10 Mind-Blowing Things That Happened This Week (12/1/17)
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 significant, unusual, or just plain old mind-blowing stories each week.
As we finally began the countdown to Christmas, many of us were forced to pause and wonder if we’d actually be around to see it. Kim Jong Un’s North Korea once again threatened to turn the whole world into a smoking pile of radioactive rubble following Pyongyang’s latest missile launch. More on the eternal Korean crisis below, but first, let’s look at the other crazy things that were happening around our fragile world.
10 The ICTY’s Final Trial Ended In A Live Broadcast Suicide
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has been a mainstay of geopolitics for 25 years. Founded in 1993 to prosecute crimes committed during the breakup of Yugoslavia, it was the first international trial of war criminals since Nuremberg. It led to the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is also the reason the UN is now preparing to prosecute war crimes committed in Syria.
With a pedigree like that, the ICTY’s final judgment would have been big news no matter what happened. But Wednesday’s session managed to sign the court off in unexpectedly dramatic fashion. After losing an appeal against his 20-year sentence, Bosnian-Croat butcher Slobodan Praljak necked a vial of poison. His suicide was broadcast live to the entire world.
Praljak led a militia of ethnic Croatians which laid siege to the Bosniak part of Mostar. He interred Muslim civilians in concentration camps. Yet his suicide while in custody will potentially raise ethnic tensions in the Balkans. Croatian media is already treating Praljak as a tragic hero rather than the war criminal he was. In the former Yugoslavia, it seems, the war is never over.
9 Egypt Suffered Its Worst Modern Terrorist Attack
Last Friday, 40 gunmen entered the tiny town of Bir al-Abed in Egypt’s troubled North Sinai region. They approached the local mosque, detonated three car bombs, and then opened fire on worshipers as they fled. Over 300 people were killed, with another 128 wounded. Before the attack, this town had a population of only 800. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in modern Egyptian history.
Those killed were mostly of the Sufi order, a branch of Islam that is loathed by Salafists like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. They’ve been horribly persecuted in countries like Iran, and now that persecution seems to be extending to Egypt. Not that the government in Cairo is turning a blind eye. Following the attack, Egyptian dictator Sisi gave the military three months to secure the Sinai region.
At the time of this writing, no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, although ISIS’s Egyptian arm seems the likeliest perpetrator. Like the devastating Mogadishu truck bomb in October, the death toll seems to have united even other terrorists against the attackers. The day after, two Al-Qaeda affiliates in Egypt promised to track down and slaughter those responsible.
8 A Ridiculous Twitter Spat Threatened To Drive The US And UK Apart
If you’re one of our US readers, we want you to quickly imagine something. Imagine British Prime Minister Theresa May has just retweeted three videos of, say, US cops killing unarmed black men. She’s sourced them from an account linked with the Dallas sniper who killed five officers in July 2016. When the president understandably takes offense to her butting her nose into Washington’s affairs, May responds by telling him to shut up and sort out America’s “extremist” problem.
Can you imagine what an epoch-shaking, diplomacy-shredding, giant middle finger to America’s face this would be? Now you have some idea how the whole of Britain felt on Thursday morning. That was the morning the UK awoke to find that the president had retweeted videos by hate group Britain First, whose name right-wing terrorist Thomas Mair shouted as he murdered MP Jo Cox. Then Trump publicly insulted the prime minister when she gently reprimanded him.
The US and UK are meant to be friends. They’re meant to have a “special relationship.” For the president to publicly attack the British prime minister over such a monumentally trivial thing isn’t just a gaffe. It’s like responding to an office snub by drop-kicking your boss in the kidneys.
An emergency question was tabled in the House of Commons over this ill-judged debacle. If this keeps happening, how long before other countries start thinking this of America, “With allies like these, who needs enemies?”
7 Sexual Harassment Allegations Took Down Congress’s Longest-Serving Member
Mind you, things weren’t going too well for the Democrats this week, either. After (rightly) raising hell about the Roy Moore allegations, they were faced with one of their own members being hit with assault accusations. John Conyers of Michigan was the top-serving Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. But he was also something else: the longest-serving member in the whole of Congress.
Conyers is the last remaining Congressman to serve under Lyndon Johnson, having joined Congress in 1965. While others have previously served for longer (John Dingell managed over 59 years), Conyers is light-years ahead of anyone else sitting in either the House or Senate. He is also the only African American to have served in Congress for more than 50 years.
Yet all that came crashing down this week as Conyers was accused by multiple women of sexual harassment, including groping and firing aides who refused to sleep with him. The liberal representative has now said he will not stand for reelection in 2018. Although he denies the charges, his career is over.
6 Shell Was Accused Of Crimes Against Humanity
In the 1990s, the Nigerian regime went to town against the impoverished province of Ogoniland. Anti-oil activists were rounded up and executed. Villages were burned to the ground. Civilians were tortured, raped, murdered, and driven from their lands, all with the goal of keeping oil flowing out of Ogoniland.
The biggest beneficiary of these massacres was the jointly owned British-Dutch oil firm Shell. The oldest multinational oil corporation operating in Nigeria, the company partnered with the government to exploit lands the military had cleared.
Shell has repeatedly said that it had no sway over the regime in Abuja during these killings. This week, we may have learned differently. Amnesty International claimed it had gained access to thousands of internal Shell documents. They say the papers provide proof that the company’s Nigerian branch was complicit in horrific human rights abuses.
