A mailer worth subscribing to: SACW - 30 April 2017 | Why they lynched Mashal Khan and Pehlu Khan / Patriotism of paranoia / Umbrella politics of Hindutva / 2016 World Defense Spending

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South Asia Citizens Wire - 30 April 2017 - No. 2935 [via South Asia Citizens Web]

1. Why they lynched Mashal Khan and Pehlu Khan | Pervez Hoodbhoy
2. 2017 US report on religious freedom says minorties & secular intelligentsia under attack
3. Sri Lanka: Memoirs of a Christian and a Socialist
4. The patriotism of paranoia | Ramachandra Guha
5. Video: ’Emphasize citizenship over narrow identities’ - Dipankar Gupta interview
6. India’s Growing Consensus | Achin Vanaik
7. India’s New Face | Hartosh Singh Bal
8. India: Press Statement by Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan (VVJVA) [A social movement opposed to displacement]
9. Video: Nationalism In Digital India - Who Defines and Who Decides | Dehradun Community Literature Festival 2017
10. India: The Conspiracy Behind Babri Mosque Demolition | Ram Puniyani
11. India: Umbrella politics of Hindutva | Apoorvanand
12. M.N. Roy Memorial Lecture: Free Speech, Nationalism and Sedition by Justice AP Shah (retired)
13. 2016 World Defense Spending Data Charts on Top Spenders
14. Recent on Communalism Watch:
 - Video: How the RSS poisons people's minds - Excerpt from Lalit Vachani's film "The Men in The Tree"
 - India: What has drawn women in the ‘right wing’ (Manu Joseph)
 - India: Hartosh Singh Bal Interviews D.N. Jha regarding his book 'Rethinking Hindu Identity' (2009)
 - India: Employers (public or private) should have no business asking personal information on citizen's caste or religion; Emplyess should refuse to give such data
 - Connecting the dots: The BJP, Hindutva and fringe organisations (Book Review) IANS April 26, 2017
 - En Inde aussi, l’extrême droite est en finale [In India too the Extreme Right is in the Final] (Guillaume Delacroix)
 - Wohin geht Indien? Rolf Bauer's Comment in Austrian Newspaper Wiener Zeitung
 - India: Ethics is the answer (Anand Patwardhan)
 - India: The chronicle of a visit to cow vigilante victim Pehlu Khan’s village (Harsh Mander)
 - Excerpt from 2017 Madhu Dandavate Memorial Lecture 'UP verdict: It’s impact on Indian Polity' by Saba Naqvi
 - India: Vigilantes Attack Cattle Transporters in South Delhi . . .
 - India: Just as in Kashmir, Policemen and institions of state are assaulted in UP -- by goons of BJP, Bajrang Dal, VHP and others from the Hindutva circuit
 - India: Supreme Court imparts some momentum to interminable Babri Masjid trial (Editorial, The Times of India, 21 April 2017)
 - India: UP under Adityanath - Hoardings asking Kashmiris to leave UP appear in Meerut (ANI)

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15. India: We have failed to protect ‘Idea of India’ - An open letter to all opposition parties | Manoj K Jha
16. Fear and loathing: Can India be prevented from becoming another Pakistan? | Kanti Bajpai
17. A vote for radicalism in Indonesia | John McBeth
18. Brazil Paralyzed by Nationwide Strike, Driven by a Familiar Global Dynamic of Elite Corruption and Impunity | Glenn Greenwald
19. #Vanlife, the Bohemian Social-Media Movement | Rachel Monroe

by Pervez Hoodbhoy
In recent times, backed by the formidable power of the state, Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan have vigorously injected religion into both politics and society. The result is their rapid re-tribalisation through ‘meme transmission’ of primal values. A concept invented by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, the meme is a ‘piece of thought’ transferrable from person to person by imitation. Like computer viruses, memes can jump from mind to mind.

In 2016, the frequency of violent and deadly attacks against religious minorities, secular bloggers, intellectuals, and foreigners by domestic and transnational extremist groups increased

A review by Dr. Devanesan Nesiah of a autobiography of Vijaya of Christian Workers Fellowship edited by Skantha Kumar and Marshal Fernando and published by the Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue

 Patriotism is a noble idea, that needs to be rescued from the vindictive bigots of the VHP and the sarkari apologists of Prasar Bharati. A self-aware, self-conscious and self-confident patriot would take just pride in the achievements this country has made in nurturing a democratic ethos and in reducing mass poverty, while being fully aware of the defects that still mar our republic

 Well known Indian journalist Bharat Bhushan interviews the sociologist Dipankar Gupta on the question of identity politics. A video by Catch News

In 2017 regional elections in India handed Modi’s BJP important new majorities.

