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Jair Bolsonaro refutes reports that he tested positive for coronavirus

This is a developing news story.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro — known for his strong anti-environmental policies and his push to open up the Amazon for deforestation — denounced claims and initial news reports saying that he tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Friday.

Bolsonaro was tested on Thursday because his press aide, Fabio Wajngarten, tested positive for the virus after both officials met with U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at Mar-a-Lago last weekend. Brazilian newspaper O Dia reported that the Brazilian president’s first test came back positive but that he was waiting on a second round of definitive test results. Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo confirmed the positive result to Fox News but warned the media not to jump to conclusions that his father has been infected before seeing more results. He later contradicted his earlier statements and said his father actually tested negative.

Bolsonaro isn’t the only world leader to come into close contact with someone infected with COVID-19, the official name of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will remain in self-quarantine for two weeks after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, also tested positive for the new virus. Although doctors say that Trudeau has not shown any signs of illness, he was advised to remain in isolation as a precautionary measure.

Throughout his presidency, Bolsonaro — also known as the “Trump of the Tropics” — has repeatedly undermined climate and environmental science, claiming that environmental protections will slow Brazil’s economic growth. The far-right leader has used his presidency to weaken environmental regulations and prioritize corporate interests by opening up the Amazon to cattle ranching, mining, and logging. Deforestation rates in the Amazon doubled during the first nine months of Bolsonaro’s administration.

Brazil is one of the deadliest places in the world for environmental defenders, many of whom are part of indigenous communities. As a candidate, Bolsonaro promised not to “give the Indians another inch of land.”

According to the World Health Organization, Brazil currently has 77 confirmed cases of COVID-19, though that number will certainly rise as more people are tested.

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Jair Bolsonaro refutes reports that he tested positive for coronavirus

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Amazon fires: Satellite images show what’s happening in Brazil

High-resolution images from satellite company Planet are revealing glimpses of some of the fires currently devastating the Amazon rainforest.

While many of the images currently being shared on social media and by news outlets are from past fires — some from as long as 15 years ago — satellites can provide a near real-time view of what’s unfolding in the Amazon. With near-daily overflights and high-resolution imagery, Planet’s constellation of satellites is providing a clear look at some of the fires now burning in the Brazilian Amazon.

Beyond dramatic snapshots, those images also provide data that can be mined for critical insights into what’s happening in the Amazon on a basin-wide scale, according to Greg Asner, the director of the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science at Arizona State University, whose team is using Planet’s data to assess the impact of the fires on carbon emissions.

“Planet data provides unprecedented detail in mapping forest change down to individual trees which allows us to assess the damage from these kinds of large scale disturbances,” Asner said. “Our Planet Incubator Program is currently tracking forest carbon emissions all over the world — including the Amazon — using Planet Dove and SkySat imagery.”

“If you took all of the carbon stored in every tropical forest on Earth and burned it up, you would emit about five times the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that is already there,” he said. “The Amazon rainforest represents about half of this forest carbon, to give you an idea of how serious this current situation is and the kind of impact it will have on climate change.”

Fires burning in the state of Pará, Brazil. Planet Labs Inc.

Planet wouldn’t comment what the images show specifically, but there are strong indications from other sources that many fires are burning near areas of recent deforestation. Analysis released this week by IPAM Amazônia, a Brazilian research group, shows that the 10 Amazonian municipalities that had the most fire outbreaks this year were also the ones that had the highest deforestation rates.

“These municipalities are responsible for 37 percent of the hotbeds in 2019 and 43 percent of recorded deforestation through July,” states the IPAM report. “This concentration of forest fires in newly deforested areas with mild drought represents a strong indication of the intentional character of the fires.”

In other words, fires are being set to clear lands for agriculture, most likely cattle pasture, which accounts for 70 to 80 percent of forest conversion in the Brazilian Amazon. Typically a landowner will cut and harvest valuable timber trees before slashing and burning the remaining trees. The resulting ash provides a temporary source of nutrients for pasture grass, but the soil degrades quickly without careful management.

While old-growth Amazon rainforest doesn’t typically burn naturally outside droughts and El Niño years, fires set intentionally in degraded forests and agricultural lands can burn hot enough to spread deep into otherwise untouched forests. That seems to be what’s happening this year, which, as IPAM noted, isn’t especially dry.

However that may soon change — for the worse.

With climate models forecasting a much hotter Amazon due to rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, a growing chorus of scientists are warning that the combination of continued deforestation and climate change could tip the wet Amazon rainforest toward a much drier, savanna-like ecosystem. Since the trees of the Amazon generate much of region’s precipitation, such a shift could be devastating for the region’s water supplies. The agricultural heartland of South America is predicted to be particularly hard hit by water scarcity, but diminished rainfall would also affect cities’ electricity supplies, which are disproportionately dependent on hydropower. Drier conditions would exacerbate fire and air pollution risk as well.

Planet images showing Nova Bandeirantes in Mato Grosso before and after a fire. Planet Labs Inc.