The accusations put Shell in the same uncomfortable bind as companies like Coca-Cola, which was accused by Colombian authorities last year of funding right-wing death squads in the country. While both companies deny the charges, the accusations could yet prove very costly.
5 Bolivia Lurched Toward Dictatorship
Two terms. That’s the maximum allowed for a president under Bolivia’s constitution, promoted by President Evo Morales in 2009 and passed by public referendum. The two-term clause probably seemed like a fantastic idea at that early stage in Morales’s career. Elected in 2006, he managed to engineer the ’09 constitution so that his previous term didn’t count, meaning he could still bank on two more terms in the president’s palace.
But time makes fools and dictators of us all. Last year, Morales held a referendum on scrapping term limits and letting him run again in 2019. Voters said “no.” So, this week, he asked the Constitutional Court to bypass both the referendum and the constitution itself. They agreed. There is now no limit on Morales running for president for as long as he wishes.
Perhaps the saddest part is that Morales could have been remembered as a decent leader. The first Bolivian president from the country’s indigenous population, he managed to restore calm after the early years of the 21st century saw five presidents in as many years. Instead, he seems to be following his friend, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, down the path toward dictatorship.
4 Honduras Lurched Toward Chaos
Transparency, an important part of any political process, is exactly what Honduras’s latest election has been lacking. One of the world’s most violent countries since a 2009 coup, Honduras is a troubled nation in need of fresh leadership.
And that’s exactly what this election promised. On Monday, the telegenic opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla was 5 percentage points ahead in the count against incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez. Nasralla declared victory. Then, strangely, so did President Hernandez.
Shortly after, the electoral court mysteriously stopped issuing vote tally updates. When it resumed 24 hours later, Nasralla’s lead had been cut in half. Then it was halved again. At the time of this writing, Nasralla is now trailing Hernandez by a narrow margin.
Nasralla’s supporters have called foul and likely with good cause. International election monitors have been denied access in certain areas, and the Hernandez-supporting military has transported and checked every single vote. Already, protesters are taking to the streets in Tegucigalpa. If this election has indeed been stolen, it threatens to spark riots or even a military crackdown.
3 Africa Moved to Shut Down Libya’s Slave Camps
In mid-November, CNN reporters managed to film a vast slave camp operating on the edge of the Libyan desert. Originally a stopping point for African migrants en route to Europe, the camp had turned into a giant market where enslaved men could be bought for a few hundred bucks and forced into farmwork.
Although the camps had previously been reported as early as 2015, this was our first proper look inside one. It was like turning back the planet’s clock to the darkest days of the slave trade.
The video was so explosive that it triggered direct action in Europe and Africa. The EU and AU (African Union) met this Thursday to agree to a mass evacuation plan that would see up to 15,000 migrants rescued from Libya and repatriated to their home countries.
It also led Emmanuel Macron to pledge a €44 billion “Marshall Plan” to end the desperate conditions of North Africa’s migrants. From being a pair of paper tigers, the EU and AU may have finally been spurred to actually fight for something.
2 Pakistan’s Government Gave In To Mob Rule
For weeks, protesters have been kicking up a storm in cities across Pakistan against Law Minister Zahid Hamid. On Saturday, those protests turned deadly. Protesters attacked the police, resulting in six deaths and 200 injuries. Islamabad became a war zone.
So, what was Hamid’s crime? What draconian law did this government minister pass that made the population crazy with anger?
The answer is at once far more pathetic and far more terrifying than some dumb new law. Hamid was in charge of revising the country’s electoral oath. In the newly published version, he accidentally left out a reference to Muhammad. For this typo, Pakistan was pushed to the brink of a political crisis that nearly saw its government fall.
To call this crazy would be an understatement. Pakistan is a nuclear state now being pushed to and fro by the whims of demented Islamists. The only reason this crisis didn’t bring down the government was because Islamabad caved completely. Hamid resigned. Arrested protesters were freed. The government agreed to pay for all the cleanup of the riots. The protesters—who had murdered a policeman—got everything they wanted.
A complicating factor is Pakistan’s military, the power behind the throne. They are thought to frequently mobilize Islamists to keep civilian governments in place. On Wednesday, footage emerged of a Pakistani general handing out money to protesters and promising to get their arrested comrades released. It seems likely that the military engineered this crisis for its own murky ends.
1 North Korea Tested A Missile Capable of Hitting . . . Everywhere
The memes might suggest otherwise, but North Korea stopped being funny a long time ago. Under bloated despot Kim Jong Un, the Hermit Kingdom has tested increasingly powerful nuclear bombs and guided missiles.
In July, Pyongyang tested a missile that could hit Alaska. In August, it tested another missile that could hit New York City. This week, the regime hit one of its long-term goals. It successfully tested a rocket that could hit any part of the mainland US.
Again, we haven’t reached full-blown panic time yet. But we’re getting closer. In August 2017, a US intelligence assessment determined that Pyongyang has the ability to miniaturize a warhead to fit on their missiles. Still, North Korea has some significant hurdles to clear—such as reentry—before it can actually bomb the US. All signs currently point to DPRK missiles breaking up as they plunge back to Earth.
Like it or not, Pyongyang is now clearly in a flat-out dash for the nuclear finish line. Two years ago, the idea that North Korea might one day build an ICBM would have been laughable. Given recent history, it seems unwise to underestimate Kim once again. What we can actually do about it, though, is a question we sadly can’t answer.