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Parties jockey in advance of presidential polls

Lula suggests Brazil's healthcare system as a model for the U.S. Political alliances for the 2010 presidential campaign emerge. A crack-down in Sao Paolo leads to over two thousand arrests. Rains cause heavy damage to the southeast. Government health workers captivate the nation after surviving a plane crash. The market has a stagnant month. Tax breaks on appliances are pushed back again. A new standard plug will be introduced. And the most-read article in the news was "Brazilian Transsexual is Elected Third Prettiest in the World."

 Top News: Tempting though it is to lead with the absurdity of Lula’s suggestion that Obama look to the Brazilian universal health care system as a model, we’ll start with politics, instead.


The presidential campaign of 2010 continues to take shape. The incumbent Workers Party announced a “pre-agreement” with the massive and ideologically ill-defined PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party). That means Lula’s chosen successor, Dilma Rousseff, will have a PMDB running mate, presumably Michel Temer, current president of the Chamber of Deputies.  And upstart candidate Marina Silva, who left the Workers Party to become the presumed candidate of the Green Party, is having “informal conversations” about an alliance with another mid-sized leftist party, the PSOL or Party of Socialism and Liberty. That would clear the presumed PSOL candidate, Helena Heloisa out of the race before the race actually begins.


On Oct. 29, an utterly massive police operation in Sao Paulo made over 2,000 arrests in 645 cities and towns around the state, using about 10,000 officers. Most arrestees had outstanding warrants. Several kidnapping victims were found and released, and many stashes of drugs and pirated DVDs were seized.


Rains caused heavy damage in the southeastern state of Espiritu Santo last week, leading headlines. The latest numbers show over 7,600 people homeless; about a third have gone to government shelters, and the rest are with family and friends. Damaged buildings numbered 113,000. Three people – a father and his two daughters – died in a mudslide.


A small Air Force plane carrying 11 people – government health workers – crash-landed in the Itui River in an isolated region of the Amazon. Two died, and the others were rescued just under a day later. The country listened with rapt attention to the survivor’s tales of crawling out of a submerging plane, building fires by the side of the river and being attacked by insects.


An old airline crash was also in the news. On Saturday, results from an Air Force investigation into the TAM Airlines crash in July 2007 at Congonhas Airport in Sao Paulo were announced. They avoided laying blame directly on pilots, the aircraft or airport policy. The plane was in good enough condition to land safely, the report concluded.


The standoff at the Brazilian embassy in Honduras is over. With the intervention of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, deposed president Manuel Zelaya and current president Roberto Micheletti came to an agreement on a government of national reconciliation that will likely have Zelaya back in (reduced) power until elections in January.  The influential Blog do Noblat called it a huge loss for Zelaya and went into detail about what rarely got mentioned in the Brazilian press for most of the crisis: what Zelaya had done to provoke the illegal coup. But the agreement didn’t occur before Honduras entered a legal complaint at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, claiming Brazil is allowing Hondurans to conduct illegal activities there.


Money: October was a stagnant month for the Brazilian stock market, which suffered a big dip when the government announced a tax on foreign investment. Despite a late surge after the United States officially came out of the recession, the Bovespa index in October was up just 0.04 percent. An article in Folha noted that small caps have far outperformed the overall market this year, with small cap fund up 94 percent compared to 63 percent for funds indexed to the overall Bovespa average.


In consumer news, the government has once again prolonged tax breaks on the purchase of household appliances like stoves and refrigerators another three months, until January 31, 2010. The measure (which originally included cars) was meant to jump start the consumer sector of the economy during the worldwide financial crisis and was largely viewed as successful. In a new green twist, more energy efficient appliances will receive a bigger break.  The supermarket sector, which was one of the best performers throughout the crisis, saw a 6 percent increase in sales in September.


And Lula headed to El Tigre, Venezuela to finalize a long-time-in-the-making agreement to build an oil refinery in Brazil that would process Venezuelan oil.


Elsewhere: Brazilians who have not yet made the switch to Facebook will soon notice some pretty substantial changes on Google’s Orkut social networking site. Google has said it would be faster to navigate, easier to exchange photos, and have more options to personalize home pages, for example. Facebook has made serious inroads among elite and more internationalized Brazilians, but Orkut remains the most visited website in the country.


Brazil will be adopting a brand new standard plug for all appliances and other electrical devices made in the country. Needless to say, the three circular prongs are incompatible with standard American plugs. These days the American-style plug fits outlets almost anywhere, but that may become less true as time goes on.


And finally, Brazilians seem quite interested in cake-on-a-stick: a brief note about the popsicle-like creations of the French sweet shop Jean et Marie in Sao Paulo was the number two most-read article on Folha de Sao Paulo’s website earlier this week. But it couldn’t catch number one, “Brazilian Transsexual Is Elected Third Prettiest in the World.”