Fires and deforestation up in 2019

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has been trending upward since bottoming out in 2012 at 4,571 square kilometers (1,765 square miles), but the issue didn’t get a lot of public attention until this week, when the skies of São Paulo, one the world’s largest cities, were blackened midday by smoke from the fires. The shocking descent into darkness prompted an outpouring of concern across social media, with the #PrayforAmazonas hashtag garnering more than 300,000 tweets in two days.

But while the fires in the Amazon have indeed increased significantly over last year, they aren’t off the charts relative to the past 20 years.

MODIS fire data presented by Global Forest Watch.

The difference this year is that weather conditions led the smoke from the fires to blanket densely populated urban areas. A similar phenomenon is seen in Southeast Asia: Indonesia’s peat fires get the most attention when winds blow the resulting haze over Singapore, the regional financial hub, as was the case in 2015.

However, to environmentalists worried about the anti-environment rhetoric from President Jair Bolsonaro, the Armageddon-like conditions in São Paulo and sharp rise in deforestation seem be playing out like a worst-case scenario for the Amazon.

According to the country’s national space research institute, INPE, forest loss in the world’s largest rainforest is already pacing 57 percent ahead of last year. And the region is only halfway through the peak deforestation season that runs from May to October. Data from Imazon, a Brazilian NGO that independently tracks deforestation in the Amazon, is expected to confirm the trend when it releases the latest numbers next week.

Stung by criticism over rising deforestation, Bolsonaro has asserted INPE is manipulating deforestation data and fired the agency’s director. INPE has not released any deforestation updates since the firing. Bolsonaro also claimed, without evidence, that NGOs are responsible for starting the fires as a fundraising strategy, although he backtracked on those remarks today.

Bolsonaro, however, hasn’t been able to effectively refute the satellite data coming from places like Planet and NASA. Scientists and civil society groups are now poring over that data to look for links between Bolsonaro’s policies — including weakened environmental laws, relaxed law enforcement, and amnesty for illegal deforesters — and what’s happening on the ground in the Amazon.

“While links between Brazilian government policy and these wildfires are unknown, the unprecedented data coming from Planet will allow us to help evaluate the extent to which their policies need to be reexamined,” Asner said.


Amazon fires: Satellite images show what’s happening in Brazil

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Natural history museum to host anti-natural honoree Jair Bolsonaro

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, known for his strong anti-environmental policies and intention to open up the Amazon rainforest to increased deforestation, will be one of the guests of honor next month at a gala at, wait for it, the American Museum of Natural History.

On May 14th, the New York museum, whose permanent collections include the hall of biodiversity and the hall of North American forests, is scheduled to house the black-tie event, put on by the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce. Each year, the organization honors two “persons of the year” — one Brazilian, one American– who have advanced economic ties between the two countries. While the American honoree has not yet been announced, Bolsonaro is slated to take the Brazilian slot, Gothamist reports.

But the irony of lauding a man who has repeatedly aired racist, homophobic and misogynist views all the while rolling back environmental protections in the Amazon at a venue dedicated to the natural world has not been lost on advocates or fans of the museum.

“The fact that American Museum of Natural History would accept an event for something so counter to their own values, they should be ashamed themselves,” Priscila Neri, a Brazilian activist with the New York City-based human rights organization WITNESS, told Gothamist. “In a moment when there’s been a rise of authoritarianism around the world, they’re giving a positive nod to a man who is rolling back human rights protections and scientific knowledge.”

Bolsonaro, dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics,” has undertaken an aggressive campaign of deforestation and mining that indigenous groups have likened to an “institutionalization of genocide in Brazil.”

The Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce has close ties to the Bolsonaro regime. Earlier this week, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ted Helms struck a $9 billion deal with Bolsonaro’s government to sell oil production rights, and the organization’s president and board chairman, Alexandre Bettamio, was reportedly one of Bolsonaro’s choices to run the country’s state-run bank.

To be fair to the American Museum of Natural History, the pro-Bolsonaro event is external, meaning the Museum is only acting as a venue; the event was also booked at the before the honoree was announced.

Roberto Lebron, a spokesperson for the museum, told Gothamist that the event “does not in any way reflect the Museum’s position that there is an urgent need to conserve the Amazon Rainforest, which has such profound implications for biological diversity, indigenous communities, climate change, and the future health of our planet.”

Museum representatives also tweeted that they are “deeply concerned” and are exploring their options.

Credit – 

Natural history museum to host anti-natural honoree Jair Bolsonaro

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Is Bolsonaro the Trump of the Tropics or is Trump the Bolsonaro of the States?

A document released earlier this week revealed that the Brazilian government is considering axing its current Environment Council and replacing it with political appointees from far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, also known as the “Trump of the Tropics.” The current Environment Council, known as CONAMA, is the policymaking body tasked with protecting 60 percent of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

CONAMA has nearly 100 members from all levels of government and society. Supporters of the plan say CONAMA is a “confusing” body that “acts emotionally, without due technique, being subjected to ideological interference.

