The World Today for April 21, 2016

April 21, 2016


The Forgotten War

It's one of the deadliest conflicts in the world, and yet it's overlooked.

Even the one-year anniversary of the outbreak of Yemen's civil war on March 26 passed without notice. The terror attacks in Brussels overshadowed it.

But with United Nations peace talks scheduled to begin in Kuwait today – two days late after one side failed to show up – maybe the world will finally take note of the brutality of what some call “the forgotten war” due to Yemen's remote location and removal from the European refugee crisis.

Regardless of whether international media decides to take note or not, the prospects for successful peace negotiations are not looking good: Last week's ceasefire between Shia Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed military coalition lasted mere hours before fighting and air strikes flared up again.

It wasn't the first ceasefire to fall apart, either, since Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies launched their air campaign last March to restore the presidency of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and reclaim the capital city of Sanaa from the Houthis. 

That's because every chance at peace in Yemen rests on very shaky footing: The civil war there is a proxy fight dominated by outside players.

The conflict may have its origins in the 2011 Arab Spring. But Yemen has long been caught up in a wider rivalry between Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, whose mullahs are supporting and arming the Houthi rebels.

Western powers, for their part, have repeatedly rebuffed calls from human rights organizations to halt the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia that have been deployed in strikes killing thousands of Yemeni civilians. 

Add in jihadist groups like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and local branches of the Islamic State who are unlikely to follow any Western-backed truce, and the ingredients for a drawn-out conflict are all too potent. 

Even if the UN talks succeed, the level of destruction here will ensure that Yemen will be in need of international aid “for years to come,” reported the BBC. 

Its cities and infrastructure have been reduced to rubble, and the health situation is reported to be critical with more than 21 million people, or 80 percent of the population, in need of humanitarian aid. Food shortages are rampant, drinking water is scarce, and more than one million children are acutely malnourished. Nearly double that number are out of school. 

All this in a country that has long been the poorest in the Arab world, with a history of political instability and sectarian violence. 

Taken together, it's a pretty devastating situation, and one that's unlikely to improve soon unless the two sides' negotiators really want peace. 

Maybe that's why so many would rather just look away.


The Clue that Travelled Far

Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigators have discovered debris in the western Indian Ocean that they said was almost certainly from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Flight 370 was the focus of weeks of daily television news coverage in the US. How could a plane have simply disappeared? Where did it go?

Now two pieces of a plane found around 135 miles apart off the coast of Mozambique suggest everyone was thinking far too narrowly in their search for the wreckage. Investigators suspected the plane crashed around 1,000 miles west of Australia. It’s possible, based on the debris, that pieces of the plane floated for a long time.

Or the pieces could be from something else, of course.

But even these slim shards of evidence might help the loved ones of passengers who have been looking for closure since the flight disappeared in March 2014 as it flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Canadian PM Inhales

On April 20 — a day that for some reason is considered a kind of holiday for marijuana smokers — the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that he would seek to legalize recreational pot use next year as he promised while running for office in 2015.

It’s yet another example of the slow but steady march towards the legalization of the drug. Four American states and the District of Columbia have already legalized recreational marijuana.

“We will work with law enforcement partners to encourage appropriate and proportionate criminal justice measures,” said Health Minister Jane Philpott at a special session of the UN General Assembly devoted to drugs. “We know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem.”

Trudeau has admitted to smoking weed a few times, but claims he didn’t like it. (That must have been why he kept trying.)

Plenty of other Canadians aren’t so coy. Marijuana is illegal in Canada, but a bumper crop of illegal dispensaries opened after Trudeau’s Liberal Party assumed power in November last year.

Comfort for a Killer

In the United States, mass killers receive the death sentence or life imprisonment in unpleasant surroundings.

In Norway, they’re confined in three cell complexes where they can play video games, watch television and exercise.

Now the courts say that’s not good enough. 

A Norwegian judge ruled on Wednesday that authorities violated Anders Behring Breivik's human rights.

The ruling was the result of a lawsuit Breivik brought against the government, complaining that he was strip searched too often, forced to wear handcuffs when he moved between his three cells, that the prison food was bad and that he couldn’t talk to other right-wing prisoners.

The court agreed, ordering the government to pay his $41,000 in legal costs but rejecting his claim that authorities had compromised his right to a “private and family life.”

Breivik killed 77 people in a series of bombings and shootings in 2011.


$20 for Harriet

The popularity of the musical Hamilton aside, it was always a foolish idea to remove the first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury from the $10 bill, even for the purpose of adding a long-deserving woman to the currency.

Born an illegitimate child in the West Indies, Alexander Hamilton was a self-made man — an immigrant who rose to the top echelons of power by a combination of grit and luck. George Washington was impressed with him. Everyone else should be, too.

It’s fitting then that Harriet Tubman will appear on the front side of the $20 bill, knocking ex-President Andrew Jackson to the back. She escaped slavery in Maryland, fled to Pennsylvania and then devoted her life to fighting against slavery.

Martha Washington (wife of George) and Indian guide Pocahontas appeared on American bills before in the 19th Century. She’ll be the first African-American to appear on a greenback, however.

We can imagine Hamilton would be proud.

Thu, 04/21/2016 – 06:00

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