The National Salvation Government

Julho 23, 2013 § Deixe o seu comentário

Fiction Series: “Political Maestro: a man’s lifetime ambition, a troubled democracy, a deprived country.”(*)

The car stopped at the traffic light on Liberty Boulevard with Hercules Alexandre Avenue. The immaculately polished navy blue series seven BMW reflected the light of that gloriously bright summer morning. Barely visible behind the reflections of the pristine cleaned windows was a silhouette of a woman sat in the back seat.  It was a calm day with the only sound being the background noise of traffic at the distance and the occasional gust of wind blowing on the trees above. The light turned green and the smooth acceleration of the automatic five-litre engine set the executive sedan down Liberty Boulevard, leaving a little whirlwind of leafs behind.

Maria Alvin Kirk looked outside at the red traffic light. Again. In trying to go through the memo, she realized it was her fifth attempt at that first paragraph. ‘Compromise of National Salvation’ was the grand title of what she guessed would be a handful of nothing, presented by the Socialist Party for that week’s tri-partisan talks. Given she could not bring herself to read it, she started looking around inside the vehicle. The details of wooden panels and genuine leather upholstery left a scent of luxury in the air that made her sort of uneasy. Pleasant as it was, it occurred to her that it was all too unnecessary, a bit too nouveau riche (third-world, even!) for her liking. Then again, maybe it was all too fresh. The rapid succession of events of the last few days, those that landed her the most important seat in office these days – that of Minister of Finance – maybe hadn’t really sank in. “Minister of Finance” she muttered to herself. She always thought of it as an impossible dream, given who Viktor Gus Par was, the unthinkable possibility of him ever resigning, plus the unlikelihood of her ever being considered as replacement. But politics is a chess game played by ruthless players, in which a week can be a long time – a very long time indeed.

She turned her head outside to Liberty Boulevard, as the light turned green and the car started moving again – the engine was hardly perceptible, she noted. The streets were much quieter, now that the second half of July had kicked in, and more and more people headed down to the south coast beaches for their summer break. The plane trees side-lining Liberty Boulevard touched each other ten meters above, forming a leafy green tunnel that let, here and there, the rays of the midmorning sun touching the asphalt. Elegant ladies of leisure came out of boutiques and luxury stores, walking on gravity-defying high heels, carrying their Gucci handbags and the odd labelled shopping bag. Sharp suited men and women walked up and down the wide limestone pavement, on their mobile phones, going in and out of the buildings, with their architecture from the turn of the twentieth century, housing many businesses in the area. “Sex and the City with character!”. Maria allowed herself to smile softly, a short relief from the permanent anxiety of the last few days.

The resignation of Viktor Gus Par was announced together with the fact that his replacement – herself – was to take office on the following day. The ceremony was presided by Hannibal Log Silva, who incidentally was oblivious to Paul Entrance’s own resignation on that same afternoon. Entrance’s key motive, it seemed, had been precisely her nomination – the man’s nerve! The rather dysfunctional sequence of events that followed meant that she ended up as the de facto Minister of Finance, at the same time Paces and Entrance held talks for a major cabinet reshuffle, cabinet from which the latter had just, well, irrevocably resigned. “Some people have no word. And have no qualms with it!”, she thought shaking her head. When, after a few days, the two men reached an agreement – where she remained as Minister of Finance, after all – Log Silva, against all odds and expectations, turned down the new proposed cabinet. In what must have seemed to him a rather statesman-like stance, he demanded that the two coalition parties, together with the main opposition party, started tri-partisan talks towards a grand deal for ‘national salvation’. “A dog, a cat and a canary in the same cage – that should work. Pfff!”. The BMW headed towards the riverside, down Gold Street. “I wonder how it is all coming along!…” she thought.

Meanwhile, at Popular Party headquarters: “Mr. Assured, what, in God’s name, the fuck is this?”. Paces was absolutely enraged. “I… I beg you pardon?… That-that is a rather inappropriate way of…” Assured stammered, visibly unsettled by Paces aggressive tone. “I don’t give a flipping toss about what your Highness regards as appropriate or otherwise! ‘Compromise of National Salvation’, is that what this is supposed to be?”. Paces read the eleven-page memo’s title, before throwing it with disgust at his opponent, who only just managed to hold it. “Listen, mister, I don’t really know what flows around in that little head of yours, but we are here to talk serious business. Serious business, not some infantile demagoguery, of someone who hasn’t a flipping a clue of the world he leaves in, let alone the seriousness of the situation the country finds itself in!”.