“This is a profoundly ironic statement coming from members of the Bolsonaro regime,” Christian Poirier, a program director with the nonprofit Amazon Watch, told Grist. “The very same contention can be made about their form of government, which is deeply confusing, emotional, and ideological.”

It’s been just over a hundred days since Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, known as the “Trump of the Tropics,” took office. As a candidate, Bolsonaro often questioned the reality of climate change and claimed environmental protections restrained Brazil’s economic growth by holding back mining and agriculture. Since he’s been in power, he’s spent the bulk of his time weakening environmental restrictions, prioritizing industry interests, and cracking down on environmental activists. In other words, he’s not exactly the kind of guy environmentalists are keen to make more political appointments related to Amazonian protections.

“Bolsonaro’s environmental policy can be Orwellian to the extreme,” Poirer said.

Bolsonaro is well on his way to following through with his promises to rip up protected areas in the Amazon and gut other areas protected for Indigenous communities. The deforestation numbers from his first two months in office are already concerning. According to Instituto Socioambiental, a Brazilian advocacy group, there has been a 54 percent rise in deforestation in the Amazon-Xingu basin since Bolsonaro took power — the equivalent of 170,000 trees found a day. (Given that January and February are high rainfall months, it’s difficult to determine the full extent of the damage at this time.)

One of Bolsonaro’s first acts as president was to strip the country’s National Indian Foundation of much of its authority to demarcate and declare protected territory for Indigenous reserves. That authority has instead shifted to the Ministry of Agriculture, run by Bolsonaro appointee Ricardo Salles, who has called climate change “secondary” and says that agribusiness is “under threat.”

Bolsonaro has promised that he will not “give the Indians another inch of land.” And his rhetoric hasn’t stopped there — he took a particular interest in MST aka The Landless Worker’s Movement, a group that advocates for small landholders and subsistence farmers, referring to them as terrorists. “These red outlaws will be banished from our homeland,” Bolsonaro said in an address last November. “It will be a clean up the likes of which has never been seen in Brazilian history.”

Brazil is known as the deadliest place in the world for environmental defenders, many of whom are a part of indigenous communities.

Indigenous groups are, naturally, concerned. Dinamã Tuxá, Coordinator of Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples, told Amazon Watch, “[Bolsonaro’s] discourse gives those who live around indigenous lands the right to practice violence without any sort of accountability. Those who invade indigenous lands and kill our people will be esteemed. He represents an institutionalization of genocide in Brazil.”

During the Fourth Session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly in Nairobi, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said Brazil could neither support nor sign environmental agreements that went against the country’s agribusiness sector. Salles claimed Brazil’s carbon emissions have fallen by about 72 percent since 2004, but failed to mention that that decline stopped in 2012.

It’s no surprise Bolsonaro’s appointees are pushing for industry interests. Bolsonaro is backed by some of the most powerful political players in Brazil: the ruralista bloc. The ruralistas are a political group linked to agribusiness and contend that environmental regulations in the country are too stringent, instead proposing agribusiness should be allowed to expand unrestricted.

Bolsonaro’s time in office has gotten a fair bit of U.S. coverage, with many stories focusing on the danger he and his administration poses to the Amazon rainforest, one of the world’s biggest carbon sinks. But lest Americans get too greener-than-thou, it’s important to note just how much Bolsonaro’s actions have drawn inspiration from our own Commander-in-Chief.

President Trump has signed several executive orders to reduce the size of national monuments and protected areas (some of which are considered sacred lands by indigenous groups) in order to allow for industry to open them up to oil and gas drilling and rake in the profits. Before taking office, Trump described the Environmental Protection Agency as a “disgrace” that should largely be dismantled. Moreover, former EPA head Scott Pruitt was an oil and gas industry man who has drawn parallels to Brazil’s Ricardo Salles, a convicted environmental criminal running the Brazilian Environmental Ministry. One of Pruitt’s appointees, Tony Cox, recently recommended the EPA dismiss the vast majority of evidence air pollution is bad for human health as it reassesses its national air quality standards.

There’s little doubt the two anti-environmental world leaders are fans of each other. When Bolsonaro threatened to jettison the Paris Climate Agreement, he was following Trump’s lead (though some speculate Bolsonaro has since backtracked from this promise). And yes, Bolsonaro has been a guest at Trump’s White House.

So, is Bolsonaro the Trump of the Tropics or is Trump the Bolsonaro of the States?

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Is Bolsonaro the Trump of the Tropics or is Trump the Bolsonaro of the States?

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In Which I Take a Second Look at Hillary Clinton’s Paid Speeches

Mother Jones

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While we pass the time waiting for tonight’s debate, I’m going to talk through something else. Yesterday I wrote about one of the emails in the Podesta hack, and basically dismissed it. It was a review of the most potentially damaging statements from Hillary Clinton’s paid speeches, and none of them struck me as damaging at all. Since then, several people I respect have suggested that they really are problematic. So let’s go through the ones that are getting the most attention. There are eight.

