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Barrett Strong, one of Motown’s founding artists and most gifted songwriters who sang lead on the company’s breakthrough single “Money (That’s What I Want)” and later collaborated with Norman Whitfield on such classics as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “War” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” has died. He was 81.     

His death was announced Sunday on social media by the Motown Museum, which did not immediately provide further details.     

“Barrett was not only a great singer and piano player, but he, along with his writing partner Norman Whitfield, created an incredible body of work,” Motown founder Berry Gordy said in a statement.     

Strong had yet to turn 20 when he agreed to let his friend Gordy, in the early days of building a recording empire in Detroit, manage him and release his music. Within a year, he was a part of history as the piano player and vocalist for “Money,” a million-seller released early in 1960 and Motown’s first major hit. Strong never again approached the success of “Money” on his own, and decades later fought for acknowledgement that he helped write it. But, with Whitfield, he formed a productive and eclectic songwriting team.     

While Gordy’s “Sound of Young America” was criticized for being too slick and repetitive, the Whitfield-Strong team turned out hard-hitting and topical works, along with such timeless ballads as “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).” With “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” they provided an up-tempo, call-and-response hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips and a dark, hypnotic ballad for Marvin Gaye, his 1968 version one of Motown’s all-time sellers.      

As Motown became more politically conscious late in the decade, Barrett-Whitfield turned out “Cloud Nine” and “Psychedelic Shack” for the Temptations and for Edwin Starr the protest anthem “War” and its widely quoted refrain, “War! What is it good for? Absolutely … nothing!”     

“With `War,’ I had a cousin who was a paratrooper that got hurt pretty bad in Vietnam,” Strong told LA Weekly in 1999. “I also knew a guy who used to sing with (Motown songwriter) Lamont Dozier that got hit by shrapnel and was crippled for life. You talk about these things with your families when you’re sitting at home, and it inspires you to say something about it.”     

Whitfield-Strong’s other hits, mostly for the Temptations, included “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “That’s the Way Love Is” and the Grammy-winning chart-topper “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” (Sometimes spelled “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”). Artists covering their songs ranged from the Rolling Stones (“Just My Imagination”) and Aretha Franklin (“I Wish It Would Rain”) to Bruce Springsteen (“War”) and Al Green (“I Can’t Get Next to You”).    

Strong spent part of the 1960s recording for other labels, left Motown again in the early 1970s and made a handful of solo albums, including “Stronghold” and “Love is You.” In 2004, he was voted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, which cited him as “a pivotal figure in Motown’s formative years.”      

Whitfield died in 2008.     

The music of Strong and other Motown writers was later featured in the Broadway hit “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.”    

Strong was born in West Point, Mississippi and moved to Detroit a few years later. He was a self-taught musician who learned piano without needing lessons and, with his sisters, formed a local gospel group, the Strong Singers. In his teens, he got to know such artists as Franklin, Smokey Robinson and Gordy, who was impressed with his writing and piano playing. “Money”’ with its opening shout, “The best things in life are free/But you can give them to the birds and bees,” would, ironically, lead to a fight — over money.      

Strong was initially listed among the writers and he often spoke of coming up with the pounding piano riff while jamming on Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” in the studio. But only decades later would he learn that Motown had since removed his name from the credits, costing him royalties for a popular standard covered by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and many others and a keepsake on John Lennon’s home jukebox. Strong’s legal argument was weakened because he had taken so long to ask for his name to be reinstated. (Gordy is one of the song’s credited writers, and his lawyers contended Strong’s name only appeared because of a clerical error).      

“Songs outlive people,” Strong told The New York Times in 2013. “The real reason Motown worked was the publishing. The records were just a vehicle to get the songs out there to the public. The real money is in the publishing, and if you have publishing, then hang on to it. That’s what it’s all about. If you give it away, you’re giving away your life, your legacy. Once you’re gone, those songs will still be playing.” 

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Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard, who skillfully adapted stories of historical Black figures in “Remember the Titans” starring Denzel Washington, “Ali” with Will Smith and “Harriet” with Cynthia Erivo, has died. He was 70.

Howard died Friday at his home in Miami after a brief illness, according to a statement from publicist Jeff Sanderson.

Howard was the first Black screenwriter to write a drama that made $100 million at the box office when “Titans” crossed that milestone in 2000. It was about a real-life Black coach coming into a newly integrated Virginia school and helping lead their football team to victory. It had the iconic line: “I don’t care if you like each other or not. But you will respect each other.”

Howard said he shopped the story around Hollywood with no success. So he took a chance and wrote the screenplay himself. ″They didn’t expect it to make much money, but it became a monster, making $100 million,” he said. “It made my career,” he told the Times-Herald of Vallejo, California, in 2009. The film made the Associated Press’ list of the best 25 sports movies ever made.

Howard followed up “Remember the Titans” with “Ali,” the 2002 Michael Mann-directed biopic of Muhammad Ali. Smith famously bulked up to play Ali and was nominated for a best actor Oscar.

Howard also produced and co-wrote 2019′s “Harriet,” about abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Erivo lead a cast that included Leslie Odom Jr., Clarke Peters and Joe Alwyn.

“I got into this business to write about the complexity of the Black man. I wanted to write about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Marcus Garvey. I think it takes a Black man to write about Black men,” he told the Times-Herald.

Born in Virginia, his family moved often due to his stepfather’s career in the Navy. After attending Princeton University, graduating with a degree in American history, Howard briefly worked at Merrill Lynch on Wall Street before moving to Los Angeles in his mid-20s to pursue a writing career.

He wrote for TV and penned the play “Tinseltown Trilogy,” which focused on three men in Los Angeles over Christmastime as their stories interconnect and inform each other.

