For a complete version of this article please visit The Rio Times.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
For a complete version of this article please visit The Rio Times.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
The recent events for which Rio de Janeiro made headlines across the world show the dangers of dividing a society between a few haves and many have not’s, and of neglecting those in most urgent need of government services. It made us remember the obvious yet long ignored necessity to integrate, through accessible and quality education, children and adolescents of our Marvelous City.
For a complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Enrico Miguel Thomas, 39, is popularly known to New Yorkers as the “Subway Map Artist of NYC.” His studio: the city’s subway cars, platforms and train stations. His tools: an easel, every existing Sharpie in the color spectrum, acrylic paint, MTA subway maps, and endless determination. Thomas can be spotted at Union Square or by the 72nd street station meticulously recreating cityscapes as perspective drawings and transforming subway maps into masterpieces.
When I arrive at Thomas’ Red Hook, Brooklyn studio he is waiting by the elevator wearing a New York Yankees hat and a friendly smile. He takes me down long labyrinthine corridors to room 90, where the walls are colored with some of his favorite pieces and a framed New York Times article, in which he is featured.
“Art mimics life,” he says, explaining how drawing on subway maps turns one man’s trash into another man’s treasure. With expressive eyes and a calm, clear voice, Thomas has survived by doing just that. “It is like turning your life around,” he adds.
Art is more than a breadwinner for Enrico Miguel Thomas, it is an escape from a world that has left him physically and emotionally scarred. At the hands of his biological father, Thomas was driven into a coma with burns on more than 60 percent of his body when he was only three years old. Three facial reconstructive surgeries followed, leaving scars covering his scalp and running down either sides of his face. “A bit self-conscious” of the marks of abuse, Thomas is rarely seen without his Yankees hat.
“Art provides a therapeutic refuge so that the world essentially disappears—because my father is still in this world and my body that was severely injured is still in this world. But when I am doing my work, my body seems to disappear and my spirit comes out, and that is what is doing the drawing. So I don’t care how I look to others or what happened to me. [Art] is absolutely wonderful and powerful, and it has never failed me.”
Desperate to “make it to the big city” and escape a Staten Island home “run in a military fashion” – his mother remarried, and his stepfather was strict – Thomas ended up at Covenant House, a young-adult shelter on Manhattan’s West 17th street. “Finally,” he says, “I was completely free.”
“[Covenant House] didn’t feel like a shelter,” he recalls. “They had rules and requirements, but they created an atmosphere that helped [me] thrive and embrace [myself] as who I was. This was completely non-existent in the home I grew up in.”
Thomas never turned back, and claims to feel more at home than ever. “There is a logo that says ‘the spirit of NYC,’ and it’s true, … whether it’s the firefighters from 9/11, the police officers, the commuters in the subway or its entertainers. The spirit associated with NY is contagious and you become inspired simply by living here.”
He says there is no solitude in the city’s subway art world. “It is a vast world below. There are a lot of artists down there, all with big dreams of making it. When you see them, either as a commuter or as a fellow artist, you don’t feel so alone.”
With few exceptions, New Yorkers have welcomed Thomas’ work. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support given to me by the city’s population,” he admits. “Even little kids are inspired by my work, intrigued and amazed by it. So many people have bought my pieces. This means so much to me, [knowing] that my art is hanging on someone’s wall and that they see that piece every day.”
Thomas realized early on that the best way to attract potential buyers was by working instead of sitting and wondering when someone would purchase his work. “That is not the energy I want to emanate,” he claims. “When you are engaged in your work, it becomes contagious. When people see that you love what you are doing, it is so attractive that they will approach you, ask you questions and even want to purchase something.”
Thomas believes his duty as an artist is to communicate the state of our world, to show that adversity can be turned on its head and conquered. “I have come from really nothing,” he says, “from being in a coma with tubes connected to me so that I could breathe, to being a Pratt Institute graduate, to being featured in the New York Times. This is all because I never gave up. I fought so hard and I never took no for an answer.”
A conqueror of life’s hardships, Thomas refers to himself as the Rocky Balboa of the New York City art world: “You take the punches, you are all pummeled, but you keep on going.”
This article was published by Columbia University's Communique.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Shock. Disbelief. Fear. Insecurity. Adrenaline. Tension. Anger. Frustration. My Cidade Maravilhosa is under siege. Tracked armored tanks, M113 personnel carriers, hundreds of camouflage-painted soldiers and black-clad police officers flocked the streets of Rio de Janeiro this week. Bullets and low-flying police helicopters buzzed the clear blue sky as security forces battled against heavily armed youths.
