As summer winds down and many of us return to school whether it be as teachers or as students, let us reflect once more on the top ten most important world news stories of the past month. August was another doozey in terms of events of likely lasting historical significance. Indeed, some events from our previous month’s lists even had some degree of closure in August. Some of the news this past month was positive, such as when American Jason Dufner has won the 2013 PGA Championship, his first major title. Others, not so much, such as when two more women, both veterans, publicly accused San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, 70, of sexual harassment. In any case, the most important news stories of August include, although are not limited to, the following ten events…
10. New Species Announced
Our first entry is our shortest entry and probably our must fun entry (why does the news have to be so overwhelmingly depressing?). The Smithsonian (that place where the exhibits come to life to torment Ben Stiller) announced a new species called olinguito and describe it as a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear. No, we are not kidding…
9. Kidnappers Met Justice
More serious than entertainment is the tragedy of kidnapping. In late July, Ariel Castro pleaded guilty to 937 counts, including murder and kidnapping, in a deal that dropped a possible death penalty in exchange for life in prison plus 1,000 years. His sentencing hearing was held the first week of August. Cleveland kidnapping victim Michelle Knight told police she was pregnant multiple times while being held captive and that Ariel Castro would starve her, feed her rotten food, punch her and kick her down stairs, which resulted in the termination of her pregnancies, an officer testified at Castro’s sentencing hearing on 1 August 2013. Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus told police they were tied up with extension cords, duct tape, plastic ties and chains after their abduction, Detective Andrew Harasimchuk testified. The victims also said they had helmets placed on their heads before being sexually assaulted. Castro, who confessed to imprisoning and raping the three women in his Cleveland home, attempted to apologize in court and the judge told him he would be able to speak later. A letter believed to have been written by Ariel Castro that investigators retrieved from his Cleveland home was displayed at his sentencing hearing. The letter reads, in part, “Bottom line is, I am a sexual predator.” Images from inside Castro’s home were also shown in court. One bedroom had stuffed animals, toys, an easel and a bedside toilet. The windows were boarded up, the door locked from the outside and it had a hole cut in it for ventilation. Other photos showed the basement and a chain where Castro restrained his victims. Knight told her captor during his sentencing hearing, “You took 11 years of my life away. … I spent 11 years in hell. Now, your hell is just beginning.” Knight, the only one of the three victims to appear at the hearing, said she “will overcome what happened” but Castro “will face hell for eternity.” She said, “I will live on. You will die a little every day.” Describing himself as a “very emotional person,” Castro rather ridiculously suggested during his sentencing hearing that “these people are trying to paint me as a monster and I’m not a monster. I’m sick.” Finally, “A person can only die in prison once,” Judge Michael Russo told Castro in handing down a sentence of life in prison plus 1,000 years. The judge called the sentence “commensurate with the harm you’ve done.”
Later in the month, kidnapping and murder suspect James DiMaggio was sought in a national manhunt. Authorities searched for DiMaggio, who was suspected of abducting as many as two children after killing their mother in a fire. A car matching the description of one linked by police to DiMaggio, the man suspected of abducting 16-year-old Hannah Anderson, was found in a remote area of Idaho. The vehicle was located in the remote River of No Return Wilderness area in Cascade, Idaho, Ada County sheriff’s spokeswoman Andrea Dearden said. DiMaggio is suspected of killing the teen’s mother, whose body was found in DiMaggio’s burned out San Diego home. A second body found in the house is likely that of 8-year-old Ethan Anderson, Hannah’s brother. Travelers on horseback in a wilderness area near Cascade, Idaho, next spotted a man and woman who matched the description of DiMaggio and Hannah Anderson, the San Diego Sheriff said. The sheriff added that a blue Nissan Versa found covered in brush in that area was confirmed to belong to DiMaggio. Finally, DiMaggio was shot and killed in the Idaho wilderness, authorities said Saturday, 10 August 2013. The teenage girl is alive. Hallelujah!
For more information, please see http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/08/09/authorities-warn-kidnapping-murder-suspect-may-have-homemade-explosives/
8. Whitey Bulger Sentenced
As sad as the above two stories are, one man is charged with more murders than both Castro and DiMaggio combined–they don’t seem to have stopped, either! Prosecutors said a potential witness in Whitey Bulger’s trial died from cyanide poisoning before a federal jury in Boston reached a verdict in the 32-count indictment against reputed mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts. The charges include allegations that Bulger was involved in nineteen murders. The jury convicted Bulger on 31 of 32 counts Monday by a federal jury in Boston. In a conviction on one of the counts — racketeering — the jury found Bulger was involved in several murders. Bulger, 83, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison plus thirty years when he is scheduled for sentencing on 13 November 2013. This item further ranks higher as it is a reminder that the “mob” is still around and in fact has continued importance. This importance goes well beyond America.
