Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Can Brazil Become More Than A Regional Economic Superpower?

In an article on the US News website, Scheherazade S. Rehman, professor of international finance/business and international affairs at The George Washington University, discusses the future of Brazil as an economic superpower. She writes that without a "miracle," Brazil will likely not be able to become more than a regional economic superpower.  

She lists the following familiar issues as obstacles to Brazil's continued growth:

• Underdeveloped infrastructure (with a particular emphasis on lack of adequate transportation)

• Lack of access to healthcare leading to a high infant mortality rate

• Widespread poverty (about 20 percent of the population)

• High crime rate (24 homicides per 100,000 residents)

• Housing

• Corruption

• Insufficient domestic savings to maintain growth rates without foreign investment

She concludes with this assessment:

"Critical reforms and lots of hard work and difficult decisions must be made during the next decade if Brazil is seeking a seat at the 'big boys table.' This continent-sized country has the world's attention; the question is whether it can keep it beyond a Latin American audience in the days to come. Back to my original assessment—Brazil will stay a regional economic superpower unless a true miracle occurs."

Update, December 7, 2012: In an interview with BBC Brasil, Dr. Rehman answers questions about her article and adds details to her original statements.

Source: Brazil Portal

Monday, November 26, 2012

CNN Article Covering São Paulo Violence

This article on CNN's website offers a grim overview of the violence that has been plaguing São Paulo. According to the article, there have been almost 1,000 homicides in São Paulo this year, with 100 policemen among those killed. 

Much of the violence has been concentrated in the favelas, and is attributed to the ongoing fighting between the prison gang known as the PCC (Primeiro Comando da Capital, or First Command of the Capital) and the police. As anyone who has been following this story knows, the nightly death count from the violence is often 10 people or more.  

This CNN item is interesting, as it's one of the first references to this deadly situation that I have seen in the mainstream American press. While we often read about deaths associated with political violence in the Middle East, violence in our own hemisphere goes under-reported....unless, of course, US citizens are somehow involved, in which case it makes the headlines.

But leaving aside all of that, what really intrigued me about this article were the comments left by readers. While some of them were written by people who seem to be reasonably well-informed and had interesting insights, there were a lot of comments that were ignorant and/or mean-spirited. Here are three samples:

"Just burn the favelas to the ground. Nothing good comes out of there."

"Latin America has an out of control crime problem, not sure what it is, must be something in the water."

"Brazil is a GIGANTIC slum."

There's nothing very surprising about this, of course. People seem to feel free to type whatever they want behind the anonymity of their computer monitors, as can be seen from reading the comments below almost any news item posted on Facebook. Still, the level of animosity in some of these comments is disturbing.

A First: Black Judge Appointed to Head Brazil's Supreme Court

Dilma congratulates newly appointed Joaquim Barbosa
MercoPress reports that Brazil's newly appointed head of the country's supreme court is the first black to hold that office. 

Joaquim Barbosa, 58, was born to a poor family in a small village in Minas Gerais, but went on to attend law school, and was first appointed to the court by former president Lula. 

He has gained recent attention for his role in the "mensalão" scandal, in which he has shown no tolerance for corruption among elected officials.  

The article notes that while Afro-Brazilians comprise over half of the country's population, they are among the country's poorest citizens, with only 2.2% acquiring a university education. 

During his acceptance speech, Barbosa said, "I must honestly declare that there is a great deficit of justice in our country. Not all Brazilians are treated with the same consideration before the courts. What we see here is privileged treatment."  

Source: Brazil Portal

Dilma Fires Corrupt Officials

MercoPress reports that on Friday, November 23, 2012, police raided government offices in Brasilia and São Paulo, arresting six government employees who are accused of being involved in a bribery ring.  

Wasting no time, on Saturday President Dilma Rousseff fired all those arrested, in her ongoing effort to distance herself from any of the scandals that continue to plague her ruling PT party.  

The article also includes results of a recent poll, which show that Dilma has more support (26%) for re-election in 2014 than her predecessor Lula (19%).  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Brazil Ranks 13th In Soccer Attendance Worldwide. Yes, Seriously.

This headline took me completely by surprise: "World Cup Host Brazil Struggles To Fill Stadiums." What?? I thought that Brazilians were crazy about "futebol." I just assumed, incorrectly as it turns out, that soccer stadiums would be crammed to capacity, just as you'd find a huge crowd filling the stadium on football Saturday at almost any American college or university. 

