Returning to their role as professional Game of Chicken players, North Korea has once again led the world close to some sort of nuclear conflict with their powerful armada of nuclear missiles that have a range of wherever 90 seconds gets you. The bellicose rhetoric streaming from Pyongyang on a daily basis has been enough to crack the attention spans of western media in ebbs and flows. Few could blame the media, or the people paying attention to it for that matter, for thinking deep down this is just the latest in crying wolf from the Korean peninsula.
In late March, North Korea announced that it had officially scrapped the 1953 armistice agreement that ended open warfare between the North and South. It’s a card that the North has played multiple times since 1996 with no renewal of combat to follow on. The North has resorted to more provocative measures to earn a military response from the South and its western allies – more recently including the 2010 sinking of the Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. There have been three nuclear tests that have drawn international condemnation - in 2006, 2009, and February of this year – but again no military response.
The curious story of what a nation with military weaponry that has barely advanced beyond the best of what Communist countries had to offer in the 1960s and 70s really expects to gain from inviting some of the most advanced firepower on the planet to strike its territory continues to unfold – the current drama being latest chapter in a book that history has already written the ending for a few times: (probably) much ado about nothing.
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Problems with radioactive water containment continue at Japan’s crippled Fukushima power plant.
This week marks one year and one month since the Tōhoku Earthquake, the resulting tsunami, and nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. It is a still ongoing disaster – setbacks making the road to full radioactive containment that much longer.
Questions have been raised about the effectiveness of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to handle the situation from day one, and the latest embarrassing setbacks have done nothing to reassure the outside world. Rats, of all things, are responsible for one of the more recent incidents at the plant:
A “rat-like animal” was the cause of a power supply problem that disabled cooling systems at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant last week. The rodent touched a switchboard and triggered a short circuit, Tepco Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said.
The 25-centimeter-long animal was found dead in the switchboard, a TEPCO official told Kyodo News.
The official said the company will take stronger measures to prevent small animals from entering the switchboard in the future.
The March 18 outage disabled nine facilities at the plant. TEPCO dispatched 25 specialists to deal with the problem, but it took 30 hours for technicians to repair the systems.
As for those “stronger measures to prevent small animals” from causing more power outages which could potentially release more radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean?
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The tiny town of Mayflower, AR – less than 20 miles to the northwest of Little Rock – has become the latest American scene of a significant oil spill. An Exxon pipeline carrying Wabasca Heavy crude from Alberta’s tar sands ruptured on Friday. The resulting leak of more than 15,000 barrels of oil overwhelmed a local stream and flowed through a neighborhood in this somewhat surreal video:
Pointing out that this oil is of the tar sands variety is an important distinction when it comes to the toxicity and impact. The oil that comes from deposits in North Dakota and Alberta is in the ground in a much more near-solid state, closer to quicksand than a free flowing liquid. To liquefy the oil for extraction and export, chemicals are injected into the sandy mixture. Chief among these chemicals are Benzene, Toluene (think paint thinner), and Xylene – though with any given tar sands operation you can get a wide variety of extra additives.
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Egypt has been plunged into political crisis with President Morsi all but crowning himself dictator as his supporters block the country’s high court from challenging his new draft constitution.
On the 21st of November, Egypt was striding onto the world stage with a bit of new goodwill capital – the props earned with helping to broker a ceasefire between the latest flare up between Israel and the Gaza Strip. As it turns out, there was just a bit more going on in Egypt apart from trying to broker a peace between warring neighbors. There was the threat, for a few hours, that dramatic happenings from the Middle East might calm down for a few hours.
As the sun rose on the 22nd, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi pivoted to domestic issues. Topping his list was a decree which effectively banned any significant type of resistance to his future decrees, laws, or decisions. The country’s top court was stripped of the power to dissolve the legislation as it tries to draw up a new constitution. With this decree, Mr. Morsi effectively crowned himself as Egypt’s new dictator, leaving the country’s opposition very little recourse in standing in his way.
With a legislative branch dominated by his party & allies, and courts nullified from challenging him, Mr. Morsi is on a path to personally shape the next phase of Egyptian politics, with potentially significant negative effects for the rights of minorities and women.
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There were celebrations in Gaza after the ceasefire took effect. What they are celebrating is an objective mystery.
On a Wednesday where it appeared the situation was heading south in terms of the Israel/Gaza Strip conflict, a ceasefire that both parties could agree to was announced in the evening local time – and appears to be holding so far.
Earlier in the day it appeared tensions would ratchet higher as a bomb exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv – injuring 21 people. Airstrikes continued in Gaza and even ramped up some after the bus bombing. Still, negotiators in Cairo delivered, the arms have been laid down (or, depending on your perspective, just queued for reloading) and the situation in the Middle East is… basically exactly the same as it was before.
