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.
The final full week of September was so packed with political action it almost felt like being back in election season. Two major economies held shocking votes, another called an unexpected election, and one vitally important region voted to become the world’s newest country. While not all stories were seeped in politics this week, it was impossible to ignore the shock waves being generated in governments across the world.
10 Germany Suffered Two Massive Electoral Shocks
Angela Merkel will be Germany’s chancellor for another four years.
That was the biggest takeaway from Sunday’s German election, and it’s a thoroughly unsurprising one. Behind Merkel’s win, though, were two massive shocks.
The first was the ascent of the right-wing, anti-immigrant Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD). Founded in 2013 as an anti-Euro currency party, it morphed into its current form around the time of the 2015 migrant crisis. Despite a chaotic summer, polls consistently showed the party set to enter Berlin’s Bundestag. (Any German party that gets over five percent automatically qualifies.) But rather than just squeaking in, AfD managed to pull down 12 percent of votes. The right-wingers are now Germany’s third largest party.
The second shock was the collapse of the center-left SPD. Junior coalition partners to Merkel’s CDU, SPD started 2017 riding high. Their new leader, Martin Schulz, was meant to be the German Justin Trudeau. His party polled in the 40s. He was tipped to unseat Merkel.
Instead, Schulz took his party to their worst defeat since 1949. So bad was their 20.5 percent that the party has bowed out of government, leaving Merkel to cobble together a new coalition with the newly resurgent pro-business FDP and the Greens. So far apart are the parties, though, that the next German government will likely be riven by infighting.
9 New Zealand’s Election Ended In A Stalemate
One day before Germans woke up to a severely weakened government, New Zealanders got to experience the exact same feeling. Prime Minister Bill English’s National Party started the night as a minority administration with enough friends in parliament to push through important votes. They ended it stuck only six seats ahead of a left-wing coalition between the Greens and a resurgent Labour Party, with two of their friendly parties forced out of parliament. The results left no one able to form a government.
The only winner in this hot mess was a guy called Winston Peters (pictured above), a plain-talking anti-immigrant candidate whose New Zealand First party lost three seats but still ended up in the role of kingmaker. With the National Party on 58 seats and the Labour-Greens tag team on 52, Peters’s nine seats are desperately needed to bring either side up to 61, the magic point at which a New Zealand government can be formed. Peters has said there’s no chance of this happening before October 7. Until then, NZ is effectively without a government.
8 Kurdistan Voted To Become The World’s Newest Country
After two significant elections, Monday dealt yet another earthquake. In a hotly contested referendum, Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region voted by 92 percent to break off and form an independent country. The result left Washington, London, Brussels, Baghdad, Tehran, Moscow, and Ankara united for the first time in ages by their fury.
Prior to the fall of Saddam in 2003, Iraq’s Kurds were a heavily persecuted minority. (Saddam once dropped sarin on an Iraqi-Kurdish village on a whim, killing over 4,000.) Then ISIS arrived on the scene. As the Kurds fought them back, they took control of ex-Iraqi cities like Kirkuk, which had fallen to the Islamic State. This increased Iraqi Kurdistan’s territory at the expense of Iraq. When Kirkuk was included in this week’s independence referendum, Baghdad hit the roof.
The fear is that Monday’s vote will spark yet another conflict in the Middle East. Iraq may try to reclaim Kurdistan by force, or Iran or Turkey might get involved to stop their own Kurdish minorities agitating for independence.
7 Washington Was Hit By Another E-Mail Scandal
A year ago, the name “Clinton” was synonymous with two words: “e-mail” and “scandal.” Hillary’s use of a private server to send official e-mails may have cost the Democrats the 2016 election. Now, yet another e-mail scandal has blown up in Washington. Only, this time, the name “Clinton” is nowhere in sight. Instead, all eyes are focused on three very familiar names: Kushner, Bannon . . . and Trump.
On September 25, it was revealed that six of President Trump’s closest advisors had been using private e-mail servers to conduct official business. First, word broke that the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was implicated. Then came a tsunami of follow-up allegations. Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon was named, along with former chief of staff Reince Priebus and two lesser-known Trump advisors. The biggest name of all came when the president’s daughter, Ivanka, was also implicated.
Democrats have launched an investigation into this new e-mail scandal, possibly as a way of getting back at the GOP’s attacks on Hillary. It’s worth noting, though, that the scale of offenses is different. Kushner is being investigated for around 100 e-mails. Hillary had mishandled tens of thousands.
6 Japan’s Prime Minister Gambled Big On A Surprise Election
A couple of months ago, we told you about how an upstart party in Tokyo had given Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe one heck of a black eye in regional elections, sending his approval ratings spiraling. At the time, we speculated that Abe wouldn’t be in charge of Japan for much longer. Well, Abe’s either about to prove our point or spectacularly call our bluff. In a borderline crazy high-stakes gamble, the Japanese PM this week called a surprise election for October 22.
