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Brazil: how does the left continue to be re-elected?

As expected, the Presidential election result was the closest since the end of the dicatorship (Dilma Rousseff 51.64%, Aécio Neves 48.36%). What does it mean for the leftist governments in the rest of Latin America, and for democratic progressive projects in general?

First of all, we need to understand a little of the history of the Brazilian Workers' Party (PT), so Ill sketch it very briefly. As a new party formed under the US-backed dictatorship, the PT was always committed to parliamentary or liberal democracy. These very limited democratic credentials were however enriched by direct, devolved democracy where the Workers Party had local power, principally in the form of the Participatory Budget, a parallel democratic system for the distribution and spending of local government money on capital projects. In a country rife with corruption, where half of state budgets never reached their intended destination, this was vital grassroots control, and made inroads into Brazil's clientelist system ("vote for me, I tarmac your road" - not roads in general in the municipality, but the one outside your door!). After losing three elections to neo-liberal, right-wing opposition, the PT conducted a semi-secret internal coup in the late 1990s, where the people around presidential candidate Luis Inacio Lula da Silva jettisoned the more radical policies, arriving in government in 2003 with a policy to pay off the external debt rather than cancel it. The PT now had no commitment to extending participatory democracy, its unique radical feature, on a national scale. The results of playing the neo-liberal economic game were impressive, with strong economic growth able to weather the storms of the global recession of 2008. Socialist, grassroots empowerment was replaced by welfarism - the Bolsa Familia (Family Benefit) for the poorest seemingly making the Workers Party impregnable in the north and north-east.

It also enabled the party to reach out beyond its traditional base of the organised working class, which only gave them a chance of 25-30% of the electorate, to the poorest sectors - those who traditionally often "sold" their vote for $10, a T-shirt or a pair of glasses. Through this reaching down to, and providing for, the poorer and less organised, the PT could win a landslide majority. Partly because of welfare, the poorest now vote repeatedly for a Workers Party President. This is presented starkly in the extraordinary geographical split in the 2014 election results: red in the poor north and north-east, and blue in the richer south. Actually, a first glance at the map does not reflect how extreme the division was: Dilma won no less than 79% of the votes in impoverished Maranhão, and 70% in somewhat richer Bahia, while Aécio won landslides of 65% in Santa Catarina and 64% in São Paulo state. There was also a huge division between richer urban and poorer rural areas within states. There were only three states (out of 27) where Dilma gained a higher percentage in the state capital than in the state as a whole (Espirito Santo, Rondônia, and São Paulo). In other words, people in the countryside voted more left, and people in the cities more right (the stats are here). So much for the Workers Party's roots in the industrial proletariat! (Lula was a metal-worker trade union leader). A barometer of Aécio Neves' defeat was his loss in his home state of Minas Gerais, where he was previously a two-term governor, but while he only took 47.6% in the state as a whole, he took 64% in state capital Belo Horizonte. 

So here we have two expressions of the "two Brazils": rural/urban, and north/south. There is a further split down the nation as campaigned on by Dilma with the support of the hugely popular Lula. Impressively, the PT constantly emphasised that there were two models of society in contention. Compare the dismal campaign to be run by the British Labour Party under Ed Miliband next year - exactly the same model, perhaps a little bit nicer, a conflict between managers of the same system. In some ways, during their campaign, Dilma and Lula sounded more radical than they were in government.

The 50/50 voting split between poor and middle-class should concern those of us who support the successes of the Latin American left in the last 15 years. Evo Morales in Bolivia won a landslide 60% two weeks previously, but Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela only won by a measly 1.5% in April 2013.  As Michael Albert writes so thoughtfully about the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, before the recent high inflation and shortages, why were the electoral victories not more like 80%, capturing the votes of many middle-class as well as inhabitants of the favela? In the UK as well as Brazil, there is much disaffection among the reasonably waged that the poor are receiving "something-for-nothing" via social security. Among the Brazilian middle-class, the Bolsa Familia is known derisively as the bolsa-esmola, the beggars' benefit. This is where the lack of socially-transformative direct democracy in the PT's adminstrations may be damaging, the absence of a community empowerment which is not purely economic, and is not merely passive, something which could potentially involve the lower-middle and middle class. Looking at Venezuela, Chavez' governments made central the development of parallel, devolved democracy, without which, with the economic problems that Venezuela now faces, the government of Nicolas Maduro would be heading for certain defeat. But coming back to Michael Albert's critique, how is that playing out? In the favelas, communal councils are still growing and in many places thriving, but the real test of them is whether they draw people in in wealthier, opposition-backing areas, and whether the cadres of the Bolivarian revolution have any real enthusiasm for trying to roll that out.

