HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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27 June 2012

Change of pace

Something different to keep you happy for the next few weeks while I run to yet another international conference, making sure that my carbon footprint matches my electronic. Pick 'em up and put 'em down, I say.


The above scene is kind of like a forest before being flooded by a hydroelectric plant. The Transcarioca BRT will slice down the middle of this street, sending high speed buses between the international airport and Barra de Tijuca. The street will be widened to 30 meters, and the sidewalk diminished to 1.5 meters on either side. These informal crossings will become even more dangerous. If the BRt is to even approximate its projected capacity, a bus will have to pass in each direction every 30 seconds. There will be no bike lane and the BRT stations are not projected to have bike racks. The BRT will cut this neighborhood in two, forever. No one in the region has much information about the timeframe for implementation and it seems unlikely that the city government will be offering much clarity.

On the same street, Vincente Carvalho, a group of houses was destroyed to make way for the Transcarioca. The city left the rubble in front of the remaining houses and kind of built a barrier to demarcate the limit of the disappropriation. One resident here was fairly livid about the process as she is a renter and had to complete the wall with her own money. In the background to the righ tof the guy on the phone is a sign that reads: ATTENTION: Please don't throw trash. Just beyond him are a series of buildings that will also be destroyed to make way for the BRT, but negotiaions with the business owners have not yet begun.

 Morro da Providencia, Zona Portuária. Though difficult to see, the blue bins belong to the Consorcio Porto Novo, the group responsible for the 5 million square meter gentrification project known as the Porto Maravilha. This trash collection point has been made worse by the installation of a tram line that will link Providencia with the Central rail terminal. According to residents, COMLURB trucks used to make regular collections here but their trucks can no longer access the morro because the street has been blocked by the "public works" teleférico project  - a project that never had any community involvement.


Forced removal on the Morro da Providencia. This rubble was left behind by a housing demolition that occurred after Providencia was occupied by the Military Police. UPPs all over Rio have unleashed a series of polemics ranging from controversial "thinning" projects, massive real-estate speculation, the elimination of popular culture (funk parties), and the opening of relatively closed social and physical spaces to aggressive forces of capital accumulation. The benefits and drawbacks depend on who you ask and which topic you want to treat. The discourse of UPP occupied favelas as being safe and interesting places for tourists to still experience "authenticity" in Rio is given a good run at Rioonwatch while others have been less reflective about the naked advertising of occupied favelas for foreign visitors.

finally, yet another very cool example of Rio's amazing street art

20 June 2012

Rio + 20 = Too Much


If the environmental impact of Rio +20 mirrors the flow of emails announcing it, then we are all well and truly screwed.

The insanity of hosting this conference in the least sustainable part of one of the world’s least “sustainable” cities has not quite caught on in the official announcements. Somehow, a city with no recycling program, with no food security program, with clogged traffic arteries, a huge housing deficit, no program to check if the subsidized closed condo complexes are connected to municipal sewage lines, somehow, this classifies a place as “sustainable”. It must be the massive military occupation that makes this word fit. Or perhaps filling hotel rooms is a way to “green” a city. Or perhaps slapping some grass on rooftops and creating false environmental certifications, contracting foreign universities to collaborate with business magnates or embarking on repetitive cycles of creative destruction lead business and policy elites to say things like:


Leakages. Right. I also understand that North Korea has issues with their voting machines.

For the thirty-odd people that are not in Rio de Janeiro this week for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development [sic], the Cupula dos Povos, the C40 Mayor’s conference, Humanidade (still not sure what that is), and three days of mayor-decreed holidays,  you are missing out.  The city’s avenues are shutting down periodically and emphatically for the comings and goings of super, extra-important and very, very special people. On every corner in the Centro and Zona Sul there are huge men standing around with even bigger guns, showing the path to Barra de Tijuca where tens of thousands of Brazilian army regulars are patrolling. Every few minutes a helicopter with snipers sitting in the open door putters past my window. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I perceive as the rank hypocrisy of Rio+20 and what I perceive to be the complete green-washing of what has become a global business conference. We all know that in the midst of an economic crisis, the first items to be cut are international holidays (unless paid for with public funds), environmental protection measures, education and health care. The order and depth of the cuts vary, but is always the same. “Austerity” is just another word for nothing left to lose. I think that’s a Joan Baez tune.

