Supreme Court Should Overturn Prop 8

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This article was published by Neon Tommy in March 2013.

California’s heated Proposition 8 debate and and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has returned to the Supreme Court’s attention, prompting gay-marriage supporters to paradein Washington D.C. and change their Facebook pictures to an equal sign. People should continue to manifest against gay-marriage intolerance, and the Supreme Court should recognize gays’ rights to participate in the institution of marriage.Se 

On Tuesday, justices heard Charles J. Cooper, a lawyer for Proposition 8 supporters, and Theodore B. Olson, a lawyer on behalf of gay marriage supporters.

Mr. Cooper rapidly became trapped in his argument that marriage’s fundamental principle is procreation, and thus gay couples should not be able to marry. He argued that “redefining marriage as a genderless institution will … refocus the purpose of marriage … from the raising of children and to the emotional needs and desires of adults.”

However, Justice Kagan challenged Cooper’s argument by pointing out the existence of infertile couples and elderly couples who can no longer procreate. Justice Ginsburg also mentioned imprisoned people’s right to marry, even though they cannot procreate under such circumstances.

Declining heterosexual couples’ marital rights on the basis of procreation is considered unconstitutional. In the same way, gay couples should not be barred from marriage because they cannot procreate. Marriage goes beyond procreation: it is based on love, care and the creation of a family, which includes the possibility of adoption. But it also provides legal rights and responsibilities essential to gaining a “marriage status” in society.

In fact, David Boies and Theodore B. Olson, lawyers in defense of gay marriage, wrote in a brief to the Supreme Court that “plaintiffs agree with proponents that marriage is a unique, venerable and essential institution. They simply want to be a part of it – to experience all the benefits the court has described and the societal acceptance and approval that accompanies the status of being ‘married.’”

CBS News poll released Tuesday shows that 53 percent of Americans support gay marriage. It will be the Supreme Court’s job to base its decision on constitutionality, but public opinion will likely also have an impact on the case. This Wednesday, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, once considered to hold a decisive vote, showed stronger resistance towards the Defense of Marriage Act and suggested support for gay marriage.

The Supreme Court has to acknowledge Proposition 8’s, as well as DOMA’s, unconstitutional discrimination against a class of people based on their sexual orientation, and allow California to once again embrace open-mindedness and tolerance.

Keeping Score: Water Shortage And Train Troubles

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This column article was published by Neon Tommy in April 2014.

While state governments in Brazil sweat to finalize stadium constructions and other important World Cup-related infrastructure projects, many Brazilians continue to suffer from the long-term precarious living conditions that pose major obstacles to the World Cup’s success and, as a result, have recently become prioritized by both the media and authorities.

For more than a month, the city of São Paulo has struggled with limited water supplies. Residents of the North Zone have complained of water shortage for weeks, and have received no credible justification from Sabesp, the state’s water company. The water is usually interrupted from late evening until early morning, and others have also complained of shortages during the afternoon.

Similar cases have happened in the outskirts of São Paulo, and residents affirm they never received any notifications from Sabesp. Because of droughts, the main reservoir for the metropolitan areas has failed to sufficiently serve the city and, as a result, Sabesp has had to change to other water sources. They nevertheless continue to deny that water is being rationed.

Since the state cannot properly provide water for its residents, the inevitable question is how they will handle the extra flow of tourists this summer during the World Cup. If São Paulo continues to struggle with water supplies, it won’t be surprising if authorities decide to more severely cut water services for the less privileged areas and channel it instead to areas with a large concentration of tourist accommodations.

Another urgent problem is the city’s transportation system. It’s not only a matter of constant delays, dirty platforms or the odds of being robbed. It’s a matter of unsafe overcrowding to the point of compartment doors staying open while the train is in motion. Train riders fight not only to get a seat but also to even enter, and the sporadic flow of trains discourages them from ever waiting for the next one. In such an environment, it’s no wonder passengers often complain of crime and that women report cases of sexual abuse in trains.

