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.
This column’s recent pledge to not cover US politics until after the midterms was sorely tested this week, not least thanks to some currently unknown idiot mailing pipe bombs to major political figures. We’ll be covering the Unabomber’s dumber brother along with a galaxy of other stories from across the globe—from the wondrous to the tragic to the flat-out weird.
10 Pipe Bombs Were Mailed to Prominent Democrats (Plus CNN)
With the midterms coming up, language around US politics has recently turned so toxic that turning on the news has become like diving headfirst into an open sewer. This week, we finally saw the inevitable outcome of wall-to-wall coverage of people on both sides calling for harassment and violence toward their political opponents. On Wednesday, several pipe bombs were intercepted in the mail. Their targets were top-ranking Democrats and left-leaning media.
The bombs were addressed to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Representative Maxine Waters, former Attorney General Eric Holder, and ex–CIA director John Brennan. In addition, their return address was given as that of DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, resulting in one bomb making its way back to her office.
The Brennan letter was also sent care of CNN, triggering an evacuation of CNN’s offices. This followed a similar bomb left at the address of liberal billionaire George Soros on Monday. It’s suspected that one addressed to Joe Biden got lost in the mail. Another was later discovered addressed to actor and vocal Democrat voter Robert De Niro.
Although none of the bombs detonated, investigators have said all of them were viable explosive devices. They came packed with shrapnel designed to cause maximum injuries.
So, this is the stage we’re at now. We’ve turned into a world of such pathetic snowflakes that many would rather kill someone they disagree with (or, more realistically, the staffers who would have opened the packages) than listen to what they have to say.
As this column said back in June 2017 when GOP House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four other Republicans were badly injured in a partisan shooting during a baseball game, violent rhetoric breeds violent actions. Unless leaders in the media and Congress—plus ordinary people on social media—on both sides can learn to grow the hell up and stop characterizing their political opponents as evil, then dumb crap like this will keep happening.
And it’s only going to be a matter of time before one idiot bomber or gunman gets lucky. When that happens, good luck closing that Pandora’s box of revenge and death.
9 North And South Korea Began Removing Weapons From The DMZ
The demilitarized zone (DMZ) is the ironically named border between North and South Korea. Ironic because it’s a network of land mines, guard towers, snipers, and other things you don’t usually associate with the word “demilitarized.”
But maybe not for much longer. On Monday, Seoul and Pyongyang jointly announced that they would remove all firearms and severely reduce guard posts at the border village of Panmunjom. This follows a demining operation along the DMZ that began earlier this month. It marks a huge step forward in the North and South normalizing relations.
At barely a year old, this Korean thaw is still in its early days. But the positive signs just seem to keep piling up. The DMZ has been a heavily fortified corridor of death since the 1950s. That Pyongyang and Seoul are now reconnecting roads and rail lines across the border is a change that would have been unthinkable 365 days ago. We can only hope the good news keeps rolling in.
8 Poland’s Local Elections Were A Disappointment For Everyone
Just last week, this column covered how local elections in Germany’s Bavaria were awful for establishment parties but also a kick in the teeth for right-wing populists. On Sunday, voters in Poland went to the polls for local elections across their nation. You guessed it. The results kinda sucked for everyone.
The big difference between Poland and Germany is that the populists are already in power in Poland. Law and Justice (PiS) have ruled since 2015 and have spent that time rigging the judiciary, curtailing media freedom—and to be fair to them—also raising the standard of living for many Poles. With such total command over the levers of power, they were expected to win big. While they certainly won, there was nothing “big” about it.
PiS dominated among rural voters but fell spectacularly short in the cities. In Warsaw, their candidate didn’t even force the race to an expected runoff. Centrist Rafal Trzaskowski won handily in the first round, a major upset.
Yet it wasn’t all good news for the anti-populist faction. The Civic Platform coalition did much better than expected but not well enough to potentially topple PiS in 2020. As we said, a disappointment all around.
7 Bosnia Confirmed The Indictment Of A Bosniak General For War Crimes
Prior to April this year, former General Atif Dudakovic was best known for leading the army of Bosnia and Herzegovina after the end of the Bosnian civil war. At the end of that month, he was unexpectedly arrested by Bosnian authorities and charged with committing war crimes against Serbs during the civil war. This week, a Sarajevo court finally confirmed the indictment against him. Dudakovic will face trial on October 31.
The case is a big deal as Dudakovic is seen as a hero in many parts of Bosnia. He led the army’s Fifth Corps against Serbian separatists during the darkest days of the 1992–95 war, which killed over 100,000 people. Yet Dudakovic was long plagued by claims that he murdered Serbian civilians and ordered the destruction of Orthodox Serb churches. Prosecutors apparently think they can pin up to 300 unlawful deaths on him.
Rightly or wrongly, there is a perception in parts of Bosnia and in Serbia that only Serb commanders have faced punishment for their roles in the civil war. By taking Dudakovic to trial, the Special Department for War Crimes is attempting to show that justice really is blind. We shall see if he’s convicted.
6 France’s Former President Moved Closer To Finally Being Put On Trial
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. On Thursday, France’s one-time president Nicolas Sarkozy lost an appeal to have an illegal campaign financing case against him dismissed. The court ruled that Sarkozy will have to face trial. While France still has one final court of appeal left for Sarkozy, it’s now looking increasingly likely that the flamboyant center-right politician will soon wind up in the dock.
In his heyday, Sarkozy was one of those politicians who seemed able to bounce back from any number of scandals. Prior to losing reelection in 2012, he’d survived revelations that could have toppled a lesser leader.
In 2012, however, the wheels came off. During the campaign, his PR firm Bygmalion allegedly broke campaign spending limits by almost double their set amount thanks to a fake invoicing system. Since the claims came to light, Sarkozy has appeared to be on a collision course with justice.
On top of this, the former president is also facing separate charges of illegal influence plus accepting a jaw-dropping bribe from Muammar Gadhafi in 2007. Sarkozy denies all charges.
5 A Train Accident Led To Tragedy In India
It was one of those horrific accidents that you have trouble believing could actually happen. Last Friday night, a huge crowd gathered outside the Indian city of Amritsar to watch the annual burning of an effigy for the Hindu festival of Dussehra.
Prior to the display, organizers had allegedly received permission from the local railway to use a train line as a seating area. The understanding was that any incoming trains would travel very slowly and honk multiple times.
Instead, a train came blasting through at full speed just as a fireworks display was creating so much noise that no one had a chance to hear it. The locomotive plowed through a crowd of people, killing at least 59 and leaving hundreds badly injured. Multiple children were among the dead.
The case has caused an outcry in India along with a demand for answers. Police have opened a murder investigation, although nobody knows whom to blame. Some have suggested that the festival organizers didn’t get permission from the railway as they claimed they had.
4 We Launched Our Most Ambitious Mission To Mercury Yet
Good news, fans of interplanetary probes! We’re now about to learn more about the planet Mercury than we ever knew before. Very early on Saturday morning, a joint EU-Japanese mission launched from French Guiana and headed toward the innermost planet of our solar system. Known as BepiColombo, it contains two probes that will go into orbit around this baking world, giving us new insights into how our solar system was formed.
BepiColombo comes hot on the heels of NASA’s MESSENGER probe, which orbited Mercury from 2011 to 2015. Building on NASA’s discoveries, BepiColombo is expected to solve all sorts of outstanding mysteries about the little-known planet, including the possibility that it might have originally formed farther out in the solar system and been dragged in. It marks the most ambitious EU space project to date.
But first, it’ll have to get there. While you could get to Mercury in just a few months flying direct, you would then go whizzing past and crash into the massive ball of fire that is our Sun. BepiColombo is hoping to orbit Mercury long term, so it will take an extremely circuitous, time-consuming route to get there. As a result, it won’t be arriving until 2025.
3 Massive Stock Market Falls Spooked The World
It started with a Wall Street sell-off on Wednesday, which accelerated to a rout by closing time. By the time Asian markets began trading, it was a full-blown panic. Most stock markets plummeted at rates not seen for quite a while. At the time of this writing, it was looking as if all 2018 gains had been wiped out for the Dow and the S&P 500 while other markets were in near-turmoil.
In the US, the Nasdaq suffered its biggest single-day fall in over seven years. In Asia, South Korea’s Kospi opened at its lowest level since January 2017, and Japan’s Topix declined to its lowest level since September 2017.
China continued its dive deep into bear market territory, while Hong Kong entered its longest run of consecutive monthly falls since 1982. Other places weren’t immune. While European markets shuddered, London’s FTSE 100 slumped to a seven-month low.
So, what’s going on here? Worryingly, no one really knows. J.P. Morgan put out a statement trying to explain everything, but it basically boiled down to: “Ehh, could be China, could be the Fed, could be the strong dollar, could be people worrying that we’ve reached peak earnings, could be something else. Who knows?”
Still, fear not. A new financial crisis is unlikely to happen. Not to mention, October is often a volatile month for the markets. Among the bruising market drops, we’re likely to see soaring, short-term rebounds. The experts are divided on where we go from here in the next few weeks. Still, most outlets are reporting that the markets will probably settle by the end of the year.
2 Afghans Finally Voted Beneath A Shadow Of Violence
The elections on Saturday came a staggering three years late after continued violence and a renewed Taliban insurgency caused Afghanistan’s government to keep pushing them back. Held over two days, they marked the beginning of a new cycle in Afghanistan even as those brave enough to participate were nearly washed away in a bloody wave of violence.
As polls opened, the Taliban began a series of deadly attacks on polling stations, killing at least 78 people. At the same time, they began indiscriminate rocket assaults on various towns and orchestrated the kidnapping and execution of four election officials. Around the margins of this vicious onslaught, smaller-scale election violence took place, resulting in 470 people wounded. It was one of the bleakest days Afghanistan had faced for months.
Still, people did come out and vote even as technical faults caused the election to be extended into Sunday. While we won’t know the results until mid-November, the election did mark the first vote completely run by Kabul since 2001. At the very least, that’s a step in the right direction.
1 The Murder Of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi Continued To Cause Chaos
It’s been headline news for three weeks now. Ever since The Washington Post journalist and Saudi Arabia native Jamal Khashoggi vanished inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, his apparent murder has gripped the world.
Partly, it’s been the gruesome nature of the crime. Apparently, Khashoggi was beaten and dismembered, his body parts dumped in the woods outside Turkey’s biggest city.
Partly, it’s been the way Saudi Arabia appeared to try to cover up his death, going so far as to employ a body double of Khashoggi as well as forcing the murdered man’s son to do a photo op with his presumed killer, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS).
But mostly, it’s been the political nature of it all. This one bungled hit has the power to reshape Middle Eastern politics.
This week, Turkey’s president, Recep Erdogan, made a speech outlining Saudi involvement in the assassination. While he was treading very carefully, it was clear that he was deliberately angling to drive a wedge between King Salman and MBS. So far, that hasn’t happened. But if the US turns the screws, it’s conceivable that this murder will rob MBS of his future role of king.
If that happens . . . well, it could change the entire region. MBS’s reforms have been at the heart of putting Saudi Arabia in the driver’s seat of Middle Eastern Muslim nations, a position Turkey desperately craves. How will this big game shake out? No doubt we’ll be discussing it again in the coming months.