Ugly Americans

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I haven’t watched much of the Olympics, because I think it’s gotten over the top and I can’t believe that a poor country like Brazil is spending its hard earned money building stadia and athletes villages rather than trying to do something for its desperately impoverished people.  I did, however, hear about the purported robbery of Ryan Lochte and other U.S. swimmers.  It was an odd story that didn’t really make a lot of sense, but it fit with the narrative of Brazil being a dangerous place.

Now the Lochte story seems to be falling apart and exposed as a complete fabrication.  Brazilian authorities — who have reviewed video footage — say what actually happened wasn’t a robbery at all.  Instead, they say that the incident was a dispute between the Americans, who were returning early in the morning after being out partying, and employees at a Shell gas station about damage done to a restroom.  Authorities have now prevented some of the swimmers from leaving the country until they can get to the bottom of things.

The Brazilians are angry because they feel like the honor of their country has been besmirched.  I don’t blame them for that reaction.  Americans acting like jerks, and then failing to own up to their misconduct and instead trying to blame everyone else, is a classic example of ugly Americanism.  I don’t understand why Brazil — or for that matter, anyone — would want to host an Olympics, but the Brazilians obviously are proud of their host country status, and probably disappointed whenever there is some less than glowing publicity about their country and the games.  To have a fake story about a robbery get worldwide press attention must be intolerable.

Unfortunately, we’re long past the point where social mores would force a wrongdoer to do the decent, honorable thing, and apologize.  Already there are people who are excusing the Americans or downplaying what they did.  I wish people wouldn’t do that.  We’d all be better served if people started ‘fessing up, rather than shirking responsibility.  I hope that Lochte and his fellow parties do the right thing, admit to the truth, and say they’re sorry.  That would go a long way toward helping the citizens of the U.S. of A. avoid that “ugly American” label.

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Blame It On Rio

Brazil is really struggling.  The country is in the midst of a severe recession, with the economy shrinking, unemployment rising, and annual inflation above 10 percent.  Crushing poverty is found among large parts of the population.  The country’s President has been suspended from office and faces impeachment, and recent investigations have exposed a web of governmental corruption fueled by the state-controlled oil company.  Crime is an ongoing problem, as are drug gangs, and the hundreds of reported cases of the Zika virus have increased health concerns.

Oh, yeah — and then there’s the fact that the summer Olympics start in Rio de Janeiro on August 5.

5ygfvaBrazil’s Rio state, which is expected to pick up part of the hefty tab for the Olympics, is a financial basket case.  The acting governor recently declared “a state of financial disaster” in Rio.  The statement said “The financial crisis has brought several difficulties in essential public services and it could cause the total collapse of public security, health care, education, urban mobility and environmental management.”

A “total collapse” of public security and health care in a country that has long had a serious problem with violent street crime, disease, and appalling poverty?  Makes you want to get your tickets to those track and field events, doesn’t it?

The idea is that the “state of financial disaster” will help the Rio state government to “honor[] its commitment to the organization of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”  The declaration will allow the Rio state government to seek millions of dollars in emergency funds from the national government to allow it to try to provide the security, transportation, and other services surrounding the games.

Brazil is the latest example of just how stupid the Olympics have become.  Countries celebrate when they are selected to host, but then they start to think about how they are going to pay for all of the fancy venues and stadia and Olympic villages for the athletes.  It’s a prime opportunity for more corruption, but it’s mainly misguided priorities.  Brazil’s Rio state can’t even adequately fund its hospitals and police stations, or make timely payments to public workers and retirees, and it’s going to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to “honor its commitment” to the Olympics?  How do you think the poor people of Rio, the pensioners who aren’t getting paid, and the people who can’t get decent health care feel about that?

You can argue about whether the International Olympic Committee should have picked Rio de Janeiro in the first place.  Brazil has lots of problems, and it always seems to swing between claimed economic miracle and total financial collapse.  You can’t argue, however, against the fact that the Olympics are proving to be an ugly, and entirely unnecessary, burden for a country that is facing economic and social calamity.  Even if the Olympics go off without a hitch — and don’t hold your breath on that score — when the weeks of glitzy athletic glamour end, Brazil will be left holding the tab, and the grinding poverty and raging crime and rampant corruption will remain.

