POLITICAL GRID LOCK ALL AROUND

If you’re concerned about grid lock in the US Congress look at the situation in Brazil. With the 2016 Olympics about to begin in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian Congress is also about to begin its own mega media event: impeachment proceedings against Dilma Rousseff elected President for a second term in 2014.

The Worker’s Party, which she leads, has been having trouble since it was first elected in 2002.   Getting legislation passed by the increasingly fractured Brazilian Congress with more than twenty political parties represented, none with close to a majority challenges even political wizards.

To get legislation passed, the Worker’s Party began buying votes of other parties to get simple majority votes in the Congress .  Scandal erupted during the last years of the popular president Lula’s administration, 2010. All of the president’s ministers were implicated, except, President Rousseff, who now faces impeachment for manipulating the government’s budget in 2014.

In the past five years it has become crystal clear that to do politics or business in Brazil, that the wheel must be greased to make it roll. Operation Cash Wash involving Petrobras, the mammoth state owned oil company, was designed by company executives to award overpriced contracts to construction companies in return for bribes.

The 2014 World Cup both required huge construction projects. These contracts were initially awarded by the government to private companies presenting low ball bids. The work for both global events could not be finished on time or within budget. The Brazilian government paid the tab needed for to get the work done. This led to massive street demonstrations in 2013 and 2014 prior to the World Cup. “Schools and Stadiums,” was one of many slogans protestors shouted.

But little changed when Brazil began preparations for the 2016 Olympics. Billions needed to be invested to prepare for this “world class” event. Again private sector contracts which could not be fulfilled were awarded anyway. Then the government was left holding the bag. A very big bag indeed. Citizens protest and disaffection has mounted to the heights of Everest. The unholy alliance of corruption between the public and private sectors needs to be broken

Americans beware. We are no strangers to pork barreling, lobbying, and now Citizens United. The growing tendency towards political gridlock must be broken or worse could come, just look at Brazil.

Troubled Brazil Troubled Olympics?

TROUBLED BRAZIL TROUBLED OLYMPICS ?

The 2016 Olympics begin on August 6th in Rio de Janeiro. Yet in recent weeks claims that they should be scuttled abound. Allegations that Rio isn’t ready to host the world’s premier athletic event continue. Rio’s image is tarnished by a polluted Guanabara Bay where marine events will take place; by the mosquito born Zica virus which has frightened athletes and international spectators from going to the world’s most beautiful city, and violence due to endemic poverty.

In recent months, political stability has teetered in Brazil as second term President Dilma Rousseff was removed from office and awaits impeachment proceedings conveniently timed for the Olympics. For those who remember events leading up the 2014 World Cup hosted by Brazil, there were widespread protests. Not because Brazilians don’t love soccer, which they long ago named“ the beautiful game”.   Instead they were protesting exorbitant spending on stadiums rather than schools, clinics, streets, sanitation and low income housing needed by millions of Brazilians who lack access to these services. This pattern has continued with the 2016 Olympics.

The scenario could hardly be more alarming. How could the country of Carnival, soccer, tropical beaches and dental floss bikinis have become so discredited among its own people?  While the 2016 Olympics—or the 2014 World Cup—can hardly be held responsible for the mega problems facing Brazil today. Nevertheless, they have contributed.

This isn’t the first time that issues like these have emerged. Charges of corruption were levied against the Winter Olympics in Sochi (2014); the Summer Olympics held in Beijing and have been raised again with respect the Tokyo Games in 2020. . We the global spectators, should ask whether or not these events need to be re-imagined and cleaned up.   Re-imagining the Olympics as an opportunity to attenuate poverty in a middle income yet highly unequal country such a Brazil should be as much a priority as promoting global understanding through world class athletics.

 

How might the events leading up to Rio, 2016, have unfolded differently? First, the criteria for selecting a host nation need to be reviewed. If broad based economic impact were a top priority, the corruption associated with host selection might be diminished. Brazil, in most ways, met such a criterion when the country was awarded the 2016 Games. Important poverty alleviation programs underway since the mid-nineteen nineties combined with a growing economy were chipping away at poverty and growing the country’s middle class. One such program, the Family Scholarship (Bolsa Familia) is estimated to account for between 21 and 16 per cent of the total fall in Brazil since 2001. Overall the poverty gap and the severity of poverty feel by 18 percent and 21 percent respectively.

 

Another criterion for Olympic hosting might be democratic governance. In 2010 when Brazil was awarded the 2016 Games, the country was well along this path. Having endured a military government from 1964 to 1985, Brazil limped towards democratic government in the late 1980s and early 1990s. When Fernando Henrique Cardoso was elected president in 2004, the Brazil’s political system began to stabilize. Cardoso, an eminent sociologist, stressed political compromise, multiparty coalitions and the smooth transition of power from one elected political regime to another.

