The World Today for January 18, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

Bumps and Curves

Brazilian politics was a rollercoaster ride for much of last year, culminating in the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.

Rousseff’s successor, Michel Temer, is now determined to address Brazil’s big challenge in 2017: its crumbling economy.

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Brazil’s economy probably shrunk by 7 percent in the past two years – around the same amount of growth that occurred in 2010 when Chinese demand for commodities triggered a boom in Latin America’s biggest country. Now China is in a slump and commodity prices have dropped.

So far, business-friendly Temer has enjoyed some success.

The Brazilian parliament passed Temer’s proposed 20-year cap on public spending in December in the face of fierce resistance from the left.

The cap was a necessary austerity measure to jump-start Brazil’s economy – now entering its third year of recession – by curbing its out-of-control budget deficit and luring private investment, Temer argued. He’s also backing a sell-off of Brazil’s state-owned assets – even the state lottery is up for sale – and opening the oil sector to foreigners to raise money.

But now Temer might be in for a bumpy ride himself.

Prison riots between gang members that feature gruesome murders – beheadings, disembowelment – are now threatening to spread to the country’s favelas, the Globe and Mail reported. Temer’s initial response to the prison riots was botched: He took three days to address the issue, calling it an “accident.”

The ongoing corruption scandal revolving around the state-owned oil company Petrobras has also spooked foreign investors – whom Temer needs to achieve his economic goals. Meanwhile, recent revelations tie Temer and his allies to the corruption.

During a December plea bargain with federal prosecutors, Claudio Melo Filho, a former executive at Odebrecht, Brazil’s largest construction company, told prosecutors that the company illegally contributed over $3 million to finance Temer’s party’s election campaign – with Temer’s knowledge, according to the Washington Post.

Bribery had become so routine at Odebrecht that the company even created a department to monitor and facilitate kickbacks.

Temer has so far dismissed Melo Filho’s claims as “false accusations.” But the new allegations could ultimately derail his presidency, currently slated to end in 2018.

If Brazil’s top electoral court finds them to be true next year, Temer will be removed from his post, leaving Congress to select Brazil’s third president in three years, noted observers.

Temer is already facing growing calls for early elections, suggesting Brazil’s rollercoaster ride is not yet over.

WANT TO KNOW

Backtracking, and Fast

The US won’t waste any time in backtracking on the outgoing administration’s Israel policies.

Republican South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who is incoming President Donald Trump’s nominee for US ambassador to the United Nations, will blast the global body over its treatment of Israel at her confirmation hearings on Wednesday, Reuters reported, citing an advance copy of her opening remarks.

“Nowhere has the UN’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than in its bias against our close ally Israel,” Haley is expected to say. “Any honest assessment also finds an institution that is often at odds with American national interests and American taxpayers.”

Noting that the US accounts for 22 percent of the UN’s funding, Haley will also ask, “Are we getting what we pay for?”

The speech will mark a reversal of Obama administration policy, which saw the US abstain from a UN vote to condemn Jewish settlements in the West Bank and outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry sharply criticize Israel for undermining prospects for peace.

No Reverse Gear

Self-professed dealmaker Donald Trump has no room to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, according to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Speaking at a news conference commemorating the anniversary of the deal’s implementation, Rouhani said going back on the pact was impossible as it was not a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but a multilateral one, also signed by Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, the New York Times reported.

Trump has repeatedly called the agreement a “really, really bad deal” and said he may seek to renegotiate its terms. However, his proposed defense secretary, James N. Mattis, said at his confirmation hearing last week that the incoming administration should respect the pact.

Under the deal, Iran suspended and dismantled much of its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of most of the international sanctions against the country. Still, it’s unpopular among hardliners there, too. Meanwhile, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said if it were canceled, Iran would restart its nuclear program “in a new manner that would shock Washington.”

Self-inflicted Wounds

The Nigerian air force bombed a refugee camp, killing at least 52 people in what Doctors Without Borders called a “shocking and unacceptable” tragedy.

Believing the camp to belong to the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, the air force hit the facility near Nigeria’s northeastern border with Cameroon Tuesday morning, wounding more than 100 people in addition to those killed, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Some aid workers, including six people with the International Committee of the Red Cross, were also hurt in the strike.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari called the bombing a “regrettable operational mistake” in the final stages of the government’s battle against Boko Haram. But critics question whether the terror group is truly on the verge of defeat despite recent progress in the fight.

DISCOVERIES

Growing Pains

Menopause is commonplace among humans but rare in the animal kingdom: Only humans and two species of whales outlive their fertility.

The science of menopause remains mysterious. But new research explains that mother-daughter competition may play a role, the New York Times reported.

Take killer whales. They are matriarchal. Both male and female offspring follow their mother in the pod, while leaving their fathers behind.

So when new females orcas are born, they possess little “relatedness,” or familiarity, with males due to the absence of their fathers.

As a result, they become more selfish about food and other resources.

Conversely, as older females breed and their sons remain in their pod until leaving to father their own children, the mothers’ relatedness with males increases. They then become more nurturing and tend to act in the collective good.

This nurturing provides younger females with more resources to reproduce. Researchers found that when mothers and daughters bred simultaneously, older mothers’ calves were 1.7 times more likely to die within the first 15 years of life.

Menopause eliminates that dilemma. Scientists believe it may therefore be an evolutionary predisposition to head off unnecessary reproductive conflict.

“You have to not only look at the gains, but the costs you would suffer if you continue to breed,” said Michael Cant, an evolutionary biologist and co-author on the study.

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