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. There was only one major story on everyone’s lips these past seven days: the ongoing drumbeat toward war with North Korea.
In light of the planet’s possible atomic devastation, everything else seemed strangely insignificant. We’ll fill you in on what was happening elsewhere first, but it was hard to ignore the fact that we may be living through the buildup to the biggest conflict in decades.
10 Israel Began Investigating Its Prime Minister For Fraud
Only one person has held the office of Israeli Prime Minister longer than Benjamin Netanyahu: David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel and a founding member of the Jewish state. Netanyahu is a survivor. A canny politician with a strong base and a knack for holding onto power.
Which is what makes this week’s revelations so shocking. Word leaked from Tel Aviv that Israeli authorities were preparing two separate fraud cases against the PM. Even if they don’t result in a conviction, they could bring Netanyahu’s political career crashing down in flames.
The first charge relates to the PM exchanging political favors in return for luxury items. The second revolves around his buying friendly coverage from newspaper Yediot Acharonot in exchange for passing laws that would suppress circulation of their rival, Israel Hayom. At the same time, it came to light that Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, was also to be charged in a corruption case involving misuse of public funds.
There are two more long-running financial scandals also engulfing the PM. As a result, even allies now think his days are numbered. Corruption charges toppled Netanyahu’s predecessor. Will they topple him, too?
9 Usain Bolt Ran His Last Solo Race
We don’t usually cover sportsmen in this column, but when that sportsman is Usain Bolt, we make an exception. A fixture of the athletics world for 10 years, Bolt has been living up to his nickname “Lightning” for forever. He’s the fastest man alive. He’s been called the most recognizable sportsman since Muhammad Ali. The Telegraph summed up his incredible career thus:
“Usain Bolt’s form in global 100m and 200m finals read: WWWW, DSQ (false start), WWWWWWWWW.”
At least, that used to be the case. This week, the Jamaican legend ran his final solo race. Sadly, for those of us who like a fairy-tale ending, it finished with an “L.”
Bolt was beaten by Justin Gatlin, a man whose name doesn’t rhyme with “drug cheat” but probably should. Gatlin has been banned twice for doping, raising all sorts of awkward questions about whether he should even have been there. The crowd in London decided the answer was “no” and booed the victor.
Bolt still has one final race, a relay this Saturday. But his solo career, the one that made him an icon, is over. It’s a shame it had to end on such a bum note.
8 South Korea’s Spy Agency Admitted To Rigging The 2012 Election
It was only a few months ago that South Korea’s president Park Geun-hye was impeached, removed from power, and put on trial. Now, evidence has surfaced that she shouldn’t have been in office in the first place. Last Friday, South Korea’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS), admitted it had tried to rig the 2012 election so Park would win.
Park was the conservative candidate and is the daughter of South Korea’s former dictator. Her rival was the liberal Moon Jae-in, the current president, who was elected after Park was impeached. The NIS saw Moon as unfriendly to their department, so they conducted clandestine campaigns against him. This included psychological warfare against voters to try and make them vote for Park.
Craziest of all, the team that was in charge of propelling Park to power was the same psyops team that’s in charge of operations against North Korea. Transcripts have now emerged of former NIS Director Won Sei-hoon urging NIS officials to interfere in multiple elections and calling the threat posed by liberal candidates as great as that posed by Pyongyang. Won is now on trial and faces a four-year prison sentence if convicted.
7 Sicily’s Volunteer Firemen Were Accused Of Deliberately Starting Fires
Every year, Sicily suffers outbreaks of wildfires caused by the hot, dry summer conditions. If you lived in one area on the island, the years 2013–15 may have seemed particularly bad. While the average Sicilian fire department sees 40 calls, the local department was doing 120.
Later, it was revealed that there was a logical explanation for this discrepancy. The fire crew from the busier department had been setting the fires themselves. The reason? Fighting off-duty fires netted them an extra €10 an hour.
The fire team’s commander would skip his main shift to get some fires started. Then he would race back and dispatch the group after getting friends or relatives to phone in the blazes. The plan was executed extremely badly.
Those phoning in repeatedly used the same telephones, including sometimes those that belonged to the firemen themselves. In a couple of cases, no fire existed at all and the firemen explained away their lack of water usage by saying animals got in their way.
The ringleader is currently under house arrest, while another 14 have been charged.
6 Freaky Sea Lice Ate A Melbourne Teenager’s Legs
Australia has long been the natural home for every single animal that wants you dead. This week, another number joined their venomous league. On Saturday, 16-year-old Sam Kanizay went to bathe his sore legs at Dendy Street Beach after soccer practice. When he emerged from the water, his feet and ankles were a shredded mass of torn skin and flowing blood.
The culprits that nearly ate this teen’s legs? Sea fleas.
Technically known as lysianassid amphipods, these tiny creatures are relatives of shrimp—with a minor difference. They love to eat meat. They’ve evolved to feast on dead birds, crabs, and other marine creatures.
On Saturday, they just happened to swarm around Kanizay’s legs. Thanks to the cold water, the teen didn’t feel them bite. By the time he noticed, they’d chewed his skin to pieces.
Terrifying as this is, it’s not something likely to happen to anyone else. Most of us would be moving around too much for the sea fleas to grab hold or would notice their bites and flick them off. Kanizay just happened to get unlucky in the goriest possible way.
