Curtain Raiser

Heartbreak & Immigration Dreams, Colltalers

Last week’s pictures of the appalling conditions that hundreds of children, who crossed the U.S. border illegally, face at an Arizona holding center may stop for a full minute the juggernaut of obliviousness and draconian tactics that has marked immigration policy by current and past administrations.
After that moment under the spotlight, though, despite all outraged and semi-heated debates over the issue, chances are it’ll return quietly to the back burner of political expediency, the control of a quasi-vigilante mindset and, ultimately, the corporations running the border’s jail system.
For the immigration debate seems stuck in the mud of faulty assumptions and a questionable moral compass. Short of compassion and integrity, any attempt at reforming it is compromised by grandstanding and ulterior motives. Pity those who still believe in the founding ideals of this nation.
The photos, published by a conservative Website, had the obvious intent of indicting the Obama administration over its treatment, or lack thereof, of illegal immigrants. But that could backfire and serve as an indictment also of the Republican Party as it has consistently fight the issue from making progress in Congress. They did it again last month, blocking efforts to offer residency for those who came here as children and joined the military.
And before we move on to other aspects of what has become a moot issue in American life, that of people who, despite living, working or fighting for this country, or even being born here, are still considered aliens, most of ‘Mexicans’ coming to the U.S. are not from Mexico at all, but mainly from Central America. In fact, immigration from the south of the border country has been drastically reduced in the past decade.
Also, even if it’s painful to see unaccompanied kids being thrown into the gruesome detention centers at the border, the issue shouldn’t depend of pulling heartstrings, as if we’d care more if they’re children. No immigration policy can be serious if it ignores the tightly wound familiar ties of many Latin American societies, and the economic realities that force parents to send their young to brave such a brutal trek to the U.S.
Conservatives all over, however, do share a trump card on their criticism of President Obama: the over two million undocumented immigrants who have been deported under his watch. And who, for the most part, unlike the administration’s claims, were honest, law abiding citizens.
Perhaps no other issue, with exception that of the prosecution of whistleblowers or the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, show with more clarity the profound disconnect between the president’s arresting oratorical talents, and the devilishly pragmatic approach of his administration’s policies.
At times, it seems as if Obama, the candidate, is still on the campaign stump, arousing us with his libertarian ideas, tolerance, and all that, while Obama, the president, has been more often a leader of continuity, meaning, preserving many of the restrictive and unfair policies that preceded him.
Such schizophrenic appraisal of the president who went through an unprecedented political bashing for pursuing an outstanding, albeit imperfect, piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act, and is committed to bring all active troops home, although not soon enough, may sound itself unfair.
But it is not too farfetched when it comes to immigration reform, even though enacting the overhaul of such a wide reaching law, which just like the Obamacare, will have long lasting impact on American society, is no task for a single man, even for the admittedly most powerful one on earth.
It is, however, a task that will have to be tackled better than it’s been since the times when promoting immigration was a condition to fuel progress of this nation. It’s ironic that a country that rose to the top of the world on the backs of its immigrant force, now can’t find ways to address the issue, without involving xenophobic fears, arming to the teeth its border patrols, or providing business to a corrupted private jail system.
We’re halfway through 2014, and over 140 thousand have already been detained at the Rio Grande Valley. Most of them will spend months of idle imprisonment, waiting to get deported, Continue reading

The Whirled Cup

Five Bullet Points On Brazil

& a Split-Decision to Strike

World Cup 2014 LogoYou may not know this but to most past World Cup hosts, the occasion was for national joy and jubilation, if not much for settling social scores. Brazil, though, is not buying into that placid template: in case you haven’t got the memo, Brazilians are actually angry.
They may have a point. But apart from all disturbing news about the (poor) preparations for the world’s biggest sports event that starts next week in São Paulo, here are five curiosities that go from the promising to the ‘peculiar’ to the far out.
We’ll get to them. But about that anger and the unsettling news: yes, it’s all true. The most expensive World Cup in history may turn out to be, arguably, the turnaround for Brazil’s dreams of being perceived as a global power, capable of handling its moment in the spotlight with composure.
A quick review of the staggering numbers shows that Brazilians are paying between $13 to $18 billion for the right to stage the games, but most of it has been invested either in riches that will quickly evaporate from the country, coming August, or will rot in some stadia built in the middle of nowhere.
Over 200 thousand people have been displaced to accommodate infrastructure projects for the cup and for the 2016 Olympic Games, also to take place in Brazil, according to a Mother Jones infographic, but many of such projects may not be finished for the opening kickoff, or may remain incomplete forever.
Discontent with the way funds have been diverted from needed and more permanent works, and public perception that President Dilma Rousseff hasn’t been fully cognizant to how Brazilians feel left out of the big party, have taken the country by storm and may only get louder during the cup.
In fact, she does seem less concerned about them than how the massive street rallies critical to what was supposed to be a celebration of Brazilians’ passion for the game, will impact the estimated one billion worldwide, expected to follow the month long competition.
But even as those problems have been called out over and over, and may be inseparable from the games this time around, it doesn’t mean we’re not working hard to provide you with some interesting alternatives to experience it all, insights that may be unique to this particular edition. And here they are:
1. THE WALKING STEAD
Talking about the opening kickoff, few know that, technically, it won’t be given by a human foot. Or it’ll but not exactly how one’d expect it. If all goes well, on June 12, a paralyzed person will walk on the field wearing an exoskeleton created by Brazilian neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis.
The technology behind the mind-controlled full-body suit has the potential to revolutionize mobility for millions of people. It’s not the first time that robotics is applied this way, but it still scores a kick in the arse of common indignities associated with being handicapped.
No word yet on who’ll be walking towards the middle of the Arena Corinthians and, with a thought or two, command the suit to help the foot kick the Brazuca. But you can bet your soccer shoes that, for many around the world, it’ll be as historical as the tournament’s winning goal.

