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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Regime and (Some) Rebels Guilty of War Crimes

A four-person United Nations panel presented detailed evidence today of war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been committed by the Assad regime and, to a lesser extent, by Syrian rebels. While both sides have committed murder, torture, rape and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, the heavily armed government was behind eight of the nine mass killings being investigated. The report noted that neither the rebels nor Assad “fear accountability” for the ‘illegal’ killings.  In a major understatement, secretary general of the UN, Ban Ki-moon said that the organization was responsible for a “collective failure” to do anything at all to halt the killing.

Meanwhile, Russia has handed over its plans for placing Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles under international control, causing President Obama to put military action on hold. The exact proposal hasn’t been released, but chemical disarmament while a country is in the middle of a civil war would likely require thousands of troops to protect the workers.

The news was met with despair and anger by Syrian rebels, who correctly realize that any diplomatic solution is likely to strengthen Assad.

1/3 of All Food Wasted, Contributing to Climate Change

The UN Food and Agricultural Organization released a report showing that one third of all food produced in the entire world gets wasted. In poor countries, food waste is mostly due to inefficient farming and poor storage facilities, while in high-income countries, it is due to wasteful consumer behavior.  The loss amounts to 1.3 billion tons worth $750 billion per year, not to mention the millions who die of starvation. That total does not include wasted seafood and fish.

The production of the wasted food, moreover, is the third-biggest carbon emitter in the world, behind China and the US, with a yearly carbon footprint of billion tons of carbon dioxide. The volume of water wasted each year is equal to the discharge of the Volga River, and the need for more farmland reduces biodiversity.

Public Universities Increasing Aid for Wealthy, Decreasing it for Poor

Since 1996, public colleges and universities have given a declining portion of their grants – both in terms of number and dollar amount – to students in the lowest quartile of family income. The poorest students have fallen from 34% of grantees to 25%, while the richest recipients have risen from 16% to 23%.

State schools have been raising tuition without offering more aid, essentially squeezing needy students out and forcing them to decide not which college to attend, but whether they can afford to attend one at all. They have also joined private colleges in what’s called “financial-aid leveraging” in which, instead of offering $12,000 to a particularly needy student, they provide $3,000 each to four students with less need, but high SAT scores, thereby making more money and keeping their rankings high.

Kenya Discovers Major New Water Source

Two huge underground lakes have been discovered in Kenya’s drought-ridden Turkana region, which could supply the country with water for 70 years. They hold an estimated 250 billion cubic meters of water and are replenished with 3.4 billion cubic meters annually – very close to Kenya’s average water consumption for a year. Aquifiers like these could irrigate some of Africa’s driest regions (another has been found in Namibia) and help stop tribal conflicts often created by water shortages.

The discovery was made using satellites and radars normally used to look for oil and gas deposits. While the quality of the water still has to be tested, it will be available to the local population within the month.

Filipino Rebels Demand Foreign Intervention

Muslim rebels currently holding dozens of civilians hostage to use as human shields demanded international mediation for the crisis that is now in its third day. Troops, tanks, assault helicopters and navy gunboats have surrounded the 200-some rebels, who are, incidentally, refusing to speak to the provincial government.

Gunfire has been exchanged throughout the day, injuring at least three people. 15,000 villagers have fled, taking shelter in a sports complex and schools. Zamboanga City, with a population of almost 1 million, has almost entirely shut down.


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