The World Today for March 11, 2016
March 11, 2016
NEED TO KNOW
Brazil’s ongoing corruption crusade may take everybody down.
With the leaders of the country’s largest political party maneuvering to hamstring beleaguered President Dilma Rousseff, Sao Paolo state prosecutors on Thursday asked for the “preventive arrest” of her predecessor and one-time boss — former President Lula de Silva.
Mostly known by a single name — like a soccer star — Lula remains one of Brazil’s most popular politicians, credited with the social welfare programs that many argue alleviated the worst harms of poverty through cash payments for the poor. On his watch — Lula was president from 2003 to 2010, then hand-picked Rousseff, who was his chief of staff, to succeed him — some 30 million Brazilians were lifted out of poverty.
But even then his Worker’s Party was plagued by corruption scandals, and it’s starting to look like the same disease may stop Rousseff from finishing out her term, according to Bloomberg.
Following Lula’s detention for questioning last week — when 200 federal police and 30 auditors swept across three states serving 33 warrants for search and seizure — the still-popular leader went straight to a press conference, where he slammed the investigators for “lack of democratic respect” and “judicial authoritarianism.”
The subsequent effort to arrest Lula ups the ante, with prosecutors effectively accusing the leader of trying to use his popularity to put himself above the law and warning if he is not detained he may “activate his violent network.”
With critics calling Lula supporters “vermin” and supporters talking about the “class struggle,” things could indeed get tense. “This climate of hysteria is reciprocal,” the Washington Post quoted a popular Brazilian radio broadcaster as saying. “It contaminates both sides of the debate.”
Prosecutors have charged Lula with money laundering in connection with a luxury apartment in the beach town of Guaruja, in the state of Sao Paulo. When he was detained, he was questioned about whether that same apartment and another property might have been given to him as a bribe.
At the root of it all is Operation Car Wash, a two-year investigation into alleged kickbacks and dubious transactions totaling billions of dollars at the state-run oil giant Petrobras dating from the years when Lula was president and Rousseff served on the company’s board of directors.
Though Rousseff has insisted she knew of no wrongdoing at the company, calls to impeach her mounted over the past year as details of the Petrogras case trickled out. But beginning in late 2015, the effort focused on allegations that she dipped into money held by state banks to hide budget shortfalls and bolster her election campaign.
A December 2015 Supreme Court ruling nearly scuttled the effort to impeach her by increasing the powers of her loyalists in the senate and reducing the clout of the lower house. But she had hoped to kill the impeachment process altogether by striking a deal with the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB.
Now, though, the PMDB smells blood in the water, and its leaders are working out a plan to declare their independence from Rousseff without ceding control of the ministries they control in her government.
Being Lula’s protégé cannot help her now.
WANT TO KNOW
North Korea’s Kim Orders More Nuclear Tests
North Korea’s strange and terrifying dictator just thumbed his nose at those trying to prevent nuclear Armageddon. That’s what he does.
Following the United Nation’s issuing of tougher sanctions on his already isolated regime for testing what was purported to be a Hydrogen bomb earlier this year, Kim Jung Un attended a ballistic missile launch that violated those rules on Thursday and ordered his military to conduct additional nuclear tests.
“Dear comrade Kim Jong Un said work … must be strengthened to improve nuclear attack capability and issued combat tasks to continue nuclear explosion tests to assess the power of newly developed nuclear warheads and tests to improve nuclear attack capability,” North Korea’s official state media reported.
That probably does not mean Kim is actually preparing for an attack, of course.
Pyongyang has played the crazy card to extort relief funds, since the 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union left its ersatz economy shattered and as much as a tenth of the population starved to death.
But it does indicate that Washington and its allies will have to do something more than announce sanctions to show who’s bluffing and who’s holding the cards. And it raises other disturbing possibilities, says Victor Cha, one of the experts who represented the US at the September 2015 Six Party Talks where Pyongyang nominally agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for fuel aid and other incentives. (An apparently empty promise).
The big concern is that Kim could sell nukes to somebody who really is crazy, like Islamic State, Cha says.
“We have to worry about proliferation,” Cha told Vice News. “That, whether internationally or not, something leaks out, it could end up in the hands of ISIS for all we know. We have to worry about that.”
Five Years Later, Fukushima Is Still Hot
Five years after a massive tsunami caused a triple meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant, the scope of the devastation remains massive.
Apart from the numbers — about 180,000 people still displaced, many of them afraid to go back to neighborhoods near the disaster — eerie photographs like those of National Geographic’s James Whitlow Delano show smashed buildings, cars piled up like soda cans and giant black sacks filled with radioactive soil.
And at the meltdown site itself, though radiation levels are down and the spent fuel rods have been removed, engineers are now wrestling with how to remove the melted fuel itself — something that has never been done.
Elsewhere “reconstruction is steadily making progress, step by step, with housing being rebuilt and jobs regained,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in connection with a new 6.5 trillion yen ($57 billion) five-year reconstruction plan unveiled on Friday. Intended to achieve dramatic results before the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020, the scheme targets improvements in public housing for evacuees, medical care, infrastructure, tourism promotion and other projects. And one of its goals is accelerating decontamination work near the plant itself so people who once lived there can go home.
But that could prove challenging when it comes to the melted fuel, which engineers they still aren’t sure how to locate. “To be honest, we don’t know exactly where the fuel is and have to carry out more studies,” the head of the decommissioning program told the Guardian at a recent briefing.
Germans Expected To Choose Rightwing Alternative
The right wing Alternative for Germany party is expected to make big gains in three state elections over the weekend due to rising domestic discontent about Chancellor Angela Merkel’s much-heralded open door policy for refugees.
Once decried as neo-Nazis in business suits, AfD has recently shifted gears from railing about the euro to adopt slogans that sound a lot like those of the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) — the actual neo-Nazis, in other words.
So far, AfD posters lack the provocative racist cartoons favored by the NPD, and it’s more euphemistic in its treatment of the issue. But slogans like “Enough” and “Secure borders instead of borderless crime,” offer much the same message in a more appealing package.
The party is expected to win legislative seats in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in the southwest, as well as Saxony-Anhalt in the east. It’s not tipped to win control in any of those places, but it could make it difficult for others to cobble together enough votes to form a government– especially in Saxony, where AfD is polling as high as 19 percent.
Though her popularity has taken a serious hit over the past year, Merkel is effectively too big to fail. So it’s unlikely that even a disastrous showing at the polls will engender any change of leadership in her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party. But it could give added ammunition to those pushing her to rethink her policy on migration.
Plastic-eating Bacteria Could Save Us From Garbage
Researchers discovered a bacterium in garbage dumps near a Japanese recycling plant that eats a common type of plastic used in clothing, plastic bottles and food packaging, according to a new study published in Science.
The bug is called Ideonella sakaiensis, after the Japanese city of Sakai, where it was found growing on garbage made of PET or polyethylene terephthalate. The bacterium consumes the plastic and then constructs its own body out of it, according to Shosuke Yoshida, a microbiologist at Kyoto University and lead author on the study.
Fri, 03/11/2016 – 06:19