Paces turned his back on Assured and faced the window. His eyes wandered Madeleine Street below, watching people hurrying up and down the narrow limestone pavement. “A load of meaningless proposals, with no substance whatsoever, nothing quantified, not even a basic ‘proceeds-and-uses’ of money, not a single number, nothing!”. As if talking to himself, Paces kept looking outside. He feared a mere glance at Assured might send him on a tailspin of spitting fury. “I’m telling you, Mr. Assured, I have seen more maturity in student association candidacies.”. Assured blushed. “You see, I have always heard about your haplessness – even from people of your own party – and always thought of them as exaggerations. Funny, yes, but exaggerations.”. Assured looked at the other two men in the room, as if looking for support, but with no success. “Unfortunately, I realize now exaggerations they are not. And funny? Even less so!”.

Paul Entrance, at the opposite corner, oozed calm and restrain. Legs crossed, chin up, pretending to read something at the far corner of the newspaper, boasting a crooked smile, eyebrows raised, as if thinking “Oh dear! What have you done… now?”. The Presidency’s representative seemed shocked, eyes open like dinner plates, someone that clearly thought this would be a much more gentlemanly affair. “Listen, Mr. Paces, the Socialist Party has made its stance known already. We are not here to embark in any concession that might hurt what are the people’s fundamental rights. The Socialist Party cannot, and will not, support a financial rescue programme that proved to be a rotund failure. That much I can tell you now!”. Assured tried to disguise his nervousness, but when Paces turned himself back to the room, with his eyes incensed, he felt small again. “A rescue programme that your party has negotiated and agreed, am I correct?”. Assured still managed to open his mouth to say something, when Paces sparked: “Oh never mind!”.

Paces turned his head to Entrance instead. “Paul, would you be so kind as to explain Mr. Assured, here,” Paces extended his arm towards Assured, as if presenting him on a stage, “the meaning of the word ‘compromise’? You see, he used this same word as the title of that little ‘memo’ of his, but it occurs to me that he might not have the faintest idea of its meaning. Could you do that, Paul, please?”. Paul roared with laughter at Paces caustic irony; he clearly had been controlling himself for quite some time. “Tony, Tony!… Stop it, now.” Entrance tried to put on a straight face but could hardly disguise his bemusement. “Tony, Mr. Assured here wants what he believes is best for everybody; for our country. I have no reasons to doubt that.” Paces realised that, judging by the way Assured looked at Entrance, he was actually believing each and every word of it. “Poor sod!”. “Seriously, gentlemen, let’s talk!” Paul Entrance stood up with the confidence that Assured secretly admired. “Mr Assured, do sit down, please!”. As they sat down around the square wooden table, the door open, and in came a waiter carrying four coffees and water.

A few hours later, Maria Alvin Kirk’s mobile rang: “Hi Charles! How are you?”. “Good, thanks. You?”. Maria liked Charles Mint, firstly for his calm and amicable personality, secondly for his intelligence. Engineer by grade and banker by trade, Harvard alumni, he was a cosmopolitan who worked both in Paris and London, someone who thought things through and, despite all this, carried himself with humility. Anthony Paces had chosen him for Secretary of State to the Prime Minister, and rightly so. “Tony just called me, Maria. He wants us both at Madeleine Street. By the tone, it seems it won’t be a straightforward affair.”. She said nothing as if thinking. “Quelle surprise, n’est pas, Maria?”. Maria laughed for the first time in days. “OK. I’m on my way there. Do you need a lift? Where are you?”. “Blackberry Shopping Centre”. “I’m there in five!“. “Okey dokey!”. Charles hung up and looked at his watch. It was noon already, but he had a feeling there wouldn’t be much of a lunch that day. Or for the rest of the week, for that matter!

(*) All names, characters and events are work of fiction. Any resemblance with real names, characters and events is a mere coincidence.
Todos os nomes, personagens e eventos descritos neste post são ficção. Qualquer semelhança com nomes, personagens e eventos reais são mera coincidência.

The Unexpected Twist

Julho 12, 2013 § Deixe o seu comentário

Fiction Series: “Political Maestro: a man’s lifetime ambition, a troubled democracy, a deprived country.”(*)

“What?!!!”, Paul Entrance’s expression reflected disbelief and astonishment. Outside, the afternoon was coming to an end but the day remained stubbornly hot. Temperatures rose to nearly forty and, despite being nearly eight o’clock, with the sun already setting behind neighbouring buildings, temperatures were now only slightly lower. So none of the two men seemed inclined to step outside and down the majestic ‘Grand Staircase’ of the Assembly of the Republic. Instead, they opted to stay inside, sheltered by the cool environment of the stone clad ‘Main Atrium’. Paces’ monotonic whisper echoed against those walls, while the lifelong animosity between the two politicians, these days replaced by tense cordiality, was all too apparent to anyone passing by.

Anthony Paces was informing Paul Entrance of what was about to happen. It was known and public that President of the Republic, Hannibal Log Silva, would address the nation at eight thirty. It was the content of such announcement – a result of a two-day round of closed-door meetings with government coalition and opposition parties, as well as unions – that remained a mystery. Except for Anthony Paces, that is, and now Paul Entrance, who could just not come to terms with what it all meant to him.

“That stubborn attention-seeking sun of a bitch! Just when I think he could do no worse, he goes out of his way to prove me wrong!”. Paul paused, as if trying to swallow it a bit further. “Tony, listen, this can’t be! Are you absolutely sure on this?”. Paces nodded. Paul was still trying to fully grasp the impact the forthcoming news would have on his future. A plan he had so carefully devised, now burn down to ashes, by a man he forever regretted not to have nailed for good, twenty years prior.

“This is a nightmare, Tony! We had this thing set to go. Share prices had already recovered to the levels of two weeks ago, based on m… on our proposal.” Paul felt the need to come together again with the man who, for all intents and purposes, caused him to resign. The charisma, with which he made it sound so natural, as if nothing had ever happened, was the trait he was best known for – a true chameleon. “Even the debt markets are recovering. The troika and Merkel had already bought the new government composition, even welcomed it publicly and all. The guys in Brussels won’t get this and neither will the flipping markets!” Paul was enraged and realised the echo of his words was starting to draw attention to them. “All was set, we would do this, a new investment phase, the economy would pick up, even if slightly, plus a nice positive media spin on it all and, bang, we would be laughing all the way to the ballot box, in 2015.” Paul turned to Paces: “Except it would be something Log could ever call his ‘legacy’, would it? And that proved too much for someone who’s ‘never wrong and seldom has doubts’ – pretentious idiot!”. Paul’s whispered speech had an aggressive pitch.

“Does Assured know about this?”. Paces smiled with resigned bemusement: “Not yet. But he’ll go ballistic, I’m telling you!”. “Do you think? This is what the bastard had been calling for, through all these months! He wanted the end of this government and had been rejecting publicly our proposal for the new one”. “I know what you mean, but even him will realise what’s at stake. Remember: early elections are just a possibility, and only one year from now. Assured wanted elections now, while he’s still the leader of the Socialist Party.”. Paul acquiesced and smiled for the first time: “Which will not last long, my guess”. “Mine too. What’s more, Log wants to tie in the socialists and stop going about as if this had nothing to do with them. Now, how does he do that? Not only with that sort of ‘unified salvation government’ until 2014 I told you about, but also in a post-troika agreement regarding key economic and financial policies.”

“That’s the thing, you see…” Anthony Paces looked outside with a thoughtful expression. “When I was first informed of this I read the whole thing, and reacted to it, as you have”. Paces couldn’t believe he just said “as you”, that he was feeling a strange empathy towards him. Come to think of it, Paul could be a nice-enough guy outside the parliament stands; a bit too camp for his liking, sometimes, yes, but nice-enough. “Almost human” he thought to himself bemused.

