Temple University Press adds two new editors to the Asian American History and Culture series

This week in North Philly Notes, we announce the two new editors joining our Asian American History and Culture series.

Temple University Press is pleased to announce the addition of Rick Bonus, Associate Professor of American Ethnic Studies at the University of Washington, and Shelley Sang-Hee Lee, Associate Professor of History and Comparative American Studies at Oberlin College, to the Asian American History and Culture series editorial team. They will be replacing editors Linda Trinh Võ and K. Scott Wong, who will be transitioning into editors emeriti roles.

Both Bonus and Lee have published books in the series with Temple University Press. Rick Bonus published Locating Filipino Americans: Ethnicity and the Cultural Politics of Space in 2000, and co-edited Contemporary Asian American Communities: Intersections and Divergences with outgoing AAHC editor, Võ. Shelley Sang-Hee Lee published Claiming the Oriental Gateway: Prewar Seattle and Japanese America with Temple in 2012. They join current series editor Cathy Schlund-Vials.

Schlund-Vials is enthusiastic about the new team. She observed, “Rick Bonus and Shelley Lee’s work has proved aspirational for me and the field. Both Bonus and Lee bring established reputations to the series. They are keen interlocutors, leading scholars, and dedicated practitioners. It is truly an honor to have them on board, and I am humbled to be in their midst.”

Shelley Lee says she is “looking forward to helping shape the series with my co-editors.” Her work will focus on “honoring the AAHC’s distinguished legacy and building on its strengths, while also searching out titles that represent exciting and important directions in Asian American history.”

Bonus is also excited to be part of the editorial team. He acknowledged, “Temple has been a pioneering intellectual force in Asian American Studies and continues to make possible new and emerging directions in the scholarship on Asian American Studies.”

He continued, “My vision for the press includes the perpetuation of the amazing work all my predecessors have accomplished. I hope to assist the press in treading new and emerging directions in Asian American Studies by strategically pursuing works that are directly or intersectionally conversant with fields like transnationalism, science and technology studies, cross-regional and cross-disciplinary studies, queer studies, and education and social work studies. All of these, I hope, will enable transformative insights into Asian American Studies and move forward Temple’s record in enhancing the field’s depth and breadth.”

Schlund-Vials reflected about the outgoing series editors, Linda Trinh Võ and K. Scott Wong as the torch was being passed. She said, “During their illustrious time as series editors, Võ and Wong consistently ushered projects that reflected the ever-growing, ever-expansive contours of Asian American Studies as provocative interdiscipline. Under their guidance, the series expanded its sights and sites to encompass the complexities of diaspora and dynamics of transnationalism. They were, quite frankly, ideal mentors for me as a new series editor: I benefitted greatly from their extensive knowledge of the field, their commitment to scholarly mentorship, and their willingness to see multiple possibilities. Their mark on the series is unquestionable, and they deserve much of the credit for the very high reputation Temple University Press has within Asian American Studies. I am certainly not alone in this assessment, as evidenced by the many awards given to books they shepherded throughout their tenure.”

About the Series

Temple University Press published the first two titles in the Asian American History and Culture series — Entry Denied, by series founder Sucheng Chan and Cane Fires, by Gary Okihiro — in the spring of 1991. There are now more than 70 titles in the series, which is edited by Sara Cohen.

Founded by Sucheng Chan in 1991, the Asian American History and Culture series has sponsored innovative scholarship that has redefined, expanded, and advanced the field of Asian American studies while strengthening its links to related areas of scholarly inquiry and engaged critique. Like the field from which it emerged, the series remains rooted in the social sciences and humanities, encompassing multiple regions, formations, communities, and identities. Extending the vision of founding editor Sucheng Chan and editors emeriti Michael Omi and David Palumbo-Liu, series editors Cathy Schlund-Vials, Rick Bonus and Shelley Sang-Hee Lee continue to develop a foundational collection that embodies a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to Asian American studies.

Temple University Press is having a Back-to-School SALE!

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Public Security: The Most Important Theme in Rio de Janeiro

In his second Olympic-themed blog entry, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfire, addresses the theme of public security in Rio during the Games.

