July 19, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

HAITI

The Plot to Nowhere

The alleged conspirators who plotted the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse met repeatedly in Florida and the Dominican Republic in the months before the July 7 killing.

Haitian authorities have specifically targeted Haitian-American doctor and pastor Christian Emmanuel Sanon, whom they claim conspired with others, including more than 20 former Colombian commanders, some trained by the US, in a plot to catapult Sanon to the country’s presidency, the New York Times reported. The authorities raided his home in Haiti and found holsters, boxes of bullets and a Drug Enforcement Agency cap – which the killers who attacked Moïse wore.

Sanon is now in custody along with 18 Colombians and three US citizens of Haitian heritage. Five Colombians who were allegedly part of the killing remain at large. Police also suspect that a former Haitian senator, an official who had worked in the country’s anti-corruption agency and a convicted drug trafficker were also part of the plot, wrote reporters at the McClatchy DC Bureau.

But Sanon and others accused of organizing the hit claim innocence. When they convened, they say they were simply meeting to plan the future of their troubled, impoverished Caribbean nation. Sanon has a history of using his church and medical background as a platform to call for reforms in the country but wouldn’t harm anyone, his defenders told CNN.

The plot thickens. Law enforcement was connected to the assassination, the Washington Post explained. At least one of the men arrested on charges related to the assassination was a DEA informant. And Haitian authorities have taken into custody Dimitri Hérard, the former head of security at the presidential palace, as well as at least one police officer and four presidential security guards who appear to have allowed the gunman to attack the Moïses.

As Haitian, American and Colombian investigators attempt to get to the bottom of the attack, the world is also figuring out how to react. On Saturday, a group of ambassadors to Haiti in the Core Group which includes envoys from the US, European Union, Canada and Organization of American States, threw their support to a rival of the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, setting off intense criticism in Haiti.

Meanwhile, Haitian officials have requested that the US sends troops to the country to maintain security in the run-up to elections that are scheduled for September. President Biden has been cool to the idea. The US has a history of intervening in Haiti with disastrous consequences, Foreign Policy said.

Many politicos in the country don’t think they can hold elections given how internal political wrangling, economic collapse and insecurity are rampant, Vox wrote. As the New Yorker explained, good governance was not Moïse’s strong point. He presided and arguably benefitted from a deeply fractured, corrupt system. He tried to stay on past a term his opponents said had already expired, ruling by decree.

Regardless, Moïse didn’t deserve his fate. Neither does his country.

WANT TO KNOW

EUROPE

Wake-up Call

More than 180 people died in devastating floods across Belgium and western Germany this week, a catastrophe that has shocked politicians and raised fears about extreme weather events due to climate change, Slate reported.

Rescue workers have been racing to find survivors and officials said the death toll could rise, even as floodwaters have started to recede in some parts of the countries. It could take weeks until authorities determine the full extent of the damage.

The high death doll has puzzled scientists and European leaders in part because the European Flood Awareness System issued an extreme flood warning earlier in the week. The failure to respond on time has led to some saying the system aimed at preventing such disasters failed.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the situation “terrifying”: At least 156 people died in Germany in what has been described as the country’s worst environmental disaster in more than half a century.

The chancellor added that the disaster underscores the severity of climate change, saying it was time to take more decisive action.

Analysts said the climate will likely play a big role in the upcoming German elections, as voters choose Merkel’s successor.

Scientists, meanwhile, fear that these types of events will become more frequent due to global warming: Clare Nullis of the World Meteorological Organization noted that parts of western Europe “received up to two months of rainfall in the space of two days.”

SYRIA

Going Through the Motions

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was sworn in over the weekend for a fourth seven-year term following a presidential election that critics and Western governments called a sham, Al Jazeera reported.

Assad won 95.1 percent of the vote in the May 26 polls, where two little-known candidates ran against the incumbent. There were no independent monitors during the vote.

He said during his inaugural speech that the elections “have discredited the declarations of Western officials on the legitimacy of the state, the constitution and the homeland.”

The longtime ruler came to power more than two decades ago after the death of his father, Hafez.

Assad’s new term begins as Syria reels from the devastation caused by 10 years of civil war that has left hundreds of thousands dead and has displaced millions.

The war has destroyed much of the infrastructure of the country. Meanwhile, the United Nations estimates that nearly 80 percent of the population lives under the poverty line.

The country is currently sliding even further into crisis: The Syrian pound – the local currency – is in free fall and basic services have become scarce or are out of reach for most Syrians because of price spikes.

Although fighting has largely ceased, many areas remain outside of government control. Foreign troops and armed militias have also been deployed in many parts of the country.

POLAND

Playing Chicken

Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal issued a controversial ruling this week that some legal observers say undermines European Union law and could lead Poland to exit the 27-nation bloc, Euronews reported.

The case began in February 2020, when the Polish government passed new measures that prevent judges from referring certain legal issues to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The new rules also created a “disciplinary chamber” that would oversee Polish judges and could lift their immunity to face criminal proceedings.

The EU had criticized the measures as a threat to the judiciary’s independence and referred the issue to the ECJ. The government rejected the threat, saying the rules were necessary to fight corruption.

Last week, the ECJ issued a temporary injunction against the judicial reforms and said they violate EU law, according to Forbes.

But Poland’s constitutional court responded that the ECJ’s interim order was non-binding because it was unconstitutional.

The ruling sent shockwaves in the bloc, with EU lawmakers and analysts noting that such a move is a “path to Polexit.” The EU’s executive arm, the Commission, voiced concern at the verdict, saying “EU law has primacy over national law.”

Poland’s rightwing government, however, hailed the court’s ruling as defending Poland’s constitutional order “against the lawless interference and aggression of the law coming from European bodies.”

The constitutional court will decide early next month whether Polish law has primacy over EU law, a decision that could have serious implications for Poland’s membership in the bloc.

DISCOVERIES

False Positives

People see faces everywhere, even in inanimate objects.

Scientists have explained this phenomenon as face pareidolia, where sometimes mundane objects – even clouds and hillsides – appear as faces expressing a particular emotion.

Recently, a research team analyzed what was happening in the human brains when pareidolia occurred, Science Alert reported.

Psychologist David Alais and his team wrote in their study that the same neural circuity in our noggins is involved in detecting both real faces and fake ones – which are found through pareidolia.

In their experiment, the team asked 17 volunteers to look at a series of illusory and human faces multiple times and then rate the scale of emotion in each image through the same computer software.

Their findings showed that most participants agreed on the expressions displayed in real and pareidolia faces. But researchers also noticed a bias: If participants saw a series of happy faces, there were more likely to see the next face as happy also.

The authors explained that facial expressions are an important tool for social interaction and help humans understand their present situation.

They added that the brain is doing impressive work at recognizing facial signals quickly – even though it will risk a few false positives.

“For the brain, fake or real, faces are all processed the same way,” said Alais in a statement.

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 34,080,007 (+0.03%)
  2. India: 31,144,229 (+0.12%)
  3. Brazil: 19,376,574 (+0.18%)
  4. France: 5,929,929 (+0.21%)
  5. Russia: 5,884,593 (+0.42%)
  6. Turkey: 5,529,719 (+0.14%)
  7. UK: 5,455,276 (+0.88%)
  8. Argentina: 4,756,378 (+0.15%)
  9. Colombia: 4,639,466 (+0.39%)
  10. Italy: 4,287,458 (+0.07%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours