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U.S. Air Raid In Syria, Argentina Fatal Cocaine, Bezos Yacht v. Dutch Bridge

India: Teenage students stand in a queue to receive a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a school-turned vaccination center

Teenage students stand in a queue to receive a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a school-turned vaccination center, in India.

Sanjeev Gupta/SOPA/ ZUMA
Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

👋 Dumêlang!*

Welcome to Thursday, where a U.S. air raid in Syria kills civilians, tainted cocaine kills 20 in Argentina, and Jeff Bezos’ superyacht gets special treatment in Rotterdam. Thanks to Persian-language media Kayhan, we also look at the discontent brewing among Iranians vis-à-vis their country’s religious government.

[*Northern Sotho, South Africa]


I don’t want children because … I don’t want children

Italy's low fertility rate and lack of support for young people have become a hot topic. But economic and social conditions are not what's stopping all Italian women from having children. Some simply want to do other things with their lives. Italian writer Simonetta Sciandivasci asks in Turin-based daily La Stampa: Does that make them selfish?

Simonetta Sciandivasci’s letter is addressed to ISTAT, Italy’s official statistics office, which explained Italy's low fertility rates as a reaction to economic or social conditions and the lack of support for young people and new parents. But Sciandivasci says the numbers don't tell her story. This article has been edited for length.

Dear ISTAT, I am writing to you because I don't fit into your numbers. From what I understand, I am part of the scant five percent. A thriving, and sometimes happy, small minority of women who don't have children because they don't want to. Not because we can't afford to or because we have no faith in the future. Not because we are dull, nihilistic, lonely, or cynical.

I'm afraid that you have a facile and sketchy idea of me and the minority in which I include myself. I would prefer to call us a bubble since I don't suffer discrimination (no one prevents me from enjoying my rights), but only socio-cultural stigmatization.

But I'm not talking about relatives and gynecologists asking me why I'm 36, have a job and good health but no one is calling me mamma. I am referring instead to the fact that I cannot adopt a child, because to do so in this country, I would have to be rich, married and never divorced, young, preferably chaste and a descendant of an ancient lineage of illustrious people.

I am aware of the fact that in this country there are many women who want to have a child and cannot because they lack the economic means or living conditions. I thank you, ISTAT, because it seems to me that you have recorded and described their reasons very well.

But describing a majority is easy. The same is not true for a minority, even at a time when we try, with some inevitable yet useful hypocrisy, to represent minorities more carefully. I doubt that the gap between those who don't have children because they can't and those who don't because they don't want to is as wide as you claim, but I'm basing my observations on what I see around me and yours are based on extensive surveys.

But there's an important caveat: pollsters are lied to. People lie in polls because not all answers fit within a yes, no or maybe. People also lie because they are ashamed, in a hurry, or don't feel like telling the truth.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard some of my friends say around large dinner tables that they had no intention of having children because "where do I leave them? How do I feed them? Who will help me?" They were the same ones who — sitting at much smaller tables — I heard say: "Thank goodness I don't have a child."

Ninety percent of my female friends are happy not to have had a baby. They have no intention of having one, and they live with delightful and sometimes frightened men who would be happy to have a child but are happier to accept the wishes of the person they love. Am I lucky? Maybe. Do I hang out with a bubble of highbrow turbo-capitalists? No. My friends almost all started earning a decent income in their thirties, after working their way up through the ranks during difficult years that they even remember affectionately.

It is often repeated that people do not procreate here because Italy is not a country for young people.Those poor young people — so depressed, demotivated, abandoned, lonely and unproductive. We should help them to procreate, give them a bonus to do so or parental leave.

I don't want a child and yes, I can afford to have one. Am I being selfish? I have a lot of ideas about how a selfish society can stay on its feet and even progress, and some of them came to me while reading Ayn Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness.

Well, when I listen to sociologists, psychologists and columnists discussing the reasons why Italian women don't have children (males are not involved, they are an accessory), I realize that they all do the same: they speak for me, they identify themselves with me. And they lead me back to something I am not: an unhappy, unsatisfied woman, abandoned by her country.

If the day after tomorrow Prime Minister Mario Draghi brought me a million euros in cash and told me to use it to support a child, I would decline the offer. I would tell him there are other ways I can contribute to society. This includes trying to get it out of our heads that if the system isn't working because retired people outnumber the younger generation and that the only way to help is to have children.

