Who will win Brazil’s second round?

Now that Marina Silva’s “independent” campaign has ended in her rejection by the voters, we need to analyse what this means for the deciding round between the Workers’ Party’s (PT) incumbent Dilma Rousseff and her right-wing opponent Aécio Neves. Silva herself has not declared her preference, but indications are that she might favour Neves, which is further support for my argument with progressive friends who were naively backing her in the first round.

Why does it matter? Has the PT itself not evolved into a hopelessly compromised Blairite neo-liberal party, so that the election does not make much difference? As I argued in my previous article, whether Brazil turns its back on leftist governments in Latin America such as the US State Department’s bugbear Venezuela is very important for the region’s poorest inhabitants. And Washington and Brussels will be taking a keen interest in whether “their” candidate Neves could begin to reverse the independence of Latin America achieved in the last 15 years. The election is also important for Brazil’s own poor.

A striking aspect of the first round of voting in the Brazilian presidential elections was the geographical split between left and right, red in the poorer north and north-east and blue in the richer south and south-east. A danger to the progress made in Brazil in eradicating poverty in the last 12 years is the attitude and electoral heft of the middle-class in those southern areas. The “bolsa familia” which provides a basic income to the poorest families is resented by this middle-class, and frequently dismissed as the “bolsa-esmola”, or beggar’s benefit.

After Neves’ impressive showing in the first round (33.6% vs Dilma’s 41.6%), the question remains whether his surge has already peaked, having taken votes from Marina Silva as her campaign sank. The right hopes not, and all progressives should hope that the mere 30% of Silva’s voters that Dilma needs in the second round will migrate to her. The first opinion poll is tomorrow (Thursday)…

Marina Silva – darling of the liberals, menace to the poor

The first round of the Brazilian presidential election is today, and there is a new, supposedly independent, candidate to take on the Workers’ Party’s domination of the post for the last 12 years. Ex-Workers Party (PT) minister Marina Silva is running in opposition to PT incumbent Dilma Rousseff, and has the unusual benefit of support from right-wing periodicals such as the Economist, and the panting enthusiasm of liberal organs such as the Guardian. The latter derives from her mixed-race, working-class origins, and her avowed commitment to the environmental preservation of the Amazon region in which she was born. My doubts about her seem increasingly  to be shared by Brazilian voters, who have cooled towards her since she was jettisoned into candidacy by the death of the leader of her Brazilian Socialist Party in a plane crash. She stands a chance of winning however in the second round. Before leftists and supporters of the Brazilian poor attach themselves to Marina’s coat-tails, it may be worth mentioning a few points that are unlikely to appear in liberal journals.

1. Her manifesto is widely described as “business-friendly” by right-wing papers, more so than her opponent Rousseff’s. This is notable in a context where the supposedly left-of-centre Workers’ Party has hardly been hostile to big business.

2. Her proposed spending plan is modelled on the last budget of the government of President Lula’s right-wing predecessor Fernando-Henrique Cardoso. It is effectively an “austerity budget”, and it is difficult to see how this cannot harm Brazil’s millions in poverty.

3. Her foreign policy aims to re-orientate Brazil back to the US and Europe, in other words the imperial nations of the past. One of the successes of Brazil in the last 12 years has been its role in building the BRICS economies as an alternative pole, and in a Latin American context its support for regional initiatives such as Mercosur, and its defence of the major target of US attack, Venezuela. Marina Silva’s position on this is emphatically rightist. Obama and Merkel must be salivating at the prospect of her winning.

4. She left Lula’s government and then his party over what she considered its failure to protect the environment, but Beto Albuquerque, her vice-presidential candidate on the ticket, is close to the same agri-business that the PT government capitulated to, and has his campaign largely financed by them.

5. She is a social conservative as a result of her evangelical Christianity, with a position against abortion and gay marriage.

6. Her independence from the political system is exaggerated. The Brazilian Socialist Party, under whose banner she runs, is a well-established party with 6 state governors, 3 senators, 34 federal deputies and the mayors of 3 state capitals.

7. Similarly, in her early days in the PT, her tendency within the party was the very mainstream Articulação, on the right of the PT.