In São Paulo, many of the World Cup games will take place at Estádio Itaquerão, which is at least an hour away by public transit from downtown. Tourists will most likely have to resort to taking cabs (and be stuck in traffic paying unreasonably high prices), or fight for space in trains that run with eight to nine people per square meter.

São Paulo’s city hall may turn the busiest World Cup days into holidays, probably the only solution that authorities could come up with, no doubt losing sleep over how to prevent tourists from joining Brazilians in protests once they experience similar struggles.

A government that spends millions of dollars in building stadiums should be expected to afford to invest in better transportation, but that is not the case. Instead, it is a government that believes the best solution to this mess is to halt work and vital family income for a few days until the extravagance is over. Meanwhile, trains will continue to run with their doors open and water will remain scarce for the poor.

Keeping Score: Rioting For More Than Football

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This column article was published by Neon Tommy in February 2014.

Riots exploded all over Brazil last summer because of unfair public transportation fares, but have now developed into manifestations for better education, healthcare, transportation and safety, and – to many fans’ surprise – against the World Cup.

The first riot occurred in early June of last year inSão Paulo, when a group of people protested against the increase of bus fares and entered into  conflict with the police, encouraging people in other cities to take action as well. In a matter of days, the riots encompassed a myriad of current Brazilian issues, from poor public education to massive governmental corruption, even leading protesters to invade Congress.

This year, although less frequent, protests such as these are still taking place and many participants promise they will stop the World Cup from happening – and if not, they will protest during it.

Foreigners planning on attending the World Cup may be wondering, among other things, why Brazilians are suddenly turning against their favorite sport’s event, and how safe and reliable Brazil will be as a host.

The World Cup has been the last straw for Brazilians, who have decided to finally express indignation en masse at the government’s corruption. Brazil is in no shape to host the World Cup when people are dying at hospitals with scarce resources, when public schools barely qualify as educational institutions and when safety is so poor that people fear exiting a bank in the afternoon.

Now, Brazilians hear the fantastic news that the government will be spending billions of dollars on stadium and airport construction for the Cup, even though President Rousseff had previously claimed that the government would not be the one financing these investments.

So it’s not that Brazilians no longer want to celebrate soccer, but that they’ve woken up to the fact that the government will not improve its practices and concern for the people unless the population stands up and proves that they are no longer standing by and accepting bread-and-circuses distractions.

Granted, many Brazilians are satisfied with the upcoming World Cup and do not find much need to protest current living conditions. Despite recent middle class growth, the gap between the rich and the poor in Brazil is still as wide as the Grand Canyon, and the rich will likely be the ones attending most of the games this summer.

But safety is the issue that bonds the rich and the poor. No one is safe: the poor live among many of the criminals, and the rich have difficulties escaping robbery, even with their bulletproof cars and high-security homes. Safety is also a key concern for foreigners who plan on visiting Brazil this summer.

Violence has recently increased because of the protests and widespread indignation. Protesters are vulnerable to extreme violence from the police, and journalists aren’t safe from aggression either. Brazil is the 10th most dangerous country for journalists, falling behind only Mexico and Colombia in the Americas.

Many protesters try to engage peacefully with the police but often face violence anyway. And Brazilians cannot but reflect on the irony of the situation: the police are widely known as never being on time to arrest a robber or kidnapper, but once government authorities demand their service, policemen become as abundant as sunshine in Brazil. The population has become so intolerant of police inefficiency and rampant crime that a handful of citizens began to publicly punish muggers and take the law into their own hands.

Most certainly, the police will be on guard to protect incoming tourists, but visiters should nevertheless be aware of the general risks in Brazil, such as thieves, dangerous areas like favelas and dishonest workers who will rip tourists off at every attraction site, taxi ride and restaurant. Americans, especially those who are used to living in a suburb where they park cars on the street and sleep feeling certain that the cars will still be there upon waking up, may be shocked at Brazil’s reality.