Having fought with an anti-neo-liberal banner, and won, Dilma Rousseff has started to make conciliatory noises towards the middle class. Exactly how this develops is crucial for the future of progressive government in Latin America.

 

Who will win Brazil's second round?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scottish referendum a "lose, lose" for Labour

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

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

Review of our Film of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

England cricket team's secrets revealed

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

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

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

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

Political satire is obsolete - yet again

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

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

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

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

POST-SCRIPT September 3 2014

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

PPS: November 21 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why Maria Miller should not have resigned

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

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

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

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

 

Venezuela and the politics of Twitter

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

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

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

Feb 14

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

Film Club Review 2013

For the last four years, I have run a film club where we programme the kinds of movies we might not otherwise "find the time for". The screening is usually a double bill, every fortnight. When we started, my fear was that we might run out of unseen quality films quite quickly, and become stuck in some sort of mediocre world cinema back-catalogue. This has resoundingly not been the case, and there are now a vast range of films champing to get into our Sunday nights. Below I've listed all the films from 2013 that I can remember. Last year was unusual in having a larger than normal number of contemporary films, owing partly to a friend bringing a preview selection from the Brussels Film Festival. A particular revelation was Carl Theodor Dreyer's silent classic as part of a "Joan of Arc" night. On my wish-list for 2014: more films from Communist-era Eastern Europe (might sound dull, but the almost unknown films from the Czech and Hungarian New Waves are extraordinary), more documentary, more Tarkovsky, more silents, more Chinese 5th and 6th generation, plus creepy David Cronenberg.....

(I will add review comments as and when...)

2013 SCREENINGS

Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013) - Kechiche

I loved the almost Wagnerian intensity of this film, about all-engulfing "first love" such as you very rarely see depicted on film. The subsequent controversy around it I found essentially uninteresting (the supposedly "male gaze" in the sex scenes), though we did watch "Lesbians react...." on YouTube, which was quite entertaining and insightful. I agree with one of the women there, that the long sex scene is a kind of recipe book of love-making, and about as interesting.

Joan of Arc - Melies (1900) / The Trial of Joan of Arc (1963) - Bresson / The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) - Dreyer

We moved from Melies hand-tinted frames, through Bresson's typically austere offering to Dreyer's extraordinary photography, full of intense close-ups, rendering the most expensive film set ever in Europe at the time almost redundant. One observation: the marvellous tracking shots - never say silent movies were static!

The Pervert's Guide to the Cinema (2006) - Sophie Fiennes

"Cinema teaches us how to desire" says Slavoj Zizek in 3 parts. Favourite moments: Zizek in Melanie's rowing boat in "The Birds": "You know what I want to do? I want to fuck Mitch!" - Zizek on "The Matrix: "I want another pill!" - Zizek on "Vertigo": "For Scotty, the only good woman is a dead woman." And his commentary on the hotel room kiss tracking shot, where the coordinates of Scotty's fantasy are finally aligned. Is this the greatest scene in cinema. I modestly ask?

To Live (1994) - Zhang Yimou / Lan Yu (2001) - Stanley Kwan

Zhang Yimou's film gives more insight into recent Chinese history than any number of Jung-Chang-style demolition biographies. Stanley Kwan's film is more interesting for its subject matter - the taboo subject of gay life in  China - than for its style.

The Secret of the Grain (2007) - Kechiche

Kechiche's film-making is so intense. This film has mesmerising scenes, burning close-ups and terrific acting to tell this story about a Tunisian family trying to establish a boat restaurant despite bureacratic hurdles and the family's dysfunctions haunting it.