For a complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Passengers of American Airlines flight 256, departing from Rio de Janeiro’s Antonio Carlos Jobim (GIG) Terminal 1, to New York’s John F. Kennedy (JFK), were lucky to make their 11:30PM flight on November 20. The same was probably true for passengers of British Airways 248, Aerolineas Argentinas 1257 and American Airlines 904.
For a complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Development advocates at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank claim corruption is a pervasive evil in most emerging economies – both a cause and consequence of poverty – in urgent need of eradication. Some may blame its existence on poverty, immorality, or even culture. Here are some news: regardless of its origins, corruption isn’t unique to the “developing” world and although nobody is keen to admit, the practice cannot and, arguably, should not be annihilated.
Transparency International (TI), the “global civil society organization leading the fight against corruption” which recently launched the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, claims to challenge “the inevitability of corruption, and offer hope to its victims.” The ideal is noble and evokes other grand Plans, like the call to end world poverty, which, after over US$2.3 trillion devoted to the cause in recent decades, remains far from being achieved.
Critics say corruption is one of the main obstacles to much needed progress around the world. Can this assertion be universalized? Take the case of Brazil. Outgoing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party (PT) – built on a reputation of clean government – has been involved in repeated corruption scandals since da Silva took office in 2003. Amongst the most notorious is the 2005 Mensalão (“big monthly payment”), involving allegations that prominent PT members, including former Chief of Staff José Dirceu, orchestrated a scheme to pay congressmen monthly allowances of around US$17.5 thousand to secure votes for legislation.
While half of congressional deputies were kicked out as a result of Supreme Court indictments and investigations in 2007, over a dozen individuals involved in the affair remain in the legislature. Although the party fiercely denies any link to the president in this and other corruption scandals, it is hard for any well-educated and well-informed individual to believe da Silva ignored what was going on under his nose.
It is no secret to Brazilians or international observers that corruption is endemic in the country. The world’s eighth largest economy, Brazil received a score of 3.7 on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (highly clean) in this year’s Corruption Perceptions Index, placing it at 69 out of 178 countries ranked from least to most corrupt. Unsurprisingly, nearly three quarters of countries studied scored below 5.
Critics claim corruption produces devastating impacts on men, women and children. And yet, Brazil’s internationally admired pro-poor policies for which da Silva is frequently praised (think Bolsa Família, which provides financial aid to families on condition that children attend school and are vaccinated), helped lift around 10% of the population out of poverty and increase primary school enrollment to above 95%. The PT’s economic policies ensured Brazil was one of the last countries to enter and first ones to leave the global recession, and are pushing the country towards becoming the world’s fifth largest economy by 2020. Who can soundly argue Brazil is fairing badly?
Transparency International purports to want to raise awareness about the practice and diminish apathy and tolerance of corruption. The organization’s bottom line: “corruption hurts everyone”. While rhetorically powerful, the statement is factually inaccurate. It is a pervasively and openly corrupt administration that propelled nearly 20 million Brazilians into the market economy. Politicians definitely did not suffer in the process, and the people seem to be very content with increased, albeit limited, benefits.
On October 31, 55.7 million voters elected Dilma Rousseff, da Silva’s handpicked successor, to become the country’s first female leader. Elections came in the midst of allegations that Rousseff’s “right hand woman”, former Chief of Staff Erenice Guerra, was implicated in a corruption scheme involving contracts to favor her son’s consulting firm and that prominent PT members had broken banking secrecy laws of members of the opposition Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB). Even so, da Silva’s “chosen one” easily won and he is set to leave the presidency with above 80% approval ratings.
Anyone familiar with Brazil knows of the popular jeitinho brasileiro (“Brazilian way”), roughly described as the “art of working things out” and often involving monetary transactions. This is true for the young boy guarding your car on the streets of Rio de Janeiro to the president of the Workers’ Party sitting in Brasília.
The country slipped from 124th to 127th place in this year’s World Bank “Doing Business” report, which assesses factors like the easiness of opening, running and closing firms around the world. If you don’t have an ally in the government, all you have to do to bypass painfully slow bureaucracies, is hire a despachante, a middleman who gets official documents pushed through “suspiciously quickly”.
You can object to the abhorrent convention, but if you do not know how to swindle, it is unlikely you will get anything done in Latin America’s giant. Reality is, you cannot eliminate an integral part of a well-functioning machine, especially one that is being successful at moving a country of continental proportions forward.
Claiming to fight for eradicating corruption might fulfill moral aspirations for a more equal and just world. But when it comes to realities on the ground, priorities quickly shift. Maybe the problem isn’t with corruption as a practice in itself, but with politicians who live out it while denying their people’s most basic needs. So the real lesson may be that, if you do it, just make sure you do it well, and the world may very well allow you to slide by.
Please note this article was written as an exercise on arguing for a view WHICH I DO NOT HOLD. In other words, defending the abhorrent practice of corruption.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
"The government wants to make the favelas safer for tourists because the view up here is amazing. […] Everyone here is focused on the World Cup and the Olympics," Patricia Correia Capistrano, a 28-year-old resident of Rocinha told the BBC News. Is that the logic behind all the fuss about the Police Pacifying Units (UPPs)?
For a complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.
For a complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.
Brazil’s history has somewhat been made. The 55.7 million Brazilians who voted for Dilma Rousseff on October 31, didn’t just elect their first female president. They also chose to overlook the corruption entrenched in the eight-year-long rule of the Workers’ Party (PT) government.
No political party can claim a monopoly over corruption, endemic in the country ranked 69 out of 180 nations surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perception Index. However, the Workers’ Party – once known for clean government – has been linked to all the nation’s major political scandals in recent years, showing it has become too cozy with power.
Amongst the most infamous is the 2005 Mensalão (“big monthly payment”), involving allegations that prominent PT members, including José Dirceu, Brazil’s former Chief of Staff, orchestrated a scheme to pay congressmen monthly allowances of around 30 thousand reais (roughly US$17.5 thousand) to guarantee votes for legislation.
Brazil’s Supreme Court indicted 40 people on charges of corruption, racketeering and money laundering in 2007. Nearly half of congressional representatives were kicked out as a result, but over a dozen people involved in the affair remained in the legislature and Dirceu, referred to by Brazil’s attorney-general as the “architect of a criminal organization”, played a central role in Rousseff’s campaign team.
In early 2006 former PT Finance Minister Antonio Palocci stepped down amidst allegations of corruption stemming from his management of da Silva’s 2002 presidential campaign and of breaking banking secrecy laws. Rumors now abound Palocci is likely to become Rousseff’s Chief of Staff.
In mid-September 2010, Erenice Guerra, who Rousseff has described as her “right hand woman”, and who took over as Chief of Staff when Rousseff stepped down to run for president, resigned amidst allegations of participation in a corruption scheme involving contracts favoring her son’s consulting firm. The “Erenice Scandal”, as the affair is now popularly known, came in the midst of accusations that members of Rousseff’s campaign illegally accessed the tax records of Veronica Serra, the opposition candidate’s daughter and of high-ranking members of his Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB). Both cases are currently under investigation by Brazil’s Federal Police.
Unlike her predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Rousseff did not rise through the ranks of the Worker’s Party. She was handpicked and imposed on the party by da Silva as soon as it became clear that his most likely successors were all implicated in corruption scandals. He then worked tirelessly to propel her from obscurity.
Constitutionally barred from running for a third presidential term, da Silva joked in March of this year he would run under a different name: “Dilma Rousseff”. For the past two years, the outgoing president has spared no efforts to transfer his political capital and approval rating – hovering at 80% – to his protégée, doing most of the talking on the campaign trail (often in violation of electoral law) and crediting Rousseff with some of the government’s accomplishments. National and international media have referred to her as “Lula in lipstick”.
Unsurprisingly, for PT supporters, Rousseff represents the continuation of da Silva’s social and economic policies, which helped elevate Brazil to the rank of eighth largest economy in the world and lift around 10% of the population out of poverty. This success story echoed principally among the rural and urban poor and migrants to the big cities – a majority of the electorate – for whom a vote for Rousseff was a vote for Brazil’s “best president ever”.
When the recent corruption scandals broke out José Serra, the PSDB opposition candidate, vigorously repeated that Rousseff was either incompetent for, as she claimed, “not knowing about them” or a criminal if she did know. Rousseff’s ratings wavered slightly in the polls which, analysts say, pushed her once certain first round win into the runoff on October 31.
An October 11 survey by Brazilian pollster Datafolha suggested that 75% of voters who initially intended to vote for Rousseff and then cast their ballot for another candidate on the first round of elections, on October 3, did so because of the corruption allegations involving the PT. But these were mainly well-educated, well-informed people, who comprise a minor percentage of Brazil’s electorate. According to analysts, for the majority of Brazilians, who often benefited directly from da Silva’s anti-poverty policies, allegations of corruption were not a priority. In addition, many people, rich and poor alike, still do not understand the complexities behind the scandals.
Rousseff’s bid was never really endangered and Serra never really stood a chance. Rousseff easily brushed off the affairs and pursued her path to victory with da Silva unwaveringly standing by her side. After all, winning against a president with above 80% approval ratings is difficult, or in this case, impossible.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
The polls have closed, results were revealed and history has somewhat been made. Brazilians cast their ballots for the country’s future leader, on October 31. The winner: Dilma Rousseff, the candidate hand-picked by outgoing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the left-leaning Workers’ Party (PT). The losers: José Serra of the Party of Social Democracy (PSDB) and the 43.7 million voters who hoped for change.
