24 January 2024

U.S., Arab Allies Push Hostage-Release Plan Aimed at Ending Israel-Hamas War

Summer Said

DUBAI—The U.S., Egypt and Qatar are pushing Israel and Hamas to join a phased diplomatic process that would start with a release of hostages and, eventually, lead to a withdrawal of Israeli forces and an end to the war in Gaza, diplomats involved in mediating the talks said.

Taher Al-Nono, a media adviser to Hamas, said there was no real progress. After The Wall Street Journal’s report, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that he rejected Hamas’s demands because they included an end to the war.

“If we agree to this, then our warriors fell in vain. If we agree to this, we won’t be able to ensure the security of our citizens,” Netanyahu said in a statement Sunday.

But people briefed on the talks said Israel and Hamas at least were again willing to engage in discussions after weeks of stalled talks following the end of the last cease-fire on Nov. 30. Negotiations were set to continue in Cairo in coming days, the people said.

The two parties’ “willingness to discuss the framework was a positive step. Mediators are now working to bridge the gap,” one of the people briefed on the talks said.

The new proposal, backed by Washington, Cairo and Doha, represents a new approach to defusing the conflict—aiming to make the release of Israeli hostages kidnapped by Hamas part of a comprehensive deal that could lead to an end to hostilities.

In November, a pause in fighting lasted a week and was accompanied by an exchange of 100 Israeli hostages in Gaza for more than 300 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Israeli negotiators have continued to push for a two-week halt to fighting to allow for hostage-prisoner exchanges and have been reluctant to discuss plans that envision a permanent cease-fire, Egyptian officials said.

Myanmar Conflict Unveils Complex Dynamics of China's Interests

Ingyin Naing

The rapid breakdown of a Beijing-mediated cease-fire in northern Myanmar has exposed the limits of Chinese influence in the region, even as it seeks to turn recent military gains by a rebel alliance to its advantage.

The "Haigeng agreement," announced January 12, was less than a day old when witnesses reported widespread gunfire in northern Shan state, bordering China.

The rebel Three Brotherhood Alliance — comprising the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army or MNDAA, the Arakan Army and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army — released a statement the day after the talks, accusing the military of launching attacks at multiple locations.

The largest took place near Kyaukme, a small but bustling town along the Mandalay-Lashio Road in a mountainous area near China's southwestern border. The area has long been a trade route between the two countries and has seen significant infrastructure investment by China in recent years.

A humanitarian assistance worker in Kyaukme, speaking anonymously for security reasons, told VOA this week that he could hear the hourslong gunbattle the morning after the cease-fire. "It was a shootout in Kyaukme," he said. "Civilians started fleeing for safety as the attacks were coming from both sides of town."

An updated statement from the alliance nearly a week later described continuing attacks by the Myanmar military, including 16 airstrikes on villages in northern Shan state. Witnesses on the ground have confirmed the use of airstrikes to VOA by phone.

The alliance statement blamed the military for the failure of the cease-fire, which grew out of the third attempt at dialogue since December, largely with China as mediator.

A Greater Bay Area: China’s Initiative To Build A New Silicon Valley

Sunny Cheung

Executive Summary
  • The GBA, covering 56,000 square kilometers with 70 million people, aims to become a globally renowned economic and technological hub, comparable to bay areas like San Francisco, Tokyo, and New York. Its economic output surpasses 13 trillion RMB ($1.8 trillion) by 2022, exceeding developed countries like South Korea.
  • The GBA leverages Hong Kong’s international aspects for China’s development, by attracting talent and resources through policies to liberalize the movement of money and people into the region.
  • Special zones within the GBA incubate companies and research institutes focusing on hard sciences, technological innovation, AI, biomedical technology, and aerospace.
  • The initiative, led by Xi Jinping, supports Beijing’s military-civilian fusion development strategy, emphasizing the development of the People’s Liberation Army through academic and other collaboration.
An Innovation Center was recently inaugurated with great fanfare in the Bay Area Core Valley (CTEE, December 7, 2023). Located within the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Science and Technology Innovation Cooperation Zone, the launch of a semiconductor testing and packaging innovation center owned by STMicroelectronics (ST) represents a strategic maneuver as part of China’s ambitious Greater Bay Area (GBA) initiative. ST—a Swiss company and one of Europe’s largest semiconductor companies—publicly investing in Shenzhen seems to defy the current US technology-denial strategy against China (ST, accessed January 17). But it is indicative of China’s use of the GBA initiative to realize its national strategy to establish itself as a leader in global innovation and technology while navigating US technological containment.