In Brazil, many prefer to live in apartments for safety’s sake. If they live in a house, it is either within a condo or four walls equipped with security systems. People don’t tend to walk around using their iPhones to avoid being robbed, and neither do they wear jewelry while out on the streets. If a robber approaches, they know the best option is to consent and not to fight back so as to avoid being killed. Drivers avoid waiting at stoplights at night for fear they will be robbed.

Attending the World Cup is a personal decision regardless of Brazilians’ attempts to boycott the event. The country is in turmoil but it does not cease to be beautiful, full of people with great hospitality and delicious food. Brazilians are dissatisfied with the government, not with foreigners.

Foreigners who will visit Brazil in the summer must make sure to be in the safest areas with the safest modes of transportation. Although staying at a good hotel in a nice neighborhood will be more costly, it is definitely worth it to not risk one’s life by finding housing in favelas. Cabs are safer than buses late at night and walking down a street at night alone should not be considered a viable option.

But if tourists find themselves somewhere Brazilians are protesting, while they should be mindful to protect themselves from violent interactions, they should also be sure to pay attention to the great lengths to which Brazilians are going to change their country, because foreign witness is what they rely upon to reveal Brazil’s other side to the world.

Keeping Score: Expect Trouble At Brazil’s World Cup

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This column article was published by Neon Tommy in February 2014.

The country of soccer will be hosting the World Cup for the second time this summer. In 1950, the final match was in Maracanã stadium, where Brazil played against Uruguay and lost the championship on their own turf. This summer, Maracanã will again hold the final match, where Brazilians hope to watch Brazil play—and win—its sixth championship.

The World Cup will run from June 12 through July 13 in 12 different cities in all regions of Brazil. A total of 32 countries will participate, Brazil being the team with the most titles (five), followed by Italy (four) and Germany (three). Brazil remains a top competitive team for this year’s title; it has won the past three Confederations Cups, beating Spain 3-0 last year. However, Brazil hasn’t won a World Cup since 2006.

FIFA rotates among continents every World Cup year to ensure that everyone gets a fair chance. 2014 is Latin America’s year, and Brazil was identified as the ideal host for its continuous contributions to soccer and the worldwide popularity of its players and team. From a standpoint of based on passion and emotion, Brazil seems to be the perfect match for a World Cup event: soccer enthusiasts, popular team, beautiful country, relaxed atmosphere. But just like closely looking at a photo and suddenly seeing its flaws, the more one learns about Brazil, the more cons one finds to compromise the pros.

There are, indeed, great possible outcomes of the World Cup in Brazil. Most benefits are economic in nature. The country must invest in certain industries, such as hotels, transportation and restaurants, generating more jobs and giving unemployed people the opportunity to earn income. While the World Cup is a temporary event, the changes are not, and citizens will be able to take advantage of the better economy. There will also be large profits from the high numbers of tourists within Brazil, which will benefit airlines, local businesses, hotels and many other sectors.

On top of the economic advantages, hosting the World Cup also places Brazil under the spotlight and, for better or for worse, it’ll receive more international media attention than usual. This advantage works both for those who support and who oppose the World Cup. Even if one does not support the event for socioeconomic reasons, at least the media will be more attentive and likely to engage in a discussion about the social issues present in Brazil. This has already started; you can find more articles than usual on Brazilian affairs, especially about construction tardiness, favela invasions and exceptional high expenditure on stadiums and other sports-related infrastructure.

However, Brazilian authorities seem determined to destroy the few pros of hosting the event, thus expanding the list of cons. Brazil would benefit from an economic boost after a wave of government investment in infrastructure and successful tourism, but officials have so far focused only on stadium construction and canceled several airport, train and bus improvements, which are far more useful and beneficial to Brazilians than high-tech stadiums.

In addition, the government is estimated to spend $13.3 billion in total for World Cup preparations, far more than Germany and South Africa have spent in the previous years. This, among other reasons, has sparked protests in many Brazilian cities, because the population feels betrayed by the government, who commonly claims not to have sufficient money to properly invest in education, healthcare, safety or transportation.