And I don't rule out that 20 years from now, when not having children isn't an identity or generational issue, when it isn't associated with public mental health, that my friends' daughters and sons won't have a great desire to become parents. But for now that's not the case. Let's accept that and try telling each other the truth.

Simonetta Sciandivasci / La Stampa


Civilians killed in U.S. raid in Syria: U.S. special forces have carried out a large-scale counterterrorism raid targeting top al-Qaeda operatives in northwestern Syria. The operation, which the Pentagon called “successful,” killed at least 13 people. But reports on the ground by the White Helmets rescue service, a volunteer organization formed during the Syrian Civil War, said among the dead were six children and four women.

Biden deploys 3,000 troops to Eastern Europe: The U.S. will send some 3,000 additional troops to Poland, Germany and Romania to bolster the defense of NATO countries in Eastern Europe, which are facing the threat of possible Russia’s military moves in Ukraine. These troops are in addition to the 8,500 U.S. troops deployed last week on heightened alert, the Pentagon said, without “ruling out the possibility that there will be more” troop movement in the coming days. Meanwhile, Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan is visiting Ukraine to act as a mediator in the crisis.

COVID border openings: New Zealand has announced a phased reopening of its borders which have been shut for nearly two years due the coronavirus pandemic, as the country will start to ease some of the world’s toughest border policies at the end of February. Meanwhile, Bali has welcomed its first direct flight carrying foreign tourists in nearly two years, as the government of the Indonesian island plans a full reopening this year to restart its struggling tourism industry.

Refugees found frozen to death on Turkey-Greece border: The partially clothed bodies of 12 refugees believed to have frozen to death were found in Turkey close to the border with Greece, sparking a row between the two countries. Turkey’s interior minister has accused Greek guards of deliberately pushing the refugees back across the border after stripping them of clothes.

Poisoned cocaine kills 20 in Argentina: At least 20 people have died and 74 hospitalized in serious condition around the Buenos Aires region, after they ingested cocaine which was either laced with a kind of poison or “cut” with a toxic substance.

Facebook is losing users for the first time in its history: The social media giant has seen its daily active users drop by about half a million in the last three months of 2021, to reach a total of 1.929 billion, a first in Facebook’s 18-year history. Shares of its parent company Meta plunged over 20% after it also reported growing losses of more than $10 billion in 2021 for its Reality Labs division.

Rotterdam to dismantle historic bridge for Jeff Bezos’ superyacht: The Dutch city of Rotterdam has confirmed it will temporarily dismantle parts of the historic steel Koningshaven Bridge to make way for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ 40-meter-high superyacht. The vessel, which will be the largest of its kind in the world, is currently being built by a Dutch firm and has to sail through Rotterdam to reach the sea.


Argentine daily Página/12 reports on the “white death” of at least 20 people in Argentina who ingested cocaine suspected of containing a poisonous substance. Dozens are also being hospitalized in serious conditions. Experts are still analyzing the drug to determine what caused the deaths, but authorities suspect that it may have been deliberately adulterated as part of ongoing clashes between rival drug traffickers.


Growing public hatred of religious leaders unnerves Iran regime

An increase in public protests has sounded the alarm bell for Iranian officials and clerics. But public discontent runs much deeper than discontent over wages and water. There are also signs of nostalgia for the monarchy that ruled the country before the 1979 revolution, reports Persian-language media Kayhan-London.

🕌 Recently quoted by Iran's government news agency, IRNA, Taghi Rostamvandi, the country's deputy interior minister, addressed a subject that had long gone unspoken: "People are moving in a direction where the religious government is no longer addressing their problems." He said they may seek the solution to these in a "secular or non-religious system." Rostamvandi told a Tehran seminar on social problems on Jan. 16 that people's interest in secular models of governance should be taken as "sounding the alarm" for the Islamic Republic.

😡 State officials and clerics know of the discontent brewing among Iranians. This awareness is the reason for the ruthless suppression of protests, which happened recently in Isfahan, central Iran, as well as the considerable sums of money being spent on propaganda against protesters and all secularizing or liberal opinions. Another cleric teaching in Qom, Mohammadtaqi Fazel-Meibodi, recently said "people take a poor view" and "blame the clergy" for their difficulties. He also pointed out that when theology students (tollab in Persian) "go to the market to shop for something... [they] try not to wear their clerical garb, as people will mock or insult them."