1. Public and private positions: “I mean, politics is like sausage being made. It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be. But if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position.”

I get how this can be spun to make it look like Clinton is advocating that politicians should lie publicly. But seriously? This is just Negotiation 101. You always have a public position—We will never compromise!—and a private one—What will it take for you guys to make a deal? Anyone over the age of five knows this is how all negotiation everywhere works. The faux outrage over this doesn’t impress me.

2. Oversimplification: “That was one of the reasons that I started traveling in February of ’09, so people could, you know, literally yell at me for the United States and our banking system causing this everywhere. Now, that’s an oversimplification we know, but it was the conventional wisdom. And I think that there’s a lot that could have been avoided in terms of both misunderstanding and really politicizing what happened with greater transparency, with greater openness on all sides.”

First, Clinton is acknowledging that it’s an oversimplification to say that the US banking system was solely responsible for the 2008 crash. Surely everyone understands now that this is true? European banks were heavily leveraged too, and were just as eager as US banks to lend too much money with too little oversight. They were also eager to play the derivatives game. What’s more, there was more to the housing bubble than just the banks. Clinton’s statement here seems unexceptional to me.

Second, she suggests that more transparency from the banks might have prevented “politicizing” the crisis. This probably merits a closer look than I originally gave it. Is she referring to Republican opposition to TARP? That would be reasonable. Or is she talking about taking a tough line against bank executives? That would be harder to excuse. Clinton would need to explain what she meant before we can really make any judgment about this.

3. Bankers know the banking system best: “Today, there’s more that can and should be done that really has to come from the industry itself.” AND: “There’s nothing magic about regulations, too much is bad, too little is bad. How do you get to the golden key, how do we figure out what works? And the people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry.”

This doesn’t sound great, I admit. On the other hand, Clinton is talking to bankers. So naturally she’s talking about the role bankers can play in reforming financial regulation. Her wording may not thrill me, but it’s not as if she’s suggesting that the finance industry should be allowed to regulate itself. It’s hard to get too worked up about this.

4. Principled bankers: “When I was a Senator from New York, I represented and worked with so many talented principled people who made their living in finance. But even thought I represented them and did all I could to make sure they continued to prosper, I called for closing the carried interest loophole and addressing skyrocketing CEO pay. I also was calling in ’06, ’07 for doing something about the mortgage crisis, etc.”

This is a nothingburger. There are plenty of principled people in the finance industry, and there’s nothing wrong with saying so. And anyway, the gist of this excerpt is that even though she represented New York in the Senate, Clinton still called for regulating the finance industry because it was the right thing to do. This strikes me as entirely positive.

5. Bias against successful people: “But, you know, part of the problem with the political situation, too, is that there is such a bias against people who have led successful and/or complicated lives. You know, the divestment of assets, the stripping of all kinds of positions, the sale of stocks. It just becomes very onerous and unnecessary.”

This is actually a pretty common criticism of public service these days: we lose a lot of good people because we make it too onerous to serve. The disclosure forms are hundreds of pages long. The divestment rules are thorny. The Senate hearings are nasty and partisan. It takes months or more to get through the whole thing. Plenty of people agree that things have gotten out of hand on this front.

6. Simpson-Bowles: “But Simpson-Bowles — and I know you heard from Erskine earlier today — put forth the right framework. Namely, we have to restrain spending, we have to have adequate revenues, and we have to incentivize growth.”

A few people have tried to play this as an attack on Social Security, since the Simpson-Bowles plan included cuts to Social Security. This is ridiculous. Clinton is obviously taking about generalities: tackling the federal deficit by cutting spending and raising more revenue.

7. Open borders: “My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere.”

I really have no idea what this is about, but I assume Clinton is talking about some possible far future scenario, and pandering a bit to her Brazilian audience. She’s never even remotely taken any actions that would push us toward a “hemispheric common market.” Meh.

8. Protectionism: “I think we have to have a concerted plan to increase trade….Governments can either make it easy or make it hard and we have to resist, protectionism, other kinds of barriers to market access and to trade.”

I guess the Bernie supporters will take this as some kind of huge betrayal, but I don’t. Clinton is opposed to protectionism. I’ve never thought otherwise, and I don’t think anyone else has either.

Out of all this, I have two questions. What did Clinton mean by “politicizing” the financial crisis? And what did she mean when she kinda sorta implied that we should listen more to bankers because they know the banking system the best?

That’s it. In other news, we learned that Clinton is pretty much the same person in private that she is in public. She’s moderate, pragmatic, and willing to work across the aisle. She dislikes protectionism and thinks we should try to cut the budget deficit in a balanced way. She doesn’t demonize Wall Street.

You may or may not like this, but it’s who Hillary Clinton has been forever. There are no surprises here. So while I may have skipped past a couple of small things too quickly on my first read, my overall opinion remains the same: There’s just nothing here that’s plausibly damaging, even when it’s run through the Donald Trump alternate universe pie hole. I guess we’ll find out tonight if I’m right.

