Brazil and America

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

One of the more fascinating television features produced is the PBS series “Black in Latin America.” This series, produced by Professor Robert Gates, explores (perhaps unsurprisingly) the experience of people of African descent in America.

An especially interesting episode is titled Brazil: A Racial Paradise? Professor Gates explores the experience of “blacks” in Brazil, a country with second-largest population of African descent in the world (including Africa).

Now, before viewing this series I’d been very aware that Brazil is not in fact a racial paradise. There is a very clean correlation between the color of one’s skin and one’s economic status. The rich and the elite of Brazil are all white; the poor and working class of Brazil are all black.

Unsurprisingly, Gates finds something very similar in Brazil. He states that:

When I landed in Brazil, I first went to Bahia. And I thought this Brazil is the land of the brown people. But when I go to hotels, restaurants, look at magazines, there’s no black people. [laughter] Me, I’m the only black person when I go to the hotels I look like.

You, because of your social standing, because of the places you are able to visit in Bahia, there will be many places where you will be the only black man, and you could still be badly treated.

Gates visits a Brazilian favelas – The City of God. There, talking with a resident of the favela, the following conversation occurs:

When you look around the wealthier parts of Rio, you can’t help but wonder if anything really has changed. Very few black faces here…

You feel the presence of Afro-Brazilians most in the poorest neighborhoods of Rio…

Up to the point that Gates said this, I had been feeling somewhat superior. The United States certainly has racism, but it isn’t as bad as Brazil. There is, for instance, a strong black presence in America’s political system – something which Brazil lacks.

But these words provided something of an epiphany. We have this in America too! When you look at the wealthier parts of the United States, you see very few black and Hispanic faces. You feel the presence of African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans most in the poorest neighborhoods of America.

The vast majority of heavily black and Hispanic communities in America are poor. In fact, you can count on one hand the number of zip codes which are middle-class and heavily black. Middle-class whites actually feel scared when they go to a place in which the majority of people are black or Hispanic.

Something really terrible must have happened in a country in which this is true. Something is fundamentally crooked in a country like that.

 

 

Brazil and America

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

One of the more fascinating television features produced is the PBS series “Black in Latin America.” This series, produced by Professor Robert Gates, explores (perhaps unsurprisingly) the experience of people of African descent in America.

An especially interesting episode is titled Brazil: A Racial Paradise? Professor Gates explores the experience of “blacks” in Brazil, a country with second-largest population of African descent in the world (including Africa).

Now, before viewing this series I’d been very aware that Brazil is not in fact a racial paradise. There is a very clean correlation between the color of one’s skin and one’s economic status. The rich and the elite of Brazil are all white; the poor and working class of Brazil are all black.

Unsurprisingly, Gates finds something very similar in Brazil. He states that:

When I landed in Brazil, I first went to Bahia. And I thought this Brazil is the land of the brown people. But when I go to hotels, restaurants, look at magazines, there’s no black people. [laughter] Me, I’m the only black person when I go to the hotels I look like.

You, because of your social standing, because of the places you are able to visit in Bahia, there will be many places where you will be the only black man, and you could still be badly treated.

Gates visits a Brazilian favelas – The City of God. There, talking with a resident of the favela, the following conversation occurs:

When you look around the wealthier parts of Rio, you can’t help but wonder if anything really has changed. Very few black faces here…

You feel the presence of Afro-Brazilians most in the poorest neighborhoods of Rio…

Up to the point that Gates said this, I had been feeling somewhat superior. The United States certainly has racism, but it isn’t as bad as Brazil. There is, for instance, a strong black presence in America’s political system – something which Brazil lacks.

But these words provided something of an epiphany. We have this in America too! When you look at the wealthier parts of the United States, you see very few black and Hispanic faces. You feel the presence of African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans most in the poorest neighborhoods of America.

The vast majority of heavily black and Hispanic communities in America are poor. In fact, you can count on one hand the number of zip codes which are middle-class and heavily black. Middle-class whites actually feel scared when they go to a place in which the majority of people are black or Hispanic.

Something really terrible must have happened in a country in which this is true. Something is fundamentally crooked in a country like that.

