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Islamic State group takes credit for suicide bombing in northern Syria

A man watches as debris is removed during a search for survivors at a damaged site after two bomb blasts claimed by Islamic
         State hit the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli on July 27, 2016. Photo by Rodi Said/Reuters

A man watches as people search for survivors after a suicide bombing hit the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli on July 27. Photo by Rodi Said/Reuters

A suicide bomber detonated a truck of explosives in northeastern Syria Wednesday morning, killing at least 44 people.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, which struck near security headquarters in the predominantly-Kurdish city of Qamishli, located near the Turkish border.

The city was previously the target of IS bombings, most recently in April.

Reuters reported that Wednesday’s detonation was so powerful, it injured two people and shattered windows across the border in the Turkish town of Nusaybin.

“It was a busy road,” Qamishli resident Dawood Dawood told The New York Times via messaging app Viber. “There were many cars, and there were generators that feed the area with power; this is why the damage and death toll were so high.”

A second explosion minutes after the first blast, originally thought to be a motorcycle attack, appeared to come from a gas canister that caught fire by the truck, the Associated Press reported.

A woman mourns dead relatives at a damaged site after two bomb blasts claimed by Islamic State hit the northeastern Syrian
         city of Qamishli on July 27, 2016. Photo by Rodi Said/Reuters

A woman mourns dead relatives at the damaged site in Qamishli. Photo by Rodi Said/Reuters

Kurdish officials said the Islamic State attacked the town because of Kurdish participation in the attempt led by the Syrian Democratic Forces to recapture Manbij from IS.

The IS-linked Aamaq News Agency released a statement after the bombing calling it retaliation for U.S. airstrikes on Manbij and threatening more attacks against Kurds.

Qamishli holds some Syrian government troops but is primarily controlled by Kurdish forces, who intend to create an autonomous region in northern Syria, where they hold large amounts of land.

 

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News Wrap: ISIS claims throat-slit slay of Catholic priest in France

A young girl stands near flowers and candles at the town hall in
         Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen in Normandy, France, to pay tribute to French priest, Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed
         with a knife and another hostage seriously wounded in an attack on a church that was carried out by assailants linked to Islamic
         State, July 26, 2016.  REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol  - RTSJS82

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HARI SREENIVASAN:  In the day’s other news:  The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the brutal killing of a Catholic priest in France.  It happened in a small town outside Rouen, in the country’s Normandy region.  Two knife-wielding men took hostages during a mass, and cut the throat of the 86-year-old priest before they were killed by police.

President Francois Hollande called it a vile terrorist attack.

PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France (through translator):  We must stand together.  The Catholics were the ones who were hit, but this targets all the French.  And that is why we must stand in cohesion, together, in a bloc that no one can break.  Today, we must be aware that the terrorists will stop at nothing, unless we stop them.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  A nun who witnessed the attack said the militants gave a sermon in Arabic, and filmed the murder of the priest.

The people of Japan awoke today to — after the country’s worst mass killing since World War II.  A man with a knife killed 19 people as they slept, and wounded 25 others at a home for the mentally disabled west of Tokyo.  The suspect had worked at the facility before being let go, and news accounts said he’d written to parliament, warning of his plans and demanding that all disabled people be put to death.  He gave himself up after the killings.

The prime minister of Australia has ordered an investigation of alleged abuse at a juvenile detention center.  Graphic footage emerged Monday, showing aboriginal youths being tear-gassed and stripped naked.  Human rights activists accused the government of ignoring the issue for years, but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull denied that and insisted there’s been a cover-up.

MALCOLM TURNBULL, Australian Prime Minister:  The real challenge now is to get to the bottom of what has happened.  We need to know what has happened, why it happened, why it was able to happen, what is the culture that enabled this to occur, what lessons we learn from it, and how we can ensure it never, ever happens again.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  The abuse was detailed in a documentary by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.  It was filmed largely in Darwin, between 2010 and 2015.

Back in this country, a federal judge has given initial approval to a $15 billion settlement over Volkswagen’s emissions cheating.  The deal gives owners the option to have the company buy back their cars.  But they can also opt out and pursue their own lawsuits.  Volkswagen still faces billions in fines and penalties, and possible criminal charges.

On Wall Street, stocks struggled to make headway for a second day.  The Dow Jones industrial average lost 19 points to close at 18473.  The Nasdaq rose 12 points, and the S&P 500 added a fraction.

And the first solar-powered round-the-world flight finished today where it began.  Solar Impulse 2 landed in the early morning hours in Abu Dhabi, 16 months after it first took off.  It made 16 stops along the way, and flew some 25,000 miles all without using any fuel.  The plane weighs roughly as much as a minivan, and is powered by more than 17,000 solar cells.

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Oil smuggling brings environmental disaster to Venezuela’s economic ruin

A man points a fuel nozzle at the camera for a photograph at a
         gas station belonging to Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela July 21, 2016. Picture taken July 21, 2016.
         To match Special Report VENEZUELA-PDVSA/CONTRACT   REUTERS/Carlos Jasso - RTSJQ8D

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HARI SREENIVASAN: We return now to a Venezuela in crisis.

We recently brought you a report from Caracas on the collapse of the economy and the health care system and the lawlessness run rampant there.

Tonight, again in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on crisis Reporting, special correspondent Nadja Drost and videographer Bruno Federico report from western Venezuela on Lake Maracaibo. It is the hub of Venezuela’s oil industry, the country’s lifeblood, which is now a trade in serious trouble.

NADJA DROST: The drop in oil prices has not just devastated the Venezuelan economy. It’s causing an environmental crisis as well. An oil spill that happened in May still covers the shoreline of Lake Maracaibo.

JOSE GREGORIO GARCIA, Fisherman (through translator): Lately, we have been seeing a lot of oil spills. It wasn’t like this before.

NADJA DROST: Jose Gregorio Garcia is part of the Anu indigenous group, who live in the lake area. Anu means people of the shore, and fishing has long been their sustenance. But leaking oil is damaging their livelihood; 15,000 barrels of oil have spilled into the lake in the last two months, according to the state oil company.

JOSE GREGORIO GARCIA (through translator): There were species that we don’t see now. We think it’s because of the contamination.

NADJA DROST: Shrimp are gone completely, and the lake’s once-thriving blue crab fishery is also disappearing.

JOSE GREGORIO GARCIA (through translator): The oil goes to the bottom of the lake. That’s where the crab is. It migrates, or dies, or gets covered with petroleum, and when it’s stained like that, no one will buy it.

NADJA DROST: Oil wells have been abandoned, and production has slowed to a 13-year low. That means money that was supposed to be set aside to stop oil spills has dried up.

Alfredo Dominguez, who checks oil platforms for the state company which operates all the oil fields, says there’s a lack of everything, equipment and the parts to fix it and oversight by management. Plus, thieves have also wrecked the infrastructure.

ALFREDO DOMINGUEZ, Field Operator (through translator): They rob cables from the oil stations, bulbs, everything that can be melted down. They take apart the tubes. The wells keep pumping and sending the oil to the station, but the cables and tubes have been cut, so the oil ruptures and spills into the lake.

NADJA DROST: For decades, Lake Maracaibo has been a symbol of Venezuela’s oil wealth, but, today, it’s in a state of decay. Beneath us, there is a massive network of interlaced tubes transporting oil and gas. Locals refer to it as a bowl of spaghetti.

But many of these tubes are old and face a lack of maintenance, and they are leaking constantly small quantities of both oil or gas. And the result is this.

Back when oil was selling at record prices throughout the tenure of the late President and icon here Hugo Chavez, the government used oil revenues to try to transform the country and lift the poor out of poverty, says Carlos Munos Potella, a petroleum economist and an adviser to the nation’s central bank.

CARLOS MUNOS POTELLA, Central University of Venezuela (through translator): It started a policy that wasn’t very productive in economic terms, but it was the payment of a social debt.

NADJA DROST: Under Chavez, oil revenues went increasingly to funding social programs, subsidizing food and building homes for the poor.

CARLOS MUNOS POTELLA (through translator): It was a revolution financed with oil.

NADJA DROST: But critics say the government didn’t use any of the windfall to maintain oil production. It keeps dropping. Now, with oil prices down, the country has racked up billions in unpaid bills to contractors. Billions more have gone missing in corruption schemes.

But the oil industry is also bleeding profits to illegal gasoline smuggling rackets. Nowhere is that more evident than a few hours’ drive west to the border with Colombia. Old American cars are about all you see in the border towns of what is like Venezuela’s Wild West. Shunned for being expensive gas-guzzlers anywhere else, here, their huge tanks are in demand to fill up with cheap gasoline to smuggle across the border.

It is so heavily subsidized, a gallon costs a mere 3 cents. But across the border, in Colombia, a gallon sells for 90 times that. And it’s in that margin of profit that contraband gasoline thrives. The government estimates 100,000 barrels a day are smuggled out. That means smugglers are sucking dry at least $2 billion a year from the country’s coffers.

In order to help prevent that, the border between Venezuela and Colombia closed last year. But smugglers are creating new routes, using unofficial border crossings, and it’s on remote back roads like this one that the flow of gasoline continues.

It starts behind the high concrete walls in the town of
Paraguaipoa, where smugglers pool gasoline from various sources, including the tanks of those big American cars. A smuggler agrees to take us on the first leg of his smuggling route, as long as we don’t reveal his identity. This is big business, very lucrative, and highly illegal.

He tells us we can’t film outside the truck. If anyone notices us, it can put everyone at risk. This area is filled with armed groups, all of whom have a stake in the racket.

SMUGGLER (through translator): Sometimes, drivers will be tied up and killed. It happens to helpers, too. Soldiers get shot down, and whoever falls, falls.

NADJA DROST: In order to traverse this frontier land with their contraband goods, smugglers have to pay off everyone, from authorities to rebels and other armed groups from the Colombian side.

SMUGGLER (through translator): You pay the military, the national guard, the police, the intelligence agency, military intelligence. You even pay the Colombian guerrillas. Everyone eats from this.

NADJA DROST: Colombian paramilitaries, too, he says.

SMUGGLER (through translator): If you don’t pay, you will get shot, at the least.

NADJA DROST: We arrive at a lake, where workers line up empty barrels to tow across, where they will get filled at a rudimentary gas station, loaded onto trucks and continue their journey to the other side of the border. Many people live off this trade, including the military’s national guard, who we see inspecting every vehicle, except for trucks with contraband gasoline, at a checkpoint a mere 10 miles before a closed border crossing.

As we peer out from behind our tinted windows, a local accompanying us explains how contraband gets across here.

SMUGGLER (through translator): Those civilians are the moscas.

NADJA DROST: Moscas, flies, the name given to civilians buzzing around on motorbikes who act as a link between smugglers and whichever group they have to pay off. Here, it’s the military.

SMUGGLER (through translator): One of them already arranged everything and paid the military, so that these trucks can pass through.

NADJA DROST: Truckload after truckload, contraband gasoline is waved on through by the military. Smuggling rackets keep draining oil profits. Oil wells in Lake Maracaibo continue to decline.

As the oil economy tumbles, and pulls Venezuela deeper into crisis, it draws attention to the perils of over-relying on oil revenues to prop up an economy.

Back on Lake Maracaibo, fisherman Jose Gregorio Garcia has benefited from oil’s bonanza years, as well as suffered from too much oil, contaminating his fish supply. Living shoreside of the once-booming oil industry, Garcia knows it has to change.

JOSE GREGORIO GARCIA (through translator): We have seen what happens with petroleum. The price of oil rises, and it falls. We have always lived off this, the good price of oil. But we have to find an alternative.

NADJA DROST: For the “PBS NewsHour,” reporting with Bruno Federico, I’m Nadja Drost on Lake Maracaibo.

HARI SREENIVASAN: To hear more about this story and our reporting from Venezuela, check out our Outside the Bubble conversation with special correspondent Nadja Drost. That’s on our Facebook page, Facebook.com/NewsHour.

