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Photo of ​the U.S. Capitol dome emerging from a mound of snow (thanks to a perspective trick) as Washington, D.C. receives its first blizzard in years.

The U.S. Capitol dome emerges from the snow as Washington, D.C. receives its first blizzard in years.

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Muraho!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where the Omicron variant keeps breaking daily infection records around the world, violent protests lead Kazakhstan to declare state of emergency, and France’s Macron is in la merde for his vulgar warning to unvaccinated people. Meanwhile, we look at Denmark’s plans to rent prison cells abroad, and what this could mean for the future of imprisonment and law enforcement around the world.

[*Kinyarwanda - Rwanda]


🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: The variant Omicron continues to drive record daily cases of coronavirus from Australia, which registered more than 60,000 coronavirus new infections, to Israel and the U.S., which reported nearly 1 million new cases, the highest daily tally of any country in the world. Meanwhile, men’s tennis No.1 player Novak Djokovic has been granted a medical exemption from having a COVID-19 vaccine to compete in the Australian Open, prompting a public backlash. Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro has canceled street parades and parties during its world famous Carnival for a second year due to a rise in coronavirus cases.

• Kazakhstan declares state of emergency: The president of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has declared a two-week state of emergency after the government’s resignation failed to quell violent protests against a fuel price increase in the oil-producing Central Asian country. Protesters in Almaty, the country’s main city, have stormed the mayor’s office.

• Colombian man charged over Haiti president’s murder: U.S. authorities have charged a retired 43-year-old Colombian soldier with participating in a plot to kidnap or kill Haitian president Jovenel Moise, who was assassinated last July.

• North Korea fires unidentified projectile: Japanese and South Korean authorities report that North Korea fired a projectile suspected to be a ballistic missile into waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula. Under international law, Pyongyang is barred from testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

• Canada pledges billions to compensate indigenous children: Canada announced two agreements totalling $31.5 billion with indigenous groups to compensate hundreds of thousands of First Nations children who were taken from their families and put into the child welfare system.

• Ecuador and Colombia slam MasterChef for using wild animal species: Colombia has launched an investigation after an episode of MasterChef Ecuador, a competitive cooking TV show filmed in Colombia, showed participants cooking shark, alligator and capybara as ingredients. Ecuador's environment ministry warned that crimes against wild flora and fauna can be punished with prison sentences.

• James Webb telescope successfully deploys sunshield: The James Webb telescope has achieved a critical milestone in its quest to catch images of the cosmos’ first stars, by successfully unfurling its tennis court-size sunshield. It will help detect the signals coming from the most distant objects in the Universe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE


Peruvian daily El Comercio reports on the preliminary investigation launched by Peru’s attorney general of leftist president Pedro Castillo, suspected of collusion, influence peddling and illegal sponsorship. Though the probe will continue, the findings will be suspended until Castillo’s five-year term ends in 2026, as Peruvian presidents have absolute immunity.


💬  LEXICON

Emmerder

French President Emmanuel Macron is facing backlash for saying in an interview with Le Parisien daily that he wanted to “piss off” (emmerder, derived from merde, i.e. “shit”) unvaccinated citizens with strict new requirements.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

When countries “export” inmates to foreign prisons

A recent report revealed that Denmark plans to rent prison cells abroad, raising troubling questions about the expanding global trade in penitentiary services:

👮 The Danish daily Politiken reported in November that it had obtained a secret memo in which the government of Denmark plans to rent prison cells in foreign countries to reduce the strain on the national system. As the number of inmates continues to increase and penitentiary staff quit their jobs, the government is looking to spend one billion DKK (€130 million) on renting 300 cells abroad over a four-year period. In mid-December, the government announced that a deal had been broken with Kosovo where inmates due to be deported after their sentences will be accommodated.

📈 Globally, with the prison population reaching a record 20 million last year — a 20% increase in the last two decades — and the distribution of prisoners between countries becoming increasingly uneven, new questions arise as the penal system becomes a fully integrated part of our globalized economy. The Norway-Netherlands deal, which expired in 2018, drew criticism from organizations suggesting that Dutch standards were not in line with the Norwegian approach of focusing on rehabilitation.

🔄 Of course, that issue is perhaps manageable when the exchange occurs between two countries like Denmark and the Netherlands — both with publicly-run and comparably liberal prison systems. But globalization, as we know by now, rarely confines itself to parity or proportion, and it invites us to imagine a future where more countries with very different legal frameworks and cultural norms — such as Denmark and Kosovo — start swapping inmates and attempt to enforce their own policies abroad.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

I am an artist, not a variant.

U.S. R&B singer Omarion said in a TikTok video posted on Saturday. The artist has gone viral, but probably not the way he’d hoped, having been the butt of jokes associating his stage name with the COVID-19 variant, Omicron. However, he is taking it in his stride in the spoof video, which has 4.6 million views, adding “So please be aware that if you just so happen to run into me on the street, you don’t have to isolate for 5 days.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Let us know who has stepped in it, and what else is happening in your corner of the world!

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Geopolitics

The Days After: What Would Happen If Putin Opts For A Tactical Nuclear Strike

The risk of the Kremlin launching a tactical nuclear weapon on Ukraine is small but not impossible. The Western response would itself set off a counter-response, which might contain or spiral to the worst-case scenario.

An anti-nuclear activist impersonates Vladimir Putin at a rally in Berlin.

Yves Bourdillon

-Analysis-

PARISVladimir Putin could “go nuclear” in Ukraine. Yes, this expression, which metaphorically means “taking the extreme, drastic action,” is now literally considered a possibility as well. Cornered and humiliated by a now plausible military defeat, experts say the Kremlin could launch a tactical nuclear bomb on a Ukrainian site in a desperate attempt to turn the tables.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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In any case, this is what Putin — who put Russia's nuclear forces on alert just after the start of the invasion in late February — is aiming to achieve: to terrorize populations in Western countries to push their leaders to let go of Ukraine.

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