Yesterday, 55.7 million Brazilians didn’t just elect their first female president, a laudable and historic feat; they voted for condoning the corruption entrenched in the PT government. It may be easy to understand how Rousseff won – she now has da Silva to thank for his role as her campaigner-in-chief – but it remains difficult to grasp why Brazil did not vote against the eight-year-long fraudulent rule of the Workers’ Party.
Rousseff, a former minister and chief of staff, rode a wave of prosperity under da Silva’s coattails. The president spared no efforts to transfer his political capital and approval rating hovering at 80% to his protégée, doing most of the talking in the campaign trail (often in violation of electoral law) and crediting Rousseff for some of his government’s accomplishments.
Unsurprisingly, for PT supporters, Rousseff represents the continuation of da Silva’s social and economic policies, which elevated Brazil to the rank of eighth largest economy and helped lift around 10% of the population out of poverty. This reasoning echoed principally among the rural and urban poor and migrants to the big cities – a majority of the electorate – for whom a vote for Rousseff was a vote for Brazil’s “best president ever”.
But a ballot for da Silva’s “chosen one” was a ballot for a party that has made corruption a characteristic of its government.
Ranked 69 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perception Index, corruption is endemic in Brazil. Even though no political party can claim a monopoly over the practice, the ruling Workers’ Party and its allies have been connected to all major corruption scandals in recent years.
Amongst the most notorious is the 2005 Mensalão (“monthly stipend”), involving allegations that the Workers’ Party paid a number of congressmen monthly allowances of around US$ 17.5 thousand to secure votes for legislation. At the time, Rousseff – then Minister of Energy and Mines – was appointed Chief of Staff when her predecessor, José Dirceu, was forced to resign for his orchestration of the Congress vote-buying scheme.
In early 2006 former PT Finance Minister Antonio Palocci stepped down amidst allegations of corruption from his management of da Silva’s 2002 presidential campaign and of breaking banking secrecy laws. Despite the scandals hitting very close to da Silva, he easily won re-election in October of 2006, and his party’s corruption remained unpunished.
Brazil’s Supreme Court indicted 40 people in 2007, including the president’s former right-hand man, on charges of corruption, racketeering and money-laundering arisen from the Mensalão. Brazil’s attorney-general said Dirceu, the “scheme’s architect”, ran a “sophisticated criminal organization”. Although nearly half of Congress was turned out as a result, a dozen involved individuals remained in the legislature. Dirceu now plays a central role in Rousseff’s team and rumors abound that Palocci will become her chief of staff.
In 2008, the Chief of Staff’s office, then led by Rousseff, was accused of producing dossiers on the personal spending of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and of pressuring the National Civil Aviation Agency’s sale of Varig airline to a favored buyer. In early September 2010, members of Rousseff’s PT were implicated in the illegal access of the tax records of Serra’s daughter and of PSDB members, including the party’s vice-president.
Erenice Guerra, da Silva’s Chief of Staff who took over when Rousseff stepped down to campaign for president, resigned in mid-September amidst allegations of taking bribes to procure government contracts for businesses. The event tarnished Rousseff’s image who, albeit not mentioned in the accusations, had a long-standing personal relationship with Guerra and frequently referred to her as “my right hand woman”. Rousseff’s ratings wavered slightly in the polls which, analysts say, pushed her once certain first round win on October 3 to the runoff on October 31.
Serra vigorously pursued these issues, repeating Rousseff was either incompetent for, as she claimed, “not knowing about them” or had committed a crime if she did know. His pleas fell largely on deaf ears.
An October 11 survey by Brazilian pollster Datafolha suggested that 75% of voters who initially intended to vote for Rousseff and then cast their ballot for another candidate did so because of the corruption allegations involving her party. But these were mainly well-educated, well-informed people, who comprise a minor percentage of Brazil’s electorate. According to analysts, the majority of Brazilians simply did not understand what went on behind the scandals.
This allowed Rousseff to brush off the affairs and pursue her path to victory on the incumbent president’s popularity and economic and anti-poverty policies.
Maybe Rousseff will surprise us and make a clear commitment to clean the government. She has to. Fears of Brazil’s legacy of corruption are amplified by the recent discovery of deep-sea oil reserves, which have a habit of providing a lucrative means of rewarding party and president loyalty.
It will take a very determined and skilled president to push the much-needed political reforms through a system run on whims of special interests. It is too early to know whether Rousseff will have the strength and desire required to do so or whether her powers will be constrained from within. Unlike her predecessor, Rousseff did not rise through the PT. Her unexpected candidacy was imposed by da Silva, once his likely successors were all directly implicated in corruption scandals.
