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Friday, May 24, 2013

Bridge Collapse in Washington

An Interstate 5 bridge crossing the Skagit river north of Seattle collapsed yesterday evening, after a girder was struck by an oversized truck. Three people were injured as several vehicles plunged into the waters below. There were no fatalities. Interstate 5 is the main corridor from Southern California to British Columbia, and more than 67,000 drivers cross the collapsed bridge every day. The 58 year old bridge had received poor marks from the American Society of Civil Engineers in their 2013 infrastructure report card, but that’s not unusual, as more than a quarter of Washington’s 7,840 bridges are structurally deficient or even functionally obsolete, according to the ASCE. In fact, 759 bridges in Washington have a lower score than the one that collapsed yesterday. Yesterday’s collapse recalls the 2007 bridge collapse in Minnesota which killed 13 people, and prompted state officials there to ramp up efforts at modernizing state infrastructure. Since then the number of structurally diffident bridges in the U.S. has dropped from 12 percent to 11 percent.

U.S. Consolate Official Took Bribes for Visas in Vietnam

According to recently released court documents, a State Department official accepted “several million dollars in bribes” from Vietnamese citizens seeking visas to the United States. An affidavit filed by State Department investigator Simon Dinits accuses Michael T. Sestak, a Foreign Service officer at the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, of charging around $50,000 to approve a visa. From May 1, 2012, to Sept. 6, the consulate received 31,386 non-immigrant visa applications and rejected 35.1 percent of them. During the same period, Sestak directly handled 5,489 visa applications and rejected only 8.2 percent of them. Sestak, who owns properties in Phuket, Thailand, was arrested last week and is being held without bail due to flight concerns. Sestak’s five co-conspirators were not named in the affidavit but were described as friends and relatives of the “general director of the Vietnam office of a multi-national company located in Vietnam.”

Bomb in Pakistan Kills 13

A large bomb destroyed a police truck driving through the outer edges of Quetta, Pakistan yesterday. At least 13 police officers were killed and 17 others were injured. The bomb, which is believed to has contained at least 200 pounds of explosives, shook windows miles away. There have been no claims of responsibility, but Quetta, and indeed all of Baluchistan, is well acquainted with violence. Hazara Shiites are often harassed by Sunni militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Earlier this month, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi attempted to assassinate the inspector general of the Baluchistan police by detonating a minivan packed with explosives outside his house. Five people were killed and at least 50 others were injured. The southwestern province is also home to a significant Baluch separatist movement, which has battled for independence from Pakistan since Pakistan’s inception in 1947. In 2005, the Pakistani Army was deployed to put down a revolt by three tribes in the Dera Bugti district of Baluchistan, resulting in almost 1000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Early Warming Scuttles Arctic Research

Russia has begun evacuating an Arctic research station several months early, citing unexpected ice breakup early in the year. North Pole-40, the 40th in a string of arctic drift stations that began in 1937, was established late because the project had a difficult time finding a sufficiently robust floe to construct the camp upon. It’s early termination has frustrated the work of 16 scientists who had been collecting data on low-altitude atmospheric conditions, ozone concentrations, ice thickness, sea temperature and the ocean bottom. “It’s a huge loss for us, and for science,” said the director of the expedition, Vladimir Sokolov, “For us, it is very important to get information about the climate system in the high-latitude Arctic. Arctic drift stations usually remain active for a year, or even longer. A station called North Pole-22, was launched in 1973 and stayed in service for nearly nine years.

North Korea Open to Resuming Nuclear Talks

According to Chinese State News, North Korea has offered to renew nuclear disarmament talks. Yesterday, after meeting with Liu Yunshan, a senior figure in the Chinese Communist party, North Korea’s envoy to China Choe Ryong-hae said North Korea “is willing to accept the suggestion of the Chinese side and launch dialogue with all relevant parties.” During the meeting Liu, China’s fifth-ranked leader, called for “practical steps to alleviate the tense situation” and a brisk return to the failed six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Choe, one of the four members of the Politburo Presidium of the Central Committee Workers’ Party of Korea, is in Beijing as a special envoy to Chinese president, Xi Jinping. His trip represents the first meeting of high level officials between the two countries in six months. Xi has been in southwest China’s Sichuan province inspecting recovery efforts from last month’s earthquake, but is expected to return to Beijing soon.

Weekend Read: Children Are Dying

Nationwide shortages have driven Washington, D.C. hospitals to rationing, hoarding, and bartering critical nutrients patients need to survive. D.C. doctors are seeing conditions that are usually only reported in famine-stricken countries. Alexandra Robbins examines how this arose in the Washingtonian.

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