July 16, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

WORLD

Falling Down

The tragic collapse of the Surfside condominium in Florida last month highlighted how such accidents are unfortunately common around the world, often due to larger systematic reasons that are beyond any building manager or even local official.

Take the photo of a cracked concrete balcony in Odessa in Ukraine featured in a Business Insider story. It’s a common sight throughout Eastern European cities, where owners often lack the money to properly maintain buildings.

Two years ago, for example, a section of an apartment building in Magnitogorsk in southern Russia crumbled, killing 39, the New York Times reported. The building, like most others across Russia and its neighbors, dated to the Soviet era, raising serious questions about the integrity of many other structures.

Poor building codes and practices are also to blame for many of the tragedies. In late June, a building collapsed in Alexandria, Egypt, killing five people. A few months earlier, at least 25 people died in an apartment building collapse in Cairo.

“Shoddy construction is widespread in shantytowns, poor city neighborhoods and rural areas” in Egypt, wrote the Associated Press. Rich neighborhoods in Egypt can be unsafe, also. Developers often violate building permits in order to add extra floors and space to make more money in major cities like Alexandria and Cairo.

Dozens have died in Brazil in similar accidents. A 2019 collapse in an upscale neighborhood of the northeastern city of Fortaleza occurred after workers damaged pillars holding up the building. Other buildings collapsed because organized crime syndicates involved in their construction did a poor job, Voice of America added.

Lack of private or public investment is also an issue. A spate of dilapidated building collapses occurred in France recently, where critics said local officials were doing too little to oversee and improve substandard housing in low-income neighborhoods, the Washington Post reported.

Perhaps the worst building collapse abroad in recent memory was the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza near Dhaka, Bangladesh. The eight-story building hosted at least five garment factories, the New Yorker wrote. More than 1,100 people died.

That terrible incident led to an agreement between European retailers like H&M and Primark, Bangladeshi factory owners and labor unions to improve worker safety in the fashion industry. That agreement could expire, however, as the parties negotiate to reconsider the deal, the New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, wrote Xinhua, another building in Bangladesh recently fell down, killing seven.

WANT TO KNOW

LEBANON

Going Nowhere Fast

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri resigned Thursday after failing to form a government over the past eight months, a move that leaves the crisis-ridden nation without a leader as it heads for a financial meltdown, Al Jazeera reported.

Hariri stepped down following a meeting with President Michel Aoun over the government-building efforts, saying the two could not reach an agreement.

Meanwhile, protesters blocked roads after the announcement, clashing with the military called in to disperse the demonstrations.

The political deadlock has persisted in Lebanon since Hariri’s appointment in October, despite pressures and threats of sanctions from the European Union, the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Hariri had proposed a 24-minister cabinet, which would include eight ministers selected by Aoun. However, both politicians disputed the size and distribution of the new government.

The president has accused Hariri of failing to secure more Christian representation and dismissing the country’s sectarian-based power-sharing system. Hariri countered that Aoun demanded a larger share of the government.

Hariri initially resigned as prime minister in 2019 following widespread anti-government protests but was reappointed a year later.

For two years, Lebanon has been struggling with an economic crisis that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and a massive explosion that rocked the capital last year, killing more than 200 people and destroying a portion of Beirut.

The economic freefall is Lebanon’s worst crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, said Reuters.

Mohanad Hage Ali, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, told the newswire that the “security situation was approaching a breaking point”: “This is a country with a history of violence, and I see this crisis on auto-pilot without anyone in charge.”

EUROPEAN UNION

Crosses to Bear

The European Court of Justice ruled Thursday that EU companies can ban people from wearing religious symbols at work, which includes attire such as headscarves, the Guardian reported.

The court said that employers in the European Union can ban religious and political symbols as long as such a prohibition presents an image of neutrality in the company.

It added that employers had to show a “genuine need” for the ban while noting that EU law allows its member states discretion in reconciling freedom of religion and freedom of thought with discrimination at work.

The cases were brought by two German Muslim women, a special needs childcare worker and a sales assistant in a pharmacy. Both women were told to remove their headscarves.

The German courts later referred the cases to the EU court to seek advice on the bloc’s equal treatment in employment law.

The recent verdict is a reaffirmation of a previous 2017 ruling that allows employers to ban staff from wearing headscarves but only as part of a general policy barring all religious and political symbols.

CUBA

Mea Culpa

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel recognized for the first time that the government was partially to blame for the mass protests that have swept the Caribbean island since Sunday, NBC News reported Thursday.

Díaz-Canel said Wednesday that “we also have to make a critical analysis of our own problems,” straying from his usual blame of social media and the United States as responsible.

He also acknowledged Cuba’s economic crisis – one of the causes of the demonstrations – saying that the country lacked a “tremendous amount of hard currency…”

Even so, he maintained that the US had orchestrated the unrest and criticized Washington’s embargo as “cruel” and “genocidal.”

Following his comments, his government said it would lift restrictions on the amount of food and medicine that travelers are allowed to bring into the country. This had been a demand of the protesters.

The government also lifted internet restrictions, which had prevented many Cubans from broadcasting the protests and subsequent crackdown online.

The move is seen as an attempt to appease some of the demands of demonstrators, including calls to end more than 60 years of Communist rule in Cuba.

Thousands of Cubans marched across the country to protest shortages in food and medicine amid surging coronavirus infections.

The protest movement gained a lot of traction and support from Cubans abroad, including those living in the United States, Spain and Mexico.

DISCOVERIES

Is It Art?

Archaeologists recently came across new evidence that Neanderthals were more complex hominids capable of creating art, Fox News reported.

A research team discovered an engraved deer bone at the entrance of a former cave in northern Germany, known as “Einhornhöhle” – or “Unicorn Cave.”

The team wrote in their study that the bone is about 51,000 years old and dates back to a period when Neanderthals roamed the area.

The odd art piece depicts inverted Vs in a chevron shape, indicating evidence of art and symbolic behavior that hasn’t been recorded well among the extinct species.

The authors explained that the intentional engraving proves that “conceptual imagination, as a prerequisite to compose individual lines into a coherent design, was present in Neanderthals.”

Although they are often depicted as simple savages, new finds in recent years showed that our distant relatives were more than meets the eye, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

They could make tools, lived in social groups, fished and swam, as well as created cave paintings and jewelry.

However, other researchers remain skeptical whether the prehistoric hominids were interested in art or even understood symbols. Some even suggested that the deer bone is just a sinker of a fishing line.

Even so, co-author Dirk Leder told National Geographic that the artists could have been encouraged to get creative to survive the harsh climate around Unicorn Cave.

“That might have forced them to become more dynamic and creative,” he said.

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 33,975,711 (+0.08%)
  2. India: 31,026,829 (+0.13%)
  3. Brazil: 19,262,518 (+0.27%)
  4. France: 5,895,453 (+0.19%)
  5. Russia: 5,810,335 (+0.43%)
  6. Turkey: 5,507,455 (+0.13%)
  7. UK: 5,301,296 (+0.93%)
  8. Argentina: 4,719,952 (+0.37%)
  9. Colombia: 4,583,422 (+0.40%)
  10. Italy: 4,278,319 (+0.06%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours