First Thing: ‘homophobic and antisemitic’ abuse and the Hunter Biden story

<span>Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Good morning.

A former Twitter executive testified on Wednesday that he had been forced to leave and sell his home after a campaign of “homophobic and antisemitic” harassment over the company’s handling of a New York Post story about Hunter Biden.

Yoel Roth, the former head of safety at Twitter, made the comments while speaking to a committee in the newly Republican-controlled House of Representatives, at a hearing convened to scrutinize the social network’s handling of a 2020 report on Joe Biden’s son.

The Twitter Files, shared by Twitter’s new chief executive, Elon Musk, in December 2022, was a series of internal records showing how the company initially stopped the story – which the Post said was based on a copy of Hunter Biden’s laptop hard drive from Donald Trump’s then personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani – from being shared, citing the company’s internal policy on “hacked materials” and concerns from Biden’s campaign, among other factors.

  • But the disclosures sparked backlash against Roth. He said the release of the files by Musk led to a campaign of harassment against him and other employees. “And following the Daily Mail’s decision to publish where I live. I had to leave my home and sell it.”

Shell directors personally sued over ‘flawed’ climate strategy

The directors of the oil company Shell are being personally sued over their climate strategy, which the claimants say is inadequate to meet climate targets and puts the company at risk as the world switches to clean energy.

Environmental lawyers at ClientEarth have filed the lawsuit against the 11 directors at the high court in England. It is the first case in the world seeking to hold corporate directors liable for failing to properly prepare their company for the net zero transition, ClientEarth said.

ClientEarth, which has a token shareholding in Shell, is suing under the UK Companies Act, and is supported by a group of large pension funds and other institutional investors. It argues a global transition to low-carbon energy is inevitable as world governments act to end the climate crisis and that Shell’s failure to move fast enough threatens the company’s success and would waste its investors’ money on unneeded fossil fuel projects.

  • The spoils of war. Shell recently announced a record annual profit of $40bn, driven by the high energy prices resulting from Russia’s war in Ukraine, “but the writing is on the wall for fossil fuels long term”.

Downed balloon one of a ‘fleet’ of Chinese surveillance devices, US alleges

China has a “fleet” of surveillance balloons of different shapes and sizes, which it has deployed over five continents, US officials have claimed.

“We’re not alone in this,” said the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken. “We’ve already shared information with dozens of countries around the world both from Washington and through our embassies. We’re doing so because the United States was not the only target of this broader programme which has violated the sovereignty of countries across five continents.”

Today, Japan said cases of suspected balloons flying over Japan had been confirmed, including in the waters off the south-western region of Kyushu in 2022. Tokyo was exchanging data with the US, said Hirokazu Matsuno, a government spokesperson.

  • Biden publicly relaxed over impact on US-China relations. The US was “not looking for conflict” with China despite tensions over the balloon. Asked if the incident had caused major damage to the relationship with Beijing, the president said: “No.”

In other news …

  • The Brazilian government has launched its campaign to drive tens of thousands of illegal miners from the country’s largest Indigenous reserve, with special-forces environmental operatives destroying aircraft and seizing weapons and boats.

  • Spain’s supreme court has ruled that the Socialist-led government was wrong to exclude bullfights from a list of events available to young people through a free culture voucher scheme.

  • The Australian federal government has committed to removing Chinese-made security cameras at government buildings across the county, admitting there is a potential security problem that needs to be addressed.

  • Political and military figures in Germany have suggested a return of compulsory military service after the new defence minister described the 2011 phase-out of general conscription as a “mistake”.

Don’t miss this: art class in one of Mexico’s most notorious prisons

Why not teach inmates to paint and sculpt? This is the question which presented itself to artist César Aréchiga, from Guadalajara, Mexico, while he was working on a mural at the maximum security Puente Grande prison. There are almost no art programmes for Mexican prisoners, writes Sam Edwards, and few people are brave enough to teach inside the prisons.

But Aréchiga talked the prison authorities into it. The prisoners had doubts but despite their misgivings, a number of inmates agreed, eager to do anything that got them out of their underground cells. Soon enough, it was believed, others in the prison wanted to paint enough that they were willing to trade cigarettes for art supplies.

… or this: is the future of movie kissing in jeopardy?

It was recently revealed that, shockingly, an on-screen, marriage-crowning kiss between Jonah Hill and Lauren London in the new film You People was a CGI construction. “I’m there, I’m watching the wedding, and I see them go in for the kiss, and their faces stop like this far,” the comedian Andrew Schulz said recently. “And I’m like: ‘I wonder how they’re gonna play that in the movie. Oh, they’re probably just gonna cut right there.’ But in the movie, you could see their faces come close, and then you could see their faces morph a little bit into a fake kiss.”

If this is true, it does feel a bit like cheating, writes Stuart Heritage. You People is a romcom, after all, and people do kiss each other in romcoms. Depriving us (the viewers) of that moment (a climactic romantic gesture) in favour of something much worse (mashing two clumps of pixels together with a computer) robs the moment of intimacy.

Climate check: how US climate funding could make water pollution worse

The $369bn Inflation Reduction Act was applauded by a chorus of US organizations and activists enthusiastic about the generous funding earmarked for projects designed to mitigate the climate crisis. But concerns are growing that several provisions of the new law will actually worsen a growing environmental disaster in the nation’s heartland by increasing the tide of farm-related pollution washing into waterways and groundwater.

The sweeping new statute could slash greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade. But in its efforts to promote climate-friendly agriculture, it also promotes corn-fed ethanol refineries and manure-based energy production that could unintentionally supercharge fertilizer and fecal contamination.

Last Thing: OMG! Is swearing still taboo?

If it were the 14th century, your name was Robert Clevecunt and you lived on Pissing Alley, you wouldn’t have hesitated to tell anyone your name or address. Such words were common enough to be unremarkable. It is easily offended 21st-century humans who would change our name by deed poll and lobby the council to change its road signs.

However, we may be becoming more relaxed about swearwords, writes Emine Saner. It was reported last week that an employment judge, presiding over a case of unfair dismissal and discrimination, had decided that using the phrase “I don’t give a fuck” in a “tense” meeting was not necessarily significant. “The words allegedly used in our view are fairly commonplace and do not carry the shock value they might have done in another time,” said the judge.

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