Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Mar 25, 2021 in Stuff You Should Know

China Faces Dangerous Dust Storm

Last week, strong winds blew dust from the Gobi Desert across much of the northern part of China. This caused what weather experts describe as the worst sandstorm China has seen in ten years. The dust turned the sky visibly yellow. Some schools were shut down, and more than four hundred flights were canceled. The storm spread as far as the neighboring country of Mongolia, where nine people are reported dead and at least 341 more missing as a result.

To get some perspective on how poor the air quality was: the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air quality index says that any reading under 100 is considered “acceptable.” Anything over 300 triggers the highest health warning level. Beijing, China, averaged around 80 last year. Because of the dust storm, Beijing’s readings last week soared as high as 999. Similarly, the World Health Organization has set the safe level for small particle air pollutants at 25 micrograms per cubic meter. On Monday, March 15 Beijing reached a high of 655.

What caused this crisis? It’s tempting to blame deforestation, which used to cause frequent sandstorms in China. But an aggressive tree-planting program which began in 2000 has helped with that, cutting the average number of sandstorms per year from 26 in the 1950s, to 3 today. The real cause was a recent increase in industrial pollutants in the air. China has quickly increased industrial activity after months of COVID-related quarantine. The combination of pollutant smog and desert sand caused the dangerous storm.

Dig Deeper Locate the following places mentioned in the story on a map of Asia: Beijing, Mongolia, Gobi Desert. If necessary, use internet resources to help you find them.

Remembering Breonna Taylor

A little more than one year ago, Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville Metro Police Department. Last weekend, hundreds of people gathered in downtown Louisville, Kentucky to honor her memory and to call for justice.

On March 13, 2020, Louisville police forced their way into Taylor’s apartment shortly after midnight. The police believed that Taylor’s apartment had been used to receive packages of drugs. Taylor and her boyfriend were in bed. When they heard the police banging on their door, they got up and asked who was there. Then the police broke the door down. Taylor’s boyfriend fired a gunshot that hit one of the officers in the thigh. Officers fired back and Taylor was shot five times. It took more than twenty minutes for Taylor to receive medical attention for her wounds. The former police chief of the city said the officers were not required to wear body cameras. There is no body camera footage of the incident.  No drugs were found in the apartment.

Last September, one of the officers, Brett Hankison, was arrested on charges of wanton endangerment, because some of his bullets hit a neighboring apartment. He pleaded not guilty. The two other officers who fired shots were not criminally charged in this incident. But Detective Myles Cosgrove , Detective Joshua Jaynes, and Brett Hankison were all fired from the city’s police force. The city of Louisville paid a $12 million wrongful death settlement to Taylor’s family.

Dig Deeper News coverage of Breonna Taylor often focuses on the tragic circumstances of her death. Use internet resources to learn more about her life. Write a short paragraph about what you find.

Fawzia Koofi Fights for Peace

Have you ever heard of Fawzia Koofi? She is a member of parliament in Afghanistan and one of twenty-one Afghan delegates negotiating a peace agreement with the Taliban. She is also an outspoken women’s rights activist. Two attempts have been made on her life (one by the Taliban in 2010, and another this year by an unknown gunman).

The United States signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in February 2020. But in the thirteen months since then, there have been hundreds of attacks by the Taliban on Afghan citizens. Pressure has been mounting to make progress with the peace talks. According to Koofi, the main goal the Afghan government wants to achieve is to stop targeted killings and assassinations in Afghanistan. They also want safe roads and highways for citizen travel. Koofi is careful to point out the difference between a political peace agreement, and actual, real social peace. While she is in favor of U.S. troops pulling out of her country, she also believes that as long as there are still terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, an arbitrary deadline shouldn’t matter and troops should remain as long as they are needed.

Koofi, 45, has a degree in political science from Kabul University and a master’s degree from the Geneva School of Diplomacy–even though she was told many times growing up that women did not need an education. She was elected to Afghanistan’s parliament in 2005 and became deputy speaker of parliament the following year. In 2019, she started the Movement for Change, a political party dedicated to promoting women in leadership.

Dig Deeper Koofi is one of just four women involved in the Taliban peace talks. Who are the other three? Choose one of them and use internet resources to learn more about her. Write a paragraph about what you find.

Possible Delayed U.S. Military Withdrawal from Afghanistan

U.S. Army soldiers in Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers in Deh Rawud, Afghanistan in 2013. Troops may remain in the country even longer than President Biden hoped. Credit: Alliance Images/Alamy Stock Photo

President Trump made a promise to remove all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1 of this year. President Biden announced on March 17 that it might be a challenge to meet that deadline. One reason for this possible delay is that the Taliban hasn’t effectively met its part of the withdrawal agreement to work towards peace. (For example, one condition of withdrawal was that the Taliban would need to sever ties with terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. But this hasn’t happened.) This leaves President Biden with three options: withdrawing troops as scheduled by May 1; pulling out of the agreement because of lack of Taliban cooperation; or asking for an extension. It is believed by many experts that Biden will ask for an extension.

Of course, a key concern is how the Taliban would respond to the potential delay of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces. Some Afghan government officials believe that delaying the withdrawal would send a message to the Taliban that the organization needs to meet the conditions of the peace agreement. But a spokesperson for the Taliban says that any delay in withdrawal will be viewed as breaking a contract, thereby voiding any agreement.

Related Link: Click here to read the Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan.

Currently, 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, with up to 1,000 additional Special Operations forces.

Dig Deeper At the highest peak of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan (2011), how many U.S. troops were stationed there? Use internet resources to help you find the answer.