow ruling, for example, holding that targeted recommendations are not protected, would have all sorts of very complicated downstream consequences,” Villasenor said. “If it’s the case that targeted recommendations aren’t protected under the liability shield, then is it also true that search results that are in some sense customized to a particular user are also unprotected?”
The key language in Section 230 has been called, “the 26 words that created the internet.” That section reads as follows:
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher of or speaker of information provided by another information content provider.”
At the time the law was drafted in the 1990s, people around the world were flocking to an internet that was still in its infancy. It was an open question whether an internet platform that gave individual third parties the ability to post content on them, such as a bulletin board service, was legally liable for that content.
Recognizing that a patchwork of state-level libel and defamation laws could leave developing internet companies exposed to crippling lawsuits, Congress drafted language meant to shield them. That protection is credited by many for the fact that U.S. tech firms, particularly in Silicon Valley, rose to dominance on the internet in the 21st century.
Because of the global reach of U.S. technology firms, the ruling in Gonzalez v. Google LLC is likely to echo far beyond the United States when it is handed down.
The groundwork for the Supreme Court’s decision to take the case was laid in 2020, when Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in response to an appeal that, “in an appropriate case, we should consider whether the text of this increasingly important statute aligns with the current state of immunity enjoyed by internet platforms.”
That statement by Thomas, arguably the court’s most conservative member, heartened many on the right who are concerned that “Big Tech” firms enjoy too much cultural power in the U.S., including the ability to deny a platform to individuals with whose views they disagree.
Gonzalez v. Google LLC is remarkable in that many cases that make it to the Supreme Court do so in part because lower courts have issued conflicting decisions, requiring an authoritative ruling from the high court to provide legal clarity.
Gonzalez’s case, however, has been dismissed by two lower courts, both of which held that Section 230 rendered Google immune from the suit.
Politicians have been calling for reform of Section 230 for years, with both Republicans and Democrats joining the chorus, though frequently for different reasons.
Former President Donald Trump regularly railed against large technology firms, threatening to use the federal government to rein them in, especially when he believed that they were preventing him or his supporters from getting their messages out to the public.
His concern became particularly intense during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic, when technology firms began working to limit the spread of social media accounts that featured misinformation about the virus and the safety of vaccinations.
Trump was eventually kicked off Twitter and Facebook after using those platforms to spread false claims about the 2020 presidential election, which he lost, and to help organize a rally that preceded the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Major figures in the Republican Party are active in the Gonzalez case. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley and Texas Senator Ted Cruz have both submitted briefs in the case urging the court to crack down on Google and large tech firms in general.
“Confident in their ability to dodge liability, platforms have not been shy about restricting access and removing content based on the politics of the speaker, an issue that has persistently arisen as Big Tech companies censor and remove content espousing conservative political views,” Cruz writes.
Biden calls for reform
Section 230 criticism has come from both sides of the aisle. On Wednesday, President Joe Biden published an essay in The Wall Street Journal urging “Democrats and Republicans to come together to pass strong bipartisan legislation to hold Big Tech accountable.”
Biden argues for a number of reforms, including improved privacy protections for individuals, especially children, and more robust competition, but he leaves little doubt about what he sees as a need for Section 230 reform.
“[W]e need Big Tech companies to take responsibility for the content they spread and the algorithms they use,” he writes. “That’s why I’ve long said we must fundamentally reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech companies from legal responsibility for content posted on their sites.”
A Swiss company says it has certifiably extracted CO2 from the air and permanently stored it in the ground — for the first time on behalf of paying customers, including Microsoft.
Climeworks, a startup created in 2009 by two Swiss engineers, said its facility in Iceland had successfully removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and injected it into the ground, where it would very gradually be transformed into rock.
The potential for scaling up remains to be proved.
In its announcement on Thursday, Climeworks said its process had been certified in September by DNV, a Norwegian independent auditor, marking the first time carbon had been permanently captured on behalf of paying corporate clients.
Climeworks counts companies including Microsoft, Stripe and Shopify among the clients who have bought into its future carbon removal services, to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions.
The startup said it hoped “to lead as an example for peers, customers and policy makers alike that are committed to climate action.”
