Tag Archives: Politics

Electoral hangover in Brazil as blank ballots give power to ‘racist neo-liberals’

With 38 million blank ballots, Brazilians refused to vote the available candidates. Rookie mistake: results benefited those recognized for opposing individual liberties. 

THERE IS A bitter taste in the mouths of millions of Brazilians, who still do not understand how polls contradict the chants and banners of last year. As the country prepares for the second round between two representatives of the so-called ‘old politics’, outcomes at state level frighten. Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo – in theory, the most politicized of the country – have chosen as rulers men recognized for their racist, neoliberal and anti-LGBT proposals.

Bolsonaro: advocate of  the death penalty, defendant of homophobic violence
After a failed attempt to run for presidency, Jair Messias Bolsonaro was elected Federal Congressman for the sixth time, now with the largest amount of votes in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Known to favour the implementation of death penalty and new military intervention on civil matters, he became particularly known abroad after being interviewed by Stephen Fry for BBC [3], regarding his role on barring the bill that criminalized homophobia. In 2010, he defended the use of physical violence to “cure” homosexuality.

Feliciano:  not who you’d call a ‘feminist’
In economic superpower São Paulo, Pastor Marcos Feliciano was the third most voted candidate, despite last year’s protests specifically targeting his positionings regarding women’s reproductive rights. An extract from an interview to O Globo [4]: “When you stimulate a woman to have the same rights as men, she wanting to work, her part as a mother begins to get canceled. To avoid motherhood, either she’ll not marry, or will hold a relation with someone of the same sex so she can have pleasure without children.” He was, ironically, head of the Human Rights Commission in Congress at the time.

Heinze: racist of the year
Brazil is one of the largest food exporters in the world, and agricultural production gives financial and political power to landowners and multinational companies throughout national territory. Tensions over land use often result in armed conflict between indigenous and maroon (slave-descendant) communities. All with political support of people like Luis Carlos Heinze, re-elected in Rio Grande do Sul. In March, he received the Racist of the Year ‘Award’, from the British NGO Survival. [5]

If corruption were criterion, the list would be meaningfully longer, with traditional emphasis on Paulo Maluf. Better known for figuring Interpol’s red list regarding accusations made ​​in the USA – related to deviations of public money in Brazil – and surviving through an absurd loophole: the country does not extradite its own citizens. As long as he doesn’t cross the border, he cannot be charged or trialed.  However, he is free to perform in public office, nationwide. Yesterday, Maluf was among the top ten deputies voted in Sao Paulo.

For the first time in a long career, his candidacy will be banned and he can not assume the position. Impediment is due to a new law passed last year under popular pressure. The ‘Clean Record’ makes ineligible for eight years a candidate who previously had his mandate revoked, resigned to avoid impeachment or has been convicted. But with such turnout, there are still many questions to be raised.

But what happened, Marina?141006020838_marina_silva_624x351_ap

It is still difficult to make sense of the defeat of the ‘electoral tsunami’ which was not borne out. Despite having grown exponentially during the three-month campaign, Marina Silva didn’t even pass to the second round. On the 26th, the remaining governors and a president will be chosen – either the newcomer Aécio Neves, or a surprising comeback for Dilma Rousseff – the first woman to rule the country since Princess Regent Isabel, a hundred years ago.


For the win…

Yesterday’s elections showed at least two positive results: the high rate of blank votes, and agility in the verification. One in three Brazilians refused to vote for the current candidates, nullifying their vote. If, on the one hand, this resulted in the above, it also gives consistency in relation to protests of 2013. Exhausted, citizens withdrew from this particular political game.

The second positive point is the role of technology. For years the country has an electronic system for polling and counting of votes, but this time there is an impressive number of free apps – from official and civil society actors – created to oversee the background of candidates and parties, as well as tracking outcomes and monitoring irregularities. We highlight a few:

Acordei: The app recounts the professional and personal background of each candidate. One should remember that in Brazil, political career is a profession, and the elected stop performing their usual social functions – medicine, law, commerce … A list of lawsuits and charges, property and proposal for governance are part of the profile.

Voto x Veto: The app features real motions of candidates, drawn from official plans for governance. They are presented individually, without identifying the candidate who proposed them. The user then chooses whether to agree (vote) or disagree (veto) it, and only then discovers who is the candidate who suggested that platform. A good way of encouraging reflection, making Rousseau proud.

Candidaturas e Apuração 2014: Both created by the Electoral Court, they are the official reference apps. The first is an impressive list of candidates, with information on coalitions, donations, government proposals and performance in previous elections. The second rocked this morning (GMT): it’s a minute-by-minute report on the results sent by electronic ballots. Between 17:00 and 19:00 local time, mobile devices followed the back-and-forth of candidates as if they were racehorses.

Você, fiscal [2]:  Perhaps the most creative solution, it audits the results of each ballot box in order to gather evidence of fraud in the verification. The initiative of a renowned university (Unicamp) invites voters and volunteers to photograph this Bulletins printed by the electronic ballot during the closure of each voting position. By comparing this ‘statement’ from each region to the official results, it denounces security flaws and frauds. This is of particular importance since the Superior Electoral Court suspended the implementation of safety tests in 2012 when, even on limited resources and short period of time, the anonymity of voters was broken with ease.


 

Written by Scheila Farias Silveira:  a Brazilian journalist, currently based in Germany. She is a public affairs specialist working with sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social management.

Image credits: BBC, Senado Federal

 

“No Thanks” – the real legacy for Scotland’s teenagers

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The votes were counted, the results were announced and – with that – the United Kingdom remained exactly as it was. For first time voters Sabina Jedrezejczyk, Sean Thomson and Amina Davidson, the Scottish independence referendum was so much more than just a ballot.

AS THE NEWS that Alex Salmond has stepped down as First Minister of Scotland pops up on my phone – interrupting our interview – Sean and Sabina both give a little gasp. “I told you!” exclaims Sean to Sabina, “I said this morning that would happen!”

Political engagement has been a welcome new dynamic among Scottish teens in the last few months, in the lead up  to what was a potentially life changing referendum on independence. Our chat takes place the day after the results are in: the country’s electorate have chosen to remain in the UK, by a margin of 55 per cent of those against independence to 45 per cent for it.

With the voting age in Scotland being lowered to sixteen ahead of the decision, and with an unprecedented 84.5 per cent voter turnout on the day, this revitalised level of engagement and enthusiasm in politics from teenagers like Sabina and Sean is – Scotland should be proud to admit – nothing unusual.

However, there are a couple of differences between this pair of sixteen year olds and  their peers. The two have been part of the BBC’s Generation 2014: a small group of young Scottish residents discussing issues for and against independence in the public eye since last September.

