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Friday, August 30, 2013

Support for Syria Strikes Low; Certainty Assad Used Sarin Gas High

Still smarting from the Iraq war, the British parliament rejected a motion that would approve military action if the UN chemical weapons team found proof they had been used. Only France has supported the Obama administration’s call for limited strikes against the Assad regime. Americans are divided.

US claims it had tracked the firing of chemical munitions on August 21st, from their launch in government-held positions, to their impact on rebel-held or contested neighborhoods, killing 1,429 people, far more than previously thought. Apparently, the high civilian death toll panicked the regime, which ordered the chemical weapons team to “cease operations” and then bombed the same neighborhood with conventional weapons in an attempt to cover up the attack. Because bombing chemical weapons sites could release the toxic gases into the air, the Obama administration will likely choose other targets.

Meanwhile, Damascus residents stocked up on supplies, resigned to the sound of shelling and refugees on the border were blocked from fleeing by the Assad regime, which has closed Syria’s borders. A BBC film crew witnessed the aftermath of an incendiary bomb hitting a school playground, leaving dozens of children with Napalm-like burns.

Both extremist rebels and the Assad regime, however, began deploying forces, fearing the US will target them.

Sane Government News

The Justice Department announced yesterday that it would not sue to block the laws in over 20 states that legalize marijuana (medical and/or otherwise). In a major shift in law enforcement policy, the DOJ issued new guidelines calling for reduced prosecution of marijuana users as well as distributors and growers complying with state law. The deputy attorney general made the case in economic terms (essentially, it’s not worth the government’s money), but noted that the states were expected to prevent sales to minors and tackle issues like trafficking across state lines.

Today, the United States Treasury and the IRS announced that they would recognize same-sex marriages for tax purposes, and a federal court struck down the law preventing veterans from receiving same-sex marriage benefits.

Congolese Rebels Declare Ceasefire

In a sign that the joint UN-Congolese offensive might be gaining the upper hand in DR Congo’s protracted civil war, M23 rebels announced they would be retreating from the front lines after yesterday’s battle. Bertrand Bisimwa, the civilian president of M23, claimed the troops were withdrawing to allow an independent investigation into shellings that had killed civilians, not because of casualties. He did not clarify how far back the group would withdraw. Government troops now hold the position.

Rwanda, however, still blames the Congolese government for bombs that landed on one of its villages yesterday, despite UN claims that the only shells fired in that direction came from the M23 camp. The country’s foreign minister posted on Facebook, saying that Rwandan troops were not currently in the Congo “(yet)”.

Poverty Has Same Effects on Brain as Sleep Deprivation

According to a study published in Science yesterday, the strain of poverty often consumes so much mental energy that it leaves little left for anything else, leaving low income people more susceptible to bad decisions.  As one of the study’s authors put it, “Poverty is the equivalent of pulling an all-nighter. Picture yourself after an all-nighter. Being poor is like that every day.”

In the experiment, Indian farmers were given IQ tests before the sugar cane harvest, when they are at their poorest, and after, when their finances are more comfortable. On average, the farmers did 13% better after the harvest.

When done on American mall shoppers, half were first given a financial problem to figure out – what they would do if their car required $1,500 worth of repairs. The study found that the scenario reduced cognitive performance among poorer participants, but not those who were well off.

Thousands of Egyptians Protest

Thousands protested throughout Egypt’s cities today, the largest reaching over 10,000 people in Cairo, in the biggest demonstrations since the fatal clashes two weeks ago. They had been warned that violence would be met with violence. Tanks and armored police vehicles barred the protesters from converging in major squares. At this point, it is not just followers of the Muslim Brotherhood, but people protesting the deaths of their loved ones as well.

Thankfully, most of the protests passed peacefully, with few confrontations between the demonstrators and the police. Three people have been reported killed, however, in fights between pre-Morsi supporters and anti-Muslim Brotherhood local residents.

Weekend Read: 12 Minutes of Freedom in 460 Days of Captivity

“My kidnapping marked the moment when one life ended and another began.” Via The New York Times Magazine.

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