Just such a transition from eight years of leadership by Cardoso and his party (the Brazilian Social Democratic Party/PSDB) took place in 2003 when Ignacio “Lula” da Silva, labor leader and founding member of the Worker’s Party was elected president in late 2002. Lula, extremely popular and in many ways a classic populist political leader, promoted and expanded social and economic programs, initially piloted by the Cardoso administration. But then his government ran into the muck of corruption.

Corruption is not new to Brazil. In many ways it was endemic during hundred years of Portuguese colonial administration, whereby the Portuguese crown always got its share of any economic activity taking place in their colony by exacting a 20% tax called the “quinto”. People living in the colony clearly resented this taxation and found their individual ways of getting a share before the Crown exacted the tax. This became widely known as the cost of doing business in Brazil.

When it comes to international athletic events bar is very high. The cost of getting the award can be very expensive and involve payouts and kickbacks. Once secured these expenses associated with constructing the facilities required for a premier event like the Olympics or the World Cup add up at meteoric speed. The general consensus that the cost of hosting Olympic Games, summer or winter, averages $50 billion.

Corruption scandals emerged in Brazil during the construction phase preceding the 2014 World Cup when soccer stadiums around the country had to be either built from scratch or extensively remodeled. As the charges of corruption became public, demonstrations spread across the country with slogans like “Schools not Stadiums”.

The perfect storm began to gather in 2013 as the World Cup corruption along with other scandals became widely known. Congressional vote buying by members of the Worker’s Party became flagrant in the increasing fractured political system which had developed since 1995. There are currently twenty eight political parties represented in Brazil’s congress which makes it near impossible to gather even a simple majority to pass legislation. Combined with the slow down of Brazil’s economy beginning in 2012 when Brazil momentarily surpassed Great Britain as the world’s sixth largest economic power the storm bloomed into a hurricane.

The corruption scandals erupting late in the first term and during the beginning of second term, of President Rousseff were devastating.   She had neither Lula’s popular charisma nor Fernando Henrique’s vast public experience to weather these crises. Combined with the economic downturn of the country’s rapidly expanding economy, her mandate to govern floundered precipitously.

Brazil’s electorate, energized by nearly two decades of open political participation has been reacting in the streets for nearly three years. The press has spotlighted the entangled corruption between the country’s economic and political elite. Thus In the glare of international scrutiny of the coming Olympics, in early 2016 things began to fall apart .

Were the Olympics responsible? Definitely not. Did the glare of the Olympic spotlight aggravate and disclose endemic corruption in Brazil. Definitely yes!   Along with the World Cup, the Olympic Games amplified opportunities for corruption possibilities while the press became more vigilant about exposing them to Brazilian citizens and the world.

Rather than contributing to the aspirations of the Brazilian people for greater economic equality and political transparency, the Olympics have exposed rotten beams underpinning Brazil’s emergence as an economic giant. People around the world along with their leaders should be asking themselves where did we go wrong? And, what can we do to bring international events in line with global democratic values?

****************** July 29, 2016

 

 

 

The Alligator’s Tooth: Stories from Jamaica

read a selection, then find the book at

(https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&fieldkeywords=The+Alligator%27s+Tooth%3A++Travels+in+Jamaica&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3AThe+Alligator%27s+Tooth%3A++Travels+in+Jamaica)

A TRAVEL POSTER

      Searching for a flat in London is no fun. Especially, when you’re looking ahead at an English winter. Most of the flats we examine are worn out bedsitters with threadbare couches, scuffed chairs and scratched tables. Small gas heaters requiring frequent feedings of shilling coins will be the only protection against the cold. After the summer in Spain, London seems large and lonely. Anna Kay and several Jamaican friends have moved back to the West Indies, so we are without contemporaries in this big, often bleak city.

The search persists day after day. The air chills, a reminder of the winter marching toward us. This does little to lift our spirits. I recall having just left a dingy little bedsitter with a shared loo down the hall in an outlying London neighborhood. The sun shone weakly through the foggy October afternoon. We decided to take the underground to downtown London to find a cheap Indian restaurant for lunch. The spicy kick of Indian food suits Robert, while I still have not completely learned to appreciate pepper. As we emerge from the Charring Cross Underground station to scout for a restaurant, a travel poster catches my eye. The gentle curves of a white sand beach banded by a wide ribbon of turquoise dissolving into deep blue defy the London gray. Coconut palms with shaggy yellow-green fronds cast soft shadows on shimmering sand while two empty orange chaise lounges relax in tropical luxury. Below the picture, in heavy bold block letters, I read the word “JAMAICA.”