‘No Thanks’

Thursday’s referendum was the first time they voted.  It was a decision they made with some certainty, but not – I’m told – without a lot of thought and changes of heart beforehand. But for both, in the end, it was a “No”.

Sabina, who lives in Dalkeith but is originally from Poland, was undecided until only a week before the vote: deciding in the end that, ultimately, it “wasn’t worth the risk”.

“We’re stronger and safer together”, Sabina says decidedly, highlighting that security issues were a big part of her decision. “There could be a war soon – I’m not saying there will – but for all we know, it could happen any second”. Being part of the United Kingdom safeguards Scotland against this as part of a wider defence strategy.

Sean – a first time voter from Perthshire – nods in agreement. His stance on independence has gone through an even more drastic transition. Sean has gone from being an ardent ‘yes’ campaigner and SNP member, to an active advocate of the Better Together campaign and self-proclaimed convert to the political right.

This switch he attributes to the “contradictory and opaque” nature of the White Paper: a document released last year by the Scottish Government, outlining their vision of an independent nation. Far from convince him, the paper – which Sean adds, with some pride, that he read in its entirety – “pushed” him towards the No campaign.

“Yes was good in principle, but bad on paper: the more they wrote the less they said”, he summarises.

Sweet Relief

Even the promises of new powers to Scotland in the aftermath of a No vote aren’t something Sean is necessarily in favour of. Further plans for devolution should be taken “with a pinch of salt”, he argues: “there are just some things we should decide as a nation: its good to keep things within the existing framework”.

Sabina doesn’t necessarily agree. “No doesn’t have to mean no change” she says, the statement an echo of a popular phrase used during campaigning by Better Together. For her, waking up on the morning to find the country’s decision had been to remain in the UK brought a great sense of relief.

“I thought for a while that Yes were going to win, especially after the Glasgow ‘Yes’ rally. I was scared for the future. This morning I switched on the TV, and saw that No had won, and I was really relieved.”

“We had it in the bag”, Sean chimes in – confident in the No campaign’s victory from the beginning – “I knew we would win.”

There’s no need to be smug 

Still, it’s not something to be ‘smug’ about: this they both agree on. Indeed, the high levels of discussion and engagement around the country are not entirely positive now that the referendum is over, and just under half of the population have been given an answer they’re unhappy with.

The friction between Yes and No voters in the lead up to the referendum wasn’t just constrained to rallies and televised debates: Sean and Sabina describe regular lunchtime fall outs in the playground over the country’s future.

“We discussed it more and more as it got closer” Sabina says, to the extent that “we would be shouting over each other”. Sean agrees that – while most of his friends were also No voters – the flipside of other young people informing themselves meant “yet another argument”.

“Some people took a lot of convincing!” Sean jokes, adding – on a more serious note – that he’s planning already to return to school on Monday and “acting as though nothing’s changed”, in awareness of how high emotions can run on this topic.

“The nation is divided”, Sabina says: this decision is now something that we should all “accept and move on” from.

A disappointed Yes voter

As we continue to chat over coffee, more of the Generation 2014 group enter the cafe. Among them is sixteen year old Amina Davidson: a first time voter from Edinburgh who had decided to vote Yes in Thursday’s referendum.

“Obviously I’m a bit disappointed” she says, adding that the seeming momentum of the Yes campaign had her really “hope towards the end” for a positive result.

Amina tells me that she’s been a Yes voter since the very beginning. This is because, put simply, “we should decide what happens in our own country, and our wealth should be spent in other ways”. Far removed from Sabina’s worries on security and Sean’s disillusionment with White Paper specifics, Amina outlines arts funding, Trident nuclear defence and the expansion of Gaelic media among her reasons for voting in favour of independence the day before.

Much like her Generation 2014 peers, she worries about division in Scotland’s future between those on either side of the vote. “I’ve always been open to both sides”, she explains to me. “My friends were a big mix, though we mostly voted yes. I’m just worried about No voters being smug now – they seem a bit up themselves today. Not all of them, obviously, but some”.

Nonetheless, the opportunity to vote and to participate in shaping the future of Scotland is something Amina found extremely exciting – even if the vote didn’t go the way she’d hoped. “We’re mature enough to work, to marry, to have kids and pay taxes: we’re old enough to decide our future”.

The real legacy

During my afternoon chatting with the most well-informed teenagers I’ve met in a long time, I get a glimpse of what they’d like their own – personal – futures to look like. Sabina, Sean and Amina all voice a desire to continue being active in politics and the media: with ambitions of political and journalistic careers. In fact – despite their differences on polling day – all three of these bright, informed and enthusiastic young people seem to share a common vision for what the legacy of this referendum should be: continued youth engagement with politics.

I sincerely hope that, outside the huge prospective changes passed up by fellow Scots last Thursday – or the proposed changes decided for us in Westminster in the coming months – that the real transformation to Scotland will be in the attitude of its youngest generations: towards politics and their part to play within it.

Written by Rachel Barr
Image: BBC images, Generation 2014 

The lesson 142,8 million Brazilians want you to learn

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When it comes to politics, the ability to read in between the lines is  just as important as tracking numbers.

AFTER BUSY MONTHS of protest, Brazilians’ lack of satisfaction with political scenario reaches a turning point as 142,8 million people cast their votes this Sunday. As the usual ensemble of oligarchs, happy-go-lucky first timers and community leaders try their luck towards state and federal-level government positions, voters acknowledge looking up personal and professional backgrounds might not be enough.

In a complex society as this, full of regional disparities and local interests, accountability for the past might not be enough  when it come to choosing which leaders will guide the country from January 1st. With predictions of bleak government budget for the coming term, religious threats to personal freedom, soaring levels of impunity  for corrupt politicians and US demand for intervenion in ISIS, Brazilians have learned that futurology is needed to balance  both internal and external interests of the now global player.

Eleven candidates run for presidency this year, three with real chance of election. For the first time since the reestablishment of democracy thirty years ago, none of them ARE believed to bring social progress or financial stability. However, they can all mean some kind of loss to Brazilian society.

The current president

Dilma Rousseff was Minister of Mines and Energy, and later Chief-of-Staff during Luiz Inácio Lula da dilmaSilva’s government, and much of the sucess of income distribution policies and social development strategies were atributed to her, even though some of these programmes had been started with previous rulers. Her association with his image might have earned her first term but, several corruption scandals later, might be more harmful now than beneficial.

These scandals range from the widely known “Mensalão” scandal – a “vote buying” scandal relating to the congress – to some recent developments, the latest of which involve the state owned petrol giant Petrobras. According to recent statements by former director Paulo Roberto Costa, the federal government was “leaking” money from the company in order to pay politicians for favorable votes in congress. While the scandal is still unproven, it has taken its toll. The electoral period has become a minefield, with old scandals returning (even when proved false) and new ones – such as the postal office allegedly “distributing campaign fliers illegally” – popping around.