Two term Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, who has easily been the most interviewed and quoted public authority for the Rio Olympic games, has said more than once that public security is the most important theme in Rio de Janeiro. For Olympics organizers, a main question always has been will public security forces be able to control Rio de Janeiro’s rising street crime and newly emboldened gangs. A much less publicized question—How can anti-Olympics protesters be repressed without violating their human rights?—has already been answered: It can’t be done. The protesters demonstrate against what they view as public money misused on the Olympics because it is needed much more for health, education and various social programs. There are also protesters—some doubtlessly the same individuals—fighting against the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. They see impeachment now entering its final phase as a coup d’etat by her political party opponents against Brazilian social democracy. Not discussed at all in politically charged Brazil is the fear of sabotage by opponents of the Olympics or the government—such as setting fires in Olympic installations. All of the above are the various public security fears that must haunt an authority such as Minister of Justice Alexander de Moraes. Focused on Brazilian behavior which is what he knows best, Moraes has played down the possibility of foreign ISIL inspired terrorist attacks.

In the lead up to the Olympic games, public security preparations were usually discussed as numbers of police and of funding them. Taking the lead in providing security is the state of Rio with more than 30,000 police available for Olympic duties. However, for most of 2016, the state of Rio has been broke. On June 17, 81 year old vice-governor and economist Francisco Dornelles—acting in the place of Governor Luis Fernando Pezão then undergoing treatment for lymphoma—rattled Olympic organizers when he declared that Rio de Janeiro was in a “state of public calamity.” It was the first time in Brazilian history this designation had been used to describe anything other than a natural disaster. An immediate effect was the return of 50,000 Olympic event tickets. Dornelles also took experts in public administration by surprise. They questioned whether a “state of public calamity” could be applied to a fiscal collapse. But the wily acting governor, a veteran of 30 years of political combat in Rio de Janeiro, got what he wanted. He activated an immediate transfer of 2.9 billion reais, about 900 million dollars at the current exchange rate, from the federal government to Rio de Janeiro. The money was to help strengthen public security at a time when state police forces more and more appeared not up to the job protecting the people of Rio, the athletes, and the half million tourists expected for the Olympics. The transfer meant police and other public service professionals including teachers and health workers could expect to receive their salaries. One or more local gangs took notice and responded by hijacking a truck transporting containers just arrived from Europe. The containers carried the equipment of two German TV networks for transmitting the Olympic games. The truck was later abandoned. The containers had not been opened, and the valuable equipment was untouched and safe. But the gangsters served notice that they had interests of their own. Following this show of strength, some arrangement might be expected whereby organized crime groups will play a part in keeping Rio de Janeiro safe during the Olympics. Retail and wholesale drug trafficking no doubt continues with little interference. Brazil ranks second on the list of countries in consumption of cocaine, and Rio de Janeiro is a major port for the export of cocaine to Africa and Europe.

The police began to receive back salaries dating to May. Still, on July 4, the civil police staged an event at Rio’s international airport when they received passengers with  “Welcome to Hell” English language banners, and with stuffed figures of dead, bloodied police spread on a terminal floor. The message: Police would not die for Rio if they were not being paid. An exasperated Eduardo Paes viewed the spectacle as yet one more public relations disaster. He went on CNN and in an English-language interview pronounced Rio’s public security “Horrible.” He blamed the police, and the Rio state government. He insisted the city government of Rio had nothing to do with public security which is a state responsibility. But he also knew help was on the way. The next day Mayor Paes welcomed the arrival of federal armed forces, federal police, and soldiers of the National Security Force. Together with state police, they are now conspicuously present in order to discourage crime, and reassure visitors that Rio de Janeiro is a safe haven. Accordingly, 51,000 members of security forces have been deployed in metropolitan Rio. 22,000 members of the armed forces and federal police are assigned to protect the Olympic installations, the routes and public transportation taking people to and from the games, and the Tom Jobim international airport. With security apparently well in hand, a much subdued Paes declared on July 5th that the Olympics would surely be a tremendous success and leave a positive legacy for the city of Rio.

