10 Mind-Blowing Things That Happened This Week (8/4/17)
Keeping up with the news is hard. So hard, in fact, that we’ve decided to save you the hassle by rounding up the most mind-blowing stories each week. The week that took us into August may have felt like a fairly placid week, but deep beneath the surface of the headlines, geopolitical plates were shifting. Potentially major changes were signaled in the worlds of medicine, politics, and history—changes that could soon lead to a major news earthquake.
10 The Whistle Was Blown On Venezuela’s Vote Rigging
On Sunday, July 30, Venezuelans went to the polls to vote on a new Constituent Assembly. Or did they? No sooner had Nicolas Maduro’s party declared victory (an easy enough task as nobody else stood in the election) than the company that supplied Venezuela’s electronic ballots was calling foul.
Despite Maduro’s insistence that the turnout was 41.5 percent, or eight million people, Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica declared that the government had knowingly inflated the figure by over a million.
Discovering Caracas had inflated the voting figures by a million would be disastrous for Maduro’s reputation. Yet the truth could be even worse. Reuters was leaked a memo from inside the government which seemed to prove that fewer than four million Venezuelans had voted. That would put the turnout at barely 20 percent and mean the government had doubled the true voter figure.
The numbers are important, as Maduro is attempting to rewrite the constitution and needs at least a fig leaf of legitimacy to do so. The actual contents of the new constitution are not currently known, but it’s thought that they’ll likely cement Maduro’s reputation as an up-and-coming dictator.
9 Pakistan’s Prime Minister Resigned
Remember just a few weeks ago, when this column reported that the future of Pakistan’s PM was hinging on a Microsoft font? Well, it hinges no more. On Friday, July 28, Nawaz Sharif was found unfit for office by his country’s Supreme Court. He resigned immediately.
Incredibly, this isn’t the first time that Sharif has been forced from Pakistan’s highest office. He was dismissed on corruption charges in 1993 before returning to office and being deposed in a coup in 1999. Nor is his exit that unusual for Pakistan. Since the country’s birth, there have been 18 non-caretaker prime ministers, none of whom has ever served a full term of office.
The National Assembly wasted no time in finding a replacement. On August 1, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi became the next in a long line of caretaker PMs, holding the seat until Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif, can run in the next by-election in 40 days’ time. If Shahbaz wins (spoiler: he will), Abbasi will step aside and Pakistan will have its 19th official PM.
8 Britain Saw Its Biggest IRA Trial In Years
Since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, dissident Irish Republican terrorism has largely become a thing of the past in mainland Britain. Last year, that very nearly changed. A joint police effort between England and Northern Ireland uncovered a plot to steal bombs and ammunition from the army to launch violent terrorist attacks. The real shocker came when they discovered who was at the heart of it: Ciaran Maxwell, a member of the elite Royal Marines.
Maxwell was connected to the Continuity IRA, a dissident splinter group that tried to bomb Belfast and Dublin in 2005 and assassinated a police officer in 2009. While stationed at Norton Manor Camp in Somerset, he managed to smuggle out mortars, ammunition, equipment for pipe bombs, and even two antipersonnel mines. He was, in short, a walking security breach in the midst of Britain’s top soldiers and could have caused untold carnage.
Thankfully, he was caught in August 2016 before carrying out his plans and finally jailed this week for 18 years. The case has raised fears in the UK that, even two decades after the Troubles ended, dissident Republican terrorism could still make a comeback.
7 We Took the First Step Toward Curing The Common Cold
Variations on “how come we can put a man on the Moon but we can’t cure the common cold?” have been around for decades. If new research from a team at Edinburgh Napier University is anything to go by, such complaints may not survive much longer. Following a breakthrough this week, the team has discovered a possible treatment for the rhinovirus, the most common cause of the common cold.
The breakthrough hinges on something called antimicrobial peptides, naturally occurring parts of human and animal immune systems. Through some science voodoo trickery, the researchers managed to make these peptides attack the rhinovirus in infected lung cells, suggesting a whole new branch of treatments we could try and tap.
For those of you reading this with a stuffy nose and a head full of snot, the bad news is that this is still very early days. A whole lot more research and development will need to be done. The good news is that, once it is done, we may finally have a cure for the most irritating illness in human history.
6 We Rediscovered Two Lost Treasures
Over the centuries, we humans have lost so much invaluable stuff to wars, disasters, and just plain stupidity that it’s a wonder we have anything left at all. Well, one reason for that may be that we’re currently rediscovering things at an impressive rate. Just this week, archaeologists succeeded in uncovering long-lost Roman ruins in France while publishers in Texas rediscovered a missing play by Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie.
The Roman ruins were found in the town of Vienne, just outside Lyon, and, boy, were they impressive. Entire mosaics were uncovered depicting scenes from mythology along with the remains of a whole neighborhood abandoned during a fire. The ruins are thought to be perhaps the best Roman excavation of the past 40 years—an incredible claim, but one which the photos so far released suggest is justified.
Meanwhile, over in Texas, publishers from The Strand Magazine uncovered a missing J.M. Barrie play at the Harry Ransom Center. Known as Reconstruction of a Crime, it’s a 33-page farce that has apparently never been published or performed.