POSTSCRIPT: It’s also worth noting that this is apparently the worst, most banker-sympathetic stuff they could find out of thousands of pages of speeches to bankers. If anything, this suggests that Clinton hasn’t privately said much of anything that’s especially friendly to Wall Street.

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In Which I Take a Second Look at Hillary Clinton’s Paid Speeches

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Here’s What the World’s Top Chefs Are Making at the Olympics

Mother Jones

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Amid the never-ending scandal circuit at this year’s Olympics—the doping controversies, the coup and assorted government corruption, the mystifying pollution of seemingly every body of water bigger than a bathtub—it’s easy to forget that good things, too, are happening in Rio de Janeiro.

Tuesday marked the launch of RefettoRio, a zero-waste soup kitchen spearheaded by Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura in the Lapa neighborhood of the Brazilian city. RefettoRio, which gets its name from the Latin word reficere—”to make or to restore”—provides free meals to those in need throughout the course of the Olympic Games. The kicker: The kitchen does so using only surplus food from the Olympic Village.

Sinta um pouco do que foram os preparativos para o primeiro dia do @refettoriogastromotiva! Agora estamos com um sentimento que é misto de dever cumprido associado com os preparativos para o jantar de hoje! #ComidaCulturaDignidade #Gastromotiva #RuadaLapa108 #RefettorioGastromotiva

A photo posted by Gastromotiva (@gastromotiva) on Aug 10, 2016 at 7:10am PDT

Food waste became a prominent issue at the 2012 Olympics in London, when six whistleblowers working in catering posted photos and videos of huge quantities of food being thrown away immediately after preparation. One employee claimed to be tossing out 45 pounds of prawns, 30 pounds of fish fillets, 90 pounds of vegetables, and 45 pounds of meat on a daily basis.

RefettoRio, on the other hand, hopes to take that excess food and turn it into meals for the city’s low-income and refugee communities. It’s a collaboration between Bottura, the Italian head chef of Osteria Francescana, ranked as the top eatery in the world by San Pellegrino’s 2016 World’s 50 Best Restaurants List, and David Hertz, creator of Gastromotiva, a Brazilian public interest organization that aims to empower Brazil’s vulnerable populations through kitchen training. RefettoRio employs local cooks, many of them graduates of Gastromotiva’s training program, alongside international celebrity chefs, including Alain Ducasse, Francis Mallmann, and Rodolfo Guzman. Needless to say, the resulting meals are nothing like reheated soup and ramen noodles: All 5,000 planned meals have three full courses. The photo of chefs plating a course on the restaurant’s opening night above gives you an idea.

The soup kitchen is built on a swath of land granted by the city for the next 10 years. After the end of the Olympics, it will double as a restaurant-school, relying on donations of ugly and past-date produce from local markets and grocery stores.

This isn’t the first time Bottura has tried to elevate wasted food. During ExpoMilan 2015, Bottura created a soup kitchen in an abandoned theater in the Milan suburb of Greco, using only scraps discarded from the world exhibition. More than 60 international chefs came to cook free meals for Milan’s homeless and refugee populations. All told, the refectory served up more than 15 tons of salvaged food, enough for 10,000 meals.

After Rio de Janerio, Bottura plans to roll out soup kitchens in Montreal, Berlin, his hometown of Modena, and New York City, in an initiative called Food for Soul. The Bronx-based project, co-sponsored by Robert De Niro, is slated to begin in 2017. Despite the elite reputation of Bottura and his cohort of fine-dining masterminds, he stresses the inclusive nature of these projects. “Food for Soul is not a charity project: It is a cultural one,” he says.

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Here’s What the World’s Top Chefs Are Making at the Olympics

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Are Brazilian Cops Ready for the Olympics?

Mother Jones

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The Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro has promised to beef up public security ahead of the Olympics next month. But those efforts are complicated by a staggering rate of unlawful police killings, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch, that has fostered deep divisions between law enforcement and the communities it serves.

Since 2006, Rio’s police have killed at least 8,021 people, including 645 people last year, according to the 109-page report, released Thursday. In the city of Rio alone, police killings accounted for a whopping 20 percent of all homicides last year. And while Human Rights Watch says many of these officer-involved killings were likely justified uses of force, since cops patrolling Rio often come up against heavily armed gangs and need to protect themselves, the advocacy group found ample evidence to suggest that some were “extrajudicial killings.”

Human Rights Watch found that for every officer killed on duty in Rio de Janeiro last year, 24.8 civilians were slain by the police—three times the rate in the United States.

In at least 64 cases since 2006, the Brazilian police have allegedly tried to cover up unlawful killings, Human Rights Watch found, citing interviews with officers, victims’ families, prosecutors, and others. The report details incidents where cops planted evidence, guns, or drugs on shooting victims; removed clothes from dead bodies, hoping to discard bullet fragments that could identify the shooter; and even delivered the corpse of someone they’d shot and killed to a hospital, claiming they were trying to “rescue” the victim. Of 32 “rescues” that Human Rights Watch examined, the victim was dead on arrival at the hospital in at least 27 cases. “While these false ‘rescues’ give the appearance of legitimate effort by officers to help victims, in reality they destroy crime scene evidence and hinder forensic evidence,” the advocacy group wrote.