Layout 1This optimism lasted a little over two weeks. The evening of July 21 brought news that police were arresting 13 homegrown ISIS inspired would-be terrorists. All were self-indoctrinated converts to Islam. They communicated with each other via social media. Calling themselves “Defenders of Sharia,” they pledged allegiance to ISIS as virtual acts on the internet. One suspect was said to have tried to buy weapons in Paraguay.   Minister of Justice Moraes said the individuals were clearly amateurs, and in the early stage of planning something.

The arrests and revelations clearly added to public uneasiness in Rio de Janeiro, and mobilized authorities. Would Brazilian security forces be up to the job of thwarting one or more terrorist attacks? There was skepticism as can well be imagined. But people soon learned that the project of thwarting had become internationalized. Other countries, including the United States, France, Israel and Russia with their more experienced intelligence services were present for the Olympics and working with Brazilians which brought reassurance. Intelligence and other security agents—no doubt feeling their backs to the wall after all the recent terrorist attacks in different countries—seem absolutely determined to stop terrorists at the Olympics, be they a Brazilian home grown variety, or foreigners infiltrated into Olympic crowds and groups of tourists. It’s them against us. In this spirit of providing safety, wherever crowds of people gather in Rio, there are substantial numbers of well-armed police or other security forces reinforced by plainclothes agents.

Many people in Brazil and elsewhere no doubt believe that terrorist acts cannot be stopped entirely. The Rio Olympics offer a chance to show otherwise at least for a moment when several billion people around the world are watching the games on TV.  Minister of Justice Moraes has lately declared “minimal” and “approaching zero” the probability of a terrorist attack.

Ready or Not: Rio on the Eve of the Olympics

On the ground in Rio, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfire, reflects on what life is like as the games begin.

For the months leading up to the 2016 summer Olympics games, media reporting has been largely critical of Rio de Janeiro’s, and by extension Brazil’s ability to complete preparations for the mega sports event. This critical viewpoint was shared even by the Brazilian patrician press with perhaps A Folha de São Paulo taking the lead. A stream of reports from inside and outside Brazil focused on delays and mishaps. As late as July 1st,  The New York Times published an article Brazilian journalist Vanessa Barbara about “Brazil’s Olympic Catastrophe.” The article took us into a world of chaos and uncertainties that seemed an inherent part of preparations for the Rio Olympics. Thomas Bach, the German president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said that Brazil was an example of a country that liked to wait until the final hour to complete a big task such as preparations for the Olympics. However, he remained optimistic and sure that the Brazilian hosts would get the job done in time for the opening ceremony August 5.

This was his view just the day after delegations of athletes from several countries, including Brazil itself, refused to occupy their assigned residences saying they were unfit for habitation. They entered apartments where pipes leaked, toilets might not flush, and electric wires were exposed. In fact, only 15 of 31 new high rise apartment buildings in the Olympic Village were ready to receive delegations as of Sunday, July 24 when they opened for occupancy. 630 workers were quickly hired to work around the clock to complete the work by Thursday. This was one more public relations disaster and not to be overcome so quickly. Ministry of Labor inspectors made an unexpected visit. They found that Brazilian labor law was being flouted. Workers had not been hired according to rules of formal sector employment. They were working longer hours than permitted, in one case 23 hours straight, and not enough time was allowed for meals. The Ministry fined the Rio Olympic committee nearly $100,000. Still the work was completed and delegation complaints then turned to praise.

Now in the early 21st century, the port area in downtown Rio is once again a main target of urban renewal. Demolition of an old, dirty elevated freeway, remodeling older buildings and putting up new ones has dramatically changed the area, making it an inviting zone of high interest. For the residents of Rio and visitors, the important lures will be new museums and cultural centers. The Museum of Tomorrow is architecturally the most striking and important structure. Hailed by The Guardian on its inauguration in 2015 as one of the world’s most extraordinary contemporary buildings, it is dedicated to the idea of human and planetary sustainability.