 

 

Global Expansion of High-speed Railroads Gains Steam

Interest in high-speed rail (HSR) is growing around the world and the number of countries running these trains is expected to nearly double over the next few years, according to new research by the Worldwatch Institute for Vital Signs Online. By 2014, high-speed trains will be operating in nearly 24 countries, including China, France, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the United States, up from only 14 countries today. The increase in HSR is due largely to its reliability and ability to cover vast geographic distances in a short time, to investments aimed at connecting once-isolated regions, and to the diminishing appeal of air travel, which is becoming more cumbersome because of security concerns.

 

The rise in HSR has been very rapid—in just three years, between January 2008 and January 2011, the operational fleet grew from 1,737 high-speed trainsets worldwide to 2,517. Two-thirds of this fleet is found in just five countries: France, China, Japan, Germany, and Spain. By 2014, the global fleet is expected to total more than 3,700 units.

 

Not only is HSR reliable, but it also can be more friendly than cars or airplanes. A 2006 comparison of greenhouse gas emissions by travel mode, released by the Center for Neighborhood Technologies, found that HSR lines in Europe and Japan released 30–70 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger-kilometer, versus 150 grams for automobiles and 170 grams for airplanes.

 

Although there is no universal speed definition for HSR, the threshold is typically set at 250 kilometers per hour on new tracks and 200 kilometers per hour on existing, upgraded tracks. The length of HSR tracks worldwide is undergoing explosive growth in order to meet increasing demand. Between 2009 and 2011, the total length of operational track has grown from some 10,700 kilometers to nearly 17,000 kilometers. Another 8,000 kilometers is currently under construction, and some 17,700 kilometers more is planned, for a combined total of close to 43,000 kilometers. That is equivalent to about 4 percent of all rail lines—passenger and freight—in the world today.

 

By track length, the current high-speed leaders are China, Japan, Spain, France, and Germany. Other countries are joining the high-speed league as well. Turkey has ambitious plans to reach 2,424 kilometers and surpass the length of Germany’s network. Italy, Portugal, and the United States all hope to reach track lengths of more than 1,000 kilometers. Another 15 countries have plans for shorter networks.

 

But in Europe, France continues to account for about half of all European high-speed rail travel. HSR reached an astounding 62 percent of the country’s passenger rail travel volume in 2008, up from just 23 percent in 1990, thanks to affordable ticket prices, an impressive network, and reliability. And in Japan, the Shinkansen trains are known for their exceedingly high degree of reliability. JR Central, the largest of the Japanese rail operating companies, reports that the average delay per high-speed train throughout a year is just half a minute. On all routes in Japan where both air and high-speed rail connections are available, rail has captured a 75 percent market share.

 

Further highlights from the research:

 

  • A draft plan for French transportation infrastructure investments for the next two decades allocates 52 percent of a total of $236 billion to HSR.
  • In 2005, the Spanish government announced an ambitious plan for some 10,000 kilometers of high-speed track by 2020, which would allow 90 percent of Spaniards to live within 50 kilometers of an HSR station.
  • Currently, China is investing about $100 billion annually in railway construction. The share of the country’s railway infrastructure investment allocated to HSR has risen from less than 10 percent in 2005 to a stunning 60 percent in 2010.
  • Intercity rail in Japan accounts for 18 percent of total domestic passenger-kilometers by all travel modes—compared with just 5 to 8 percent in major European countries and less than 1 percent in the United States.
  • In France, rail’s market share of the Paris-Marseille route rose from 22 percent in 2001 (before the introduction of high-speed service) to 69 percent in 2006. In Spain, the Madrid-Seville rail route’s share rose from 33 to 84 percent.

A New American Ally: Libya?

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

America has many allies in the Middle East. These allies range from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia to Yemen.

Of course, the relationship between the United States and its Middle Eastern “allies” is not as close as the diplomats might suggest. A perusal of the newspapers of both countries would uncover some (or very much) hostility between America and, say, Pakistan.

Indeed, America’s allies in the Middle East do much behind its back that goes against America’s interests. America is incredibly unpopular in Egypt and Turkey. Saudi Arabia was home to Osama Bin Laden, as well as fifteen out of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. Pakistan may or may not have protected Mr. Bin Laden; it certainly protects much of the Pakistani Taliban.