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Column: The bell of globalization cannot be un-rung

A British flag lies on a London street on June 24 after Britain voted to leave the European Union. Photo by Reinhard
         Krause/Reuters

A British flag lies on a London street on June 24 after Britain voted to leave the European Union. Photo by Reinhard Krause/Reuters

A few weeks ago, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The long-term impact of the vote to the UK is unclear. But it is likely that, despite their enthusiasm to leave the EU, the vote will leave the UK’s most needy worse off than they were before the vote. The many subsequent calls for a revote, the requests by some jurisdictions to continue to receive EU subsidies, and the flood of belated Internet searches for “what is the EU” suggest that many voters didn’t fully consider the impact of their decision.

Whatever “globalization” is — the term is employed so loosely that it has lost nearly all meaning — it is not the real cause of America’s populist anger; it’s a scapegoat.
A similar wave of populism, hostile to trade and to alliances, is evident in the United States. Just as many in Britain blamed the EU for their woes, many in the U.S. blame “globalization” for dissatisfaction with their current circumstances and for the sense of helplessness they feel when navigating America’s rapidly changing social landscape.

Whatever “globalization” is — the term is employed so loosely that it has lost nearly all meaning — it is not the real cause of America’s populist anger; it’s a scapegoat. It is true that trade creates “winners” and “losers,” but on the whole, free trade has been a net positive for the United States.

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It is true that our allies should take a more active role in their own security, but calls to reject America’s alliances sidestep the reasons why they were cultivated in the first place. If the term “globalization” refers to an America that is interconnected and engaged with the world, the benefits of globalization far outweigh the costs, and the next president should wholeheartedly embrace it.

Take a look at the benefits that America reaps due to its position in the “globalized” economic realm. Those opposed to globalization point out that free trade policies have contributed to a redistribution of the manufacturing base, but the pains caused by free trade to Americans have largely leveled off. With the rise in wages in much of the developing world and the costs associated with transporting goods across oceans, outsourcing simply isn’t as attractive as it once was, and America’s manufacturing sector is actually growing in many states.

Moreover, the free-trade policies that opponents of globalization deride encourage foreign investment in the United States, which was responsible for 12 million jobs in 2013, and has lowered the prices of consumer goods in American stores. Trade also buoys America’s bottom line: more than $10,000 of every American household’s yearly income is derived from trade integration.

Recent calls to reject globalization are often accompanied with a dismissal of the support that America provides to its allies. Here again, though, the populist narrative that America is getting the short end of the stick doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Cargo containers at a port in New Orleans. File photo by Paul Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cargo containers at a port in New Orleans. File photo by Paul Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images

First, America’s relationships with its allies and partners are affordable — foreign military assistance and aid took up only 1.3 percent of the federal budget in fiscal year 2015. Second, relationships with allies yield important dividends in intelligence and burden sharing for initiatives that are American led — the war in Afghanistan, efforts to reign in North Korea, and the fight against ISIS are cases in point. Alliances distribute risk and thereby decrease the likelihood that conflict will take place on American soil.

The fact of the matter is that our footprint in the “globalized” world is the envy of our adversaries. Pulling back would change that. Doing away with NATO, for example, would fundamentally alter the balance of power in Europe and increase the likelihood that American intervention would be required later and at greater expense to correct the imbalance. Such unacceptable power imbalances have happened before, which is precisely why key alliances and the international economic order were established after the Second World War.

Let’s hope that our next president will choose to “remain” in a system that does far more good than harm.
If America rejects globalization, it’s worth asking what it would get in return. A return of lost manufacturing jobs? Probably not. Many sectors are simply no longer viable in the U.S.; automation and demand for low prices are as much to blame as free trade.

Better relations with Russia or China? It’s doubtful. An American retreat from the global stage would create new opportunities for both. Increased “sovereignty?” Hard to imagine. America’s geographic isolation and its current global leadership position inoculate it from the negative repercussions of world events more than any other country.

Furthermore, rejecting globalization would do nothing to solve the thorny, domestic causes of nativist angst, such as income inequality and the perception of being left behind.

Like the establishment of the EU, globalization is a bell that cannot be un-rung. America faces a choice: It can “remain” part of the globalized world and mitigate the downsides, or “leave” it and forego the benefits enumerated above.

Let’s hope that our next president will choose to remain in a system that does far more good than harm.

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