My wife Regina and I decided to see changes in the port area and downtown Rio. We took a ride on the new light rail tramline that circulates between the bus station and the domestic Santos Dumont airport. We could see how in much of the area traversed, the planned renewal has largely been completed and ready to receive tens of thousands tourists who will come to the Olympics. There are Olympics connected projects in the area that are not strictly about sporting events. We got off at the stop on the newly christened Olympic Boulevard where Brazilian graffiti artist Eduardo Kobra is finishing an enormous multicolored mural “We are all one.” The mural celebrates the unity of the human race in five continents, and the search for peace. We wanted to see it, and to see him at work partly because we live in Philadelphia which is a leader in the outdoor mural movement and have become interested in this form of public art. Kobra’s mural is spread over a block long cinderblock wall and occupies about twice as many square feet as the world’s next largest mural. We watched him spray paint areas while standing on a hydraulic lift platform, but there were strong gusts of wind that must have made the work more difficult than usual. He was working from what seemed a color chart. We plan to return to watch again this remarkable work in progress. Kobra is hurrying to complete it by the official opening day of August 5.

We are now in the countdown phase to the opening ceremony—counted in days (now only 3 as this is being written), hours, minutes and seconds. An Olympic media slogan aims for social inclusion “Somos Todos Olímpicos,” or “We are all Olympians,” but a poll published on July 19 showed that 50% of the population was against the 2016 Rio Olympics, 40% in favor, and 10% did not know where they stood. 63% think Brazil will be worse for the Olympics. A certain lack of enthusiasm, even opposition to the games was obviously taken to heart by Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes whose emotional fever chart is always on display. In an interview on August 1st with A Folha de São Paulo. the mayor lamented the fact that Brazilians were in a bad mood due to the hard times (three years of recession),  also the political crisis of impeaching a president, and the endless Operation Carwash investigations of corrupt practices in the highest places of politics and corporate business. He said to the contrary that Brazilians should feel good about the Olympics. Largely by themselves, Brazilians had been able to overcome all the problems and emergencies associated with the games and that similar problems occurred in other summer Olympic games. The IOC was grateful for the way we responded to contingencies, and surprised that Brazilians had such a low opinion of themselves. Paes called it “our complex of being a mongrel people.”As for critical local press reporting, including in A Folha de São Paulo, it had contaminated public opinion when times were so difficult, in effect, turned people against the Olympics. However, looking at Rio de Janeiro’s ongoing urban transformation as spurred by the Olympics, the mayor brightened. He was sure it would be “more profound” than what even had occurred in the famous Barcelona Olympics of 1992 when Barcelona consolidated its reputation as a great cosmopolitan city.

 

Why Partition survivors in the US believe it’s vital to keep talking about the trauma of 1947

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost an essay on Partition survivors in the U.S. by Violent Belongings author Kavita Daiya that was recently published on the website Scroll.in

Last week, in the birthplace of America ­– the city of Philadelphia – Indian and Pakistani Americans gathered to share memories of the birth of India and Pakistan.

The unique community event was aimed at generating a new public dialogue on the 1947 Partition migrations through storytelling and memory. In the intrepid gallery called Twelve Gates Arts, devoted to South Asia-related arts, the event Voices of Partition presented witness testimonies from both India and Pakistan. Co-hosted by online digital video project, The 1947 Partition Archive, and part of a global series,Voices of Partition was an unexpected success – a flood of RSVPs meant that the gallery had to double its seats; people were standing, sitting on the floor in the aisles, just squeezing into the space to listen.

daiyacomps.inddFragmented memories

Three local South Asian American senior citizens – Hindu and Muslim – shared their memories of migrating as children across the new and bloody borders of India and Pakistan. Sagar and Reena Banka were originally from Lyallpur and Lahore, and Khurshid Bukhari was originally from Patiala. They described their fragmented, episodic memories of how they heard about ethnic violence in August 1947, how their parents decided to leave their homes, and how they slowly rebuilt their lives, in the shadow of homes and friends lost, in new countries. Many commonalities emerged across their stories: All said their parents thought that they were moving temporarily – until things calmed down. None imagined today’s closed borders, and the wars the two countries have fought.

Unlike other moments of collective historical trauma like the bombing of Japan during World War II or the Holocaust, the Partition experience has not been institutionally memorialised, said Guneeta Bhalla, founder and director of The 1947 Partition Archive, in her framing remarks. Approximately two million people were killed, and over 12 million displaced, within nine months during the division of India. But there is no equivalent to the Hiroshima memorial, or the Holocaust memorial, for Partition.

