The World Today for November 19, 2018

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Brace, Brace

Jair Bolsonaro, the populist president-elect of Brazil, has been repeatedly compared to US President Donald Trump.

The Intercept’s Glen Greenwald thought those comparisons weren’t fair – to Trump. Greenwald is no fan of Trump. But Bolsonaro, he argued, is a dangerous extremist who explicitly wants to reimpose the military dictatorship that ran the South American country from 1964 to 1985.

As the Independent explained, the president-elect began his own army career under the junta’s rule, eventually rising to the rank of captain. He supports torture and has said socialists should leave the country or face prison once he assumes office.

Brazilian military brass pushed back on that assertion.

“The military has been absent from politics since 1985, after the end of the military government, and that’s how it intends to maintain itself, independent of whether the president-elect is a retired captain from our Brazilian army,” Army Chief Eduardo Dias da Costa Villas Bôas told the Financial Times.

The world will have to wait until Bolsonaro’s inauguration on Jan. 1 to see who’s right.

In the meantime, there are plenty of other reasons to be concerned about the new far-right leader.

One of Bolsonaro’s first cabinet choices was Judge Sergio Moro, tapped to become justice minister. Moro oversaw the sweeping “Car Wash” corruption case that has rocked Latin America. His success in rooting out crooked politicians, in that case, could help the new administration in Brasilia address the country’s terrible crime problem.

But Moro also convicted and jailed ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on bribery charges that alleged Lula received an apartment as a bribe in a scandal involving Petrobras, the state oil company. Lula denied ever owning the apartment, but his conviction was upheld.

Moro denied that Lula’s case had anything to do with his appointment. But even he had to admit his new job looked like a quid pro quo for his role in making sure Lula couldn’t run against Bolsonaro in the election last month.

“I know that some interpreted my nomination as a reward,” the judge told the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s enormous and thriving film industry, a bellwether of a free society and open economy, is fearful of censorship under the new president, the Hollywood Reporter wrote.

Bolsonaro has hit bumps on foreign policy, too, wrote Bloomberg Opinion writer Mac Margolis.

He’s insulted Brazil’s neighbors, like when he questioned the credentials of Cuban doctors in the country, prompting Cuban leaders to say they’ll put their physicians out. He also proposed to relocate Brazil’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem before considering whether that move might jeopardize Brazil’s role as the world’s biggest exporter of halal meat to Muslims.

Brazilian voters clearly wanted change. They’re now going to see whether the unintended consequences of their desires will make them regret their choices.



Win, Lose or Draw

The US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Saturday that the Taliban “are not losing” in Afghanistan, while the US special envoy for the war-torn country said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about reaching a peace deal before next year’s presidential elections, scheduled for April 20.

“We used the term stalemate a year ago and, relatively speaking, it has not changed much,” said Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explaining that the US goal is to push the Taliban into negotiating a political settlement, CNN reported.

That’s exactly what US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is hoping for, following three days of talks with Taliban leaders in Qatar, said the Associated Press.

“The Afghan government wants peace,” he said. “The Taliban are saying they do not believe they can succeed militarily, that they would like to see the problems that remain, resolved by peaceful means, by political negotiations.”

While the US continues to push “loudly and proudly” for women’s rights, whether the eventual political settlement guarantees them will be up to the Afghans, Khalilzad said.


And They’re Off!

Campaigning began for Nigeria’s presidential election next year with a whopping 79 candidates joining a race that promises to be the country’s most expensive in history.

Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking re-election, but his chances will be hampered by a stagnating economy and his continued difficulties in crushing the Boko Haram militants, Al Jazeera reported. Polls are slated for February 2019.

Buhari unveiled his manifesto at a campaign launch on Sunday, once again making the eradication of Nigeria’s endemic corruption his main focus, according to the South Africa-based Independent Online.

The one-time military leader became the first opposition candidate to oust a president through democratic elections in 2015. But despite his focus on corruption in his first term, during which he created a special central bank account to hold funds recovered through investigations, a lack of significant arrests has left him vulnerable to criticism.

Meanwhile, violence, inefficiency and corruption at the country’s ports cost Nigeria some $19 billion a year, or about 5 percent of gross domestic product, Bloomberg reported.


Fascists and Feminists

Spanish police on Sunday stopped an angry mob of far-right admirers of Francisco Franco from confronting three topless activists from the feminist group Femen at a rally commemorating the anniversary of the former military dictator’s death in 1975.

Around 200 admirers of the fascist leader shouted, “Franco! Franco! Franco!” as police escorted the activists away from the rally, the Associated Press reported. The topless women had “Legal fascism, national shame” painted on their chests.

Held annually on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of Franco’s death on Nov. 20, this year’s rally comes as Spain’s Socialist-led government plans to exhume Franco’s remains from the massive mausoleum for those killed in the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War he constructed called the Valley of the Fallen.

Left-leaning Spaniards have applauded the decision – especially because many of the 34,000 people buried at the site are victims of the fascist regime and forced labor was allegedly used to build it. But the move has enraged the far-right, and right-leaning centrists see it as needlessly inflaming the controversy.


Fire-breathing Homebodies

Komodo dragons actually don’t have wings and they can’t breathe fire.

But these lizards, native to a few Indonesian islands, can grow up to 10 feet long, have a poisonous bite, and can take down deer and other large mammals.

Luckily for humans, they are real homebodies, according to the New York Times.

In a recent study, researchers moved some dragons to different parts of the same island and ferried others to nearby islands. The reptiles that could walk back to their homes eventually did. The ferried ones didn’t bother to swim back, however, even though they were capable of doing so.

“Once they colonize an island, despite these incredible feats of long-distance dispersal, they decide, ‘Enough is enough!’” lead researcher Tim Jessop told the Times.

Jessop speculated that the giant reptiles are very cautious about their environment and don’t want to get out of their comfort zones.

Yet their sedentary lifestyle comes with a price. It makes them vulnerable to local food shortages and inbreeding.

“They stay put almost irrespective of how bad it gets,” Jessop said. “It’s a bit bewildering.”

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