HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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31 January 2012

C'mon Brazil!

The intervals in posting are lengthening. Here’s why:

One, I feel like I’m repeating myself.

Two, it’s difficult to balance independent, investigative journalism with academic publications and some vacation.

Three, when a twenty story building collapses in the center of town what can one say other than to explain the obvious (not incidentally the motto of geostadia).

Four, it’s good to step back from the airwaves for a bit, let the readers off the intoxicating fragrance of my bewildering prose for awhile.  

Five, the time for planning book projects has arrived as the 29 month run in to the World Cup is not long for getting contracted, written and published. Edited volume anyone?

Wag: Why do Carioca women all wear heels downtown? Because they have to be on their toes.

Seven, I have found no defenders of McDonald’s in the business and marketing community via LinkedIn and no one has responded to the highly generalized charges of mal-practice and generalized destruction that I levied. It’s also true that I don’t want to seek them out very much as I know and have no patience for the marketeering song and dance they’ll give me. Not only do they drink the cool-aid, they manufacture it on a global scale.

Eight, I am hopefully not your only source of information about what is happening in Rio and Brazil.

Nine,  this free flowing font of useful information, much like the Xingú, cannot flow unimpeded to the sea forever.

Ten, though we flatter to deceive at geostadia, production time is high for uncertain returns. Comments are scarce, conversation about issues, nil. Readership is holding steady at 2,000 a month. The first visitor from Haiti has arrived, bringing to 130 the countries from which individuals have accessed geostadia. It would be interesting to know what the person who accessed the page from Poland yesterday has to say about the preparations for Euro 2012. 

Eleven, the incessant observation of the things gone wrong, commenting on the bungling, the egregious, the wrong and the absurd, is tiring and makes one grumpy. My next project will be to travel the world in search of those who have read my blog. This will alter the most perverse effects of social media by establishing personal relationships through the use and abuse of those very mechanisms. It will also show my impenetrable optimism to an incredulous world.


19 January 2012

The Center of the Universe

One of the nice things about living in the Center of the Universe is that there is a continual stream of VVIPs coming through town and sometimes they stop to chat. Such was the case yesterday when the Secretary General of FIFA, Jerome Valcke, took a few hours out of his busy schedule to do some much-needed PR with the international press corps.

FIFA, as we know, has had its share of really, really bad news lately. Corruption scandals emanate from this self-styled guardian of the global game as easily as no-bid contracts to Joseph Blatter’s family. Andrew Jennings is well on top of the legal proceedings against FIFA, recording his findings at www.transparencyinsport.com. In Brazil there is a strong and growing movement to get rid of Ricardo Teixeira, erstwhile president of the CBF and the 2014 Organizing Committee. This fight is being led by the Associação Nacional dos Torcedores e Torcedoras and can be accessed at www.torcedores.org.br.

Valcke is making the rounds of politicians and cities to get a few things done: 1) get the Law of the Cup passed. This has so far taken five years and will likely take a few more months to get through congress. In play are issues dealing with financial incentives, ticket prices for the elderly, students, indigenous, and the tens of millions of Brazilians who would like to see a World Cup game but can’t afford US$50 to do so. 2) Check on the progress of stadiums and infrastructure in the host cities. 3) Get some PR work done to polish the image of an institution that is under justifiable pressure to become more transparent and to leave more lasting benefits than the mere acceleration of brutalizing regimes of accumulation.  

Stadiums are massively over budget, but this should come as no surprise. Many of them will be white elephants. With maintenance costs typically running about 10% of initial construction, the public will pay for the Cup, again, in ten years.  But, you say, this is what the privatization schemes are for! So the public won’t have to assume the costs! Perhaps, but as with the public private partnerships that structure Rio de Janeiro’s transportation system, the companies are guaranteed profit and have no incentive to improve service, just to make more money. As we found out in Brasilia, the privatization of stadiums will depend on attracting shows, making the interior of the stadium a shopping mall, and charging astronomical sums to see mediocre football. As I talked about last week on Faixa Livre, Rio de Janeiro’s privatization contract for the Maracanã has just been published. Come on Eike Batista! I want you to determine how I experience professional football for the next 30 years!

The following is a semi-official table showing the vertiginous increase in construction costs for the 12 World Cup stadia that will then be handed over to private interests for profit and shopping center fun.