So is this clusterbumble of an event designed to make the world conscious about environmental issues, or is it a chance to get us to resolve our problems through the more efficient implementation of technological and technocratic solutions to a narrative of collective doom articulated by prophets of globalization? It is probably something in between those two poles, but both are being stroked by conservatives.

The raising of environmental consciousness is, of course, necessary and right. However, unless that consciousness is decoupled from acts of consumption then it continues the same patterns that have made that consciousness necessary in the first place. That is, if we think that buying carbon offsets and engaging cycles of creative destruction is a way to solve environmental problems, then I am going to change my last name to Bloomberg. The mantra of sustainable development depends on cycles of ever-increasing growth, not wealth re-distribution or re-allocation or alternative use. Reducing the divide between rich and poor will never enter the equation @ Rio+20. Building a discursive platform that “everyone” (except us) can agree upon while sustaining economic growth, ensures that the status quo will be maintained, an essentially conservative position. Does it matter whether or not we collective act upon the carefully crafted words of Rio +20? Or have the words been so carefully crafted that they will have no effect other than to assuage our collective iphone guilt? Is there an app for that? Can I buy carbon credits with the money I get from selling my Exxon shares?

The other pole dancers are those who see the era of capitalist developmentalism with certain nostalgia and want to slap a certificate on their old products to continue business as usual. It is right and proper that the conference is happening on an overdeveloped wetland with massive sewage, transportation, social and housing problems. The lack of irony is as profound as the lack of honest intention. We can market the solutions to death. As my colleague Leo Name pointed out recently, what happened to Chlorofluorocarbons? Remember how bad those things were? Then there was a solution, HCFCs, just a little more expensive. Now, HCFCs are bad, so we need another, yet more expensive solution, HCFC+. I prefer leeches, thanks. Stick ‘em right on that old air-conditioner.

I’m going to process this Rio+20 mess by avoiding it entirely. The alternatives being proposed at the Cupula dos Povos are much more interesting and the massive marches happening today from the Vila Autodromo to the Rio+20 site, despite intentional sabotage from the city, are an expression of a human consciousness that goes beyond mercantilist logics which is where we need to go to arrive at solutions for problems that may or may not be collective, depending on your ability to buy yourself a motorcycle escort, helicopter flight, or clean glass of water in Barra de Tijuca.  


14 June 2012

Impunity and Continuity


Legal proceedings that deal with corruption and influence peddling don’t have much staying power in Brazil

This week, the former Ministry of Sport Orlando Silva was fortunate enough to have been out of the national and international spotlight for long enough that the President’s Ethics Commission decide to end the investigation into his involvement with a mutli-million dollar corruption scheme. Not having been close to the proceedings, it is impossible to say whether or not there really was a lack of evidence to proceed or if the ethics commission was late for lunch or if this was another example of the press acting as a political bludgeon. Either way, there is no information available on the commission’s website as to the investigation, just some small news pieces saying the Silva is clean. I am not suggesting that the Ethics Commission doesn’t do a fine job of rooting out corruption, just that there appears to be a pattern in Brazil of people getting involved in corruption scandals, losing their jobs, and then being cleared of any wrongdoing. Then, to maintain the status quo, another person just like them, or at least from the same party (in this case the Brazilian Communist Party, PCdoB), is put into power to continue with the same policies.

Take the case of our favorite gout-ridden sycophant, Ricardo Texeira. One year ago, he was riding high in the inner sanctum of FIFA even though he bet on the wrong horse in FIFA’s farcical elections. He had thoroughly dominated Brazilian football for nearly two decades, having ridden to power on the strength of a good marriage. However, he and the ex-father in law had been involved in some shady dealings with FIFA’s now defunct marketing arm and the FIFA president Blatter threatened to divulge documents exposing their (and likely his) involvement. To avoid the gallows before shuffling off the mortal coil, J. Marie Havelange resigned from his honorary post at the IOC and Texeira was forced out of FIFA and the CBF. Where is he now? Living the Latin American millionaire exile life in Florida. Where are the legal proceedings?  None. What has happened with the CBF? Tricky Ricky’s loyalists were stuck into power with the full and obsequious approval of the feudal overlords that control the clubs. What happened with his position on the executive committee at FIFA? Another fat-fingered patsy was put in his place to keep the ball rolling for the “good of the game.” The media naturalizes this process, letting the air out of what should be an expanding balloon of collective, righteous indignation. In the meantime we can be sure that Texeira and the CBF and FIFA are as clean as Byron Moreno’s whistle.