Other scandals involving the Workers Party led government have not to do with corruption, but with diplomacy – namely the support given to Latin American countries, the pardon to debts mantained by African countries, the support to Palestine, the hiring of 10 thousand Cuban physicians, financial aid to Cuba, and most recently, the non-commital stance on warfare against ISIS. All of those have brought forth the wrath of the opposition and – with greater intensity – conservatives.

Stock market behaviour during the last three months have shown that whenever Rousseff’s ratings go up, investors freeze or remove their bets on the Brazilian economy. Considering that employment indexes and GDP have ceased to grow, those focused on economic prosperity – more related to exports than national growth – do not see the president with keen eyes. With a projected GDP growth of a measly 0,3%, inflation nearing the Central Bank ceiling of 6,5% and interest rates at 10%, there might be a point in these fears. Still, with 40% of the intended vote, she is most likely to make it to the second round

The socialist ‘newcomer’

Marina Silva is not exactly new to politics. As her campaign constantly enforced, she was Chico Mendes’ sister-in-arms in the defence of labour rights in Acre. Embedded in the middle of the Amazon, the commotion was the battle between the rubber tappers who depended on the forest to extract rubber, and loggers who depended deforestation to ensure their livelihood. As a result, both came to be seen as environmentalists.

marina

She has since become Minister of the Environment, also during Lula’a government. Disagreement about conservation policies as “sustainable development” no longer seemed a priority for the party made her abdicate office, beginning her popularity among voters who considered it a rare case of consistentency.

However, Marina is a neopentecostal evangelic, and has received increasing support from a conservative, right-wing portion of society.  Powerful pastors – some of which already hold federal positions – have drawn followers to vote for what they believe will be a Christian politician. However, this support comes at a high cost. Promises considering LGBT rights, for example,  have been withdrawn within 24 hours of publication, after pressure from such religious leaders. This has also earned her a reputation as a flip-flopper – as noted by candidate Aécio Neves, during the last debate, who replied her critiques with “the one who constantly changes  position here is not me”. She has yet to explain, as well, her sudden visit to the US on september 26th, talking to US State leaders.

Part of her current popularity – with 24% of the intended vote, according to pollsters – came from tragedy: the death of previous Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate Eduardo Campos in a plane crash, in august 13th. Afterwards PSB candidature went steadily upwards, and is almost certainly going to second turn. If so, this will be an unprecedented event for Brazilian politics: for the first time, a non-catholic, black leader will be in power. More importantly, she represents a part of the country historically excluded from decision-making processes.

So far she has changed her position on GMOs, LGBT rights and work legislation. In the last five years alone, she has changed party three times: from the Worker’s Party (PT) to the Green Party (PV in 2009) and  from PV to her own proto-party Rede Sustentabilidade in 2013, which failed to be approved in time to run for president; and this year from Rede to PSB, running for vice-president, and later president.

The main man from the opposition

While Dilma represents the current stablishment, and Marina portrays herself as the “new politics”, Social Democrat Aécio Neves is pure tradition: grandson of president ellect Tancredo Neves – the first ellected president after the military dictatorship ended in 1985, and who died before assuming – Aécio has years of experience on his shoulders. Federal congressman for 15 years, Minas Gerais Governor for 8 years, one of the largests votings on Senator in the countries history – yet he’s on decline, despite promoting the neo-liberal agenda that is on the rise in social media.

Much like Dilma, he is involved in his fair share of scandals. These are regarding airports in particular, as during his time as Governor, he built two new airports in Minas, one of them in the small city of Claúdio, 60 kilometers away from another airport – inside his family’s farm. One of his main allies in the senate’s helicopter was stopped carrying 450kg of cocaine in 2013, yet the scandal failed to hit either of them.

Neves also faces another problem: while he pleads to mantain most of president Dilma’s social programs, a sizeable part of his electorate is rabidly opposed to them. Either he risks losing the popular vote – as he did when his probably Economy Secretary Armínio Fraga said the minimum wage was “too high” – or he risks losing his own electorate. This combines with a reputation of censorship:  relating to lawsuits against twitter users, and search and seizure warrants against bloggers from criticizing him fora  very strange candidate.

The man with the air train

A prominent and rather folclorical figure is presidential candidate Levy Fidelix; while his portly shape, bald head and tick mustache make him look like an aging Oliver Hardy or a middle aged Super Mario, his call to fame comes from what is his main (or only) proposal since first attempting to run for president, in 1994: the air train, a high speed bullet train connecting the cities of Campinas, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Besides that, his program is marked by reducing the size of the state – and for that he presents in debate a lot of numbers, and little actual plans on actual implementation.

However, after a september 27th debate, Fidelix ceased to be just a comical symbol of a failed project. A far right, conservative candidate with a motto of “morally enrighting the country”, his view became the center of a controversy after being asked about gay marriage – in national TV he called “upon the majority” to “fight against this minority”, said gay rights threatened the country, and closed up by saying “those people”(in reference to LGBTs) need psychiatric treatment – “far away from the rest of us”. In response, the National Order of Lawyers and other civil entities sued his candidature – who has less than 1% of the vote.

Smaller, yet notable

While those are the so called “mainstream” candidates, and one who has risen to notability after saying heinous things in national television, there are a grand total of eleven candidates for president. Joined up, most of them don’t add to one percent of the vote, but some deserve attention – either for escaping this fate, or for representing something about national politics.

Christian Social Party candidate Everaldo Dias Pereira, a.k.a Pastor (Preacher) Everaldo, is one such case; with a measly 1% of the vote, according to polls, Everaldo nonetheless represents an expressive part of the political debate in Brazil. While simultaneously defending minimum state – going as far as suggesting privatizing the police – Everaldo defends the idea that peoples private lives – or at least, deviant’s private lives – are an state affair. Essentially, much like some brazilian libertarians, he is for freedom – unless that freedom is to have sex with someone your own gender, use drugs, practice your religion or abort. Not that it is any surprise: his party is a front for churches eager for more state intervention in “morality”, and less in business.

Another “small notable” is Socialism and Freedom candidate Luciana Genro, daughter of former Worker’s Party President Tarso Genro. Again with a mere 1% of the vote, and little political experience, Genro has fiercely attempted to push her agenda against “the private capital”, even though she has no chance of being elected. While being ridiculed by some, Luciana has much like Green Party candidate Eduardo Jorge (mentioned in the previous article) become a sort of “Living meme”. She definetely won’t be elected – but won’t be forgotten. Even if that means people still aren’t taking politics seriously.

So what have Brazilians to teach us?

That looking for solutions for the future is far more complex than just looking at candi*rties. Other spheres of society – like churches – and foreign policies are far more intervening on homeland developments.

