The World Today for May 30, 2017


Tenacious Temer

When Michel Temer became Brazil’s president last year, hopes were high he would restore a measure of calm to the country.

After all, over the course of three years, Brazil has been rocked by a vicious recession, the impeachment of ex-President Dilma Rousseff and the never-ending revelations stemming from the sprawling probe into corruption at the state-controlled oil company Petrobras.

A former vice president under Rousseff, Temer entered office on a reform platform, promising to enact much-needed economic reforms and to create jobs for Brazil’s 14 million unemployed.

With a series of pension and labor reforms working their way through Brazil’s parliament, it looked like Temer was going to make good on his word – for a while.

But following the release of an audio recording in which Temer appeared to endorse bribes to ex-Brazilian House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, it looks like Temer will be struggling to hold onto his job.

“Very few people believe that he’s going to stay in,” Oxford Economics analyst Marcos Casarin told CNBC. He estimated the chances of Temer leaving office before his term ends next year are “100 percent” at this point.

Cunha is the now-imprisoned Brazilian lawmaker who orchestrated Rousseff’s impeachment.

The recordings purportedly show Temer giving the chairman of meatpacking giant JBS approval to funnel hush money to Cunha in jail. JBS executives have also told prosecutors they’ve paid millions in bribes to Temer and his predecessors.

Temer dismissed the recording as a fake and has so far rejected calls for his resignation.

He has asked Brazil’s Supreme Court to suspend its investigation into him until the veracity of these recordings could be confirmed.

But the damage may already be done.

Thousands of protesters gathered on Sunday in cities across Brazil to demand Temer’s ouster, the BBC reported. Organizations like the Brazilian Bar Association have filed impeachment motions against the president, wrote Reuters.

Brazil’s currency and stock markets also took a beating as fears that Temer’s reforms will now be abandoned have triggered a sell-off.

Temer also lost a key coalition partner when the Brazilian Socialist Party said it would no longer support the president and his conservative PDMB party in parliament.

Still, Temer was spared a potentially fatal blow when his main coalition ally – the Social Democratic PSDB – refrained from making a decision on their withdrawal.


Tense Handshakes

After a white-knuckle, macho-man grip-test with US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron exchanged another tense handshake with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, following a meeting in which Macron urged Putin to protect LGBT rights.

“I emphasized to President Putin…how important it is for France to respect all people, all minorities,” CNN quoted Macron as saying, in reference to reports of a brutal campaign against gay men in Chechnya.

Despite “somewhat barbed” remarks from both sides, the two leaders agreed to expand their cooperation on counterterrorism and return to the negotiating table on Ukraine, France24 reported. Notably, France backed the sanctions put into place following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Macron has signaled that he is willing to strengthen them.

At a joint press conference where he’d banned Russian media outlets, Macron called out Russia Today and Sputnik for disseminating fake news intended to tarnish his reputation during the recent French presidential campaign. Putin did not respond to that remark, but he “bristled” when a journalist suggested that Moscow was involved in hacking the Macron campaign, Reuters said.

Mea Culpa

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Pope Francis to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the decades-long abuse of indigenous children at residential schools first set up in the 1880s.

Around 150,000 aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to live in church-run boarding schools where they were forbidden to speak their language or practice their own culture, the BBC reported. The last such school was shut down in 1996.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has also called for a papal apology.

The Vatican said that Trudeau and the pope had a “cordial” conversation that “focused on the themes of integration and reconciliation, as well as religious freedom and current ethical issues” but did not mention an apology, the BBC said.

The Anglican, Presbyterian and United Churches, which also helped run these schools as joint ventures with the Canadian government, have already issued apologies for their role in the program. Pope Benedict also expressed his sorrow about the anguish caused by the schools in 2009, but stopped short of a formal papal apology.

Sore Loser

Defeated hardliner Ebrahim Raisi challenged the result of Iran’s recent presidential election, alleging that voter fraud helped re-elect moderate President Hassan Rouhani.

Raisi called on the judiciary and the election watchdog to investigate, Reuters quoted Iran’s Fars news agency as saying Monday.

Rouhani defeated Raisi by a margin of 57 to 38 percent in the May 19 election, despite criticism from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the lead-up to the polls.

Raisi’s comments signaled that he will resist calls for further reforms from Rouhani, who won on promises to increase social freedom, improve human rights and open up the Islamic Republic to Western investment, the agency said.

Separately, the head of Iran’s judiciary criticized Rouhani’s pledge to release two opposition leaders who have been under house arrest since 2011.

Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani said it was for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council to take an initial decision on the detention of the opposition leaders, after which the judiciary would take over.


Power Stance

Standing up for long periods of time is enough to make anyone want to take a nap.

But for flamingos, the opposite is the case. These graceful, social birds sleep standing up, perched on one, stilt-like leg.

Curious as to how the birds snoozed without growing fatigued, scientists placed a group of flamingoes atop a force platform, essentially a hypersensitive bathroom scale, which allowed them to study how the birds’ foot muscles allowed them to keep balance for so long, Science Magazine reported.

Even though the scales detected that their bodies swayed often when awake and grooming, the birds’ balance increased sevenfold while asleep on one leg. They actually exerted less muscle force and held steadier while asleep, the researchers reported recently in the journal Biology Letters.

As it turns out, the key to the flamingos balance is all about positioning.

Birds’ have the same bones in their legs as humans, but their thighs are horizontally oriented. This allows flamingos to passively lock their knee joint in place if they position the foot directly under the center of the body. So sleeping on one leg might be a way to conserve energy, the scientists concluded.

Talk about a power stance.

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