Last week, amid breaking news notifications about President Donald Trump’s travel ban and North Korea’s missile launch, a vacation reel of the former Leader of the Free World popped up on YouTube.
Meanwhile, the White House, three weeks deep into the new administration, navigated the partisan politics over Trump’s game of golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Trump often criticized Obama for playing golf during his two terms.) The White House released a statement saying it was a business game of golf, involving “great conversations on a wide range of subjects.”
Here are five important stories that may or may not have been discussed by either Trump or Obama.
1. Rape case in France sparks fears over repeat of 2005 riots
Video by CLNEWS
Angered over the alleged police rape of a 22-year-old black man, residents in the French suburbs of Paris have staged protests every day for the past week. They don’t appear to be slowing down.
More than 2,000 people have gathered in protest, days after a French officer was charged with allegedly sodomizing a man, identified as Theo, with a baton during a Feb. 2 arrest in the neighboring Aulnay-sous-Bois suburb. Another three officers were charged with assault.
The officers have denied the allegations. Theo was hospitalized with injuries to head, face and anus, the latter of which required surgery.
Last week, French investigators announced that the alleged rape was an accident.
A peaceful demonstration in Bobigny, a northeastern suburb of Paris, turned violent Sunday as protesters clashed with police.
Protesters pelted officers with objects and set several vehicles on fire, Al Jazeera reported.
Why it’s important
Police continue to make arrests as unrest flares in the Saint-Seine-Denis region, which houses a large immigrant and working class population. The region is also gripped with unemployment levels as high as 30 percent, CBS News reported.
The relationship between police and the impoverished “banlieues,” or suburbs, in the region has been fraught for decades. The 2005 riots in the same suburban outskirts of Paris drew attention to the inequalities found in French society. The three weeks of unrest were sparked when two teenagers died from electrocution after fleeing police.
Unfortunately, as The Guardian documented, little has improved today between police and the banlieues.
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French President François Hollande visited Theo at the hospital last week, hoping to assuage the tensions playing out in the streets. Hollande also plans on visiting Aubervilliers, one of the banlieues, on Tuesday, Le Monde reported.
2. As Texas mosque seeks to rebuild, cause of fire is revealed
Weeks after a fire destroyed a mosque in south Texas, investigators officially ruled it an arson last week.
However, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said it’s still unclear who set the Victoria Islamic Center ablaze on Jan. 28. Investigators also stopped short of classifying the arson as a hate crime.
Mosque members “are saddened & alarmed by the outcome of the investigation,” the center said in a statement on Facebook. “Despite several indications of arson, we offered prayers of hope that the cause of fire would be accident rather than intentional act,” the statement read.
Why it’s important
The mosque fire partly received national attention because of its timing. Firefighters fought the flames hours after President Donald Trump signed an executive order that banned travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The mosque has been a part of the Victoria, Texas, community for 16 years and has been the target of a few incidents. In 2001, someone left a pig’s head at the mosque. And in 2013, a teen vandalized the mosque by spraypainting “H8” on an outside wall. The center president, however, chalked up the latter incident to boredom rather than hate. A week before this recent fire, the mosque was burglarized.
In a phone interview with the San Antonio Express-News, Imam Osama Hassan mirrored the sentiments of the center’s statement, following the arson announcement.
“I don’t know why someone would do such a thing,” he told the Express-News, adding that the Victoria community has offered ample support to the Muslim community.
Additionally, when the center set up a GoFundMe page for online donations, it set the goal at $850,000 to rebuild the center. To date, more than $1.1 million has been raised. The center said it planned to donate the extra money.
“We know there are more good people than bad, and we hope whoever did this can get that message,” Hassan said.
3. Mother sues Pennsylvania school district for delay in notifying parents of lead contamination
Last month, the Butler Area School District in Pennsylvania sent a letter to parents saying officials had found lead in the water at Summit Elementary School, at levels “exceeding acceptable water standards.”
The only problem, says a mother now suing the school: The letter allegedly came five months after the school district got those results.
Reuters reports that a woman named Jennifer Tait, whose daughter is enrolled in the school, filed a lawsuit over the toxic levels of lead in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh. She’s arguing there was a “gross delay” in how school officials handled the news of the contamination, which the school district received in August, Reuters says.
There’s no safe level of lead in water, according to the EPA. But the agency’s threshold is around 15 parts per billion (ppb). The amount of lead found in samples from the district in August ranged from 13 to 55 parts per billion, according to a report from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Copper and E. coli were also found in the water.
Tait’s daughter now has elevated levels of lead in her blood, her lawyers told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; the lawsuit alleges as many as 200 people may have also been harmed by the water.
In her lawsuit, Tait is seeking “class certification, medical monitoring, and damages for negligence, failure to warn, physical injuries, pain and suffering, violation of the constitutional right to bodily integrity and due process, conspiracy, recklessness and deliberate indifference,” Courthouse News reported.
Why it’s important
It can be easy to take what comes out of the tap for granted, but many communities — perhaps more than we realize — don’t have access to safe drinking water.
Lead is dangerous to anyone, but especially to children and pregnant women. The Centers for Disease Control says high levels of lead can affect a child’s brain development, causing slowed growth, lower IQs and learning disabilities — and those effects can’t be corrected.