Another major con is, although the government is trying its best, Brazil simply does not have the necessary infrastructure to welcome thousands of foreigners, offer proper accommodations and means of transportation, and guarantee their safety. Rio de Janeiro, for instance, expects around 300,000 visitors, but it only has 55,400 hotel beds. One can imagine the situation in the other, less metropolitan and less popular cities.

Brazil bets that tourism will produce large profits that will ignite the economy. However, it is challenging to assert an estimated amount of tourists for this World Cup for several reasons. For starters, prices in Brazil have been skyrocketing and, although anyone spending dollars is at an advantage (one dollar is equivalent to 2.3 reais), the inflation of hotel and airfare prices will certainly prevent many tourists from attending the World Cup.

Also, tourists are faced with a serious concern for safety: one need only read Brazilian news to realize the lack of control the police and authorities have over dangerous favelas, robbers, kidnapper and so on. Finally, there is the population’s resistance against hosting tourists in Brazil, as a way to protest against governmental corruption. Many Brazilians want to sabotage the World Cup and are disseminating videos and articles online about why no one should attend the event.

Brazil has in its hands two grand opportunities—the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016—to make a lasting positive impression on the world, improve its infrastructure, boost tourism and create thousands of jobs for its people. But so far, the government and World Cup event planners have only disappointed Brazilians and will most likely soon disappoint the rest of the world as well.

Keeping Score: Social Cleansing For The Cup

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This column article was published on the Neon Tommy website in March 2014.

As the World Cup approaches, the Brazilian government tries to solve its favela, or slum, problem by sweeping it under the rug.

It aims to reduce the numbers of favelas by evicting residents from their homes and, when they do not obey, by cutting municipal services like lighting and trash collection for the neighborhood.

In Rio de Janeiro, 1.4 million people live in favelas. According to government officials, residents of favelas must move out for “safety” reasons, when in fact the public knows that the evictions are a part of preparations for the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Because favelas are very visible in Rio de Janeiro and because some of them are in prime locations, the city plans on gentrifying some and depopulating others.

The government is correct in recognizing the lack of safety in favelas and attempting to reduce crime, address the risks of landslides and unsustainable infrastructure and combat the spread of diseases like tuberculosis. However, the government’s disregard for the difficulties favela residents have endured up to now only proves that authorities are solely interested in clearing areas for the construction of roads, stadiums and Olympic villas.

Favelas would not exist in the first place if the socioeconomic gaps were not so wide, and if lower and middle class Brazilians did not suffer so greatly from unemployment, skyrocketing real estate prices, lack of effective public transportation and many other problems.

According to a study conducted by the Popular Data Institute, 65 percent of favela residents have been searched by the police; more than one third of them do not have any books at home; and residents have, on average, only six years of education. Residents also complained about unreliable and poor public services, scarce access to culture, and lack of proper water, lighting and sewage infrastructure in their neighborhoods.

Brazil does not have the money needed to solve all of these problems, but it can afford to start solving a few of them. Instead of evicting favela residents and forcing them to move to Rio’s peripheries, the city should be investing in better infrastructure to accommodate these people’s needs.

Providing basic sanitation, implementing better housing projects and, most importantly, investing in education for all of Brazil’s children, including those who live in favelas, can be done with the same money and dedication given to the World Cup and Olympics preparations.

If Brazilian authorities were actually interested in the well being of their people, they would spend the money that is being wasted on hastily constructed stadiums on education and decent living conditions for Brazilians instead.

With the pressure from recent protests and foreign attention, authorities have started to be more proactive about the problems, but the question remains of whether or not these “changes” are fleeting impressions for the World Cup and the Olympics.

