The World Today for April 12, 2016

April 12, 2016


A Reversal of Fortunes

A few years ago, Brazil was looking forward to the 2014 World Cup and the Summer Olympics this year. It was the first country in the so-called BRICs, a group of developing nations that also included Russia, India and China – which were supposed to inherit the world.

Instead, they contracted economic instability.

IHS economists predict the Brazilian economy will shrink 8.5 percent compared to highs two years ago, the Washington Post reports. That’s twice as much as the U.S. economy shrunk in the Great Depression. Unemployment hit 9.5 percent at the end of last year, an increase of more than 3 percent compared to 2014. It’s slated to go higher.

But while politicians in Russia, India and China appear to be weathering the tough times, Brazil’s are buckling.

A key legislative committee voted Monday to impeach President Dilma Rousseff for misappropriating public funds to help her reelection campaign.

She denies the allegations. “It is absurd to remove a legitimately elected president for an accounting problem,” said Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cardozo, an ally of the president.

But that’s not all. Investigators are looking into former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s alleged role in a graft scheme.

Lula was Rousseff’s mentor. The two and their far-left Worker’s Party have dominated Brazilian politics since Lula won office in 2003. While he’s still popular – Lula lifted millions out of poverty with social welfare programs that expanded government spending as the overall economy grew – Rousseff has struggled to retain the same popular support while in office.

Critics say the two have acquired too much control over Brazil’s notoriously corrupt government.

It’s hard to tell what the majority of Brazilians think. A recent Datafolha opinion survey found that 61 percent of Brazilians favor impeaching Rousseff. But that's a 7 percent decrease from March.

Rousseff has given her critics plenty of material. She recently appointed Lula as her chief of staff, a cabinet-level position that gives him protections that make it harder for prosecutors to charge him with a crime. Brazil’s top court is now determining whether he should be allowed to take the job. None of this is going to end anytime soon.

Brazilians can at least take heart from the lack of corruption allegations tied to the Olympics this summer, as Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes recently pointed out. “There are no charges against the City Hall,” said Paes. “If you can cite one accusation against the Olympics, I will stop here right now. Tell me one thing.”

But even the Olympics are facing trouble. The outbreak of the Zika virus, which causes birth defects, is threatening to harm tourism in Brazil.

Now it’s not clear if Rousseff will be in office, whether Lula will be in jail and whether Zika will have scared away Olympic spectators when the last torchbearer runs into Rio’s Maracanã Stadium in August.

The Olympics were supposed to be Brazil’s crowning achievement to years of economic growth and political advancement. Now it looks like they might be remembered as a welcome diversion from a country that’s growing tired of too much change.


Panama Papers Rock London

British Chancellor George Osborne, Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Tory mayor of London, Boris Johnson, released updated tax statements on Monday to show that they haven’t benefited from offshore assets like Prime Minister David Cameron.

Cameron was one of the few leaders in a democracy to be tarnished in the Panama Papers, a leak of 11.5 million documents from a Panamanian law firm that sets up offshore accounts for wealthy folks who often want to avoid paying taxes.

Last week, he admitted he had earned profits on an offshore trust set up by his late father, as the Panama Papers allege. Then, on Saturday, he admitted he had not handled the news well. “It has not been a great week,” he told a Conservative Party forum in London. Cameron published his taxes over the weekend, too.

It’s important to note, however, that few have disputed Cameron’s assertion that he did nothing wrong. Nobody has accused the other politicians of illegal tax evasion, either. Everyone is making their taxes public, in other words, purely for show.

China to G-7: Stop Meddling

The Group of Seven nations (G-7) should stick to what it knows best rather than intervene in territorial disputes in Asian waters, says China, remarking that it was “strongly dissatisfied” with recent calls to stop land reclamation and militarization in the South China Sea, one of the world's busiest shipping routes.

Instead, the G-7 should direct its efforts toward economic issues, address the sagging global economy and refrain from “hyping up maritime issues and fueling tensions,” said the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

China's response followed statements from the G-7 expressing concern over rising tensions in the region: China and Japan are increasingly butting heads over uninhabited islands, while China's claims to 80 percent of the South China Sea overlap with those of five other countries.

Other worrying Chinese activity in the region includes the construction of artificial islands that are capable of landing military aircraft.

Egypt: Dogged By Torture

After critics of the Egyptian government complained about state security forces torturing prisoners, government officials recently shut down a rehabilitation center for victims of torture.

The Nadeem Center has counted 600 cases of police torture and almost 500 cases of security forces killing people, including 100 people killed while in detention, the Associated Press reported.

Center workers said the government of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has launched a brutal crackdown on dissent following his 2013 ouster of predecessor Mohammed Morsi, a member of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt is also embroiled in a diplomatic row with Italy over an Italian doctoral student's torture and murder in Cairo in February – with many believing the perpetrators were police.

Morsi was the first democratically elected Egyptian president. But he overstepped his bounds, granting himself unlimited power in a bid to challenge the military in the Egyptian political establishment.

The Egyptian public has supported Sisi. But, like Morsi, he’s walking a fine line between exercising absolute power and alienating Egyptians who, after the Arab Spring, are no longer afraid to take to the streets.


Of Love, Disease and Extinction

Modern humans might have helped push Neanderthals into extinction by exposing them to diseases, according to researchers at Cambridge and Oxford Brookes Universities in Great Britain.

Earlier research has already suggested modern humans mated with Neanderthals around 55,000 years ago, meaning some people today have traces of the supposedly less-advanced species in their DNA.

It makes sense. Comingling comes with good and bad.

Modern humans were likely coming out of Africa, bringing subtropical diseases like tapeworm, tuberculosis, stomach ulcers and herpes to the Neanderthals of Eurasia that could have had catastrophic consequences, the researchers wrote.

It wouldn’t be the last time one group has infected another with horrible results. Europeans in the 1400s wiped out many Native American communities when they brought diseases born in Madrid, London and elsewhere to the virgin forests of the New World.


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Compiled and written by Jabeen Bhatti

Tue, 04/12/2016 – 06:03

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