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Friday, September 20, 2013

Jihadist Attacks on Military in Yemen, Nigeria, Afghanistan

Coordinated attacks by Al-Qaeda-linked fighters killed at least 38 soldiers and wounded dozens more today in the biggest attack by the group since last year. All were focused on military targets, with the three car bombs detonating at three different security and military posts. The attackers then stole military vehicles and escaped.  Southern Yemen has seen much of the fighting between the Yemeni government and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

A shootout  shook Abuja today in what is possibly the first violence from Boko Haram to hit the capital this year. The secret service had been searching an area near a residential compound for lawmakers based on tips from arrested Boko Haram members when they came under fire and returned it, killing seven. Some witnesses, however, said that the people in the compound were squatters who had refused to leave. This latest violence occurred as soldiers were still clearing bodies off the road in northeastern Nigeria, where Boko Haram fighters wearing military uniforms had stopped traffic, dragged people out of their cars and killed them. The death toll, so far, is 143.

In Afghanistan, at least 18 police officers were killed and 13 wounded in a Taliban ambush. Although Badakhshan province in the northeast has been relatively peaceful, Wardooj district, where the attack occurred, has become increasingly volatile.

House Republicans Continue Charade

House Republicans passed two bills today that are simultaneously profoundly destructive and entirely pointless.  Just one day after the census data was released showing that one in seven Americans receive food stamps (most of them children, elderly or disabled), Republicans narrowly passed a bill cutting the program by $4 billion a year. It will likely go nowhere in the Senate.

The stopgap spending bill pushed through by House Republicans today leaves sequestration cuts in place and would make continued funding of the government contingent on stripping all funding from ‘Obamacare.’ Because the budget can only target parts of the law subject to annual appropriations, however, it will not actually defund the pillars of the Affordable Care Act – Medicaid expansion and subsidies to buy insurance. Regardless, Senate will certainly strip the House’s provisions from the bill. If an agreement is not reached by October 1st, the government will shut down; the House GOP is also threatening to refuse to extend US borrowing limits when they are breached in mid-October. Either of these events will put the entire US economy at risk.

Hong Kong, Philippines and Taiwan Brace for Super Typhoon

Super Typhoon Usagi is currently the strongest storm to form on earth this year after intensifying explosively in the last 24 hours, now the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane. It may even be the most powerful storm on the planet since 1984. Sustained winds have increased from 75mph on Tuesday to over 160mph today, with gusts of up to 184mph. Torrential rains and brutal winds were expected throughout the area as hundreds of people were evacuated from flood-prone areas in Taiwan. The center of the typhoon is packing a 24-hour rainfall accumulation of almost 20 inches and it is estimated to be creating waves as high as 50 feet as it passes through the Luzon Strait that separates the Philippines from Taiwan.

It is projected to make landfall in southern China on Sunday, hitting the coast of Guangdong and Hong Kong. China’s State Oceanic Administration has issued a class I emergency, its highest maritime disaster response level.

Aid for Syrian Refugees in Jeopardy as Need Rises

Amnesty International warned that 150 Syrian refugees are being detained in poor conditions by Egyptian authorities and are at risk of being sent back. Their boat had been on its way to Italy when it was seized on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, UNICEF has reported that child labor is on the rise among Syrian refugees in Lebanon.  Unlike other countries hosting thousands of Syrian refugees, Lebanon has no formal refugee camps to form a safety net for displaced Syrians. (Albeit, the refugee camps in other countries are in dire straits.) Ask a result, families must find food, clean water and shelter on their own, forcing them to live in temporary, informal tent camps, and their children risk being pulled out of schools to help support the family.

The UN has raised only 40% of the funds it needs to help support Syrian refugees both in and outside of the camps. Unless the shortfall is made up quickly, it will likely have to cut vital food aid. A report released yesterday by Oxfam showed that top donor countries are ‘failing ordinary Syrians.’

US, UN Address Climate Change

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon will invite world leaders to a summit on climate change next week, hoping to break the years-long gridlock on global warming talks. He has decided to convene the meeting because international action has dwindled and next week, scientific projections to be revealed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are expected to show that time is running out.

In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has announced updated rules that limit the amount of carbon dioxide new power plants can emit. Most crucially, the new rules have separate standards for coal and natural gas plants, effectively requiring coal plants to capture up to 40% of the carbon pollution they produce.

Weekend Read: Can You Call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath?

Psychologists now believe fledgling psychopaths can be identified as early as kindergarten. The hope is to teach these children empathy before it’s too late. Via The New York Times Magazine.

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