SPOTLIGHT: UK IRAQ WAR REPORT BASHES BLAIR

After seven long years, the Chilcot report on Britain's role in the Iraq war was released this morning. As anticipated, the report, which was initially supposed to be concluded in 2011, is very critical of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and of how he led Britain into the war.


The team led by Sir John Chilcot, a longtime British civil servant, concluded that the UK "chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted," and not as a "last resort." Speaking about the threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, Chilcot said that the conditions in the lead up to the March 2003 invasion "were presented with a certainty that was not justified," and added that the policy on Iraq was made "on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments."


But the report on Blair's role begs the Bush question: Why was the U.S. administration so intent on pursuing this particular war at that particular moment? The harshest critics talk about oil money and a president struggling with the shadow of his father's past. Some note that Sept. 11 attacks were still fresh in the American and Western consciousness. Others say Iraqi opposition figures played Washington for fools. Chilcot's conclusions, in any case, are worth further study.

  • The report contains 2.6 million words. That's three times more than the Holy Bible.
  • Sir John Chilcot said he hoped his report would make it impossible "in future to engage in a military or indeed a diplomatic endeavour on such a scale and of such gravity without really careful challenge analysis and assessment and collective political judgment being applied to it."
  • Some of the families of the 179 British soldiers killed want to see Tony Blair in court. "Because the consequences for the people they send is that some of them die doing the job they were told to do," a father told The Independent.
  • Writing in the Daily Mail before the report's publication, conservative commentator Peter Oborne warned that "if Chilcot fails to nail Blair's lies, it's final proof our democracy is broken."
  • The Daily Telegraph's chief foreign correspondent David Blair (not related to Tony) argues in a comprehensive piece that neither the former prime minister, nor indeed the West, are the only ones to be blamed for what happened in Iraq.
  • Follow the latest updates live on The Daily Telegraph's blog.


WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY



SYRIAN ARMY ANNOUNCES 72-HOUR CEASEFIRE

The Syrian army has unilaterally declared a three-day nationwide ceasefire starting today, to coincide with celebrations to mark the end of Ramadan. The announcement came hours after terror organization ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing against Kurds in northeastern Syria today that killed 16 people and wounded 40 more, according to AFP.


SEVERAL ATTACKS FOILED IN FRANCE, REPORT CLAIMS

Security forces in France have foiled more than 10 terrorist attacks over the past year, an intelligence report seen by journalists at Le Figaro reveals. Some of these planned attacks intended to target French officials, shopping malls and even a nuclear power plant. Four women, including three minors, were arrested in March for planning to attack a concert hall, cafés and a mall in Paris. Yesterday, a parliamentary investigation concluded that France needed a U.S.-inspired counter-terrorism agency.


— ON THIS DAY

Today's 57-second shot of History is worth at least one U.S. dollar and 50 Cent … Check it out here!


TRUMP ATTACKS CLINTON AFTER FBI RECOMMENDATION

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump accused his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton of "bribing" Attorney General Loretta Lynch with the promise to retain her job under her administration in exchange for not pursuing charges for Clinton's use of a private email server while Secretary of State, ABC reports. FBI Director James Comey yesterday said that Clinton had been "extremely careless" but recommended that no charges be filed against the Democratic nominee.


30 DAYS

The Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will kick off in just 30 days. But even though the city is mostly ready for the big day, Folha de S. Paulo reports that many promises have been abandoned along the way, especially concerning the cleanup of the Guanabara bay. Close to $2 billion were spent on infrastructures, about 50% more than initially planned.


EXTRA!

France's satirical weekly Le Canard enchaîné is celebrating its century-long existence. Read more about this unique newspaper's story here on Le Blog.


PISTORIUS SENTENCED FOR MURDER

Former South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to 6 years in prison for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day in 2013. The prescribed minimum sentence for murder is 15 years, but High Court judge Thokozile Masipa, who had already sentenced him to 5 years for "culpable homicide," said that "public opinion may be loud and persistent, but it can play no role in the decision of this court." More from the Mail & Guardian.


— WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Peace between Bogota and leftist FARC guerrillas could signal a new path well beyond the borders of Colombia. Still, as Chile's former president Ricardo Lagos writes in Buenos Aires daily Clarin, a post-Brexit Europe may be hard to reach. "A new diplomacy is emerging in our region, with myriad potential benefits. Look at Panama, which recently inaugurated its expanded canal. Just 30 years ago it was difficult to predict if or when it would control and administer the waterway. Now, the completion of an immense engineering project has made the little republic a crucial passage for global shipping. But globalization imposes its will not just on physical projects but also on the essence of human interaction and cooperation. Bridges must be built to ensure globalization has clear, commonly accepted rules to ensure everyone benefits from new technologies and shortened distances."

Read the full article, Colombian Peace, Some Good News On The Globalization Front.


MESSI SENTENCED FOR TAX FRAUD

Soccer star Lionel Messi, who plays for the Spanish club of FC Barcelona, and his father have been sentenced to 21 months in jail for defrauding the country of more than 4 million euros in taxes, La Vanguardia reports. Under Spanish law, people sentenced to fewer than two years don't actually have to serve time.


MY GRAND-PERE'S WORLD

Dated in Palmyra — Syria, 1996


— MORE STORIES, EXCLUSIVELY IN ENGLISH BY WORLDCRUNCH

COUCH VISITING

Thanks to Google Street View, you can now visit some of France's most stunning castles on the Loire river without leaving the comfort of your couch.

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January 15-16

  • Kazakhstan’s vicious circle of strongmen
  • COVID school chaos around the world
  • The truth behind why we lie to ourselves
  • … and much more!

🎲 BUT FIRST, A NEWS QUIZ!

What do you remember from the news this week?

1. What extreme measure did the Canadian province of Quebec take to encourage people to get vaccinated?

2. What caused a massive power outage in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires, leaving 700,000 in the dark for hours?

3. Norwegian soldiers were asked to return what piece of clothing at the end of their military service, so that future recruits can reuse them?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? ❤️ 🐖 🏥 👨 👍

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]

⬇️  STARTER

Djokovic, BoJo, Xi Jinping: rules & power in pandemic times

It was the phrase of the week down on Fleet Street, the historic HQ of the London press corps: “Bring your own booze” — BYOB — the instructions secretly sent around for the garden party held at 10 Downing Street in blatant violation of the first coronavirus lockdown, back in May 2020.The revelations of the event (the second such scandal to emerge in the past two months) has left British Prime Minister Boris Johnson barely holding on to his job after his admission to Parliament this week that he was there … and he was, well, quite sorry.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the former British empire, Australians are following how their public representatives will resolve the latest twist in pandemic policy that has captured the sporting world’s attention. Back and forth, like a tennis match. By the end of the week, Australia had reversed a Monday court decision, and canceled Novak Djokovic’s visa that would have allowed him to defend his Australian Open title. Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the visa was revoked on the grounds that the presence of the unvaccinated Serbian star risks fueling anti-vax sentiment on home soil.

This is high-stakes political gamesmanship indeed. The unprecedented health crisis, and associated restrictions to limit the spread of the virus, requires our elected leaders to react to ever-changing information and a chain of lose-lose public policy choices. COVID continues to make the hard job of being a public representative that much harder. The best, we can agree, are doing the best they can. The worst, well … are the worst.

The British public has rightly taken offense to the idea that the very people charged with making and enforcing COVID rules, were also busy breaking them. In the Djokovic saga, skeptics of vaccination mandates — in Australia, Serbia and beyond — will have new ammunition if the world’s top tennis player is kicked out of both tournament and country.

The good news is that in our eternally flawed democracies, the public eventually (though not always!) finds out what goes wrong, and ultimately has the final say of who’s in charge. The same can’t be said everywhere, including the country that has been cited for having the most successful methods for controlling the virus and limiting death tolls. That is, of course, China … where it all began.

Yet the authoritarian regime's “Zero COVID policy” comes with deeper questions that largely mirror the downside of authoritarianism in general: ruthless enforcement, quelled dissent and the sometimes blind following of the masses. It’s hard to imagine that Xi Jinping has had any “BYOB parties” in the past two years. But if he did, you can be sure we’d never know.

— Jeff Israely


🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• Makar Sankranti 2022: The Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti is celebrated on January 14 and 15 in almost all parts of India and Nepal in a myriad of cultural forms. The festival marks the end of winter, the beginning of a new harvest season, and has ancient religious significance.