Lead often enters drinking water when old lead or copper pipes erode. The EPA says this issue is most common in buildings built before 1986, just more than 30 years ago.
In others, it’s the search for cheaper water. That’s what happened to Flint, Michigan, which has made headlines for years over its water crisis. While switching water service providers, officials began to draw water from the Flint River, but never tested to see if it would cause the city’s old pipes to corrode.
Scientists found elevated levels of lead, along with E. Coli, in the water, which they now say poisoned children and also led to an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease. On average, homes in Flint had a lead level of 27 parts per billion.
Even once lead is detected and water is treated, it can take years for water to be safe again. Flint has gone more than 1,000 days without safe drinking water. And though the water recently tested within the EPA’s safe limits, residents were still being asked to use bottled water, says The Washington Post.
In December, a Reuters report found 3,000 areas with poisoning rates far higher than in Flint.
A judge dismissed a class action lawsuit over the Flint Water crisis earlier this month, according to Detroit News, but there are four additional lawsuits related to the water crisis still working their way through the system.
But, across the country, communities are still grappling with the larger problem of how quickly they can detect and respond to lead-contaminated water. Last week, two schools in the Bronx reported dealing with elevated levels of lead, the city’s Department of education said. One school has 16 times the amount of lead in the water than Flint did, DNA info reports. And a report from the Sacramento Bee showed Sacramento County’s school districts don’t regularly test for lead.
Lawmakers in Washington are introducing bills that would require public water systems to better monitor lead contamination, including one that would require them to replace old pipes, The Seattle Times reports. And some researchers, like those at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, are developing technology that will make it easier and faster to test water for lead.
And more cities will face a different kind of water issue — affordability — over the next five years, a new study says. If rates continue to rise at their current rate, a third of American households won’t be able to afford their water bills.
4. Kenya court says the world’s biggest refugee camp must stay open
Kenya’s High Court halted plans Thursday to shut down the world’s biggest refugee camp.
The camp, known as Dadaab, is home to more than 300,000 people, according to AFP.
The ruling issued by Judge John Mativo claimed termination of the camp would prove unconstitutional and that it violated Kenya’s international obligations.
The Government of the Republic of Kenya fired back at the decision, saying it planned to appeal.
“For us as Government, Kenya will always come first. The lives of Kenyans matter. Our interest in this case, and in the closure of Dadaab Refugee Camp, remains to protect the lives of Kenyans. It is for this reason that we shall be strongly appealing the decision by the High Court,” the government said in a statement.
Government will appeal closure of Dadaab in interest of National Security. pic.twitter.com/KL5Z4ukYiw
— Spokesperson GoK (@SpokespersonGoK) February 9, 2017
Why it’s important
This is not the first time the Kenyan Government has attempted to close Dadaab. A vast majority of the camp’s inhabitants are Somalis who have lived there for several years, The Wall Street Journal says. The camp’s residents has continued to increase since its inception in the 1990s, a time of chaotic politics and violence within the country.
Kenya’s Ministry of Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho
Plans to close Dadaab occurred at the end of November but plans were delayed until May 2017 at the request of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR.
The Kenyan Government has repeatedly argued the camp has become a hotbed for numerous attacks by the Islamist militant group, Al-Shabaab. Somalia’s UN-backed government is currently battling the Islamist group in order to regain control of the country, with assistance from the African Union, as documented by the BBC.
The Islamist group has continued to maintain various cells within the country for approximately 25 years and has carried out several attacks in Kenya, including last year’s strike on Garissa University, which killed 148 people, according to The Associated Press.
The move comes three weeks after Trump issued an executive order barring citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries, Somalia included, from entering the U.S. And though a federal appeals court refused to reinstate Trump’s ban Thursday, some refugees within Dadaab had begun to feel its effect.
Thousands of refugees had already gone through multi-year vetting procedures by U.S. authorities, The Wall Street Journal reports, leaving those who had already prepared to leave Kenya in limbo.
But Kenya’s high court ruling now means the Kenyan government will have to restore the camp’s operations. It’s not clear how long the government’s appeal, if officials pursue it, would take — or how likely it is to succeed.
5. Don’t be a beagle
The 141st Westminster Dog Show is underway — and we already have our first lovable loser.
During an agility competition over the weekend, Mia the beagle was distracted and decidedly not speedy. In fact, she stopped a couple of times and missed her cues as an announcer pleaded, “Don’t be a beagle. Don’t be a beagle …”
A beagle — Miss P — won Best in Show in 2015, the second claim to the top honors for the breed in a decade. Mia won’t be taking any prizes home, but she did galvanize the crowd.
Why it’s important
Everyone needs a distraction from the news once in a while.
But on a somewhat related note, new for Westminster this year was the presence of cats at the festivities. Granted, the selected cats were relegated to the American Kennel Club’s “Meet the Breeds” expo — and not the main event — but there was a quote in The New York Times story that stuck out:
“With the seriousness of the issues and the disagreements people have with friends and neighbors after the election, poking fun at cats and dogs being in one room together is a way to make fun of ourselves,” a cat breeder told the Times.
So I choose to laugh about Mia’s disastrous performance.
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