________________________________________________________

Written by Scheila Farias Silveira and Pedro Henrique Leal.

Picture Credits: Marina Silva campaign site, Marcos Fernandes, Ichiro Guerra

Scheila Farias Silveira is a Brazilian journalist, currently based in Germany. She is a public affairs specialist working with sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social management.

Pedro Henrique Leal is a brazilian journalist and human rights activist, currently based in Wales. He writes mostly about human rights and social issues for independent websites À Margem and Coletivo Metranca.

The lesson 142,8 million Brazilians want you to learn

When it comes to politics, the ability to read in between the lines is  just as important as tracking numbers.

AFTER BUSY MONTHS of protest, Brazilians’ lack of satisfaction with political scenario reaches a turning point as 142,8 million people cast their votes this Sunday. As the usual ensemble of oligarchs, happy-go-lucky first timers and community leaders try their luck towards state and federal-level government positions, voters acknowledge looking up personal and professional backgrounds might not be enough.

In a complex society as this, full of regional disparities and local interests, accountability for the past might not be enough  when it come to choosing which leaders will guide the country from January 1st. With predictions of bleak government budget for the coming term, religious threats to personal freedom, soaring levels of impunity  for corrupt politicians and US demand for intervenion in ISIS, Brazilians have learned that futurology is needed to balance  both internal and external interests of the now global player.

Eleven candidates run for presidency this year, three with real chance of election. For the first time since the reestablishment of democracy thirty years ago, none of them ARE believed to bring social progress or financial stability. However, they can all mean some kind of loss to Brazilian society.

The current president

Dilma Rousseff was Minister of Mines and Energy, and later Chief-of-Staff during Luiz Inácio Lula da dilmaSilva’s government, and much of the sucess of income distribution policies and social development strategies were atributed to her, even though some of these programmes had been started with previous rulers. Her association with his image might have earned her first term but, several corruption scandals later, might be more harmful now than beneficial.

These scandals range from the widely known “Mensalão” scandal – a “vote buying” scandal relating to the congress – to some recent developments, the latest of which involve the state owned petrol giant Petrobras. According to recent statements by former director Paulo Roberto Costa, the federal government was “leaking” money from the company in order to pay politicians for favorable votes in congress. While the scandal is still unproven, it has taken its toll. The electoral period has become a minefield, with old scandals returning (even when proved false) and new ones – such as the postal office allegedly “distributing campaign fliers illegally” – popping around.

Other scandals involving the Workers Party led government have not to do with corruption, but with diplomacy – namely the support given to Latin American countries, the pardon to debts mantained by African countries, the support to Palestine, the hiring of 10 thousand Cuban physicians, financial aid to Cuba, and most recently, the non-commital stance on warfare against ISIS. All of those have brought forth the wrath of the opposition and – with greater intensity – conservatives.

Stock market behaviour during the last three months have shown that whenever Rousseff’s ratings go up, investors freeze or remove their bets on the Brazilian economy. Considering that employment indexes and GDP have ceased to grow, those focused on economic prosperity – more related to exports than national growth – do not see the president with keen eyes. With a projected GDP growth of a measly 0,3%, inflation nearing the Central Bank ceiling of 6,5% and interest rates at 10%, there might be a point in these fears. Still, with 40% of the intended vote, she is most likely to make it to the second round

The socialist ‘newcomer’

Marina Silva is not exactly new to politics. As her campaign constantly enforced, she was Chico Mendes’ sister-in-arms in the defence of labour rights in Acre. Embedded in the middle of the Amazon, the commotion was the battle between the rubber tappers who depended on the forest to extract rubber, and loggers who depended deforestation to ensure their livelihood. As a result, both came to be seen as environmentalists.

marina

She has since become Minister of the Environment, also during Lula’a government. Disagreement about conservation policies as “sustainable development” no longer seemed a priority for the party made her abdicate office, beginning her popularity among voters who considered it a rare case of consistentency.

However, Marina is a neopentecostal evangelic, and has received increasing support from a conservative, right-wing portion of society.  Powerful pastors – some of which already hold federal positions – have drawn followers to vote for what they believe will be a Christian politician. However, this support comes at a high cost. Promises considering LGBT rights, for example,  have been withdrawn within 24 hours of publication, after pressure from such religious leaders. This has also earned her a reputation as a flip-flopper – as noted by candidate Aécio Neves, during the last debate, who replied her critiques with “the one who constantly changes  position here is not me”. She has yet to explain, as well, her sudden visit to the US on september 26th, talking to US State leaders.

Part of her current popularity – with 24% of the intended vote, according to pollsters – came from tragedy: the death of previous Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate Eduardo Campos in a plane crash, in august 13th. Afterwards PSB candidature went steadily upwards, and is almost certainly going to second turn. If so, this will be an unprecedented event for Brazilian politics: for the first time, a non-catholic, black leader will be in power. More importantly, she represents a part of the country historically excluded from decision-making processes.

So far she has changed her position on GMOs, LGBT rights and work legislation. In the last five years alone, she has changed party three times: from the Worker’s Party (PT) to the Green Party (PV in 2009) and  from PV to her own proto-party Rede Sustentabilidade in 2013, which failed to be approved in time to run for president; and this year from Rede to PSB, running for vice-president, and later president.

The main man from the opposition

While Dilma represents the current stablishment, and Marina portrays herself as the “new politics”, Social Democrat Aécio Neves is pure tradition: grandson of president ellect Tancredo Neves – the first ellected president after the military dictatorship ended in 1985, and who died before assuming – Aécio has years of experience on his shoulders. Federal congressman for 15 years, Minas Gerais Governor for 8 years, one of the largests votings on Senator in the countries history – yet he’s on decline, despite promoting the neo-liberal agenda that is on the rise in social media.

Much like Dilma, he is involved in his fair share of scandals. These are regarding airports in particular, as during his time as Governor, he built two new airports in Minas, one of them in the small city of Claúdio, 60 kilometers away from another airport – inside his family’s farm. One of his main allies in the senate’s helicopter was stopped carrying 450kg of cocaine in 2013, yet the scandal failed to hit either of them.

Neves also faces another problem: while he pleads to mantain most of president Dilma’s social programs, a sizeable part of his electorate is rabidly opposed to them. Either he risks losing the popular vote – as he did when his probably Economy Secretary Armínio Fraga said the minimum wage was “too high” – or he risks losing his own electorate. This combines with a reputation of censorship:  relating to lawsuits against twitter users, and search and seizure warrants against bloggers from criticizing him fora  very strange candidate.