• Parthenon fragment returns to Greece: A marble fragment from the Parthenon temple has been returned to Athens from a museum in Sicily. Authorities hope the move will rekindle efforts to force the British Museum to send back ancient sculptures from Greece's most renowned ancient landmark.

• 400 years of Molière: France honors its seminal playwright on the 400th anniversary of his birth. His influence, comparable to that of Shakespeare in the anglophone world, is such that French is often referred to as the "language of Molière."

• Vinyl surpassed CDs sales for the first time in 30 years: For the first time since 1991, annual sales of vinyl records surpassed those of CDs in the U.S, according to MRC Data and Billboard, with an estimated 41.72 million vinyl records sold in 2021 (up 51.4% from 27.55 million in 2020). This means that vinyl is now the leading format for all album purchases in the U.S.

• Kendrick Lamar teams up with South Park creators: Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar and his former longtime manager Dave Free are working with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to produce a live-action comedy for Paramount Pictures.

📚😷 COVID SCHOOL CHAOS AROUND THE WORLD


The decisions to close schools have been some of the toughest choices made during the pandemic, with students suffering both academically and socially from online learning or no education at all. It’s universally acknowledged that children most succeed with in-person classes, but the question still remains whether the health risk to students and those around them is worth it.

The Omicron wave has only caused this debate to heighten, with teacher strikes in France, rising drop-out rates in Argentina and shortages of staff in South Africa. But there are signs of hope: Uganda has finally reopened schools, ending the world’s longest shutdown, and some American parents have decided to offer more personalized education with homeschooling.

Read the full story: COVID School Chaos, Snapshots From 10 Countries Around The World

🇰🇿  KAZAKHSTAN’S VICIOUS CIRCLE OF STRONGMEN


The real transition of power in Kazakhstan was supposed to have taken place in 2019. Former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had ruled the former Soviet Republic with an iron first since its independence in 1991, finally stepped aside to allow his successor, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, to take power.

However, Nazarbayev retained enormous influence behind the scenes. The real transfer of power is in fact happening only now, following large-scale unrest and protests around the country. Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev promises a new way of doing things, but his methods are strikingly similar to his predecessor. For Russian daily Kommersant, Vladimir Soloviev and Alexander Konstantinov ponder why strongmen are able to keep power in Kazakhstan — but can't ensure its peaceful transfer.

Read the full story: Kazakhstan, When One Strongman Replaces Another

🐟 DENMARK, A SMALL FISH IN THE SALMON INDUSTRY’S BIG POND


Things are getting fishy over Nordic fishing regulations, as the Danish government has banned further growth in sea-based fish farming, claiming the country had reached the limit without endangering the environment. In Danish newspaper Politiken, marine biologist Johan Wedel Nielsen explained why Demark’s policy has given Norway a de facto monopoly on the lucrative salmon industry. This is particularly significant as changing diet habits are increasing demand for the nutritious pink fish, and Norway has taken advantage, accounting for about half of the world’s salmon production.

Nielsen argues that environmental concerns aren’t warranted, as fish have an inherently small impact on the environment. Denmark has the potential to establish 150 salmonid (a family of fish including salmon and trout) farms in the Baltic Sea, producing some 500,000 tons of trout per year with a value of 2.7 billion euros and employing tens of thousands. But the Danish government has so far given no indication of allowing any addition to Denmark’s 19 existing farms.

Read the full story: Norwegian Salmon v. Danish Trout: Lessons On Ecology And Economics

💡  BRIGHT IDEA

French start-up Airxôm has unveiled its unique respiratory device at Las Vegas’ CES tech event. Their plastic and silicon face mask is the first capable of destroying particles of all sizes and has inbuilt decontamination properties, hence protecting against pollution, bacteria and viruses including COVID-19. Oh and, as a bonus, it also prevents your glasses from fogging.

#️⃣ TRENDING


Boris Johnson memes flooded social networks this week, mocking the UK’s prime minister's excuse for attending what was quite obviously a party at the height of the pandemic: “I believed implicitly that this was a work event.” The quote was shared alongside a toe-curlingly bad 2013 video of BoJo dancing to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” which resurfaced on Instagram, while Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair puts its own spin on the lame explanation.

