The World Today for March 01, 2019

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Secrets and Truths

Secrets abound in Somalia.

Nobody knows how American drones target alleged Al-Shabab terrorists or whether generals count innocent people killed in those efforts as terrorists, the Nation reported.

On the flip side, the left-wing magazine noted, nobody knows if Somalis who claim that American drones killed their children are right, especially when they live in regions where Al-Shabab, an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group, operates with near-impunity.

Meanwhile, in a country where officially no churches exist, Christians worship clandestinely in houses out of fear of Al-Shabab as well as reprisals from intolerant Muslim neighbors.

“I thank you, Jesus, for giving me this opportunity to worship you,” an anonymous man told the Religion News Service. “Protect my family and all Christians around the world. We know and believe that, Jesus, you are the lion of Judah who can defeat our enemies.”

These secrets upon secrets reflect the consequences of a collapsed state. After decades of civil war, botched foreign interventions and poverty, Somalia lacks a central government to protect its people.

US Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who leads the American military’s Africa Command, recently admitted as much to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Drone strikes won’t stop Al-Shabab, he said.

“The bottom line is the Somalian National Army needs to grow, it needs to step up and it needs to take responsibility for their own security,” Waldhauser said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Al-Shabab recently took credit for killing a Maltese citizen who worked in the port of Bosaso, in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region, and for detonating a car bomb that killed 11 in the capital of Mogadishu, the Guardian reported.

Drones wouldn’t have prevented the carnage.

Life goes on, however. What’s happening reflects how Somalis and the international community are dealing with state failure.

The Star, a Kenyan newspaper, detailed how Somalis were smuggling sugar across the countries’ shared border. Sugar smuggling is a key source of income for al-Shabab and has security consequences for both Kenya and Somalia, according to a Danish think tank’s study.

In London, Somali expatriates recently demonstrated outside a hotel where Somali officials, energy company executives and investors were holding a conference on oil exploration off the Horn of Africa. The demonstrators feared the attendees were selling their country out, wrote Garowe Online, a publication based in Puntland.

“We don’t have leaders, we have dealers,” they chanted.

Meanwhile, on Somalia’s Indian Ocean coast, fishermen are worried about a new deal on fishing rights between the government and China. The deal limits the Chinese catch, but the Somali government has no way to track the foreign boats, critics told Radio France Internationale.

Somalia needs a capable military force. It needs security and the rule of law. It needs growth and education.

But most of all, it needs leadership – with leaders working to gain their citizens’ trust.



Veto, and Plain No

The US and Russia both failed to convince the UN Security Council to support contrasting resolutions on the political crisis in Venezuela, as each exercised their veto power to block the other’s proposal.

The US managed to get eight other Security Council members to support its resolution calling for a free and fair presidential election in Venezuela and unhindered aid access. However, a double veto by Russia and China prevented the resolution from passing, Al Jazeera reported. (South Africa also voted no, while three other countries abstained).

Following that vote, Russia managed to get only four countries to support its counter resolution supporting a political solution and backing the Venezuelan government to coordinate international assistance efforts.

From France’s perspective, at least, the US resolution was as notable for what it didn’t include as what it did. French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre supported it because he said it “does not represent a legal basis for a use of force, nor an attempt to undermine the sovereignty of Venezuela.”


House of Cards

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be indicted on bribery and breach of trust charges arising from three separate corruption investigations, the country’s attorney general said Thursday.

Netanyahu is entitled to a hearing before the charges are formally filed, but that’s not likely to happen until after April’s general election, CNN reported.

For the beleaguered prime minister, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, that’s explanation enough of what’s going on. “The left understands that they will not beat me at the ballot box,” Netanyahu said, claiming that the indictment resulted from left-wing political pressure. “This entire house of cards will collapse.”

There’s certainly a whiff of Frank Underwood – the nefarious politician in the Netflix series by that name – in all the corruption allegations and political maneuvering. In one case, for instance, Netanyahu is accused of breach of trust over alleged gifts from overseas billionaires worth about $280,000, including champagne, cigars, jewelry and other items. He’s also accused of advancing a similar sum in regulatory benefits to a telecommunications firm in exchange for favorable news coverage. He denies the charges.


Talking Again

Representatives of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and the opposition bent on ousting him completed a second day of negotiations Thursday, though the opposition Civil Alliance said the two parties had yet to discuss any “substantive issues.”

Nevertheless, the Civil Alliance said some progress was made and the parties would meet again Friday, the Associated Press reported.

The day before the talks resumed, the government released 100 people jailed in connection with the protests that began in April last year, when demonstrations against changes to the country’s social security system morphed into calls for President Ortega to resign.

The opposition was negotiating with the government over how to resolve the conflict. But talks broke down when Ortega ruled out calling early elections and launched a crackdown in June.

Human rights groups say that more than 700 people were arrested during the protests and more than 600 of them remain in detention.


The Miracle Underbelly

Lobsters make a tasty and expensive dish. But their underbellies might save lives in the future.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently discovered that the crustaceans’ underside can be used to create super-strong and flexible armor, Newsweek reported.

Researchers reported in a new study that the membrane on the belly of the American lobster is one of the strongest natural hydrogels in the world.

Hydrogels are substances made up of one or more polymers suspended in water. Scientists have been studying them for decades to develop effective medical treatments and military applications.

The MIT team noted that the lobster’s hydrogel underbelly is highly resilient to cuts and is very stretchy, making it an ideal material for an agile body armor.

“We made scratches to mimic what might happen when (lobsters are) moving through sand, for example,” said study co-author Ming Guo. “We even cut through half the thickness of the membrane and found it could still be stretched equally far.”

It’s too early to start drawing blueprints for a super-suit, but scientists think this peculiar membrane has helped lobster species survive for more than 100 million years.

“Somehow, this fracture tolerance has really helped them in their evolution,” Guo said.

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