This inspired Bhalla to start gathering and recording witness testimonies in 2010. Today, the archive has gathered 2,500 testimonies, has offices in five countries, and its goal is to gather 10,000 stories by 2017 from a generation we are fast losing to age. Supported by grant funding as well as private citizens from three continents, the project indicates the global impact of Partition’s migrations. Steadily, this archive is creating a historical record of the price that millions of ordinary people paid for freedom in 1947.

Forging new bonds

As the gentle and eloquent speakers narrated their experiences and shared old black and white photos, a new and palpable emotional community was forged between the speakers and their multi-generational audience. The witnesses shared what they remembered of that harrowing time-colored by their childhood. They recalled the stigma of being derisively called “fugees” – because many didn’t know how to pronounce the word refugee. They also reflected on the lessons of that experience of becoming refugees.

DaiyablogSagar Banka said their experience was mirrored today in the Syrian refugees’ reception in Europe. He urged the audience that while Syrians were being derided in the media as refugees, people needed to recognise that they are more than that label. They are, as his father was, teachers, or perhaps doctors, engineers, lawyers… human beings. Pointing to his and his wife’s contributions to American society, he called for a more humane and inclusive response to today’s refugees so that they would also have an opportunity to become contributing members of society.

Bukhari’s harrowing tale of a narrow escape from Amritsar, to which her Patiala-based family had fled after increasing violence, ended with her reminiscing about a certain kachori stall in Patiala. She said, “Oh, I would love to eat those kachoris again.” Someone from the audience warmly replied, “I’m from Patiala, and that kachori-wala is still there!” In the question and answer session, others in the audience, who had also migrated in 1947, started sharing their stories, their journeys. A 21-year-old South Asian American young man noted that when he discovered that his grandfather had migrated to Pakistan during Partition, it had transformed his sense of his identity: “I guess we were refugees. Refugees.”

Delhi calling

What emerged in this diasporic gathering of those who once were refugees was an eagerness to remember that experience without rancour toward the other religious community. For instance, Sagar Banka affirmed that beyond religion, it was the Punjabi language that, here in the US, bound him in closer friendships with Pakistani Punjabis. The shared familiar itineraries of beloved cities (Lahore, Dehradun, Patiala) and schools spun new inter-religious, inter-national emotional bonds in this contingent community, flecked with the red and gold paintings of the Lahore-based artist Komail Aijazuddin.

Daiyablog2Established in 2011, the goal of Twelve Gates Arts is, in its founder Aisha Khan’s words, to “create and promote projects that cross geographic and cultural boundaries. The gates refer to the fortified gates that walled many ancient cities such as Delhi, Lahore, Jerusalem, and Rhodes – inside which lay the heart of each city’s art and culture. Through this Voices of Partition event, Bhalla and Khan opened the gates of our political borders and divided cultures. The dialogue allowed people, through the sharing of remembrances past, to not only see that Indians and Pakistanis have much more in common than our politicians would like us to acknowledge, but also to forge new relations of peace between us”.

This Voices of Partition is not the first event, nor will it be the last. On April 24, The 1947 Partition Archive will host its first Voices of Partition event in India in Delhi. They had hoped it would attract 100 attendees – they have over 1,000 waiting to register. On Facebook, they have 4,500 interested in attending. It seems this submerged history is still very much alive today, and people want to tell and hear these refugee stories. They will need a bigger venue.

Kavita Daiya holds the NEH Chair in the Humanities at Albright College for the academic year 2015-2016. She is the author of Violent Belongings: Partition, Gender, and National Culture in Postcolonial India

Tycoon politics: Trump versus Berlusconi

This week in North Philly Notes, John Agnew, co-author of Berlusconi’s Italydiscusses ​”tycoon politics,”​ comparing Donald Trump ​to Silvio Berlusconi.

The world over, electorally based political parties are in trouble. Whatever their ideological roots or political goals, they increasingly fail to mobilize or they actually put off potential voters. In a globalizing world, national governments find it increasingly difficult to match the ambitions they set themselves. Borders are too leaky. If you say you’ll tax it, capital moves. Shocks from elsewhere no longer stay over there. As populations judge the failure of promise to match outcome, election turnouts are trending downwards everywhere that elections are held. The success of Donald Trump in the Republican primaries this year must be put in this context. But why should an obvious business tycoon be the instrument for what looks like a realignment of American politics around an appeal to populist themes about “being ripped off” by foreigners?