Howard also wrote “The Harlem Renaissance,” a limited series for HBO, “Misty,” the story of prima ballerina Misty Copeland and “This Little Light,” the Fannie Lou Hamer story. Most recently, he wrote the civil rights project “Power to the People” for producer Ben Affleck and Paramount Pictures.

He is survived by a sister, Lynette Henley; a brother, Michael Henley; two nieces and a nephew.

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For New York teacher Michael Flanagan, the pandemic was a crash course in new technology — rushing out laptops to stay-at-home students and shifting hectic school life online.

Students are long back at school, but the technology has lived on, and with it has come a new generation of apps that monitor the pupils online, sometimes round the clock and even on down days shared with family and friends at home.

The programs scan students’ online activity, social media posts and more — aiming to keep them focused, detect mental health problems and flag up any potential for violence.

“You can’t unring the bell,” said Flanagan, who teaches social studies and economics. “Everybody has a device.”

The new trend for tracking, however, has raised fears that some of the apps may target minority pupils, while others have outed LGBT+ students without their consent, and many are used to instill discipline as much as deliver care.

So Flanagan has parted ways with many of his colleagues and won’t use such apps to monitor his students online.

He recalled seeing a demo of one such program, GoGuardian, in which a teacher showed — in real time — what one student was doing on his computer. The child was at home, on a day off.

Such scrutiny raised a big red flag for Flanagan.

“I have a school-issued device, and I know that there’s no expectation of privacy. But I’m a grown man — these kids don’t know that,” he said.

A New York City Department of Education spokesperson said that the use of GoGuardian Teacher “is only for teachers to see what’s on the student’s screen in the moment, provide refocusing prompts, and limit access to inappropriate content.”

Valued at more than $1 billion, GoGuardian — one of a handful of high-profile apps in the market — is now monitoring more than 22 million students, including in the New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles public systems.

Globally, the education technology sector is expected to grow by $133 billion from 2021 to 2026, market researcher Technavio said last year.

Parents expect schools to keep children safe in classrooms or on field trips, and schools also “have a responsibility to keep students safe in digital spaces and on school-issued devices,” GoGuardian said in a statement.

The company says it “provides educators with the ability to protect students from harmful or explicit content”.

Nowadays, online monitoring “is just part of the school environment,” said Jamie Gorosh, policy counsel with the Future of Privacy Forum, a watchdog group.

And even as schools move beyond the pandemic, “it doesn’t look like we’re going back,” she said.

Guns and depression

A key priority for monitoring is to keep students engaged in their academic work, but it also taps into fast-rising concerns over school violence and children’s mental health, which medical groups in 2021 termed a national emergency.

According to federal data released this month, 82% of schools now train staff on how to spot mental health problems, up from 60% in 2018; 65% have confidential threat-reporting systems, up 15% in the same period.

In a survey last year by the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), 89% of teachers reported their schools were monitoring student online activity.

Yet it is not clear that the software creates safer schools.

Gorosh cited May’s shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 21 dead in a school that had invested heavily in monitoring tech.

Some worry the tracking apps could actively cause harm.

The CDT report, for instance, found that while administrators overwhelmingly say the purpose of monitoring software is student safety, “it’s being used far more commonly for disciplinary purposes … and we’re seeing a discrepancy falling along racial lines,” said Elizabeth Laird, director of CDT’s Equity in Civic Technology program.

The programs’ use of artificial intelligence to scan for keywords has also outed LGBT+ students without their consent, she said, noting that 29% of students who identify as LGBT+ said they or someone they knew had experienced this.

And more than a third of teachers said their schools send alerts automatically to law enforcement outside school hours.

“The stated purpose is to keep students safe, and here we have set up a system that is routinizing law enforcement access to this information and finding reasons for them to go into students’ homes,” Laird said.

‘Preyed upon’

A report by federal lawmakers last year into four companies making student monitoring software found that none had made efforts to see if the programs disproportionately targeted marginalized students.

“Students should not be surveilled on the same platforms they use for their schooling,” Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, one of the report’s co-authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a statement.

“As school districts work to incorporate technology in the classroom, we must ensure children and teenagers are not preyed upon by a web of targeted advertising or intrusive monitoring of any kind.”

The Department of Education has committed to releasing guidelines around the use of AI early this year.

A spokesperson said the agency was “committed to protecting the civil rights of all students.”

Aside from the ethical questions around spying on children, many parents are frustrated by the lack of transparency.

“We need more clarity on whether data is being collected, especially sensitive data. You should have at least notification, and probably consent,” said Cassie Creswell, head of Illinois Families for Public Schools, an advocacy group.

Creswell, who has a daughter in a Chicago public school, said several parents have been sent alerts about their children’s online searches, despite not having been asked or told about the monitoring in the first place.

Another child had faced repeated warnings not to play a particular game — even though the student was playing it at home on the family computer, she said.

Creswell and others acknowledge that the issues monitoring aims to address — bullying, depression, violence — are real and need tackling, but question whether technology is the answer.

“If we’re talking about self-harm monitoring, is this the best way to approach the issue?” said Gorosh.

Pointing to evidence suggesting AI is imperfect in capturing the warning signs, she said increased funding for school counselors could be more narrowly tailored to the problem.

“There are huge concerns,” she said. “But maybe technology isn’t the first step to answer some of those issues.”

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The warm glow of Svalbard Kirke’s lights gleams on the snow-covered mountain slope from where the church stands like a beacon over this remote Norwegian Arctic village, cloaked in the polar night’s constant darkness.

A century after it was founded to minister to the coal miners who settled Longyearbyen, the Lutheran house of faith is open 24/7, serving as a crucial gathering point for a community navigating a drastic change in its identity.

The last Norwegian coal mine in Svalbard – an archipelago that’s one of the world’s fastest warming spots – was slated to close this year and only got a reprieve until 2025 because of the energy crisis driven by the war in Ukraine.