The man with the air train

A prominent and rather folclorical figure is presidential candidate Levy Fidelix; while his portly shape, bald head and tick mustache make him look like an aging Oliver Hardy or a middle aged Super Mario, his call to fame comes from what is his main (or only) proposal since first attempting to run for president, in 1994: the air train, a high speed bullet train connecting the cities of Campinas, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Besides that, his program is marked by reducing the size of the state – and for that he presents in debate a lot of numbers, and little actual plans on actual implementation.

However, after a september 27th debate, Fidelix ceased to be just a comical symbol of a failed project. A far right, conservative candidate with a motto of “morally enrighting the country”, his view became the center of a controversy after being asked about gay marriage – in national TV he called “upon the majority” to “fight against this minority”, said gay rights threatened the country, and closed up by saying “those people”(in reference to LGBTs) need psychiatric treatment – “far away from the rest of us”. In response, the National Order of Lawyers and other civil entities sued his candidature – who has less than 1% of the vote.

Smaller, yet notable

While those are the so called “mainstream” candidates, and one who has risen to notability after saying heinous things in national television, there are a grand total of eleven candidates for president. Joined up, most of them don’t add to one percent of the vote, but some deserve attention – either for escaping this fate, or for representing something about national politics.

Christian Social Party candidate Everaldo Dias Pereira, a.k.a Pastor (Preacher) Everaldo, is one such case; with a measly 1% of the vote, according to polls, Everaldo nonetheless represents an expressive part of the political debate in Brazil. While simultaneously defending minimum state – going as far as suggesting privatizing the police – Everaldo defends the idea that peoples private lives – or at least, deviant’s private lives – are an state affair. Essentially, much like some brazilian libertarians, he is for freedom – unless that freedom is to have sex with someone your own gender, use drugs, practice your religion or abort. Not that it is any surprise: his party is a front for churches eager for more state intervention in “morality”, and less in business.

Another “small notable” is Socialism and Freedom candidate Luciana Genro, daughter of former Worker’s Party President Tarso Genro. Again with a mere 1% of the vote, and little political experience, Genro has fiercely attempted to push her agenda against “the private capital”, even though she has no chance of being elected. While being ridiculed by some, Luciana has much like Green Party candidate Eduardo Jorge (mentioned in the previous article) become a sort of “Living meme”. She definetely won’t be elected – but won’t be forgotten. Even if that means people still aren’t taking politics seriously.

So what have Brazilians to teach us?

That looking for solutions for the future is far more complex than just looking at candi*rties. Other spheres of society – like churches – and foreign policies are far more intervening on homeland developments.

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Written by Scheila Farias Silveira and Pedro Henrique Leal.

Picture Credits: Marina Silva campaign site, Marcos Fernandes, Ichiro Guerra

Scheila Farias Silveira is a Brazilian journalist, currently based in Germany. She is a public affairs specialist working with sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social management.

Pedro Henrique Leal is a brazilian journalist and human rights activist, currently based in Wales. He writes mostly about human rights and social issues for independent websites À Margem and Coletivo Metranca.

Calvin, Hobbes and When Comics Get Political

BILL WATTERSON  IS FAMOUS for two reasons: creating the “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip, and for being allergic to fame and the spotlight it provided over his career. The strip, about the adventures of a boy and his stuffed tiger, were in the pages of the most prominent newspapers in the United States and the world, everyday for years in a row.

Calvin and Hobbes lived fantastic adventures throughout 10 years, until Watterson, with nothing but a brief farewell explanation, had them sled off into retirement, saying he considered he had exhausted the format.

Watterson, a political science grad from Kenyon College, baptized his characters drawing inspiration from John Calvin, a XVI century French theologian and Thomas Hobbes, the XVII century philosopher and political theorist. Despite the inherent political influence in the name of his characters, Watterson was very careful about the purity of his strips. He mentioned on one occasion that what propelled his work forward was personal satisfaction, so it is unlikely that he saw his artwork as a medium to push any sort of agenda. As he said in his commencement speech to the graduating class of Kenyon college in 1990:

 

 “It’s surprising how hard we’ll work when the work is done just for ourselves.”

 

Despite the origins of his career taking place in the political cartooning of a Cincinnati, Ohio newspaper, his own politics left very few traces on Calvin and Hobbes. However, upon paying close attention to his strips, the philosophical commentaries and social critiques the author imprinted on his stories become notorious.

 

Freedom, responsibility and political participation

 Calvin (the XVI century old guy, not our favorite 6 year old) defended his ideas against the irresponsibility of debauchery, and placed a special emphasis on individual responsibility towards the government and civic leadership. Watterson touches upon these ideas using Calvin, the character, as a medium to cynically criticize the political participation of individuals in society:

 

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Hobbes, the stuffed tiger that has been Calvin’s companion since infancy and that as a product of his imagination comes to life whenever they are alone, tends to be the less impulsive half of the duo: providing sensible comments and judicious conclusions. Through prudent recommendations that could be allusions to Hobbes’ (the philosopher) reactions to Reformist impulses which he qualified as anarchism and dangers to democracy,  Hobbes (the stuffed tiger) tries his best to rein in Calvin’s often impulsive ideas and his constant questioning of parental authority.

 

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The strip is chock-full of references to free will, willpower, the role of delayed gratification and the incentives at play that condition human behavior, all of them themes that John Calvin explored in his writing, in which he understood human behavior as something predetermined.  In fact, if analyzed under the light of incentives to human behavior, many of Calvin’s antics and frolics could be taken as metaphors to our modern political economy: within every politician with good intentions lies a whimsical kid which, at the end of the day, only wants to get his way.

 

Calvin, spontaneous order and science

Whether because of his innate rebellious spirit, or for his defiant attitude towards authority and established rules, Calvin is a great advocate for spontaneous order. This can be seen in the made-up sports game Calvinball, a recurring gag throughout the strip. The sport prides itself in being the least organized of sports, according to Hobbes’ description of it and based on the sport’s official anthem:

 

Other kids’ games are all such a bore!
They’ve gotta have rules and they gotta keep score!
Calvinball is better by far!
It’s never the same! It’s always bizarre!
You don’t need a team or a referee!
You know that it’s great, ’cause it’s named after me!

 

According to Calvin, “Sooner or later, all our games turn into Calvinball”. The rules are made up as they go, and the only consistent rule is the one indicating that the sport shall not be played twice using the same set of rules. The scoring system is as arbitrary as “Q to 12” and the only requisite for a successful game is a voluntary agreement by the parties of submitting themselves to a nonexistent set of rules in which creativity, more than athleticism, is rewarded.

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Shared by Calvin and Hobbes alike is their natural curiosity and a passion for science and innovation. Their capacity to wonder at the mysteries locked within nature is captured in this strip about the”Horrendous Space Kabboie”:

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In other strips, through irony or cynicism, Watterson’s piercing political judgments come across, as shown on this veiled critique of the shallow analysis portrayed in the media:

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The following strip debates freedom of speech and the need for it to stick despite the content of the ideas, and not only to the likable ones:

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Calvin and Hobbes ended their run in 1995, but the ideas that Watterson let permeate through the defined personalities of his characters remain valid.

