Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day in Brazil

People know. The US election is big news here.

I was on an elevator when a man entered, looked at my button, and asked me when we would know who won. I told him that the results would start coming in around 10pm local time, but that Obama has already won. He smiled and told me he hoped so.

The US election has been the top news story here since Sunday, and will probably continue to be the lead on the nightly news until Thursday. All the newspapers' front pages are dedicated to today's election. And all of this is because W fucked everything up so badly. Brazilians would like nothing more than to go back to not caring about US elections, but they (nobody, really) no longer have that luxury.

Small Sacrifice

I am not superstitious, and I don't believe that my beloved Skins' result has anything to do with the outcome of the presidential election. Still, on the off chance that it does, losing last night was a very small sacrifice to make, so I'm less upset about the loss than I otherwise would be.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

It's the Racism, Stupid

I really don't understand why mainstream journalists won't just say it, whatever "it" happens to be. When someone flat out lies, like Lieberman did this week, they won't say it. When an entire party is built on a racist foundation, they will write articles wondering why black people won't vote for that party. But whatever they do, they won't actually mention the reason why.

Today's Washington Post does it again. Why are there only 36 black delegates at the Republican Convention? Maybe because black people remember what happened in Florida in 2000? The article makes no mention of that. Maybe because black people knew what Jesse Helms stood for and what Trent Lott was talking about? The article makes no mention of that. Maybe because black people are well aware of what changed from the 50s (Republicans' favorite decade) to the 60s (the root of all contemporary problems, in the conservative cosmography)? The article makes no mention of that.

The article does, however, contain much sincere head-scratching.

Republicans spent much of the past decade working to improve their minority outreach, particularly to blacks and Hispanics. But a number of setbacks, including an anti-Republican national mood, anger over the response to Hurricane Katrina and the Democratic nomination of Sen. Barack Obama, have largely negated their efforts, several Republicans said.

Well, sure, if black voters hadn't overwhelmingly favored Democrats before 2004.

The Republican party threw its lot in with the segregationists in the 1970s, and the only change has been to move away from explicit appeals to race and toward code words (crime). Republicans have gutted the civil rights division of the Justice Department -- do they think black voters are so stupid that they won't notice? Of course not, but they know that journalists are that stupid, so they can be as racist as they want to be and still appeal to exurban voters who can't allow themselves to think that they are voting for racists.

Although all Republicans aren't racist, the Republican party is full of racists and racist policies, and that is the reason black people don't vote for Republicans. No need to wonder, Washington Post.

Monday, June 16, 2008


A very happy Bloomsday to all!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Some Unknown Team Won the Copa do Brasil

Let's see, in the semifinals we had Corinthians, Botafogo, Vasco, and some other team. Neither of the three won, so some other team that Globo didn't want to mention won the Copa do Brasil Wednesday night.

I was there, and I still can't believe it. I spent two hours in front of the stadium drinking beer and watching the party, trying to convince myself that it had really happened. I had a strong feeling that I was fooling myself, that I was going to wake up Thursday morning to see that Corinthians had won the Copa do Brasil, but I kept looking at all the people dancing and singing in the street and I couldn't quite believe that they were all fooling themselves, too.

It was like carnaval on the streets after the game, and yesterday everywhere I went people were wearing Sport jerseys -- just like I was. I wore mine to work, in several offices (professional attire is for those whose team did not win the Copa do Brasil the night before) where the employees who couldn't wear soccer jerseys were dressed in red shirts and black pants. Santa Cruz and Náutico supporters (people who tend to hate Sport more than they love their own teams) claim that it was more a victory for Pernambuco than for Sport. (They are wrong, of course, but this is a significant victory for Pernambuco for reasons that will be discussed in a future post.)

I keep watching the goals again and again. I was there. I remember watching them happen, but neither the memories nor the videos on my monitor seem real. Sport will play in the Copa Libertadores next year. Sport will finally be able to sign a decent center-forward. In a few days all of this will sink in, but for now I'm still a few feet off the ground. Just like all the people who are still setting off fireworks and honking "cazá cazá!" This too shall pass. I'll be back to normal in a few days, just like the rest of the city, but I'm going to enjoy the celebration while it lasts.

I leave you with a pearl of wisdom from Carlinhos Bala: "The hand that applauds is the same one that boos."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

There Is Nothing At All Wrong With It, But It's Still Very Funny

There is a gay man playing soccer at the highest level in Brazil. He has represented Brazil (although many people, myself among them, believe that he isn't a good enough player for the Seleção). While I and the vast majority of Brazilians really don't care that he is gay, and don't believe he should have to suffer for it, the way he keeps getting outed (despite continually denying being gay) is really, really funny. (And, I should add, really, really sad. This guy has it pretty rough.)

A while back, rumors began circulating that there was a gay player at one of São Paulo's three big teams (Corinthians, Palmeiras, and São Paulo). On national television Milton Neves (who is a horrible person, but that's neither here nor there) asked one of the Palmeiras directors, José Cyrillo Júnior, if the gay player (whose name was still unknown) played for Palmeiras. The Palmeiras director replied, "We almost signed Richarlyson."