Pentagon Combat Decision Justly Expands Women’s Rights

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This article was published on the Neon Tommy website in January 2013.
The Pentagon’s decision to allow women in combat opens up hundreds of new front-line positions to women and expands gender equality in the military. This change is not only revolutionary for the armed forces, but also represents another step for the United States towards broadening its equal rights spectrum, following gay marriage victories in several states last year and the easing of citizenship requirements for illegal immigrants.
Last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the 1994 Pentagon restriction against women in combat has been lifted. The decision is just and beneficial to women, who can now ascend to better positions in the military.
Despite the restriction, many American women have already served in combat roles; however, because their service was unofficial, their merits have been ignored. The restriction has also been used to restrict women’s ascension in the field, as serving in combat positions such as infantry or artillery is essential to achieving higher positions in the military.
The women who have served in combat deserve equal recognition as men for equal work. Similarly, men and women should be treated equally in the military and should be held to equal standards and expectations.
The army fitness test for women is currently less rigorous than the test for men. For men between the ages of 17 and 21, for example, the test requires the ability to do a minimum of 42 push-ups to pass (to score 60 out of 100). In contrast, 42 push-ups for women between the ages of 17 and 21 is the equivalent of scoring 100 on the test, while 19 is the minimum score to pass.
The women’s test should not be less rigorous than the men’s, nor should the military have to lower its standards as a result of greater female presence in the field. Rather, female standards to enter the military should meet male standards so that the necessary athletic qualities are preserved and the women capable of meeting such requirements can prove their capabilities of performing as well as their male counterparts—if not better.
Defense Secretary Panetta’s decision is valuable because it gives women of military caliber the right to acquire a front-line position that matches their abilities. This groundbreaking achievement for women’s rights in America ensures that women will continue to enter new professional areas and prove their ability to succeed in male-centric environments like the military.

Twitter Acts On Policy Of “Country-Withheld Content,” Sets Problematic Precedent

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This article was published on the Neon Tommy website in November 2012.
Last week, the New York Times published an article about Twitter blocking users from Germany as a result of German government requests. This was the first time Twitter used its policy to abide by government requests to suppress unwanted political accounts and tweets from the Web.

However, giving corporations the power of censorship can jeopardize political advocates whose only tool to spread awareness is the Internet.

An account called @hannoverticker was identified as pro-Nazi and considered threatening by the German government, whose concern about Nazism is understood and supported. However, the government’s request that Twitter directly intervene opened a myriad of questions surrounding Twitter’s gain of power to control freedom of speech.

Such a “country-withheld content” policy is dangerous because it sets the precedent for corporations to gain censorship power in accordance with governmental policies.

As an attempt to be clear about the measures taken, Twitter posted online the German government’s request to shut the pro-Nazi account. Nonetheless, it is questionable whether the police should have asked the company to shut it down. As shown in the New York Times, Stephen Porada, a writer for the German online magazine Netzwelt, said “anyone with a little knowledge can get around it with a proxy server.”

A limit line must be drawn between what social-networking websites like Twitter can suppress and to what extent they can exercise their power. Twitter has the right to request that users comply with their terms of use, but as Twitter is also an incredibly popular tool for political and social online activism, a problem arises when Twitter attempts to determine what type of content is harmful to the public and what is not.

Because the policy may be used to block content considered threatening or lawless according to the country of origin, authoritarian countries can abuse power to demand removal of unwanted commentary on controversial topics like fighting for women’s rights in Iraq or democracy in Egypt, thus defeating the website’s purpose to share information.

In attempting to act in accordance with the will of other governments, Twitter can end up compromising service quality and infringing on freedom of speech while abiding by potentially censorial government restrictions. And as an added effect, the Internet would lose one of its greatest political tools.

The Brazilian Government Is Failing Its People

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This article was published on the Neon Tommy website in June 2013.

Brazil has once again disappointed, not its spectators from afar, but its citizens who daily breathe the corrupted air. After a couple of weeks of protests against an increase in bus fares and other suffocating and intolerable conditions, the government prefers to call its citizens “vandals” and “hooligans.”