The GBA initiative, which became national policy under President Xi Jinping, encompasses a significant portion of Southern China, including major cities such as Shenzhen, Hong Kong, and Macau. [1] It aims to transform the region into a globally renowned hub for economic activity and technological innovation, leveraging Hong Kong’s international status to attract talent and investment.

How Russia Survives Western Sanctions

Yigal Chazan

Nearly two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, attempts by the US and its allies to squeeze Moscow economically have been found wanting. The effectiveness of Western sanctions and exports controls is being severely undermined by substantial sanctions evasion and Russia’s burgeoning economic ties with China and India. While trade restrictions have undoubtedly harmed the Russian economy, it remains resilient and seemingly continues to fuel the war in Ukraine.

As last year closed out, Moscow predicted annual economic growth of 2.8 per cent, following contraction in 2022 when the sanctions noose was tightened considerably following the invasion of Ukraine. A surge in defense spending and high oil prices have helped to buoy the economy, and Russian private companies have apparently adapted well to the new economic realities. At the same time, the country has not seen the wholesale Western business exodus that appeared in the cards at the start of the conflict. Many companies chose to remain, some curtailing operations and investments. Yet, they still contribute billions to Kremlin coffers.

Nonetheless, underlying conditions are not great. High interest rates and inflation, a weak rouble, and big labor shortages do not augur well, especially when much of the country’s still substantial foreign reserves have been frozen by the West and most Russian banking system assets are sanctioned. True, the Russian economy is weaker than it was prior to the invasion but, to the frustration of Western policymakers, sanctions evasion and Moscow’s pivot East have helped to keep the country afloat. A US study showed that by the autumn of 2022, Russian imports had rebounded from a steep fall in the aftermath of the invasion.

Soon after the tightening of Western sanctions, as Russian forces advanced deep into Ukraine, Moscow looked to circumvent the restrictions. It built up a shadow tanker fleet to get round an oil price cap and looked to grow parallel imports – goods exported to unsanctioned countries, then re-exported to Russia without manufactures’ knowledge or consent. Moscow formalized the practice in May 2022, listing goods, ranging from auto parts to consumer goods, that could be imported in this way. The West, in particular the US, has sought to put pressure on exporting countries – notably Turkey, Kazakhstan and the UAE. Yet, it is unclear how effective this has been. Moscow doesn’t seem too troubled. It claimed in December that parallel imports amounted to over 70 billion dollars’ worth of goods over the last two year.

How the U.S. Is Derailing China’s Influence in Africa

Michael M. Phillips

LUENA, Angola—In 2012, a Chinese state company finished building the train station in this central Angolan town and installed an illuminated computer-controlled board to show departure times and ticket prices. Then the contractors decamped for China and, according to Angolan railway employees, neglected to tell anyone the computer password.

So for more than a decade, the departure board has stubbornly displayed 2012 train times and 2012 ticket prices.

“Over the years we’ve told clients that the information is wrong, so they’ve stopped paying attention to it,” said ticket-collector Cahilo Yilinga during the 200-mile run from Luena to Luau, a border town where the tracks cross a trestle bridge and disappear into long grass in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

China’s missteps along the vital rail corridor have helped create a surprise opening for the U.S., which finds itself suddenly challenging Beijing’s commercial dominance in the unlikeliest of places: Angola, a southern African country once solidly embedded in the Communist bloc and the continent’s largest recipient of Chinese infrastructure loans.

In 2022, Angola rejected a Chinese bid to re-rehabilitate and operate freight service along the Lobito Corridor line. Instead it granted a 30-year concession to a U.S.-backed European consortium that promises to carry millions of tons of green-energy minerals such as copper, manganese and cobalt from Congo to Angola’s Atlantic coast.

The U.S. government is planning to lend $250 million and its prestige to make sure the $1.7 billion Lobito Corridor project succeeds.

“They’ve done a salvo over the bows of the Chinese,” said Alex Vines, director of the Africa program at Chatham House, a British think tank.

Houthis Avoid Targeting Chinese and Russian Ships in Red Sea

Overt Operator

In an interview with Russian outlet Izvestia, Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a senior official of the Iranian-backed Houthi terrorist group, stated that ships from China and Russia will have safe passage through the Red Sea. He emphasized that this assurance only applies to vessels that are not connected with Israel, as reported by Agence France-Presse on Friday, January 19.

