The World Today for April 05, 2017


No U Turn

It’s been about eight months since the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Many observers were skeptical of the grounds for Rousseff’s ouster – manipulating Brazil’s federal budget. Nonetheless, they believed her exit would give the country a fresh start to deal with its ongoing political dysfunction.

But despite the shake-up of Brazil’s political class, corruption appears to remain endemic.

In particular, the sprawling, ongoing investigation of corruption and bribery at the state-run oil company Petrobras – better known as Operation Carwash – continues to haunt Brazil’s top leaders.

The never-ending scandal resurfaced again last week, when it claimed its highest-profile official so far.

A judge sentenced Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of Brazil’s lower house of congress, to more than 15 years in prison for taking bribes of more than $1.5 million, laundering the money and evading Brazil’s currency laws.

Cunha’s fall from grace was a remarkable reversal of fortunes.

After all, he played a major role in impeaching Rousseff, wrote the BBC.

Cunha’s colleagues were quick to turn on him after he lost his immunity when the Brazilian Supreme Court ordered him to step down from his post.

Because Cunha has been in jail since October, it’s unlikely his sentencing will have an immediate impact on Brazil’s political dynamics, noted the Wall Street Journal.

But it’s still a major landmark in Operation Carwash given the “virtual impunity” that has enabled Brazilian elites to flout the laws until now.

Cunha’s fate might also induce other politicians facing investigation to accept plea deals in the Petrobras scandal, wrote the New York Times.

Still, the chaos is hindering Brazil’s efforts to climb out of a two-year recession – the country’s worst ever – while crime is flourishing, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

Brazil’s central bank said last week that economic activity fell more than expected in January, disappointing hopes that an end to the country’s woes was in sight.

Brazilian President Michel Temer seems determined to boost the economy with a set of austerity measures – including tax increases and spending freezes – announced last week.

But given that Temer has been accused of taking bribes in cases related to Operation Carwash – on Tuesday the country’s supreme court decided to delay a decision in one of those cases until May – he had better act fast if he wants to make an impact.


More Red Lines

The United Nations Security Council will hold emergency talks Wednesday to discuss how to deal with an apparent chemical weapons strike by Syrian government troops that killed as many as 100 people in a rebel-held area.

The attack on Tuesday may further complicate an already scheduled summit in Brussels at which 70 donor nations will discuss aid efforts in Syria, the BBC reported. It might also put paid to a nominal ceasefire that has been in place in some parts of the country, at least, since the end of the siege of Aleppo in December.

Britain, France and the US are pushing for a Security Council resolution that condemns the attack and orders the Syrian government to provide details of its air operations to international investigators. The 15 member nations could vote on a proposed draft at Wednesday’s meeting, the New York Times said.

The US and other Western powers blamed the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the attack, which observers on the ground said was launched from planes of the type used by the regime. Assad’s government blamed the insurgents, while Russia said a Syrian bomb had hit an insurgent warehouse where toxic substances were stored.

Another Meeting, Another Missile

North Korea test-fired yet another ballistic missile into the sea on Wednesday ahead of a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping later this week.

Initial US and South Korean assessments indicated it was a KN-15 medium-range missile, a model that the North first publicly tested in February, USA Today reported.

Its development is of concern to the Hermit Kingdom’s neighbors because the missile is powered by solid fuel already loaded inside it. That means it takes less time to prepare a launch and the missile can easily be moved to different launch sites, making a potential attack more difficult to detect and defend against.

It’s also capable of carrying nuclear warheads, according to North Korean media.

Experts were expecting such a move ahead of Trump’s meeting with Xi on Thursday. But it’s unclear what impact it will have on Trump’s plans to push China to use its economic might to rein in Kim Jong-un or Beijing’s fraying relationship with the North Korean dictator.

Fighting Back

Anti-government protests in Venezuela turned violent on Tuesday, as demonstrators protesting the Supreme Court’s moves to seize power from the legislature clashed with police in Caracas.

The protestors are furious over a court ruling last week seizing power away from the legislature and view the maneuver as part of President Nicolas Maduro’s efforts to undermine the country’s separation of powers and establish one-man rule, the New York Times reported.

The National Guard and the national police used tear gas and water cannons to attempt to disperse the crowds, while armed pro-government gangs allegedly shot one person in the leg, the Times quoted a local official as saying. At least eight others were hurt, he said.

Last Wednesday, Maduro loyalists in the Supreme Court moved to revoke the powers of the legislature and assume its duties themselves as part of an effort to hamstring the opposition – which blames the Leftist leader for food and medicine shortages resulting from a grim economic crisis.


You Are What You Eat

The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ applies particularly closely to some South African lizards.

There are 17 different known species of chameleons native to South Africa. While the lizards are closely related to each other, scientists have been perplexed about why their heads look so different. Some are wide and plain, while others are thin with long frills on the chin.

When they analyzed the characteristics of 14 of the species, scientists found a glaring correlation between chameleons’ diet and their head shapes.

Their findings, published recently in the journal Functional Ecology, take the conclusions of Charles Darwin’s observations on evolution to a whole new level.

The entire shape of the head, not just the mouth, allows for the chameleon to best bite down on the food native to its environment, Science Magazine reported.

Forest lizards with taller heads, for example, feasted on soft foods, such as butterflies and dragonflies. But those with crested heads can crunch down on larger, harder beetles.

You might say the little creatures are eating to get “ahead.”

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