7. Terrorism Indictments and Sentences
Yet, the above described crimes of kidnapping and murder lack the international significance of terrorism that arguably has even more visible consequences than the “mob”. A number of terrorism suspects received indictments or even sentencing in August. First, the U.S. Justice Department filed sealed criminal charges against suspects in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the Wall Street Journal reported. Later, a grand jury indicted two students from Kazakhstan on obstruction of justice charges for helping suspect Dzhokar Tsarnaev hide evidence after Boston Marathon bombings. Moreover, U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Bales, who admitted gunning down 16 civilians in a 2012 rampage in Afghanistan, was sentenced to life in prison without parole, according to Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield with Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Bales pleaded guilty in June to more than 30 criminal charges, including 16 premeditated murder counts. Finally, a military court found Maj. Nidal Hasan guilty on all 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder in the 5 November 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas that killed 13 and injured more than 30. A military jury unanimously recommended the death penalty for Hasan.
For more on this story, go to http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/08/28/jury-set-to-deliberate-fate-fort-hood-gunman/
6. Embassy Panic!
While the previous entry concerns actual terrorist acts, this entry concerns an almost unprecedented reaction to fears of an unrealized act of terror. Al Qaeda was linked to a terror threat that prompted the U.S. State Department to direct its embassies in key Middle East nations, including Egypt and Israel, to close Sunday, 4 August 2013. “It’s my understanding that it is al Qaeda-linked, all right, and the threat emanates in the Middle East and in Central Asia,” said Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Earlier, a U.S. official not authorized to speak publicly on the matter called the threat “credible and serious.” It was “directed at American targets overseas” but may not be confined to main diplomatic facilities, the official said. In addition to Egypt and Israel, the State Department action included diplomatic facilities in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iraq and Kuwait, according to the agency and Twitter postings. Several U.S. officials also emphasized they have been watching growing threats emerging from Yemen for weeks. Those threats, combined with the coming end of the month of Ramadan, plus the concern over several major prison breaks in the region, all contributed to the U.S. decision to shut down diplomatic installations. The State Department extended the closure of several Mideast embassies through Saturday, 10 August 2013 to exercise caution in the wake of prior terror threats. The department said the closures were not “an indication of a new threat stream.” The State Department further ordered the U.S. Embassy in Yemen evacuated as a result of the threat by Al Qaeda that has triggered temporary shutdowns of American diplomatic posts across the Middle East and Africa. The State Department also evacuated most of its diplomats from Lahore, Pakistan, in response to a terrorist threat against the U.S. consulate there. Except for a handful of emergency personnel, the diplomats were moved to Islamabad, the Pakistan capital, officials said. It was unclear whether the threat to the consulate was related to a current threat against U.S. facilities and personnel that prompted the U.S. to close diplomatic posts throughout the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
The shuttering of 22 U.S. embassies and consulates for the day amid fears of an al Qaeda attack was an unprecedented move. The State Department also issued a worldwide travel alert to U.S. citizens over an unspecified Al Qaeda terror threat, following word U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the Muslim world would be closed over security concerns. Nevertheless, because no act of terrorism actually happened, this entry does not rank higher.
5. Massive Mergers
In economic news, two major mergers took place. First, The Washington Post reported that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos will buy the flagship newspaper and other print properties for $250 million. Yet even bigger news came when The U.S. Justice Department and attorneys general from six states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit challenging a planned $11 billion merger of American Airlines and US Airways. “The merger, which would result in the creation of the world’s largest airline, would substantially lessen competition for commercial air travel in local markets throughout the United States and result in passengers paying higher airfares and receiving less service,” the Justice Department said in a statement. These two events have far-reaching consequences. The first story influences how millions read their news, while the second affects how millions travel.
4. The Ongoing Sagas of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden
Our buddy from previous month’s lists of news stories, NSA leaker Edward Snowden, continued to grab global headlines when his application for political asylum was approved and he has left a Moscow airport. Snowden has legal status in Russia for one year, Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said, but the attorney would not disclose Snowden’s location, citing security reasons. “We have won the battle — now the war,” WikiLeaks tweeted after Snowden was granted asylum in Russia. President Obama subsequently canceled a meeting planned for September with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid tensions over Russia’s decision to give Snowden temporary asylum. Obama said his decision to not meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow was not solely related to Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to admitted NSA leaker Edward Snowden. He said the United States must “take a pause” in dealing with Russia. Obama said Snowden can return to the United States and “make his case” in court if he “believes what he did is right.” Snowden had been holed up in the airport since arriving from Hong Kong on 23 June 2013.
As for WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning, this other news-making leaker apparently intends to begin hormone therapy for gender reassignment and live the rest of his life as a “woman”. Manning wants to be referred to as Chelsea — not Bradley — according to a statement. His announcement came a day after a military judge sentenced him to 35 years in prison for leaking hundreds of thousands of U.S. military and diplomatic documents. Manning, 25, was convicted in July of stealing 750,000 pages of classified documents and videos and disseminating them to WikiLeaks, the online anti-secrecy group. The judge also reduced his rank from private first class to private and ordered him to forfeit pay and benefits and be dishonorably discharged.
Oh, and by the way, in other news, The National Security Agency collected thousands of Internet communications from Americans despite no terror connection, according to newly declassified documents…yay?!
