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Friday, August 23, 2013

Car Bombs Strike Lebanon Mosques

Two car bombs exploded after Friday prayers in the Lebanese city of Tripoli, killing 42 people and injuring over 500 more. Tripoli is predominantly Sunni, and there have been multiple clashes between Sunnis and Alawites as Syria’s civil war continues to heighten sectarian tensions Lebanon.  The city itself, however, has rarely seen bombings in recent years, and none this deadly since the end of Lebanon’s civil war in 1990.

The bombs went off five minutes apart, possibly killing a Salafi cleric who is a fierce opponent of Hezbollah. Attacks on Sunni strongholds have been rare so far in Lebanon; these are particularly significant not only because Sunni mosques were targeted but because the attacks have come during an extremely volatile time. Just a week ago, a Shiite neighborhood in Beirut was hit by a huge explosion.

Footage showed black smoke billowing over scattered bodies and burning cars, evoking images from the civil war. As of yet, no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

U.S. Government: The Recession, the Banks, and the Wealthy

In depressing government news today, a study published on Monday examining the U.S. Senate’s responsiveness to their constituents found “evidence of responsiveness to only the wealthy.” Past research had shown that while the Senate ignored the poor, it was moderately attentive to the needs of the middle class. With inequality skyrocketing after 2002 and the outsized political influence exerted by corporations and the wealthy thanks to Citizens United, the Senate’s interest in its constituents seems to have shrunk even further.

The average household earns less today than it did at the ‘end’ of the recession.

The roots of the recession, of course, can now be traced back to the U.S. government in 1997, thanks to a newly-leaked memo. In the confidential memo, Timothy Geithner reminds Larry Summers to call the personal numbers of the CEOs of the five major banks about their plans for the upcoming WTO summit. Those plans? To force all signee nations to accept toxic assets like financial derivatives, which, in turn, would require them to destroy their divisions between commercial savings banks and investment banks. Brazil is the only country that refused; it is also the only Western country whose banks survived and thrived during the subsequent global financial meltdown in 2007-2009.

More Spying Shenanigans

Contradicting Obama’s assurances that all breaches of the NSA rules aimed at protecting privacy were accidental, a new report by the NSA’s inspector general revealed that many analysts deliberately broke those rules to spy on Americans. These disclosures prompted the first intervention of the new Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which wrote to the intelligence chiefs calling for stricter guidelines on domestic surveillance and noting that the current guidelines had not been updated for 30 years.

In more bizarre news, it now seems as if the British government is leaking its own documents about itself. The Independent published an article that repeatedly claims to have been based on documents provided by Edward Snowden about a secret British internet-monitoring station in the Middle East. Snowden has never had contact with anyone at the Independent.

Finally, after repeated and sustained harassment by the UK government, the Guardian will be partnering with The New York Times to publish a series of articles based on the information leaked to them by Snowden. The hope is that, because the New York Times is protected under the First Amendment, it will be harder for the U.K. government to interfere. However, when reached for comment, the paper’s executive editor said “My cellphone is not a secure line.”

Contaminated Water: China, Japan, Pennsylvania

New spots of high radiation have been found at the Fukushima plant, raising the fear of fresh leaks among the other 350 tanks. Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority commissioner found that Tepco had been careless in monitoring the storage tanks full of dangerously radioactive water. (A major understatement, since the company had been warned this would happen in June.) Tepco also failed to keep records of the tank inspections.  Experts say that a massive underground reservoir of radioactive water is about to reach the Pacific Ocean.

In China, 20 million people may have been exposed to water contaminated with unsafe levels of arsenic. The researchers who authored the report used a new prediction method, that allowed them to assess the risk of contamination without having to screen each of China’s 10 million wells. They are hoping their findings will help China’s authorities with their well-screening programs.

A new study concluded that in Pennsylvania, the closer someone lives to a well used to hydraulically fracture shale for natural gas, the more likely it is that their drinking water is contaminated with methane. This is the first step towards determining whether fracking in Pennsylvania is responsible for tainting the region’s drinking water.

Over 1 Million Syrian Child Refugees

In a statement released today, UNHCR and UNICEF reported that children made up half of all Syrian refugees. 740,000 of those children are under the age of 11, and thousands have crossed the border into Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq either alone or separated from their families. The report estimates that 2 million children have been displaced within Syria and around 7,000 have been killed.

Crossing the border requires dodging fire from the Syrian Army – it has even been known to trace and bomb refugees using their cell phone calls. The largest refugee camp in Jordan, Za’atari, now holds 120 thousand people. “Camels can’t even live here,” one man said, “But Syrians can.” 

Between regime’s likely use of chemical weapons against civilians on Wednesday, the fractured rebels, influx of jihadists and recalcitrant nations like Russia and China only one thing is clear: no one knows what to do.

Weekend Read: Encarcelacion

A series of articles on Latin America’s fatal prison problem. Via GlobalPost.

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