Berlusconis_ItalyIn 2008 we published a book about the influence of another tycoon-politician, Silvio Berlusconi, on Italian politics (Berlusconi’s Italy). The Trump-Berlusconi comparison seems to bear some weight. Beyond their similarities in campaigning it also suggests how Trump would rule. Berlusconi too was and is a businessman-media entrepreneur who emerged into prominence as a major political actor in a time of political crisis. In his case it was in the early 1990s when the principal existing Italian political parties were collapsing under the weight of either their corruption (the Christian Democrats and Socialists) or the end of the Cold War (the Communists). Berlusconi created his own political party, Forza Italia, named after the supporters’ cry for the Italian national soccer team. In the Italian electoral system without the institutionalized dominance of two parties as in the United States he did not need to force a takeover of an existing party. Like Trump he began his career as a wealthy man by building apartment blocks in Milan. He used political connections (and donations) to accumulate control over all the main national private television channels in Italy. These channels then broadcast a steady diet of soap operas and reality TV shows that would do Trump proud.  A consumerism for the masses based on the American model was at the heart of the messages disseminated by Berlusconi’s channels. To round out the comparison, Berlusconi was and is a shameless self-promoter. His masculinist posturing alongside such presidents as Putin and Sarkozy, notwithstanding the lifts in his shoes to make him seem taller than he is, broadcast a message of potency and competitiveness that many Italians found appealing. His infamous gaffes about various world leaders (the “tan” of President Obama being one of the most notorious) were always turned into negative commentaries about those drawing attention to them. His anti-Communism, even though the party of that name had disappeared, recalled both old disputes about whose side he was on (and who had won out) and suggested how much he was in favor of the Church and mainstream morality (Communism = anti-clericalism) even as bad publicity about his private life allowed him to wink at conventional mores.  A self-confessed “family man,” his history of trophy wives and girlfriends suggested something else entirely. Above all, however, he presented himself as the quintessential anti-politician, the outsider taking a broom to the Augean stables of established Italian politics.

The property tycoon Donald Trump’s surge to the top of the list of candidates for the Republican nomination for the 2016 US presidential election in national polls as well as in early primaries and caucuses has been interpreted in a variety of ways. He is appealing to the interests and prejudices of all those, particularly older white poorly educated men, who feel that they have lost out to women and minorities in an increasingly “politically correct” America. He is a blunt talker whose views on immigration, globalization and guns are free of the caveats that mar the politicians and party hacks he freely insults on the campaign trail. He is a strong leader whose personal history as a property tycoon and reality TV star offers a welcome relief from the professional politicians who pivot hither and thither on this issue and that. He is the most effective communicator with an audience that views “nuance” as implying a lack of faith in basic premises about the nature of reality. What these all have in common is not much evidence of policy savvy or even focus on what he might actually do if he were elected president but overwhelming emphasis on a leader picking up followers irrespective of what he does or says.

Elections are always about drama. But they are not usually entirely theatrical. Political candidates are usually judged as much by the campaign performances they give as by the policies they propose. As Charles Guggenheim who worked for Robert Kennedy once said: “people expect drama, pathos, intrigue, conflict, and they expect it to hang together as a dramatic package.” With his background in so-called reality television, on NBC’s The Apprentice, where he got to say: “You’re fired” to dozens of putative protégées, Donald Trump is cast perfectly for the role of a lifetime. But the Trump phenomenon is more than the typical electoral dramaturgy. As a TV protagonist, Trump is the Boss. He forces the viewer to line up on one side or the other in judging him. He will not allow you to be neutral. Show ratings depend on being as outrageous as possible. Nobody tunes in to watch a “reasonable” presentation. Like professional wrestling, it’s the fights that get the audience, however fake everyone knows it to be.

Not surprisingly the emphasis on performativity by the Trump campaign, even the Pope can become an attractive target for opprobrium for at least one news cycle, has attracted comparison to other leaders past and present with a penchant for over-the-top hyperbole and self-dramatization. Mussolini, Hitler, Charlie Chaplin playing Hitler, and former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin have all put in appearances in the press and on the Internet. The most popular comparison has been to Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister. This makes sense. Their emphasis on electoral dramaturgy is eerily similar. It is their shamelessness in bullying their opponents and boasting about their success about everything from their wealth and sexual proclivities to their self-evident charm and capacity to dominate the news without paying for it that sets them apart.