The Houthis, who have expressed solidarity with Palestinians amidst Israel's conflict with Hamas militants in Gaza, have carried out over 30 attacks in the Red Sea. These attacks have prompted shipping firms to avoid the affected shipping lanes, leading major companies to reroute their vessels on longer and more expensive routes around Africa. The Red Sea route is a crucial link for maritime traffic, accounting for approximately 15 percent of global shipping.

The most recent incident involved the launch of two anti-ship ballistic missiles by Houthi rebels towards a U.S.-owned ship in the Gulf of Aden, according to a statement by the U.S. Central Command on Thursday. Fortunately, the missiles landed in the water near the ship, named the M/V Chem Ranger, causing no injuries or damage. The tanker ship, flagged under the Marshall Islands and operated by a Greek company, was the target of the attack.

Why US strikes won’t stop the Houthis


As the Houthi militant group in Yemen ramps up its attacks on vessels in the Red Sea – ostensibly in response to what it calls Israel’s “genocidal crimes” in Gaza – the US and UK have responded with multiple military strikes in the last week. The US has also re-listed the group as a global terrorist organization.

The hope is these strikes will pressure the Iran-aligned Houthis to back down. It won’t, however. Short of a complete halt to Israel’s war in Gaza and a 180-degree shift in Western support for Israel’s approach, there is little that will dissuade the Houthis to change course in the foreseeable future.

There are three main reasons for this, none of which are principally about Iran’s regional strategy.

The first, and most obvious, reason is the Houthi movement, whose political wing is known as Ansar Allah, has already withstood years of airstrikes in its war with a Saudi-led and Western-backed coalition from 2015–2022.

Prior to this, the Houthis fought six wars against the central Yemeni government from 2004–2010. Guerrilla warfare is not new to them, and harassing ships off their coast does not require sophisticated weapons.

The blockade that accompanied much of the recent war (which is currently in a shaky truce) also helped the Houthis to finetune their weapon smuggling networks from Iran, as well as their own domestic weapon production.

As a result, airstrikes alone are unlikely to deliver a knockout blow to their military capacity and will almost certainly increase their appetite for a fight.

That is because they can – for the first time – more strongly frame their actions in the context of fighting against the US and Israel, per their slogan: “God is Great, death to America, death to Israel, a curse upon the Jews, victory to Islam.”


Murtaza Hussain

ISRAEL’S UNRELENTING ASSAULT on the Gaza Strip is beginning to tip the Middle East into a wider regional conflict. In the past week, the Houthis in Yemen emerged as an unlikely power player, successfully disrupting global shipping in the name of Palestinians in Gaza and goading the U.S. into launching a series of airstrikes in a failed bid at deterrence.

Over the past three months, the Houthis have attacked merchant ships passing through the Red Sea, an unexpected military intervention aimed at forcing Israel to end its U.S.-backed offensive in Gaza and allow aid into the besieged territory.

The Houthis’ squeeze on the critical trade route is already impacting the global economy: Spooked shipping companies have diverted vessels toward more costly routesOpens in a new tab, with risk insurance premiums and global shipping prices rising. The effects of the attempted blockade could soon be seen in the costs of oil and consumer goods worldwide.

The U.S. Navy, considered the security guarantor of maritime shipping routes across much of the world, was eventually pressured into action. Since last week, the U.S. launched five airstrikes on Houthi positions. The Houthis doubled down. They fired at passing ships with several more rounds of missiles and drones. The targets included U.S. commercial vessels and a U.S. Navy warship — signs that the rebels were only emboldened by the U.S. volley.

During a White House press briefing on Thursday, President Joe Biden acknowledged that the airstrikes were not stopping the Houthis but said the U.S. would keep targeting the group anyway.

With its decision to attack, the Biden administration appears to have opened itself up to a geopolitical checkmate by the Houthis. Escalating the strikes against the rebels will likely bring more shipping disruptions — potentially counterproductive to mitigating economic consequences — and risk a full-blown regional war. Negotiating or submitting to the demands of a nonstate militia group from one of the poorest countries in the world would be seen by many as a U.S. surrender and would boost the Houthis’ newfound popularity.

As U.S. and Militias Engage, White House Worries About a Tipping Point

Peter Baker

Another day, another barrage of rockets and another spark that American officials fear could set off a wildfire of violence across the Middle East.

