14 February 2023

Daily Newsletter

Thousands of Fish Found Dead After Ohio Train Derailment

The Facts

  • The Ohio Department of Natural Resources said Monday that the train derailment and spillage of toxic chemicals in East Palestine on Feb. 3 has killed at least 3.5K fish — primarily small suckers, minnows, darters, and sculpin — in the Leslie Run stream.

  • The confirmation comes days after a Norfolk Southern train carrying vinyl chloride — a colorless and highly flammable gas used to make PVC plastics, which decomposes into toxic fumes — went off the tracks and burst into flames in north-eastern Ohio, stoking fears of a potential explosion.


The Spin

Narrative A

This accident raises questions about the rail transportation of vinyl chloride and brings rail safety in general under scrutiny. It also serves as a huge wake-up call to Americans living in close proximity to rail lines about the potential risks they face. The federal government's lax regulations on and inspections of the rail industry have enabled risks to rise — safety improvements must be made through the enforcement of proper protocols, checks, and balances.

Narrative B

Rail is the safest transport option for the movement of chemicals compared with truck travel. Rail transport experiences just 10% of the accidents that occur in truck transport, and those accidents are on the decline by as much as 33%. Nonetheless, higher investments in rail networks can improve safety performance, while investment in community relations can also help build trust between the public, railroads, and transportation safety agencies.

Narrative C

The real issue here is the response to the disaster. Vinyl chloride is a serious health hazard, and authorities failed to deal with the chemical spill properly, simply covering the contaminated soil after burning without proper assessment. Vinyl chloride, however, is highly mobile in soil and risks eventually leaching into groundwater. It's not a question of if there will be a problem, but simply when it will occur and how bad it will be.

See sources

New Zealand Declares Rare Emergency for Cyclone

The Facts

  • New Zealand declared a state of emergency for just the third time in its history on Tuesday, as Cyclone Gabrielle destroyed roads, flooded homes, and left more than 100K people without electricity.

  • Rising waters stranded people on rooftops, roads were submerged by floodwaters and houses were swept away by landslides. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters, “It has been a big night for New Zealanders across the country, but particularly in the upper North Island…a lot of families displaced, a lot of homes without power, extensive damage done across the country.”


The Spin

Narrative A

Cyclone Gabrielle is the most significant weather event New Zealand has seen in a century. Cyclones and other extreme climate-catalyzed weather disasters will ultimately change how nations like New Zealand build safe and sustainable communities. New Zealand has made many mistakes regarding sustainable planning in the past and it's time to confront a new normal.

Narrative B

It's easy to dismiss any extreme weather event as a consequence of climate change, but in reality, they're usually influenced by a myriad of factors that have nothing to do with it. More research is needed before we can establish any direct causal link between the two.

Nerd narrative

There's a 50% chance that the total damage incurred by climate change during the 21st century will be at least 8.84% of world GDP, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

See sources

Three People Killed at Michigan State University, Gunman Dead

The Facts

  • A gunman on Monday opened fire at Michigan State University, killing three people and critically wounding five others. He fatally shot himself hours later as police confronted him following a manhunt.

  • Police announced the death of the shooter as 43-year-old Anthony Dwayne McRae. Investigators are still determining the motive.


The Spin

Democratic narrative

Yet another tragic and preventable mass shooting has taken place on US soil and Congress is still failing to act. The American legislature has not seriously debated the problem of gun control for a decade because Republicans are continuing to stall the desperately needed legislation. While new laws cannot prevent all mass shootings, they would stop some of them. Any change, even if it isn't perfect, is worthwhile to protect innocent lives.

Republican narrative

Bluntly imposing restrictions on legal ownership would do nothing to tackle the root causes of mass shootings, but it would threaten the second amendment rights of law abiding Americans. Mass shooters either obtain their weapons illegally, or legally before having a criminal record, so further restrictions on gun ownership serve no practical use in terms of prevention. Democrats may want to be seen to be doing something in response to these massacres, but autocratic and unconstitutional gun bans are not a solution.

Narrative C

If lawmakers truly want to act to prevent these heinous attacks plaguing America, they must bridge partisan dichotomies to understand the political and social convictions about guns and gun violence behind each other's ideological stances. Though to liberals more guns equate to more deaths, conservatives equate gun rights with fundamental American freedom. Despite conflicting priorities, both sides believe in a right to safety and liberty in US society. Through clearer dialogue, a route towards imposing more practical solutions to gun violence, that also respects the right to responsible gun ownership, is within reach.