2010-11 Data taken from UOL online on 18.01.2010. 2009 data from various sources.
Costs in millions
 of R$ (1.76 = 1USD)


Jan
2009
Jan 2010
Jan 2011
Itaquerão (SP)


NA
NA
890
Maracanã (RJ)


500
828
931
Arena Fonte Nova (BA)


400
592
597
Arena Amazônia (AM)


300
533
532,2
Arena Pantanal (MT)


342
597
597
Estádio Nacional (DF)


520
671
846
Estádio das Dunas (RN)


300
413
417
Castelão (CE)


300
452
518,6
Beira-Rio (RS)


378
154
290
Arena da Baixada (PR)


250
185
234
Arena Pernambuco (PE)


500
491
532
Mineirão (MG)


427
684
695


My questions to the Secretary General (I did not have a recorder, so quotes should not be taken as direct but as very accurate transcriptions from my notes):

CG: Mr. Valcke, given that the 2014 World Cup will be the most expensive in history…
JV (interrupting):  More expensive than Russia?

CG: Well Russia hasn’t happened yet.

JV(irritated): Neither has Brazil.

CG: Yes, but we already know the estimated costs of the Brazilian stadiums will be more than 7 billion Reales, and that the infrastructure projects will run tens of billions more. Given that this World Cup will be more expensive to host than all other World Cups combined, even though many of the construction costs are choices made by the cities and states, does FIFA also expect to make a record profit from the event?

JV (irritated): You are confusing one thing with another. FIFA is not responsible for the construction projects. We make suggestions but do not ask for specifics. [the Anexo 19: Football Stadiums Technical Recommendations and Requirements is 125 pages long. The bidding documents published here give insight into the lack of demands made by FIFA]
Brazil decides how many cities they want, Brazil decides what infrastructure projects they want to develop. The lack of facilities is Brazil’s reality, and has nothing to do with FIFA.

JV: FIFA is not a private organization; we are not in the business of making money. Decisions are made by the 208 members of the FIFA congress and all money is put back into the organization. We depend on the World Cup for 85 to 90 % of our operating budget for the next four years and with this money we run all of the other World Cups, give millions to the smaller federations who get 80% of all operating surplus…

I think we will make between US$3.3 and US$3.5 billion on the 2014 World Cup.

CG: What is FIFA doing to counter the perception that the World Cup, and in particular the stadiums, are being financed with public money and are targeting the interests of national and international business in one of the most unequal societies in the world?

JV:  Most of the companies that will receive our hospitality packages are Brazilian. We have 300,000 hospitality tickets that we use which is the same number of category 4 tickets that we have reserved for the Brazilian public, so it is not fair or accurate to say that we are privileging corporations over the people. We are also giving 100,000 tickets, for free, to low income Brazilians, indigenous people and others. Tickets that are reserved for corporations but are not used will be put on sale for the public. (end).

As I have explained before, no one is ultimately responsible for what happens with the World Cup. FIFA positions itself as a kind of victim that is trying to work within a slow and opaque governmental structure in order to carry off the tournament which they claim is their principal source of revenue for the following years. The cities and states are to be blamed for the mind-bogglingly stupid projects underway but should we really accept at face value the idea that FIFA just makes “suggestions”?

FIFA cannot be blamed for the murder of the Maracanã, but they’re also not complaining about the loss of culture, the forced evictions underway to make room for parking lots, or the destruction of a global icon . Nor will they be responsible in any way for the maintenance costs of the publically funded stadia that will be privatized for more than the length of the tournament in order to maximize the profits for the tournament to which they have exclusive commercial rights. Tudo bem, if Brazil wants the World Cup, they have to play by FIFA’s rules. But this is far from “Fair Play” as FIFA has very strategically created a monopoly condition for which we can point the finger at a few Brazilians.

Is it necessary to spend R$2 billion on World Cup security? Why should Brazil be held financially responsible for damages caused by natural disasters? Doesn’t FIFA have insurance for this? What ever happened to the relatively sane idea of regionalizing the World Cup ? Now, more than 50,000 people will have to travel to Cuiabá (or Manaus, or Natal) over a day or two in order to see, for example, England vs. Cote d’Ivoire in the first round. That’s a tenth of the city’s population. Can the airports handle that volume? Will foreigners be able to use their credit cards to purchase tickets on Brazilian websites? Will there be any English language signage to facilitate the flow of people that FIFA’s publically-financed event is generating?