The latest attack on American troops in the region over the weekend resulted in no deaths, but President Biden and his advisers worry that it is only a matter of time. Whenever a report of a strike arrives at the White House Situation Room, officials wonder whether this will be the one that forces a more decisive retaliation and results in a broader regional war.

The assault on American troops based at Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq on Saturday night was by one measure the most successful believed to be carried out by a militia sponsored by Iran since the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Two out of an estimated 17 rockets and short-range ballistic missiles fired at the base made it through air defense systems. An unspecified number of American military personnel were reported injured, but none were said to have been killed.

But it was just the latest in a regular string of relatively low-level assaults that have become a way of life in the Middle East for U.S. forces since the Hamas attack. As of Thursday, Iranian-backed militias had already carried out 140 attacks on American troops in Iraq and Syria, with nearly 70 U.S. personnel wounded, some of them suffering traumatic brain injuries. All but a few have been able to return to duty in short order, according to the Pentagon.

American forces have at times mounted retaliations, but in limited fashion to avoid instigating a full-fledged conflict.

Biden administration officials have regularly debated the proper strategy. They do not want to let such attacks go without a response, but on the other hand do not want to go so far that the conflict would escalate into a full-fledged war, particularly by striking Iran directly. They privately say they may have no choice, however, if American troops are killed. That is a red line that has not been crossed, but if the Iranian-backed militias ever have a day of better aim or better luck, it easily could be.

Widening Mideast CrisisU.S. Official Heads to Middle East for Talks on Hostages

Peter Baker, Adam Rasgon, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Eric Schmitt and Alissa J. Rubin, Victoria Kim, Vivian YeeMatina Stevis-Gridneff and Adam Rasgon

President Biden’s Middle East coordinator, Brett McGurk, will meet with Egyptian and Qatari leaders in hopes of making progress toward freeing captives held by Hamas.

Here’s what we’re covering:

Family members of hostages and their supporters protested in Tel Aviv on Saturday.

A senior Biden administration official is heading back to the Middle East on Sunday in hopes of making progress toward an agreement that would result in the release of more hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a pause in Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip, two American officials said.

President Biden’s Middle East coordinator at the White House, Brett McGurk, will travel to Cairo to meet with Gen. Abbas Kamel, the chief of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service and widely considered the nation’s second most powerful official, according to the American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of diplomatic talks. Mr. McGurk will later head to Doha, Qatar, to meet with the country’s prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani.

Egyptian and Qatari leaders have been important players in hostage talks and helped broker a cease-fire in November during which Hamas released more than 100 people from captivity.

Iran Is Flexing Its Muscles—and Hurting Itself

Sina Toossi

In a span of two days, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) unleashed a barrage of missiles and drones on targets across three neighboring countries: Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan.

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Will Ukraine Be Able to Fend Off a Russian Spring Offensive?


Analysis suggests that Russia may be in the early stages of a new offensive in Ukraine. On the ground, Moscow’s forces have intensified their attacks along major sections of the frontline. They have made small territorial gains over the past few weeks, taking new territory or reclaiming territory liberated by Kyiv’s forces during last year’s Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops have switched to “active defense,” according to the commander of the country’s ground forces, Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi.

Does this imply that Ukrainian efforts to resist and ultimately defeat Russia’s aggression are in serious peril should the offensive begin? This will depend on an assessment of both Russian and Ukrainian capabilities and political will. Regarding the latter, neither side shows any signs of backing down.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was unequivocal at a forum with local government leaders on January 16 that he was unwilling to enter into any negotiations with Ukraine. Instead, he predicted “a very serious blow” to Ukrainian statehood as a result of the war.

Putin’s Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, left little doubt about his determination to continue fighting for the complete liberation of all of Ukraine’s currently Russian-occupied territories.

Men and Materiel

But do Russia and Ukraine have the military capabilities to match their leaders’ rhetoric? This is an issue of both equipment and manpower. As is obvious from the repeated and increasingly successful Russian airstrikes against a wide range of targets across Ukraine, including Kyiv and the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, Russia has the arms and ammunition to continue its air campaign while Ukraine still lacks adequate air defense capabilities.

Davos Dispatch: The case for optimism amid global upheaval

Frederick Kempe

DAVOS—Amid the geopolitical gloom that pervaded the World Economic Forum here this past week—with intractable wars in Europe and the Mideast and unsettling tensions in Asia—International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva made a case for optimism, quoting the legendary economist John Maynard Keynes.