🤦‍♀️🛴🤦‍♂️ FACEPALM OF THE WEEK


A Belgian national was intercepted by the French police while riding his e-scooter on a highway in eastern France. The confused trottinette user said it was his first time riding in France, and that he’d failed to select the “no toll roads” option on his GPS.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

Climate, COVID, Costa Concordia: why humans are wired for denial

This past week marked 10 years since the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Tuscany. Writing in Italian daily La Stampa, Guido Maria Brera sees connections between the way passengers and crew reacted in the minutes and hours after the ship ran aground to other calamities we face that may seem to be moving more slowly:

In 2012, the same year the Costa Concordia cruise ship sank off of Giglio Island, David Quammen published his book Spillover, which predicted that somewhere in Asia a virus would be attacking the human respiratory tract on its way to becoming a global pandemic. And so it was. This terrible shipwreck, which the world watched in slow-motion exactly ten years ago on January 13, 2012, now appears to us — just like the COVID-19 pandemic, like the trailer of a horror film we are now all living for real.

Millions dead, ten of millions sick, and the psychological collapse of entire generations, the youngest and most defenseless. In the meantime, climate change is spiraling out of control: sea levels are rising, land is drying out, ice caps are melting, not to mention hurricanes, storms, floods, droughts, famines, wars, migration.

The correlation between climate change and the pandemic has been demonstrated countless times by scientists. Soaring temperatures, intensive livestock farming, deforestation and the devastation of the natural animal kingdoms have led to zoonosis: Species-hopping, in which a bacterium or virus escapes from its host and spreads to another, creating a chain reaction with devastating results.

Finding the correlation between the sinking of the Costa Concordia and the current situation is more a subtle exercise: by looking at the decisions we made to respond to the disaster — or rather, how we failed to take action.

"The Concordia has become a maze of choices in the dark, deciding whether to open a door or not, whether to move or stay put, can be the difference between life and death,” Pablo Trincia said recently in his podcast “Il Dito di Dio.” (The Finger of God). A cruise ship with more than 4,000 people, including passengers, crew and ship personnel, is a microcosm in itself: it contains everything. And indeed, in these very long and slow moments, when time seems suspended, a tragedy was in the making.

There were reported many notable demonstrations of solidarity, as strangers helped each other. There were also those who fled as quickly as possible, seeking their personal safety at the expense of others. There were those who, between the ship crashing into the rocks and the dropping of the first lifeboats, seemed not to care.

If it is true that there are lessons to learn even from the worst tragedies, then we must make sure that the terrible wreckage of this small world can help us understand and identify the rocks we are heading towards today: the climate crisis and the pandemic. Time is the discriminating factor, as always. Director Adam McKay explains it well in his movie Don't Look Up, showing us how people react as they face slow-motioned tragedies.

In this scenario, the slowness of the film is the central narrative choice: there is initially plenty of time before the comet would hit the earth, ineluctably ending human life, and there remains plenty of time to live and love and enjoy.

Hence, we also have time to expect that the asteroid is still far away, to imagine that it will deviate from its course. We even have time to forget that the impact is inevitable, and to continue to live as if nothing is happening.

This is the most common reaction to pandemics and environmental disasters. Turn your head away, pretend you don't see, don't look up.

Denial is the work of politicians incapable of questioning the only development model they know, of the billionaires who built bunkers to survive in New Zealand, (where it seems that the crisis will have less impact), of the Silicon Valley gurus have already bought coolers to preserve their bodies for eternity by cryogenics.

On the Costa Concordia, refusal to look the disaster in the eye wasn’t just the work of those who were supposed to give the alert and manage the evacuation: we are all in the same boat when it comes to denial. When a disaster happens in slow motion, it feels as though there is still too much time to bother rushing for solutions now.

We tend to think about the time we have left, about the costs and benefits to our tiny lives, without even realizing that never has the need for salvation been more collective.

Ten years ago, as today, we convinced ourselves that we are absolved of responsibility precisely because we know that everyone shares the same responsibility.

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov set next week as the ultimatum for a confirmation that NATO will neither expand nor deploy forces to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations.

• Next Sunday will mark two years since the World Health Organization declared during an emergency meeting that COVID-19 was a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

• On Tuesday, a 3,400-foot-wide asteroid will make a safe flyby of Earth, whooshing by our planet at the equivalent of five Earth-Moon distances (still pretty close from a cosmic point of view).

• Monday is Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day, so you still have a few more hours to decide whether that gym membership really was a good idea.

News quiz answers:

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