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Last U.S. Troops Leave Kabul, Ardern’s Lockdown, Nike’s Mental Health Gesture

Welcome to Tuesday, where the final U.S. soldiers have left Afghanistan, a snap lockdown in New Zealand looks to be working and Nike employees get a "mental-health week." We also visit the French capital to hear what local residents really think about the filming of the Netflix show Emily in Paris in their chic neighborhood.

The last U.S. soldier to leave Kabul, Maj. General Chris Donahue, on Aug. 30

Meike Eijsberg and Anne-Sophie Goninet

• Taliban take over Kabul airport after last U.S. forces leave: The final U.S. troops left Afghanistan over night after 20 years of military presence, ending a chaotic and deadly withdrawal. The Taliban took control of the airport at dawn with celebratory gunfire. "America's longest war" cost some $2 trillion and claimed the lives of 2,500 U.S. soldiers and an estimated 240,000 Afghans.

• COVID-19 update: New COVID cases in New Zealand dropped for the second day in a row, suggesting that the strict snap lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is working. Japan, which halted 2 million Moderna vaccines due to contamination, said it was likely these contaminants come from needles which might have been incorrectly inserted into the vials, breaking off bits of the rubber stopper.

• Hurricane Ida knocks out power for more than 1 million: Hurricane Ida has left more than 1 million homes and businesses without power since making landfall in Louisiana on Sunday night. At least two people were killed but authorities expect the toll to rise, as they search outlying areas with helicopters and airboats.

• Eradication of leaded petrol: According to the UN Environment Programme, highly polluting leaded petrol is now eradicated from the world as no country remains that uses it for cars and trucks. The toxic fuel has contaminated air, soil and water for almost a century and is known for causing heart disease, cancer, and stroke.

• Nike mental health week: As more and more companies are preparing for people returning to the office, staff at Nike's corporate headquarters in Oregon have been given a week off to support their mental health, before coming back to the office in September. LinkedIn and dating app Bumble have made similar gestures.

• Elizabeth Holmes trial begins: The first phase of the trial of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes will start today with a jury selection scheduled in California. Holmes' now-defunct medical start-up is charged with six counts of fraud and she faces up to 20 years in prison.

• Berlin university canteens go almost meat-free: Students in the German capital will have to swap their currywurst and schnitzels for a hearty vegetarian soup option. The 34 outlets catering to students at four universities have decided to only offer a single meat option per week due to an increasing demand for climate-friendly offers.

Portuguese daily Jornal I reports on the return of a bill to end bullfighting in Portugal, three years after a similar proposed ban was rejected by the country's lawmakers. The deputy who put the bill forward argues bullfighting is already declining in Portugal and says the ban is motivated by a "growing recognition of animal rights."

Emily out of Paris: French quartier is sick of Netflix show

The first season of the Netflix show Emily in Paris was a boon for some businesses in the French capital's 5th arrondissement, where it takes place. But with production returning for Season Two, many local residents are exasperated, reports Robin Richardot in French daily Le Monde.

😠 Since May 24, the production of Emily in Paris has occupied the Parisian Place de l'Estrapade (already used for the first season, in August 2019) a few days a month. And among residents, annoyance swells with each return trip. Laurence, who is 50, has lived here for 37 years, between the restaurant Terra Nova and the bakery, which are used as backdrops for the series. "There is no compensation for the inhabitants who can no longer park, nor go out or return home freely," says Laurence.

🎥 Laurence says that people here are used to the presence of film crews. "But with Emily in Paris, we discovered the arrogance of blockbusters. Because they pay the shopkeepers and the parking, they think they have bought the whole neighborhood." Recently, this area of the 5th arrondissement also became the set of La Page Blanche, an adaptation of the comic strip by Boulet and Pénélope Bagieu. "But they're at least more discreet than the American productions," says Stéphane, a hairdresser on rue de l'Estrapade.

💰 On the other hand, the shopkeepers are the most satisfied. Tonka, a baker whose establishment appears in the series, understands that residents are frustrated, but doesn't hide the fact that it's been good for business. "I make my usual turnover thanks to the production's compensation without having to produce a single baguette," she says. The bakery also benefits from the free marketing. Tonka still can't believe it: "It's unimaginable how many people it brought in. I don't know how much I would have had to spend to get such worldwide publicity."

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1.42 million

The war in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region has forced over 1.42 million students out of school, according to Education Minister Getahun Mekuria, adding that more than 7,000 schools have been damaged. The Ethiopian government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front have been fighting since November 2020, in a conflict that has killed thousands and displaced an estimated 400,000.

Sexual consent at 14, at 16 you can go out to work, but you have to be 18 to play games. This is really a joke.

— An anonymous Chinese gamer on China's Twitter-like Weibo responds to the new rules imposed by the State that limit the gaming times to just three hours a week. Authorities argued that the restrictions are necessary to stop the growing gaming addition but investors are worried about the long-term impact on the industry.