What other political ideas can you identify on Watterson’s work?

Written by Cristina Lopez G,  a professional eye-roller disguised as a lawyer and policy-wonk who writes. She co-edits Wondrus, an Internet depository for cultural and scientific curiosities and fun facts for Spanish speakers. Article and picture credits taken and translated from Wondrus,

Main Picture Credit: Thoth, God of Knowledge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Danish view on the Ukraine: Danish Fast News

The Danish Minister for Employment, Mette Frederiksen

The Danish Minister for Employment, Mette Frederiksen

Denmark is characterized by high taxes and high welfare benefits. However the Danish government worries, that EU legislation is making it possible for outsiders to exploit the Danish system. Tinuke Maria Iyore highlights the most important Danish news this week. 

The influence of EU-laws on the Danish welfare system has caused an explosive debate the past week. According to EU regulations, EU citizens can earn the right to unemployment benefits in any EU nation and take these benefits with them across the union. Danish politicians are concerned that this will lead to exploitation of the generous Danish welfare system.

Denmark and Finland are the only EU-countries that require vetting for foreign citizens to receive unemployment benefits. The Danish prime minister recently announced that she wants to tighten these rules, making it even harder for EU-citizens to obtain benefits in Denmark. However this might be a violation against EU’s laws on discrimination and freedom of movement.

The Danish welfare system is funded by a high income tax, and EU-citizens working in Denmark are obliged to pay this high income tax, but are not given the same rights as Danish citizens.

Minister for Employment, Mette Frederiksen of the Social Democratic Party, adds that the Danish government wants to increase control with EU-citizens exploitation of the Danish welfare state, in order to prevent welfare tourism. “The free movement in the EU creates economic growth and jobs, but we have seen an increase in EU-citizens, particularly from Eastern Europe, receiving unemployment and social benefits. We take this development seriously, and must make sure that EU-citizens can meet the requirements for receiving benefits in Denmark”, she says to Danish newspaper Politiken.

More useful degrees

Eight Danish universities will be working towards lowering unemployment rates by comparing programmes to employment statistics. This year the regulation of admissions will be a cooperative effort from these eight universities. Some universities have previously made similar attempts to prevent educating young Danes on career paths that lead to unemployment. However this cooperation between universities is a first. The programmes will be assessed each year using the same procedure, ensuring that Danish universities are educating according to business and industry demands.

A signal to Russia

Denmark’s Liberal Party and other liberal parties in the European council have agreed on a proposal to deny Russia voting rights in the council, due to the ongoing Ukrainian conflict.  The council’s purpose is to ensure the respect of human rights and democracy. These principles have been violated by Russia on numerous occasions and the spokesman of the council’s group of liberal parties, Michael Aastrup Jensen, thinks it is important to send a strong signal to Russia. This would not be the first time Russia has lost its voting rights in the council. In 2000, the country was “punished” for the Russian army’s behavior in Chechnya.

Socialism in transition: UK Fast News

This week the UK lost two high-profile figures of the left. Leader of the RMT union Bob Crow died in the early hours of Thursday morning at the age of 52. A few days later the 88 year old Tony Benn passed away. Greg Bianchi asks what is the left of socialism in the UK for this week’s Bottom Line

Tony Benn (1925-2014)

The death of Tony Benn was announced on Friday morning. The veteran Labour Party member, known for his strident defence of socialism and firebrand oratory, was part of a political divide which swept the UK towards the end of the 20th century.

Tony Benn had run for a number of important positions in the Labour Party and was part of its strong left wing which during the 1980s campaigned against Thatcherism. However, at times he and his colleagues were criticised for being counter-productive. He was a cabinet minister under Howard Wilson and Jim Callaghan during the 1970s and campaigned on behalf of the miners during their strikes.

Following his failure to win the leadership of the party he routinely won polls as a popular politician. His commitment to the left wing continued as he opposed the emergence of New Labour under Tony Blair and became a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq. With the passing of Benn the left wing in Britain has lost its father figure and it’s hard to imagine he’ll be replaced any time soon.

Bob Crow (1961-2014)

The leader of the RMT Union Bob Crow also died earlier this week. The union leader had recently been in the national spotlight after calling a 48 hour strike on the London Underground calling for better pay and conditions for workers.

While the strike was criticised by some, including the London mayor Boris Johnson, many of the members of his union supported his actions claiming that he had done a great deal to help protect their jobs and working conditions since taking control of the union in 2002. However, his salary was often criticised but he was also praised for helping to revive and strengthen the union movement.

In losing Crow the union movement, which has been in sharp decline since its peak during the 1960s and 1970s, has lost one of its most charismatic and steadfast leaders. Politicians and members have called his death a tragedy.

What next for British socialism?

With the loss of two high profile and leading members, British socialism is looking for future leaders. Over recent years socialism has adapted in the UK from a form which favours a large public sector and nationalised firms, to a party system which supports neo-liberal capitalism but greater distribution of wealth as well as more expenditure on social issues such as schooling and hospitals. However, there is no doubting that ‘socialism’ in a classical sense has been in sharp decline in the UK for many decades.

Rightly or wrongly, socialism has adapted to a modern, post-cold war world. The loss of people like Bob Crow and Tony Benn reinforce that socialism is in transition in the UK.

Encouragement as ‘The Finest Tribute’ – an Interview with Tony Benn

Photo: Lewishamdreamer

Photo: Lewishamdreamer

Tony Benn was at the forefront of the political left in the UK for almost 50 years. Following his passing, Pandeia pays tribute to a man who’s like may never be seen again through the curation of his interview with John Hewitt Jones for Edinburgh’s Festival Journal in 2012.

Original Headline – Tony Benn: “Being an elected MP is a vocation; a crusade.”
Tony Benn’s serviced apartment in Notting Hill Gate feels like something between a parliamentary office and the rooms of a university professor. In the bookcase at reception sits a purposefully-chosen selection of books that includes a copy of Tony Blair’s autobiography. Surprising perhaps, given this is the residence of one of New Labour’s most vociferous critics and Britain’s most ardent electable socialist.Reclining in an easy chair, puffing gently on his pipe, Benn emanates the air of a benevolent grandfather; an image reinforced by his response to the question ‘how would you like to be remembered?’ (Note the avoidance of the word legacy.) “If when I died somebody said: ‘Tony Benn, he encouraged us,'” he answers, “I would regard that as the finest tribute, because I have tried to encourage people.” Teaching and encouragement, it seems, are at the very heart of his interpretation of socialism: “There are two people in society,” he says, “the rich and the rest, and you have to decide whose side you are on…”I regard Marx as a great teacher; what he said helped people to understand what was really happening.” The gentlemanly demeanour makes it easy to forget that this expression of socialist commitment comes from a veteran politician with more than half a century of experience in the House of Commons and ten years’ worth of ministerial posts under his belt, ranging from minister of technology in Harold Wilson’s 1964 government to energy secretary in the James Callaghan’s government during the Winter of Discontent in 1978/9.

