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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Leaves Trail of Destruction in Eastern U.S.

U.S. President Barack Obama signed major disaster declarations for parts of New York and New Jersey today after the passage of super storm Sandy. The order unlocked the distribution of billions of dollars in aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Sandy claimed 39 lives in eight states,  left around 8.5 million homes without power, caused extensive flooding, and could end up costing more than $20 billion over all. Power and transportation system failures could take days to repair, preventing millions of people from going to work and slowing U.S. economic growth by one to 1.5 percent in the fourth quarter, according to IHS Global Insight Economist Gregory Daco. The same storm that caused massive damage in a region that represents a quarter of the world’s largest economy also wreaked havoc in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere: after Sandy’s wrath caused the deaths of 52 people, the country is now facing a food crisis and a spike in cholera deaths. New York Governor Andrew expressed concern that storms like Sandy are becoming more frequent. “I said kiddingly the other day, ‘We have a 100-year flood every two years now.’ These situations never happened or if they happened, they were never going to happen again,” Cuomo said. “I think at this point it’s undeniable that we have a higher frequency of these extreme weather situations, and we’re going to have to deal with it.” Meanwhile, climate scientists are dropping their caution in declaring that climate change is causing larger storms. Obama and Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent in the presidential elections, have both been careful to avoid the topic of climate change.

Greece Nears Deal in Parliament that Could Unlock Rescue Funds

Chances for near-bankrupt Greece to obtain the next tranche of its bailout package soared today after the socialist party PASOK agreed to vote in favor of a €13.5 billion ($17.5 billion) set of proposals for spending cuts. Having the socialists on his side gives Prime Minister Antonis Samaras the parliamentary majority he needs to pass the reforms, which were imposed on the debt-saddled country by its international lenders, the troika (European Central Bank, European Union, and International Monetary Fund). The Greek government has yet to convince the third party in its coalition, Democratic Left, to vote in favor of the austerity measures. “The Democratic Left has fought on the issue of labor relations, to protect workers’ rights which have been already weakened,” it said in a statement. “It does not agree with the result of the negotiations. The Democratic Left sticks to its position.” If all the socialists and Samaras’ party approve the measures, however, they will be passed with 160 votes, nine more than are required. Only two socialists said they will vote against them, and another two are reportedly undecided. Euro area finance ministers are due to meet about Greece on Wednesday, and, if nothing is done, Greece could run out of money by mid-November.

Bahrain Bans Protests Citing Safety Concerns

After over a year of antigovernment protests, Bahrain, the island-kingdom on the Persian Gulf that is the base for the U.S. Fifth Fleet, banned today all demonstrations and rallies. According to the state news agency, security concerns motivated the decision, announced Monday evening by Interior Minister Lieutenant-General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa. Freedom of expression “has been abused repeatedly by organizers’ violations and the participants’ lack of commitment to the legal regulations,” the item states. Inspired by the Arab Spring that saw uprisings all across the Arab world in the spring of 2011, Bahrain’s Shiite majority has been pressing for more power and a political voice to counter the Sunni monarchy. The government’s repeated repression of the opposition has been denounced by international human rights observers, and today, Amnesty International called the ban a violation of human rights.

Afghanistan Sets Election Date to 2014

Officials in Afghanistan said today the date of the next presidential election is set to April 5, 2014. This is a show of good will by President Hamid Karzai, who the nation’s constitution bars from running for a third term. The last elections, which were held in 2009, was delayed for three months, prolonging Karzai’s first term. It was also troubled by fraud, most of which in Karzai’s favor, and heavy with violence, which kept voters away from the polls. The 2014 election is seen as crucial, as it will be the last before the U.S. and NATO pull out of the country. Experts still believe Karzai’s concern is to maintain power, and a move last week to ban any foreigner from an important election watchdog could undermine the credibility of the election.

Polish Teenager Should Have Had Abortion Access, Says European Court of Human Rights

A 14-year-old Polish rape victim should have been given access to an abortion, the European Court of Human rights ruled today. The girl was forced to have an illegal abortion after she was turned away from hospitals as a consequence of pro-life groups. Poland, a historically Catholic nation, has some of the most stringent laws on abortion in the European Union (EU), allowing it only in case of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger. A woman or a seeking an abortion must obtain a legal document from a prosecutor after establishing intercourse was unlawful, but even armed with this document, the girl was refused care at two different hospitals. Her mother, who accompanied her, was taken into custody and interrogated for allegedly trying to force the abortion on her.

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