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The Latest: Biden's Big Day, Jack Ma Is Back, Tokyo Games At Risk

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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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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