As Valcke rightly pointed out, the World Cup cities will not be the same during the Cup. The opening concert in Rio is anticipated to draw between one and three million people to Copacabana. No one doubts that the Brazilians can pull the stadiums together in time. That was never the question. As in South Africa, the real issues are much more profound for the two most unequal countries in the G-20. 

FIFA is very clever in indentifying their responsibility frontiers, massaging the Cup into shape, making money for themselves and others, and then heading on to the next tournament. What gets left behind will become the full responsibility of the Brazilians who are now in the process of choosing their future.


13 January 2012

Prove me Wrong

Everyone caught up on their 2011 posts? Good.

I have yet to hear negative responses or evidence to the contrary to my writings @ geostadia except for one guy that said “this blog is too negative, blah, blah, blah”. This either means that my observations are accurate (if not correct) or that I have amassed so much evidence  en favore of my arguments that the task of refuting them has become Herculean, Sisyphonic, Odyssesan, Olympic and Pyrrhic. There are debates to be had, however, and I hope that those who disagree with what I write take up the task of convincing me that the World Cup and Olympics are not fully part of the brutalizing machine of rapacious capital accumulation.

McDonald's. Don’t like it, haven’t eaten it in years. My grandfather used to take us boys there after a game of tennis for a milkshake and cheeseburgers. He would eat two or three ravenously while we crammed sugar-laden, highly subsidized potato and corn products (including the meat) down our pre-pubescent gullets. I am probably no worse the wear for my McDonald’s eating in my youth. That sugar high is just what I needed after running around, apparently. But to suppress the irony of McDonald’s supporting athletic competitions to show some corporate responsibility adds a twinge of sadness and despair to an already shite and contradictory state of affairs.

 I’m glad that McDonald’s has some CPR programs (uh, Corporate Public Responsibility, not heavy breathing and chest pounding though they probably have those too). I don’t know if they do any good, I haven’t investigated them. I hear they’re lovely but I doubt their motivations. Where are the independent journalists and academics talking about how much good McDonald’s is doing in the world so I can more fully inform myself about this wonderful company?

I am speaking from a place of ignorance regarding the flowering of humanity that results from McDonald’s generosity but in my estimation, the world would be WAY BETTER OFF if no one ever ate another bite of McDonald’s food or slurped another dose of entrenched and misguided public policy down their throats. Go on, please, convince me otherwise. While you’re at it, tell me why the Brazilian public needs to pay for McDonald’s VIP suites, hotels, limos, stadiums, advertising platforms, etc. for the World Cup and Olympics? Tell me about all of the great jobs created, the valuable experience of working with a team in a concrete box to deliver quality service to trusted customers. Tell me about the net positive effect tens of thousands of drive thrus have and how many trees were planted in the pqp (bfe) to offset childhood diabetes.

Usain Bolt apparently ran his world record 100 and 200 times after eating  Nuggets? I want some of that sauce but don’t want to play a game of chicken.  

There is a great talk radio show in Rio de Janeiro called Faixa Livre. Today, 13.1.12, there was a healthy discussion about the ongoing Macaranã tragedy (again, convince me). This is the link to the program: http://www.programafaixalivre.org.br/?id=1187. In the discussion leading up to the Maraca (rip) discussion the host, Paulo Passarinho, makes some very interesting about the two pillars of USA foreign policy: the flexible and continual use of the military to secure its interests and the inflexibility regarding the use of the dollar as the world’s currency. The show could be a useful exercise for you Portuguese language teachers and learners looking for a listening comprehension and critical thinking exercise.

In Rio, it’s a lovely afternoon of intermittent and dramatic rain that followed a lovely sun-drenched morning. From my perch in Flamengo I can see the Niteroi-Praça XV ferrys, imagining their putrid smell of half-burnt pão-de-queijo and feeling the push of thousands of people anxious to get home. The Charitas ferry isn’t moving at all, probably waiting for an opening at the dock. Does no one ever think about expanding and improving the use of water transportation? It’s a staggering collective myopia in transportation planning fronted by incompetence at all levels of public and private administration.  Nossa, só no Rio.

Next up: A VERY IMPORTANT VISIT from a VERY VERY IMPORTANT PERSON. Let’s see how the VERY DIFFICULT questions bounce off him.

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