“Is that where you come from?!,” I shoot an undeniably rhetorical question Robert’s way.

“Yah, I guess so,” he replies vacantly without stopping to look at the poster.

This is the moment when Jamaica begins to take a definite shape in my mind.

“So, do you think we could go there?” On the edge of winter, jobless and almost without resources, taking our chances in some tropical paradise might be a better option than London. Robert raises his bushy Albert Einstein eyebrows with interest and looks back at the poster. We make a perfectly synchronized about-face and enter the travel agency to make inquiries.

“We’d like to find out about passages to Jamaica,” Robert nods towards the travel poster in the large plate glass window.

A gray haired woman wearing a lavender sweater accented with black-fringed silk scarf, smiles curiously at us,

“When would you like to depart and return?”

We look at each other questioningly. This idea is clearly not yet a plan. We attempt a quick conversation via face making, shoulder shrugging and mental telepathy.

“Well, maybe next week,” Robert offers tentatively.

“And the time of return?” the travel agent seems to be doing her best to take us seriously.

“One way,” the definitive tone of his statement surprises all three of us!

The agent begins to scrutinize the thick blue covered binder oozing with printed airline schedules for hundreds of destinations.

“Let me see here. Well there’s a BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) flight Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The Tuesday flight leaves Gatwick at 11:20 in the morning and arrives in Montego Bay at 6:40 p.m.,”

“We need to go to Kingston,” Robert indicates politely. Harry Belafonte’s honey voice floats in my ears,

       Down the way where the nights are gay

And the sun shines daily on the mountain top

I took a trip on a sailing ship

And when I reached Jamaica I made a stop

 

“The Tuesday and Saturday flights continue from Montego Bay to Kingston and arrive at 8:45 p.m.”

We nod with approval.

“How much does it cost?”

In the crispest of British accents, the travel agent delivers the dismal news,

“The one-way fare is just under 200 pounds, one hundred ninety seven pounds, five to be exact.”

Well, there goes that great idea, I think, knowing that our net worth at that exact moment is less than one hundred ninety seven pounds, five, and we need twice that amount to buy the tickets.

Robert, however, appears to be undaunted.

“Is there space for next Tuesday?”

The agent calls to check on availability. After some minutes, she relays an affirmative reply.

“Shall I book the tickets?” The look on her powdered face reveals a trace of skepticism. Fortunately there aren’t any other customers waiting to make inquiries about trips to Jamaica or elsewhere, so we aren’t entirely wasting her time.

“No, not right now, we need to make some more inquires,” Robert responds.

I keep quiet. Jamaica is Robert’s territory. My knowledge, casually gleaned   from a few family stories I’ve heard and conversations with Anna Kay and her friends in London is scant. We walk out of the travel agency into the cool London afternoon.

“Let’s call my Aunt Mignon’s brother, Manny, and go talk with him about going to Jamaica,” Robert suggests.

Manny’s secretary reports that he is out of the office until 3 o’clock. We find an Indian restaurant, stop there and dive into a hot plate of chicken curry. When we arrive at Manny’s office, he has just returned from a round of golf. The London representative of the Jamaica Industrial Development Corporation, his easy salesman pitch for Jamaica charms us within seconds.

“Yes, mon, you should go to Jamaica. You will find a job, no problem at’tal.”

We leave his office decided. He generously offers us the use of a flat belonging to a distant relative who isn’t in London at the moment. We accept and stay the night to get our travel plans organized the following day.

In the morning, we go back to the BOAC office to make reservations for our air passage. Robert figures that we can charge the cost of the one-way tickets to the Barclay cards given to us by the bank when we arrived in England a little over one year ago.

The travel agent checks with Barclays when we give her the card to make the purchase.

“You need to go by the bank and speak with the manager,” she tells us.

So we walk briskly to the branch and speak with the designated manager, a thin man wearing John Lennon spectacles.

“Jamaica, eh? You are going there to work and have family there?”

“Yes,” we insist, which is, of course, the truth.

“All right then. I’ll approve the charge if you surrender the cards.”

“That’s fine,” we agree readily.

The travel date is set for the following Tuesday, October 18. We leave the bank in a cloud of excitement, rushing to purchase the tickets. Then we return to the flat to collect our things. We will head back to Colchester for the remaining days.

We call Robert’s grandparents, Ruby and Stanton, in Kingston. They seem as excited as we are about our arrival.

“I’ll tell David to pick you up at the airport, m’love” Granny Ruby promises.