For more on this story, go to http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/08/01/snowden-reportedly-leaves-moscow-airport-enters-russia-on-refugee-status/ and http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/08/07/obama-cancels-meeting-with-putin-amid-snowden-tensions/
3. Two Major Developments for LGBT People
Bradley/Chelsea Manning’s lifestyle choices bring us to our third entry, which has more direct ramifications for numerous Americans than whatever becomes of Manning. First, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill making California the first state to allow transgender students to pick the restrooms they want to use and the sports teams they want to play on based on their gender identity. Second, the Treasury Department of the United States of America ruled that legally married same-sex couples will be treated as married for federal tax purposes. The ruling came two months after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.
2. Middle Eastern Chaos…Again!
Probably the most violent story of the month came once again in the Islamic world where the Arab Spring has plunged the region into many months of revolutionary violence teetering at times on anarchy. Clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsy made Wednesday, 14 August 2013 the country’s bloodiest single day since the 2011 revolution that ousted the previous president, longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak. At least 149 people were killed and more than 1,400 were wounded, state TV reported. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that events in Egypt “are deplorable and they run counter to Egyptian aspirations for peace, inclusion and genuine democracy.” The United States strongly opposes a return to state of emergency law in Egypt and calls on the Egyptian government “to respect basic human rights,” Kerry said. President Obama said the United States “deplores” the violence against civilians in Egypt’s military crackdown against protests in Cairo. The cycle of violence and escalation in Egypt needs to stop, Obama said. He called on Egypt to lift its state of emergency. The president said the U.S. has canceled its upcoming joint military exercises with Egypt. The U.S. also temporarily held up military aid to Egypt, a U.S. official said. Meanwhile, Egypt’s former leader Hosni Mubarak, who had been held in detention since April 2011, was released from jail and taken to a military hospital in Cairo where he was placed under house arrest.
If the situation in Egypt was not unsettling enough, the situation in Syria appeared to begin spiraling out of control near the end of August. Syria initially agreed to allow weapons inspectors full access to any site of a purported chemical weapons attack. Nevertheless, on Monday, 26 August 2013, sniper fire hit a vehicle used by a U.N. chemical weapons investigation team in Syria multiple times, according to the United Nations. The team “returned safely back to the government checkpoint,” a U.N. statement said. Later that day, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria are “inexcusable” and “undeniable,” adding that there was “a clear reason that the world has banned entirely chemical weapons.” Kerry said that President Barack Obama “will be making an informed decision about how to respond” and “believes there must be accountability.”
On Thursday, 29 August 2013, The British government published its legal reasoning for a possible strike on Syria today, saying that it was justified on humanitarian grounds. Nevertheless, on that same day, British lawmakers voted against military intervention in Syria in a major defeat for both British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Obama administration. The vote, 285-to-272, came just minutes after members of Parliament rejected a Labour Party motion calling for additional time for U.N. weapons inspectors to gather evidence over whether President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used chemical weapons in suburban Damascus.
On Friday, 30 August 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry said that Syrian officials prepared for chemical weapons use for three days before the 21 August 2013 attack and that they launched rockets from areas controlled by the Syrian regime that landed in areas controlled by the opposition or contested. Kerry also said the Syrian gas attack killed 1,429, including 426 children. Later on that fateful Friday, President Barack Obama said that the U.S. military and his security team are looking at a “wide range of options” on how to respond to a chemical weapons attack in Syria. Any U.S. action would not involve sending troops or waging a long-term campaign, Obama said.
The next day, Obama ultimately decided that the United States “should take military action against Syrian targets”; however, he added that he would seek Congressional approval when Congress returns from recess. Thus was delayed until at least September 2013 the prospects of what could just be a limited military strike with minimal international consequences or something that could possibly escalate into a major regional war should Syria and its allies Hezbollah and Iran lash out on Israel in retaliation for a U.S.-led cruise missile strike on Syria thereby prompting an Israeli counterattack and who knows from there. September 2013 could well be a critical month in our history…
Sources on Syria: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/29/world/europe/syria-civil-war/index.html and http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/08/29/syria-strike-push-hits-hurdles/ as well as http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/08/26/kerry-evidence-chemical-weapons-strike-in-syria-undeniable/ in addition to http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/08/30/kerry-says-clear-evidence-chemical-weapons-used-in-syria-as-intelligence/
1. A New Malaria Vaccine?
On a much more positive note and one with much wider significance than even revolutionary violence in one country concerns the development of a vaccine for one of the world’s deadliest diseases. U.S. researchers said they successfully tested a vaccine for malaria on a small group of volunteers and hope to conduct large-scale tests soon. The vaccine involves multiple, intravenous injections of a weakened form of the disease, scientists from the National Institutes of Health, the Navy, Army and other organizations reported today. Although the results were promising, more extensive field testing will be required, the researchers wrote. The mosquito-borne tropical disease kills about 1 million people a year and sickens more than 200 million. There is no current vaccine. As such, the potential long-term significance of alleviating the suffering of hundreds of millions of people yearly is something that unquestionably trumps any shorter-lived sporting or political scandal.