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NEED TO KNOW:
Catalonia — that rebellious, anarchist and insanely beautiful region of Spain — already feels like an independent state. For years the region relished a striking level of autonomy from the central government.
But in 2010, the Spanish constitutional court rolled back much of that autonomy, setting off renewed calls for independence. Last year almost to the day, Catalonia held a non-binding vote on independence. The people voted for it, but the turnout was low. And, anyway, it wasn’t recognized by Spain.
Yesterday, a majority of Catalonia’s local parliament approved measures that would accelerate the region’s secession, creating state institutions like a tax agency and social security system.
The move followed regional elections in September. That vote gave separatist parties the majority of seats in the regional parliament. But it didn’t give them a majority of the votes overall. This and the low voter turnout in the first referendum on independence last year has cast doubt on just how much Catalans really care about secession.
The intensified effort toward independence right now probably has at least something to do with the political future of Artur Mas, Catalonia’s regional leader. Mas and his political party have been plagued by corruption scandals. The leader could actually be voted out of office by Thursday. So some think the whole push for independence is really just a selfish means for Mas to curry favor with voters.
WANT TO KNOW:
Diwali is the five-day festival of light celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs. It coincides with the Hindu new year. During Diwali, everything in India becomes more beautiful. Many Indians meticulously clean their houses. Families travel to be with one another. They bring each other gifts. Most famously, they light decorative lamps and set off firecrackers.
The holiday is also poisonous. It could be helping to slowly kill everyone living downwind. And it’s a boon for those who have chosen to take their professional careers in the direction of human trafficking and child labor.
During the nearly weeklong celebration, air pollution in India — which is already pretty terrible — spikes to between five and eight times the safe standard. Last Diwali, an Indian agency recorded pollution levels 10 times the recommended standard.
Meanwhile, all those firecrackers have to be made by someone. Unfortunately during Diwali that means thousands of children are trafficked and used as cheap labor, working in dangerous factories where explosive accidents are commonplace.
Some Indians are trying to rein all this in. One couple petitioned the Supreme Court on behalf of their infant children, appealing for restrictions on fireworks on the basis of their fundamental right to life and clean air.
The Supreme Court turned the petition down, essentially calling it unrealistic. The truth is, in this case any activists trying to regulate these celebrations are up against the powerful twin pillars of religious zeal and capitalism. Hindus say it’s their right to set off fireworks. And businesses say it is their right to sell them.
STRANGE BUT TRUE:
When US President Barack Obama ran for office the first time, way back in 2008, a central theme of his campaign was his promise to close the controversial prison known as Guantanamo Bay. He has never quite gotten there.
Now as his tenure winds down and Americans shift their attention to the similarly spurious promises of a new round of presidential candidates, Obama might finally have found a way to make good on his pledge.
The Obama administration is expected to release a plan later today detailing how it intends to close the prison. It only took eight years.