Why A Tainted Lula Could Be Back As Brazil President

Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was detained as part of a widespread corruption scandal at state oil giant Petrobras. But the probe could actually prove to be the spark to help him succeed Dilma Rousseff.

Lula last April
Lula last April
Clóvis Rossi


SAO PAULO â€" A slew of reactions has followed Friday's detention and questioning by police of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, as part of a long-running investigation into corruption at state oil giant Petrobras.

For starters, officials from the country's Workers' Party, which Lula helped to found, said they suspected the police action was a pre-emptive strike against the party's probable candidate for the 2018 presidential election. And this speculation isn't entirely baseless.

Jude Webber wrote in the Financial Times that recent signs that Lula was interested in running for president again would now seem "dead and buried" in the face of the corruption probe.

Sorry, but I disagree. The latest poll from the Datafolha institute shows that Lula has 20% support among voters a full two years out, which is an excellent starting point for a potential candidate, especially one who has been dogged for months by accusations. As a matter of fact, Lula himself seems to hold the same view. "I won't bow my head," he said from the Workers' Party headquarters after he was released by police, explaining that what happened had instead "ignited in him the flame to keep up the fight."

All that was missing from his comments was an official announcement of his candidacy.

We've seen the pattern before. Lula's early prestige in 1980 came only after another episode in which the police went after him. That time, he was actually arrested, caught in the act, unlike last week's warrant which simply forced him in to testify in the investigation. Back in 1980, Lula was the spearhead of a 17-day union strike. Labor courts found the strike illegal, and he was arrested and jailed for a month.

But there's a monumental difference between the Lula who was jailed 36 years ago and the 70-year-old man who recently said he would keep up the fight. Back then, his friends were blue-collar workers with rough hands. I was a witness for the defense of that group when they appeared in court for "subversion." I saw first-hand Lula's transformation into a loyal friend of contractors whose horse-trading and promiscuity with successive governments he and his metalworker comrades used to denounce.

"Our thief..."

But the transformation is a natural one in Lula's case. Even during his union days, he used to say that he wanted blue-collar workers who were building cars to have enough money to buy them. It's therefore understandable that he had the same wish for himself, especially given that he considers himself to be privileged, having survived in an environment in which dying young was common. His wish became so true that he now brags about being among the world's highest paid speakers, second only to former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

In other words, suspicion of corruption may not be politically lethal for Lula. After all, the mensalão, the previous scandal involving his Workers' Party, didn't stand in the way of his 2006 reelection. The reason is simple: There's a widespread feeling that all politicians are thieves. So even if Lula is ultimately found guilty of foul play, he would be seen as "our thief," the politician who boasted about lifting 40 million people up to the middle class, no matter how shaky the definition of the term.

The problem for Lula isn't that he's been taken in for questioning, but that three million people have already returned to poverty because of his successor, one he believes he helped get elected. That's to say nothing of growing unemployment, which is now close to 10%.

In any case, his statement at the Workers' Party headquarters and the announcement that he's ready to get back to business represent no less than the beginning of a campaign to succeed President Dilma Rousseff. In 2018 or, perhaps, even before.

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Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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