The demonstrations began on June 6 and have continued up to Sunday. São Paulo has been the focus but other marches have taken places in Rio de Janeiro, Goiânia, Porto Alegre and other cities.

These protests have mostly been led by university students, workers who depend on public transportation and members of an organization called Free Fare Movement, which advocates for lowering bus fares.

The municipal and state governments declare that these citizens are just “vandals” and “hooligans” and that their complaints won’t be heard. São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin requested that police troops be reinforced, while São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad said that violence would not be tolerated.

Meanwhile, policemen have relied on nothing but violence to suppress the protest. Citizens find themselves having to either live with the pain of taking unreliable and expensive public transit every day, or being attacked by policemen.

Rather than take this corrupt government at its word, I suggest that we look into the facts, so that we can clearly identify the reasons for these marches.

The bus fare has increased from R$3 reais to R$3.20 reais (approximately US$1.40 to US$1.50). Although the increase may seem insignificant, the monthly minimum wage in Brazil is R$678, which converts to a meager US$316.5. (US$3,800 annually). In a country where the inflation rate has oscillated between 5.8 and 6.5 percent in the past couple of years, every penny counts.

The quality of bus services only adds insult to injury. Public transportation in São Paulo, like in many other Brazilian cities, is not only inefficient but also unsafe.

In April, a bus driver was beaten and robbed while driving a route that connected to cities near Greater São Paulo. The driver complained in an interview, “It’s tough to work like this. You leave for work and don’t know if you’ll come back alive.” None of the criminals who attacked him were arrested.

You can see pictures of bus conditions here and here, the latter being a newspaper article that says, “Passengers wait at the bus stop for one hour.”

Government officials and upper-middle class citizens who oppose these protests have also complained that protesters only destroy public buildings and promote violence.

But in fact, the real destruction seems to have been provoked by policemen. You can look at apicture of a woman being beaten by the police and a man who held flowers as a symbol of peace during confrontations.

Several videos prove that soldiers attacked protesters while the latter peacefully stood and shouted “no violence.”

Journalists and other professionals not involved in the protest were also injured. Seven journalists representing Folha, a reputable Brazilian newspaper, were hit; two of them injured by a rubber bullet in the head, and one was beaten by the police. A photographer was also shot and is at risk of becoming blind.

Elio Gaspari and Rita Lisauskas, both journalists, witnessed the protest yesterday and both stated that the police began confrontations and vandalism, throwing bombs and shooting at people despite no aggression from protesters.

Several students have written testimonies about confrontations with the police. João Victor, a journalism student at the Anhembi Morumbi University, recounted on Facebook, “After protests and confrontations, we left for the subway station. More police arrived. Workers, college students, children and women were entering the station, but still the police threw a bomb inside, in our subway station. They didn’t want us to go home; they wanted to injure and arrest us. Inside the station, safety guards cried and people fainted on the stairs. I cried as well.”

Personally, I find it revolting that the police suddenly appeared when citizens decided to express their disgust over the government. Brazilian police are famous for their lack of efficiency, always arriving late to protect common citizens and constantly ignoring political corruption. I can’t help but wonder, where were these policemen when shootings, robberies, and kidnappings were taking place?

These protests bring attention to more than public transportation. They also serve as a challenge to a mercenary government that misspends its citizens’ tax money.

Public schools are so abandoned that their walls fall down; 21 percent of public schoolstudents in Fortaleza are illiterate; and endless lines of patients wait at public hospitals for surgeries.

Food prices go up every day while corrupt politicians act with impunity. A congressman has been accused of stealing money from government funds to build a castle for his family, several politicians closed a deal of monthly payments in exchange for political support for years, a businessman got involved in government corruption and organized crime. None of these leaders have been punished.

But for the common citizens, who are afraid of being robbed after leaving work, and having their children kidnapped on the way home from school, all they get is a label calling them “vandals” and “hooligans.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the previous cost of bus fare in São Paulo as US$1.20 instead of US$1.40. The story has been updated with the correct number.