Most of the officers involved have never been brought to court. There were 3,441 recorded police killings between 2010 and 2015, but the state attorney general’s office pursued charges in just four cases, Human Rights Watch found. Rio’s attorney general, Marfan Martins Vieira, said his office had only been able to prosecute a small number of officers because official investigations of such killings are typically of “poor quality,” even though he knows of killings where he believes cops faked a shootout to make it look like they acted in self-defense.

This isn’t the first time the issue has come up just before Brazil prepares to take center stage. Nine years ago, weeks before the Pan-American Games opened in Rio, authorities converged on the Complexo do Alemao favela as part of a series of sweeps against drug operations in the city’s slums. In an ensuing shootout, 19 civilians were killed. Five of the victims that day were shot at point-blank range. Nine others were shot in the back. Human Rights Watch found that no officer was ever held accountable for the 2007 incident, and a federal commission later determined that several deaths “were the result of a procedure of summary and arbitrary execution.” At the time, then-State Security Secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame told NPR the operation was not intended to be violent but had turned bloody after a confrontation with suspected drug traffickers. “We do not go to these regions looking for or producing violence,” he said. “We were met brutally with bullets and potent arms.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Rio de Janeiro has bolstered security around the games’ venues to 85,000 officers, thanks to some emergency funds. But high-profile incidents continue to trouble the city. Athletes have been mugged and human remains have washed up on a beach near the volleyball arena. Robert Muggah, a security expert at the Igarapé Institute in Rio, recently noted a 15 percent increase in homicides during the first four months of this year compared with same period in 2015. The city’s mayor has blamed the state, which he said was “completely failing at its work of policing and taking care of people.”

Maria Laura Canineu, the Brazil director at Human Rights Watch, said police brutality has made cops feel less safe. It’s dangerous to patrol Rio’s slums—attacks by gang members are common—and criminals are more likely to fight back if they think their lives are at risk, the advocacy group wrote in its report. Some officers told Human Rights Watch that they’d witnessed unlawful police killings but didn’t report anything because they feared potential retaliation from their colleagues. “Unlawful killings turn communities against the police and undermine security for all,” Canineu said in a statement. “You can’t expect community policing to work when police are executing members of the communities they are supposed to protect. And you can’t expect honest cops to perform well when they live in constant fear—not only of gang members, but also of their fellow officers.”

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Are Brazilian Cops Ready for the Olympics?

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The Pure Pleasure of "Getz/Gilberto ’76"

Mother Jones

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Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto
Getz/Gilberto ’76

Courtesy of Resonance Records

In 1964, with America in the throes of Beatlemania, “The Girl from Ipanema” breezed into the Top Five and sparked the bossa nova craze. This unlikely hit was a collaboration between American tenor sax great Stan Getz and Brazilian singer-guitarist Joao Gilberto (with enchanting vocals by his soon-to-be-ex-wife Astrud Gilberto), who would continue to work together on and off in the 1960s and ’70s. The previously unreleased Getz/Gilberto ’76 is pure pleasure, as inviting as a gentle summer breeze (something especially welcome this time of year). Recorded at San Francisco’s Keystone Klub—you can hear glasses clinking in the background, with no detriment to the music—this delicious live set features Gilberto’s shimmering acoustic guitar and gentle singing unaccompanied on some tracks; elsewhere, he’s supported by Getz’s gorgeous sax and deftly understated band, which includes pianist Joanne Brackeen, bassist Clint Houston, and drummer Billy Hart. Either way, it would be almost impossible to overstate the silkily seductive charms of this wonderful set. For those who prefer a straight-ahead jazz experience, the same cast, minus Gilberto, shines on the companion release Moments in Time, also previously unheard and recorded at the same venue.

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The Pure Pleasure of "Getz/Gilberto ’76"

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Brazil’s new science minister is a climate denier

Brazil’s new science minister is a climate denier

By on 7 Jan 2015commentsShare

Science advocates and environmentalists are expressing alarm after Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff picked a hardcore climate-change denier, Aldo Rebelo, as her minister of science, technology and innovation.

Brazil, because of its large population, its (until recently) fast-growing economy, and its vast rainforests, is a key player in the struggle to confront climate change. The issue figured prominently in the country’s recent election, when Rousseff, the incumbent, defeated climate hawk Marina Silva, who challenged Rousseff’s environmental record on issues such as deforestation.

Nonetheless, Rousseff has recognized the country’s responsibility to tackle global warming, saying at the U.N. Climate Summit in New York in September that “[c]limate change is one of the greatest challenges of our times” and should be confronted with “a sense of urgency” and “political courage.” So her choice to head the science ministry was unexpected.