However much parts of this make me laugh, it IS serious. Richarlyson, who plays for São Paulo, sued the Palmeiras director for his comment. The judge, Maximiano Junqueira Filho, stated that "accepting gay players hasn't been shown to be reasonable because it would harm the uniformity of thought of the team, the coordination, the equilibrium, the ideal." Inadvertently, the judge gave tremendous aid to the cause of gay rights in Brazil. He was investigated by the Tribunal da Justiça, and his comments got more (negative) coverage than the original comments that Cyrillo Júnior made. (His decision, in Portuguese, is here. It is jaw-droppingly, laugh out loud stupid. It reads like something from Stephen Colbert's book. Brazilian judges have to pass a public exam, against serious and qualified competition. How did this man outperform thousands and thousands of other attorneys?) The judge was investigated by the Tribunal da Justiça, but I haven't yet located the results of the investigation.

So, that brings us up to last weekend, when this happened.

Last Saturday night Richarlyson was spotted in a gay club in São Paulo, wearing a hat, jewel-encrusted glasses, and short shorts. Well, that should put the question to rest, shouldn't it? Richarlyson will continue playing, he will open the minds of more than a few Brazilians, and hopefully he will just admit that he's gay and stop embarrassing himself. There is nothing at all wrong with his being gay, nor with his being a gay soccer player, but when he steps on the ball like this it sure does make me laugh.

Monday, May 19, 2008

There Is No Bias Against The Northeast

Wednesday night the semifinals of the Copa do Brasil begin. Botafogo plays Corinthians, as globoesporte.com notes in the photo above, and Vasco da Gama plays... some other team that apparently has no chance, right? Well, no. Sport should be considered the favorite. Vasco reached the semifinals without playing a single team from the Série A. Sport beat Palmeiras and Internacional (who, along with Fluminense and Cruzeiro, make up the favorites for this year's Série A title). Yet Globo, which has no anti-Northeast bias at all, forgot to mention Sport's participation. Globo had an opinion poll on the site last week, after the quarterfinals had finished, asking readers who was most likely to win the tournament. There were only three options. Any guess as to which team wasn't included?

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Brazilian Electoral System

Ultimately, there are two root causes to almost all of Brazil’s problems. The largest most complicated of these causes is poverty. Why is there so much violent crime in Brazil? Because people have no money and no job prospects, and need to survive. Why are there so many homeless people in Brazil’s cities? Because urban poverty is slightly better than rural poverty, so the rural poor migrate to the cities, where they still can’t find jobs and sustainable income, and become part of the cities’ problems. Why are so many people in Brazil undereducated? Because their families need whatever income they can generate, so the leave school and work, beg, or steal money for their families. And the lack of education makes them unemployable, and so the cycle continues. The other problem is political.

The Brazilian electoral system is simpler than its equivalent in the US, that much is true. Brazilians cannot figure out, and in fact enjoy being unable to understand, the American primary system. So, let’s give the Brazilians some points for simplicity and efficiency, and then get on with criticizing the myriad flaws of the Brazilian system (all of which were designed to benefit someone other than the voters, and work to perfection).

In Brazil, every candidate is an at-large candidate. Even worse, every voter votes for only one. So the approximately 1.1 million voting-age residents of Recife vote for one candidate (out of hundreds) for 36 city council positions. When there is a problem in the neighborhood, no one is directly responsible, no one answers directly to the voters in that neighborhood, and nobody can run specifically against an ineffective or corrupt councilman. The same is true for congressman and state representatives – all of them represent the entire state, and all of the state’s voters vote for only one candidate.

But the voters didn’t actually vote for a particular candidate. They voted for a party. (Voting specifically for a party rather than for a candidate is also an option in legislative races, and many voters do just that.) The proportion of the vote that each party (the sum of votes for the party itself and for each of its candidates) determines the number of councilmen, state legislators, or congressmen that the party puts in the legislative body. If a party wins 20% of the votes for congress in a particular state then the party wins 20% of that state’s congressional delegation. The most famous example of this was when Enéas Carneiro ran for congress in São Paulo in 2002. He received 1.8 million votes, far more than any other candidate. This entitled his tiny party to six congressmen in the São Paulo delegation, and among them was one who received just 300 votes. Left in the cold were candidates from other parties who had received over 100,000 votes. To whom did that congressman, who won 300 votes, owe his position? Certainly not to the voters of São Paulo.

This system makes it impossible for an activist citizen to enter politics. It is impossible to win office anywhere but in a tiny municipality without the support of a party machine. It is painful to hold Spiro Agnew up as a positive example, but he was (unfortunately) an example of the success of the American electoral system. Agnew went from PTA president to governor of Maryland to vice president of the country (Hunter S. Thompson referred to him as a sop to the voters who thought Nixon was a communist). In Brazil it is simply impossible for a community activist to hold a local politician accountable for the problems in a community – because there are no local politicians. So nothing gets done. Sidewalks are cracked and stay cracked, there is no hurry to repair any roads but major commuter arteries. Corrupt politicians are reelected year after year because there is no way to mount an effective anti-corruption campaign. Despite the entirely preventable outbreak of dengue fever in Rio, chances are that no one will suffer for it at the ballot box this October.

I wish I could end this on a positive note, offering hope for the future or at least pointing to a possible solution, but I can’t. The system protects the parties at the expense of the voters. Brazilian legislators everywhere but in the above-mentioned tiny municipalities owe their positions to the system and to their parties, and owe nothing at all to the voters. As long as this system remains in place, Brazilian society’s major problems will go unresolved and largely unconfronted.