7. INDIA’S NEW FACE | Hartosh Singh Bal
On a recent evening I was watching the video of a news feature a Hindi language television network broadcast about Yogi Adityanath, who was elected chief minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, last month. [ . . . ] Until he became chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Adityanath, 45, was primarily known as a firebrand Hindu leader who had created a volunteer force, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, or Vehicle for Hindu Youth, a group repeatedly accused of stoking and participating in religious violence.

The Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan (VVJVA) strongly condemns the home ministry’s move to suppress resistance against forced displacement and corporate land grab by terming peoples movements like Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti and VVJVA Jharkhand unit as Maoist party front organizations which must be crushed. This is a calculated strategy of the home ministry to create an atmosphere that will enable the repression of not just these movements but also many others who are putting up a strong resistance against the anti- people agenda of the corporate and the government.

Video recording of Kiran Nagarkar, Nandita Haksar, Harsh Mander and Nayantara Sahgal speaking about Nationalism in Digital India, moderated by Rana Ayyub at the Dehradun Community Literature Festival 2017, at WIC India Dehradun

by Ram Puniyani
After the long wait, the Supreme Court Chief Justice J.S. Khehar opined that long pending dispute of Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid should be settled out of court. (March 2017) He even offered to mediate himself in the matter. Uniformly most of the spokesperson from RSS Combine welcomed the move, while large number of Muslims and other elements have been surprised as the Court was approached for justice and not or compromise formula.
This is in the backdrop of the judgment of Lukhnow branch  (...)

by Apoorvanand
India is changing in significant ways. Marginalisation of Muslims, the largest minority in the country has often been discussed. It is getting more and more pronounced with successive elections.

Lecture by Justice A. P. Shah was delivered on the 19th April, 2017, at 5.30. PM at Speaker Hall, Constitution Club,Rafi Marg, New Delhi. The event was organised under the aegis of The Indian Renaissance Institute, New Delhi

Militiary spending figures about top spenders in 2016

 - Video: How the RSS poisons people's minds - Excerpt from Lalit Vachani's film "The Men in The Tree"
 - India: What has drawn women in the ‘right wing’ (Manu Joseph)
 - India: Hartosh Singh Bal Interviews D.N. Jha regarding his book 'Rethinking Hindu Identity' (2009)
 - India: Employers (public or private) should have no business asking personal information on citizen's caste or religion; Emplyess should refuse to give such data
 - Connecting the dots: The BJP, Hindutva and fringe organisations (Book Review) IANS April 26, 2017
 - En Inde aussi, l’extrême droite est en finale [In India too the Extreme Right is in the Final] (Guillaume Delacroix)
 - Wohin geht Indien? Rolf Bauer's Comment in Austrian Newspaper Wiener Zeitung
 - India: Ethics is the answer (Anand Patwardhan)
 - India: The chronicle of a visit to cow vigilante victim Pehlu Khan’s village (Harsh Mander)
 - Excerpt from 2017 Madhu Dandavate Memorial Lecture 'UP verdict: It’s impact on Indian Polity' by Saba Naqvi
 - India: Vigilantes Attack Cattle Transporters in South Delhi . . .
 - India: Just as in Kashmir, Policemen and institions of state are assaulted in UP -- by goons of BJP, Bajrang Dal, VHP and others from the Hindutva circuit
 - India: Supreme Court imparts some momentum to interminable Babri Masjid trial (Editorial, The Times of India, 21 April 2017)
 - India: UP under Adityanath - Hoardings asking Kashmiris to leave UP appear in Meerut (ANI)
 - From Destruction of Wombs to Liberators of Muslim Women: Politics of Hindutva (Irfan Engineer)
 -> available via: http://communalism.blogspot.com/

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(The Tribune - 31 March 2017) http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/we-have-failed-to-protect-idea-of-india/384680.html

People have not failed us. We have failed the people. What have we done, individually or as a collective, to protect this beautiful idea of India against the onslaught of the right-wing? The opposition parties must take politics to the people.

