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 mind-blowing stories each week. The week that took us out of May and into June was a decidedly mixed bag.
For every horrific natural disaster, there was a great scientific discovery. For every violent attack, there was a bizarre story waiting in the wings about hidden treasure. From the bad to the good, here are the highlights of humanity’s topsy-turvy world last week.
10 The Afghan Capital Was Devastated By A Gigantic Bomb
Until recently, Kabul was one of the safest places in Afghanistan. The capital was protected by the “ring of steel”—a supposedly impenetrable circle of police checks and roadblocks. Even as the rest of the country disintegrated, Kabul flourished, creating one of the freest cities in the Middle East.
That all began to change two years ago as the Taliban grew in strength and ISIS arrived. Deadly attacks at protests and hotels killed scores. But none was as audacious as Monday’s. A suicide bomber managed to drive a sewage truck filled with explosives past the ring of steel into the highly guarded embassy district. He detonated it in the middle of a busy junction. The resulting blast flattened the area, killing over 90 and leaving 400 injured.
The bomb was the biggest to explode in Kabul in years. People on the other side of the city thought an earthquake was happening. While neither ISIS nor the Taliban has yet claimed responsibility, it seems likely that one of them was behind it. It also seems like the old days of Kabul being a safe haven from the horror engulfing the country are truly over.
9 Panama’s Vicious Ex-Dictator Finally Died
Manuel Noriega was the archetype of a mad Latin American dictator. Rising to power in the early 1980s, he became the CIA’s “man in Panama,” passing on information to the US even as he flooded Miami with cocaine. Known as “Pineapple Face” due to his scarring, he looked and acted like a villain from a Saturday morning cartoon show. Not that there was much laughter in Panama. Under Noriega’s regime, political opponents were frequently abducted, brutally tortured, and murdered.
By 1989, Noriega had gone too crazy even for the CIA. After his security forces attacked off-duty American soldiers, George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama. Approximately 27,000 troops overwhelmed the tiny nation. Noriega was arrested at the Vatican Embassy on January 3, 1990. From that moment until he died this week at age 83, he spent all his time in prison.
His death effectively closes two odd chapters in American history: one where the CIA actively supported Latin dictators and one where US military action could quickly restore democracy to a foreign dictatorship.
8 We Got Up Close And Personal With Jupiter
If you’re the kind of person who loves dramatic pictures of deep space (join the club), this has been a wonderful few years to be alive. NASA’s rover mission to Mars and flyby of Pluto have generated images of dizzying, breathtaking beauty. And now the space agency has done it again. This week, we got the first pictures back from their mission to Jupiter. You better believe they were awe-inspiring.
There were detailed images of ammonia clouds swirling with crystals of ice. Of bright blue cyclones over 970 kilometers (600 mi) across. Of patterns and whorls and storms moving over the surface of the biggest planet in our solar system. It was the best look we’ve ever had at Jupiter up close, and it left the world gasping for more.
Of course, NASA didn’t just go to Jupiter to collect pretty pictures. The brainiest among us will be equally excited about new discoveries concerning Jupiter’s variable magnetic fields. But for the rest of us, these images alone are enough to instill a sense of childlike wonder.
7 Sri Lanka Was Hit By Devastating Floods
Just off the coast of India, tiny Sri Lanka—a country smaller than Scotland—frequently bears the brunt of the subcontinent’s chaotic weather. But rarely has it been hit as badly as it was over the weekend. Monsoon rains caused devastating flooding that left some communities 4 meters (12 ft) underwater. Landslides swamped entire villages. By the time the floodwaters began to recede, over 200 people were dead and more than half a million were left homeless.
This is the worst flooding to hit Sri Lanka since 2003, when 250 died in the monsoon rains. Shockingly, this year’s death toll may yet exceed that grim total. Many areas are still underwater, and those displaced by the flooding have been crammed into unsanitary temporary shelters. Together, these conditions set the stage for a potential dengue outbreak, with the mosquito-borne disease having already claimed 125 lives this year.
