Welcome to Thursday, where China calls for Ukraine de-escalation, Moderna is developing an Omicron-specific booster and Australian astronomers are puzzled by a spooky spinning space object. Meanwhile, we look at Russia’s effort to redefine the legal notion of “torture” in a nation still plagued by the past and present abuses of the gulag.
[*Tswana - South Africa, Botswana]
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• U.S. rejects Moscow demand on Ukraine and NATO: The United States has formally rejected Moscow's demand to bar Ukraine from ever entering NATO, amid warnings that Russia might invade its neighbor. Meanwhile, in a phone call late Wednesday, China told the U.S. it wants to see all sides involved in Ukraine remain calm and avoid increasing tension.
• U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to retire, Biden set to choose Black woman: United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, 83, will retire later this year after three decades on the job, providing President Joe Biden a chance to honor his pledge to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court.
• COVID update: Moderna has started a mid-stage study to test a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine specifically designed to target the Omicron coronavirus variant in adults aged 18 years and older. Meanwhile, the first “human challenging” medical trial authorized to deliberately expose participants to COVID-19 is seeking more volunteers, in an effort to develop better vaccines.
• Jordanian army says it killed 27 drug smugglers from Syria: Jordanian troops have killed 27 suspected smugglers attempting to enter the kingdom from Syria under the cover of heavy snow. A report on the Jordanian army’s website on Thursday said the smugglers were backed by "armed groups", adding that some fled back to Syrian territory.
• Six sue Fukushima nuclear plant operator over thyroid cancer: Six young Japanese people who have developed thyroid cancer, blame the illness on their exposure to radiation from the 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, and are suing its operators. The plaintiffs are seeking nearly $5.4 million from the Tokyo Electric Power Company.
• Yemeni civilians suffer at the hands of escalating conflict: The escalation of tensions between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) pushed humanitarian organizations on the ground to sound the alarm on the risk to life. The United Nations says January will likely mark the highest number of civilian casualties in Yemen in one month since the war began in 2014.
• Astronomers detect "spooky" cosmic object in the Milky Way: Australian astronomers have discovered a mysterious spinning object in the Milky Way that releases a huge burst of radio energy every 18 minutes, and is unlike anything seen before. Researchers estimate that it is around 4,000 light years away and could be a new class of slowly rotating neutron star.
The Washington Post devotes its front page to Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who announced his planned retirement later this year, putting a renewed spotlight on several Black female jurists who are positioned to be chosen by U.S. President Joe Biden for the Supreme Court.
According to local reports, Moroccan authorities have removed the word “frontera” (border) from buildings and signs next to the border with the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and replaced it with “puerta” (meaning door or gate in Spanish). A symbolic change that illustrates unsettled tensions between Spain and Morocco over the sovereignty of the two cities.
Putin must also face the gulag question
Even while embroiled in the biggest foreign policy standoff of his reign, the Russian leader has been forced to acknowledge accusations of torture after leaked videos of violent abuse in prisons. Yet proposed new legislation to stem torture risks challenging a regime built on corruption and state-sponsored repression.
⚖️ Russian news outlet Kommersant reported that lawmakers in the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s Federal Assembly, have introduced a new bill that seeks to define by law the very concept of “torture,” as well as increase the penalty accorded to abusive officials from four to 12 years. The presidential administration proposes that by the second reading, the law should provide punishment for torture both government officials as well as cellmates who torture victims at the behest of officials.
🤐 Torture is, of course, not a new concept in Russia. Yet even though the episodes of the 20th century are public record, dating back to the famous denunciation of Stalin by his Soviet successor, Nikita Khrushchev in 1956, the Russian state has refused to fully acknowledge the past. Failing to condemn the sins of the past means they become unconsciously condoned in the present. In Russia, we are witnessing the long term consequences of an unconfronted past. Vladimir Putin has integrated his own oppressive tactics within the political system.
👉 Vladimir Putin acknowledged that torture was becoming more common in Russia, but that “as far as torture and cruel treatment of convicts in penitentiaries are concerned, they are not only Russia’s problem, but also the world’s.” Of course, such international finger-pointing and blame-shifting is part of Putin’s leadership style. Where does this leave the new focus on confronting torture? Does it not place the blame on individual officials rather than grasping the heart of the issue: a corrupt state?
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"Please leave the word 'Holocaust' for the Holocaust — and nothing but it."
— Former Israeli Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau said during a Reuters interview, criticizing certain protesters against coronavirus restrictions who’d compared themselves to Jews under Nazi persecution. The comment comes as a report was published today to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Female CEOs v. Peter CEOs? Dutch women protest stunning gender disparity
Logging onto Dutch LinkedIn earlier this week, you may have blinked twice. “Why are there so many people named ‘Peter’ on my timeline?”And why are they all women?”
Hundreds of Dutch women have changed their LinkedIn name to Peter since Monday to denounce gender bias in business — especially in senior leadership roles.
The initiative was launched by Women Inc. and BrandedU, two organizations campaigning for more inclusion of women in the business world, — and zeroed in on the name Peter for good reason: with 93 listed companies in the Netherlands (and a total of 94 CEOs), five of those CEOs are named Peter, and four are women. Yes, more Peter CEOs than women CEOs …
On January 1, a Dutch law came into force with the goal of ensuring a better ratio of men to women in the top ranks of the business world. At least one-third of the supervisory boards of listed companies (with more than 250 employees) must consist of women. “But we must do more!” the organizations stated.
Yeliz Çiçek, editor-in-chief of the Dutch edition of Vogue, was one of the first women to join the campaign and changed her name. “I think it’s brilliant. Everyone immediately understands what this is about!”, NOS reports.
Although they support the cause, others are less enthusiastic about this campaign and argue that changing one’s name erases one’s identity, according to RTL nieuws. “Once again, the burden of proof and effort for the campaign lies with women and not men,” one woman said.
At the same time, some men have changed their name to Petra in solidarity.
“We think this spontaneous action is really great,” another spokesperson of Women INC said according to Het Parool. “This shows that it’s not just a women’s problem, but that we have to do it together.”
The Peter (and Petra) campaign runs until January 28.
✍️ Newsletter by Jane Herbelin and Anne-Sophie Goninet
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