Benn is accustomed to standing up for his moral convictions in the public arena, having gained notoriety for the central roles he has played in numerous political campaigns: supporting the Indian Freedom movement, supporting trade unions in their fights against Thatcherite cuts, and most recently leading the opposition to the war in Iraq. Of all of these campaigns it seems that he is most proud of his part in the anti-colonial movement: “It was an unpopular thing to do because the British Empire was sacred; you couldn’t say anything about it without being disloyal.” Many of the views he has argued for have been unpopular at the time, but he points out that for many of these issues “It turns out that everyone supports them in the end.” He cites the Freedom of Information Act as a strong example of this.

Benn’s vocal opposition to the Iraq War has proven more contentious. It was soon after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 that he was invited to become the president of the Stop the War Coalition, and in 2003, a month before the start of the Iraq War, he flew to the Middle East to interview Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in a last-ditch attempt to encourage negotiation and avert war. Years later, he recalls the questions he put to the tyrant. “I asked him: ‘Do you have weapons of mass destruction?’ And he said no… I said, ‘do you have links with Al-Qaeda?’ He said no, and I knew that was true.”

But the interview enraged the British establishment, and Benn still seems disillusioned with the way the media depicted him at the time. “[They] were not keen on any alternative view… I was putting a different view and it was very strongly attacked. But if you believe something and say it, you have to take the consequences.”

And Benn has never been afraid of consequences, at times paying a high price for his outspoken views and criticisms of government. During his successful campaign in the Chesterfield byelection in 1984, The Sunattempted to discredit Benn with an article, based on a supposed report by an American psychiatrist, that Benn was clinically insane. The article was later shown to have been wholly fabricated.

Benn had previously been the subject of much media attention during the 1960s, after inheriting the title Viscount Stansgate from his father, William Wedgewood Benn, who had been appointed a peer during the Second World War. “There was a coalition during the war, and Churchill said to Attlee, “I’d like a few more Labour peers,” he recalls. Benn inherited the title in 1960, when parliamentary rules still forbade serving as an MP while also being a lord. The rule forced a byelection in Benn’s constituency — which he went on to win, but an election court subsequently ruled that his seat should instead go to the Conservative candidate who had opposed him. An immediate consequence of this was the introduction and passage by then-prime minister Harold Wilson of the 1963 Peerage Act, legislation which allowed Benn to return to the Commons that year.

Benn’s conviction that political debate boils down to a discussion of morality — a driving force in his political life — is inherited from his mother, he explains. “My mother was a Scot. She was a very religious woman. She taught me to belive that all political issues were really moral issues. Is it right or is it wrong? You can argue about that, but that’s what you should be arguing about.” He is adamant that politics should be based on principle and moral conviction, and seems to have an optimistic view of the electorate’s willingness. “If you can reveal what the moral element is in a decision,” he says, “you can win a lot of support.

He speaks tenderly of his brother, Michael, who died in 1944 while serving in the RAF. “Those are the things that obviously stir you,” he muses. “I was very fond of my brother and he was killed at the age of 22, and I got a telegram from my folks saying that he’d died I was very upset about it, and I often think about him. He’s the same age as my grandchildren now.”

Loss has clearly had an important impact on Benn’s life, and the death of his wife, educationalist and writer Caroline Middleton DeCamp in 2000 is a significant feature in his published diaries. Benn speaks of her with enormous affection, reflecting on their close relationship that “she had a huge influence on me. I met her in 1948. A friend of mine, an American said she was coming over and that I would like to meet her, so I did meet her in Oxford. I was a bit shy and I didn’t propose for nine days. I met her on the 2nd, and proposed to her on the 11th. And I realised I would never see her again if I didn’t, because she was going home to America… so I asked if she would marry me, and to my great delight she said yes.

“She died twelve years ago. She had a huge effect on my life. She was a very tender, scholarly person.” He recalls that later on he bought from Oxford council the very bench on which he proposed to her, and installed it in their Holland Park home.

So how does he view the political class in Westminster today, and is it representative enough? “When I was elected to parliament there were fifty miners there… they brought the experience of their lives into the work they did… Now it does tend to be a career.

“I get letters from people saying ‘I’d like to be a Member of Parliament,” he says, shaking his head. “Being an elected MP is a vocation; a crusade.” He eschews persona politics. “This idea that an election is about who you vote for to get the Oscar is a complete misunderstanding,” he tells me. “It’s about democracy, which is a very precious thing. Everybody has the right to destroy the government that governs them just by putting a cross on a bit of paper, and therefore you have to think in terms of the policies and the issues… it isn’t about who you want to be prime minister.”

A longstanding critic of New Labour, Benn is vocal in his disdain for Blair: “He set up a completely new party and he tried to get it established and it ended up with a war and all sorts of difficulties and led to our defeat in 2010.” Whether he refers to internal conflict within the party or the 2003 Iraq war isn’t entirely clear, and the objections he raises are primarily economic and constitutional:  “[Blair] and his colleagues came to the conclusion that you couldn’t win elections unless you adopted Mrs Thatcher’s economic policy. That was the very essence of New Labour. It was really a Thatcherite subgroup,” he remarks.

“When Mrs Thatcher was later asked what was her greatest contribution, she said ‘New Labour’.”

Benn is still fiercely critical of the changes made to the party’s constitution — particularly the weakening of Clause IV, which defined Labour’s relationship with the trades union movement. This has a particular resonance for him, as he was born next door to the original authors of the constitution, Sidney and Beatrice Webb. The constitution was re-written in 1995, after Blair became leader of the opposition in an attempt to distance the party from its union roots and persuade the electorate that Labour now occupied the political centre.

This is an issue that arises again when he talks about the Leveson Inquiry’s recent examination of the relationship between politicians and the media. Benn sees the redefinition of the party’s socialist roots and Blair’s determination to woo media organisations as part and parcel of the same problem: “New Labour was really the product of a decision by Blair that you could only ever win of you could get Murdoch to support you… he [Blair] went to Murdoch and said “the Labour party has completely changed now; it’s no longer a socialist party.” And then Murdoch supported him in ’97.”

