Long stories short
- China pledged $31 million worth of aid to Afghanistan and described the new Taliban government as a â€śnecessary step to restore orderâ€ť in the country. Joe Biden said the US is a â€ślong way offâ€ť from recognising the new government.
- A fire at a makeshift hospital for Covid patients in North Macedonia killed at least ten people.
- A machine to extract 400 tonnes of CO2 per year from ambientÂ air, the biggest of its kind in the world, was switched on in Iceland.
â€śThe three-year-old El Salvador International Airport is glassy and white,â€ť Joan Didion wrote in her classic 1982 essay about the Central American country. The airport was, she said, â€śthe visionary invention of a tourist industry in yet another republic where the leading natural cause of death is gastrointestinal infectionâ€ť. The leading cause of death has changed â€“ it is now homicide â€“ but the countryâ€™s idea of development, as something that can be short-circuited, hasnâ€™t.
El Salvador adopted Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency, as legal tender yesterday. â€śWe must break the paradigms of the past,â€ť President Nayib Bukele tweeted. â€śEl Salvador has the right to advance to the first world.â€ť Instead, the country regressed:
- The price of Bitcoin fell to its lowest level in a month, dropping by 20 per cent at one point. According to one opposition politician the drop cost the country, one of the regionâ€™s poorest, $3 million.
- Major platforms, including Apple, Huawei, and Google, werenâ€™t hosting the governmentâ€™s digital wallet â€“ Chivo, slang for â€ścool.â€ť Servers supporting Chivo couldnâ€™t keep up with user registration, crashed, and had to be taken offline.
- More than a thousand protestors set off fireworks and burned tyres outside the supreme court. They fear Bitcoin will cause financial instability and, because its transactions are spread across the Internet and outside national jurisdictions, will fuel illicit business.
They are right. Bukele, one of the most popular leaders in Central America, was elected on a promise to clean up graft. But he has taken control of almost all the countryâ€™s institutions, including the judiciary, and his allies are facing accusations of corruption by the US.
Over the course of the day, Bukele succeeded in pressuring Huawei and Apple to back Chivo. He then ordered the government to buy $7 million worth of Bitcoin to support its price, on top of the $20 million it had bought before yesterdayâ€™s launch.
Meanwhile, half of El Salvadorâ€™s population has no Internet access, many more only have weak connectivity, and incomes remain very low. Jose Herrera, who sells sweets and has trouble accessing a mobile phone, told journalists: â€śIâ€™m going to continue suffering with or without bitcoin.â€ť
BelongingÂ identity, society, beliefs, countries
Richmond, Virginia â€“ once the capital of the Confederacy â€“ took down a statue of confederate general Robert E. Lee. The statue, which was 6.4 metres tall, stood on a 12 metre pedestal, and dated to 1890, became a focal point of protests after the death of George Floyd. Virginia governor Ralph Northam, who announced it would be taken down, called it â€śa monument to the Confederate insurrectionâ€ť. It is telling that many confederate statues, like this one, went up not in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War but later, when the Ku Klux Klan gained power and states enacted laws that disenfranchised Black populations. The statueâ€™s removal reflects a sea change in the demographics and politics of the South. The statue is now in a secure facility. Its former base, local officials said, will now be â€śreimaginedâ€ť.
New thingsÂ technology, science, engineering
Swale borough council in Kent, England, was testing the online planning submissions tool on its website when things went wrong. Staff members used five â€śdummyâ€ť planning decisions to test whether the tool was working. One was a sarcastic refusal to approve a desperate bid by the charity Happy Pants, an animal sanctuary: â€śyour proposal is whackâ€ť and â€śno mate, proper whackâ€ť. Permission for the partial demolition of The Wheatsheaf pub was granted by â€śincy, wincy, spiderâ€ť. The council is now looking to reverse the planning decisions. It first simply deleted them from its website, but was then advised that the decisions, although issued in error, are legally binding. They must be formally overturned, a process which may take months and will cost thousands of pounds. The councilâ€™s leader, Roger Truelove, said he is waiting for the outcome of a â€śproper investigationâ€ť.
The 100-year lifeÂ health, education, living, public poliCY
Delta, the more transmissible Covid variant, drove a rapid increase in infections in parts of the US where vaccination rates were behind the national average: Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Florida. In the latter state, Delta pushed cases to their highest-ever levels. The peak, at least, seems to have now passed. But deaths, a lagging indicator, remain at record-high levels and public health experts are worried that the return of unvaccinated schoolchildren to classrooms, cold weather in the North, and the Christmas holiday season could lead to yet another Delta wave. â€śI donâ€™t know if weâ€™ve peaked for all time,â€ť Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Irvine, told the Wall Street Journal, â€śbut the wave that was currently ongoing seems to have crested and is falling in some states but is rising in othersâ€ť.
Our planetÂ environment, natural resources, geopolitics
British home secretary Priti Patel is training Border Force staff to use â€śturn-aroundâ€ť tactics on small boats carrying migrants across the Channel, redirecting them to France. French authorities rejected the plans. The countryâ€™s interior minister said that â€śsafeguarding human lives at sea takes priority over considerations of nationality, status and migratory policyâ€ť and warned the UK that the tactic â€śwould risk having a negative impact on our cooperationâ€ť. France said it had already agreed with the UK to double the number of its personnel on the Channel coast. A record 13,500 migrants crossed the Channel in small boats this year. Two hundred were prevented from crossing by France on Monday, when 742 reached the UK. The training is expected to be completed this month. If the Border Force uses it, Patel may face accusations that she is breaking an international law that gives everyone the right to at least apply to any country for asylum.
WealthÂ investment, fairness, prosperity
The trial by jury of Elizabeth Holmes, who dropped out of Stanford University at age 19 to establish the blood testing start-up Theranos and build it to a $9 billion valuation, began yesterday. Theranos collapsed after its technology was revealed to be deeply flawed. According to prosecutors, Holmes knew it was flawed and misrepresented it to investors. She pleaded not guilty to 12 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If convicted, she will face up to 20 years in prison. The Theranos story has become a symbol of tech cultureâ€™s â€śfake it till you make itâ€ť hustle and Silicon Valley excess. But at the end of the day itâ€™s a story as old as time: lying and cheating for money. â€śThatâ€™s a crime on Main Street,â€ť said Robert Leach for the prosecution in his opening statement, â€śand itâ€™s a crime in Silicon Valley.â€ťÂ
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Paul Caruana Galizia
Produced by Sophia Sun and edited by Giles Whittell.
Photographs by Getty Images