Simon Romero writes in The New York Times:

Calling Aldo Rebelo a climate-change skeptic would be putting it mildly. In his days as a fiery legislator in the Communist Party of Brazil, he railed against those who say human activity is warming the globe and called the international environmental movement “nothing less, in its geopolitical essence, than the bridgehead of imperialism.”

Though many Brazilians have grown used to such pronouncements from Mr. Rebelo, 58, his appointment this month as minister of science by President Dilma Rousseff is causing alarm among climate scientists and environmentalists here, a country that has been seeking to assert leadership in global climate talks.

“At first I thought this was some sort of mistake, that he was playing musical chairs and landed in the wrong chair,” said Márcio Santilli, a founder of Instituto Socioambiental, one of Brazil’s leading environmental groups. “Unfortunately, there he is, overseeing Brazilian science at a very delicate juncture when Brazil’s carbon emissions are on the rise again.”

In a blog post, Steve Schwartzman, director of tropical forest policy for the Environmental Defense Fund, noted that, ironically, Rebelo, an “old-line Communist” fan of Marx and Engels, “is on exactly the same page on climate science as the hardest of the hard-core tea partiers in the United States: it’s all speculation – ‘scientism’ – not real science.” Schwartzmann also pointed to Rousseff’s appointment for minister of Agriculture as another “bad choice” that will help Rousseff’s party in the legislature but will hurt the environment.

The new Minister of Agriculture Katia Abreu was the president of the National Confederation of Agriculture (the national association of large and middle-size landowners and ranchers). As senator, she led the Congress’ powerful anti-environmental, anti-indigenous “bancada ruralista”, or large landowners’, caucus and earned the title among environmentalists of “chainsaw queen.”

Rebelo and Abreu worked together on a 2012 overhaul of the country’s forest protection laws that was opposed by environmental and science groups, including the National Academy of Sciences.

Their appointment comes at a critical time: In recent months, evidence has indicated that deforestation is again on the rise in a country that had once succeeded in cutting it back. This is bad news for those hoping to fight climate change. Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions are also on the rise after falling from 2004 to 2012 — in part because of deforestation, but also because of the country’s increasing reliance on fossil fuels. Advocates worry that Rousseff’s decisions to appoint Rebelo and Abreu indicate she is not seriously committed to reversing those trends.

Climatologists Balk as Brazil Picks Skeptic for Key Post

, The New York Times.

Climate change denier named Brazil’s Science Minister

, Environmental Defense Fund.



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A Guide to the Scandals Plaguing the World Cup

Mother Jones

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When the FIFA World Cup opens today in Sao Paulo, the eyes of the world will be glued to the action on the field—but recent developments off the pitch are threatening to steal the spotlight. From the news of strikes and protests coming out of Brazil to the shadiness surrounding the awarding of the 2022 Cup to Qatar, it’s difficult to keep all of the scandals straight. But fear not: check this cheat sheet to get a sense of the off-field stories that’ll be dominating conversations for the next month.

Brazilians are really, really mad.

Over the course of the past few years, Brazilians have grown outraged at the government’s handling of the World Cup. Even in this soccer-obsessed country, people are deeply resentful of the government’s decision to spend as much as $14 billion on the Cup while millions of its citizens lack basic services—services the government promised to improve ahead of the Cup. On top of that, at least nine workers have been killed in accidents related to rushed World Cup construction projects; activists are alleging that more than 250,000 people faced eviction threats to accommodate Cup construction and preparations; and the presence of brand-new Cup buildings has raised rent in working-class neighborhoods, pricing longtime residents out.

The streets of Brazil’s major cities have become chaotic battle zones. Tens of thousands, from the homeless to workers, have poured into the streets over the past few months to protest the government’s handling of the Cup and riot police have responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. A series of strikes by public-sector workers demanding higher wages has paralyzed Brazil’s largest cities, bringing yet more protesters and police into the streets. Subway workers are the latest to strike, inspired by previously successful efforts by bus drivers, and federal police, who threatened to strike. On Tuesday, subway employees went back to work after five days of striking, but threatened to resume the strike pending a vote. Sao Paulo, host of Thursday’s opener, is famous for its hundred–mile traffic jams, but strikes last week brought the city to a near stand–still. A scrimmage between the US and Belgium, planned for today, was called off due to the gridlock. As thousands of visitors descend on the city, another strike has the potential to disrupt official World Cup events.

And the stadiums, airports and transport systems aren’t even finished.