Israel is still blockading the Gaza Strip. Hamas is still in firm control of the Gaza Strip. A few terrorists in the Gaza Strip were killed in actions that will inspire the creation of additional ones. Israel didn’t launch a ground invasion and no one else so much as lifted a finger in the direction of intervention on behalf of the Palestinians. Everyone claimed victory, shook hands, and smiled for the camera. Just another day and another crisis in the world’s most well-stocked power-keg. No change.
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Hopes for a truce between Israel and Gaza were dashed Tuesday as the bombing campaign continued.
There was much discussion during the day on Tuesday that a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza would take effect perhaps around 8pm local time, but as the sun set and midnight approached, Israel’s aerial campaign against the Gaza Strip continued. Talks stagnated in Cairo, Egypt, with the influential Middle Eastern nation taking center stage as it tries to broker a cessation of hostilities in the week old conflict.
Reports from the region indicate that the death toll has risen to 132. As the rumored time for the ceasefire came and went, Gaza residents were informed via leaflet to evacuate Gaza City immediately - seemingly warning of a more widespread bombing campaign to soon begin. Such a move would no doubt increase the death toll even further.
The Israel Defense Force has also been warning journalists to keep their distance from Hamas “operatives”:
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Israel continues surgical strikes on the Gaza Strip.
Monday was the deadliest day of the skirmish between Israel and the Gaza Strip with Palestinian reports of at least 34 killed by Israeli bombings. This pushes the overall figure for deaths on the Gaza side over 100, a mark that is sure to continue to rise as the conflict drags on. The tolls provided somber backdrop to negotiations taking place in Cairo, Egypt:
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also arrived in Cairo to aid negotiating efforts. He plans to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the coming days.
US President Obama spoke to his Egyptian counterpart Mohamed Mursi and to Mr Netanyahu on Monday and “discussed ways to de-escalate the situation in Gaza,” the White House said in a statement.
An obligatory statement of regretting deaths on both sides was also mentioned by the President.
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Israel has moved its targeted bombing into Gaza’s densely packed neighborhoods.
Sunday was another day of aerial assault on the Gaza Strip as Israeli warplanes continued their runs over the tiny territory. Through early Monday morning in the region, some 82 Palestinians have been killed along with 3 on the Israeli side.
Militants in Gaza have been able to return some fire to Israel, though the majority of rocket fire emanating from the strip is being intercepted by the country’s Iron Dome system. The number of rockets actually making it to the ground in Israel is being counted by the dozen instead of the hundred because of this system.
Meanwhile in Gaza, the Hamas Government is seeing systematic attacks on their infrastructure – with police stations and government buildings being targeted by warplanes, though now with expanded attacks into neighborhoods – seeking out the homes of the targeted ‘terrorists’. As densely packed as the Gaza Strip is, this is only inviting more collateral damage and civilian death.
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While talks of a ceasefire have been floated, Israel continues its aerial pounding of Gaza.
Despite the gradual massing of troops near the Israel/Gaza Strip border and the call up of additional reserves across the country, Israel continued to hit the Gaza Strip only via the air on Saturday. While the rate of rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip have been on a relative decline, Tel Aviv was targeted once again, with Jerusalem being targeted for the first time as well on Friday. Targeting Jerusalem is somewhat curious as there is as much chance of a Gaza rocket falling in an empty field on the outskirts of the city as much as there is a chance of it falling in a Palestinian neighborhood.
Formal diplomatic expressions of support via visiting delegations in Gaza have now expanded to include Tunisia – another Arab Spring nation that feels more confident to express its regional opinions out loud instead of staying in line with what western nations would prefer. A Pyrrhic victory for the notion of freedom of speech, it also acts to tip the scales more toward a regional destabilization the more Gaza feels like it can stand on its own two feet against Israel just a little longer. It really can’t, as Israel is a vastly superior force with complete superiority over Gaza, but the longer this goes on the more likely Gaza – or rather the hard-line militants – will have to learn this yet again the hard way.
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Colorado voters approved an aggressive marijuana decriminalization bill on election day. (Photo: flickr.com / Ian Sane)
On election night, the voters of Colorado made a choice to pursue the most aggressive marijuana legalization policy in the history of the modern United States. By a vote of 54.92 – 45.08, Colorado could wind up with a more lenient marijuana policy than The Netherlands, “coffee shops” and all. The new standard pushed for is quite succinctly summed up by one of the leading groups behind the pro-legalization movement: Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
Considering movements toward medical marijuana have been crushed by the federal government in recent years, most notably in California, the question because exactly what – if anything – can possibly change, and will this really make a difference in the months and years to come.
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