As with the tragic Colombian landslide we reported in April, the death toll in Sri Lanka has been exacerbated by overlogging, as the removal of forests has made mudslides more potent. We can only hope steps are taken to stop this from happening again.
6 Russian Explorers Discovered A Secret Stash Of ‘Commie Gold’
We’re all familiar with the trope of hidden Nazi gold. While all recent attempts to uncover Nazi treasure have ended in failure, the same can no longer be said for its Soviet equivalent. On Sunday, a group from Saint Petersburg was exploring an old mine a few hours outside Moscow when they stumbled across a pile of banknotes totaling one billion Soviet rubles.
The BBC estimates that the pile of “Commie treasure” is technically worth $ 18 million. We say “technically” because this haul of a lifetime came with one planet-sized caveat. The Soviet notes are no longer legal tender in the Russian Federation. The gigantic pile of money that could have bought a whole town 27 years ago is now completely worthless.
Still, the find was exciting from a historical perspective. The banknotes were issued between 1961 and 1991 and represent a comprehensive collection of Soviet money from those times. They also shine an interesting light on post–Communist Russia’s attempts to “bury” its past. According to reports, there may be at least two more such sites in Russia, their billions of notes still waiting to be found.
5 A Shocking Knife Attack Left Portland Reeling
This week proved that good deeds really don’t go unpunished. After a crazed young man (Jeremy Joseph Christian) started screaming racist slurs at two girls on a Portland train, three men got up to intervene. Their names were Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, Micah Fletcher, and US army veteran Ricky John Best. For trying to make the world a better place, they were stabbed in the throats and left to die.
After his arrest, the attacker identified himself as a “patriot” and said he hoped all three died. Sadly, two did. Namkai-Meche, 23, and Best, 53, succumbed to their injuries, while Fletcher’s injuries missed being fatal by a single millimeter. Heartbreakingly, Namkai-Meche had time to tell those around him to “tell everyone on this train I love them.”
Christian was already known to police after he was forcibly evicted from a Donald Trump rally for abusing and assaulting Trump supporters. His Facebook page showed a deep-seated hatred of male circumcision: “I want a job in Norway cutting off the heads of people that Circumcize Babies….Like if you agree!!!” and an erratic swinging from the left to the right of the political spectrum: “Bernie Sanders was the President I wanted, He voiced my heart and mind. The one who spoke about the way America should gone. [ . . . ] The Trump is who America needs now that Bernie got ripped off.” But then in November he changed his mind and said: “I’ve had it!!! I gonna kill everybody who voted for Trump or Hillary!!! It’s all your fault!!! You’re what’s wrong with this country!!!”
The attacker now faces the death penalty, a sentence Oregon hasn’t carried out in over two decades. But even if he dies, it won’t change the fact that Best’s four children are now without a father and Namkai-Meche’s parents have lost their son. With his mindless actions, the attacker made an already cruel world an even worse place.
4 Mississippi Suffered Its Deadliest Mass Shooting
Until this week, Mississippi’s deadliest mass shooting was the 2003 Lockheed Martin plant massacre, which left seven people dead. Sadly, this grim tally has now been exceeded. On Sunday, an argument about child custody in a rural town spiraled out of control. The father grabbed a gun. When the smoke cleared, eight people were dead.
After slaughtering three of his family members and a sheriff’s deputy in one home, the shooter went to two more houses, adding four more bodies to the pile. Perhaps the worst part is the massacre wasn’t a quick impulse reaction. At least seven hours passed between the first killings and the last slaughter, a shameful period of time for a cop killer to be wandering free.
When he was arrested, the 35-year-old shooter claimed he’d intended to commit suicide by cop but “ran out of bullets.” Given Mississippi’s use of the death penalty, he’ll likely get his wish granted soon. It’s just a tragedy he had to take eight innocent people with him.