But no. According to the article, "fewer people go to see professional soccer matches than in China or the United States." OK, I could believe that fewer Brazilians attend soccer matches than in China, since China's population is so huge, but fewer than in the US? That really got my attention.

More from the article: "Brazilian clubs are using different strategies to try to fill their grounds but they are hampered by antiquated stadiums, a lack of respect for fans, television stations that show every game live and insufficient policing and security. In Brazil, just about everyone has a team and an opinion, but few actually go to support their side."

That last sentence sounds like a description of Americans when it comes to politics: everyone has an opinion, but relatively few (between 50 and 60 percent) bother to show up every two years to cast their vote.  Given that Brazilians have a much higher voter turnout than the US (over 80% in the last Presidential election), I assumed (again, incorrectly) that turnout at soccer matches would be really high.

The article cites various reasons for low attendance: the cost of tickets, stadiums in run-down areas, and occasional violence between rival groups of fans.   

Source:  Brazil Portal

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Best Brazilian Rock Album Ever?

I know I'm setting myself up for objections with a title like that, but Raul Seixas' "Krig-ha, Bandolo!" shows up on almost any list of great Brazilian albums, and at the very least, I'd put it in the top five. 

For the record (ha!...a pun, get it?), I'm not alone: the album ranks 12 on Rolling Stone Brasil's list of the 100 greatest MPB albums, and was also on Estadão's list of the 30 best MPB albums of all time. It came in 5th place in Estadão's poll of readers' favorites from that list.

The album was released in 1973.  According to Wikipedia, the title is based on a Tarzan war cry from Hal Foster's Tarzan comic strips. The cover, as you can see, features a somewhat emaciated looking Seixas in a pose that immediately brings the crucifixion to mind (well, to my mind, anyway). The huge medallion around his neck provides some bling, and along with the Gothic font used for the cover, grabs the viewer's attention. When this album was released, cover art was important because it was the first exposure most people had to the album. Record stores used to place the 12" covers in their windows to attract buyers, so the artwork was a form of advertising.  

For this album, Seixas was joined by Paulo Coelho in writing the songs (yes, *that* Paulo Coelho, who went on to write "The Alchemist," among other books).

First of all, let's be clear: I'm not saying it's one of the top five MPB albums, necessarily, though I wouldn't object to that, either.  I'm  talking specifically about *rock* albums, so that leaves out big hitters like João Gilberto, Gilberto Gil, Tom Jobim, Elis Regina, and many others.  

So what is it that makes this such a great album? It's not the inherent beauty of Raul Seixas' voice, which can be raspy and plaintive, but can also be surprisingly smooth and mellow, too. It's what he does with his voice that makes this album so irresistible. There is literally something for everyone here, and whatever Seixas does, he does it extremely well. Not only that, he does it without wasting any time. The entire album clocks in at just under 30 minutes, with the longest song a little over 4 minutes, and most of them between 2 and 3 minutes.  

This is important because it keeps the momentum of the album constantly moving forward, with the listener never wishing that a song would end a little sooner than it does. Although I've listened to the album at least a dozen times now, the end always seems to come faster than I expect, and to me, that's one sign that an album is a success.

While I don't normally do a track-by-track description of albums, I'm making an exception in this case.

The album opens with a scratchy home recording of a young Seixas (9 years old) singing a short version of "Good Rockin' Tonight," and it's clear from this short sample that he had already developed a comfort level in front of the microphone.  In fact, you get the idea that his parents probably couldn't get this kid to be quiet, ever.

Next comes "Mosca Na Sopa," with hard-hitting Afro-beat drums and repetitive lyrics. It's complete with buzzing fly sounds and a spoken-sung section from Seixas as the fly himself, describing exactly how he drives his innocent human victim crazy. Seixas' voice is strong as he almost yells out the lyrics, but it fits the song perfectly.

The next song, "Metamorfose Ambulante," is one that I first heard in the film "Cidade de Deus." Here, Seixas' voice has the plaintive and at times raspy tone that I mentioned earlier, and it also shoots up into a falsetto range as the song develops. There are enough hooks in this song to please even the most skeptical listener.  

"Dentadura Postica" is the next song, and it's one of my favorites. There's a backing chorus that sounds as if it could be a Brazilian gospel group, alternatively chanting "vai cair" and "vai subir" in a sort of call-response pattern with Seixas.  This song will leave you with a huge smile and make you want to sing, or at least hum along.  