5 Deadly Floods Killed Hundreds In India
The monsoon season is a dicey time in India. Enough rain falls on the subcontinent to drown Atlantis many times over, and deaths occur every year. This year, things have been particularly bad.
The western state of Gujarat got largely submerged, with tens of thousands of people evacuated at the height of the emergency. This week, the floodwaters finally receded, revealing the bodies of those who didn’t make it. The grim total of the dead at time of this writing? 218.
The death toll is expected to climb even higher as the waters recede further and more bodies are found. That’s just Gujarat. Across the whole country, the total is at least 700. Gujarat was the worst-hit individual state.
The chief minister, Vijay Rupani, called it the “flood of the century,” with waters not reaching this height in nearly 112 years. In one village, 17 members of the same family were discovered all drowned together.
The government has since pledged 200,000 rupees ($3,140) to the families of the dead, but the worst may not be over. At least one more week of rain is expected before monsoon season is over.
4 John McCain Torpedoed Obamacare Repeal
If this week has taught us anything, it’s that John McCain is the Michelin-starred chef of serving cold revenge. The Arizona senator—who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer—has a personal beef with President Trump because Trump mocked McCain’s war record and has recently fallen out with his own party leadership.
Last week, McCain stunned Washington by leaving his sickbed in Arizona and traveling more than 3,200 kilometers (2,000 mi) to vote yes to opening a debate on Obamacare repeal. Many Republicans thought the maverick had finally come back into the fold. Turns out McCain just wanted to stick the knife into the president’s agenda personally.
When the vote came, GOP senators Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) had already indicated that they would vote no. That meant that every other Republican needed to stay on side for the repeal bill to pass. At first, all seemed to be going well. Then, in the early hours of Friday morning, McCain shocked Washington again by standing up and voting no.
If McCain was pro-Obamacare, he could have just stayed in the hospital and the debate would never have been opened. The explanation seems to be that this was personal revenge on the president, on the GOP leadership, and on everyone in his party who wronged him. Say what you will about the effects of this vendetta on policy, but it certainly proves that McCain is one guy in Congress you don’t want to cross.
3 Hamburg Was Shaken By An Islamist Knife Attack
After the horrific Berlin truck attack in December 2016 that killed 12 people, Germany existed in a state of nervous tension. While no more citizens had been killed by terrorists, there had been the feeling that new violence could erupt at any moment.
Last Friday, it did. In Hamburg, a 26-year-old Palestinian known only as Ahmed A. walked into a supermarket and took a knife off the shelf. Then he went on a rampage, stabbing and slashing as many shoppers as he could before locals overpowered him.
Six people were wounded in the bloodbath, and one, sadly, died. Ahmed shouted “Allahu akbar” as he unleashed his attack and would later tell police that he wanted to die a martyr.
Unusually, ISIS didn’t claim responsibility, and it seems that Ahmed had no connection with the terrorist group. Links to the West Bank’s violent ruling party, Fatah, later emerged.
Ahmed was a failed asylum seeker housed at a notoriously violent Hamburg refugee shelter. He was on the verge of being deported when he unleashed his attack. He is now being held under a suicide watch to ensure that he doesn’t escape justice.
2 North Korea Tested An Even Scarier Missile
North Korean missile tests are now so regular that you could almost set your watch by them. In the first seven months of 2017 alone, there have been 12 launches or attempted launches. It’s the last two that have really got people worried.
On July 4 (as we reported here), the Kim regime tested an ICBM that was capable of hitting Alaska. Last Friday’s launch was even scarier. Experts say that the new missile could reach Chicago or LA and might even be able to hit Boston or New York.
Before you start buying shares in nuclear bunkers, you should know that there’s still some doubt over whether North Korea could successfully nuke the US. It’s one thing to be able to fire a missile that can theoretically threaten NYC. It’s another entirely to fire a missile that can actually hit the city without going off course, falling apart, or crashing into the sea. Most experts don’t think Pyongyang has reached that stage quite yet.
But there’s the rub: the word “quite.” Like it or not, the DPRK is now a nuclear power and it’s estimated that they’ll have a missile capable of successfully nuking the US by early 2018. What happens then is anybody’s guess.
1 Vietnam Staged A Cold War–Style Kidnapping In The German Capital
Before the Berlin Wall fell, the German capital was a hot spot for political kidnappings. Dissidents fleeing the Eastern Bloc would be taken at gunpoint and bundled back over the border.
Post-1990, such John le Carre–style shenanigans have been unheard-of. Until this week. On July 24, Vietnamese asylum seeker Trinh Xuan Thanh was abducted off the streets of Berlin in broad daylight by armed men. This Monday, he suddenly reappeared . . . on Vietnamese state TV, claiming that he’d handed himself in.
Thanh was a high-level worker at Vietnam’s state-owned oil company, PetroVietnam. Earlier this year, he was accused of financial mismanagement. Claiming his accusation was political, he fled with his family to Germany, where he was eventually tracked down and abducted.
Berlin has directly accused Hanoi of being behind the kidnapping and expelled a Vietnamese attache in response. Hanoi denies the charges, but it’s hard to see what else might have happened.
If true, it would be the craziest act that the normally peaceful communist state has committed. Such a brazen breach of international and German law would undoubtedly have profound consequences. It may not look like it, but this spat between Hanoi and Berlin could yet blow up into the biggest diplomatic incident in years.