For the lone pastor in this fragile, starkly beautiful environment, the challenge is to fulfill the church’s historical mission of ministering to those in crisis while addressing a pressing and divisive contemporary challenge.

“We pray every Sunday for everyone who’s affected by climate change,” the Rev. Siv Limstrand said. “We also have a role to play as church when it comes to thinking theologically, about what are we doing to the creation.”

On treeless land hemmed by glaciers, mountains and deep fjords, Longyearbyen is a town of visible paradoxes.

The open water of the rapidly warming sea laps up against old coal mining conveyors. Tourists come by the environmentally unfriendly planeload to seek pristine wilderness they can only explore with guides armed against polar bears.

Right below where the first mine was built, Svalbard Kirke beckons to its fireplace-warmed lounge that opens into the sanctuary. A cup of coffee or hymnbooks in multiple languages are always available – as long as visitors first remove their shoes in the entryway, as miners used to do with soot-covered boots.

“You don’t have to be very religious. They have room for everybody,” said Leonard Snoeks, whose daughter sings in Polargospel, the church’s children’s choir, and whose wife is working on the city’s transition to renewable energy.

The switch this year from coal-fired to diesel-powered energy production at the plant – which prompted the mine’s original decision to shut down – is expected to halve carbon dioxide emissions even as the search for long-term, cleaner alternatives continues, said Torbjørn Grøtte, Longyearbyen’s energy transition project leader.

As change swirls faster than the snowdrifts covering Longyearbyen’s few miles of paved roads, the church’s anchoring role seems poised to remain the only constant.

It attracts miners who have attended funerals for colleagues who died on the job over the decades, as well as newly arrived scientists and tourism workers seeking to integrate in the increasingly diverse community where people now tend to stay only a couple of years.

Store Norske, the Norwegian company still operating the remaining mine, built the first church in 1921 in Longyearbyen – which translates as “the town of Longyear,” the surname of the American who established the first mining operation here.

For decades, the town’s two supreme authorities were the mine’s executive and the church’s pastor, old-timers say.

The first pastor was also the teacher in the company town that for most of the 20th century was inhabited by single miners and the mining executives’ families. Outside town limits, a few trappers continued to hunt, a long tradition in these glacier-covered islands.

Miners and their families also made up the Russian towns in Svalbard. At the surviving one, Barentsburg, coal is still extracted under a century-old international treaty that grants rights to all signatory countries. Relations with Longyearbyen, which had normalized after the end of the Cold War as miners traded visits by boat and snowmobile, have been strained again by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago.

Trond Johansen was 17 when he arrived in Longyearbyen in 1971 on a plane chartered by the mining company that landed on an ice field – the airport would be built a few years later.

Sipping black coffee on a mid-January morning in the town’s sleek café that offers knitted wear and artisanal chocolates, the retired miner recalled when the main entertainment was at the church.

Before TVs, let alone anything like the plush cinema soon to open in the town’s new art gallery, Johansen and fellow miners gathered on Wednesdays to watch four-week-old videocassettes of news broadcasts from the mainland – though they skipped over the weather forecast, Johansen added with a chuckle.

“It was a fantastic place to grow up, more free probably than many places, and you had the wild and the excitement with polar bears lurking around,” said Bent Jakobsen, who was born on Svalbard and works at the Norwegian coal mine like his father and brothers before him.

But today he jokes the mine’s closing will turn him into an endangered species just like the iconic Arctic predator.

“I can be stuffed and put in the museum, me and the polar bear,” Jakobsen said.

Svalbard’s natural environment has been changing fast, too. There’s no more ice on Isfjorden, which translates as “ice fjord” and whose feet-thick ice cover used to be traversed by polar bears in winter until a dozen years ago.

“Everything except the darkness has changed,” said Kim Holmén, a special advisor to the Norwegian Polar Institute who has researched climate in Svalbard for decades. At this latitude, only the January moon glows around the clock.

Swept by the Gulf Stream ocean current and increasingly surrounded by open water, which accelerates heating, Svalbard is warming even faster than the rest of the Arctic, according to both Holmén and data from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

Compared to the 1961-1990 normal, winter temperatures of the last decade averaged 7.3 degrees Celsius (13.2 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer. It’s been a dozen years since Svalbard hit -30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit), which used to happen regularly decades ago.

“Plants, animals, birds, the whole ecosystem is changing,” Holmén added, as cold-adjusted species struggle and new ones arrive.

Unusual winter rains unsettle the snowpack, which has led to more avalanches, including a deadly one a few days before Christmas in 2015 that ripped through town, killing two people.

One of them was a friend of Svalbard Kirke’s then-pastor, the Rev. Leif Magne Helgesen, who had already been working on raising awareness of the changes he was observing on the island.

“As a pastor on Svalbard, you’re the northernmost religious leader in the world. That gives you a pulpit,” Helgesen said.

“There are three main ethical challenges we need to deal with and have a prophetic voice in the church: Poverty, conflict, and climate,” he added. “It’s hypocritical to only talk about life after death. We also strongly believe in life on earth and life today.”

He started including prayers about climate in regular worship services. He also worked with the church’s then music director, Espen Rotevatn, to create vocals and instrumentals for a climate change Mass – including a rite of penance for piano with deep, haunting notes and upbeat, Blues-inspired passages.

“Some lyrics are dark, but much of it is filled with hope,” said Rotevatn. He has been lobbying for the mine to close, which he said was a very unpopular cause just a few years ago.

From a Christian perspective, some might argue that God can fix everything – but Rotevatn shares a different view he believes is more common in the Norway’s churches.

“We have a responsibility for the earth that is given to us, to (not) destroy it, which is what we may be doing now,” he said.

Rotevatn is now the principal of Svalbard Folkehøgskole, an alternative higher-ed institution in Longyearbyen that he hopes to run as “green” as possible, including with solar panels. For several months in the spring and summer, the sun never sets in Svalbard, just like it never rises in winter.