On his desk lies a volume of Engels, among unruly stacks of letters. Staring out of the fireplace in his living room is a metal bust with a red communist tank cap rammed on its head; Benn chuckles and explains it’s a copy of a statue of himself that stands in both the House of Commons and the Bristol Council Buildings. With that, the 87-year-old Benn relaxes back into his easy chair, a political giant in repose, and attends his pipe, gently puffing it into flame.

Woolwich Murder Trial co-opted by UK Far-Right Extremists

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The trial of Lee Rigby’s murderers gained national attention  in UK media because of the brutal and public nature of his death. Ben Parr discusses for Bristol University’s Epigram how the British ‘Far Right’ used the trial of  his murderers to voice views on the death penalty. 

The murder of Lee Rigby shocked the entire country. The idea of such a brutal killing taking place on the streets of London was almost surreal, only made more so when a video went viral of one of the killers, Michael Adebolajo, brandishing his bloodied murder weapon and making a religious and political speech to the camera. The killers have now been sentenced,. Adebolajo received the ultimate sentence available (the whole-life prison term) whilst his accomplice Michael Adebowale was given a life sentence of a minimum of 45 years.

What was most shocking about the sentencing was not the drama inside the court house, but what was taking place on the streets outside. Amongst other protests, there was a noticeable presence of the British National Party and the English Defence League. The members of these far-right, extremist organisations were using the publicity of the event to stage a call for the revival of the death penalty. To highlight their cause in their typically tasteless and repugnant manner they had erected a set of gallows outside of the Old Bailey. This was accompanied  by placards baring images of a hangman’s noose.

These grotesque images highlight how the barbaric call for the death penalty to return is still very much alive today. Whilst it may seem to be an extreme minority who acted in the way the EDL and BNP did, the opinion is still very much alive. On the day after the sentencing, the Daily Star ran the headline “Justice for Lee? If only”. This type of headline makes it is easier to see where much of the propaganda in support of capital punishment comes from. Unfortunately the old arguments which should have been binned along time ago are still in use. Such claims as the death penalty gives the ultimate deterrent are simply false and, furthermore, impractical. Studies have been conducted which reveal that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that people are less likely to commit a crime which carries the punishment of death compared to a life sentence in prison. In addition, it has often been the case that members of juries will be more likely to set a defendant free, even if they believe they are guilty, if the death penalty is what awaits the accused if they are found guilty.

It seems needless to list all of the reasons why capital punishment is a ludicrous form of justice, practically and morally. However, what is concerning is just how many people still want to bring it back. According to a YouGov poll conducted as recently as 2011, 65% of the population believe that the death penalty should be brought back for at least some crimes. This is in sharp contrast to the way parliament voted on the matter though. The most recent attempt to bring it back saw parliament rejecting the motion by 403 votes to 159. What does this say about the wider issue of how democratic the UK is? Well, it shows that parliament do not truly represent the views of the general public. That said, this is something which I am incredibly glad is the case. By the public voting in a government consisting of, for the most part, educated people to make these choices for them, we stop the emotionally fuelled propaganda of those who do not actually understand the issues at hand influencing public policy. Under a true democracy, in which the politicians did exactly as the majority of the people at the time wished, we would have capital punishment, we would have left the EU and probably would never consider playing a part in any form of foreign affairs except in issues directly effecting ourselves.

Lee Rigby’s murder was a tragedy and truly shocking. It is needless to say that the acts and beliefs of Adebolajo and Adebowale are truly repulsive. However, the only thing that I will take away from the gallows that were erected outside of the Old Bailey, is just how disturbing, barbaric and malicious members of our own society can, and would be, if law permitted them the chance.

UK: The Bottom Line

Spall

Radicalization, heavy drinking, bullying and a high profile library ban are just some of the major topics in this week’s UK press. Rachel Barr looks at everything from the army, and controversy in the London Mayor’s office to the Nek-nominate craze in this week’s Bottom Line.

Army Chaplain Conducts Memorial Service in Helmand, Afghanistan

Warrior Shepherd

ALLEGED RAPE AND BULLYING were the factors included in the suicide of British soldier Anne-Marie Ellement, in a recent inquest into her death. It was reported that the two men alleged to have raped her were not prosecuted, inspiring  the coroner present to call on the Ministry of Defence to review its help with vulnerable soldiers. Speaking out to the BBC, the Corporal’s mother said that her daughter had been “bullied, belittled and overworked and driven to the depths of despair”. The Army’s director of Personal Services has responded by stating that future lessons to be learnt and their priorities to prevent this kind of tragedy will come from the coroner’s report, and that they were deeply sorry for the ministry’s failures.

 

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MUSLIM CHILDREN at ‘risk of radicalization’ should be put into care, argues London Mayor Boris Johnson, deeming extremist indoctrination a form of child abuse. Writing in his weekly column in The Telegraph, he claims that political correctness is preventing counter-terrorism officers from doing their jobs and stopping “the infection of radicalisation” on vulnerable young people “before it is too late”. In response, the Muslim Council of Britain has stated to the BBC that Johnson’s column looked more at generating headlines than solving problems, and that young people of all faiths should not have to worry about the risks of living in a ‘Big Brother’ society.

 

 

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SCOTTISH FIRST MINISTER Alex Salmond risks being banned from all Council buildings in Aberdeen, in a move the Scottish National Party has deemed “an act of madness”. Aberdeen’s Labour led council will debate a motion this week which would ban the First Minister and his ministerial team from everything from council offices to schools and libraries, after claims of his ‘bullying tactics’ emerged last year. The council and Salmond have had some years of disagreements, which will come to a head in the decision of the ban, to be made on Wednesday.

 

Meanwhile, The Student Press are talking about….

NEK-NOMINATE, the “social drinking game for social media”, which involves downing something alcoholic within 24 hours of someone nominating you, filming it and then tagging three other ‘nominees’ to do the same – or worse –  when you post it online. The game has become an online craze and is now ‘out of control’, according to an interview with the Irish Rugby player responsible for it’s success. Speaking to The National Student, Ross Samson said the game had ‘snowballed’ and he wanted nothing further to do with it – after videos emerged with people having sex on camera while downing their drinks, and others had drank theirs mixed in with dead, blended mice.

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Blogging for Warwich Student Union, Zoe Buckland is concerned that peer pressure for the drinking game might be even stronger because it is online. Her concern derived from the three deaths which have implicated the craze as a possible cause – calling out to students to “stay safe” and reassuring them that it’s “okay to say no”.

Death or no death, the game involves  two “really unsurprising, predictably lame, facets of the culture of our generation”. Writing for Durham’s Palatinate, Toby Hambly points a figure at the ‘narcissistic culture of social media’ and lad culture – a ‘double whammy’ of internet predictability when the two are combined. In knowledge of this age of vanity and binge drinking, Hambly concludes,  we should reserve our outrage for things truly deserving of it, not something so predictable and determinable as Nek-nominate.