The Paris Agreement, adopted by nearly all the world’s nations in 2015, called for the rise in the Earth’s average temperature to be limited at 1.5 degrees Celsius, which scientists say would keep the impact of climate change at manageable levels.
Many businesses, including fossil fuel companies, rely heavily on carbon offset schemes based on afforestation to compensate for continuing carbon emissions.
But there has been growing interest in the newest carbon dioxide removal method, of which Climeworks is the industry leader: a chemical process known as direct air carbon capture and storage.
In its report last year, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that regardless of how quickly the world slashes greenhouse gas emissions, it will still need to suck CO2 from the atmosphere to avoid climate catastrophe.
But it remains to be seen whether this can be done at scale.
So far, Climeworks’ direct air capture facility in Iceland, the largest in the world, removes in a year what humanity emits in 3 to 4 seconds.
The company has not divulged how much its clients are paying for the service, and how much CO2 each client wants extracted.
Czech voters went to the polls Friday in the first round of voting to elect a new president, with billionaire populist and former Prime Minister Andrej Babis and retired army general Petr Pavel seen as the front-runners.
The two men lead eight candidates in the field. First-round voting continues Saturday, and if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote — which, polls indicate, is the likely outcome — there will be a second round of voting in two weeks.
Polls indicate a very close contest between the 68-year-Babis and the 61-year-old Pavel.
The top three
Babis is the leading opposition candidate. Czech political analyst and writer Jiri Pehe describes him as an “oligarch populist” who “flirts with the political orientation” of Hungarian President Viktor Orban.
Orban, an admirer of former U.S. President Donald Trump, comes under frequent criticism from the European Union, which has accused him of stifling democratic institutions.
Pavel, a former chair of NATO’s military committee, has received the endorsement of the government. He and the third-ranked candidate, according to most polls, 44-year-old economics professor Danuse Nerudova, are seen as the most pro-Western, pro-democratic candidates.
Nerudova would also be the first woman to hold the office of president.
Issues affecting race
Political analyst Pehe, who leads New York University’s academic center in Prague, told VOA the war in Ukraine is likely to play a significant role in the elections, as it has raised security and foreign policy concerns to a higher level than they otherwise would be in the election.
This is likely to favor Pavel, Pehe believes, because of his extensive military and international experience. The political analyst said Pavel has been an enthusiastic supporter of Ukraine as the country defends itself from Russian attacks, while Babis has been more ambiguous.
Pehe said polls indicate the economy is a major issue for Czech voters, which could help Babis, as he has stressed domestic issues over aid to Ukraine. But Pehe added that the voters want to see the Czech Republic maintain strong ties with the West and NATO, which will once again help Pavel.
Recent Gallup polling shared with VOA shows that approval of EU leadership has risen to 49% in the country, the highest level recorded in 13 years. Approval of Russian leadership, meanwhile, is at a 13-year low of 5%.
Corruption is also a major concern of Czech voters, according to the 2022 Gallup polling. It showed that 74% of the public believe that corruption is widespread in the government, a belief that has been fairly consistent since 2006.
On the positive side, 65% of respondents told Gallup they are confident in the honesty of elections.
The winner of the election will take over from current President Milos Zeman, who is completing his second term. Pehe said Zeman became a divisive figure — who was quite pro-Russia and China — when he attempted to over-step his presidential powers as designated by the nation’s constitution.
In the Czech government, the president is elected by the popular vote and appoints the prime minister, but the job is otherwise a largely ceremonial post.
Myroslava Gongadze reported from Warsaw. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.
Президент США Джо Байден має намір виступити з промовою про стан країни 7 лютого, повідомили в Білому домі.
Спікер Палати представників Кевін Маккарті надіслав запрошення 13 січня, і воно було негайно прийнято Білим домом, повідомляє Reuters.
Щорічне звернення дає президенту-демократу можливість викласти свої законодавчі цілі в середині його чотирирічного терміну. Він виступить із промовою в Палаті представників лише через кілька тижнів після того, як республіканці зайняли палату, пообіцявши кинути виклик його законодавчому порядку денному та розпочати численні розслідування щодо нього та його адміністрації.
7 січня представник Республіканської партії Кевін Маккарті був обраний спікером Палати представників у Конгресі США – таким чином завершився 15-й раунд голосування.