The container ship Ever Given arrives at the ECT Delta terminal in the port of Rotterdam, more than four months after it got wedged in the Suez Canal for six days, blocking shipping in one of the world's busiest waterways

Welcome to Thursday, where a Chinese official meets with Taliban leaders, an earthquake triggers a tsunami alert in Alaska, and rock fans mourn the death of a bearded icon. With the Tokyo Olympics finally underway, Hong Kong-based digital media The Initium also asks a tough question: Do we even still need this sporting event?

• Chinese official publicly meets with Taliban: China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, began two days of talks with Taliban leaders on Wednesday in the Chinese city of Tianjin. After the withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops, Afghanistan has seen significant fighting between the Afghan security forces and the Taliban. China hopes to use the meetings to assist in this peace process, as well as to warm ties with the Islamist group.

• Earthquake in Alaska triggers tsunami alert: After an 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck the Alaskan peninsula on Wednesday, U.S. officials have released tsunami warnings for the surrounding area and encouraged increased monitoring across the Pacific. So far there have not been any reports of loss of life or serious property damage.

• Vocal Chinese billionaire sentenced to 18 years in prison: Sun Dawu, a billionaire pig farmer and outspoken critic of the Chinese government, has been sentenced to 18 years in prison on charges that include "picking quarrels and provoking troubles." He has also been fined 3.11 million yuan ($480,000).

• COVID update: Australia's largest city, Sydney, has seen a record daily rise in cases, leading the government to seek military assistance in enforcing the ongoing lockdown. In contrast, the United Kingdom announced that fully vaccinated travelers coming from the EU or the U.S. no longer need to quarantine when entering England, Scotland and Wales. Meanwhile, Google has mandated that employees be vaccinated to return to in-person work in October.

• Macron sues billboard owner for depicting him as Hitler: French President Emmanuel Macron is suing a billboard owner for depicting him on a sign as Adolf Hitler. The poster shows Macron in Nazi garb with a Hitler-esque mustache and the phrase "Obey, get vaccinated." This comes after several protesters who see France's new health-pass system as government overreach invoked the yellow star that Nazi Germany forced Jewish people to wear during WWII.

• ZZ Top bassist dead at 72: Dusty Hill, the bassist for the Texas blues-rock trio ZZ Top, died in his sleep on Tuesday at the age of 72. Hill, known for his trademark long beard, played with the band for over 50 years.

• Earth Overshoot Day: Today marks the day that humanity has exceeded its yearly allotment of the planet's biological resources. Last year, Overshoot Day fell on August 22, after carbon emissions dropped during COVID-related lockdowns. But this year carbon emissions and consumption rose again, and Overshoot Day moved forward by almost one month.


Peruvian daily Expreso reports on the presidential inauguration of leftist Pedro Castillo, who promised a new constitution for the country as well as an end to corruption. The 51-year-old rural schoolteacher was sworn in yesterday as Peru's president (the fifth in three years) on the 200th anniversary of the country's independence from Spain.


Are the Olympics more trouble than they're worth? The view from Asia

After a five-year wait, the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, but the challenges remain palpable. From global politics to the pandemic, problems abound for the Games. Next year, when Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics, things could get messier still, writes Zhang Bin in Hong Kong-based digital media The Initium.

Tokyo 2020 comes with its own complicated backdrop of world geopolitics, especially with regards to Sino-U.S. and Russian-U.S. relations. Adding to the unrest are issues related to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. This April, the IOC banned protests and campaigns during Tokyo 2020, but the rules were changed in July, allowing athletes to kneel in protest before the games, but prohibiting actions during the games and on the podium, including wearing clothes with the BLM slogan.

There's another shadow on the horizon, as talk has already surfaced in some Western countries about boycotting the Beijing 2022 winter games. China, for its part, strongly opposes "politicizing sports." So far, there are no IOC members or athletes publicly joining the boycott, but many reports suggest that the U.S. and the EU are preparing bills to resist Beijing. There's also been pressure on British government officials and members of the royal family not to attend.

This leads us to a question worth pondering: Does humanity still need a sporting event with such a hefty program and bloated schedule? Truth be told, people may not really need the Olympics that much anymore. Many of the events aren't all that exciting, and the schedule is dense. All of that affects the viewing experience. It appears, in other words, that the Olympics are gradually losing their meaning. Their idealistic color is faded. They're no longer a symbol of world peace, and their importance as a source of national pride has diminished.

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Medaille-Oogst

During the Tokyo Olympics, participating countries have their good and bad days. The Dutch, who recently won eight medals in one day, its biggest Olympic success since 1928, have a word for it: medaille-oogst, or the "harvesting of medals." The eight medals — two gold, three silver and three bronze — were won for rowing, cycling and judo.

Norwegian man catches fish with bare hands, expert says not advisable

It was a sunny, Scandinavian afternoon when Even Nord Rydningen spotted something in the still waters beneath Oslo's Gullhaug bridge.

"It looked like a trout, but it also looked a bit like a shark," he told Norwegian daily Aftenposten.

Upon closer inspection, Rydningen realized it was in fact a pike, a sharp-toothed (but tasty) species that is sometimes referred to as a "Nordic crocodile."

Having fished a lot as a child, the man decided this was an opportunity to try something new. Treading carefully, he climbed over the railing until he was right above his unsuspecting prey. Then, with one swift movement, he grabbed the beast by its gills and pulled it out of the water.

"I beat it to death," Rydningen said.

A climate activist, he went on to say how great it was to find such rich wildlife in the city, especially at a time when the fjords are increasingly drained of fish.

But as Jo Vegar Arnekleiv, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, notes, people should think twice before emulating Rydningen's hands-on approach.

"A big pike shouldn't be messed around with," he told the paper. "In the worst case you could get bit."

Luckily for Rydningen, no extremities were lost. The unfortunate fish, on the other hand, ended up being turned into pike cakes. God appetitt!

➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com


If you're in a country where war criminals are glorified, this cannot be a good future.

— UN-appointed High Representative Valentin Inzko, who oversaw Bosnia's 1995 peace deal, told the BBC after he imposed a ban on genocide denial to stop glorification of war criminals. The decision sparked angry reactions from Bosnian Serbs, including Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb member of the country's joint presidency, who launched a petition claiming that the Srebrenica massacre was not an act of genocide.

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Economy

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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