In that constant darkness, keeping a light burning becomes more than a metaphor for Svalbard Kirke.

“Physical openness and accessibility to me not only symbolizes, but it is also … an ideal for what a church should be,” said Limstrand, who became pastor here in 2019, nearly thirty years after her ordination. “People can come in totally on their own terms.”

Among a couple dozen congregants at a mid-January Sunday afternoon Mass was a Hindu family from the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh – two scientists and their 18-month-old daughter, whom they named Svalbie after the archipelago.

“God is God, it doesn’t matter which religion. We feel good, peaceful and calm, similar to how we feel when we go to temple,” said environmental chemist Neelu Singh.

She and Svalbie started coming to church for the weekly “baby song hour.” To the church piano’s accompaniment, new parents sing to their babies in a circle before sharing lunch with the pastor and church staff.

“You feel connected with the community and get a chance to be social,” said Singh, who believes hers was the only Indian family in Longyearbyen when they moved here four years ago.

What Limstrand calls “spiritual hospitality” also extends outwards from the red-slatted church.

Before the pandemic, she hosted regular visits by Catholic and Orthodox priests to minister to their congregations – including Poles at remote research stations, Russians and Ukrainians in Barentsburg, and a few Filipino workers at the town’s only supermarket who happily reminisced recently about those moments.

The pastor herself travels to celebrate services beyond the church – including once at Green Dog, a dogsledding outfit half a dozen miles from Longyearbyen in a broad valley.

“How many priests can you ask to come to a dog yard in -11 (degrees Celsius, 12 degrees Fahrenheit) to baptize two kids?” said their mother, Karina Bernlow, who runs Green Dog with her husband and arrived in Svalbard 11 years ago after a stint in Greenland.

In this time, Bernlow has already seen Longyearbyen transform from a community where mining families lived for generations and extended a warm welcome to outsiders, to a mix of short-term workers who hardly ever meet outside their jobs.

“A place without history, that’s what it’s turning into. I can see how it’s disappearing,” she said as the wind, and the dogs, howled outside a log cabin near her yard. Bright lights marked the entrance to the last Norway-operated mine on the opposite mountainside.

“The church is a bridge-builder. A place like this, with so many nationalities, it’s really important to have,” she added. “I don’t go to church very often, but I know it’s there if I need it.”

That is exactly the kind of church Limstrand wants to foster in order to serve this changing community.

Here, people feel at home when they come to worship by the rose-filled altar, because they have already attended a concert, or a community gathering, or the Tuesday night coffee hour, when hot-off-the-griddle waffles are smothered in brunost, Norway’s traditional caramel-tasting cheese.

“It’s not the pastor’s church, it’s not the Church’s church, it’s not the church council’s church, but it’s our church,” Limstrand said. “It’s something that is shared, it’s not something that is guarded.”

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Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard, who skillfully adapted stories of historical Black figures in “Remember the Titans” starring Denzel Washington, “Ali” with Will Smith and “Harriet” with Cynthia Erivo, has died. He was 70.
Howard died Friday at his home in Miami after a brief illness, according to a statement from publicist Jeff Sanderson.

Howard was the first Black screenwriter to write a drama that made $100 million at the box office when “Titans” crossed that milestone in 2000. It was about a real-life Black coach coming into a newly segregated Virginia school and helping lead their football team to victory. It had the iconic line: “I don’t care if you like each other or not. But you will respect each other.”

Howard said he shopped the story around Hollywood with no success. So, he took a chance and wrote the screenplay himself. ″They didn’t expect it to make much money, but it became a monster, making $100 million,” he said. “It made my career,” he told the Times-Herald of Vallejo, California, in 2009. The film made The Associated Press’ list of the best 25 sports movies ever made.

Howard followed up “Remember the Titans” with “Ali,” the 2002 Michael Mann-directed biopic of Muhammad Ali. Smith famously bulked up to play Ali and was nominated for a best actor Oscar.

Howard also produced and co-wrote 2019′s “Harriet,” about abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Erivo led a cast, that included Leslie Odom Jr., Clarke Peters and Joe Alwyn.

“I got into this business to write about the complexity of the Black man. I wanted to write about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Marcus Harvey. I think it takes a Black man to write about Black men,” he told the Times-Herald.

Born in Virginia, his family moved often due to his stepfather’s career in the Navy. After attending Princeton University, graduating with a degree in American history, Howard briefly worked at Merrill Lynch on Wall Street before moving to Los Angeles in his mid-20s to pursue a writing career.

He wrote for TV and penned the play “Tinseltown Trilogy,” which focused on three men in Los Angeles over Christmastime as their stories interconnect and inform each other.

Howard also wrote “The Harlem Renaissance,” a limited series for HBO, “Misty,” the story of prima ballerina Misty Copeland and “This Little Light,” the Fannie Lou Hamer story. Most recently, he wrote the civil rights project “Power to the People” for producer Ben Affleck and Paramount Pictures.

He is survived by a sister, Lynette Henley; a brother, Michael Henley; two nieces and a nephew.

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The United States and European Union announced Friday an agreement to speed up and enhance the use of artificial intelligence to improve agriculture, health care, emergency response, climate forecasting and the electric grid. 

A senior U.S. administration official, discussing the initiative shortly before the official announcement, called it the first sweeping AI agreement between the United States and Europe. Previously, agreements on the issue had been limited to specific areas such as enhancing privacy, the official said.  

AI modeling, which refers to machine-learning algorithms that use data to make logical decisions, could be used to improve the speed and efficiency of government operations and services.  

“The magic here is in building joint models [while] leaving data where it is,” the senior administration official said. “The U.S. data stays in the U.S. and European data stays there, but we can build a model that talks to the European and the U.S. data, because the more data and the more diverse data, the better the model.” 

