Welcome to Tuesday, where the UK's isolation deepens, Rio's mayor gets arrested and a baby elephant gets CPR. And if you're late on your Christmas shopping, Die Welt tells you not to worry: kids have too many toys anyway.
SPOTLIGHT: BORIS JOHNSON AND THE COLLAPSE OF CHAOS-AS-LEADERSHIP
As the sudden arrival of harsh new lockdown restrictions and the closing of borders in European countries coincides with down-to-the-wire Brexit talks, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing an all-time low in public confidence, argues Daniel Fortin in French daily Les Echos.
For nearly a year now, we have been cautious — even indulgent — when it comes to criticizing the way political leaders are handling this exceptional pandemic with the malicious whims that come with a novel virus. But whether we like it or not, the scale of this crisis also serves as an incomparable tool for measuring the leadership skills of any given head of state or government.
Most observers now agree that Donald Trump's casual handling of the pandemic probably cost him his reelection. And now, another prominent leader is coming under fire for adding chaos upon the chaos. We will remember for a long time the pictures of British or foreign travelers rushing this weekend to the stations to try to escape London where a new lockdown was introduced without warning on Saturday night. Only a few, including in his own party, still defend Prime Minister Boris Johnson who seems once again to be indecisive and inconsistent.
If it turns out that his country's health services have been truly aware of the new strain of the virus for a week, then it will be very difficult for Johnson to justify the measures to loosen restrictions that he initially wanted to authorize for the Christmas holidays.
The accusations mounting against the prime minister, including within his Conservative party, include the worst charges that can be brought against a politician: nonchalance. We saw evidence of it when he advised British citizens last March to "sing Happy Birthday twice while washing your hands' to protect from the virus before deciding, belatedly, to implement a lockdown like virtually every other Western country.
We saw the same kind of nonchalance last Wednesday when he told Parliament that it would be "inhuman" to cancel Christmas, even though he had no alternative solution. Finally, Johnson's casual leadership style is on display just as he is called on to lead his country out of the Europe Union at the very moment when — like those same European neighbors — a health crisis is deepening yet again.
The short-circuiting between two major events, Brexit and the pandemic, is probably what will come with the steepest political price. Driven by opportunism rather than conviction ever since he was put in charge of the country, Johnson has benefited from a good dose of indulgence from the general public that had perhaps fallen under the spell of his eccentric leadership style.
But times are changing. Today, amateurism and a blatant inability to face the job of making unpopular decisions are all that is left.
— Daniel Fortin / Les Echos
THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• COVID-19 latest: More than 40 countries have banned arrivals from the UK because of new, reportedly highly contagious strain of the coronavirus spreading in the country. The British government warns of a devastating effect on food supply chains of the bans. Meanwhile, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, whose distribution could begin in some EU states as early as Sunday.
• Convicted for migrant truck deaths: Two men have been found guilty of manslaughter as part of a larger human trafficking investigation after 39 Vietnamese migrants were found dead in Oct. 2019 in a sealed truck truck in Essex, UK, en route from Belgium.
• Kurdish politician gets 22 years: Turkey has sentenced Kurdish opposition politician Leyla Güven to 22 years in prison for her membership in a "terror group" and disseminating "terror propaganda" for outlawed Kurdish armed groups.
• Rio mayor arrested: Rio's pastor-turned-mayor Marcelo Crivella has been arrested for alleged involvement in a bribing and corruption scheme
• Navalny's trick call: Bellingcat has published a recording of a call between Putin critic Alexei Navalny and a Kremlin agent he reportedly tricked into confessing to poisoning him in August by way of Navalny's underwear.
• Vatican vaccine approval: The Vatican says that it is "morally acceptable" to get the COVID-19 vaccine, even if its research or production involves using cell lines derived from aborted fetuses.
• Thai man saves elephant with CPR: Off-duty rescue worker Mana Srivate managed to save a baby elephant by using CPR following a road collision.
"So close, so far," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, writing about Jupiter and Saturn which came within 0.1 degrees of each other (though in reality still 456 million miles apart) in the night sky, forming a "double planet." Such a rare great conjunction of the Solar System's two largest planets hadn't occurred in nearly 800 years.
ACHTUNG SANTA! A GERMAN STUDY SETS THE IDEAL LIMIT ON TOYS
Play is a fundamental part of childhood development. But when it comes to toys, as one nursery in Bavaria has shown, there's something to be said for moderation, writes Judith Blage in German daily Die Welt.
Once every three years, a state-run nursery in the Bavarian town of Penzberg has three months without toys. It's a tradition that goes back 30 years. No clutter. No model railways, no toy trucks, no dolls, not even crayons. Every morning, the kids, aged 3-6, come in and find tables, chairs, cushions and plates laid out. Outside there's a garden. Except for the other boys and girls, there's nothing else.
Three months without toys is a very unusual prospect for a modern, Central European child. Ten years ago, British researchers found that the average child has 238 toys. It seems reasonable to assume that the number is even higher today. But what effect does this huge number of toys have on children?
Researchers across a wide variety of disciplines agree that play is essential to children's development, and that it's a biological constant. It's not only humans who play; this behavior has also been observed in animals such as elephants, dolphins, dogs, wolves, cats and crows.
The problem, however, is that in this case, more is not better. Studies show that having too many toys has a negative effect. If children are presented with too much choice, they find it harder to concentrate. And as a result, their games are less creative.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com here.
Soccer player Rafael Leao scored the fastest goal in the history of Italy's Serie A and of Europe's top five leagues, cutting through the opposition defense after 6.2 seconds.
It certainly appears to be the Russians but I am not going to discuss it beyond that.
— U.S. Attorney General and Trump loyalist Bill Barr broke ranks with the outgoing president as he commented on the recent hacking of dozens of U.S. Treasury Department email accounts.
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?
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
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
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.