The lesson here is that one can engage in corrupt practices, or be associated closely enough with shady dealings to arouse the sleepy dogs of justice, lose position and power, but keep the money and rest comfortably knowing that the dogs will be thrown some other bones to chew on. Corruption and impunity and forgetting are the pistons that drive the World Cup forward and as long as we keep lubricating the machine with public money and collective passivity, nothing will save us from hurtling over the cliff while 1% of the passengers smugly don their golden parachutes. 

06 June 2012

Dilma, the president


Dilma, the president, signed into Law the Lei Geral da Copa on Tuesday May 5th. This “general law” puts into motion most of the machinery that will make possible FIFA’s anticipated US$3.5 billion in profits for the 30 day football tournament in 2014. The law has been the subject of intense debate in the media and in Brasília, but no one has really questioned the principal workings of the World Cup.

This is, of course, a subject best treated in a book, not a blog, but we can take the Lei Geral as an exemplary “necessity” for hosting a mega-event. The laws of the land have to be changed in order to allow for private hands to more freely plumb the depths of private coffers. While this has been called a “state of exception”, or a condition of governing under emergency conditions that imply a loss of sovereignty, the truth is that the state of exception is permanent and that the implementation of  “laws of exemption” make exceptions to the exceptions.

If we think about, for example, how the United States is continually under some kind of existential threat that allows for the implementation of martial law (to put down occupations), rule by decree, renditions, extra-judicial killings, obnoxious and invasive security measures etc. and then compare those conditions/spaces/tactics with things like the “Global Pass” visa system that allows frequent travelers to skip through immigration, we can see where exceptions to the exception begin to emerge. Some people and institutions deserve preferential treatment and as such will be able to transverse and permeate space at will. 

This condition is a threat to human solidarity and collective enterprise as well as a really annoying, petulant requirement of the globalized blow-hards that foist these hubristic bacchanals on populations. Rio+20 is yet another exercise in the militarization, privatization, and elitization of urban space. Go away and chat over skype if you want to resolve something. It’s a foregone conclusion that no major environmental commitments will come out of this conference. Will Rio+ stop the construction of 20 dams in the Amazon and the impending passage of the new Forest Code? No. Will Rio+20 stop people from buying cars? No. Will all the international visitors get on airplanes and think they’ve done something to improve the world’s environment? Yes.  

And we’ll have the city even more occupied by the military than it already is. Lovely.

Mega-events bring threats that only exist in relation to the event, thus justifying the measures that are put in place to prevent those threats from being realized. Would London be putting missiles on top of blocks of flats if the Olympics weren’t there? Probably not, though the Keystone Cops nature of British security might just. Would the State Government of Rio de Janeiro invest billions in securing the Olympic Ring (O-Ring) if they didn’t perceive the favelas as a symbolic and physical threat to the city? Nope. The nature of risk as an exogeneously defined condition (that is, coming from the outside in) is worth thinking about as more and more cities foolishly line up to host these events. Not only do our “leaders” choose to expose the city to the threat of terrorism by making us into a juicy target, but we also take massive, incalculable financial and social risks that no one is overly concerned with mitigating. Nossa. 

Repeating a theme, the Maracanã has died and is undergoing surgery to be reborn as a shopping mall zombie. I will call it Xaracanã as Brazil’s richest man who always puts an “x” in his companies’ names is the frontrunner to win the 35 year management concession.

Not only has the Maracanã had its capacity diminished from 179,000 in 1999, to 129,000 in 2000, to 85,000 in 2007, to 75,000 in 2014, but the size of the playing field is being reduced by 15%, the number of VIP and hospitality [sic]  suites by a billion, and the air conditioning bill for those sweaty-pitted fat cats and their corporate-government ass-kissers by a trillion tons of CO2..

Did I mention that the current reform is going to cost around R$1,000,000,000? Did I mention that the 2006-2007 reform cost around R$300,000,000? Did I mention that that I wrote a book about this awhile back?

