Crisis in Iraq worsens
On Sunday, a massive lorry bomb exploded in central Baghdad, killing 281 people, and injuring many more. It’s the deadliest single attack in the country since the US-led invasion in 2003. It goes without saying that the situation is incredibly complicated, the political and economic system is terribly fractured, and people are suffering severely. Many feel the government simply can’t protect them. It’s of little comfort that on Wednesday, the UK finally issued the Chilcot Report, which looked at Britain’s role in the conflict and found that it wasn’t justified in going to war, based its intervention on weak evidence, and had no clear plans for what to do afterward. What some critics of the report have pointed out however, is that there’s little clear explanation of the actual reason for war. For many the answer has to do with oil, although this has always been officially denied. What the report did reveal though, was that UK oil companies met with politicians ahead of the war to make sure their interests weren’t forgotten about, and many are now doing business in the region. Oil is still the major source of Iraq’s income, though they’re making less money from it now the price of oil is so low. Add to that huge costs on security, failing infrastructure, a budget deficit, and massive youth unemployment, and you have a pretty bleak economic picture. None of this changes the dangers and hardships the Iraqi people face every day, though. For them, British regrets will count for little.
WhatsAPP in Zimbabwe?
A nationwide strike and demonstrations have hit Zimbabwe this week, as citizens protest against economic conditions in the country. Basically, people are sick of cash shortages, restrictions on imports, and civil servant salaries not being paid for months. The government ordered people to “go about their normal business”, and some reports suggest they tried to block WhatsAPP in an effort to stop people organizing. But the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), yesterday thanked thousands of Zimbabweans for staging a "resoundingly successful" strike, so it seems the government tactics didn’t work. Zimbabwe’s been in a bad way for a long time: their currency is almost worthless because of inflation so massive that they were printing billion dollar notes (until they gave up and just started using the dollar instead.) Despite some improvements, the economy has again been seeing slower growth and yet more cash flow problems. Zimbabweans now use a number of different including the South African rand and the US dollar, but many think the government wants to return to the dreaded Zimbabwe dollar, which they’re worried will signal a whole new economic crisis. The result is empty cash machines, limits on withdrawals and many businesses and individual lives at a standstill.
Spanish football in a real Messi as clubs are forced pay back millions
Real Madrid and six other Spanish football clubs have been ordered to pay back millions of euros after they illegally received state aid over more than 20 years. This comes in the same week as Barcelona star Lionel Messi was sentenced to 21 month in prison for tax fraud. The two things aren’t connected but neither are good news for the Spanish game, or football in general, which has been trying to clean up its act after the FIFA corruption scandal in May. So what happened in Spain? Well, the European Commission has ruled that the clubs received preferential loans and deals on tax and property. For example, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna paid 25% tax rather than 30% for over two decades, so they’ve all got to pay back up to €5m each. Which is about 12 weeks’ pay for Messi (after tax)! Real Madrid has got to repay the €18.4m it received from the city council as compensation for a land deal that fell through. This is essentially taxpayer’s money indirectly being given to commercial businesses and so breaks European fair competition rules. It’s small change for the clubs though. Real and Barca earned a combined €1.4 billion in the 2014/15 season!
We’ve reached Jupiter, but no giant black monoliths to be found (yet)
NASA’s Juno spacecraft reached Jupiter this week, after a five-year, 2.8 billion km journey, and is now in orbit around the giant planet. Yes, we’re now actually living in 2001: A Space Odyssey (ok, so we know we’re 15 years late!). Actually, it’s not the first probe to visit, but people think it’ll tell us a lot more about Jupiter’s structure and how it was formed. Plus, it’s carrying three LEGO figures, who’ve now travelled further than any human being ever! It was all down to a very tricky manoeuvre that involved firing the craft’s engines at exactly the right moment in order to slow it down - otherwise, bang, there goes $1.1 billion, which was the cost of the project. But that didn’t happen, so it’s all ok. Actually, as far as these kind of missions go, this is pretty cheap. The previous one cost $1.5 billion and that was over 20 years ago. In a 2011 survey, 58% of Americans said they thought the space exploration was essential to the US, but most were reluctant to spend more, saying more should be spent on health and education. There’s often a perception that NASA’s funding represents a huge proportion of the US’s overall budget, but it’s actually only around 0.45%. Supporters also make the point that much of the technology developed, everything from personal computers to solar power, also directly benefits us here on Earth.
In other news…
Pound falls again. Following the UK’s Brexit vote, the British pound has been losing its value when compared to the dollar. It fell to its lowest rate for 31 years on Wednesday, with £1 being worth 1.27 dollars. That’s not good news if you’re a Brit going on holiday. But currencies do go up and down, so no need to hit the max-freak-out button just yet.
Inequality is everywhere, even in the weather. Turns out lightning strikes affect poor people more than they do rich people, killing some 24,000 people a year, mostly in developing countries. One of the main reasons is that less homes here have a advanced plumbing and electrical systems that help ground the strikes. More people also work outdoors and so stand a higher chance of getting caught in storms.
Defrosting dilemma. A new survey has revealed that most Brits are throwing away good food, because they’re unsure how to freeze things safely. Apparently, UK households throw away around seven millions tonnes a year, half of which could have been eaten. This is costing the average home about £60 per month.
Return my Mac. McDonald's has won a case that could stop other companies using the ‘Mc’ or ‘Mac’ prefix on rival food and drink products. A European court has said that the ‘MacCoffee’ trademark of Singapore company, Future Enterprises, was invalid, arguing that it unfairly benefited from the branding of the US fast food giant.
The future is now, the deliverobots are here!
Robots are expected to hit the streets of London, Düsseldorf, Bern, and Hamburg this month, after several companies announced they’d be using them to deliver food and courier packages. No, you haven’t fallen asleep and woken up a hundred years from now. That’s not a flying car outside your window (though it might be a driverless one). It’s 2016, and the future has arrived. Official. The tiny, six-wheeled bots have been developed by a firm called Starship Technologies and can carry about two shopping bags worth of goods. In London, the food retailer Just Eat will be using them to deliver food ordered from a select number of its outlets. At the moment they’ll be remotely driven by an actual human being, but have the capability to be totally autonomous as they learn their way round. Bosses are excited because it could massively cut the cost of delivering goods in urban areas, by as much as $13 dollars per drop-off. This comes just off the back of news that San Francisco might be getting its first fully automated burger-making machine and that Amazon has taken one step closer to robot-staffed warehouses. Robotization has been with us for years, but technology is advancing so quickly now that many think millions of human jobs might eventually be replaced entirely. What could possibly go wrong! “Dave, Dave… what are you doing Dave?”