8. I refute the argument that candidates in any election stand apart from the traditional distinction between left and right. When people say Marina Silva has cross-class and -political appeal, this is because she is trying to triangulate a position that satisfies all, a situation which cannot hold. For instance, if you support the environment, that it is a left-wing position, and if you support big agri-business (the “ruralistas” the PT has been much criticised for making alliances with), that is right-wing. You cannot do both.

9. Neither working-class nor female Presidents of Brazil are new. Lula was a Sao Paulo metal-worker and trade unionist from the poor north-east, and Dilma is a bourgeois-origin ex-guerilla fighter against the dictatorship.

10. Marina’s possible second round victory relies on right wingers who have voted for PSDB candidate Aécio Neves in the first round switching to her, What effect will this have on policies for the benefit of Brazil’s poor?

I have many criticisms of the Workers Party in national government since 2003, but hope that Brazilians are not seduced by the media hype, and vote with their eyes open. Recent polls suggest they will.

Scottish referendum a “lose, lose” for Labour

Something so far missing from commentary on the vote for Scottish independence is the real plight of the Labour Party should the vote have been either won or lost. If Scotland had voted “yes”, then the loss of 41 MPs from the British Parliament would make a Labour majority extremely difficult to achieve, as many commentators have remarked. But equally, the sting in the tail of Cameron’s proposed devolutionary changes is the threat to take away the right of those same Labour MPs to vote on “English only” issues. This would for instance include the budget of a future Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer. Cameron is a loathsome, but not stupid individual. He knows that statistical analysis shows a reducing Conservative proportion of the vote into the future. The only way they can continue to exercise power for the elite they both represent and serve is to change the Constitution. (I’m not of course saying that the Labour Party does not serve that elite, merely that there is some evidence that the attack on the poor would be less vicious if they were in power.)

The BBC is as ever asking the wrong question (Will Cameron deliver on his promise of more power for the Scottish Parliament?). Whether or no, there is something else “devolutionary” he needs to do with indecent haste, before the next General Election, to preserve the power of the Conservative Party into the 21st century.

Review of our Film of the Week

visionOntv’s FILM OF THE WEEK is a key feature of our aggregation of the best video for social change. Here is my first review of the films selected.

It’s a real joy to feature thejuicemedia’s latest report (play and click through to find it). Giordano Nanni and Hugo Farrant’s satirical rapping on the news has been going for almost five years, reaching 25 editions, and here they risk an avalanche of Zionist trolling by taking on Israel/Palestine. Getting hip with the hip hop is none other than activist and son of holocaust survivors Norman Finkelstein.

Heathcote Williams’ My Dad and My Uncle Were in World War One is a wonderful antidote to the a-historical jingoism of the likes of Michael Gove, and the reactionary revisionism of TV historians such as Dan Snow. (Snow seemed to parody himself during his recent BBC series, asking questions such as: how did so many soldiers survive the trenches? In fact, Britain lost around 2% of its entire population, or “only 700,000 military deaths” according to Snow. France and Germany lost more than 4%, or one in 25 people. In addition, there were the physical and psychological after-effects on survivors which crippled and traumatized a generation. These effects are calmly recounted in Heathcote Williams’ film, for instance how his uncle lost all his friends in the trenches, and never gained another friend for the rest of his life. But he also articulates their quiet, but absolutely indomitable, resistance. How his uncle would scoff at pompous nationalist commemorations, never even collecting his own medal for extraordinary valour, and how he and his comrades-in-arms in the trenches would desist even from loading their weapons.

The video reporting the lockdown of three activists to stop an oil train in their locality in Anacortes, Washington State was chosen because it is a perfect example of how to make a fast-turnaround edited activist report. It is economically but powerfully shot, in a way that can be cut and uploaded the same or next day. In fact it closely mirrors our own video news production template “Edit This!”. This template, along with eight others, will soon feature in visionOntv’s new publication, the Video Activist Handbook.

Bloggers for Palestine are unnecessarily apologetic about the imperfections of their video A Message to the World (Stop the Killing), as it was made during the height of Israel’s latest bombing of Gaza. As they say in the film, “Their F16s, drones and guns can kill our bodies, but they can never kill our voice.”