Georgieva reminded a select group of global political, business, and civil society leaders of Keynes’ words from a 1930 essay, written against the backdrop of the Great Depression, the rise of communism and fascism, and national and international despair (the meeting was off-record, but Georgieva approved this to be shared publicly):

“I predict that both of the two opposed errors of pessimism which now make so much noise in the world will be proved wrong over time: the pessimism of the revolutionaries who think that things are so bad that nothing can save us but violent change, and the pessimism of the reactionaries who consider the balance of our economic and social life so precarious that we must risk no experiments.”

For argument’s sake, let’s consider as today’s “revolutionary pessimists” Russian President Vladimir Putin, his enablers in Beijing, and his authoritarian brethren in North Korea and Iran—plus Tehran’s Mideast proxies Hamas, the Houthis, and Hezbollah. Pursuing violent change is their calling card.

Standing opposite them are countries Keynes might classify as the risk-averse “pessimistic reactionaries”: the United States, Europe, and other global forces for good. Fearing Russian escalation, they haven’t been sufficiently bold in providing Ukraine the scale or nature of military support it needs to win. In the Mideast and beyond, they have thus failed to develop concepts or marshal coalitions equal to what European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called “the greatest risk to global order” since World War II.

Save a seat for the Global South


Countries in the Global South are becoming increasingly important actors on the global stage.

While the term “Global South” is vague — and some have argued for abolishing it — it is used here to mean the larger and richer developing nations. The demands made by the Global South have created political and economic shifts that the West will need to adapt to.

These countries have become more powerful due to their economic growth. With respect to GDP in purchasing power parity-adjusted terms, India is the third largest economy globally, while Indonesia is seventh and Brazil is eighth.

Meanwhile, the G7’s share of global GDP has fallen from 65%-44% over the last 50 years due in part to China’s rise but also to the rise of the Global South.

The Global South is using its power by trying to exert agency in international economic and political affairs. One manifestation is the call for “active non-alignment” between the United States and China.

This is not the non-alignment of the 20th century, but one that shifts alliances depending on the issue at stake. A recent example is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While most developing countries disapprove of the invasion, they are unwilling to participate in sanctions despite the West’s urging. Another example is Southeast Asia balancing close economic relations with China against security relations with the United States.

Yet there are obstacles to the Global South assuming a substantially greater international political role. The interests of individual countries are quite heterogeneous, varying by geographical location, size, natural resource endowment and development level.

Hijacking truth: How open source intel in Gaza fell prey to groupthink

Lorraine Mallinder

Ten days into Israel’s brutal war on Gaza, a few seconds of footage showing a projectile exploding in the night sky became the centre of a furious debate.

Israel claimed that the clip, captured by an Al Jazeera livestream at 18:59:50 on October 17, showed that a misfired Palestinian rocket was responsible for the deadly blast at al-Ahli Arab Hospital that occurred five seconds later.

Investigations by Al Jazeera and the New York Times showed that the projectile in question had nothing to do with the hospital tragedy. But, by then, the theory that the blast had been caused by a Palestinian rocket had taken on a life of its own, endorsed by open source intelligence (OSINT) researchers and commentators lured by groupthink and confirmation bias.

This matters. Before the conflict, OSINT journalism was already well established, bringing new rigour to reporting of events in places like Cameroon, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen. Organisations like Bellingcat and Forensic Architecture won plaudits for restoring the primacy of fact over opinion, helping to expose war crimes.

In Gaza, the trend has peaked. International media, locked out of the conflict zone, have been increasingly dependent on open source materials, including footage from Al Jazeera, the only global media organisation with a consistent presence in Gaza throughout the war.

There have been notable OSINT breakthroughs – including by Al Jazeera’s fact-checking unit Sanad, which disproved Israel’s claim of a Hamas tunnel under al-Shifa Hospital, and showed how Palestinians fleeing northern Gaza on Israel’s instructions were killed while on the very “safe routes” that Israeli forces had told them to take.

But, as the al-Ahli hospital episode illustrates, the war has also presented new challenges for the rapidly expanding field. To understand how OSINT practitioners have stumbled in this war, Al Jazeera spoke to Idrees Ahmad, associate editor at New Lines Magazine and director of journalism at the University of Essex.

Ukraine Eliminated Russia's Best Drone Operator, Top Pilot in One Week

Ellie Cook

Russia lost one of its top drone operators and one of its premier pilots in the space of a few days, according to new reports.