The initiative will give governments greater access to more detailed and data-rich AI models, leading to more efficient emergency responses and electric grid management, and other benefits, the administration official said. 

Pointing to the electric grid, the official said the United States collects data on how electricity is being used, where it is generated, and how to balance the grid’s load so that weather changes do not knock it offline. 

Many European countries have similar data points they gather relating to their own grids, the official said. Under the new partnership, all that data would be harnessed into a common AI model that would produce better results for emergency managers, grid operators and others relying on AI to improve systems.  

The partnership is currently between the White House and the European Commission, the executive arm of the 27-member European Union. The senior administration official said other countries would be invited to join in the coming months.  

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An international ransomware network that extorted more than $100 million from hospitals and other organizations around the world has been brought down following a monthslong infiltration by the FBI, the Justice Department said Thursday.

The Hive ransomware group, known to operate since June 2021, targeted more than 1,500 victims, including hospitals, school districts and financial firms in more than 80 countries, DOJ and FBI officials said at a press conference. The network’s most recent victim in Florida was targeted about two weeks ago.

FBI agents, who penetrated the group’s computer networks last summer and thwarted multiple attacks, seized its two Los Angeles-based servers  Wednesday night, while taking control of darknet sites used by its affiliates, officials said.

German and Dutch police took part in the international law enforcement action.

Attorney General Merrick Garland and other top law enforcement officials announced the operation.

“Cybercrime is a constantly evolving threat,” Garland said. “But as I have said before, the Justice Department will spare no resource to identify and bring to justice anyone, anywhere, who targets the United States with a ransomware attack.”

In a ransomware attack, hackers encrypt the data on a victim’s network and then demand payments in exchange for providing a decryption key.

Hive used a “ransomware-as-a-service” model in which highly skilled developers build the malware and then recruit less-sophisticated affiliates to deploy them against victims.

Garland said Hive affiliates targeted “critical infrastructure and some of our nation’s most important industries.”

In August 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hive affiliates attacked a Midwest hospital’s network, preventing the medical facility from accepting new patients, Garland said.

The hospital was able to recover its data only after paying a ransom, the attorney general said.

While no arrests have been made in connection with the operation, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that “anybody involved with Hive should be concerned, because this investigation is very much ongoing.”

“We’re engaged in what we call ‘joint sequenced operations’ … and that includes going after their infrastructure, going after their crypto and going after the people who work with them,” Wray said.

FBI agents infiltrated Hive from July 2022 until its seizure, covertly capturing its decryption keys and sharing them with victims, saving the targets $130 million in ransom payments, officials said.

“Simply put, using lawful means, we hacked the hackers,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said.

In all, the FBI provided more than 300 victims with decryption keys, Garland said, among them a Texas school district, a Louisiana hospital, and a food services company that had been asked to make millions of dollars in ransom payments. The FBI also distributed more than 1,000 additional decryption keys to previous Hive victims.

The takedown represents a win for the Biden administration’s efforts to crack down on a recent surge in ransomware attacks that cost businesses and governments around the world billions of dollars a year.

U.S. banks and financial institutions processed nearly $1.2 billion in suspected ransomware payments in 2021, more than double the amount in 2020, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) reported in November.

Roughly 75% of the ransomware attacks reported in 2021 had a nexus with Russia, its proxies or persons acting on its behalf, according to FinCen, which also says the top five highest-grossing ransomware tools used in 2021 were all connected to Russian cyberactors.

Officials would not say whether Hive had any known links to Russia.

John Bennett, a former senior FBI official who is now managing director of the Cyber Risk Business Unit at Kroll, a cybersecurity services company, noted that the seizure notice on Hive’s website, written in both English and a Slavic language, suggests it is aimed at an Eastern European audience.

“The fact that it is basically being broadcast in a [Slavic] language, I think, is telling that that’s the target audience that they’re letting know that they got this,” Bennett said in an interview.

The gang’s takedown, Bennett said, is a sign of what is coming.

“I think this is telling that law enforcement is catching up very quickly to the capabilities of getting inside of these groups,” Bennett said.

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Ancient Tomb Discovered in Egypt

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An excavation team in Egypt has unearthed an ancient tomb containing a mummy believed to be 4,300 years old. It is among dozens of artifacts recently discovered.

After a year-long excavation, renowned archaeologist Zahi Hawass announced the findings at Gisr al-Mudir, also known as the Great Enclosure, one of the oldest known stone structures in Egypt. Among them – Khmumdjedef – a priest from the fifth dynasty, Meri, a palace official who held the title “keeper of the secrets,” and a man named Hekashepes.

“This mummy may be the oldest and most complete mummy found in Egypt to date,” Hawass said about Hekashepes, in a statement. Other major discoveries from the excavation included statues, amulets, and a well-preserved sarcophagus.

“I put my head inside to see what was inside the sarcophagus: A beautiful mummy of a man completely covered in layers of gold,” said Hawass.

Over the past week, researchers have made many other discoveries, such as dozens of burial sites from the New Kingdom Era, which dates from 1800 to 1600 B.C., near the southern city of Luxor.   

Additionally, a group of scientists from Cairo University announced details Tuesday about a previously uncovered mummified teenage boy. Through the use of CT scans, they were able to shed new light on the boy’s high social status by examining the intricate details of the amulets inserted in his mummified body as well as the type of burial he received.

The Egyptian tombs are a large tourist draw and the North African country often advertises them as a way to bring in more money. The number of visitors, however, has been negatively affected since an uprising in 2011, the coronavirus pandemic, and, most recently, the war in Ukraine. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.   

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The literary world of Indian-administered Kashmir is mourning the death of a beloved poet and champion of the Kashmiri language, which he is largely credited with rescuing from obscurity.

Abdur Rehman Rahi, an acclaimed writer and professor of literature who died earlier this month at age 97, is being hailed as a living testament to Kashmir’s literary prestige who helped establish a unique identity for the once-endangered language.