LET me convey at the outset that this letter was in the making irrespective of the outcome of the recent Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. It was in the offing because elections come and go every five years (or more frequently), but only at the cost of peril we can remain oblivious of everyday concerns of the social constituencies we are supposed to represent. Elections at any level — whether the Centre, state or for urban local bodies — shape the contours of democracy. But elections alone do not constitute the idea of democracy. There is much more to democracy and the associated ideas such as inclusion, representation and participation than simply making alliances, distributing tickets, campaigning, and contesting elections.

We have reduced our party organisations simply to mere election-fighting machines. Our social and political engagement with the people begins with the announcement of elections and it ends with the declaration of results. Core ideas which constitute the idea of India — freedom, liberty, social and economic justice, and secularism — gain currency during the elections but only as hollow buzzwords. An observer on a visit to India during elections may pay glowing tributes to our political culture but may not realise that our passionate engagement with these ideals gets over with the end of elections.

I hope not to sound like a cynic to your ears. All of you, including us, are used to living in a make-believe world. However, it is not pessimism which is driving me to share with you all what perturbs me — not only as the spokesperson of a political party which is committed to contest the might of right-wing authoritarianism  but also as a citizen of this great country. While the rot is spreading in these dark and difficult times, we are busy looking at the changed context with the old soiled lens. We need to introspect and at least for once take the blame for being passive in the face of right-wing propaganda, aided by some “Leni Riefenstahls” of the media. It denigrated the entire social justice plank as an undesirable instrument which promotes "mediocrity" at the cost of "merit."

In our slumber, we also failed to defend the vilification of secularism to such an extent that a sizeable number of our youth understands secular more as "sick-ular". We also need to reflect that when progressive intellectuals and academics were being presented as anti-national rowdies who wish to see India break into pieces, we did not communicate the issue better and take it to the people. Our engagements were confined and limited to a few public appearances at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jantar Mantar. So was the case with the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a bright Dalit student whose birth as well as death was a "fatal accident". What did we do apart from symbolic marches and candle-light protests at a few locations in Hyderabad and Delhi? Should we not have taken this case of "institutional murder" to every part of this country to highlight that a youth lost his life because of the oppressive and discriminatory structures?

Politics is a serious vocation and progressive politics has to be all the more earnest. This entails that your engagement with people and the issues affecting their lives cannot be an episodic phenomenon waiting for the declaration of the date of elections by the Election Commission of India. In spite of our avowed commitment to representative democracy and secularism, we have silently watched the "disenfranchisement" of certain minority communities and have practically avoided speaking about it, leave aside making it a broad level issue. Do we seriously ponder over the fact that instead of providing a robust and inclusive alternative vis-à-vis our principal opponent, we tend to become a hazy photocopy of the regime we are supposed to contest? Can we deny that we have developed our own comfort zones of studied silence and prefer not taking positions even about issues such as human rights violations, particularly if these are in Naxal areas, parts of the North-East and the Kashmir Valley?

Political parties are dynamic and living organisations of people. The people want us to be actively visible in their moments of despair, in their phases of distress. They seek us not always for solution but more often than not for solidarity. Have we done anything beyond hollow symbolism? I know it is very difficult to accept but please remember that people have not failed us rather we have failed the people. All of us, at least on the paper, are committed to the “Idea of India” but what have we done individually or as a collective to protect this beautiful idea against the onslaught of the rightwing?

I know almost all of us are active on social media — particularly on twitter — which demands you to encapsulate everything in 140 characters. I do not grudge this but we do need to acknowledge that the obsession of visibility on these platforms with the handful of characters is taking us away from the real-life characters and real-life issues. Did we even utter a word when significant numbers of civil society organisations were subjected to unprecedented arm-twisting and repressive tactics by the state? Most of these were fighting along with Dalit and tribal communities for their rights against the corporate-state nexus. Our silence only weakened and made these constituencies vulnerable. We conveniently failed to notice that less than 10 per cent of people cannot make decisions about the resource distribution of more than 90 per cent of people. Nearly two years ago the government released "trailer" of Socio-Economic Caste Consensus (SECC) data. It informed us of a reality we already knew, whether it was about daily-wage earners or homeless people or landlessness. How would we explain not pressing for the complete release in the public domain of this data which speaks about the dark side of the much-touted "New India"?