I hope no American city ever seeks to host an Olympics again.  It’s just not worth it.

Cup, Yup — And Let The Nationalism Bubble Up

Hey, the World Cup has started!

Yup, they’re playing futbol down in Brazil, in all of those glitzy new stadiums that the Brazilians, desperate for more positive “emerging world leader”-type news coverage, have spent billions to build even though the country is beset by horrible, grinding poverty, terrible crime, and other awful societal afflictions.  Maybe all of those poor people will forget about their empty bellies and cardboard shanty homes while FIFA bigwigs limo around town and futbol fans from around the world show up in their colored wigs and toot their horns and chant their chants while men run around in shorts, kick a ball, and then fake injuries whenever they plausibly can.

I think soccer is boring — in fact, dreadfully, painfully boring — but I don’t begrudge people who think the World Cup is the greatest events in sports, period.  Isn’t it interesting, though, that the prevailing political view that nationalism is dangerous gets thrown out the window come World Cup time?  The ardent boosters of the EU will argue for just about every form of economic and political integration, but even the most suicidal EU bureaucrat wouldn’t dare argue that France, Italy, the Netherlands, et al., shouldn’t field national teams and try to beat the pants off each other when the World Cup rolls around.  Even Ghana is getting into the spirit and guaranteeing they won’t lose to Team USA.

Could the World Cup be exposing that the anti-nationalism one-worlders are, at bottom, a bunch of hypocrites?  If so, it’s doing something worthwhile — even if those guys do look kind of pathetic in their shorts and knee socks.

Simmering Just Below The Surface

For years we’ve been reading about Brazil as a budding economic powerhouse, an emerging alternative voice on the world stage, and a future force in global politics.  When Brazil was awarded the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, those events seemed like an opportunity to cement Brazil’s new, prominent role.

Brazil’s good press, however, always seemed at odds with the country’s great disparities in income and its grinding poverty.  Recently some of our friends visited Brazil and were shaken by the terrible living conditions of the poor, the aggressive begging, and an outright street theft in which a necklace was snatched from a neck by urchins who sprinted away and were quickly lost in the ever-present crowds.  It’s safe to say that they aren’t recommending it as a tourist destination.

Now some of those economic and class tensions have bubbled to the surface and are shaking Brazil’s political leadership to the core.  Brazil has been rocked by huge demonstrations that show no signs of ending.  They started as a protest about bus fare increases in Sao Paolo but quickly expanded to become a nationwide movement that is protesting political corruption, poor health care and education, and the money being poured into venues for soccer matches and the Olympics rather than being used to help the poor, among other topics of concern.

Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff, has held emergency meetings with her Cabinet to address the issues raised by the protests.  She promises to develop a new plan for public transportation, to earmark oil revenues for education, and to hire thousands of doctors from overseas to improve Brazil’s health system.  The protesters no doubt are wondering why it took huge public protests to get the government to focus on these issues — and whether they can trust the government to follow through on its promises if the protests end.

The Web’s “Bad Neighborhoods”

Every city has a “bad neighborhood” — a squalid, dark, depressed area where sullen people are roaming the streets and the unwary stranger can easily be the victim of crime.  It turns out that the internet is the same way.

A Dutch researcher tried to determine if there are patterns to the generation of malicious email used in spam, phishing, and other fraudulent scams.  It was a huge task, because there are more than 42,000 internet service providers worldwide.  The researcher found, surprisingly, that about half of the malicious email that is the bane of modern electronic communications comes from just 20 of the 42,201 internet service providers.  The worst “bad neighborhood” was in Nigeria, where 62 percent of the addresses controlled by one network were found to be sending out spam.  Other cyberspace skid rows were found in India, Brazil, and Vietnam.

The hope is that the study will allow internet security providers to better understand the sources of malicious email and further refine filters to try to block the efforts of spammers and fraudsters.  It’s a worthy goal, but I’m not holding my breath.  There have always been people who would rather hoodwink people than earn an honest living, and the internet has provided them with a vast new arena in which to ply their criminal trade.  If they can’t use that “bad neighborhood” in Africa, they’ll just find another “bad neighborhood” somewhere else.