“With Rahi’s death, we have lost one of the crown jewels from Kashmir’s literary landscape. His death marks an end of an era,” remarked Shad Ramzan, himself a highly regarded writer and Kashmiri-language scholar.

Rahi’s talents were recognized with numerous awards, including India’s leading literary prize, the Jnanpith Award, in 2007 for his poetic collection Siyah Rood Jaeren Manz (In Black Drizzle), and India’s fourth-highest civilian honor, the Padma Shri, in 2000.

But his more lasting legacy will stem from his tireless efforts to preserve and popularize the Kashmiri language, which is spoken today by some 6 million people in the Kashmir Valley and surrounding region.

The native tongue had fallen into deep decline in the decades after the end of British rule in 1947, with the federal government discontinuing its teaching in elementary schools in 1955.

The language “has always been given less preference from the rulers of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. There is no mention from the political parties in their manifestos regarding the planning and development of the Kashmiri language,” says an article in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Linguistics, a publication of the University of Kashmir.

Ramzan says a key to Kashmiri’s renewed life was the establishment 1974 of a research cell for the study of the language at the University of Kashmir. Five years later, Rahi oversaw the conversion of the research cell into a full-fledged postgraduate department.

“Rahi introduced critical thinking of East and West poetry in the curriculum of the postgraduate program,” Ramzan said in an interview.

Continued agitation by Rahi and other scholars, social and cultural groups led to the language being taught more broadly, and by 2008, it had become mandatory in the former state of Jammu and Kashmir for students enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Outside the classroom, Rahi also worked to introduce the language to a global audience through his poetry. “He shifted the focus from the classical Kashmiri poetry that had previously dominated the literary landscape,” explained Salim Salik, an editor at the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages.

Muhammad Maroof Shah, another Kashmiri writer, agreed that Rahi’s success lay in his ability to write Kashmiri-language poetry worthy of international attention in the contemporary idiom. He praised Rahi for presenting the Kashmiri tradition in terms that could be understood and appreciated universally.

Despite his unquestioned literary genius, Rahi was criticized at times for not applying his talents to the political tensions that bedevil Kashmir, the focus of a long-running insurgency and repeated wars between India and Pakistan.

“I felt that he observed self-censorship fearing reprisal from both state and non-state actors,” said Bilal A. Jan, an award-winning filmmaker from Srinagar who directed a biographical documentary on Rahi’s life and works titled, “The Poet of Silence.”

“Rahi shared some incidents with me when he was threatened for his work,” added Jan, who told VOA he believes Rahi’s poetry was influenced by Marxist ideology while focused on the human predicament and day-to-day life issues of humans.

One of Rahi’s colleagues at the University of Kashmir, Shafi Shauq, challenged the notion that Rahi avoided the most challenging issues, saying, “One of his best poems is ‘Thyanvi Ros Sadaa’ (A Call without Sound) which speaks of the contemporary situation.”

Rahi was essentially a distinguished poet who tried to create his own style by mixing personally coined words, archaisms, allusions and verbal rhythms, Shauq told VOA.

“Although his popularity is based on a few lyrics sung by our best singers, the serious poetry contained in his three collections is beyond the comprehension of common readers. His two collections of literary essays are in keeping with his individual notion of poetic composition.”

Rahi is survived by three sons, all of whom work in the medical profession, and a daughter who worked for a time at the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages.

One of the sons, Dildar Ahmad, told VOA his father was a gentle and soft-spoken man who used to treat people equally irrespective of class, caste or age.

The daughter, Rubina Ellahi, said Rahi had been not only a father but also her best friend. “We used to discuss poetry for hours together,” she said in an interview. “He has left some unpublished work, which I will publish at an appropriate time.”

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Lloyd Morrisett, the co-creator of the beloved children’s education TV series Sesame Street, which uses empathy and fuzzy monsters like Abby Cadabby, Elmo and Cookie Monster to charm and teach generations around the world, has died. He was 93.

Morrisett’s death was announced Monday by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit he helped establish under the name the Children’s Television Workshop. No cause of death was given.

In a statement, Sesame Workshop hailed Morrisett as a “wise, thoughtful, and above all kind leader” who was “constantly thinking about new ways” to educate.

Morrisett and Joan Ganz Cooney worked with Harvard University developmental psychologist Gerald Lesser to build the show’s unique approach to teaching that now reaches 120 million children. Legendary puppeteer Jim Henson supplied the critters.

“Without Lloyd Morrisett, there would be no Sesame Street. It was he who first came up with the notion of using television to teach preschoolers basic skills, such as letters and numbers,” Cooney said in a statement. “He was a trusted partner and loyal friend to me for over 50 years, and he will be sorely missed.”

 

Sesame Street is shown in more than 150 countries, has won 216 Emmys, 11 Grammys and in 2019 received the Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime artistic achievement, the first time a television program got the award (Big Bird strolled down the aisle and basically sat in Tom Hanks’ lap).

Born in 1929 in Oklahoma City, Morrisett initially trained to be a teacher with a background in psychology. He became an experimental educator, looking for new ways to educate children from less advantaged backgrounds. Morrisett received his bachelor’s at Oberlin College, did graduate work in psychology at UCLA, and earned his doctorate in experimental psychology at Yale University. He was an Oberlin trustee for many years and was chair of the board from 1975-81.

The seed of Sesame Street was sown over a dinner party in 1966, where he met Cooney.

“I said, ‘Joan, do you think television could be used to teach young children?’ Her answer was, ‘I don’t know, but I’d like to talk about it,’” he recalled to The Guardian in 2004.

The first episode of Sesame Street, sponsored by the letters W, S and E and the numbers 2 and 3, aired in the fall of 1969. It was a turbulent time in America, rocked by the Vietnam War and raw from the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. the year before.