Brazil’s New Affirmative Action Law Widens Rich-Poor Gap

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This article was published on the Neon Tommy website in November 2012.

In August, Brazil implemented one of the most radical affirmative action laws in South America. It reserves 50 percent of spots in public universities for public high school students who are also economically underprivileged minorities.

The argument presented by the Brazilian Senate, and unanimously supported by the Supreme Court, is that Brazil needs to make up for historical injustices against blacks and Brazilian Indians. Because the current majority of college students come from private high schools, the government has decided to institute this affirmative action law to include more students from the public education system in public universities.

However, there are two substantial problems with the reasoning behind this radical affirmative action law. First, Brazil is so racially mixed and diverse that it becomes nearly impossible to prove whether someone is black or white (with the exception of the south, which is mostly occupied by European descendants). Second, and most aggravating, public high school students are usually rejected from public universities not because they are being discriminated against, but because public schools offer unbelievably poor and defective education that does not prepare students for higher academic learning.

Race

Brazil is one of the most racially diverse countries in the world: with a population of 196 million people, Brazil has the greatest population of Africans outside of Africa, yet more than half of the population is of European descent. It is no surprise, then, that around two-fifths of the Brazilian population is composed of mulatos (people mixed of African and European descent) and mestiços (people of mixed European and Indian descent).

The immense ethnic diversity in Brazil presents a challenge in determining which people are white or black, because most are mixed, and it is rare to find homogeneously afro- or caucasian-Brazilian families. The differentiation between pardos (people of mixed ethnicities) and blacks is very subjective and self-attributed, leading many Brazilians to consider themselves pardos to their advantage.

This poses serious challenges to affirmative action laws that base university entrances on race, because Brazilians can so easily swing between ethnicity claims. According to theBrazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), more people have claimed to be black or mixed-race in 2010 than previous years, when the majority considered themselves white.

The possibility of changing one’s mind about one’s race clearly shows that most Brazilians are neither solely black nor solely white – they are both. Thus, setting aside 50 percent of spots in public universities for blacks, Indians and pardos makes little sense, since most of the population falls into mixed categories.

Some Brazilian universities that offer racial quotas have dealt with serious controversy surrounding the issue. In 2007, the identical twins Alex and Alan Teixeira, who have a white mother and a black father, applied to the competitive University of Brasilia (UnB) through its quota system, which exclusively takes race into account, ironically ignoring socioeconomic factors. The alarming result was that Alan, considered black, was accepted but Alex, considered white, wasn’t.

The determination of race in Brazil is too subjective and can consequently create more injustices than remedies for societal issues. The new law will encourage more public high school students to enter universities based on their skin color – a factor not influential on one’s intellectual abilities – than based on their merits.

It would be an erroneous generalization to affirm that Brazil does not suffer from racism. However, racism in such a mixed country has different implications than in a country like the United States, which has a history of segregation that contributed to distinctive cultural differences between races. Brazilians of different ethnicities have long coexisted with similar cultural values. The greatest differences in Brazil are regional and socioeconomic: people from the Amazon greatly differ from people from the South because of different geographic and societal circumstances, while the rich are offered opportunities nonexistent to the poor.

Racism serves as a simplistic explanation for inequalities caused by much more urgent factors, like the lack of education across the country. Affirmative action laws become effective tools for politicians to portray the government as proactive toward social and racial inclusion, when in fact they are obscuring Brazil’s most urgent problem: a defective and unsuccessful public education system.

Public Education

Although public universities are considered the best and most competitive higher-education institutions in Brazil, the rest of Brazil’s public education system has blatantly failed over the years. An astounding degree of government corruption often impedes investments in education, leaving public schools’ infrastructure to deteriorate, teachers’ salaries too low or even delayed, and students’ resources limited. As a consequence, many schools decide to strike against the government to protest against unfair working conditions, leaving students with long and unexpected school breaks.