“Giving a voice” to the unheard has long been a mission of radical video the world over, but the voices of people with disabilities who fight back are still comparatively rare. Indefilms33’s video of the action in central London to oppose the British government’s axing of the Independent Living Fund begins with the voices of the disabled themselves. An insightful moment comes when a cleric from Westminster Abbey is caught saying: “I support everything you say, but Jesus would speak in a nice, quiet way.” One of my little hobbies is pointing out to Christians what the Bible actually says, so here is a text this clergyman seems to be unaware of: “He made a whip of cords, and drove them all out of the temple…..; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” (John 2:15) So much for non-violent direct action! Is the be-cassocked man in the video the actual Dean of Westminster Abbey, who called the cops on the wheelchair-bound?

The only feature length documentary in the list so far is The Internet’s Own Boy, made in the year since internet activist Aaron Swartz’s tragic suicide. It is both a moving and inspiring biopic and an astutely political film about freedom and the state/corporate nexus against it. Swartz died aged only 26 after hounding from the FBI and zealous, career-ambitious attorneys. He was indicted with no less than 13 felonies in connection with his attempt to download pay-walled academic journals. A further villain of the piece is MIT, an academic institution supposedly committed to empowering its students to undertake risky exploration, but which in this case set a spy camera to trap Swartz to enable a criminal case, and then never interceded to have charges dropped. Like so many institutions of higher education, both in Europe and the United States, which have effectively become money-making corporations, MIT chose to back other corporations over freedom of knowledge.

The Tar Sands Healing Walk 2014 is a stirring and beautiful combination of the traditions of First Nations people in Canada with voices of struggle against the despoliation of their land. In this sense, it reminded me of time I have spent with indigenous peoples in Brazil, who were drawing on similar traditions to oppose illegal logging from their forest. Too often in our societies, a mystical approach is quietist and resigned, an escape from struggle rather than an inspiration towards it. The people in this video show us a clear alternative.

To embed Film of the Week in your website or blog, get the code from here.

England cricket team’s secrets revealed

On the final day of the Lord’s Test the England batsmen must have been truly astonished, and who can blame them? Who’d have imagined it? Short-pitched deliveries! In a Test match! Some commentators have been less generous. Sir Geoffrey Boycott claimed they had committed a painful Japanese suicide, though he confused it with popular discount warehouse “Harry Carry”. But he is right in seeking another explanation for what otherwise was possibly the most dismal exhibition of batting I have ever seen.

In fact I can now exclusively reveal that the England team is in the grip of a sinister evangelical cult and that what happened on the fifth day at Lord’s was none other than a suicide pact, where everyone follows their leader’s command and ends it all in exactly the same way. Except, that is, for Jimmy Anderson, who sought a new and more self-abasing way to meet his Maker. He showed admirable piety and humility. At last we can make sense of the carnage of Monday afternoon. Otherwise we were left puzzling over how an experienced player such as Matt Prior, facing three men on the legside ready to catch him, and having escaped dying to a rash pull shot, would play exactly the same shot again.

Psychological studies show that when the mass hysteria takes hold, even doubters are pulled in, or rather pulled out in this case. Under peer pressure, erstwhile sane and rational Joe Root fell to the same grisly fate. Lord’s pavilion insiders report there may be a mysterious cult sage who dispenses fatal advice in the luncheon interval. And that batsmen chatting in the middle are using a secret handshake.

So now we know. Hapless Captain Cook is not to blame, and until this team is rescued from this evil cult, India will continue to trounce them. Before you dismiss this as an internet conspiracy theory, think for a moment. Do you have a better explanation?

Political satire is obsolete – yet again

It was Tom Lehrer who coined this phrase when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. I was reminded of it twice in recent times (add your own examples). The first was in 2007 when Tony Blair was appointed Middle East Envoy for the “Quartet” (the UN, US, EU and Russia), and charged with “helping mediate Middle East peace negotiations”. This was only four years after Blair had almost single-handedly enabled George W. Bush to wage war in Iraq, with the estimated death of one million people.