Children’s programming at the time was made up of shows like Captain Kangaroo, Romper Room and the often-violent cartoon skirmishes between Tom & Jerry. Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was mostly teaching social skills.

Sesame Street was designed by education professionals and child psychologists with one goal: to help low-income and minority students aged 2-5 overcome some of the deficiencies they had when entering school. Social scientists had long noted kids who were white and from higher-income families were often better prepared.

The show was set on an urban street with a multicultural cast. Diversity and inclusion were baked into the show. Monsters, humans and animals all lived together peacefully.

It became the first children’s program to feature someone with Down syndrome. It’s had puppets with HIV and in foster care, invited children in wheelchairs, dealt with topics like jailed parents, homelessness, women’s rights, military families and even girls singing about loving their hair.

It introduced the bilingual Rosita, the first Latina Muppet, in 1991. Julia, a 4-year-old Muppet with autism, came in 2017 and the show has since offered help for kids whose parents are dealing with addiction and recovery, and children suffering as a result of the Syrian civil war. To help kids after 9/11, Elmo was left traumatized by a fire at Hooper’s store but was soothingly told that firefighters were there to help.

The company said upon the news of his death that Lloyd left “an outsized and indelible legacy among generations of children the world over, with Sesame Street only the most visible tribute to a lifetime of good work and lasting impact.”

He is survived by his wife, Mary; daughters Julie and Sarah; and granddaughters Frances and Clara.

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Olive Pits Fuel Flights in Spain

By : -

The war in Ukraine has exposed Europe’s energy dependence on Russia and is spurring the development of new, cleaner-burning biofuels. Spain is emerging as a leader in this effort, with the introduction late last year of airplane fuel made from olive pits. Marcus Harton narrates this report from Alfonso Beato in Seville.

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Facebook parent Meta is reinstating former President Donald Trump’s personal account after a two-year suspension following the January 6, 2021, insurrection. 

The company said in a blog post Wednesday it is adding “new guardrails” to ensure there are no “repeat offenders” who violate its rules. 

“In the event that Mr. Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation,” said Meta, which is based in Menlo Park, California. 

Trump, in a post on his own social media network, blasted Facebook’s decision to suspend his account as he praised his own site, Truth Social. 

“FACEBOOK, which has lost Billions of Dollars in value since “deplatforming” your favorite President, me, has just announced that they are reinstating my account. Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution!” he wrote. 

He was suspended on January 7, a day after the deadly 2021 insurrection. Other social media companies also kicked him off their platforms, though he was recently reinstated on Twitter after Elon Musk took over the company. He has not tweeted. 

Banned from mainstream social media, Trump has been relying on Truth Social, which he launched after being blocked from Twitter. 

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Days after India blocked a BBC documentary that examines Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role during 2002 anti-Muslim riots and banned people from sharing it online, authorities are scrambling to halt screenings of the film at colleges and universities and restrict clips of it on social media. Critics decry the move by as an assault on press freedom.

Tensions escalated in the capital, New Delhi, on Wednesday at Jamia Millia University where a student group said it planned to screen the banned documentary, prompting dozens of police equipped with tear gas and riot gear to gather outside campus gates.

Police, some in plain clothes, scuffled with protesting students and detained at least half a dozen of them, who were taken away in a van.

Jawaharlal Nehru University in the capital cut off power and the internet on its campus on Tuesday before the documentary was scheduled to be screened by a students’ union. Authorities said it would disturb peace on campus, but students nonetheless watched the documentary on their laptops and mobile phones after sharing it on messaging services like Telegram and WhatsApp.

The documentary has caused a storm at other Indian universities too.

Authorities at the University of Hyderabad, in India’s south, have begun a probe after a student group showed the banned documentary earlier this week. In the southern state of Kerala, workers from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party held demonstrations on Tuesday after some student groups affiliated with rival political parties defied the ban and screened the film.

The two-part documentary “India: The Modi Question” has not been broadcast in India by the BBC, but India’s federal government blocked it over the weekend and banned people from sharing clips on social media, citing emergency powers under its information technology laws. Twitter and YouTube complied with the request and removed many links to the documentary.

The first part of the documentary, released last week by the BBC for its U.K. audiences, revives the most controversial episode of Modi’s political career when he was the chief minister of western Gujarat state in 2002. It focuses on bloody anti-Muslim riots in which more than 1,000 people were killed.

The riots have long hounded Modi because of allegations that authorities under his watch allowed and even encouraged the bloodshed. Modi has denied the accusations, and the Supreme Court has said it found no evidence to prosecute him. Last year, the country’s top court dismissed a petition filed by a Muslim victim questioning Modi’s exoneration.

The first part of the BBC documentary relies on interviews with victims of the riots, journalists and rights activists, who say Modi looked the other way during the riots. It cites, for the first time, a secret British diplomatic investigation that concluded Modi was “directly responsible” for the “climate of impunity.”

The documentary includes the testimony of then-British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who says the British investigation found that the violence by Hindu nationalists aimed to “purge Muslims from Hindu areas” and that it had all the “hallmarks of an ethnic cleansing.”

Suspicions that Modi quietly supported the riots led the U.S., U.K. and E.U. to deny him a visa, a move that has since been reversed.

India’s Foreign Ministry last week called the documentary a “propaganda piece designed to push a particularly discredited narrative” that lacks objectivity and slammed it for “bias” and “a continuing colonial mindset.” Kanchan Gupta, a senior adviser in the government’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, denounced it as “anti-India garbage.”

The BBC in a statement said the documentary was “rigorously researched” and involved a wide range of voices and opinions.

“We offered the Indian Government a right to reply to the matters raised in the series — it declined to respond,” the statement said.

The second part of the documentary, released Tuesday in the U.K., “examines the track record of Narendra Modi’s government following his re-election in 2019,” according to the film’s description on the BBC website.

