May 03, 2016

May 3, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

A Vital, Difficult Ally


Idriss Deby, the newly re-elected president of Chad, is one ally the West cannot afford to lose.

Surrounded by unstable national governments and under threat from hostile military groups such as Islamic State and Boko Haram, Chad serves as the African “Ground Zero” in the battle against these dangerous – and now allied – extremists, according to U.S. intelligence.

In addition to serving as the headquarters for a regional five-nation force to defeat the Nigeria-based Boko Haram, the country is also the base for France's military operations in Africa, codenamed Operation Barkhane.

Chad's role has been pivotal in this wider struggle: Its efforts helped reclaim territory from Boko Haram last year. Last month, Chadian authorities intercepted a shipment of weapons sent by Islamic State in Libya to Boko Haram.

Still, if these successes are to continue, Chad is going to have to shape up.

That was the message delivered by US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power during her visit to the landlocked African country last month. Power urged the long-standing Deby to introduce reforms for the sake of the impoverished country's stability.

Noting that civilians play an important role in defeating militant groups like Boko Haram, Power emphasized economic development, job opportunities and political inclusiveness as being essential to the country's long-term health.

And though Chad is one of the most miserable places on earth, it's not an impossible task, she believes.

“We noted how far Chad has come from the dark days of dictatorship to today,” she said during her meeting with Deby.

But the country still has a ways to go: Power criticized Deby's “crackdown on freedom of protest” and the days-long suspension of internet and text messaging services throughout Chad that occurred during recent elections.

Deby, who has been in power in Chad since 1990, won a fifth term in office by a landslide in April's elections, reportedly taking in 62 percent of votes – nearly five times as many as opposition leader Saleh Kebzaho.

Deby has also drawn criticism for refusing to assist in US-led efforts to install a unity government in former rival Libya. And members of the opposition are holding Deby responsible for the alleged disappearance of 60 military personnel who voted against him.

Deby might be taking note of Power's recommendations – he has already pledged to reintroduce term limits, bucking a trend of African leaders who are busy rewriting their countries' constitutions to tighten their grips on power.

Still, the leader keeps his own counsel and doesn't scare easily: He has survived multiple attempted coups and dozens of assassination attempts over the past two decades of his rule.

Regardless of how reforms pan out, the West will have to continue to deal with Chad's strongman, at least for the near future, regardless of what Deby does.

That's because the West needs Deby more than he needs the West.

WANT TO KNOW

Cuba: Papa Would Be Proud


Passengers on the Fathom Adonia waved American and Cuban flags as the Carnival cruise ship pulled into Havana harbor Monday, the first American ship to dock in the communist country in 50 years.

The cruise landing is another milestone in President Barack Obama’s efforts to warm up the US’s chilly relations with Cuba, a policy that took off around a year ago when he re-opened the American embassy in Cuba and loosened restrictions for traveling to the island.

“It’s exciting to be part of this historic voyage,” said Shirley Thurman, a Florida retiree told the Miami Herald. “I am so glad we are normalizing relations with Cuba. I think the common people in Cuba have been the ones who have suffered over the years.”

Obama has been criticized for taking a soft stance against Raul Castro, the leader who took over from his brother, Fidel, the feeble, storied revolutionary who ousted the island’s former rulers: They were cozy with American business interests but also corrupt.

But Obama has not been able to lift the US embargo against Cuba. That requires an act of Congress. Canadians, Europeans and others, meanwhile, have been vacationing and investing in Cuba for years.

Syria: No Easy Way Out


US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian diplomats and regional leaders were working hard Monday to extend a so-called “local truce” to Aleppo, one of the largest cities in Syria and the site of some of the most intense fighting in the country’s brutal civil war.

Peace talks in Geneva between the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and rebels broke down last month after the rebels walked out, saying Al-Assad has continued fighting with the help of his Russian allies. What’s more, Washington and Moscow disagree over whether they should oust Al-Assad to help end the war.

Al-Assad has extended temporary, local truces to the suburbs of Damascus and to the country’s Mediterranean coast. But he has refused to do so in Aleppo, an ancient city and former industrial center that has been pounded into rubble.

Why is he reluctant? The Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front controls rebel-dominated areas of the city, he and Russian officials argue.

The impasse puts Aleppo residents in an awful dilemma – if the fighting continues, they live in terror. If a truce is declared, Al Nusra might have time to regroup and consolidate its hold on their city.

Terror on the High Seas


Filipino, Indonesian and Malaysian foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Jakarta this week to discuss how to prevent the Abu Sayyaf, a Filipino Islamic militant group affiliated with the Islamic State, from abducting ships' crews and others on the high seas between the countries.

This past weekend, the group formerly linked to Al Qaeda released 10 Indonesian hostages. It was unclear whether a ransom had been paid. A week before, they beheaded John Ridsdel, a Canadian and former mining executive, after a ransom deadline passed.

The group now holds another 13 people, including Malaysian, Japanese, Dutch, Canadian, Norwegian and Filipino citizens.

Only 500 Abu Sayyaf fighters are thought to exist, the New York Times reported recently. Yet they have managed to elude or hold at bay 2,500 Filipino troops pursuing them.

When the ministers meet in Jakarta, they must understand that their rule is part of the problem.

The Abu Sayyaf’s strength derives in part from the small fortune they’ve accumulated via ransoms. But corruption and poverty in the region have also aided their cause with locals sympathetic to the group. Recruiting is easy and bribery erases problems with local officials who might otherwise turn them in.

DISCOVERIES

Do Lizards Dream?


Most folks think of lizards as unthinking, scaly brutes.

But it turns out they might have dreams like you and I.

A new study in the journal Science found that lizards fall into REM sleep, the deep slumber that produces dreams in people (and birds, too).

The researchers implanted electrodes into the cortexes of Australian dragons to study brain activity when they came across the find.

“We decided to let the recordings go overnight after a day's work, just to see what would happen during the night,” said neuroscientist Gilles Laurent, at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Germany in an interview with Live Science. “Upon analyzing the results, there were interesting oscillations of activity that were very regular, that suggested the potential existence of sleep-related patterns of activity in the brain.”

Reptiles, birds and mammals, including humans, all descend from common ancestors called the amniotes. So it figures reptiles would dream like those other animal groups.

What do lizards dream about? That’s the subject of more experiments, researchers say.

jbhatti
Tue, 05/03/2016 – 05:56