Ordinary citizens of this country are actually perplexed by this dangerous politics of tele-tubbies being played out every day in the news studios of the corporate media? We have allowed our "ideologies" to be museumised and have preferred to settle with the grand declaration of the end of ideology in politics. The list of our collective failure in reading peoples' mind and disappointing scale of our political impairment is growing longer by the day. My purpose was not to subject ourselves to superfluous self-humiliation but to sound an alarm as to the dangerous direction in which we are heading. These are indeed post-truth times, wherein a "manufactured belief" can assassinate truth and the celebrations that follow mock all notions of rationality. In these difficult times the least we can do is to acknowledge and understand the times we are in and do everything possible to take politics to people, because it belongs there only and nowhere else.

The writer is the National Spokesperson of the Rashtriya Janata Dal

(The Times of India - April 22, 2017)

The biggest challenge facing India is preventing a right wing takeover and stopping the country from becoming a Pakistan. The ambition of the alt right is to make India into a Hindu state, with goons, vigilantes, religious leaders and shadowy para-political organisations serving as shock troops. Unlike Pakistan, the right wing takeover here will not be through military rule but instead, as in Russia and Turkey, through cultural aggression, fake news, elections, majoritarian politics and constitutional engineering.

In the three years since the right came to power India has been marked by fear and loathing, in equal proportion, with no end in sight. Let’s recall the key incidents and developments since 2014 including religion-charged election campaigns (in UP most recently); ‘love jihad’ allegations against Muslim men; ‘ghar wapsi’ conversions; beef bans; killings of Muslims accused of eating, storing or transporting beef; murders of rationalists and intellectuals (Kalburgi, Pansare); attacks on art, literature and film (Jaipur Art Summit, Yogesh Master’s face blackening, violent campaigns against films such as PK and Padmavati); clashes on college and university campuses; arrests of students on sedition charges; and assaults on Indians from the northeast and on African students.

Against this, conservative friends argue that communal violence has declined during BJP rule. The data on communalism is always suspect, but allowing the assertion to be true, it bears saying that right wing forces are more violent in opposition and less so in power. Clearly, it is in their interest to staunch communal incidents when they rule and to encourage them when out of power.

In the end, a rightist takeover will occur not through communal violence and brute force but rather by elections and constitutional changes. The constitutional makeover would include establishment of an executive president, declaring India a Hindu state, abridging minority and other rights, giving special political status to Hindu sants, mahants and yogis, tampering with the national flag and abolishing the name India for the country. The takeover will come after a sustained campaign of micro-level, vigilante-led cultural assaults against minorities and liberals, reminiscent of Russia and Turkey.

Can a right wing takeover be stopped? The opposition parties could stand together, but given their fickleness and dislike of each other as much as of the ruling party, this is improbable. The judiciary might stop right wing authoritarianism, but its own social and political conservatism and quirkiness get in the way – its pronouncements on the national anthem show how unpredictable it can be.

Civil society groups might combine to uphold liberal freedoms, but government attacks on NGOs and the illiberalism of many of these organisations make them suspect in the struggle against authoritarianism.

Far more hope-inducing are the contradictions within the right – between BJP and RSS leaderships; between BJP and Shiv Sena ambitions; between extreme-right vigilante groups and those supporting at least a measure of due process; and, finally, between different centres of power within BJP – within the central party, and between the central command and state units.

Perhaps the biggest contradiction, though, will be between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Yogi Adityanath. Adityanath is a saffron-robed Modi – younger, harder and on the rise. He leads the biggest state in India and therefore has unrivalled mobilisational power. The prime minister must already be feeling the heavy breathing on his neck.

The contradictions within the right wing could lead to ‘outbidding’, with factions and leaders trying to surpass each other in extremist behaviour. This would take India even further to the right. Or the rivalries could disillusion the electorate and finally frighten the opposition into uniting. In any case, the next general elections will be pivotal. Not because the right wing and Modi will be defeated, but rather because the extent of internal fissures among rightist groups will be much clearer.

(Asia Times - April 20, 2017)

Jakarta's gubernatorial election result left Islamic conservatives cheered and defeated secularists worried about the future direction of the country

Former education minister Anies Baswedan pulled off a stunning victory over ethnic-Chinese Christian incumbent Basuki “Ahok” Purnama Jakarta’s highly anticipated gubernatorial election. The preliminary result left Islamic conservatives cheering and secularists wringing their hands over the future direction of the country.