“And?…” Paul said. “Oh, yes, but then, when things seem too senseless, too absurd, I tend to doubt of my own judgment or, at least, be open to give it second thoughts.” Paul was listening. “And that’s why I think that, maybe, maybe there’s a point here, you know? Maybe the old man isn’t that stupid.” Paces turned and looked Paul in his eyes: “Paul, how easy do you think will be cutting 4.7billion euros in public expense?”. Paul hesitated, then vacillated, then muttered something unintelligible: “It’s… doable, I think, well… it won’t be easy, that’s for sure, but doable!”. Paul lowered his gaze and Paces smiled: “Listen to you, Paul! It will be a fucking nightmare and you know that! Which is to say, impossible without full parliamentary support. Actually, may I remind you that you have been summoned to present objective expense cutting measures amounting to those 4.7billion. Where are they? The troika is closing on us, Paul, and without their money we’re dead meat”.

Paul looked outside to avoid facing Paces. “And the old man,” Paces continued,”that shrewd old fox, knows that all too well! He knows, were we to take office with the team we have proposed, and then getting our hands dirty in seriously cutting on public expense (we know what that means: public jobs and social contribution cuts, big time!), we would be drowning against a stream of strikes, demonstrations and parliamentary grilling promoted by the opposition, over the coming months. What would be likely to happen, Log thinks? We could be throwing the towel and on our knees, a mere few months before our final test: surviving without troika’s money, after June 2014. If it happened, it would be our end, as an economically sustainable country.” Paul kept listening. Nothing of that sounded nonsense to him. Paces continued: “So what does Log do? Commits all relevant parliamentary seats to one single program, to one single agreement, one whole year before D-day. He knows, as we do, protests and demonstrations will come anyway, but people will realise the whole of the relevant political spectrum is in this together. That means, no space for political populism or demagoguery. In other words, Log puts all of us – castaways drifting in open sea – in the same raft, and then shouts: ‘Row for your lives, you bastards!’”.

Paul rubbed his chin; he was still reluctant to concede Log Silva might have a point. “OK, but the risk is that we kill each other, or throw each other into the deep blue, before getting safely to shore”. Tony Paces smiled and raised his eyebrows. Paul knew what he meant. Hannibal Log Silva had them all tied in a knot. They both looked at their watches and rushed back in to see the presidential address to the nation live. Walking alongside Paces down the corridors of the Assembly of the Republic Paul thought of his phone call with his mother on the day before. They talked about values and reputation, and how him would present justify his u-turn on his irrevocable decision. A man can change his mind. He remembered that the late Francis Saw Lamb said something about this…!

(*) All names, characters and events are work of fiction. Any resemblance with real names, characters and events is a mere coincidence.
Todos os nomes, personagens e eventos descritos neste post são ficção. Qualquer semelhança com nomes, personagens e eventos reais são mera coincidência.

The Secret Society

Julho 9, 2013 § Deixe o seu comentário

Fiction Series: “Political Maestro: a man’s lifetime ambition, a troubled democracy, a deprived country.”(*)

The news came down like a ton of bricks and made all the front pages. Government bond yields went through the roof in a matter of hours. Share prices plummeted while the country’s international financial and political credibility, regained over the last two years, were now crumbling down before the nation’s incredulous eyes.

At the back of his chauffeur-driven Mercedes, Paul was flicking through the daily newspapers while on his mobile. “Oh dear! Things got a tad messy, haven’t they?” Paul grinned, clearly pleased with his understatement. He was reading one particular piece out loud: ‹‹Paul Entrance, minister of foreign affairs and historical head figure of the government’s coalition junior party, has presented his resignation today, stating it as ‘irrevocable’, in a dramatic show of disagreement over Anthony Paces’ nomination for Viktor Gus Par’s substitute: the former finance secretary of state, Maria Alvin Kirk.››. « Read the rest of this entry »

Mother will be so proud!