L'Avventura / La Notte / L'Eclisse (1960-62) - Antonioni

Beyond the Hills (2012) / 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) - Cristian Mungiu

Festen (1998) / The Hunt (2012) - Vinterberg

Losing Your Mind (A Perdre La Raison) (2012) - Joachim LaFosse

Cyclo (1995) - Tranh An Hung

Die Welt (2013) - Alex Pitsra

Viva Belarus! (2013) - Krzysztof Lukaszewicz / Alphaville (1965) - Godard

Baby Blues (2013) - Kasia Rosłaniec

The White Ribbon (2009) - Haneke / Lancelot du Lac (1974) - Bresson

Blackboards (2000) - Samira Makhmalbaf

East Palace, West Palace (1996) - Zhang Yuan / Poetry (2010) - Lee Chang-Dong

Thousands of Venezuelan pro-government twitter accounts deleted

Around 7,000 Venezuelan Twitter accounts were deleted yesterday, including those of an elected state governor, three cabinet ministers, a radio station, a revolutionary daily newspaper, and the official accounts of ministries and other institutions. They all appear to have been pro-government accounts, and none of them of the opposition.

Twitter has been an effective means of communication for supporters of the Bolivarian revolution, since late President Hugo Chavez opened an account in 2010 and reached 4 million followers, making his the second most popular account globally for a political leader, after Barack Obama's.

This appears to have been a coordinated, politically-motivated attack, but we don't know yet how it happened. Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler has flatly refused to comment.

There are basically three ways it could have occurred. Large-scale coordinated hacking and deletion of accounts by opposition supporters is a possibility. It could also be that a similar campaign of reporting accounts for spam triggered an algorithm in Twitter which automatically blocked the accounts (I'm being generous to Twiiter here!). Thirdly, and less likely in my opinion, it could be something much more sinister involving Twitter and for instance US Intelligence agencies.

As of this afternoon, some 50 accounts have been restored by Twitter, including those of Governor Aristobal Isturiz, which has 332,000 followers, and of Communications Minister Delcy Rodriguez. However most accounts have not been restored, for instance of Minister of the President's Office Wilmer Barrientos and of the Women's Ministry and the Bolivarian University of Venezuela.

It is important to set this attack in social and historical context. After opposition candidate Henrique Capriles came close to winning the Presidential election last April, focus has shifted to the local elections coming on December 8th. Both the Venezuelan opposition and their supporters in the US State Department know that a good showing for the opposition would help build support for a referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro in 2016. Dirty tricks to derail the Venezuelan government now abound, principally in the form of economic sabotage, creating shortages in shops which the government is battling to combat. Some commentators therefore think the Twitter attack could be a trial for a much bigger taking-out of Bolivarian social media nearer the elections.

The corporate media at home and abroad play a crucial role in this destabilisation. The UK-based Economist had to print a letter from the Venezuelan Embassy in London refuting two erroneous articles on freedom of the press. The standard line, though, is of economic woes, though all social statistics disprove this absolutely. We can all do a bit to refute media distortions. Only last night I corrected the Bloomberg correspondent in Caracas Nathan Crooks (@nmcrooks), who had spouted an egregious error about the minimum wage. Distortion or carelessness? It's impossible to know, though in response he merely repeated the error. But the media lies about Venezuela, including in so-called liberal newspapers, are so blanket that they come to appear like the truth. Journalists don't expect to get called out, so we should.

The Venezuelan government has officially complained to Twitter, and although a few accounts have been restored, is yet to receive a reply. If Twitter PR Nu Wexler maintains this silence, and thousands of accounts remain suspended, it may be appropriate to observe that in his resume he has been in and out of the revolving doors of Capitol Hill, including time as the Communications Director for the House Budget Committee. I'm not suggesting anything nefarious, merely that he is part of a political elite which regards anything Bolivarian as bad. For that Washington 1%, gross interference in Venezuela's democracy, including its social media, is legitimate.

First of all, liberate your computer

There are two types of computer user. There are wised-up geeks who use open source software, type command lines like it's in their blood, and talk a completely different, totally inaccessible language from the other type of user, who they mainly consider to be losers. This other user may have bought their computer on the recommendation of the guy in PC World, who also tried to sell them support for two years at a special price of 12.99 a month. They then try to run it with the pre-packaged closed-source trash-ware it comes with - the kind of software that wants to control you more than you controlling it. Some of these second type of users have bought a Mac, because, as proven by the fact that it's eye-wateringly expensive, it simply works. Except when they get it home they realize it doesn't.