Abe’s election strategy was launched only minutes after Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike declared she was founding a new national party. Since Koike is the woman who humiliated Abe in the Tokyo elections, there’s a real chance for her to blow the government wide open.
Abe is a significant world leader. Only a few months ago, he seemed on course to become the longest-serving postwar prime minister of the planet’s third largest economy. Yet the last two years have seen so many electoral upsets that we’re in danger of losing count. It could be that Japan’s electorate is now less than a month away from shocking their establishment, too.
And now let’s finally talk something other than politics.
5 Russia Uncovered A Spate Of Horrific Cannibal Killings
It all started with a broken cell phone.
On September 11, Russian builders discovered a damaged phone lying on a street in the city of Krasnodar. It wasn’t locked, so they took a look at the pictures. They found images of a man and woman posing with dismembered corpses and eating human flesh.
The cell was traced back to Dmitry Baksheev, a local kitchen porter working in an military hostel. Along with his wife, Natalia Baksheeva, he was arrested this week. Police found shocking evidence that the couple may have spent nearly two decades living out perverted fantasies of murder and cannibalism. If all their confessions are confirmed, they will turn out to be two of Russia’s worst-ever serial killers.
Details are sketchy at the moment, but it seems the two were in the habit of drugging victims, skinning them alive, and eating their remains. Pictures found on the phone dated back to 1999, showing a severed human head on a table surrounded by fruit. Human flesh was found in their freezer. There’s evidence that they tried to sell it to the kitchen Dmitry worked in.
All told, the couple are thought to have killed 30 people.
4 An Experimental Implant Revived A Man From A Vegetative State
15 years. That’s how long the unnamed patient in an experiment reported this week had been in what’s called a persistent vegetative state, a technical way of saying he was as close to being a corpse as you can get without actually being dead. It’s long been assumed that anyone in this state for over a year can’t ever hope to recover. It’s an assumption that may have to change. After fitting an implant on the patient’s vagus nerve, doctors were able to revive him to a state of minimal consciousness.
The vagus nerve is basically the brain’s information highway to the rest of the body. It also connects to two brain regions linked to consciousness. By electrically stimulating it for a month, doctors were able to get the injured man to follow objects with his eyes, express surprise, and even fulfill simple tasks like turning his head.
It’s hard to overstate this breakthrough. We may one day get to a stage where we can fully revive people in certain kinds of vegetative states, a true win for science.
3 A Mexican Quake Survivor Turned Out To Not Exist
Last week, Mexico was hit by its second devastating earthquake in under a fortnight. One of the biggest tragedies came when a school collapsed, killing many children. Only 12-year-old Frida Sofia survived, trapped in the rubble as authorities worked around the clock to rescue her. Her survival story gripped Mexico, a nation desperately in need of some good news amid the tragedy. It captured international attention.
On Friday, September 22, that interest turned to anger. Out of the blue, rescue workers stopped searching for Frida, but not because she was dead. Frida turned out to have never existed.
The revelations made many in Mexico furious. There was a feeling that the authorities and media had been playing the public along, perhaps to distract attention from planning failures that made the quake so deadly. Strangely, this isn’t the first time such a story has gripped Mexico, only to be revealed as false. After the 1985 quake, a huge effort was made to save a little boy trapped in a collapsed house. Like Frida, he turned out not to be real.
2 Former Congressman Anthony Weiner Was Jailed For Sexting An Underage Girl
There’s a whiff of nominative determinism about the fate of Anthony Weiner. The former New York congressman was once primarily known for having the silliest name in American politics. After that, he was most famous for sticking his own wiener in a champagne glass and sending the picture to an unwilling woman. This week, his reputation dropped even further. Today, Weiner’s wiener is best known for being sent online to an underage girl.
The details of the case are enough to convince you that David Icke is right and that everyone in power is some sort of freaky lizard with an overt fondness for child abuse. Weiner convinced a 15-year-old to take naked pictures of herself and send them to him, a move so utterly illegal that no amount of friends in high places could save him. After being found guilty in May, Weiner has finally been sentenced to 21 months in jail.
1 North Korea Claimed The US Had Declared War
In the last year or so, North Korea has managed to go from the butt of everyone’s jokes to the boogeyman of everyone’s nightmares. Under portly sociopath Kim Jong-un, the country has tested more nuclear weapons than ever, threatened to bomb Guam, shot missiles over Japan, suggested it will test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific, and generally acted like it’s on a one-nation mission to trigger World War III.
This week, that mission edged one step closer to reality. In response to some scathing tweets by President Trump, North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, claimed the US had declared war. The upshot? Pyongyang was now ready and willing to shoot down any US aircraft that came within 80 kilometers (50 mi) of its borders.
To be clear, the US is not at war with the DPRK over this declaration. However, it is likely that Pyongyang will now target US planes. A single one gets shot down, and that could well lead to a real war, complete with thermonuclear devices. We’re at a point of divergence here: In one future, you’ll be looking back on this entry and wondering what we all were worrying about. In another, you won’t be looking at it at all because the world will be a charred, smoking ruin.