5 Venezuela Started To Spiral Toward Paramilitary Violence
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been unlucky enough to witness a state failing in real time. Shortages in Venezuela have slowly given way to deadly protests and riots, which have led to the government killing off democracy and heading toward dictatorship. On Sunday, we saw another early indication of a country imploding: rebel groups resorting to violence.
The group in question was led by former National Guard Captain Juan Carlos Caguaripano. It stormed an army base, engaging the military in a firefight and making off with large stocks of weapons and ammunition. Caguaripano later released a video saying that he hadn’t stolen weapons for a coup d’etat but “to save the country from total destruction.” In other words, to fight Maduro.
This is big news. Venezuela is horrifically divided. Maduro is determined to stamp out democracy. With nowhere left to turn, Venezuelans like Caguaripano may have decided that insurgency is their only option. At best, this could lead to violence and destruction. At worst, it could lead to Venezuela’s divisions boiling over into civil war.
4 The US Mysteriously Expelled Two Cuban Diplomats
It’s not unusual for one nation to expel another nation’s diplomats. It is unusual, however, for those diplomats to be expelled for exceptionally mysterious reasons. On Wednesday, the US booted out two Cuban diplomats in retaliation for hearing loss experienced by American diplomats while staying in Havana.
The details are a little sketchy, but they revolve around persistent hearing loss suffered by US officials after America reopened its diplomatic mission on the island. Several diplomats were found with ear damage that doctors hypothesized could have come from a sonic weapon operating at extremely high-pitched frequencies. Although Cuba denied ever harassing America’s diplomats, the State Department nonetheless retaliated with expulsions.
The truly bizarre part is figuring out if the sonic weapon story is indeed true and, if so, who is at fault. Some have suggested that a third country (Russia has been mentioned) was responsible, using sonic weapons without Cuba’s knowledge.
3 New Orleans Flooded (Again)
It’s been over 10 years since Hurricane Katrina burst Louisiana’s levees and drowned New Orleans beneath a wall of water. Since then, $15 billion has been spent on securing the city against another devastating flood.
On Saturday, it became apparent that this either wasn’t enough or that funds had been misspent. Following a catastrophic storm, New Orleans’ anti-flood defenses failed once again. The center of the city vanished underwater.
The 2017 flood was peanuts compared to Katrina, but it was still a disaster. The city stayed submerged for 14 hours, and emergency services logged over 200 “life-threatening” calls.
Ominously, 8 of the 121 pumps meant to drain floodwaters in such a situation were out of action when the waters rose. Others were affected by power cuts. More ominously still, the Sewerage and Water Board later lied, saying all pumps had been fully operational.
For many in New Orleans, the new flood was a reminder that damage wrought by Katrina still lingers all these years later. It was also an uneasy reminder that, should disaster strike again, the city could be ruined once more.
2 The Macron Honeymoon Ended With A Crash
Well, that didn’t take long.
It’s about three months since Emmanuel Macron crushed his rival Marine Le Pen at the polls to become president of France. It’s about two months since his party, En Marche, won in a landslide at the legislative elections. When he took office, his approval ratings were sky-high.
Since politicians’ poll ratings always drop in office, no one expected Macron to remain so popular for long. But few would have predicted how low he’d slide so quickly.
Barely had Macron’s agenda begun before his popularity dropped like a stone. Last week, he hit just 36 percent approval. This week, a scandal around giving his wife the title of First Lady (which would have given her access to public funds) sent his polls plummeting even lower.
Macron isn’t the only Western leader struggling with tanking polls. The UK’s Theresa May has hit similar satisfaction lows of 34 percent following a spring where her polls were higher than Macron’s.
In the US, President Trump is doing little better, having gone from 52 points in March to barely 40 in August. It seems that voters everywhere are fed up with politicians, whether they’re conventional (like May or Macron) or radicals (like Trump).
1 North Korea Threatened To Bomb Guam
Guam is a United States territory in the Pacific, a tropical island that’s home to around 160,000 people, a US Army base, and a US Navy base. This week, this tiny chunk of US territory came crashing into the news in the most unexpected way. Pyongyang’s state-run news agency issued a threat to hit the waters directly around the island with missiles.
This came just after intelligence broke that North Korea had finally managed to miniaturize a nuclear bomb to fit on a missile. It followed a promise by President Trump to destroy the Kim regime if the DPRK tried anything. Unfortunately, Kim Jong Un is a raving madman and so called the president’s bluff. What happens now is anyone’s guess.
If Pyongyang carries out its plan to bomb the waters round Guam, it puts the US in a very difficult position. A land bombing with civilian casualties would constitute an act of war and justify retribution. A bombing of the oceans without casualties would be a provocation and one the US might not be able to respond to.
While Kim would be eaten alive if he went toe-to-toe with America, the damage he would do on his way out would be unimaginable. War-gaming by the Pentagon suggests that the North would likely attack South Korea and Japan with horrific casualties.
In Seoul alone, 100,000 are expected to die in the first week of hostilities. For the White House, slapping Kim down might not be worth such dire numbers. On the other hand, fail to hit back this time, and next time, Kim might have Guam’s civilians in his sights.
We’re entering uncharted waters here, and the slightest misstep could cause catastrophe and the deaths of maybe millions of people. We can only hope things don’t escalate any further in the coming weeks.