The second was today, when I heard that one of the leaders of the opposition in Venezuela has been awarded the Charles T. Manatt Democracy Award. Maria Corina Machado has received the prize from the excitingly-named International Foundation for Electoral Systems, a US-based organisation. While the foundation sounds like a doddery academic body of psephologists discussing the benefits of alternative vote over single transferable, in fact this is an institute which receives funding from USAID and celebrated democracy-lovers the US State Department.

So it’s time for some faux-naif indignation: can they possibly not know that Machado is one of the people who signed the Carmona Decree during the brief 2002 coup attempt against democratically-elected President Chavez? The decree dissolved democratic institutions, such as the National Assembly and Supreme Court, and suspended constitutional liberties. Can they also not know that she runs a campaign of violent street protests demanding “The Exit” of Chavez’ democratically-elected successor Nicolas Maduro, five years before the end of his term? Some of these protesters are so committed to democracy that they have strung wire across public highways to decapitate motorcyclists. Two people have died from this action alone. They have also attacked public transport, health clinics, social housing projects, and a kindergarten, and physically assaulted 169 doctors. And does the IFES really not know that Machado is currently under investigation for allegedly plotting to assassinate the Venezuelan President, saying that it was “time to take out the trash”?

What can we do? Is satire really dead, or can we give it the kiss of life?

POST-SCRIPT September 3 2014

Come on, satirists, shape up! Once again, earnest award-giving institutions have trounced you. GQ Magazine has now made Tony Blair “Philanthropist of the Year”, a decision only agreed with by Benyamin Netanyahu. Many thanks to Mark Steel for his concern, which goes some way to redress the situation: “I worry that Tony Blair’s award will make him even MORE generous, until there’s nothing left for himself. He’s just give give give give give.”

PPS: November 21 2014

It’s getting ridiculous. Now Blair has received the “Global Legacy Award” from Save the Children. It’s hard to know where to start with Blair’s philanthropy towards children, as an internet search immediately sends you into a world of unspeakable horror. The cluster bombs dropped on Iraq by both US and British forces are one place to begin. I quote very selectively from one Iraq Body Count report:

“Terrifying film of women and children…… showed babies cut in half and children with amputation wounds, apparently caused by American shellfire and cluster bombs. Much of the videotape was too terrible to show on television and the agencies’ Baghdad editors felt able to send only a few minutes of a 21-minute tape that included a father holding out pieces of his baby and screaming “cowards, cowards” into the camera.” (Robert Fisk – The Independent, April 2 2003)

“Among the 168 patients I counted, not one was being treated for bullet wounds. All of them, men, women, children, bore the wounds of bomb shrapnel. It peppered their bodies. Blackened the skin. Smashed heads. Tore limbs. “All the injuries you see were caused by cluster bombs,” Dr Hydar Abbas told Antonowicz. “Most of the people came from the southern and western periphery. The majority of the victims were children who died because they were outside.”” (Anton Antonowicz – Daily Mirror, April 3 2003)

“In the deserted emergency ward, Mohammed Suleiman hysterically looked for his 8-month-old daughter, Rowand, brought in after a bomb her brother unwittingly brought home exploded. “Please look at her face and see how beautiful she is,” he screamed when he found the baby’s lifeless body, covered with a blanket, her eyes half open, her nose and mouth bloodied.” (Associated Press, April 12 2003)

It turns out that the current CEO of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth, was a policy adviser for, you guessed it, Tony Blair. Is it too much to expect this narrow political class to show, if not a moral compass, a bit of self-awareness?

I was going to make a joke speculating about Blair’s next honour (the Bram Stoker Award for Services to Blood Transfusion?) But for my own sanity, I feel I must stop updating this catalogue of atrocity and abject moral blindness.

 

Why Maria Miller should not have resigned

In the last few days I was more than once sent a request to sign an e-petition demanding the resignation of UK Culture Secretary Maria Miller. I didn’t put my name to it for a very simple reason.