✍️ Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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Merkel's Legacy: The Rise And Stall Of The German Economy

How have 16 years of Chancellor Angela Merkel changed Germany? The Chancellor accompanied the country's rise to near economic superpower status — and then progress stalled. On technology and beyond, Germany needs real reforms under Merkel's successor.

Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at the presentation of the current 2 Euro commemorative coin ''Brandenburg''

Daniel Eckert

BERLIN — Germans are doing better than ever. By many standards, the economy broke records during the reign of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel: private households' financial assets have climbed to a peak; the number of jobs recorded a historic high before the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020; the GDP — the sum of all goods and services produced in a period — also reached an all-time high.

And still, while the economic balance sheet of Merkel's 16 years is outstanding if taken at face value, on closer inspection one thing catches the eye: against the backdrop of globalization, Europe's largest economy no longer has the clout it had at the beginning of the century. Germany has fallen behind in key sectors that will shape the future of the world, and even the competitiveness of its manufacturing industries shows unmistakable signs of fatigue.

In 2004, a year before Merkel was first elected Chancellor, the British magazine The Economist branded Germany the "sick man of Europe." Ironically, the previous government, a coalition of center-left and green parties, had already laid the foundations for recovery with some reforms. Facing the threat of high unemployment, unions had held back on wage demands.

"Up until the Covid-19 crisis, Germany had achieved strong economic growth with both high and low unemployment," says Michael Holstein, chief economist at DZ Bank. However, it never made important decisions for its future.

Another economist, Jens Südekum of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, offers a different perspective: "Angela Merkel profited greatly from the preparatory work of her predecessor. This is particularly true regarding the extreme wage restraint practiced in Germany in the early 2000s."

Above all, Germany was helped in the first half of the Merkel era by global economic upheaval. Between the turn of the millennium and the 2011-2012 debt crisis, emerging countries, led by China, experienced unprecedented growth. With many German companies specializing in manufacturing industrial machines and systems, the rise of rapidly industrializing countries was a boon for the country's economy.

Germany dismissed Google as an over-hyped tech company.

Digital competitiveness, on the other hand, was not a big problem in 2005 when Merkel became chancellor. Google went public the year before, but was dismissed as an over-hyped tech company in Germany. Apple's iPhone was not due to hit the market until 2007, then quickly achieved cult status and ushered in a new phase of the global economy.

Germany struggled with the digital economy, partly because of the slow expansion of internet infrastructure in the country. Regulation, lengthy start-up processes and in some cases high taxation contributed to how the former economic wonderland became marginalized in some of the most innovative sectors of the 21st century.

Volkswagen's press plant in Zwickau, Germany — Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa/ZUMA

"When it comes to digitization today, Germany has a lot of catching up to do with the relevant infrastructure, such as the expansion of fiber optics, but also with digital administration," says Stefan Kooths, Director of the Economic and Growth Research Center at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel).

For a long time now, the country has made no adjustments to its pension system to ward off the imminent demographic problems caused by an increasingly aging population. "The social security system is not future-proof," says Kooths. The most recent changes have come at the expense of future generations and taxpayers, the economist says.

Low euro exchange rates favored German exports

Nevertheless, things seemed to go well for the German economy at the start of the Merkel era. In part, this can be explained by the economic downturn caused by the euro debt crisis of 2011-2012. Unlike in the previous decade, the low euro exchange rate favored German exports and made money flow into German coffers. And since then-European Central Bank president Mario Draghi's decision to save the euro "whatever it takes" in 2012, this money has become cheaper and cheaper.

In the long run, these factors inflated the prices of real estate and other sectors but failed to contribute to the future viability of the country. "With the financial crisis and the national debt crisis that followed, economic policy got into crisis mode, and it never emerged from it again," says DZ chief economist Holstein. Policy, he explains, was geared towards countering crises and maintaining the status quo. "The goal of remaining competitive fell to the background, as did issues concerning the future."

In the traditional field of manufacturing, the situation deteriorated significantly. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), which regularly measures and compares the competitiveness of industries in different countries, recently concluded that German companies have lost many of the advantages they had gained. The high level of productivity, which used to be one of the country's strengths, faltered in the years before the pandemic.

Kooths, of IfW Kiel, points out that private investment in the German economy has declined in recent years, while the "government quota" in the economy, which describes the amount of government expenditure against the GDP, grew significantly during Merkel's tenure, from 43.5% in 2005 to 46.5% in 2019. Kooths concludes that: "Overall, the state's influence on economic activity has increased significantly."

Another very crucial aspect of competitiveness, at least from the point of view of skilled workers and companies, has been neglected by German politics for years: taxes and social contributions. The country has among the highest taxes on income in Europe, and corporate taxes are also hardly as high as in Germany anywhere in the industrialized world. "In the long run, high tax rates always come at the expense of economic dynamism and can even prevent new companies from being set up," warns Kooths.

Startups can renew an economy and lay the foundation for future prosperity. Between the year 2000 and the Covid-19 crisis, fewer and fewer new companies were created every year. Economists from left to right are unanimous: Angela Merkel is leaving behind a country with considerable need for reform.

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