The World Today for July 08, 2016

July 8, 2016


Blue Lives Matter

The killings just won’t stop.

Reeling from a series of mass shootings, the US is again confronting gun violence, racism and the sticky problem of gun rights. Snipers opened fire on police officers in the heart of Dallas late Thursday during a protest over two recent killings of black men by police in other states this week.

Five police officers were killed and six more were injured when snipers fired “ambush style” on cops patrolling a protest against the fatal police shootings this week in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and suburban St. Paul, Minnesota. In the raw video footage from the cell phone of a witness (too far away to see much), dozens of shots can be heard, like a string of Fourth of July firecrackers.

“Everyone just started running,” protester Devante Odom told the Dallas Morning News. “We lost touch with two of our friends just trying to get out of there.”

As of early Friday morning, Dallas police had three suspects in custody, while a fourth was still exchanging gunfire with officers in a parking garage downtown, the Associated Press reported.

The suspect “has told our negotiators that the end is coming and he’s going to hurt and kill more of us, meaning law enforcement, and that there are bombs all over the place in this garage and downtown,” the New York Times quoted Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown as saying.

Predictably, the incident has been polarizing, at least on social media, where supporters of the Black Lives Matter campaign were quick to condemn the attack and point out that thousands protested peacefully in Dallas and other cities around the country.

Indeed, even in Dallas, the protest began with some optimism. At 5:12 pm local time, the Dallas police department tweeted a photo of one black and one white officer standing shoulder to shoulder with a man holding a sign that read, “No justice, no peace,” according to Quartz. But at 8:45 pm the first shots rang out.

Similar protests in New York were marked by “sadness and exhaustion” on Thursday, with marchers seemingly at a loss about what to do. “With every one of these I just feel lower and lower, less and less valued,” Alexa Palacios, 25, told BuzzFeed News.

That’s an understandable reaction.

Along with Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana, who were shot and killed earlier this week, hundreds of young black men have been killed in police shootings over the past 18 months, often in dubious circumstances.

In fact, young black men are as much as nine times more likely to be killed by the police than other Americans, according to a study of 2015 shootings conducted by the Guardian. African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 accounted for more than 15 percent of 1,134 deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers in 2015, despite making up just 2 percent of the US population. In comparison, 39 out of 130 line-of-duty deaths of police officers were the result of gunfire that year, according to data posted on the Officer Down Memorial Page.

At the same time, US state and local spending on prisons grew at three times the rate of spending on schools over the past 33 years, according to a government report released on Thursday.

That’s no more likely to solve the problem than more bullets.


Muslim Lives Matter

Less than a week after a massive explosion killed nearly 300 people in Baghdad, suicide bombers and gunmen attacked a Shiite shrine north of the Iraqi capital on Friday, killing at least 30 and injuring many others. The strike closely follows terror attacks on an Eid celebration and restaurant in Bangladesh this week.

The Islamic State (IS) terrorist group claimed credit for the latest attack, saying it was carried out by three suicide bombers. The shrine, the Syyid Muhammed mausoleum in Balad, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, was also the target of rocket attacks overnight. For residents, such killings have become all too familiar since the ousting of Saddam Hussein and the emergence of IS – events that Karl Rove, former advisor to George W. Bush, said Thursday are completely unrelated.

As the Institute for Economics and Peace’s 2015 Global Terrorism Index points out, the 9,929 terrorism-related fatalities in Iraq in 2014 “constituted the highest annual total ever recorded in a country—three times as many deaths from terrorism as had occurred in the entire world in 2000, the year prior to the 9/11 attacks,” writes the Atlantic.

The Best Offense?

Conventional wisdom says the best offense is a good defense. But for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un it might be better not to give offense in the first place.

Following Washington’s decision to sanction Kim for the first time over human rights violations in the so-called Hermit Kingdom on Wednesday, the US and South Korea on Friday announced the roll-out of an advanced missile defense system to protect against the dictator’s expanding nuclear- and ballistic-missile capabilities.

Kim had called the sanctions “a declaration of war” via North Korea's official KCNA news agency, Reuters reported Thursday.

Kim may well be happy with the development. After all, it bolsters his claims that the North is beset on all sides by its enemies, and it’s likely to drive a wedge between Washington and Beijing—his only friend, sort of.

Sure enough, the Chinese foreign ministry expressed “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to the missile shield, saying it would change the strategic balance in the region and undermine China’s security interests.

Not Another Referendum

Beleaguered Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro won’t allow a Brexit-style referendum that could throw him out of office, and he’s successfully defanged the opposition-controlled legislature, so the only way to send him packing may be a “social explosion,” says Risa Grais-Targow, an analyst at the Washington-based Eurasia Group.

That’s grim news for a country already facing daily food riots that have led to a number of deaths and hundreds of arrests. Tuesday night, the Venezuelan intelligence service detained five opposition activists calling for a referendum on Maduro’s recall, while earlier the government lodged some 400 complaints challenging the validity of signatures on a petition calling for the vote. (Last year, Venezuela’s GDP plunged 7 percent, while inflation soared 140 percent).

In the wake of an economic meltdown resulting from the plunge in oil prices and years of egregiously bad governance by Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez, opinion polls say Maduro has a measly 20 percent public approval rate, compared with 60 percent for opposition Congress leader Henry Ramos. Yet Maduro has successfully leveraged support from the Supreme Court to block as many as 16 moves by the legislature – including a bill that would have freed imprisoned opposition activists. And now he appears ready to shut down Congress to hang on to power.

“This means that the main catalyst for regime change this year remains a social explosion,” Grais-Targow told the Washington Post.


Planet Orbits Three Suns

The discovery of a planet that orbits three suns at the same time suggests that there is more variety in the universe’s solar systems “than many would have deemed possible.”

The seasons on HD 131399Ab, which is located in the Centaurus constellation, about 320 light-years from Earth, last longer than a human lifetime, as it takes 550 years to complete its orbit. Depending on its location, an observer on the planet would witness three sunrises and three sunsets per day or experience constant daylight.

This is the first discovery of its kind. Previously, astronomers theorized that gravitational conditions resulting from three suns would cause a planet to be thrown out of orbit. But it’s just close enough to the system’s largest star to remain stable.

“It is not clear how this planet ended up on its wide orbit in this extreme system, and we can't say yet what this means for our broader understanding of the types of planetary systems, but it shows that there is more variety out there than many would have deemed possible,” said Kevin Wagner, who discovered the planet, according to CNN.

Fri, 07/08/2016 – 05:05

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