I loathe this government of the super-rich and their gleeful attacks on the poor and disabled with an absolute vengeance. If you share my opinion, let me ask you a question. Why would you want to help this government to clean up its act? As Chomsky argues, isn’t visible, grotesque corruption a crucial factor for the wider public turning against not just a particular government but potentially the whole system? I ask you which you would prefer: a “clean” neo-liberal government that attacks the poor and sick and dismantles our great NHS with complete legality and efficiency. Or would you prefer one where corruption means no one can miss the stench of their rotten machinations?

It’s the same argument with Ian Duncan Smith, surely in his role as Work and Pensions Secretary one of the most morally puny figures in public life. IDS’s only redeeming feature is that he is grossly incompetent. Would you like him to be replaced by someone else more efficient, who could implement his cruel Universal Credit without a hitch?

No. Maria Miller should have stayed, and Ian Duncan Smith, stay right where you are!

 

Venezuela and the politics of Twitter

It’s all over mainstream news outlets, and some outlying ones, so it must be true. The Venezuelan government has censored Twitter. Except that, when you look a little closer, this is by no means clearly the case.

The background to this is several days’ protests by a segment of the Venezuelan opposition. Those who want the democratically elected President to leave office, not when his term is up in 5 years’ time, nor after a possibly successful recall referendum in half that time, but right now, just after his party resoundingly won the latest local elections in Venezuela in December.

Reporting of this “censorship” story is strange to say the least. The proud sources of the story seem to be the correspondents of financial news outlet Bloomberg. They say that Nu Wexler, Twitter’s PR man in Washington DC, confirmed in an email that “the (Venezuelan) government was behind the disruption.” But they do not quote his email directly, so that the only statement by Mr Wexler in the public domain is one he made on his own network Twitter:

Feb 14

Users blocked in : Follow + receive notifications via SMS of any Twitter account. Send “SEGUIR [usuario]” to 89338 ()

Bartok’s Arch Form: Not So Clever?

I began to discover the secrets of Bartok’s musical structures as a teenager. Following Ernő Lendvai’s revelatory analysis, at the time I found the Hungarian wizard’s use of arch form to be the height of sophistication. Celebrated examples of this are the fourth and fifth string quartets (click through the playlist of the brilliant Takacs Quartet to find them):

Both quartets are in five movements, an odd number being necessary to create symmetry. The fourth is structured as follows: A / AB / C / AB1 / A1, where movements two and four are variations on the material in movements one and five, and the apex of the arch is the radically other “night music” stillness of the central movement. The durations are also arch form: 6 / 3 / 6 / 3 / 6 minutes respectively. The fifth is even more ingenious, with the individual movements containing their own arch structures, or “arches within the arch”. As Lendvai points out, earlier work such as the opera Bluebeard’s castle also forms an arch, rising tonally from F# through a tritone (half an octave) to glorious C major with the opening of the fifth door, and then sinking back to gloomy F# by the end. I embed here a full performance with score, plus a very rare sighting of English director Michael Powell’s film version (apologies that neither is in the original Hungarian):

So influenced was I by the symmetry of the arch, I even wrote a piece using it, in seven short sections, turning upside down the Bluebeard tonal structure: Eb/E – A/Bb – Eb/E. Of special pride to me was the retrograde of the opening at the end, an idea stolen from Berg’s Chamber Concerto. (Sorry to link this here, and please be kind. I was only 16!).

But now I ask myself which of the Bartok quartets I most enjoy and return to, and it turns out to be neither of the “archies”, which have started to seem a little obvious. Bartok was perhaps aware of these diminishing returns, with his multiplication of arches in the fifth quartet. Instead I reach for the third, tough, taut and concentrated, an infinity of expression in a very small space. The form here across the four parts is the much simpler: A / B / A1 / B1.  Its often harsh sonorities and wiry lines really throw into relief the lyrical beginning of part 3, where the opening theme is recapitulated as a great song on the ‘cello. Throughout its terse fifteen minutes every note counts.

 

 

Shostakovich Quartets: best performances ever?

As played by the incomparable Borodin Quartet. Big thanks to all uploaders (MrRaph87, Julio Pimentel, thing every and Sean Connery’s Moments of Wisdom).

 

Are the Borodins better even than the Emersons?