WHILE YOU SLEPT

Tech Giants With Feet Of Clay

It was the week two U.S. tech giants saw their seemingly unstoppable sprint toward global domination hit a wall.


First, on Tuesday, Apple was ordered to pay up 13 billion euros in back taxes after the European Union ruled that a series of sweetheart tax deals made with the Irish government were illegal. That's a big bill, even for Apple, and company chief Tim Cook denounced the ruling as “political” and based on “false numbers.”


Meanwhile, Facebook’s bad news came with a louder, though not quite as costly, impact. The company’s first satellite the Amos-6 went up in smoke after the rocket SpaceX exploded during a pre-launch test at Cape Canaveral on Thursday.

Valued at more than $200 million, the Amos-6 was due to take flight on Saturday with the goal of bringing Internet connectivity to Africa, as well as parts of the Middle East.


Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who is currently visiting Africa, said he was "deeply disappointed" to hear that the satellite was destroyed.


Indeed, Silicon Valley titans like Zuckerberg and Cook are sometimes portrayed as modern superheroes, and the roadmap of the American-led technology revolution often appears as a foregone conclusion. But this week is a reminder that such massive changes in the way we live and do business are bound to come up against global forces beyond the control of any single company, or even a seemingly unbeatable technology.


The massive explosion on Thursday was also a big blow to another Silicon Valley titan, SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk. He lost $390 million of his personal fortune as shares in his other tech firms Tesla and SolarCity also took a dive following the accident.


Musk’s ambitions, of course, go beyond just world domination. By 2024, he wants to conquer Mars.



WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY (& WEEKEND)

  • Pope Francis to canonize Mother Teresa (Sunday).
  • China hosts G20 in Hangzhou.


HURRICANE HERMINE HITS FLORIDA COAST

Tropical Storm Hermine strengthened into a hurricane as it hit Florida’s Gulf Coast early today with the potential for drenching rain and deadly flooding. Florida Governor Rick Scott warned of the danger of the Category 1 hurricane, describing a “life-threatening” situation and urging people to move to inland shelters if necessary, according to CNN.


â€" EXTRA!

Tens of thousands of chanting protesters marched Thursday through the streets of Caracas demanding a vote on recalling Maduro. Check how Venezuelan daily El Nacional featured the mass demonstrations on its front page Friday.


PUTIN-ABE FACE ISLAND DISPUTE

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are meeting today on the sidelines of an Eastern Economic Forum business conference in Vladivostok, Russia. The two leaders are expected to discuss the case of the Southern Kuril Islands, “the key obstacle to complete normalization of the Russian-Japanese ties”, according to RBTH. The Pacific Islands have been owned by Russia since the end of World War II, and Tokyo has repeatedly called on Russia to cede them. “We do not sell our territories,” a determined Putin said, although he has recognized that a good relationship with his Japanese counterpart was “crucial.”


â€" MY GRAND-PERE’S WORLD

Coffee Break â€" Amman, 1996


12 KILLED IN ATTACK ON PAKISTAN COURT

Two bombs killed at least 12 people and wounded 60 near a courthouse in northwest Pakistan. The first attack was a suicide attack near a gate of Mardan district courts, with the second taking place shortly afterwards just outside the gate, Pakistan Today reports. Earlier in the day, four gunmen wearing suicide-bomb vests attacked a Christian Colony in Peshawar, killing two people, before being shot dead by security forces. Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a Pakistani Taliban faction, claimed responsibility for the attack.


â€" ON THIS DAY

It’s been 350 years since the Great Fire of London. More in your 57-second shot of History.


IS UZBEKISTAN’S PRESIDENT DEAD?

The government of Uzbekistan has announced the ailing president, Islam Karimov, is critically ill. The daughter of the 78-year-old leader said Karimov is in intensive care after he suffered cerebral hemorrhage. A message from the Government of Uzbekistan reads that “in last day, state of the President sharply deteriorated,” the UzDaily reports. Meanwhile Reuters, quoting “three diplomatic sources” although unspecified, reports that Karimov has died after suffering a stroke. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim confirmed it in a cabinet meeting broadcast live.


â€" WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

In German, "du" is the informal version of "you" â€" something to be used among friends. So when the big boss of a German company decided that everyone should be on “du” terms, it was a little awkward at first, Angelika Slavik reports for German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung: “There is a new generation of young employees who don't much care for traditional perceptions of power and office etiquette. And so to win these people over, many companies with rather traditional values are trying to adopt a more relaxed image â€" doing the ‘du’ is part of that. The problem, though, is that not everyone feels comfortable with these shifts.”

Read the full article, The "Du" And Don’​ts Of German Workplace Etiquette.


MORE STORIES, BROUGHT TO YOU BY WORLDCRUNCH

A LINE TO GET IN

The postcard-perfect Croatian city of Dubrovnik boasted earlier this summer that it had broken its one-day record of visitors, after more than 10,000 people paid the tourist fee to enter the walls of the “Pearl of the Adriatic.” But that is too many for the old city to hold, says UNESCO, which has given it protected status. So Dubrovnik Mayor Andro Vlahusic has a plan: After the 6,000th visitor enters, authorities simply close the city. Residents, of course, will have a special pass to get back home.

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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