Julho 3, 2013 § 4 Comentários

Fiction Series: “Political Maestro: a man’s lifetime ambition, a troubled democracy, a deprived country.”(*)

The summer arrived late but with particular intensity, as if to make up for lost time. The shutters were down to keep the room cool and his mind clear from the overpowering heat outside. He needed to gather his thoughts but those words kept coming to his mind. “A prime minister rules for four years, journalism rules forever! Stop pursuing that silly dream, dear. This country, my darling, is not worthy of you”. “Yes, mother” he used to respectfully abide on each occasion she repeated these words. While passing the room, somewhat anxiously, Paul Entrance recalled these words and those days, twenty-odd years ago, when he felt his awakening for two the love affairs of his life: journalism and politics. Well, three love affairs, really: Arthur was handsome, kind and great lover, and gave him all the stability and support he needed, while he ruthlessly pursued his ambition towards the pinnacles of power. “Politics and journalism”, he muttered. « Read the rest of this entry »

Highgate: Saudação Contra a Austeridade

Março 22, 2013 § Deixe o seu comentário

Manuel M. escreve: “Não posso, portanto, deixar de saudar Vince Cable, o ministro britânico da Economia, quem tem a coragem de vir dizer publicamente “basta”, a uma política que leva, inelutavelmente, ao empobrecimento generalizado. [...] Esta ousadia já lhe custou ataques ferozes dos defensores da ortodoxia e possivelmente a carreira política.” 

No norte de Londres, numa das zonas mais prestigiadas da cidade, está Highgate, o mais antigo e famoso cemitério da capital. Inaugurado no inicio do séc. XIX, é constituído por duas partes – uma oriental, outra ocidental – separadas por uma longa estrada. Há muito que foi decidido limitar a manutenção do grande espaço ao mínimo possível, o que o tornou num verdadeiro oásis de vida natural, no meio da grande metrópole . « Read the rest of this entry »

Chipre: Boa Sorte, Europa!

Março 18, 2013 § 4 Comentários

Se no essencial é o mesmo – irem-lhes aos depósitos, ou irem-lhes ao salários – politica e eticamente, é fundamentalmente diferente. A tributação pelo Estado – extraordinariamente ou permanentemente – é feita nas devidas instâncias, no devido tempo, por pessoas que o sistema democrático dá a opção de destituir. Desta última forma, os cidadão são igualmente “roubados”, mas aguentam melhor, como diria um certo bancário da nossa praça.

Que diferença um dia faz! Especialmente se for feriado, formos cipriotas e tivermos depósitos em bancos com morte anunciada. O contexto de Chipre é, essencialmente, o da Irlanda há três anos atrás: o sistema bancário vê-se completamente descapitalizado, após perdas registadas com a desvalorização acentuada de ativos a que estava sobre-exposto. Na Irlanda foi o imobiliário, no Chipre foi a dívida grega – sim, do outro lado “daquele perdão” (lembram-se?) estavam, entre outros, bancos cipriotas. « Read the rest of this entry »

A Benção da Única Alternativa

Março 12, 2013 § 7 Comentários

A continuada ausência de alternativas exequíveis – daquelas que não criariam mais problemas, que os que supostamente pretendem resolver – leva-me a “suspeitar” que, tal como para Inglaterra de então, para o Portugal de agora, não existe outra alternativa. E tal como para Inglaterra de então, o que inicialmente pode parecer o flagelo da inevitabilidade, poderá acabar por revelar-se a benção da única alternativa. (O Autor)

O artigo anterior fez-me pensar (credo!)… no seguinte. Portugal, a meu ver, está a atravessar uma fase, em certa medida, comparável à que a Inglaterra viveu na década de 70, que conheceu seu momento-pivot na eleição de Margaret Thatcher, em 1979. Se lermos sobre Inglaterra na década que antecedeu esse momento, não reconheceremos a nação económica, política e culturalmente pujante – ou a nação relevante e influente – em que se tornou, ao longo das três décadas seguintes. Leremos, sim, sobre uma nação em profunda convulsão; um país económica e socialmente deprimido. Não é por acaso que surge o movimento “punk” – caracterizado pela agressividade que emanava de letras, melodias e interpretações – como a mais conhecida contra-reacção à depressão social em que Inglaterra vivia. O primeiro grupo de imagens, ao fundo, ilustra bem este período, sendo que são narradas, curiosamente, por John Lydon (aka, Johnny “Rotten”), vocalista dos extintos Sex Pistols - a mais emblemática e famosa das bandas punk inglesas. « Read the rest of this entry »

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