Nerd narrative

There is a 50% chance that the murder rate in the US will be at least 5.65 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2030, according to the Metaculus Prediction Community.

See sources

Philippines Accuses China of Using Laser at Sea

The Facts

  • The Philippines on Monday charged a Chinese coast guard ship with temporarily blinding some crew members of a Philippine coast guard vessel with a military-grade laser in the South China Sea, describing it as a "blatant" violation of Philippine sovereign rights.

  • Last week, the PRC ship allegedly also navigated dangerously close, around 450 feet (137 meters), to block the Philippine patrol vessel BRP Malapascua from approaching Second Thomas Shoal — a submerged reef that has been occupied by Philippine forces.


The Spin

Anti-China narrative

The country closest to Taiwan and the South China Sea, the Philippines is faced with opportunities and challenges it must deal with in the face of Chinese aggression. With its relationship with the US as the key, it's time for the Philippine people to come together and support a coherent foreign policy, modernize its defense forces, and defend their sovereign rights.

Pro-China narrative

The PRC vessel exercised professional restraint during its on-site operations. While China has been accused of aggression, it is the Philippines that has frequently engaged in provocative behavior on the reef in the past decade — seeking to undermine China's sovereign rights and regional stability.

See sources

Day 356: At NATO Talks, Ukraine Seeks Warplanes; Allies Concerned Over Ammo

The Facts

  • Ten days away from the one-year anniversary of the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war last February, the Ukraine Defense Contact group met for the ninth time at NATO's headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday.

  • While Ukraine's defense minister Oleksii Reznikov used the talks to press allies for fighter jets — which Western partners have so far refused — partners were reportedly more concerned with providing ammunition amid fears Ukraine is using stockpiles faster than Western countries can currently supply.


The Spin

Pro-establishment narrative

Supplying Ukraine with ammunition, fuel, and spare parts is currently more vital than supplying new weaponry. Delivering new equipment that would take months of training has to take a back seat to ensuring that Ukraine has the supplies it needs to operate existing weapons and systems.

Establishment-critical narrative

Multi-billion dollar weapons packages will make little difference in the outcome of the war. The US has been meddling in Ukraine since the end of the Cold War, and what we're witnessing is a geopolitical Ponzi scheme to benefit those aligned with the military-industrial complex. War is a lucrative racket.

Nerd narrative

There's a 1% chance that Ukraine will formally pledge not to join the EU before 2024, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

See sources

EU Lawmakers Approve Ban on Gas-Powered Cars From 2035

The Facts

  • The European Parliament (EP) on Tuesday approved a law that would effectively ban the sale of new gas- and diesel-powered vehicles in the EU starting in 2035. Specifically, it will require a 55% cut in CO2 emissions for new cars by 2030 — compared to 2021 levels — and 100% by 2035.

  • The formal approval comes after EU member states agreed on an outline of the bill last year, which includes a compromise that could allow the sale of vehicles running on carbon-neutral fuel. These would be the only new carbon-producing vehicles allowed after 2035.


The Spin

Left narrative

While any fossil fuel ban enshrined into law is better than no law at all, the 2035 rule is too late if Europe wants to abide by the Paris agreement and actually halt climate change. In order to do so, all cars should be electric by 2028. This would not only help prevent the Earth from warming more than 1.5°C but also save Europeans hundreds of millions of euros in fuel costs.

Right narrative

The EU's zero-emissions vehicle push isn't just likely to lead to job cuts; it definitely will. Car manufacturers are already planning on cutting jobs across the continent to meet EV goals, with Ford recently announcing plans to eliminate 3.8k positions in Europe. Moreover, these are skilled engineering jobs, but company executives say that as they switch from combustion engines to EV production, these skills will become obsolete.

Nerd narrative

There's a 50% chance that at least 34.4% of new vehicle production will be electric in the US in 2027, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

See sources

Syria Aid Enters Newly-Opened Border Crossing

The Facts

  • Following an agreement between the Syrian government and the UN regarding the opening of two additional border crossings from Turkey into opposition-held northwest Syria earlier this week, 11 trucks crossed into the region on Tuesday to deliver aid to the millions of victims of last week's earthquakes.

