The World Today for May 31, 2018



Send in the Clowns

Last week, Brazil’s embattled president, Michel Temer, officially dropped out of the nation’s presidential election in October.

Temer, who took over the post in 2016 after President Dilma Rousseff was ousted on charges of tampering with the federal budget, isn’t the only one to step out of the ring in what Bloomberg has called a “presidential circus colorful even by Brazilian standards.”

Newcomers like a Hollywood plastic surgeon of reality-show fame, a former Supreme Court justice, and a millionaire publicist-turned-lounge-singer have all dropped out, too.

And the current front-runner, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has been jailed on charges of corruption, effectively making him ineligible to run.

With other left-wing politicians languishing in the polls under the scandals that have plagued party heads, the contest is likely to come down to a few centrist candidates, and firebrand right-wing politician Jair Bolsonaro. He, by the way, once said that the descendants of Brazilian slaves “are not even good for breeding anymore.”

The unpredictable political field has made markets uneasy. Investors worry that none of the contenders will be able to curb corruption and address the economic downturn, security problems and poverty that have troubled Brazil since its worst recession in history in 2015.

According to one recent survey of government data, the number of Brazilians living in “extreme poverty,” or on less than $1.90 per day, increased last year by 11.2 percent. In Sao Paulo, extreme poverty increased by 35 percent.

An Associated Press report about a deadly fire in a 25-floor building in Sao Paulo’s old downtown told the story of hosts of families occupying dilapidated structures alongside drug addicts and the city’s homeless. Efforts to renovate aging and unsafe infrastructure have been slow going.

Meanwhile, soaring fuel prices have led to trucker strikes around the country, prompting widespread food and fuel shortages.

That has cast the government in an even worse light, but candidates are unsure where to stand on the issue and divided on how to reform the economy: While many are calling for free markets due to the corruption scandals involving state-owned enterprises in the past, others worry how such firms will fare on the open market.

With so many acts occurring simultaneously in this political circus, the Financial Times reported that Brazil’s middle-class communities, lifted out of poverty by Lula’s generous cash subsidies to families in need, could decide the outcome of the election.

But in a country untrusting of elected officials after a string of scandals over the past few years, the right ringmaster for the job is anybody’s guess.



The Italian Job

The euro sustained its rebound early Thursday, signaling that currency traders, at least, are regaining confidence that Italy may succeed in avoiding early elections. But the success of the Eurosceptic Five Star Movement and League – and the associated turmoil – is likely to spell trouble for the United Kingdom in the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

The reason: It’s a reminder to the EU that it’s vital to prevent Britain from enjoying the benefits of membership after it leaves the bloc, lest others swiftly follow suit, writes Bloomberg. Notably, Italy’s failure to form a government was the result of President Sergio Mattarella blocking the Eurosceptic coalition’s choice of a finance minister bent on abandoning the euro.

Italian Prime Minister-designate Carlo Cottarelli said on Wednesday that possibilities had emerged “for the birth of a political government,” Reuters reported. That brought down Italian bond yields (which pay more the riskier the situation) and lifted the euro off a 10-month low of $1.1510 on Tuesday.

But if fresh elections are required, the populists may well make their loathing for the euro and the EU the centerpiece of the campaign, said the Washington Post.


The Russia Dimension

Amid multilateral efforts to salvage US President Donald Trump’s scrapped meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited North Korea on Thursday.

Immediately after landing, Lavrov called for the phased lifting of sanctions, saying that Pyongyang would not give up its nuclear weapons until the sanctions were scaled back, the UK’s Telegraph newspaper reported.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho had extended an invitation to Lavrov to visit the country on a trip to Moscow on April 10, CNN reported.

The Russian visit comes as high-ranking US and North Korean officials were meeting in New York to discuss Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program and how to reboot the Trump-Kim summit, Reuters reported.

Earlier, Putin criticized Trump’s decision to scrap the meeting. While Moscow is effectively North Korea’s only semblance of an ally other than Beijing, Russia’s influence has waned as China’s economic might has grown, CNN quoted North Korea expert Bruce Bechtol of Angelo State University as saying.

Lavrov’s visit shows Russia, like Japan, doesn’t want to be left out of the negotiations, the Telegraph said.


For the People

Zimbabwe slated for July 30 its first presidential and parliamentary elections since the ouster of strongman Robert Mugabe.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took power after a military coup unseated the longtime leader in November, pledged to ensure free and fair polls with international monitoring, Reuters reported.

For the first time in 20 years, the ballot will be missing the names of 94-year-old Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, the longtime opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader who died of cancer in February.

If approved by international monitors, the election could boost foreign lending to Zimbabwe, which has been largely cut off for two decades, Reuters said. As the incumbent, Mnangagwa enjoys some advantages in a vote that’s likely to go down to the wire, as his main challenger, 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa from the MDC, has energized the opposition.

Billed as a contest between the old guard of Zimbabwe’s 1970s independence war and a younger generation, the election will grant Mnangagwa democratic legitimacy if he can win it.


Looking for Nessie

With reported sightings dating back to the 7th century, the search for the Loch Ness monster is a titillating task for paranormal investigators and conspiracy theorists, as well as the odd tourist or two.

But next month, a team of international researchers plans to explore the mysterious Loch Ness in Scotland to solve the mystery once and for all, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Scientists will collect remnants of DNA left behind by all organisms in the lake and will compare their findings with other samples from neighboring lochs to spot any differences.

“Whenever a creature moves through its environment, it leaves behind tiny fragments of DNA from skin, scales, feathers, fur, feces and urine,” said Professor Neil Gemmell, the lead of the research team.

Should the team indeed find something, the results might reveal the remains of a large extinct marine reptile, a common hypothesis about the mythical creature.

Nevertheless, if the monster search turns out to be fruitless, Gemmell hopes to learn more about the loch’s ecosystem and any possible new species located there, particularly bacteria.

“While the prospect of looking for evidence of the Loch Ness monster is the hook to this project, there is an extraordinary amount of new knowledge that we will gain from the work about organisms that inhabit Loch Ness – the UK’s largest freshwater body,” he said.


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