The World Today for October 26, 2021
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A Place Called Rock Bottom
As befits a widow who follows local Muslim traditions in Lebanon, 32-year-old Ammouneh Haydar remained inside for 40 days following the death of her husband in a fuel tank explosion. As she mourned, however, her thoughts were less focused on her husband than on her four children whom she can’t feed due to Lebanon’s financial and political crises.
She’s been feeding water mixed with sugar to her seven-month-old son, CNN reported.
Lebanon’s economy has collapsed, reported the Washington Post. Between 2018 and 2020, it shrunk by 40 percent. The government defaulted on its debt early last year. The value of the currency, the pound (also known as the lira), has declined by 90 percent. Seventy-five percent of the population now lives below the poverty line. Fuel and medicine shortages are common. The lights often don’t come on.
Corruption is at the heart of the problem. Prime Minister Najib Mikati recently claimed that corrupt elites were hoarding food, fuel and medicine while regular folks like Haydar and her children went hungry. The hoarded goods were likely worth around $7.4 billion, around two-thirds of the money that the Lebanese government spent on subsidies for those essential items.
Powerful criminals are also likely behind the violence that has broken out as people struggle to survive in the Mediterranean country.
When protesters took to the streets because they wanted investigators to discover why a warehouse exploded on the Beirut waterfront last year, killing more than 200 people and injuring more than 6,500 others, gunmen opened fire. The shooting escalated into street battles between Christian and Shiite Muslim militias that echo the civil war that devastated the country between 1975 and 1990, the New York Times wrote.
The Iranian-backed force Hezbollah orchestrated the violence to stop the investigation, argued Financial Times columnist David Gardner. In the Hill, Eric Mandel, director of the Middle East Political Information Network (MEPIN), similarly raised alarms about Iran using Hezbollah and the chaos in Lebanon to increase its influence and potentially harm Israel.
Hezbollah has also used its political weight in the Lebanese government to push for the dismissal of a judge who is looking into the 2020 explosion, according to France 24. The judge, meanwhile, is sticking to his guns and calling ex-ministers to testify in his probe, Al Jazeera added.
Hope is hard to come by in Lebanon these days, the Atlantic explained. But at the very least, many hope there is never a repeat of the civil war they are still rebuilding from.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador offered amnesty to the owners of millions of American cars that have been illegally imported from the United States since the 1990s, a move that has received both praise and condemnation in the uproar that followed the announcement, the Washington Post reported.
The president’s decision would allow owners of the colloquially known “chocolate cars” to pay about $120 to make their vehicle legal. López Obrador said the revenue will be used for roads.
Chocolate cars – believed to be a play of the term “chueco” (crooked in English) – make up more than a third of all automobiles in Mexico. These cars have been big business for the illicit car markets in Mexico’s northern states.
Because of Mexican taxes and registration fees, a used car purchased legally in Mexico can cost more than twice as much as the same model imported illegally from the US. That has helped the poor and the middle-class access automobiles.
But the vehicles are untaxed, have no import permits and are usually sold under market value. Because they are unregistered, many of them have been used by criminal organizations.
Previous attempts to block the crossing of illegal cars have been halfhearted. At the same time, previous amnesties proved complicated and expensive for many owners.
Many chocolate car owners and the organizations defending them hailed the president’s decision. Owners can now replace the expired US license plates with Mexican ones.
Even so, critics and car lobby groups denounced the move as “a prize for the mafia,” noting that the amnesty was rewarding illegal behavior, instead of resolving it. They added that the reform rewards criminal groups that generate income from the illegal importation and sale of cars, which now is likely to lead to increased sales.
The amnesty program only applies to vehicles that entered the country before López Obrador signed the decree but analysts cautioned that the cutoff is unlikely to be enforced.
Guilt by Association
Israel designated six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organizations, a move that drew fierce condemnation from human rights organizations and the United Nations, Reuters reported.