There is increasing recognition that the Maracanã should not be reborn as the Xaracanã. Protests, civil society, journalists, football fans and anyone else with a fistful of righteous indignation about the unacceptable trends towards the privatization of an iconic and fundamental public space are rising up against the privitazation scheme. Sadly, there does not appear to be other such movements in Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Fortaleza, Cuiabá, or Brasilia – each of which saw a historic, public stadium assinated to be re-constructed with public money to be turned over to private companies. 

I wonder what elements of the Lei Geral da Copa Dilma, the Marxist Revolutionary, would have vetoed.

Upcoming talks!
12 June – 9am -12pm Centro Municipal de Cultura, Porto Alegre - Participação da população na construção dos Megaeventos – impactos e legados
16 June – 14h30 Cúpula dos Povos, Aterro do Flamengo, RJ -  Direito Humano à Mobilidade: Crimes de Trânsito e Meio Ambiente



04 June 2012

Dam the River


Things are about to get messy in Rio.

The Rio+20 environmental [sic] conference is going to blast millions of tons of pollution into the air, clog traffic, generate thousands of tons of waste and overload the already taxed sewage system while purporting to resolve global environmental issues. Not that I’m skeptical, but unless we convince China and the USA to back off of coal consumption, or convince Brazilians and Indians to stop buying petrol consuming cars, or design our cities a little more intelligently, is there any way that this conference is going to do anything but make things worse? In the midst of a global economic crisis that not even the CRIBS have managed to avoid the first thing on the long list of trivial concerns is the environment. Second is health care, third education. As Zizek has told us, the capitalists can’t live without the environmentalists and vice versa, making them part of the cycle of creative destruction that keeps our happy globe tilted at 23.5 degrees.

The solutions for our collective problems are more likely to come from the parallel conference of the Cúpula dos Povos that will take place on the Aterro do Flamengo between the 15th and 23rd of June. While the VVIPs and heads of state are shutting down the city with their motorcades, regular people will be discussing more serious issues than the medieval concept of carbon credits (which to my mind are much like paying the Pope for indulgences). I’ll be giving a talk at the session sponsored by the Conselho Federal de Psciologia on the 15th in their session: A Psicologia e o Compromisso com a Construção do Bem Comum (Psychology and the Promise to Construct the Common Good).More specifically, we’ll be talking about  Direito Humano à Mobilidade: Crimes de Trânsito e Meio Ambiente (The Human Right to Mobility: Crimes of Transit and Environment). Should be interesting.

Federal Universities, meanwhile, have just entered into greve, that is, we’re striking. This is a huge novelty for someone who worked at universities in the southern USA, where it was/is ILLEGAL to form a union of state workers. There hasn’t been a real wage increase at Brazilian federal universities in ten years, the buildings are falling apart, and there is a noticeable shift towards the privatization of public institutions, ala the recent turns in the UK (that followed the sad trends in the USA). There is probably still some lingering perception out there that the Worker’s Party is a leftist government. While they do have some progressive policies, the general trend is towards privatization and letting the invisible hand of the market wiggle in mysterious ways. Most people get a solitary and salutary finger, while a chosen few get rather more happy endings.

The strike at Federal Universities means more, not less, work for professors and students. The demands and justifications for the strike can be found here (in Portuguese).

The IOC is visiting Rio this week for another series of closed meetings. Transparency continues to be a major problem.

The Vila Autôdromo, long targeted by our Sun King mayor for removal has proposed an alternative plan for urbanization of the community. The Vila is located in the northwest corner of the Olympic Park project, but was included in AECOM’s winning design, even figuring in the 30 year urbanization plan. However, Snoozman at the COB has said that there needs to be a transportation link between the Olympic Village being constructed by Carvalho Hosken (at a cost of R$500,000 per apartment) and the Olympic Park and that this transportation  line needs to pass through the Vila Autôdromo. Right. Now that there is a counter proposal on the table and the entire world is watching to see what the government is going to do, let’s see if they decide to do the right thing and open a conversation with the Residents’Association.

There will be a march from the Vila Autôdromo to the site of the Rio+20 conference on the 20th of June, starting at 8am.


01 June 2012

Way outside the lines

The following video is from the ESPN (USA) program Outside the Lines whcih aired this past Sunday. It's not my ususal blogpost, but when someone puts a good video together, why not share?




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