How far should the comparison be pushed? It does show how important the purely dramatic can be in a post-party and even post-truth (“Did I say that?”) era. But interestingly the comparison also shows the limits to Trump’s political possibilities – towards office and beyond. The reality is that given his control over the media (including most of the public TV channels when in office) and the lack of institutional constraints on his power while in office, Berlusconi as the central figure in a parliamentary system had far greater scope to achieve any goal he set himself than a President Trump would ever have with a potentially hostile Congress and Supreme Court to rein him in. Overall, Berlusconi must be considered a political failure notwithstanding his occupancy of political office for fully nine of the years from 1994 to 2011 (May 1994-January 1995, June 2001-May 2006, May 2008-November 2011). He created a “courtier regime” of lackeys and yes-men (and – women). He spent enormous political capital using his political office to protect his business (and personal) interests. He opened the door to the massive expansion of vitriolic and demonizing rhetoric about political adversaries. He left Italy’s economy in a shambles and a country without much of any respect at home or abroad. All told, Berlusconi did not exactly Make Italy Great Again.

Brazilian Blues

This week in North Philly Notes, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfireblogs about the arrest of the former President of Brazil, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva.

On Friday, March 4 following a 6 a.m. raid on his home by federal police, former President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was detained and taken to São Paulo’s Congonhas airport for questioning. The action was based on an order of compulsory conveyance (Mandado de condução coercitiva) issued by Judge Sergio Moro who has been overseeing the Petrobrás corruption cases. The order was treated by most legal experts here as an abuse of power by Moro. This mandado is used in instances when a person of interest refuses to appear before police to answer questions. But Lula always said he was a ready to appear. The former head of the Brazilian bar association (OAB) said the early morning arrest was equivalent to kidnapping Lula. Moro is said to have acted this way out of fear for Lula’s safety, also because he feared there was a coordinated effort underway to destroy evidence that might incriminate Lula and undermine undergoing investigations. Therefore, while enemies of Lula and the PT or Workers Party celebrated the former president’s arrest as more evidence of his guilt, jurists have tended to condemn it as an abuse of power. If there were a danger to his person, Lula should have been asked if he felt the need for “coerced” protection. For example, did he think a mob was gathering with the intention to harm him, and therefore required that police arrest and place him in protective custody?

The brunt of the interrogation of Lula apparently involved two properties—a spacious oceanfront apartment in São Paulo state, and a rural retreat or sitio in the interior of São Paulo—and donations to the Lula Institute. The federal police suspect that Lula is the owner of the two properties which have been spruced up, upgraded by construction companies condemned for paying bribes, and for overcharging in contracts signed with Petrobrás, the Brazilian national petroleum company. In other words, contractors guilty of illicit gains, meaning the stealing of public money and the money of private Petrobrás investors. Lula, therefore, would be the beneficiary of stolen money. Also, there were questions of large contributions to the Lula Institute by firms, or by individuals profiting from corrupt Petrobrás contracts. The police investigators and Judge Moro are trying to determine if these contributions are quid pro quo arrangements—payments to Lula because he had something to do with making possible and effectively executing the corrupt contracts. In addition, relatively large sums were paid by the Lula Institute to a firm acting as the agent for high priced Lula Institute lectures in which one of Lula’s sons is a partner.
In the scale of the Petrobrás corruption scandal which may involve billions of dollars, the questions to Lula involve relatively small sums as was demonstrated by police as they honed in on a couple of inexpensive amusement style pedal rafts found at the sitio’s pond. Presumably they were for use by members of Lula’s family, such as grandchildren, and other visitors. Were these pedal rafts gifts from individuals or firms convicted in the Petrobrás scandal? If not, who bought and paid for them. Lula’s interrogators apparently pestered him with questions about the inexpensive rafts, also about the equivalent of $1,000 that his wife Marisa had in a checking account. Lula had been asked about these and other matters in a previous round of questioning. There were also questions about the transportation and storage of documents, furniture and gifts from Lula’s presidency. Was this provided free of charge by firms involved in corrupt govt. contracts, hence another instance of Lula and his family benefiting from stolen public money?