All in all, and with the exception of Israel, until now America has not had a true ally in the Middle East for decades (or perhaps ever). Outside of Israel, there has not been one country that would come to America’s aid if it were in dire straits.

Until now. The events in Libya may give America a second true ally in the Middle East. Libya may become first Arab country in which the people support an alliance with the United States.

This would be quite the change. Libya has for decades been grouped together with countries generally thought of as enemies of America. People have thought of Libya in conjunction with Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Syria, etc. But now, with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s rule at a clear end, Libya could possibly turn into the strongest friend America has amongst the entire Arab world.

An ally’s worth is measured not by its promises when the going is good, but by whether it honors those promises when the chips are down and a country is in desperate need of help. By this measure, the vast majority of America’s “allies” in the Middle East don’t deserve to be called by that term.

Say, for instance, that Canada launches an invasion along America’s unprotected northern border, defeats America’s armies, and advances within fifty miles of New York City – with America’s remaining troops fighting a desperate last stand on the shores of the Hudson River.

Who would come to America’s aid in that event? “Allies” such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan would probably abandon America gladly. On the other hand, much of western Europe would rush to America’s defense. The United Kingdom and France would probably send help. Countries such as Israel and Australia would probably provide assistance as well.

After the Arab Spring, so might Libya. 

 

New Worldwatch report calls for commitment to environmental sustainability in forming American economic policy

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute.

Entire sets of assumptions, beliefs, and practices will need to be overturned if the United States is to build a sustainable economy in the decades ahead, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute, Creating Sustainable Prosperity in the United States: The Need for Innovation and Leadership. The report assesses the country’s environmental record and calls for a broad range of policy innovations in the areas of renewable and non-renewable resource use, waste and pollution, and population growth that would help boost the sustainability of the U.S. economy while maintaining people’s overall well-being and quality of life.

The report notes that the country has a long tradition of environmental leadership, dating back to President Theodore Roosevelt, who established the U.S. National Park Service in 1916. During the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. became a world leader in environmental policy, establishing a series of progressive laws and institutions, including the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Yet U.S. leaders have lagged behind many other countries, including in Europe and Asia, in developing a more sustainable economic processes and energy infrastructure, according to the report. Although the technological and policy tools needed to create sustainable economic activity have advanced rapidly around the world, U.S. output continues to be bolstered by unsustainable practices such as closed loop recycling (recycling waste from one product to make another), heavy dependence on fossil fuels, disregard for renewable resources, and resource use that is strongly connected to economic growth.

“The United States once set the world standard in confronting its environmental problems—protecting wild lands, establishing an environmental protection agency, and acting assertively to limit pollution of all types,” noted Robert Engelman, Executive Director of Worldwatch. “Americans benefited economically and in many other ways from these efforts. Yet today the country’s government plays no role in global efforts to create sustainable societies. We need a powerful citizens’ movement to help policymakers see that any efforts to make the United States enduringly prosperous are doomed to fail so long as we forget that we are living on a finite planet and cannot change the laws of physics and biology to suit our ambitions.”

The report outlines a series of cogent and practicable policy measures that can be instituted today to put the United States on a more sustainable path. These include shifting from an income tax to a progressive consumption tax, creating more standard eco-labeling for products, encouraging more producer “take-back” opportunities, and promoting a more feasible renewable energy market. A deceleration of population growth will also make the creation of a sustainable economy far easier, the report notes.

Rising awareness of the environmental challenges facing our planet, as well as the focus on finding ways to bolster the American economy, presents policy makers with the opportunity to make important and far-reaching decisions. The question is whether the United States builds sustainable prosperity through prudent choices now, or declines into sustained impoverishment because it failed to steward its assets when it had the choice.

What do you think is the most important step governments can take to support sustainable economies?

Gary Gardner is a Senior Fellow at the Worldwatch Institute. Jenna Banning is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project of the Worldwatch Institute.

For the press release on the report, visit Worldwatch Institute's Press Room.

For more on the importance of developing a green economy, see “Officials cite sustainable agriculture as key to UN Green Economy Initiative,” “Worldwatch report focuses on China’s green future”  and “Rio+20: Creating Green Economies to Eradicate Poverty.”

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