A friend of mine, despite being a smart and creative person doing a master's in London, was a "loser user". When trying to download a torrent on her Mac through the official search engine Safari, she was getting a .exe file (don't ask me why). When she tried to play videos, she found most of them would not through the proprietary Quicktime player. The solution? To start to liberate her machine - use open source Firefox or closed-source, but more functional, Google Chrome as browser. Bingo, torrent files downloading films in Transmission. Use vlc as media player. Same result, every video file playing. As for Windows users, my reply is simple, but a bit more radical: "I won't fix your broken Windows computer, but I will help you install Ubuntu on it." Nobody I have done this for has ever felt the need to web-surf on Windows again.

My point here is this. Let's close the gap between the smart geeks, who would find my advice crass and obvious, and the general users, who are victims of corporate software and the enclosure of the internet, and who react with joy and relief when they start to liberate themselves just a little bit. Let's begin by helping them to install and use some really basic stuff, and take the opportunity to explain about open source and the open internet.

It's time the National Trust responded on #Fracking

Following up on George Monbiot's article on the National Trust's policy on fracking, it's time they answered two simple questions:

1. Has the National Trust's "presumption against fracking" announced in August changed since Dame Helen Ghosh's statement?

2. If it has changed, have the National Trust's members been informed?

The fastest video news in the East

My 8-year-old son Xav does art reviews around the preview nights of the galleries of East London. This might sound precocious, but initally this was a cunning plot for me to be able to see the new art while with someone who prefers to sit at home playing DS, making something quite boring for him a bit more fun. But it has become a project with a life of its own.

The reason i'm writing about this small activity now is to show how it illustrates the potential of rapid-turnaround citizen media.  We went out last Thursday night to see a one-night only show at our local venue, the Doomed Gallery in Dalston. We arrived about 9pm, made three takes with our smartphone one-shot template (the audio failed on the first two - using smartphones with external microphones is challenging!). Then we went home and uploaded.

 

Then we tweeted and social media-ed, and this "one night only" event was publicised before it finished.

For more info on visionOntv's citizen journalism templates, go to http://visionon.tv/produce

 

How to talk to a climate change denier

Now the IPCC predicts a rise of between 1 to 6 degrees in our childrens' lifetime, and the fossil fuels industry has primed the media with lies about it, it's time to talk to Uncle Bob....

#Balcombe latest!

 

Local protester Rob occupies a fracking works truck at Balcombe, West Sussex. Hear his reasons for his acrtions below.

Rob D-locked himself to the truck, causing a four-hour road blockade outside the Cuadrilla fracking site. 30-40 police surrounded him, but for a long time only managed to capture a shoe.

Fellow community protectors have sent Rob bust cards (useful advice if he gets arrested) by small helicopter (video to follow).

Latest report and photos by visionOntv's Hamish Campbell.

Prior to his action, Rob gave two interviews to visionOntv's reporters Richard Hering and D Murphy, here and here.

Get all the latest video news about fracking protest: http://grassroots.visionon.tv/fracking

Reclaim the Media at Reclaim the Power

Get trained in smartphone video in Balcombe this weekend, with our unique templates.

We will be running a solar-powered media space at the action camp in Balcombe, West Sussex as part of Reclaim the Power! this weekend. And we will be there during the actions which follow (19-20 August).

Bring your smartphone and learn how to make rapid-turnaround video news, with interviews and everything. Get ahead of the traditional media, and tell your own story.

Call in for tea and ask us anything techie or whatever else about video news reporting on your smartphone.

Embed the FRACK OFF video player on your site or blog.

A previous visionOntv solar-powered TV studio at the Camp for Climate Action.

And finally, a really cute picture from the Balcombe camp.....

Make your own power! Be your own media!

(Photos by @HamishCampbell)

 

The BBC's racism and what to do about it

Another outstanding example from the Radio 4's Today programme this morning. A minor politician had made an overtly racist remark in an effort to gain primetime publicity for his extreme right-wing politics, and the presenter of the BBC's "flagship" morning news show spluttered the voice of white privilege: ""No one here finds it offensive. I found it quite amusing."