The new president will have a tough time. As José Dirceu told a group of PT members in September, the Workers’ Party will be even more powerful under Rousseff, whereas da Silva is “twice as big as the party”.
Monday, October 25, 2010
“This must be a really big guy,” said the student sitting next to me in the front row of International Affairs Building room 802, on October 14. “We don’t really see this many people in Brazil seminar events.”
Columbia students and scholars from Rutgers University, Bloomfield College, the Woodrow Wilson Center for Brazilian Studies and other institutions, filled every seat in the room to listen to David Fleischer, an expert in Brazilian politics of the University of Brasília, present the impacts of the October 3 country-wide elections and consequences for the year ahead.
It was a big guy and a very big topic. Here’s an overview of Fleischer’s presentation.
Nearly 112 million Brazilians – nearly 60% of the South American giant’s population – walked into voting stations for this year’s general election, on October 3, casting ballots for their future president, governors and members of the lower house of Congress and Senate. The voter turnout of above 80% is not uncommon in a country where voting is considered both a right and a civic duty – and compulsory between the ages of 18 and 70.
The Rise of Dilma Rousseff
According to Fleischer, for the past year, incumbent president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, of the left-leaning Workers’ Party (PT), has fervently campaigned for candidate Dilma Rousseff – popularly known as the Iron Lady for her active fight against Brazil’s military dictatorship during the 1960s. Rousseff became da Silva’s Chief of Staff in 2005, after her predecessor was accused of leading a corruption scheme to buy votes in Congress.
President da Silva spared no efforts in an attempt to transfer his political capital and approval ratings hovering above 70% to his “chosen one”. In a March 2010 survey conducted by Datafolha, when asked whether they would vote for “Lula’s candidate”, 42% of respondents said “definitely yes”, even though many admitted not knowing just who the candidate was.
In a May 2009 simulation of the elections conducted by Datafolha, presidential candidate José Serra, of the opposition centrist Party of Social Democracy (PSDB), held 38% of valid votes (which exclude blank and null votes) while Rousseff obtained a mere 16%. One year later, a repeated study indicated a tie at 37%. Before voting day, most polls gave Rousseff a clear win with a majority vote of 50% or above.
The country’s highly praised system of electronic voting allowed Brazilians to receive the results before bedtime on October 3. Rousseff obtained 46.91% of votes (47,651,434), followed by Serra’s 32.61% (33,132,283) and the surprising surge of Marina Silva, of the Green Party (PV), with 19.33% of votes (19,636,359).
Is Enough, Enough?
What explains Rousseff’s failure to win outright on the first round? Fleischer argued that apart for errors attributable to polling agencies and the difficulties of constructing a representative sample in a large, diverse and unequal country like Brazil, the media points to recent corruption scandals involving the ruling Workers’ Party.
In mid September, Erenice Guerra, da Silva’s Chief of Staff who took over after Rousseff stepped down to run for president, resigned amidst allegations of participation in a corruption scheme involving government contracts favoring her son’s consulting firm. Accusations hit very close to Rousseff, who publicly referred to Guerra as her top aid and “right hand”.
Weeks before, the Workers’ Party was accused of illegally accessing tax records of Serra’s daughter and of PSDB members in an attempt to concoct a smear campaign against the opposition party.
Corruption is endemic in Brazil, ranked 75 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perception Index. Although no political party can claim a monopoly over the practice, the ruling Workers’ Party has been linked to all major corruption scandals in recent years. Amongst the most notorious affairs is the 2005 Mensalão (big monthly payment) Scandal, involving accusations that members of the party had paid opposition congressional deputies monthly allowances of around 30 thousand Reais (roughly US$ 17.6 thousand) in order to secure votes for legislations.
“After eight years of the same,” one attendee to the October 14 event asked, “Isn’t it time for a new team to take charge?”
Much Needed Change
According to Fleischer, the first debate for the second round of elections, on October 10, was sharp and filled with unrealistic promises and mutual offenses, overshadowing broader issues facing the country, including education and health care.
Amongst many delivered blows, Serra accused Rousseff of being “incoherent and two faced” for supporting the liberalization of Brazil’s strict abortion laws and then backtracking when she realized her position hit a sensitive nerve in the world’s largest Roman Catholic country.
An October 12 Datafolha survey indicated that Rouseff would receive 56% of valid votes, while Serra would get 44% – compared with 54% and 46%, respectively, one week earlier. “Could pollsters be overestimating Rousseff’s support once again?” asked one seminar participant. Considering the first round’s margin of sampling error, Fleischer considered it plausible.
Brazil is faced with an important choice and Serra stands a real, albeit slim, chance.
Both candidates are described as social democrats and agree on the broad outlines of economic and social policy. However, according to The Economist, where they diverge, Serra – a former congressman, senator, health minister, mayor and governor of São Paulo, the country’s economic and industrial hub – is the more persuasive of the two.
Albeit faulted for his inarticulate campaign and worrying tendency to micromanage, according to the publication, Serra’s records suggests he would be more efficient in cutting wasteful spending and eliminating the fiscal deficit, and keener in mobilizing private capital for much needed infrastructure.
In my view, handpicked and mentored by the enduringly popular da Silva, yes, but Rousseff is not Lula – lacking, amongst many other attributes, the incumbent president’s charisma and pragmatism. Despite repeated guarantees by her party that Rousseff will not be a fantoche of her mentor, it is hard to imagine she will be anything but. A political novice, Rousseff’s main ripostes are borrowed from da Silva, and her every sentence starts with “During President Lula’s government…”, often referencing accomplishments she did not attain. Critics accuse Rousseff of electioneering and robotically obeying her strategists.
And yet, Fleischer said, she is da Silva’s chosen one, and “A very popular president with an 80 percent approval rating is very hard to campaign against.”
In two days, Brazilians all over the world will have the chance to exercise their right and duty to choose the country’s leader for, at least, the next four years.
The October 14 seminar’s overarching conclusion seemed to be that barring the emergence of another big corruption scandal linked to the Workers’ Party and Rousseff herself, da Silva’s mentee seems likely to become Brazil’s next leader. But, if the party isn’t able to rein in the mounting allegations, the results could plausibly tilt against her. In two days we will know.
A version of this article was published on Columbia University's The Morningside Post, on October 29, 2010.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, apparently unsatisfied with his new role as Dilma Rousseff’s campaigner-in-chief, has now decided to condone an act of violence against his party’s opposition candidate. What a shame, Mr. President.
While marching in the streets of Rio de Janeiro on October 20th, Mr. Serra, of the opposition Social Democratic Party (PSDB), and his supporters ran into a group of PT militants. At one point, the presidential candidate was hit on the head by what has been identified as a cylindrical roll of tape.
True, Mr. Serra did not dramatically collapse in front of the crowds or have his skull cracked open, but the event was enough to leave the candidate emotionally and physically distraught and prompt him to cancel all other planned events.
Despite widespread images of the episode, President Lula not only denied PSDB’s allegations of aggression, but went as far as ridiculing Mr. Serra. Lula accused the candidate of simulating injuries and compared him to Roberto Rojas, the goalie for Chile’s soccer team who deliberated injured himself in an attempt to avoid loss by his team during the 1989 World Cup elimination match.
Couldn’t our president have picked a better analogy? Or better yet, couldn’t he have followed others within his own party who immediately condemned the act of violence?
In fact, Lula also claimed Serra was hit by a “little paper ball” – which was the first object to be thrown at the candidate – and ran to get a tomography. “It is a shame,” said the president. “How many poor [Brazilians] die without even getting an ultrasound,” he asked.
Is it just me of did Lula just highlight his government’s failures? If we are pointing the fingers at the culprits for the deaths of the millions of innocent Brazilians unable to receive adequate medical treatment, I am pretty sure we won’t be looking at Mr. Serra.
Not only is Lula demoralizing politics but, more dangerously, sending out the message that attacking a politician “we don’t like” in the streets “is okay”. The president portrays the idea that the opposition candidate is the enemy, which ought to be defeated not only through lies, ruse and accusations, but now through physical brutality as well.
There is no debate here. Regardless of whether we wish to discuss the allegiance of Mr. Serra’s aggressors to the President’s Workers’ Party (PT), or PSDB’s use of the images against PT, there is only one correct route Lula could have taken. And he definitely chose the wrong one.
Fernando Abrúcio, a political scientist from the Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV-SP), said Mr. Lula’s behavior during this presidential campaign “is not good for Brazilian democracy”. Anyone disagree?
Friday, October 22, 2010
In one week Brazilians will flaunt into voting stations to choose their next leader. Whether Mr. Serra, of the Social Democratic Party or Mrs. Rousseff, of the Workers' Party, is elected, a tough challenge will remain. On top of endless priorities, the new president will have one major responsibility: transforming Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.
For the complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
“You do not need to attend journalism school to become a journalist”, seemed to be an overarching consensus at the NYC Career Services International Media Panel, held on October 12. Actually, you may be well advised not to do so. Most companies are interested in experts from different sectors with an interest in journalistic writing. Consider The Economist, a weekly news and international affairs publication, which often seeks “scientist with an interest in journalism not journalists with an interest in science”.
Amongst the NYC Career Series invitees were Robert Lane Greene, Business Correspondent for The Economist, Elizabeth “Bibi” Nunez, Production Assistant for CNN (SIPA and J-School ’09), Yalman Onaran, Senior Writer for Bloomberg (SIPA and J-School) and Michael Roston, Web Producer for The New York Times (SIPA ’06).