The unfinished stadium in Sao Paulo. Edson Lopes/Flickr

Although World Cup action starts today, and an estimated 600,000 visitors have begun to descend on Brazil, up–to–date reports indicate that the infrastructure still isn’t ready. Here’s a brief list of what remains unfinished:

The stadiums. Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians, which will host today’s opener between Brazil and Croatia, was supposed to be completed last year. But the roof is unfinished, and 20,000 fans will sit in seats that the Daily Mail alleged wouldn’t pass a UK safety test. In Manaus, deep in the Amazon, the stadium remains unfinished and the field is in horrible shape ahead of Saturday’s game there.
The airports. Several airports around Brazil are still not ready to handle the thousands of flights that’ll come in and out over the next weeks. In Manaus, workers, scaffolding and machinery are everywhere. In Belo Horizonte, there are muddy sidewalks, an unfinished food court and dust everywhere. Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo found that the airports of Brasilia and Sao Paulo were the only ones ready to handle the traffic.
The transit. In selling the Cup to the people, Brazilian officials promised 35 new rail projects—today, just five are complete. Visitors may have to resort to overcrowded roads to get to games. The rushed and haphazard construction of transit projects has also had an enormous human cost: on Monday, a worker was killed while working on Sao Paulo’s monorail. The still–unfinished prestige project was supposed to have been completed well before the Cup.

Across the board, it’s a mess of bad PR for Brazil, and Brazilians are worried that their country’s time in the world’s spotlight could become a historic embarrassment. President Dilma Rousseff’s approval ratings have slid to 34 percent, and it’s not a stretch at all to suggest that the success of this World Cup—even the on-field success of the Brazilian team—could influence her impending re-election campaign.

Bribery, corruption, and worker abuse have reached a boiling point in Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host.

Migrant workers on a construction site in Doha, Qatar. Amnesty International/Zuma

The world was shocked when Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup in 2010. Of course, there’s the weather: the Persian Gulf state suffers temperatures well north of 100 degrees—sometimes over 120—in the World Cup months of June and July. And there’s the fact that the tiny, oil-rich nation has little soccer history or presence on the sport’s international stage; it’s never sent a team to the Cup to compete.

Turns out, there may have been more suspicious factors behind FIFA’s bizarre decision. The British press have alleged that Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam paid off FIFA officials in order to secure their votes to bring the Cup to his country. Emails obtained by the Sunday Times suggest that Qatar and 2018 World Cup host Russia cooperated to help each other win bids, and that bin Hammam used his connections in business and government to bribe officials from Thailand to Germany. If the allegations are true, FIFA Vice President Jim Boyce said he’d push to strip Qatar of the Cup and re-award it to another country.

Another worry, especially for fans, is the cultural conservatism of Qatar. Gay fans have expressed concern about visiting the country, where homosexuality is illegal, and foreigners have been whipped and deported for violation. In 2010, FIFA President Sepp Blatter made headlines by suggesting that gays “should refrain from sexual activity” if they visit Qatar. He quickly apologized.

What could push all this to critical mass is ongoing outrage over Qatar’s mistreatment of the construction workers tasked with building Cup infrastructure. The long hours of hard labor in unbearably hot conditions have proven lethal: it’s estimated that 1,200 workers have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the Cup. They are almost exclusively migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia and can only leave Qatar with the written permission of their employers—a system some watchers have compared to slavery.

Five of the World Cup’s six top corporate sponsors (including Coca-Cola and adidas) have voiced concern over corruption and worker abuse allegations, and publicly back formal investigations. Blatter, in a rare off-message moment, admitted that giving Qatar the bid was a “mistake.” Qatari officials have denied wrongdoing on corruption charges and promised to reform labor laws—but clearly, they have a lot more to worry about than air-conditioning their stadiums.

There was match fixing at the 2010 World Cup events in South Africa.

While World Cups present and future are beset with trouble, the 2010 Cup in South Africa was widely considered a success and a model for future hosts to follow. That legacy may soon be tarnished, if only slightly: reports have surfaced that pre-cup exhibition matches in South Africa were fixed. A New York Times investigation alleges that powerful gambling interests paid off referees to manipulate the outcomes of certain games. At least five games, and possibly as many as 15, were targeted. While the referees giving out questionable handball calls and yellow cards are clearly to blame, FIFA concluded that some South African soccer officials probably helped to some extent.

If true, this scandal would cast doubt on South Africa’s World Cup legacy. But there are implications for this year’s event, too. It proves that match-fixing—a persistent evil in soccer—is alive and well, and not even the World Cup is immune. Billions are wagered on the Cup worldwide—over $1.6 billion will be wagered in Great Britain alone—and there are powerful interests seeking to manipulate outcomes. FIFA dragged its feet for years on the South Africa investigations, calling into question its ability to prevent match-fixing in Brazil, which officials publicly say is a risk.

A uniting thread in all of these scandals.

FIFA looks really, really bad. There’s evidence to argue that the overlords of international soccer are corrupt and incompetent; at best, they’re merely incompetent. Between insisting that Brazil and Qatar will be successes as planned and accusing World Cup critics of racism, FIFA looks plain ugly. Not convinced? Watch John Oliver’s brilliant explanation:

So, while the implications of these controversies are big for Qatar and Brazil, they’re big for FIFA, too. Some are arguing to get rid of it altogether. How the upcoming months unfold could determine President Blatter’s viability going forward. A group of prominent European soccer executives have called on the longtime president to step down. For the health and well-being of soccer and the countries that love it, that might not be a horrible thing.

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A Guide to the Scandals Plaguing the World Cup

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