Thursday, January 02, 2003

Lula da Silva, Brazil's new president, was sworn in yesterday. I don't want to seem churlish--Lula, by all accounts, is a fine man, dedicated and compassionate--but I smell disaster coming. Latin American populist politicians are always a prelude to a big mess, and half a million people showed up at Lula's inaguration. He said that he would put an end to hunger in Brazil; the Vanguardia says that there are 54 million hungry people in Brazil, a third of the population. That can't be right. Brazil's per-capita income in 1999 was $6150 adjusted for purchasing power, according to the World Almanac. That's almost $25,000 for a family of four. Of course, the rich have a lot more wealth than the poor, and, yes, I've seen the documentaries about the favelas, but I seriously doubt that more than a very few people in Brazil don't get enough to eat. (Hell, I know people--I have relatives --in the States who don't make that much.) I imagine that the problem in Brazil is that the people's expectations haven't been met; they jumped ideologically from Marxism-syndicalism to free-market democracy in a bound and believed that democracy and capitalism would make them just as rich as the Americans. It hasn't happened yet. Things like this take a while.

So, anyway, Lula plans for a "peaceful and planned" agrarian reform, which sounds fishy to me. He stood up to the damn Yankees, saying that the Middle East crisis should be resolved "peacefully and through negotiations". He beat the patriotic drum, using language that would be laughed at by Europeans if it came out of an American mouth. He blasted what the anti-globos call "neoliberalism", saying, "Faced with the decline of a model that produced recession, unemployment, and hunger, of the failure of the culture of the individual and the hopelessness of the families, Brazilian society chose to change and made the change itself." Uh-oh. This kind of rhetoric tends to lead to large social-engineering projects. Lula is already faced with having to break two of his campaign promises; he can't raise the minimum wage or cut interest rates without touching off inflation. Let's see what he chooses. My hopes are not high, as two of the honored guests at the inaguration were Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez; Brazil is sending half a million barrels of gasoline to Chávez to help him deal with the Venezuelan strike. Way to go, Lula! That's what they call "strikebreaking" in union circles in America; it's the direct opposite of supporting the workers. I firmly believe that you can tell a man by the company he keeps, and Lula is cuddling up to dictators awfully fast. Prediction: He will be Brazil's Alan García. Brazil will suffer serious internal strife within a year or two, at least at the level of today's Argentina and possibly at the level of today's Venezuela.

One Carla Fibla has been sent to Baghdad by the Vangua as special correspondent. She has apparently been taken on the official Potemkin tour, you know, the one where they show you the infant formula factory and orphanage that the Americans blew up. She got some quotes. Said Yassid, "Saddam is like our father, our family, the leader for whom we will sacrifice our lives." Said Karim, "Bush is a coward...Saddam Hussein is the strongest leader, the best in the world.". Carla did point out that the journalists were allowed to talk to people on only one street, and said that "The official control of every word is constant, the inhabitants are observed by local authorities while they all agree on the same thing. The enemy is clear and the national attitude is unanimous." It also looks like Saddam set up a demonstration for the foreign journos. A thousand Iraqi kids with olive branches held a "peace march" while chanting slogans in favor of Saddam. Their teachers said that "They aren't afraid because they won't need anything while our president is with us" amd "Every Iraqi child knows what he has to do when war comes." There's a nice photo of the Iraqi kids, who have pretty clearly been indoctrinated into the Saddam Youth.

Mario Soares, Socialist ex-president of Portugal from 1986 to 1996, has a long, dull Vangua op-ed today with occasional bursts of America-bashing. He says that America is operating with "absolute indifference toward human rights and international law", and that the American "spirit of reprisal" is "the opposite of justice, international legality, and even a contradiction of common moral sense". He accuses America of wanting to carry out a "holy war" and says that that would be "the worst thing that could happen to us!" Soares calls Donald Rumsfeld "bellicose" and "threatening", "arrogant" and "imprudent". He accuses the Americans of treating their captives unjustly, and says that this is "a world like the one George Orwell described". And he finishes up by saying "Utopian alternatives may be the most realistic ones today."

The op-ed itself is a turgid mound of crap, poorly written and badly reasoned. And the brilliant Jean-François Revel would most distinctly tell the dull-normal Mario Soares to go to hell for having written this steaming pile of warmed-over socialist rhetoric that was dead and buried intellectually well over a century ago. This, my fellow Americans, is what European Socialists really believe. My vote is that we deal with European conservative and moderate leaders and let the Socialists understand that they are beyond the pale of respectability as far as we're concerned.

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