“[Your degree] doesn’t matter. What matters is how look at the world and how you question it. It is all about your outlook on life and how you perceive things. And SIPA does a good job at preparing you for the globalized world,” affirms Yalman Onaran, Senior Writer for Bloomberg. “We appreciate an International Affairs degree. It shows you have a wide view of the world.”
Onaran offered some hope to international students seeking to work in the United States. “Times haven definitely changed since 9/11, but you can do it,” he said. “I didn’t hire a lawyer because I didn’t have the money. But I filed my own applications. That was not fun, but I obtained two H1-B visas. So you can do it.”
Onaran added that, except for financial journalism – which he guarantees will always have a place in the media world – the outlook for the sector is very bleak. “In general, what relates to money and market is expanding. Other than that, it doesn’t look very good.”
“Journalism is about selling the news,” stated Robert Lane Greene, Business Correspondent for The Economist. “If you want to be in high demand, you have to ask what is in high demand and what is in short supply.”
For Greene, we should all ask ourselves: “What do I know, and what do I do that makes me in short supply? What do I know that nobody knows? What am I known for? Or, what can I be known for?” If the answers to these questions are unknown, take some time to figure them out.
Panelists were unanimous with respect to the value of SIPA dreaded courses: statistics, finance and economics – all very important, irrespective of area of interest or industry you end up in. “It is essential to know how to crunch in numbers and make sense out of data,” said Elizabeth Nunez, Production Assistant for CNN.
“Be adaptable and flexible,” added Roston, Web Producer for the New York Times and one of the founding editors of The Morningside Post. Technology is changing so rapidly that we do not know where we will be writing in five to ten years. We don’t know what platforms will prevail. “The important thing to do is know how to be a good beginner at everything,” Roston added. “And learn as things are changing.”
Take advantage of the “two year gap” while at SIPA, and focus on building your niche – be it in languages, regional expertise or any academic field. Make a name for yourself and don’t be afraid of putting your writing out there. Make use of new media to establish yourself as a writer. All of this so that one day, you may bring to publications a combination that no one else can offer.
“Make yourself distinguishable,” they all claimed. But more than that, make yourself indispensable, essential, ultimately irreplaceable. And, if you are lucky enough to be hired, make sure you are unique to your organization. Make sure that – and if – the time comes to make cuts, you will not be on the lay-off list. Easier said than done, I suppose.
Enlightening as the panel may have been, the many recommendations and “ought to’s” put forth seem to have overwhelmed – or in some cases even discouraged – many of the attending aspiring journalists.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Enrico Miguel Thomas is popularly known to New Yorkers as the “Subway Map Artist of NYC”. His studio: the city’s subway cars, platforms and train stations. His tools of choice: an easel, every existing Sharpie in the color spectrum, acrylic paint, MTA subway maps and an endless determination. He can be regularly spotted at Union Square, or by the West 72nd street station, meticulously recreating cityscapes as perspective drawings, transforming subway maps into masterpieces.
When I arrive at Enrico’s 183 Lorraine Street, Brooklyn studio, he is waiting for me by the elevator with his habitual NY navy-blue hat and friendly smile. He takes me down long labyrinth-like corridors to room 90, where the walls are colored with his favorite pieces and a framed page of the April 22, 2010, New York Times, in which our artist was featured.
On the floor is a giant subway map on which Enrico has drawn train cars and commuters in silver marker. He stares at the finished work and utters, as if in disbelief, “they were going to throw this away at the MTA museum because it had a tiny crease. Now I have turned it into something beautiful.”
Part of Enrico’s philosophy is to recycle, making “something great of what others consider utterly useless” – like subway maps, which commuters simply discard and he transforms into priceless works of art.
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” he says. “And art mimics life. So this is like turning your life around. Taking something bad or negative and turning it into something positive and beautiful.”
Through kind and expressive eyes and a calm, yet brutally honest voice, I would soon learn that Enrico has survived and lives by struggling to turn adversity on its head and constantly fighting to conquer it.
Now 39, Enrico started drawing more than three decades ago by mimicking images from comic books strips and enrolling in every possible poster contest in his native Houston, Texas. Wherever he would be, art was always a part of his life.
Growing up in a military family, Enrico did not have much choice but to move with his mother and siblings, when his stepfather was stationed in Staten Island, NY, in 1985. While living in “complete suburbia”, he would get hints “here and there of what Manhattan had to offer” but would mostly dream of making it to the big city.
Eventually Enrico did make it, only not in the way he had envisioned. Desperate to get away from a home ran in a “military fashion”, Enrico ended up at Covenant House, a young-adult shelter on West 17th street. “At least I was in Manhattan,” he says. “I just couldn’t believe I was in the city, finally, I was completely free.”