The pilot of the ill-fated Ilyushin Il-22M airborne command post that Ukraine said it had shot down over the Sea of Azov earlier this month was killed in the incident. This is according to independent Russian outlet Astra, citing a social-media statement from a Russian test pilot. Newsweek has yet to verify this independently and has reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry for comment via email.

On January 15, Ukraine's top soldier, General Valery Zaluzhny, said Kyiv's forces had destroyed a Russian A-50 spy plane and an Il-22 air control plane over the Sea of Azov, far behind the front lines in Russian-controlled territory.

Kyiv posted an image showing the two aircraft in the style it typically announces Russian losses, saying the planes came down in the evening local time on January 14. Colonel Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesperson for Ukraine's air force, then shared an image appearing to show the Il-22 with visible damage to its tail.

The reported death of the pilot is another blow to Moscow's air force, which Western analysts say is struggling to maintain high levels of training and rigorous safety procedures.

A Ukrainian FPV (first-person view) drone operator trains not far from the front line in Donetsk region on November 16, 2023. Russian military Telegram channels reported that one of Russia's most well-known drone pilots, who operated Russian kamikaze FPV drones, has been killed in southern Ukraine.

Russian State TV Predicts World War 3

Isabel van Brugen

A top Kremlin propagandist predicted that World War III will break out in the Middle East, stemming from the Israel-Hamas war, and that this will distract the world from Russia's ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of the Russian state-controlled media organization Russia Today (RT), made the comment during a state TV broadcast. The Daily Beast's Julia Davis shared an excerpt of her remarks on state TV channel Russia-1, where she spoke alongside host Vladimir Solovyov, one of the most prominent figures in Kremlin-backed media.

"Margarita Simonyan predicted that WWIII would soon start in the Middle East and expressed her hope that it would distract the West from Russia," Davis wrote on Sunday in a post on X, formerly Twitter, alongside the video. "Meanwhile in Russia: Vladimir Solovyov claimed that 'Satanic NATO' started the war when it attacked Russia."

Margarita Simonyan, the head of state-run television network RT, attends a ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow on December 20, 2022. She predicted that World War III will break out in the Middle East.

Should America have trillionaires?

Darrell M. West

When I wrote my “Billionaires” book a decade ago, I never envisioned the possibility of trillionaires. Even though income and wealth inequalities have increased over the past few decades, I did not think that level of extraordinary wealth ever would take place. We still are quite a ways away from that reality, but with Elon Musk having around $251 billion at age 52, we should consider trillionaires as a realistic option.1 Before we reach the time of having actual trillionaires, we should discuss whether an individual with that level of extraordinary financial resources would be a good thing for U.S. society.

The growth of income inequality

Data compiled by Thomas Blanchet, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California at Berkeley show the recent increase in income inequality in America. In 1976, the top 10% of income earners in the United States earned 34% of the country’s total income, but that percentage rose to 48% by 2023, making the current period one of the highest points of inequality of the last century. The high wealth concentration has made it difficult to improve economic opportunity across the country and has been particularly harmful for underrepresented racial and ethnic groups that have faced major challenges in building wealth.

Recent changes in tax policy have improved the plight of the wealthy compared to the middle class and lower-income Americans. Marginal income tax rates have dropped, capital gains taxes have become more advantageous for people with money, tax avoidance is said to have increased among the wealthy, and estate tax reforms have made it easier for people to transfer wealth to their relatives. Unless these policies change, income inequality will continue to grow and make trillionaires (or those with hundreds of billions of dollars) a distinct scenario.

The ease of wealth accumulation when you already have a lot of money

To illustrate the issue, Musk’s wealth only has to grow around six percent a year over the next two decades for him to reach a trillion dollars in total assets. Indeed, that appreciation is quite achievable since the annual Standard & Poor’s 500 growth rate since 1929 averages 7.4%.

In a lecture at Brown University many years ago, media mogul Ted Turner joked that the first million is the hardest, but things get easier after that. He pointed out how social and political networking are vital for wealth accumulation because they enable money-making opportunities and personal access to policymakers that advantage the wealthy.

The Quiet Transformation of Occupied Ukraine

David Lewis

While the West continues to squabble over providing further aid to Ukraine, Russia has been quietly consolidating its control over the territories it occupies in southeastern Ukraine. As the frontline stabilized in 2023, Russia remained in control of almost 18 percent of Ukrainian territory, including about 25,000 square miles of land seized since February 2022. All branches of the Russian government are involved in a costly and ambitious program to integrate these newly occupied territories into the Russian Federation—as Russia did with Crimea after it seized the peninsula in 2014. The Kremlin hopes to create facts on the ground that will be difficult for Ukraine to challenge, either by military force or in future peace talks.

