10 Mind-Blowing Things That Happened This Week (8/17/18)
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.
The big story this week happened in Italy, where a culmination of human errors led to tragedy when a bridge collapsed, killing scores. Awful as this was, the rest of the week was largely less awful—with one glaring exception we’ll come to later. LGBT rights made strides, US politics got interesting again, and an attempted terrorist attack in London happily turned into a gigantic flop. Here’s what the world’s been up to these last seven days.
10 A Bridge Collapse Killed Scores In Italy
Until this week, the Morandi Bridge in Genoa was one of the most important in the whole of Italy. It was a main artery for traffic, linking a busy port with northern Italy and southern France. On Tuesday, it collapsed. Vehicles plummeted hundreds of feet. Workers on the ground below were buried beneath tons of concrete. At the time of this writing, 39 people are confirmed dead.
The cause of the collapse is not currently known. However, the Italian government is already pointing the finger of blame at the highways department. Italy suffers from chronic underinvestment in infrastructure, and spending on roads has almost dried up since the financial crisis. The maintenance of the bridge’s steel support arms, in particular, seems to have been below standard, with rust clearly visible in photographs.
Locals had been warning about the bridge for years. In 2012, an official warned that the bridge could collapse “within 10 years.” In 2016, an engineering professor at the University of Genoa warned that the bridge would need to be replaced to avoid a catastrophe.
Their warnings went unheeded—in part by one of Italy’s now-governing parties. In 2013, an M5S spokesperson dismissed warnings about the Morandi Bridge as “a fairy tale.”
9 Puerto Rico Revised Maria’s Death Toll Sharply Upward
Hurricane Maria may have been the most catastrophic storm to ever hit Puerto Rico. When it made landfall in September 2017, it caused billions of dollars of damage. Power was only restored to the entire island this week—meaning Maria was also responsible for the longest blackout in US history.
Despite all this, the official death toll remained stubbornly low. So low, in fact, that many began to question whether the island’s government was underestimating the true extent of Maria.
Last Friday, the local administration finally bowed to pressure and all but officially recognized a larger number. The draft official death toll of Maria now stands at 1,427—only a couple of hundred less than Hurricane Katrina.
Bear in mind that this is a draft number and it may yet change. Still, even this represents a significant shift in how Puerto Rico’s leaders are talking about Maria. It seems the scale of the disaster is finally being recognized.
8 Unite The Right 2 Was A Total Flop
Just one year ago, the city of Charlottesville became a war zone. The “Unite the Right” rally devolved into a gathering of neo-Nazi thugs. At the height of the tension, a white supremacist scumbag known as James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a group of counterprotesters, killing one. As this column’s own roundup from that week makes clear, it was a bleak time.
So when the rally’s original organizer, Jason Kessler, began promoting his Unite the Right 2 (UTR2) rally, due to take place in DC a year after the original, there were legitimate fears that this could lead to more violence. We needn’t have worried. On Sunday, UTR2 flopped. Hard. It’s estimated that only 20 people turned up.
Part of this was due to terrible logistics planning. Kessler was so disorganized that he actually finished the rally before it was due to start, leaving at least a couple of attendees standing alone at the starting point. But it was likely also due to a sea change in American culture. The violence in Charlottesville disgusted the world. Rather than boost the profile of white supremacists, it made people see them for what they really are: thugs.
7 An Incompetent Terrorist Attack Totally Failed In London
In March 2017, a lone Islamist radical killed five people by plowing his car into crowds outside Westminster Parliament in London. On Tuesday, Salih Khater attempted to emulate this tragedy. During rush hour, he smashed his car through a crowd before speeding toward the Houses of Parliament. It looked like another terrorist horror had come to London.
Luckily, “incompetence” is apparently Khater’s middle name. Although he hit three people, two were only slightly injured and the other was discharged from the hospital within 12 hours. His car then hit a concrete crash barrier outside parliament and came to a halt. Khater was arrested without incident. His “attack” was a total flop.
One of the greatest weapons we have against terrorists is their own stupidity. The Parsons Green tube bombing in September 2017 could have been a tragedy for London if the perpetrator had not messed up his ignition device. The Barcelona attackers had also originally planned to bomb multiple sites before an explosion destroyed their safe house and forced them to improvise.
The terrorism threat to Europe may not be over, but thankfully, those behind it seem to be getting stupider.
6 Costa Rica’s Supreme Court Struck Down A Gay Marriage Ban
Technically, this story happened last Thursday, but the news didn’t break on English language outlets until Friday. In Costa Rica, the Supreme Court finally issued its long-awaited ruling on the constitutionality of the state’s gay marriage ban. In a huge win for LGBT rights campaigners, the justices found the ban to be unlawful.
The government now has 18 months to amend the relevant legislation. If they fail to act, the court’s ruling specifically states that the ban will automatically expire and gay marriage will become legal. This is important as Costa Rica’s lawmakers are so divided on the issue that any compromise seems impossible. Barring a major upset, gay marriage will be legal in the Central American nation by early 2020.
The ruling comes as the Americas are overtaking Europe as the most LGBT-friendly continents on Earth. A ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights seven months ago has set the stage for virtually every nation in South and Central America to follow Costa Rica’s path.
5 Tunisia’s Identity Hung In The Balance
Beji Caid Essebsi is the 91-year-old president of Tunisia, a North African nation that prides itself on its Islamic identity and laws based in Sharia. On paper, he’s absolutely not the sort of person you’d expect to be championing a progressive upheaval in society.