In recent years, India’s Muslim minority has been at the receiving end of violence from Hindu nationalists, emboldened by a prime minister who has mostly stayed mum on such attacks since he was first elected in 2014.

The ban has set off a wave of criticism from opposition parties and rights groups that slammed it as an attack against press freedom. It also drew more attention to the documentary, sparking scores of social media users to share clips on WhatsApp, Telegram and Twitter.

“You can ban, you can suppress the press, you can control the institutions … but the truth is the truth. It has a nasty habit of coming out,” Rahul Gandhi, a leader in the opposition Congress party, told reporters at a press conference Tuesday.

Mahua Moitra, a lawmaker from the Trinamool Congress political party, on Tuesday tweeted a new link after a previous one was taken down. “Good, bad, or ugly — we decide. Govt doesn’t tell us what to watch,” Moitra said in her tweet, which was still up Wednesday morning.

Human Rights Watch said the ban reflected a broader crackdown on minorities under the Modi government, which the rights group said has frequently invoked draconian laws to muzzle criticism.

Critics say press freedom in India has declined in recent years and the country fell eight places, to 150 out of 180 countries, in last year’s Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders. It accuses Modi’s government of silencing criticism on social media, particularly on Twitter, a charge senior leaders of the governing party have denied.

Modi’s government has regularly pressured Twitter to restrict or ban content it deems critical of the prime minister or his party. Last year, it threatened to arrest Twitter staff in the country over their refusal to ban accounts run by critics after implementing sweeping new regulations for technology and social media companies.

The ban on the BBC documentary comes after a proposal from the government to give its Press Information Bureau and other “fact-checking” agencies powers to take down news deemed “fake or false” from digital platforms.

The Editors Guild of India urged the government to withdraw the proposal, saying such a change would be akin to censorship.

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Pope Francis criticized laws that criminalize homosexuality as “unjust,” saying God loves all his children just as they are and called on Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the church.

“Being homosexual isn’t a crime,” Francis said during an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press.

Francis acknowledged that Catholic bishops in some parts of the world support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and he himself referred to the issue in terms of “sin.” But he attributed such attitudes to cultural backgrounds, and said bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.

“These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” he said, adding that they should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”

Some 67 countries or jurisdictions worldwide criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which can or do impose the death penalty, according to The Human Dignity Trust, which works to end such laws. Experts say even where the laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigmatization and violence against LGBTQ people.

In the U.S., more than a dozen states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books, despite a 2003 Supreme Court ruling declaring them unconstitutional. Gay rights advocates say the antiquated laws are used to harass homosexuals, and point to new legislation, such as the “Don’t say gay” law in Florida, which forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as evidence of continued efforts to marginalize LGBTQ people.

The United Nations has repeatedly called for an end to laws criminalizing homosexuality outright, saying they violate rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination and are a breach of countries’ obligations under international law to protect the human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Declaring such laws “unjust,” Francis said the Catholic Church can and should work to put an end to them. “It must do this. It must do this,” he said.

Francis quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church in saying gay people must be welcomed and respected, and should not be marginalized or discriminated against.

“We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity,” Francis said, speaking to the AP in the Vatican hotel where he lives.

Such laws are common in Africa and the Middle East and date from British colonial times or are inspired by Islamic law. Some Catholic bishops have strongly upheld them as consistent with Vatican teaching that considers homosexual activity “intrinsically disordered,” while others have called for them to be overturned as a violation of basic human dignity.

In 2019, Francis had been expected to issue a statement opposing criminalization of homosexuality during a meeting with human rights groups that conducted research into the effects of such laws and so-called “conversion therapies.”

In the end, the pope did not meet with the groups, which instead met with the Vatican No. 2, who reaffirmed “the dignity of every human person and against every form of violence.”

On Tuesday, Francis said there needed to be a distinction between a crime and a sin with regard to homosexuality.

“Being homosexual is not a crime,” he said. “It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin. Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.”

“It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another,” he added.

Catholic teaching holds that while gay people must be treated with respect, homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” Francis has not changed that teaching, but he has made reaching out to the LGBTQ community a hallmark of his papacy.

Starting with his famous 2013 declaration, “Who am I to judge?” when he was asked about a purportedly gay priest, Francis has gone on to minister repeatedly and publicly to the gay and trans community. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he favored granting legal protections to same-sex couples as an alternative to endorsing gay marriage, which Catholic doctrine forbids.

Despite such outreach, Francis was criticized by the Catholic LGBTQ community for a 2021 decree from the Vatican’s doctrine office that the church cannot bless same-sex unions “because God cannot bless sin.”

The Vatican in 2008 declined to sign onto a U.N. declaration that called for the decriminalization of homosexuality, complaining the text went beyond the original scope and also included language about “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” it found problematic. In a statement at the time, the Vatican urged countries to avoid “unjust discrimination” against gay people and end penalties against them.

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Microsoft said it’s seeing some improvement to problems with its online services including the Teams messaging platform and Outlook email system after users around the world reported outages Wednesday. 

In a status update, the tech company reported “service degradation” for a number of its Microsoft 365 services. 

Thousands of users reported problems with Teams, Outlook, the Azure cloud computing service and XBox Live online gaming service early Wednesday on the Downdetector website, which tracks outage reports. Many users also took to social media to complain that services were down. 

By later in the morning, Downdetector showed the number of reports had dropped considerably. 

“We’re continuing to monitor the recovery across the service and some customers are reporting mitigation,” the Microsoft 365 Status Twitter account said. “We’re also connecting the service to additional infrastructure to expedite the recovery process.” 

It tweeted earlier that it had “isolated the problem to a networking configuration issue” and that a network change suspected to be causing the problem was rolled back. 

It comes after Microsoft reported Tuesday that its quarterly profit fell 12%, reflecting economic uncertainty that the company said led to its decision this month to cut 10,000 workers. 

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