In the next song, "As Minas Do Rei Salomão," Seixas sounds very much like Bob Dylan, with  exaggerated and deliberate distortions of the melodic line, and a very country-rock sound.  

"A Hora Do Trem Passar" is a major change of pace from the previous tracks. It's a gentle ballad with Seixas using a voice that's both melodic and sweet, and this is where you begin to admire the man's versatility.  But just when you think he's calmed down to sing you a lullaby, he breaks out with a rock anthem ending, letting you know that he doesn't want you to get *too* comfortable.

"Al Capone" is a song named after the American gangster, and it's a straight-out rocker, with some country influence.  Like "Mosca Na Sopa," it includes some sections that are more spoken than sung, but if anything, it's even more energized than "Mosca."  It also has some amazing guitar passages.

Next up is "How Could I Know," which is sung in English, with almost no perceptible accent.  The first time I heard this song, it reminded me of something that could have been in the musical "Les Misérables." It starts out with Seixas and his guitar, but quickly swells to include an orchestral instrumental background as well as a chorus. I know what you're thinking, but it works. The lyrics and the music are surprisingly engaging, and again, Seixas' versatility and his ability to tackle a variety of genres is impressive.

"Rockixe" is next, and it begins with jazzy sounding trumpets (echoes of Herb Alpert, but better). Seixas' voice is all over the place in this one, including some "woo's" that sound a lot like the early Beatles.  His voice actually breaks on some of the high notes, but it fits and you can tell that he did it deliberately.  

Next we have "Cachorro-Urubu" which finds him channeling Dylan again, but this time, Dylan doing a ballad.  So the voice is somewhat raspy again, but this time the song is slower and more lyrical than "As Minas Do Rei Salmomão." He's joined by back-up singers towards the end. This is another one of my favorites, though with this album it's really hard to choose.

The album ends with "Ouro De Tolo," whose opening bars sound like a Glen Campbell song, but don't worry, it's definitely not that!  Seixas' voice has the plaintive, raspy sound that he uses so effectively, but this time, there's a lush orchestral back-up as he talks and sings his way through the lyrics.  Good luck singing along with this one, since he manages to cram more words into it than you'd think is possible.  

And then it's over, and in my case, I'm not ready for it to end, which usually means that I listen to the whole thing (all 28.7 minutes) all over again.

So, why is this such a great album? Well, there's Seixas' amazing versatility as a singer and a musician. He wisely kept the songs and the album short, never wearing out his welcome. There is not one bad song on the entire album, and I never skip over a song, though I do sometimes repeat one immediately after hearing it. 

The album sounds really good, too, with quality production values and a high level of musicianship throughout. But the bottom line is that it makes me feel good to listen to it, and that's something that you can't say about every album, even ones that are universally accepted as being among the "best" or the "greatest."  

And that's why I think that this may just be the best Brazilian rock album, ever. If you haven't heard it yet, what are you waiting for? It's available for download on iTunes and Amazon.

Update January 17, 2012:  Be sure to read the post that Tom, EatRio.net's author, wrote about this album, and while you're there, check out his other posts. He's also a great photographer.

Brazil Institute Director Predicts "More Productive Bilateral Relationship" for US and Brazil

In an article published on November 9, 2012, Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, predicts that the US and Brazil will actively pursue a policy of increased cooperation in a variety of important areas.

He writes that President Obama and President Dilma Rousseff both face economic and political challenges which will encourage them to work more closely together. He indicates that the groundwork for this increased cooperation has already been laid, both by government and business leaders.

In a passage that reflects Mr. Sortero's strong convictions on the subject, he writes: "the rapid increase in the breadth and depth of the bilateral dialogue and the Brazilian and American governments' efforts to maintain the doors open for a more productive and consequential relationship suggest, at a minimum, that they understand they need each other, benefit from working together and risk paying a political price for not doing so."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The 100 Greatest MPB Albums from Rolling Stone (Brasil)

This list of the 100 Greatest MPB Albums from Rolling Stone (Brasil) was published back in 2007, but it still makes interesting reading. I was struck by the number of albums on this list that also appeared on the list of the 30 top MPB albums that appeared in Estadão a couple months ago. 

I have copied the top 30 from the Rolling Stone list below, and highlighted albums that also appear in Estadão's list with bold italics. 

In a couple of cases, artists appeared on both lists, but not for the same album, so in those cases, the artist's name appears in bold italics.  

Rolling Stone ranked their choices, but Estadão listed them in chronological order, so it's not possible to compare rankings.