Russia ceremonially annexed four Ukrainian oblasts—Donetsk and Luhansk in the east of the country and Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the south—in September 2022, although its military is not in full control of any of these provinces. Since then, Russian officials have transformed the governance of the areas under its control, holding sham elections last September and appointing pro-Moscow officials at every level. An army of technocrats is overseeing the complete absorption of these territories, aligning their laws, regulations, and tax and banking systems with Russia, and getting rid of any traces of institutional ties to Ukraine. A nominal transition period runs until January 2026, by which time the Kremlin expects Russian legal, judicial, and political systems to be fully in force in what it calls the “New Regions.”

This administrative occupation is less well known than the violence and human rights abuses that accompany it. But Russia’s war in Ukraine extends well beyond its ruthless missile and drone strikes, its legions of soldiers, and its bellicose rhetoric. In occupied Ukraine, bureaucrats have been effective at enforcing the compliance of locals. Even as some people resist, authorities impose Russian education, cultural indoctrination, and economic and legal systems to rope these lands ever more tightly to Russia. The longer Russia occupies these territories, the harder it will be for Ukraine to get them back.



  1. This brief explores the advantages and drawbacks of various U.S. policy responses to attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea by Ansar Allah—the Shia Islamist group commonly known as the Houthi Movement. The Houthis emerged from the Yemen Civil War as the de facto government in northern Yemen and now control roughly 70 percent of the country’s population. The group was considered a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the U.S. government until it was delisted in 2021 over humanitarian concerns about the impact of the designation.1
  2. Since mid-November 2023, the Houthis have conducted more than 30 attacks on international vessels transiting the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.2 To date, the group’s drone and missile volleys have not caused casualties or sunk any ships. The overwhelming majority of Houthi attacks have either missed their targets or been defeated.3 The group’s few successful hits have resulted in minimal damage with ships remaining seaworthy.4
  3. On January 11, 2024, the United States and United Kingdom conducted initial air and naval strikes against more than 60 Houthi targets: air defense radars, runways, coastal C2 nodes, munitions production facilities, and launch sites.5 More than 100 precision- guided munitions—including Tomahawk cruise missiles (TLAM) and high-speed anti-radiation missiles (HARM)—were launched from strike aircraft, surface combatants, and submarines. Since then, the U.S. launched continued “follow-on” strikes inside Yemen.6
  4. There is no credible military option that will guarantee a cessation of Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea. Strikes alone are unlikely to alter Houthi strategic intentions; decrease the frequency of attacks on cargo shipping; or significantly degrade Houthi one-way attack (OWA) drone, anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM), and anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) capabilities.
  5. A more extensive air campaign against the Houthis—as the Saudis attempted unsuccessfully for nearly a decade—is unlikely to succeed; would jeopardize ongoing peace talks in Yemen; would bolster domestic support for the group; and could trigger even larger Houthi and Iranian reprisals against commercial shipping, U.S. military assets in the Red Sea, or U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf or Horn of Africa.7
  6. In weighing further responses, the U.S. should consider all aspects of national power, including diplomacy, and how to pressure other major powers to assume a more commensurate role in securing major sea lines of communication (SLOC).

The Houthis have repeatedly linked their motive for attacks in the Red Sea to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.8 Over the course of the war, Houthi attacks have ebbed and flowed in response to events in Gaza. Houthi attacks decreased during the brief truce in November, only to resume when it ended.9 As of mid-December, the group’s official spokesman reiterated that attacks on vessels transiting the Bab el-Mandeb Strait toward the Suez Canal will continue until “Gaza [receives] the food and medicine it needs.”

After the first U.S.-led air and naval strikes on January 11, senior Houthi officials stated that Washington “will pay the price for what it has done,” and reaffirmed “the goal [of the Houthis] is to stop the crimes of genocide in Gaza.”10 Days later, the Houthis launched an anti-ship cruise missile in the direction of the USS Laboon (DDG 58) which was ultimately shot down, and lightly damaged the U.S.- owned Marshall Islands-flagged dry bulk freighter Gibraltar Eagle with another missile.11

How the Drone War in Ukraine Is Transforming Conflict

Kristen D. Thompson

From drones that fit in the palm of the hand to drones weighing more than 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms), Ukraine has built and acquired a diverse fleet of remotely piloted aircraft to complicate and frustrate Russia’s advances. The constantly evolving scope of this technology and its ever-growing use signal not only the potential for drones to level the playing field in the Russia-Ukraine war, but also their ability to influence how future conflicts are waged.