“[Covenant House] didn’t feel like a shelter. They had rules and requirements, but they created an atmosphere that helped [me] thrive and embrace [myself] as who I was. [It was a place] for my personal growth and self-realization. This was completely non-existent in the home I grew up in.”
Enrico never turned back, and claims to feel more at home than ever in New York City. “There is a logo that says ‘the spirit of New York,’ and it’s true. The people in NYC have this spirit, whether it’s the firefighters from 9/11, the police officers, the commuters who take the subway each and every day or its entertainers. The spirit associated with New York is contagious and you become inspired simply by living here.”
He guarantees there is no solitude in the city’s subway art world. “[It] is a vast world below. You know there are a lot of artists down there – singers, musicians and visual artists – all with big dreams of making it. And when you see them, either as a commuter or as a fellow artist, you don’t feel so alone.”
With very few exceptions, New Yorkers have welcomed Enrico’s work and given him strength to continue fighting. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support that has been given to me by the city’s population,” he admits. “Even little kids are inspired by my work, intrigued and amazed by it. So many people have bought my pieces. This means so much to me, to know that my art is hanging on someone’s wall and that they see that piece every day. It’s really something when you know you have made a contribution to humanity. In some way, in any way that you want or chose.”
Enrico considers himself a self-made entrepreneur with a unique sales strategy. He realized early on that the best way to attract would-be buyers was simply by working instead of sitting, wondering when someone would purchase his work. “That is not the energy I want to emanate,” he claims.
“When you are engaged in your work, it becomes contagious. I think that when people see that you love what you are doing, it is so attractive that they will approach you, ask you questions and even want to purchase something. The love of something really and truly overpowers anything else. It is really not that complicated. When you really love something, it monopolizes any other doubts that you might have about what you are doing, to the point that you become successful.”
But for Enrico Miguel Thomas, art is more than a passion and breadwinner, it is an escape from the evils of a world which has left him physically and emotionally scarred. A victim of child battery in the hands of his biological father, Enrico was driven into a coma with burns over more than 60% of his body. Three facial reconstructive surgeries followed, leaving scars covering his scalp and running down either sides of his face. “A bit self-conscious” of the marks of repeated abuse, Enrico is rarely seen without his navy-blue New York hat.
“For me, art provides a therapeutic refuge, so that the world essentially disappears. Because my father is still in this world and even my body that was severely injured is still in this world. But when I am doing my work, my body seems to disappear and my spirit comes out, and that is what is doing the drawing. So I don’t care how I look to other people or what happened to me.”
“Magically and mysteriously this dominates the period of time that I am working. It will completely take over the moment and obliterate anything that was once bothering me. This is absolutely wonderful and powerful, and it has never failed me.” Through a daily psychological struggle, Enrico claims to be emerging “a new person, a better person, a person that is more enlightened.”
Enrico believes his duty as an artist is to use his talent to communicate the state of our world. And this is precisely what he seeks to accomplish by working in the city’s dark, dirty undergrounds. “Working down there is sometimes impossible, you have the wind, trains, crowds, dirt and rats. But […] if I can overcome these difficult conditions, I can show the world, metaphorically, that adversity can be turned on its head and conquered. And that you can aspire to become whoever you want to become, no matter how hard the conditions are.”
Working on the streets and undergrounds of Manhattan has posed all kinds of challenges. Enrico tells me of two distinct episodes which left him emotionally distraught. Once, a passerby threw ice at him while he was kneeling down on the A-train platform, finishing a beautiful piece, which now hangs on his studio wall. On another occasion, an inebriated woman took some of his markers and drew on a completed cityscape drawing, claiming “to want to finish his work for him.”
“Oh my God, I was absolutely crushed,” he laughs. “I mean, this is just the kind of stuff you encounter in Manhattan.” Despite the shared amusement, Enrico admits both episodes were emotionally challenging. “There is an extremely intimate relationship I have with my work, as far as being therapeutic for me [and] considering my history. [They] didn’t know that. But I did.”
Enrico just kept going. A fighter and conqueror of life’s hardships, he likes to refer to himself as the Rocky Balboa of the NYC art world. “I have come from really nothing, from being in a coma with tubes connected to me so that I could breathe, to being a Pratt Institute graduate, to being featured in the New York Times. And this is all because I never gave up. I fought so hard and I never took no for an answer. There have been so many enemies who have tried to take me down, and doubt me and my abilities. And I’ve always said ‘no’ to them. But ‘yes’ to myself.”
“Life is hard, and art is life. I don’t feel I can separate the two. [But] you keep going, you have to keep going. Like I said, the Rocky Balboa of the NYC art world. You take the punches, you are all pummeled, but you keep on going.”