The country’s defense ministry said that the groups – including the Palestinian human-rights organizations Addameer and Al-Haq – funneled money to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), which is labeled as a terrorist organization in the United States, Israel and the European Union.
The new designation allows Israeli authorities to close the groups’ offices, seize their assets and arrest their members. Some of the groups called the accusations an “attempt to eliminate Palestinian civil society.”
The PLFP also rejected the accusations of terrorism and noted that it maintains ties with civil society organizations across the West Bank and Gaza.
Still, Israeli officials and intelligence officers say the case against the organizations is “cast in concrete.” The government said that it will send a delegation of Foreign Ministry and Shin Bet representatives to the US to share evidence on how the Palestinian groups funneled funds to the PLFP.
The left-wing organization was responsible for multiple hijackings in the 1960s and a series of terrorist attacks and assassinations, according to the conservative Jerusalem Post.
The Haitian gang holding more than a dozen missionaries is threatening to kill the hostages if the millions demanded in ransom doesn’t get paid, while also issuing threats against the country’s prime minister and the head of Haiti’s national police, Newsweek reported.
Wilson Joseph, leader of the 400 Mawozo gang, released a video demanding $1 million per hostage. He promised to “put a bullet in the heads of these Americans,” if his demands were not met.
In total, 16 Americans, one Canadian and their Haitian driver were kidnapped last week, a number which also includes the children of the missionaries.
Joseph also threatened Prime Minister Ariel Henry and National Police Chief Léon Charles as he spoke in front of coffins holding members of his gang who were recently killed, the Associated Press reported.
The video comes as Haiti grapples with increased gang activity, and political and economic turmoil in recent weeks.
Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets to protest the country’s severe fuel shortages, rising insecurity and high cost of living. Many are demanding Henry’s resignation.
Meanwhile, officials have blamed gangs for the string of kidnappings and the current fuel shortage: They accuse criminal gangs of blocking gas distribution terminals and hijacking supply trucks.
The Scythians were an ancient nomadic civilization that once ruled over a large swathe of territory stretching from Europe to the mountains of Central Asia.
Believed to have been of Iranian origin, the Scythians were known as fearsome warriors and masters of horseback warfare.
Recently, Ukrainian archaeologists came across the grave of a Scythian buried nearly 2,500 years ago which revealed new details about the nomadic warriors, Radio Free Europe reported.
The grave was located in an ancient Scythian settlement on the island of Khortytsia in the middle of Ukraine’s Dnieper River. It contained the remains of a renowned warrior believed to have been part of a band of “river guardians.”
Researchers theorized that the Scythian warrior and his tribe settled on the island and controlled who could cross the waterway. They cannot exactly pinpoint why the river guardians monitored the area, or even if they collected a tax from those crossing the Dnieper.
The Khortytsia site has been studied since the 1990s but the discovery adds new information about Scythian culture: The nomadic people were also capable of settling down.
Evidence of fishing also showed that the ancient steppe dwellers did not see broad waterways – such as the Dnieper – as a hostile environment, as historians have previously suggested.
“Almost everyone was convinced that we were looking at nomads who roamed the steppe for millennia,” said Maksym Ostapenko, the acting director of a national reserve on the island. “But on Khortytsia, we unearthed a completely different Scythian culture of settlements that maintained livestock and agriculture.”
COVID-19 Global Update
Total Cases Worldwide: 244,073,373
Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,954,951
Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 6,835,869,676
Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*
- US: 45,545,593 (+0.22%)
- India: 34,202,202 (+0.04%)
- Brazil: 21,735,560 (+0.03%)
- UK: 8,851,104 (+0.41%)
- Russia: 8,149,946 (+0.46%)
- Turkey: 7,879,438 (+0.35%)
- France: 7,228,331 (+0.02%)
- Iran: 5,868,360 (+0.13%)
- Argentina: 5,281,585 (+0.02%)
- Spain: 5,002,217 (+0.09%)
Source: Johns Hopkins University
*Numbers change over 24 hours
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