The World Today for August 11, 2021

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A Page, Borrowed

Protesters staged events throughout Brazil recently after far-right populist President Jair Bolsonaro, citing baseless claims of fraud, suggested he might need to postpone elections next year due to potential vote-rigging in the country’s electoral system.

His comments stoked fears that he might be planning to stage military action to retain control of the country, explained the Washington Post. At the same time, the move seems to be a desperate, un-democratic attempt at political survival. Already, the president’s supporters have taken to the streets, while the Supreme Electoral Court investigates whether it is illegal to suggest electoral fraud, attack the voting system or undermine democracy.

As Reuters reported, Bolsonaro faces reelection in 2022, when he is expected to square off against his political rival, leftist ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Lula is now beating Bolsonaro in the polls. Brazilian officials are investigating Bolsonaro and his allegations of irregularities, the Guardian added.

Corruption allegations as well as Bolsonaro’s poor record during the coronavirus pandemic – Covid-19 has claimed more than 560,000 Brazilian lives – have battered his popularity. YouTube recently pulled videos associated with the president that delivered misinformation about the virus, for example, the New York Times noted.

But Brazil’s economic and social conditions have also worsened since Bolsonaro won office two years ago.

Extreme inequality, discrimination based on race and class, uneven development between urban and rural areas and “a baleful, incompetent, if not corrupt, ruling class” are stirring widespread discontent in Brazil, observed Indian essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra in a Bloomberg opinion piece.

The most affluent Brazilians, for example, expanded their riches by almost three percent in the past year and now own half the country’s wealth. The poorest Brazilians, meanwhile, lost 20 percent of their income. Similar conditions sparked recent serious violence in South Africa, Mishra warned.

Recently released from prison after serving almost two years on corruption charges – he maintains that he was an innocent target of a conspiracy – Lula was a firebrand who transformed Brazilian politics as a leftwing activist when he was in charge from 2003 to 2010, explained Americas Quarterly. But he changed his stances over time.

In the 1980s and 1990s, he advocated for defaulting on crushing foreign debt. In the 2000s, he maintained relatively stable fiscal policies alongside a massive social spending program. Meanwhile, he remained beloved among many voters due to his working-class authenticity, Jacobin magazine wrote.

On the campaign trail, Lula has not articulated exactly what policies he might pursue in office, including whether he might seek revenge against politicians and officials who threw him in jail, the Financial Times reported.

Hopefully, it will be Brazilian voters, not the military, who will determine whether he or Bolsonaro has an opportunity to do anything at all.



Code Red

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a landmark report this week detailing the threat and impact that climate change will have on the planet over the next decades, sparking fears and calls for change among policymakers and environmentalists, the Evening Standard reported.

The nearly 4,000-page report underscored how the Earth has been warming at an unprecedented rate. It highlighted that it is “unequivocal” that human activity is the cause behind the warming of the planet.

The study warned that the current climatic changes, such as melting ice sheets and rising sea levels, are irreversible for hundreds to thousands of years. Researchers found that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are higher than they were three million years ago.

Meanwhile, three years ago, scientists predicted that an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels would happen between 2030-2052. They have moved forward this projection to occur between 2021-2040.

The report noted that the situation could ameliorate if countries take major steps to reduce greenhouse emissions.

World leaders, scientists and environmental advocates expressed concern at the study’s conclusion, Agence France-Presse reported.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the report “a Code Red for humanity,” and warned that there was “no time for delay and no room for excuses.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the study “makes for sobering reading,” while French President Emmanuel Macron echoed Guterres’ comments about taking action. He urged world leaders to fully acknowledge the situation at the upcoming climate summit in November in Scotland.

The study could put pressure on governments to commit to more decisive action at the November summit. Even so, many believe that countries such as China, India and other fast-developing nations will be reluctant to slow down growth or change their economic models.


Marching On

Thousands of Thai protesters hit the streets of the capital, Bangkok, on Tuesday, the latest demonstration amid rising anger over the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reported.

Demonstrators marched outside buildings linked to cabinet members and supporters of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, despite a ban on public gatherings under Covid-19 emergency rules.

They accused the government of mismanaging the pandemic, silencing critics and demanded the resignation of Prayuth’s administration.

Thailand has been hit hard by the latest wave of the pandemic, with hospitals being pushed to their limits. On Tuesday, the country recorded 235 coronavirus-related deaths, nearly four times as many as in 2020 in total.

The country has been gripped by anti-government protests for more than a year, despite government crackdowns. The youth-led movement has also grown bolder by breaking traditional taboos, such as demanding a reform of the country’s revered monarchy.

Many protesters have faced prosecution under Thailand’s lese majeste law, which makes insulting or defaming the king and his family punishable by up to 15 years in prison.


The Burning Gates

More than 2,000 residents fled the Greek island of Evia this week as raging wildfires have ripped through Greece, the BBC reported.

Local authorities said the fires have destroyed thousands of acres of land, including houses and businesses in Evia, just north of the Greek capital, Athens.

Firefighters and rescue teams have been struggling to control the blazes in a number of villages and have demanded more help from the government. European Union nations have responded by sending nine planes and nearly 1,000 firefighters and 200 vehicles to Greece.

Elsewhere in Greece, wildfires in the Peloponnese region have been contained, including a blaze that occurred in a northern Athens suburb.

Wildfires have struck both Greece and neighboring Turkey in recent weeks – the two nations have seen the worst heatwave in decades. In Greece, temperatures have risen to 113 degrees Fahrenheit.

Meanwhile, the Turkish wildfires have been labeled as the worst in the country’s history, causing the death of eight people and the displacement of thousands.

Climate scientists believe that heatwaves such as these – including the recent one that struck Canada – are becoming more frequent and extreme because of human-induced climate change.


Baboon Perambulation

Scientists recently found that baboons move at suboptimal speeds when moving around in a group to maintain cohesion, United Press International reported.

Similar to other social animals, baboons increase their chances of survival by living and moving around together. This structure, however, comes with certain trade-offs and sacrifices.

In a new study, researcher Roi Harel and his colleagues attached Fitbit-like accelerometers and GPS trackers to 25 baboons – almost an entire troop. The data would show the speed at which the animals walked as well as track their movements.

In their findings, they observed that there was an odd movement pattern among the primates: Big baboons would move slower while the smaller ones moved faster.

This was strange considering that the bigger members had longer limbs and could move faster, while the smaller ones had to exert themselves.

“The dominant male clearly wields power over other baboons in one-on-one interactions,” said Harel. “But when it comes to collective movement, it seems like a shared decision-making process drives the group.”

Harel’s team showed that these locomotive sacrifices were necessary to keep cohesion among the primates – otherwise the troop would break down.

They hope that future studies will investigate the ways these dynamics might influence the size of different groups.

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 36,055,226 (+0.30%)
  2. India: 32,036,511 (+0.12%)
  3. Brazil: 20,212,642 (+0.17%)
  4. France: 6,407,288 (+0.50%)
  5. Russia: 6,404,960 (+0.33%)
  6. UK: 6,146,642 (+0.38%)
  7. Turkey: 5,968,838 (+0.45%)
  8. Argentina: 5,041,487 (+0.25%)
  9. Colombia: 4,846,955 (+0.08%)
  10. Spain: 4,643,450 (+0.34%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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