  • The two new crossing points at Bab al-Salameh, the crossing used on Tuesday, and al-Raee will be open for an initial period of three months. Before the agreement, the UN was only able to deliver aid via the Bab al-Hawa crossing between Turkey and Idlib.


The Spin

Pro-establishment narrative

Though the opening of more aid corridors is always a positive development, it should have happened far sooner. Indeed, if it were not for Russian interference, more cross-border aid deliveries could have been made before the earthquakes even struck the area. Ultimately, however, the US itself is not innocent either, as it has systematically failed the Syrian people at every turn.

Establishment-critical narrative

Though the Western media try to blame the Syrian government and Russia for the lack of aid to opposition-held areas, it is the opposition itself that is stopping aid delivery. The West has waged a long and dirty war against Syria using its jihadist proxies, who are now preventing aid from government-held areas from entering the regions that they control. Damascus has always been willing to help its own people.

See sources

Nikki Haley Announces 2024 Presidential Run

The Facts

  • Ex-UN Ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley officially announced her campaign for the 2024 Republican US presidential nomination on Tuesday, joining former Pres. Donald Trump as the second declared candidate.

  • This follows her invitations to supporters last week for a "special announcement" in which she was expected to announce her candidacy at The Shed at the Charleston Visitor Center in downtown Charleston, SC, on Feb. 15.


The Spin

Republican narrative

While Nikki Haley has an uphill battle to secure the GOP nomination in 2024, she is an intriguing candidate with unique qualities in the prospective primary field. As a woman of color, she could also represent a diverse face for the party. Being the first female and woman of color as president would look good for the Republican Party.

Democratic narrative

While some in the GOP will call her a refreshing change from Donald Trump, Nikki Haley has fought for the core tenets of the MAGA movement since before MAGA even existed. She supports abortion bans without exceptions for rape or incest, as well as ending Medicare and giving tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy. If she was willing to terminate the rights of thousands of her South Carolinian constituents, it's terrifying to think of what she would do on the national level.

See sources

BBC Offices in India Searched Following Modi Documentary

The Facts

  • Income tax authorities have searched BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai, just weeks after the broadcaster released a controversial documentary criticizing Indian Prime Minister and BJP leader Narendra Modi.

  • According to BBC sources, officials questioned the BBC accounts officer working in the New Delhi office and didn't allow others to leave. Tax officials have described the operation as a "credible survey operation."


The Spin

Narrative A

This is a blatant attack on journalists who have, through rigorous investigation, exposed Modi's record of oppressive and intolerant leadership. New Delhi is sliding into authoritarianism, a regression that has been accelerated by Modi's style of governance. Tax raids are a thin cover for what government officials are truly up to — concealing the erosion of human rights and persecution of minorities in India.

Narrative B

The surveys on the BBC premises are entirely warranted. Distinct from the broadcaster's recent controversial documentary — which has done irreparable damage to the sovereignty and integrity of India, as well as relations abroad and public order domestically — the offices are facing allegations of tax evasion and irregularities of international tax and financial transactions. Tax officials must be allowed to do their jobs unhindered by interference from the meddling of the international community.

Nerd narrative

There is a 53% chance that there will be a non-BJP PM of India before 2030, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

See sources

CDC: Mental Health Issues Rising in Teens, Especially Girls

The Facts

  • A new report released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday details increased levels of violence, sadness, and suicidal thoughts among teenagers, especially girls, over the past 10 years.

  • According to the data, 57% of high school girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021 — almost 60% more than in 2011. In addition, 30% of girls seriously considered attempting suicide, 18% experienced sexual violence in the past year, and 14% reported having been forced to have sex.


The Spin

Narrative A

This shocking report is the latest sign we have to ween our children off of social media. Teenage use of social media has increased toxicity and further isolated teens after the pandemic increased their loneliness. It’s up to parents, schools, and all adults to lessen, or at least better monitor, teenagers’ social media activity.

Narrative B

Social media can have a negative influence, but we shouldn’t let schools — which should have better mental health and sex education programs — off the hook. It’s also important to make sure teens are allowed to grow up while free from the control and expectations of overbearing adults.

See sources

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