Conclusions? Much twitter outrage is directed at the self-publicising politician, a delight for that disgusting person. Surely instead we should be focussed on the media cheerleaders. The BBC tacks ever more to the right since the Conservatives took power. Star presenter of the Today programme John Humphrys recently made a programme which so grotesquely misrepresented benefit claimants that his piss-poor Daily-Mail-style journalism was condemned by his own corporation's Trust. The lesson of this for BBC monitors should not be that complaints work. Instead this reporter is seen by the BBC as the perfect "safe pair of hands" in the current times

So our outrage should not be focussed on "reforming" the corporate media, which is impossible. Instead, we should be devoting our social media energy towards promoting real, quality alternatives to their counter-factual right-wing bigotry. Can we do that, please?

The Road to Freedom with Open Source

Finally I'm completely liberated from Windows and Mac.

For a while now, I've been running a "dual boot" Windows 7/Ubuntu machine. Open programmes on the Linux OS were able to match or better any pricey software made for Bill Gates' system. And Windows insisted on treating me like a child. I mean, how the fuck does Windows 7 have the right to disable my sound card from recording audio streams?  Open source software was as good or better for everything, that is, apart from one solitary activity: video editing. My reliance on the professional features of Adobe Premiere was the final thread tying me to the dark world of monopoly-capitalist control. The open source editors were never quite up to snuff.

But then I discovered Kdenlive.

Powerful, intuitive, with a host of professional features, Kdenlive straight away passes the most fundamental of tests - import and export. Its compression of Full HD mobile phone footage was both high quality and fast. It has its idiosyncracies, but so do Premiere and Final Cut Pro, as any long-suffering user will agree. Editing with cut-aways, the basis of reportage, is integral rather than an awkward and reluctant add-on, as in iMovie and MovieMaker. A very useful feature is the ability to edit Full HD at lower resolution, then export the movie at full spec.

Never having tried it before, I had a tight deadline for a news report about the struggles in Turkey (see below).

As you can hear, I didn't have time yet to master the audio mixing, but such pro features seem to be as easy as on the closed software. And there's a great guide by Mick Fuzz for FLOSS Manuals.

So bye bye Mr Gates. Being infantilised by you and Steve Jobs hasn't been fun, and now I can enjoy my adulthood as part of a massively helpful community. Plus it's free of charge (though they really deserve a donation).

Finally a suggestion, in full "cyber-utopian" vein. Isn't the victory of open tools actually inevitable? (Think Linux, Open Office, etc). And are they not vital in the fight against the most serious threat to our freedom and our creativity, the corporate enclosure of the internet?

Latest from Istanbul protest: "Reclaiming the park made people feel very strong"

An eye-witness account from Taksim/Gezi Park, Istanbul

I received this report this morning from a friend:

"It was like hell in here. I was not able to go home tonight, I came to a friend of mine for the night.
We are very tired and it seems that the conflicts will continue tomorrow as well, so we want to be ready for it.
But I can summarize it like this: the attitude of the police is very brutal. They almost try to kill us. Today they used a different gas, which is claimed to be agent orange (banned by UN). It makes you vomit the second you inhale it. But the resistance is unbelievable. Nobody expected it. There is a great solidarity. For example yesterday I lost my friends when the police sent gas bombs to us, just in the beginning of the protest. I was alone almost all night long. I panicked at the beginning, but after a while you realize that it doesnt matter, because everybody is helping everybody out. You know that you are not alone, even if you dont know a single person around you. Today there happened a massive march towards Taksim and the police left the park and the square. Not only socialists, but everybody was there. Those groups that you wouldnt believe they could stand side by side walked to Taksim alltogether. It is not about Taksim or Gezi Park anymore. People had enough with the government. Reclaiming the park and the square today was amazing. You should have seen the atmosphere. I cannot describe it. We were just like some very excited primary school kids. People are very confident right now. We were there all night long and it was not just a protest anymore. People occupied it. Everybody is saying the same thing today: from then on, the government will not be able to do anything that easily. Reclaiming the park made people feel very strong. Right now there are still people there who will stay there till morning in case the police attacks in the morning. But today the police was very brutal in Besiktas. There are many wounded people. We tried to go there to help people but it was impossible to reach there. We saw some videos which showed the police attacking even the houses as people let the protestors in. Now they say that Besiktas is calmer. People went back to Taksim to protect the square from the police. We will rest tonight as it was exhausting for us to be in the streets for 4 days. We want to be ready for tomorrow, as it is clear that the conflicts will not end today.


You can follow the latest pictures from here:
http://occupygezipics.tumblr.
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