But in reality?
Essebsi is desperate to rock the Arab boat. This week, he declared that he intended to make sweeping changes to Tunisian society, including decriminalizing homosexuality, making women equal citizens, and outlawing domestic violence.
For Tunisia, this is a huge shake-up that could change its very identity. Right now, Tunisian women are legally forbidden from marrying non-Muslims. Inheritance laws stop women from getting as high a share as male relatives. Gay sex is illegal. While Tunisia is relatively tolerant compared to some Islamic states, it is still a very conservative society.
Now Essebsi could be about to consign all this to the dustbin of history. He’s already signed laws on the inheritance issue and the rights of Tunisian women to marry non-Muslims. Despite large-scale protests, he appears ready to go even further. If he really does strike down laws against homosexuality, it could spur change in Morocco and other neighboring states, too.
4 Tuesday’s Primaries Got Super Interesting
Ahh, primary season! If you’re a habitual watcher of politics, it’s the perfect time to get your geek on. After the super-close special election and gubernatorial races last week, this Tuesday served up a fresh dose of surprises for us all.
The biggest upset of the night was GOP insider Tim Pawlenty crashing out in the race to stand for Minnesota governor. A two-termer whom the polls had given a comfortable lead, Pawlenty was trounced by pro-Trump unknown Jeff Johnson by 10 points. Johnson will now face Democrat Tim Walz in a race that’s currently shaping up to be very close indeed.
On the Democratic side, the headline news was Christine Hallquist of Vermont becoming the first transgender candidate to ever be picked to run for governor. While Hallquist is facing an uphill battle in a red race, her win is still newsworthy. As is that of teacher Jahana Hayes in Connecticut, who now looks likely to be the party’s first black Congresswoman from her state.
Meanwhile, fans of “The Bern” will be pleased to hear that Sanders handily won the Vermont Senate Democratic primary. If he does as expected and rejects the Democratic nomination, his likely reelection in November will make him the longest-serving independent in Congressional history by a country mile.
3 #MeToo Devoured Itself
It feels like the moment when what started out as an important movement finally devoured itself. This week, mainstream reports finally surfaced of a sexual harassment case that played out at New York University over the last few months. The allegations focused on a professor abusing their position to stalk, harass, and make a student’s life miserable.
Only there was a twist. The professor was Avital Ronell, the renowned feminist. Her victim was Nimrod Reitman, a male nobody. When the university found Ronell guilty and suspended her, a cascade of shining hypocrisy ensued.
Feminist professors at other institutions penned an angry open letter defending Ronell while allegedly defaming her accuser. They used many of the exact same arguments and ad hominem attacks they (rightly) complained about when they were used against female accusers by powerful males. But now that it was another feminist who was guilty, apparently all the lessons of #MeToo went out the window.
It was a supremely unedifying spectacle. #MeToo was a necessary movement that brought down monsters like Harvey Weinstein. But now that its academic adherents have seemingly redefined it as a tool that cannot be used against women under any circumstances, you know its time is up.
2 Turkey’s Currency Virtually Collapsed
Last week, Turkey’s refusal to release an American pastor who was held on likely trumped-up terrorism charges triggered retaliatory tariffs from the US. But it wasn’t until the weekend that the impact was really felt.
Combined with other problems facing the Turkish economy, the new tariffs triggered a collapse in Turkey’s currency. The lira shed value at an alarming rate to hit record lows against the dollar. Before we knew it, Turkey was in the midst of a full-blown currency crisis.
The lira has already had a bad year, having lost 45 percent of its value since January. The Trump tariffs merely accelerated the fall, causing the lira to plunge 8 percent in a single day. With inflation over 15 percent, there’s a very real worry that the Turkish economy could be on the verge of tanking.
This is significant because Turkey is an important emerging market and a currency collapse there can affect others. The South African rand and Argentine peso have already been affected. While emergency investment from Qatar stopped the lira’s slide completely, things could yet get worse. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is showing no sign of backing down over the detained pastor, and the White House may yet turn the screws even tighter.
1 We Learned The Horrifying Extent Of Child Abuse In Pennsylvania’s Churches
Over 300 abusers. Over 1,000 victims. Those were the shocking takeaway figures from Tuesday’s official report into child abuse in Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic churches.
Across 70 years, priests repeatedly raped children with impunity, leaving shattered young lives and scarred families in their wake. Of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses, six actively failed to keep kids safe from pedophile priests. It’s one of the worst abuse scandals the US has ever seen.
The report was the culmination of an inquiry launched by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in 2016. That inquiry was called in the wake of news reports from 2002 onward about historic sexual abuse by local priests. Still, the scale of it all was horrifying, as were the details. One priest was found to have raped a seven-year-old girl in the hospital. Another forced a nine-year-old boy to perform oral sex on him.
The worst part is that, of the 301 abusers named in the report, only two have been arrested. Many of the priests are now dead, but many more have simply escaped the statute of limitations. When many of the rapes took place, prosecutors had a scant five years to file charges (which obviously didn’t happen).
As a result of this, men who raped dozens of children will never have to face any form of justice. When that happens in the Third World, we demand that something be done. When it happens in the West, we apparently don’t do anything. Yet.
In Pennsylvania, there is a new push to change the statute of limitations law that outrageously shielded so many priests from criminal prosecution. We “pray” that there is no next time for this type of child abuse. But if there is, any priest guilty of such heinous crimes should end up in handcuffs (as in the image above) and then prison.