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Brazil, Can Game-Of-Thrones Politics Save Dilma's Job?

SAO PAULO — The mess that is Brazilian politics right now would make for a fantastic television drama series. Its intricate plots, combining power disputes and alliances concluded behind closed doors, would easily match those of Game of Thrones, except that the omnipresent blood would be replaced with dirty money.

Ever since her reelection for a second term in office just one year ago, President Dilma Rousseff has been fighting against the threat of impeachment, but it's never been so close to materializing as it is now. Over the past week, the center-left leader has seen both Brazil's federal budget and election watchdog turn up the heat. The first rejected the government's public accounts for 2014, citing illegal government maneuvers to hide deficits during last year's election campaign. The election watchdog meanwhile launched an investigation into allegations that her reelection campaign received illegal funds.

This of course comes on top of the ongoing Federal Police operation "Lava-Jato" (Operation Car Wash), which is investigating money laundering and corruption on a mind-blowing scale at the state-run oil giant Petrobras, where Rousseff was chairwoman between 2003 and 2010.

In that context, and even as the country's economy is collapsing at an alarming rate, it seems improbable that Rousseff can remain much longer at the helm. But perhaps, she can be saved by someone who is no less suspect than her.

That's where Eduardo Cunha, the President of Brazil's Chamber of Deputies, comes into the frame. The man whom the BBC characterized as Rousseff's "nemesis" has the power to decide whether to initiate the impeachment procedures. And it seems he's using that power as leverage to save his own job.

It emerged recently that Cunha is also suspected of involvment in the corruption scandal at Petrobras, and that he allegedly hid money from kick-back schemes in secret accounts in Switzerland; accusations that he denied. If basic ethics were any of his concern, the man would in all likelihood have stepped down, but instead he told Folha de S. Paulo in an interview last week, "Forget it, I'm not going to resign."

This has reshuffled the cards and probably to Dilma Rousseff's advantage, at least in the short term. According to a report published in Folha de S. Paulo on Thursday, Cunha has now seen himself forced to start to negotiate with the government in which he pledges not to initiate impeachment procedures if he's allowed to keep his position as Speaker of the Lower House of Congress. Ideally, he's also reportedly seeking that all charges against him be dropped, though that's not something the government can guarantee him.

This last move has, according to the newspaper, infuriated members of the opposition, who said they had already clinched a deal with Cunha to impeach Rousseff, whose approval ratings stood at just 10% in September.

While this political circus unfolds, Brazil's economic situation continues to deteriorate, with both inflation and unemployment rising, forcing people back into the infamous favelas. The biggest losers of all, as is often the case, are democracy and ordinary citizens. It might be the Southern Hemisphere, but winter has come to Brazil. It could be a long one.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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