Why is the war in Ukraine a hotbed for drones?

As the war enters its third calendar year, neither side is close to achieving air superiority. Most military analysts expected that Russia, with its superior air power, would quickly seize control of contested airspace early in the conflict. But surprisingly, Ukraine’s defenses, later bolstered by Western systems, were able to repel and deter Russian aircraft from making near-border and cross-border strikes. The inability of either side to break through the other’s integrated air defenses has forced them to increase the agility of their fielded forces and rely more heavily on standoff weapons, including long-range artillery, missiles, and drones. These conditions have led to the development of new drone technologies that could help Ukraine level the playing field in the air battle and possibly turn the tide of the war in its favor.

What technologies are in use?

Ukraine’s drone deployment has evolved with the changing battlefield. During earlier stages of the war—when Russia’s air defense and electronic-warfare capabilities were less pronounced—Ukraine relied on larger drones such as the Turkish TB2 Bayraktar to great effect. The TB2’s ability to carry multiple air-to-ground munitions and loiter for long periods allowed Ukrainian forces to penetrate Russian air defenses and strike heavy targets. However, as time progressed and Russia took greater control of the skies, it was able to detect and shoot down these larger models more easily. The TB2 may maintain some relevance—its sensor suite and considerable range still enable Ukrainian operators to collect intelligence—but Ukraine has nonetheless shifted to using smaller drone technology to adapt to Russian advances.

The Navy relieved 16 commanding officers in 2023


Once again, the Navy demonstrated in 2023 that it will not hesitate to fire commanding officers when it feels they have not lived up to the service’s standards.

In 2023, the Navy relieved a total of 16 commanding officers of command: 14 were fired “due to a loss of confidence” in their ability to command, and two were relieved for medical issues unrelated to their performance, according to the Navy, which did not release the two officers’ names due to privacy concerns.

Of the 14 commanding officers who were fired: Eight were in charge of ships, five were in shore billets, and one led a squadron of Navy E/A-18G Growlers.

In addition to those commanding officers, the destroyer USS John Finn’s executive officer was also relieved of his position last year.

That may sound like an awful lot of senior leaders getting sacked in just one year, but it’s par for the course for the Navy, which holds commanding officers rigidly accountable for their performance as well as the conduct of the sailors and Marines whom they lead.

“Navy commanding officers are held to high standards of personal and professional conduct,” a Navy spokesperson told Task & Purpose. “They are expected to uphold the highest standards of responsibility, reliability, and leadership, and the Navy holds them accountable when they fall short of those standards. Adherence to our Navy core values of honor, courage, and commitment by our Sailors and Marines is central to the Department of the Navy’s ability to meet its global mission.”

For the most part, the Navy does not publicly release the exact reason why commanding officers are fired, preferring just to say they were relieved due to a “loss of confidence” in their ability to command.

Jaw-Dropping New Hack Turns Your Phone Screen Into Covert Spy Camera

Davey Winder

In a new study published in Science Advances, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have revealed how hackers can turn your smartphone into a spying device akin to the TV screens featured in Orwell’s 1984.

The paper, Imaging privacy threats from an ambient light sensor, reveals how seemingly harmless ambient light sensors, used in most smartphones to auto-adjust screen brightness, are capable of covertly capturing user interactions thanks to a newly developed computational imaging algorithm.

How Smartphone Screens, Not Cameras, Can Spy On Users

I have written plenty of articles covering how seemingly innocuous items can be used to spy on users and create a security threat that one might not ordinarily imagine. Forget the more obvious targets for such stories as smart speakers, and think more about light bulbs and vacuum cleaners, both of which have been subject to research regarding covert surveillance techniques.

More than a hint of 1984 shines through the research by Yang Liu, Gregory W. Wornell, William T. Freeman and Fredo Durand. Instead of Big Brother keeping tabs on citizens through enormous TV screens everywhere, the researchers talk of how hackers could covertly capture user gestures through the small screens we carry everywhere: smartphones.

More precisely, the researchers focus on the ambient light sensors that enable our smartphones to adjust screen brightness to match our environment. Apps can use ambient light sensors without the need to ask permission from the user. The lack of permission control is not exactly surprising, given that such sensors have not been considered a privacy or security risk. Until now.