Quick count results varied, with the respected Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC) putting Baswedan and running mate Sandiaga Uno well ahead by 58.5% to 41.9% and the Indonesia Survey Institute (LSI) scoring it 55.4% to 44.5%. Official results will be known on May 1.

Polls had the two candidates running neck-and-neck in a survey taken earlier this month, but in the end it wasn’t even close with Purnama going backwards from his 42.9%-40% win in the three-way, first round election in February.
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The polls, though, were correct in one aspect. In February, despite even more being satisfied with his performance as governor, 57% of capital city residents said they believed Purnama was guilty of the blasphemy charges brought against him last October. That is almost the same percentage of those who voted against him on Wednesday.

Indeed, the margin of Baswedan’s victory meant Purnama failed to pick up any of the votes of Agus Yudhoyono, son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who, like Baswedan, had built his campaign around Purnama’s ongoing blasphemy trial and the religious undercurrents that have intensified over the past four months.

A US-educated academician who has only turned to politics in the last three years, Baswedan, 47, had the political backing of former presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto’s Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) and the Sharia-based Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS), which form the parliamentary opposition.

He also had the support of two other individual heavy-hitters — one-time Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie, Uno’s business mentor, and Hary Tanoesoedibjo, an ethnic Chinese media and financial services tycoon who is partnering with US President Donald Trump in a swank Bali golf resort development.

Now the head of the newly-formed United Indonesia Party, Tanoesoedibjo has often said he has been inspired by Trump and may try to run for the Indonesian presidency. After watching the fate of Purnama, who is widely perceived to have performed well as Jakarta’s governor, he may now have second thoughts.

Baswedan’s margin of victory will raise new questions about Indonesia’s much-vaunted reputation for religious tolerance and, more importantly, how it might embolden hardline Islamic splinter groups who led the fight to convince fellow Muslims they should not vote for a non-Muslim leader.
Political analyst Marcus Mietzner says moderate Muslims, who would not have paid attention to Purnama’s allegedly blasphemous remarks, were successfully convinced by what he called a “relentless grassroots, mosque-based campaign” that the governor was unelectable.

“This victory is not simply about Anies..being backed by radicalism,” said Alissa Wahid, daughter of former president Abdurrahman Wahid, whose death in 2009 left Indonesia without a pluralist leader of any stature. “It is about radical groups becoming stronger and more convinced that pressure is useful and productive.”

General Tito Karnavian, president Joko Widodo’s hand-picked national police chief, banned all mass organizations from mobilizing members at the city’s 13,000 polling stations in a successful move to prevent radicals from carrying through with their threat to “monitor” the election.

The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a radical group, had earlier called on followers across Java to flood the capital, sparking fears of intimidation and a violent reaction to a possible Purnama victory. Whether that had an impact on the final showdown is not clear, but religion was a far more important factor than everyday issues.

In many ways, the problem with figuring out the mind of Indonesia’s silent majority is just that – it is silent. In this case, there may well have been concerns about the prospect of five years of street disturbances and a trial verdict that could have disqualified Purnama from assuming office anyway.
An election official counts ballots during the counting process after polls closed in the governor election in Jakarta, Indonesia April 19, 2017. REUTERS/Beawiharta - RTS12WWM
An election official counts ballots during the counting process after polls closed in the governor election in Jakarta, Indonesia April 19, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Beawiharta.

What may have also been forgotten is that the silent majority includes the under-privileged, many of whom lost their dwellings in Purnama’s tough-minded efforts to clear the banks of Jakarta’s rivers to prevent perennial flooding.

“The outcome of the election is quite odd to me, but I don’t have any evidence to think there was something funny going on,” said one electoral expert, pointing to results which show Purnama and running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat losing 1%-2% across almost every district of the capital.

That might have been expected earlier in the election campaign when a conservative Islamic coalition drew impressive 100,000-200,000 crowds to two anti-Purnama rallies in downtown Jakarta. But it was generally believed a moderate Muslim backlash in recent months had mitigated the effects of a hardline backlash.

Whether the same dynamics will be played out during the 2019 legislative and presidential elections is questionable. While there has been a Muslim revival since the dawn of the democratic era, Sharia-based parties have historically won only 12%-14% of the national vote. If that begins to shift, then it will signal something much bigger.

