In The News

Taliban End Game, Texas Protects Abortion Clinics, El Salvador’s Legal Bitcoin

Welcome to Tuesday, where the Taliban end game is playing out in Panjshir valley, the U.S. Justice Department vows to protect abortion clinics in Texas and El Salvador becomes the world's first country to authorize the use of bitcoin as legal currency. French daily Le Monde also looks at how artificial intelligence could make the dream of automatic live translation come true.

Taliban End Game, Texas Protects Abortion Clinics, El Salvador’s Legal Bitcoin

In the Ring at the UK Metal Exchange, the global center for industrial metals trading, open outcry trading has returned for the first time since March 2020 when the Ring was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meike Eijsberg, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet


• Taliban says they took Panjshir, but resistance holds on: The Taliban say they have officially captured the Panjshir valley, north of Kabul as of Monday but resistance groups have vowed they would continue fighting. Meanwhile, protests taking place on the streets of Kabul were met with heavy gunfire as the Taliban tried to stop it.

• U.S. Justice Department to protect Texas abortion clinics: In response to Texas' recently enacted law that imposed a near-total ban on abortions, the U.S. Justice Department said it would not tolerate any attacks against people seeking or providing abortions in the State. A spokesman said they would provide protection via the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE).

• Maria Kolesnikova sentenced to 11 years in prison: Maria Kolesnikova, a Belarusian musician and prominent opposition figure, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. A Belarusian court had charged that Kolesnikova and another opposition activist, Maxim Znak, with extremism and conspiring to "seize state power in an unconstitutional way."

• German federal police also used Pegasus: The Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), the German federal police, secretly purchased the Pegasus spyware and used it for surveillance of suspects, German newspapers revealed. This follows revelations that the software had been used on a large scale in many countries, with some 50,000 politicians, lawyers, journalists, and human rights activists spied on.

• COVID-19 update: In Vietnam, a man was jailed for five years after breaching the country's strict quarantine rules and passing the virus to at least eight other people. Meanwhile, Chile has just approved China's Sinovac vaccine for children as young as six — although those younger than 12 will not be vaccinated for a while.

• El Salvador first country to make Bitcoin legal currency: From today, businesses in El Salvador will be obliged where possible to accept the controversial blockchain-backed currency as payment as the country has just become the first to make Bitcoin a legal tender. Millions of people are expected to download the government's new digital wallet app which gives away $30 (€25) in Bitcoin to every citizen.

• Australian talking duck calls you a "bloody fool": According to a new study, Australian musk ducks can imitate human speech as first touted by the recording of a duck named Ripper saying "you bloody fool" that went viral. Ripper was four years old at the time of the recordings, which researchers say he picked up from his previous caretakers, and made his vocalizations during aggressive mating displays.


French daily Le Figaro pays tribute to iconic actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, the "Ace of Aces" (a reference to his 1982 hit movie) who died yesterday in Paris at age 88. After his breakout role in Jean-Luc Godart's high-brow New Wave staple "Breathless," Belmondo went on to become one of France's most famous actors, with roles in popular comedies and action films through the 1970s and 80s.

AI, translation and the holy grail of "natural language"

In the crucial area of translation, services such as Google Translate, which has expanded its offer to 104 languages, or the German competitor DeepL now make it possible to translate entire paragraphs in a coherent and fluid manner. The dream of a machine translating live conversations is now within reach, writes French daily Le Monde.

📲 The barriers between text and image are disappearing. With the augmented reality application Google Lens, students can scan a page from a textbook or a handwritten sentence with their smartphone and translate it or get additional information online. It's all because software has learned to recognize subjects in images. Tomorrow, we could launch a search with a photo, Google believes. The American company OpenAI is exploring the creation of images from a text description. Its DALL-E prototype offers disturbing representations of invented objects: an alarm clock in the shape of a peach, a pig lamp…

👀 These innovations help make digital technology more accessible to the disabled and illiterate. With the French National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology (Inria), Facebook is studying the simplification of forms, with pictograms and synonyms. In January, the company presented an automatic image description tool for the blind and visually impaired. Google has a voice recognition project for people with speech difficulties, called "Euphonia."

🤖 The prospects are promising, but also dizzying because these technologies will be used in headphones, in homes, in cars. The concerns have been gathered in an article co-authored by Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, two researchers in ethics whose dismissal by Google has caused controversy. The main concern is about the "biases" — racist, sexist, homophobic — that these softwares can reproduce, or even amplify, after training on masses of texts from the internet.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com



Report: U.S. arms abandoned in Afghanistan moved to Iran

Weaponry belonging to the Afghan army is moving into Iran, though it is not clear if it is smuggled, or moved in a deal between the Taliban and Iran's regime, Kayhan London reports.

With the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, much of the U.S.-supplied military hardware formerly used by the country's armed forces have fallen into their hands. This terrorist group that ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, and gave refuge to other terrorists, especially al-Qaeda, now has its hands on advanced military weaponry and know-how.

It has also become clear that neighboring Iran was keen and ready to get its own hands on this material, either to use directly or to copy the weapon design.

And this has happened amid reports that armaments including tanks and armored vehicles have been moved into Iran. Sources say Iranian dealers are particularly looking for arms and missiles the Americans abandoned in suspect circumstances, without destroying them.

It is not clear whether the Taliban or fugitive members of the armed forces are handing over the weaponry to the Islamic Republic of Iran, or if this is the work of middlemen exploiting the disorderly state of the country.

War booty is not the only thing moving into Iran though. Thousands of Afghan citizens have left their homes and towns, fleeing toward neighboring countries like Iran and Pakistan.

These include the elderly and pregnant women, who are risking their lives on a desperate flight, though it seems they prefer this to living under the Taliban. Meanwhile, Western states are preparing for a new wave of refugees from Afghanistan, knowing that regional instability will push them toward Europe and beyond, even if they first pass through Pakistan, Iran or Turkey.

This is increasingly of concern to them as the refugee crisis may last a while, in spite of the contradictory positions of different Western countries, particularly those in the European Union.




$71.4 million

The first Asian superhero film by Marvel, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, broke the record for a Labor Day weekend opening and did better at the North American box office than predicted, collecting $71.4 million. With a predominantly East Asian cast, inspired by Chinese folklore, and several martial arts action sequences, the film is the latest sign that Hollywood is starting to listen to calls for more Asian representation on screen.



The people of Brazil have struggled for decades to secure democracy from military rule. Bolsonaro must not be permitted to rob them of it now.

— More than 150 left-leaning ministers, party leaders and former prime ministers wrote an open letter warning of a possible "coup" by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Ahead of Tuesday's Independence Day demonstrations and next year's national elections, Bolsonaro called his supporters to protest against the country's Supreme Court and Congress. The open letter (signed by the likes of former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and former UK Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn) declares that the rallies amount to a replay of the U.S. Capitol attack on January 6.



✍️ Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.

[*Italian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."

🇸🇩💥  IN OTHER NEWS

Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

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