Because of the inadequate investment in public education at the elementary and high school levels, public students do not attain the same level of knowledge that private school students do, which impedes public school students from performing as well in higher education. A study done by the Brazilian Ministry of Education (MEC) has calculated students’ learning knowledge of specific subjects on a grading scale from 0 to 500. Junior high students from private schools scored 298.42 in mathematics, while high school students from public schools scored 265.38. High school students from private institutions scored a much higher 332.89.

Admitting unprepared applicants into public universities is therefore not the wisest approach to Brazil’s educational gap between public and private schools. The government must invest in education, starting with elementary grades, instead of promoting ways to shovel students with serious learning faults into public universities.

Brazil suffers much more from economic inequalities than from racism. Socioeconomic backgrounds should be considered in order to level the competition between privileged students from private academic institutions and underprivileged students from public schools who have not been given as many opportunities to sharpen their academic skills.

Different from the newly implemented quota, better approaches, like that of the University of São Paulo (USP) should be implemented. The university offers bonus points on the entrance exams of students from the public education system, but does not reserve spots based on socioeconomic or racial backgrounds. The goal is to admit students only by merit, while acknowledging the disparities between private education privileges and public education deficiencies.

In the long run, this new affirmative action law will impact Brazilian higher education more negatively than positively, possibly lowering the institutions’ education quality, by not basing admissions to underprivileged students on their academic abilities.

With these new laws, private school students will likely also be discouraged from attending public universities, and will slowly shift to attending private universities, thus perpetuating the economic separation between lower-income students and higher-income students. Public school students may once again end up isolated from more qualified students. The most effective solution to these inequalities is to improve public education, not to offer alternative ways to get into college primarily other than merit.

Information Quality More Important Than Speed

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This article was published in the Daily Trojan online and in print in February 2013.

The Department of Public Safety at Curry College, a small liberal arts college in Milton, Mass., waited nearly a week to notify students about a group rape of a highly intoxicated college student, according to The Boston Globe.

Curry College did its students a service by waiting for the three suspected aggressors to be arrested on Jan. 25 before notifying students of the assault. An informative email was sent on Monday, Jan. 28. Because of the weekend delay, the administration was suspected of suppressing the news and neglecting to warn the community about danger.

Some might feel scared at the notion that the administration was attempting to keep information from them, but one must take all of the facts into account. Gang rape is a brutal crime and the college has the job of protecting everyone at the school — including the victim. Catching the perpetrators is the first priority and the college’s response was completely appropriate for the circumstances.

Curry College properly waited to release factual information about the rape until the men accused of the crime were arrested so that students would not be misinformed. In this 24-hour news cycle, where information is released every minute on various online platforms, accuracy and truth become undervalued, allowing inaccurate information to flood the public. Hasty delivery of news often distorts correct information and compromises an institution’s credibility as a trustworthy news source.

It is better for the public to be well-informed than to quickly be given improper information, especially on a campus, where students depend mainly on the college’s news releases for information regarding safety.

Accuracy takes time, and Curry College administrators had to vet the email to ensure its quality and accuracy; thus, the email was delayed for several days. If there is no immediate threat, colleges should not frighten its students with emergency alerts.

Even if the email had been sent late on Friday or during the weekend, the college could have easily been suspected of releasing information when the community was least likely to be attentive to administrative releases.

It is also important to consider that Curry College ensured the community’s safety first by having the accused arrested, instead of preoccupying students with possibly inaccurate news, news that would not have given students enough information to be useful. Frances Jackson, the college’s spokeswoman, said Curry properly followed ongoing procedures of the city’s police force first and released a warning email to the community later, when danger had already been dissipated.

The college administration’s actions would have been far more worrisome if the suspects’ arrests had not been ensured, or even worse, if the crime had been hushed altogether without any information released.

Though speed of news delivery is important, it should not overcome the need for accuracy so that news sources can remain reliable. Colleges should be encouraged to take preventive and reactive measures toward public safety first and inform their communities shortly thereafter.