The election outcome will be worrying all the same for Widodo, whose ruling Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P) had supported Purnama’s re-election bid, but whose organizational frailties, which almost cost him the presidency in 2014, were not up to the task.

The prominent role PDI-P leader Megawati Sukarnoputri played in the campaign clearly made little difference to the governor’s chances and may convince the ex-president that now is the time to step down, as she has hinted in recent weeks.

Nor did former president Yudhoyono’s much-publicized visit to the presidential palace in February have any impact, even if some analysts thought the awkward tea-and-cakes reunion would persuade those who voted for his son to swing their support behind Purnama.

But Widodo can take some comfort from the fact that Jakarta’s importance as the nation’s capital and major commercial center counts for little in national elections when personal popularity is everything – and so are the votes from his birthplace in the populous Java hinterland where the self-effacing president is apparently as popular as ever.

(The Intercept - April 28, 2017)

Just over one year ago, Brazil’s elected President, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached – ostensibly due to budgetary lawbreaking – and replaced with her centrist Vice President, Michel Temer. Since then, virtually every aspect of the nation’s political and economic crisis – especially corruption – has worsened.

Temer’s approval ratings have collapsed to single digits. His closest political allies – the same officials who engineered Dilma’s impeachment and installed him in the presidency – recently became the official targets of a sprawling criminal investigation. The President himself has been implicated by new revelations, saved only by the legal immunity he enjoys. It’s almost impossible to imagine a presidency imploding more completely and rapidly than the unelected one imposed by elites on the Brazilian population in the wake of Dilma’s impeachment.

The disgust validly generated by all of these failures finally exploded this week. A nationwide strike, and tumultuous protests in numerous cities, today has paralyzed much of the country, shutting roads, airports and schools. It is the largest strike to hit Brazil in at least two decades. The protests were largely peaceful, but some random violence emerged.

The proximate cause of the anger is a set of “reforms” that the Temer government is ushering in that will limit the rights of workers, raise their retirement age by several years, and cut various pension and social security benefits. These austerity measures are being imposed at a time of great suffering, with the unemployment rate rising dramatically and social improvements of the last decade, which raised millions of people out of poverty, unravelling. As the New York Times put it today: “The strike revealed deep fissures in Brazilian society over Mr. Temer’s government and its policies.”

But the actual cause is broader, and it is one familiar far beyond Brazil. During the past three years, Brazilians have been subjected to one revelation after the next of extreme corruption pervading the country’s political and economic class.

Scores of corporate executives and long-time party leaders are imprisoned. They include the head of the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, the House Speaker who presided over Dilma’s impeachment, and the former governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro. The current House Speaker, and Senate President, and nine of Temer’s ministers are now targets of criminal investigations for bribery and money laundering, as are numerous governors.

Photo: Erick Dau/The Intercept Brasil

In sum, the vast bulk of the top-shelf political and economic elite have proven to be radically corrupt. Billions upon billions of dollars have been stolen from the Brazilian public. Recently released recordings from the judicial confessions of Marcelo Odebrecht, scion of one of Brazil’s richest families, depict a country ruled almost entirely through bribes and criminality, regardless of the ideology or party of political leaders.

And yet, even in the wake of this oozing and incomparable elite corruption, the price that is being paid falls overwhelmingly on the victims – ordinary Brazilians – while the culprits prosper. The same Brazilian politicians implicated in this criminal enterprise continue to reign in Brasília, as they enjoy virtual immunity from the law. Worse, they continue to exempt themselves from the austerity they impose on everyone else.

Imagine being a Brazilian laborer, working in poverty, spending years listening to stories about how corporate executives bribed political officials with millions of dollars in order to corruptly win state contracts – bribes that these elected officials used for yachts and luxury cars and European shopping sprees – only to then be told that there is no money for your retirement or pension and that you must work years longer, with fewer benefits, to save the country. That’s the tale which Brazilian citizens are being fed. The only mystifying aspect is that these types of protests have taken this long to erupt.

But this moral perversion – in which ordinary victims uniquely bear the burden for elite crimes –  is familiar to citizens far away from Brazil. Indeed, one of the prime authors of Brazil’s economic suffering – the 2008 economic crisis caused by Wall Street – pioneered this odious formula.