As you can see, 17 albums appear on both lists, and 19 artists appear on both. 

1 Acabou Chorare (1972); Novos Baianos

2 Tropicalia ou Panis et Circencis (1968); Vários artistas

3 Construção (1971); Chico Buarque

4 Chega de Saudade (1959); João Gilberto

5 Secos & Molhados (1973); Secos & Molhados

6 A Tábua de Esmeralda (1974); Jorge Ben

7 Clube da Esquina (1972); Milton Nascimento & Lô Borges

8 Cartola (1976); Cartola

9 Os Mutantes (1968); Os Mutantes

10  Transa (1972); Caetano Veloso

11 Elis & Tom (1974);  Elis Regina e Tom Jobim

12 Krig-ha, Bandolo! (1973);  Raul Seixas

13  Da Lama Ao Caos (1994); Chico Science & Nação Zumbi

14  Sobrevivendo no Inferno (1998); Racionais MC's

15  Samba Esquema Novo (1963); Jorge Ben

16  Fruto Proibido (1975);  Rita Lee

17  Racional (1975); Tim Maia

18  Afrociberdelia (1996); Chico Science & Nação Zumbi

19 Cabeça Dinossauro (1986); Titãs

20 Fa-Tal-Gal A Todo Vapor (1971); Gal Costa

21 Dois (1986); Legião Urbana

22  A Divina Comédia ou Ando Meio Desligado (1970); Os Mutantes

23  Coisas (1965); Moacir Santos

24  Roberto Carlos Em Ritmo de Aventura (1967); Roberto Carlos

25  Tim Maia (1970); Tim Maia

26  Expresso 2222 (1972); Gilberto Gil

27  Nós Vamos Invadir sua Praia (1985); Ultraje a Rigor

28  Roberto Carlos (1971); Roberto Carlos

29  Os Afro-Sambas (1966); Baden Powell e Vinícius de Moraes

30  A Dança da Solidão (1972); Paulinho da Viola

US Election Coverage From BBC Brasil

Tired of the American media's coverage of the election? Check out this special coverage from BBC Brasil for a different perspective, and a chance to brush up your Portuguese reading skills.

And remember to VOTE today!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Brazil's Economic Model: What Can The US Learn From It?

Eduardo Campos and Dilma
Brazil is the world's sixth largest economy, and during the past decade, an estimated 40 million Brazilians have entered the middle class. In addition, Brazil's unemployment rate, even in the current economic downturn, is an enviable 5.4%, a rate significantly lower than those found in the US or the European Union.

To put it in one sentence, Brazil is a burgeoning economic power, with a growing middle class and low unemployment. Of course, we all know about the problems that continue to plague Brazil: corruption, an underdeveloped infrastructure, a huge gap between the very rich and the very poor, violent crime, a cumbersome bureaucracy and a complicated tax code. But in spite of all of this, the country is doing quite well when compared to other capitalist democracies.

An article in the International Herald Tribune by David Rohde, entitled "The Brazilian Economic Model," examines the economic development of the port of Suape, in the state of Pernambuco. Suape is the largest port in the Southern Hemisphere. Mr. Rohde attributes the economic growth to the centrist economic policies of Pernambuco's governor, Eduardo Campos, and President Dilma Rousseff.  The author writes that both of these leaders are "trying to mix liberal and conservative economic approaches."

He goes on to discuss Dilma's support for privatization of infrastructure projects, a payroll tax cut, and various pro-business measures she has taken.  He also points out her aggressive social policies, including the expansion of the "bolsa familia," initiated under former President Lula, which offers poor families a payment if they vaccinate their children and send them to school.

He concludes with this passage:

"Ms. Rousseff and Mr. Campos have their flaws but they should be applauded for breaking free of blindly ideological approaches to economic growth. In too many countries, politicians present voters with a stark choice between sweeping austerity or state largesse.

Europeans and Americans are not used to looking to Latin America for economic guidance. Pernambuco suggests they should."

Brazil and the US have very different political, economic, and social cultures, so any effort to implement Brazil's policies wholesale in the US would probably not be very successful, but the author raises a valid point. I found his criticism of "blindly ideological approaches to economic growth" to be particularly convincing, since there can be no question that polarized political philosophies have hindered meaningful economic growth in both the US and the European Union.

Instead of looking to the past, or to European countries, it's high time for the US to carefully examine the policies that have proven to be successful in Brazil, decide which ones might be worth trying out here, and then adapt them to meet our own needs.