Clashes in Tunis over unemployment and stagnating economy
Clashes in Tunis over unemployment and stagnating economy

Welcome to Wednesday, where Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th U.S. president, Italy's prime minister hangs on, and the Tokyo Olympics may be cancelled again. We also visit six iconic businesses around the world, which have survived wars and depressions, but are now at risk of closing down due to the pandemic.

Joe Biden won't fix the world's broken diplomacy by himself

Democrats who reach the White House do not necessarily play into the hands of Europeans. It is up to them to unify their voice to pass their agendas.

The inauguration of Joe Biden opens a new chapter in the history of the United States, one filled with hopes that may quickly prove to be excessive. A new "New Deal" promises a shift in public health, diplomacy, and welfare for the American people.

It is also an opportunity to repair the historic bridges linking the two sides of the Atlantic. The next few days will be marked by actions of major symbolic importance: Washington's return to the Paris Climate Accord, a reconciliation with the World Health Organization, and likely, the revival of nuclear talks with Iran. Yet it would be a trap for us to believe that this means the return to a time when America and Europe were working together in defense of freedom and democracy.

From a European point of view, the hope inspired by Biden's inauguration Wednesday is just as dangerous as the blissful romanticism that swirled here with Barack Obama's arrival 12 years ago. First of all, Democrats who make it to the White House don't necessarily play into the hands of the Europeans. It was a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who refused to ratify the Kyoto climate agreement and opposed the creation of an International Criminal Court. Barack Obama derailed an allied intervention in Syria.

In some ways, we may even miss Donald Trump who, for his own personal reasons, attacked the disproportionate power of the Big Tech companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon, which aligned with Europe's interest in reducing their powers. It is unlikely that Biden will join this fight, even if they are now the backbone of America's global domination.

We should not expect too much from the new president. The America of 2021 is not the America of the 2000s. The transatlantic relationship has reached the end of an era. The historic pillars of the international order have crumbled, and French President Emmanuel Macron already pronounced NATO "brain dead" a year ago.

Europeans will need to be particularly determined to grab the attention of Biden, who already has so much work to do domestically.

The Old World must propose a new transatlantic treaty that can seduce this new administration, around such crucial shared challenges as China's rising power, climate change, foreign investment monitoring, and industrial sovereignty. Washington will only listen if we speak with a single, unified European voice — and we offer them real value. Otherwise, our Inauguration Day hopes will quickly disappear.

— Lucie Robequain / Les Echos


• Inauguration day: Joe Biden will become the 46th U.S. President, with an inauguration speech expected to focus on healing a deeply divided nation. Outgoing President Donald Trump issued pardons to 73 people, including former adviser Steve Bannon and rapper Lil Wayne and commuted sentences of 70 others.

• Pompeo and China's "genocide": On his final day in office, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo officially accused China of committing genocide against Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic and religious minority groups. The U.S. has faced criticism for not addressing the matter, as at least two million Uyghurs have been in concentration camps since 2017.

• Madrid explosion (developing): A large explosion rocked Spain's capital, seriously damaging a residential building near Puerta de Toledo and causing casualties. The origin of the blast is as of yet unknown.

• COVID-19 latest: The U.S. surpasses 400,000 deaths from COVID-19 as Germany extends national lockdown until mid-February and China puts 1.6 million residents in Beijing on lockdown.

• Italian government strikes balance: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's government was saved in the Senate in a crucial vote of confidence, but former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's challenge leaves the ruling coalition shaky.

• Tokyo Olympics "unlikely": This summer's Games, already rescheduled from 2020 because of the pandemic, are at risk again, says a top Olympic official, who says organizers should be "making plans for a cancellation," as Japan grapples with a surge in COVID-19 cases.

• Jack Ma resurfaces: Alibaba billionaire co-founder Jack Ma has appeared in a video after months of speculation that his disappearance was related to a regulatory crackdown in November followed by fines and investigations on his business in December.


As French daily Libération enthusiastically marks the start of Biden's presidency, Worldcrunch has also compiled 29 magazine covers from Trump's four years in office.

Six iconic landmarks that may be shuttered by COVID

Founded a century (or centuries) ago, these businesses survived world wars and economic depressions. Now the pandemic could close them forever.

The economic and financial costs of the current health crisis are being felt far and wide. But there's something particularly poignant about the demise of businesses that enjoy true landmark status, such as New York City's Roosevelt Hotel, which closed permanently just before Christmas. Owners and employees pay the heaviest cost, of course. But for clients, culture and the public as a whole, what's at stake in each case is also a tangible piece of history that, once gone, is gone for good.

Is the festa in Venice over forever? By the time the Roosevelt Hotel opened, in 1924, Venice's venerable Café Florian had already been going strong for more than 200 years. And this past December, it officially reached the three-century mark. That's a lot of candles! But rather than mark the milestone with some kind of celebratory festa, all was eerily quiet. Sadly, the doors of Café Florian's elegant lounge — whose famous clients included Nietzsche, Grace Kelly and Margaret Thatcher — were closed to the public, as ordered by the government.

A Mexican treasure: Mexico City's Sálon Los Angeles, the country's oldest dance hall, was founded in the 1930s during the height of the swing and Charleston dances, and its famous patrons include Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky and Celia Cruz. But there's real concern now that the place may not survive. Current owner Miguel Nieto is struggling to keep up with expenses, despite receiving some aid money from the government. Dedicated customers are also helping in the form of small donations.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

+37 million

Netflix added a record 37 million paid memberships in 2020, allowing the streaming platform to surpass another major milestone with 203.7 million subscribers around the world. While Netflix is facing stiff competition from emerging platforms, the giant is still far ahead compared with Disney+ and its 85 million subscribers.

The pharmacy of the world will deliver.

— India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar tweeted, as the country, which produces about half of the world's COVID-19 vaccine supply, starts exporting vaccines to neighboring states.

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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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