The reckless tycoons and sociopathic financial wizards responsible for that 2008 economic collapse paid virtually no price for the harm they caused. To this day, none of them has been prosecuted for the financial chicanery that spawned it. Worse, the U.S. Government quickly acted to protect the interests of the culprits – bailing them out with public funds, protecting them from nationalization or break-up, preserving their ability to plunder with little risk to themselves.

Photo: Erick Dau/The Intercept Brasil

At the same time, the victims of this recklessness – ordinary Americans – were forced to bear the full brunt of the fallout. Millions faced foreclosure, unemployment, and general economic suffering with little to no help from the U.S. government, which was busy protecting those responsible. Above all else, it was this inequity that spawned protest movements from Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, and arguably laid the groundwork of resentment and a collapse of trust that gave rise to the Trump presidency.

This week’s controversy over Barack Obama’s $400,000 payday from a Wall Street firm for a single speech resonated not because it suggested he had acted illegally or even unethically. Rather, it symbolized, in a particularly glaring manner, the oligarchical character of U.S. political culture: the same president who repeatedly acted to protect the financial industry after it wrecked the global economy, and who shielded its leaders from criminal prosecution, was being lavished with the rewards.

Across Europe, the same dynamic prevails. Angry voters in the U.K. ratified Brexit, while once-liberal populations in western Europe are alarmingly open to über-nationalist and xenophobic parties. Much of this, too, is driven by the often-valid belief that elite institutions are completely indifferent to their deprivation and suffering, and repeatedly act only to advance the interests of a small group of economically and politically powerful actors at the expense of everyone else. Of course that belief is going to trigger instability, and resentment, and collective rage.

The austerity and deprivation now being imposed on ordinary Brazilians is not ancillary or unanticipated. To the contrary, it was the primary objective, the central aim, of the impeachment last year of the country’s president.

The left-wing party that ruled Brazil since 2002 (the Workers’ Party: PT) became increasingly neoliberal and accommodating to the country’s oligarchical class, often at the expense of its own base of union members and the working poor. Even the party’s two leaders – Lula and Dilma – began advocating the necessity of austerity measures. That, at least in part, explains why the party’s own base began abandoning it, leading to a drop in Dilma’s support sufficient to permit impeachment.

But Dilma was willing to go only so far with austerity – not as far as Brazilian elites wanted. In a moment of rare and uncharacteristic candor, her replacement, Michel Temer, admitted to a group of hedge fund mangers and foreign policy elites in New York last September that Dilma’s refusal to accept more severe austerity was one of the real reasons for her impeachment (the other real reason was revealed in a tape recording of Temer’s closest political ally, Senator Romero Jucá: to stop the ongoing corruption investigation before it consumed impeachment advocates).

In other words, Brazilian elites – having plundered the country to the point where it was close to collapse – decided that the only viable solution was to force the country’s already-suffering population of workers and the unemployed poor to suffer further, by taking from them the meager protections and safety net they enjoyed. They engineered the cataclysmic impeachment of the country’s president to achieve this.

Dilma’s replacement – the classic, pliable mediocrity that he is – was given one overarching task: to impose harsh austerity even if it meant becoming the target of widespread public hatred. The 75-year-old career politician – literally banned from running for office for 8 years due to his violation of election laws – had no intention or prospect to run again, so he happily agreed to perform his assigned duties in exchange for being given the mantle of power that he could never have earned on his own.

So that’s the tawdry spectacle of elite corruption, elite impunity and mass suffering driving today’s nationwide protest. Just as it did in the U.S. and Europe, this flagrant inequity is threatening to fuel a far-right, revanchist-nationalist movement in Brazil: one that actually makes its American and European counterparts pale in comparison when it comes to menacing extremism. The collapse of trust in the entire political class has created a genuinely frightening opening in the 2018 presidential contest for the far-right evangelical Congressman Jair Bolsonaro, who longs for the restoration of a military dictatorship, praises torturers as patriotic heroes, and routinely channels fascist rhetoric on a wide range of issues.

What’s most baffling about all of this is that no matter how many times global elites see the rotted fruit of their piggish behavior – instability, extremism and collective rejection of their own authority – they continue to pursue it, seemingly inured to the consequences. Brazil is just the latest example, but it should be a familiar one to people across the planet.

by Rachel Monroe
(The New Yorker - April 24, 2017 Issue

American Chronicles

What began as an attempt at a simpler life quickly became a life-style brand.