The day’s drama only built after Lula was released. He went to the Lula Institute to meet and address supporters. There he took the microphone, and delivered a remarkable half hour improviso describing what had happened, condemning the selective release of information taken in plea bargains, also media bias, and winding up in defense of the social programs of the PT and achievements of his administrations. He was clearly speaking at a critical moment for himself, the PT and his successor President Dilma Rousseff in circumstances of great personal stress and when his supporters expected much. And they got it in riveting, spontaneous, improvised speech, a demonstration of Lula’s continuing power as a persuasive, masterful speaker in which he still has no equal in Brazil. Lula said he felt invigorated and was prepared to travel the length and breadth of Brazil taking the case of the PT to the people, and that while he had doubts, he might yet run again for president.

So what will happen? The Chamber of Deputies has the power to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, but has no moral standing to do this until it first removes Eduardo Cunha as president of the Chamber. Cunha is now formally charged by the Supreme Court with extortion and money laundering in the Petrobrás scandal. But Cunha apparently has too much political intelligence for members of the Chamber who do not know how to remove him. As president of the Chamber he has the power to stay or start the impeachment process. According to one commentator, as long as he stays the process, pro-government deputies will support him. Since he also can start it, he has the support of anti-government deputies who stand by and wait. Second, if not impeached, the election of Dilma Rousseff and VP Michel Temer in 2014 can be overturned by the High Electoral Court (Tribunal Superior Electoral) on grounds that the sources of campaign contributions were corrupt. In this case, a new election would be called. I suppose the most interesting feature of this political crisis for the historically minded is charges of corruption on a large scale such as are present today when aired in earlier periods as during the presidential terms of João Goulart (1961-1964), Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1961) and Getulio Vargas (1951-1954), could bring into being relatively quickly civil-military conspiracies leading to coup d’etats as happened in 1954, and l964. Today’s charges of corruption are treated as accusations to be investigated and that must be proved in courts of law. This is hailed as evidence that Brazil’s democratic political institutions are strong. Claims by defenders of the government that a coup or golpe de estado is in the making do not get traction.

Meanwhile, Dilma is not able to “govern” as she is more or less completely absorbed in trying to save her mandate. This is happening at a time of unprecedented recession now approaching 3 years, whereas the historical record that officially begins in 1901 shows Brazilian recessions defined as negative GDP growth never last more than 1 year, except for 1930-1931. The recession exacerbates the political crisis. Though now experiencing unemployment caused by the lengthy recession, the Brazilian economy remains large by world standards. However, its status has been that of a full employment, low wage economy in which a majority of Brazilians are poor as they had always been. It was true in the colonial era of slavery when Brazil undoubtedly had the largest western hemisphere economy as demonstrated by the number of slaves that Brazil was able to pay for and bring from Africa even when the price of slaves might be high. Small wonder that Brazilian slave owners, and the Brazilian elite largely thought they were right in staying with a slave based economy and civilization, the construction of which they had overseen. Such an attitude continued after independence 1822, and helps explain why Brazil was the last western hemisphere country to abolish slavery in 1888. I do think the traditional Brazilian way of running their economy is coming to an end, and something quite different will emerge, a sharp departure from past practices due to the fact that the long term high growth Brazilian economy observed from the l870’s to the 1970’s and that made up for all sorts of shortfalls in other areas such as social development ended in the 1980’s and shows no sign of returning. Except for the period 2003 to 2011 which was a period of strong economic growth due to high prices for international commodities in which Brazil was highly competitive, the Brazilian economy has stagnated since the 1980s, especially the industrial economy. This is in contrast to other South American national economies, except that of chaotic post-Chavez Venezuela. The situation in which Brazil does less well in economic growth and development than neighbor nations is disconcerting for Brazilians, hard to swallow or explain. Meanwhile, the stage is being set for the mass demonstrations on Sunday, March 13 which will see groups of demonstrators protesting against President Dilma Rousseff and her government filling the main streets of large cities. The other side will have their day of demonstrations on FridayMarch 18.

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