2. WELCOME TO FAVELA INN
Some six million soccer fans are expected for the games, the last of them probably on their way in as we speak. But so is a severe hotel room shortage, with prices upwards of $380 a night to boot. So what choices a late comer has to rest their tired bones and avoid crashing in some godforsaken public square?
What about a shantytown? For a bargain $30, one can find a place to stay in one of the thousands of tiny houses, cramped together like jigsaw pieces, in one of Brazil’s hundreds of favelas, conveniently located in most state capitals and often with a much better ocean view than many a pricy hotel.
After all, this is a country where the so-called informal economy Continue reading

Out of This World (Cup)

Ecstasy to a Precious Few

& Agony for the Rest of Us

Time to face the inevitable: to pick a wrong team and bet the farm that your dreams won’t go south. In about two weeks, the World Cup will kick off in Brazil and the host, plus 31 other nations, will spend a month chasing a soccer ball through grit till glory.
Two will book a ticket to the July 13 final in Rio, and out of some 400 players expected to step on the grass, they may count with one or two of a group of eight outstanding talents to fulfill, or deflate, the hopes of millions of their comrades.
The history of this tournament may as well be written by the feet of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Argentina’s Messi, Spain’s Iniesta, Brazil’s Neymar, Italy’s Balotelli, Netherlands’ Robben, France’s Ribery and Chile’s Sanchez, or by the drive, team work, and ultimately sheer luck of everyone else.
The cup is capricious, though, and make a hero out of some unknown buck, instead, who’ll score that untimely goal, make an unlikely play, and provide the fleeting moment of suspended time when the ball succeeds in kissing the net. Between that kiss and the stadium explosion that follows it, lives the world’s most popular sport.
Short of divining who’ll be the winner, we once again embark on the vain exercise of establishing what we know, hoping that what we don’t, doesn’t bite us on our behind. In fact, it’s our duty to toss the dice and look ahead, despite all reasoning to the contrary.
A Colltales reader wrote so sensibly that ‘even the worst teams in the world have their faithful, and emotionally, masochistic followers.’ But if asked, one wouldn’t get such a straight assessment of their own misery, but all sorts of rational and, really, no nonsensical arguments to the contrary.
You won’t get a straight assessment about the outlook for this cup here either. Rather, I’ll switch to a single voice, so to allow myself to be entirely partial, deeply biased, and at times, completely irrational. You may get some useful hints, though, at least about how this game turns temporarily insane half of the world’s population.
WISHING UPON A STAR OR TWO
For starters, let’s get something out of the way: not to dismiss world champions Spaniards, but they have already peaked and, as last year’s Confederations Cup final has proved, they’re beatable. I’m not wishing for Brazil to cross paths with them again, but there are a number of teams that can knock them out early and often.

Talking about aging squads, if this cup were in Europe, Germany would be a natural fit to take it all once again. But for the fact that they strive under hard conditions and this group of players has been performing at its best for several years now, I’m not sure in the whole it still remains a suitable match to younger teams, though. Or to the grind of their own group, which in any case, they’re expected to win.
Italy and France are two tiresome mysteries too, but for radically different reasons. Piro & Balotelli notwithstanding, the Italians seem a fatigued bunch, and their schematics on the pitch will be hardly effective against the more agile contenders on their way. France, on the other hand, is a mystery because it’s failed to renew itself, since the sorely missed times of Zidane, headbutting and all.
In fact, the bureaucracy that took hold of European national teams, in opposite to their vibrant clubs, is baffling. Or anyone thinks that Belgians, Greeks, Austrians, Russians and the Swiss have something up their sleeves to shock the world? Puzzlingly, such lack of enthusiasm is echoed by the Africans, too. Long ago, Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria, specially, used to be a refreshing sight. Now they seem er European. Something happened on their way to the big leagues.
The malaise had already defeated the Dutch four years ago, but a former French colony, Ivory Coast, may hold some promise of Continue reading