Like the best marketing terms, “vanlife” is both highly specific and expansive.Photograph by Jeff Minton for The New Yorker

Emily King and Corey Smith had been dating for five months when they took a trip to Central America, in February, 2012. At a surf resort in Nicaragua, Smith helped a lanky American named Foster Huntington repair the dings in his board. When the waves were choppy, the three congregated in the resort’s hammock zone, where the Wi-Fi signal was strongest. One afternoon, Huntington listened to the couple have a small argument. Something about their fond irritation made him think that they’d be suited to spending long periods of time together in a confined space. “You guys would be great in a van,” he told them.

The year before, Huntington had given up his apartment in New York and his job as a designer at Ralph Lauren, and moved into a 1987 Volkswagen Syncro. He spent his days surfing, exploring, and taking pictures of his van parked in picturesque locations along the California coast. It was the early days of Instagram, and, over time, Huntington accumulated more than a million followers. He represented a new kind of social-media celebrity, someone famous not for starring in movies or recording hit songs but for documenting an enviable life. “My inspiration,” went a typical comment on one of his posts. “God I wish my life was that free and easy and amazing.” Huntington tagged his posts with phrases like #homeiswhereyouparkit and #livesimply, but the tag he used most often was #vanlife.

King and Smith left Nicaragua for Costa Rica, but the idea of the van stuck with them. King, a telegenic former business student, had quit her job at a Sotheby’s branch when she realized that she was unhappy. Smith, a competitive mountain biker and the manager of a kayak store, had never had a traditional office job. They figured they could live cheaply in a van while placing what they loved—travelling, surfing, mountain biking—at the center of their lives. When King found out that she’d been hired for a Web-development job that didn’t require her presence in an office, it suddenly seemed feasible.

King and Smith, who are thirty-two and thirty-one, respectively, had grown up watching “Saturday Night Live” sketches in which a sweaty, frantic Chris Farley character ranted, “I am thirty-five years old, I am divorced, and I live in a van down by the river!” But, the way Huntington described it, living in a vehicle sounded not pathetic but romantic. “I remember coming home and telling my mom, ‘I have something to tell you,’ ” King said. “She thought I was going to say we were getting married or having a baby. But I said, ‘We’re going to live in a van.’ ”

Huntington’s vanlife hashtag was a joking reference to Tupac’s “thug life” tattoo. “You know, it’s not thug life—it’s van life!” he told me. Six years later, more than 1.2 million Instagram posts have been tagged #vanlife. In 2013, Huntington used Kickstarter to fund “Home Is Where You Park It,” a sixty-five-dollar book of his vanlife photographs, which is now in its fourth printing. In October, Black Dog & Leventhal will publish his second book on the topic, “Van Life.”

Scroll through the images tagged #vanlife on Instagram and you’ll see plenty of photos that don’t have much to do with vehicles: starry skies, campfires, women in leggings doing yoga by the ocean. Like the best marketing terms, “vanlife” is both highly specific and expansive. It’s a one-word life-style signifier that has come to evoke a number of contemporary trends: a renewed interest in the American road trip, a culture of hippie-inflected outdoorsiness, and a life free from the tyranny of a nine-to-five office job.

Vanlife is an aesthetic and a mentality and, people kept telling me, a “movement.” S. Lucas Valdes, the owner of the California-based company GoWesty, a prominent seller of Volkswagen-van parts, compared vanlife today to surfing a couple of decades ago. “So many people identify with the culture, the attire, the mind-set of surfers, but probably only about ten per cent of them surf,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to tap into.”

“You could buy these vans ten years ago for pennies on the dollar,” Harley Sitner, the owner of Peace Vans, a Volkswagen-van repair and rental shop in Seattle, told me. Sitner, who is forty-nine, said that his generation’s adventurous rite of passage was more along the lines of “backpacking through Southeast Asia, eating mushrooms on a beach in Thailand.” Around five years ago, he began to notice that young people were increasingly interested in old VW vans. “It’s men in their thirties with huge beards, and they’re pretty much all stay-at-home dads,” he said. “Their wives work office jobs and they work on the vans so the family can go out and vanlife on the weekend.” [. . .]

FULL TEXT HERE: https://tinyurl.com/m5x56lk

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