3 Bangladesh’s Government Finally Stared Down Fundamentalism
Despite being a secular state, Bangladesh has struggled recently with a rising tide of Islamist fundamentalism. Attacks on atheists and liberals as well as anti–free speech protests have all created a chilling climate of fear, where the hardliners seem to be winning.
The story of Lady Justice seemed to be just another sad example. After hardliners organized mass protests, the government was forced to remove a statue of Lady Justice from the Supreme Court. The protesters had claimed the female figure’s position near a prayer ground insulted Islam. But no sooner was the statue down than new protests began, this time targeting statues nowhere near holy sites. Mindless extremism seemed to be winning.
Then something unexpected happened. The government put the statue back up.
It seemed that the secular Bangladeshi government had finally gotten tired of being bossed around by Islamist extremists and had grown a backbone. The move dealt a blow to hardliners, showing them enlightenment values are more important than their perverse take on religion. Hopefully, this will mark the moment when Bangladesh’s slow slide toward Pakistan-style religious mob rule was finally halted.
2 Jared Kushner Got Ensnared In The FBI’s Russia Probe
The White House is no longer taking questions about Russia. It could be because they’re hiding something, or it could be because they’re sick of hearing about it. Either way, it’s unlikely to stop the tsunami of stories that keep emerging.
Last Friday, The Washington Post and The New York Times revealed that President Trump’s son-in-law/senior adviser Jared Kushner had met with the head of Russia’s state-owned Vnesheconombank in December to discuss setting up a private “back channel” for communications. This would mean he could communicate with Moscow without Congress, the CIA, or the FBI ever knowing what they talked about.
This isn’t that unusual. President Obama established a similar back channel with Iran during the nuclear negotiations. However, US law makes conducting diplomacy as a private citizen—as Mr. Kushner was prior to January 19—illegal.
Since it’s alleged that he discussed money, that would also violate sanctions placed on Russia since the annexing of Crimea. (US law makes it illegal to even talk about doing business with a bank hit by sanctions.) If Kushner goes down on either charge, it could cause the White House even more Russia headaches.
1 The Paris Climate Agreement Got Torn To Shreds
Yesterday, President Trump announced that the US is pulling out of the 2016 Paris climate accord (also known as the “Paris Agreement”). The Paris Agreement is the biggest climate accord ever signed, with 195 countries (including the US at that time) originally on-board. Only Nicaragua and Syria refused to take part.
It was one of President Obama’s biggest achievements, but critics say it strangles growth in US oil and coal industries. With America pulling out, other big CO2 emitters may quickly follow suit.
Or will they? The EU, China, and Russia have all pledged in the last few hours to stay on-board with the Paris Agreement, potentially leaving the US isolated on the world stage. Is the Paris Agreement doomed? We guess we’ll find out soon enough.
+ Whitehouse Leaking And Surveillance Scandal
Just yesterday it was announced that the Department of Justice had issued FISA warrants to tap the phones of certain journalists in order to uncover the Whitehouse staff leaking classified or sensitive information to the press. This comes hot on the heels of subpoenas being served to the NSA, FBI, and CIA, and former Obama officials Susan Rice (National Security Advisor), John Brennan (CIA Director), and former UN Ambassador Samantha Power.
The aim of the subpoenas is to investigate whether the Obama administration was illegally using foreign-intelligence power to spy on US nationals (including Trump campaign staff). If it turns out to be true it far surpasses the crimes of Watergate in that certain members of the Clinton campaign were privy to the daily security briefings that Obama was given, meaning that the campaign had access to secret wiretaps of their opposition. This could well prove to be a case of extreme-projection on the part of the DNC with its daily accusations of Russian tampering in the 2016 election.
Listening in on journalists is highly unusual, but there is a precedent . . . In 2013 news broke that Obama’s Justice Department had obtained the phone records of numerous AP journalists covering a two month period. In a further twist, mere days before Trump was sworn in as president, Obama signed an executive order extended the alphabet agencies’ power to wiretap US nationals and greatly broadening the audience for unmasked intelligence data.