Welcome to Monday, where vaccination success in Israel and England allow easing of lockdown restrictions, the Pope concludes his historic trip in Iraq and Meghan and Harry have their say. Die Welt also looks at how the German police are taking advantage of a "WhatsApp for gangsters' to arrest gang criminals.
• COVID-19 latest: Israel lifts lockdown, allowing cafes, restaurants and events halls to reopen thanks to a successful vaccination campaign, which has fully immunized nearly 40% of its population in just over two months. Children return to classrooms in England, after two months of home-schooling, as the UK is also performing well in vaccinating its population. Meanwhile, Japan's inoculation campaign is hampered by a lack of supply and a shortage of specialty syringes.
• Equatorial Guinea explosions: A series of accidental explosions at a military barracks in Equatorial Guinea killed at least 20 and wounded more than 600 others.
• Harry, Meghan & Oprah: Racism, suicidal thoughts and family rifts are among the headline takeaways from the much anticipated Oprah Winfrey interview of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, aka, Harry and Megan.
• Pope concludes historic Iraq trip: Pope Francis returned to Rome after a historic three-day trip to Iraq focused on interfaith dialogue, the nation's biblical roots and healing after years of war. Some criticized the trip for the risks it posed in spreading COVID-19 among the faithful.
• Niqab ban in Switzerland: Swiss voters narrowly approved a referendum banning face coverings in public, including the burqa and niqab.
• Dassault death: French politician and military aviation billionaire Olivier Dassault was killed yesterday in a helicopter crash.
• Game, set and Djokovic: Serbian tennis champion Novak Djokovic has broken Roger Federer's record for most weeks spent at the top of world tennis, with a grand total of 311 weeks.
British tabloid Daily Mail printed a second edition early this morning to feature the revelations of Oprah Winfrey's interview of Prince Harry and Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle aired in the U.S. The couple spoke about racism, their relationships with other members of the Royal family and how their mental health suffered.
Police decode EncroChat: the WhatsApp for organized crime
Decoded data from messaging services have given the authorities in Germany a new weapon in the fight against gang crime, as shown in the latest raid in Berlin. Criminal families are feeling increasingly uneasy, reports Sebastian Gubernator in German daily Die Welt.
A few years ago, it seemed to many observers that members of certain extended criminal families were untouchable. But in 2018, the Berlin Senate and police set out a five-point plan for combating gang crime. It included punishing smaller misdemeanors, seizing criminal assets, preventing money laundering, helping ex-gang members to build new lives and improving cooperation between different authorities. Politicians speak of a "strategy of a thousand cuts." The idea being that one little cut may not hurt, but many do.
So the police are now repeatedly storming apartment buildings, searching homes, taking away computers and arresting suspects. But there was something new about recent raids into houses of the Remmo clan, an Arab gang made up of one extended family. As senior public prosecutor Thorsten Cloidt explained, the arrests were the result of decoding data from messaging service EncroChat. The message records were sent to Berlin by the French authorities via the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation. They raised urgent suspicions, which led to the arrest warrants.
With EncroChat, the criminals thought they were safe from police monitoring, so they communicated with each other freely. Police called this messaging service "WhatsApp for gangsters'. It has since shut down. Last year, Dutch and French security agencies intercepted more than 20 million private messages. Their infiltration of EncroChat's infrastructure sent "shockwaves through organized crime gangs across Europe", according to the authorities.
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Turkey breaks in dentist's office, ruffles feathers
There's an old joke that goes: "Why did the turkey go to the dentist's? To get its cavity filled…"
Well, one particular Californian wild turkey went for real last Wednesday with no plans for getting stuffed, nor having a laugh. The remarkably large and — as the Sacramento Bee journalist ventures — "very confused" bird crashed through the window of the waiting room at an oral surgeon's office in Fair Oaks, just east of Sacramento, and proceeded to destroy much of the premises.
Fortunately there were no patients inside at the time, and the only member of staff on site promptly reported fowl play to the local animal control officers, who were able to subdue the bird, which will soon be released back into the wild.
As for why the turkey actually did crash the dentist's, a wildlife rescue worker told the Sacramento Bee that the "turkey may have seen its own reflection in the window and attacked it, confusing it for a romantic rival amid the mating season for the birds." Yet another reason to chicken out and postpone your dentist's visit a little longer.
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China's exports jumped 60.6% in January-February from a year earlier, the highest level in two decades, as global demand started to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Electronics and textile exports (including masks) contributed to the spike.
How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow.
— Pope Francis yesterday, on the final day of his historic visit to Iraq, spoke in Mosul, where thousands of people of multiple were killed and ancient places of worship were destroyed during the battle to defeat ISIS, which controlled the city between 2014 and 2017.
Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.
If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.
The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.
Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.
This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.
It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."
In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.
Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.
Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.
But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.
In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.