💥 A good many, if not all, of the protests in recent years began around specific issues like fuel prices, wages or water shortages, and quickly grew into vociferous, anti-regime demonstrations. The authorities often blame this mutation and oft-recurring slogans like "Death to the Dictator" on infiltrators. Perhaps the worst of it for them is the enduring memory of a monarchy the regime was confident it had consigned to history's trash bin.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com



Online fundraising platform Gofundme has paused and put on review the more than 10 million Canadian dollars ($7.9m) raised by a group of Canada-based truckers on the page "Freedom Convoy 2022" initially created to to sustain protest against vaccine mandates in Ottawa. So far, about C$1m have been released to organizers. As a number of officials have suggested legal action against Gofundme, to prevent the release of more funds, the platform is at risk of being suspended altogether amid the involvment of an organiser who has espoused white supremacist views.


“Beijing will try once again to create an illusion to the world that all is good.”

— In an interview with Al Jazeera, the exiled Chinese political cartoonist and artist Badiucao compared the current Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics status quo to the 2008 Summer Games in the capital, when China promised to become “a more open and democratic society.” He denounced the “slave labor treatment” of Uighurs and the “draconian” COVID-19 lockdowns measures enforced by the government. Badiucao has released “Beijing 2022 collection,” a series of NFT artworks and videos depicting the Chinese government’s human rights abuses.


Students in Bhopal, India wait to get the coronavirus vaccine in a school turned vaccination center. More than 45 million teenagers aged between 15 and 18 have received at least a first dose since India started vaccinating young people on Jan. 3. — Photo: Sanjeev Gupta/SOPA Images/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Jane Herbelin and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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Soft Power Or Sportwashing? What's Driving The Mega Saudi Image Makeover Play

Saudi Arabia suddenly now leads the world in golf, continues to attract top European soccer stars, and invests in culture and entertainment... Its "soft power" strategy is changing the kingdom's image through what critics bash as blatant "sportwashing."

Karim Benzema during a football match at Santiago Bernabeu stadium on June 04, 2023, in Madrid, Spain.

Pierre Haski


PARIS — A major announcement this week caused quite a stir in the world of professional golf. It wouldn't belong in the politics section were it not for the role played by Saudi Arabia. The three competing world circuits have announced their merger, putting an end to the "civil war" in the world of pro golf.

The Chairman of the new entity is Yassir Al-Rumayan, head of the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund. Add to this the fact that one of the major players in the world of golf is Donald Trump – three of the biggest tournaments are held on golf courses he owns – and it's easy to see what's at stake.

In the same week, we learned that two leading French footballers, Karim Benzema and N'Golo Kanté, were to join Saudi club Al-Ittihad, also owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund. The amount of the transfer is not known, but it is sure to be substantial. There, they will join other soccer stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo.

Authoritarian modernization

So what's going on? Quite simply, Saudi Arabia – particularly its Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Salman – has decided to invest massively in the sports, entertainment, culture and creative industries. And he has deep pockets.

There are two reasons for this choice. The first is domestic. The Crown Prince has chosen to open the floodgates of a very conservative society, in which two-thirds of the population are under 35. Music festivals with DJ David Guetta, a proliferation of artistic events, the creation of new museums…The Wahhabi kingdom now offers its population entertainment that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

It's the choice of an authoritarian modernization, as the loosening of the societal straitjacket is not accompanied by any questioning of the feudal political system: zero tolerance of any dissent remains the norm. It's a bit like the Saudi version of the Chinese model: a permissive social contractact, as long as it doesn't transgress the political red line.

A crowd of people in golf clothes, including Majed Al Sorour and Donald Trump

CEO of Saudi Golf Federation and Golf Saudi, Majed Al Sorour, talks with Donald Trump at the former President's Golf Club

Al Diaz / ZUMA

Changing the kingdom's image

The second reason is international: MBS, as the crown prince is known, is playing the "soft power" card; gentle influence, to burnish his image still scarred by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Global balances are being called into question

For some time now, Saudi Arabia has been making more headlines for its investments in sport and entertainment than for its human rights violations – that's the point! It is also making headlines for its growing, and increasingly autonomous, role in regional and global diplomacy.

This is the hallmark of a period when global balances are being called into question: countries such as Saudi Arabia are breaking free from bloc alliances. It was in Beijing that Riyadh renewed its ties with Iran, and the Iranian embassy reopened its doors this week. And U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently visiting the kingdom walking on eggshells, no longer on conquered territory.

The Crown Prince's all-out strategy has the advantage of changing the kingdom's image. But it is also a balancing act, both in terms of its internal transformation and its international role. Changing everything so that nothing changes has not always worked out so well.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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