April 10, 2008

Vou-me embora pra Pasárgada

Well yesterday, while I was not-so-happily up and about at 6am, trying to conquer another morning in my epic struggle to become one of those detestable “morning people,” (attempting to practice some asana, meditate, write, but mostly staring grumpily off into space) some big news was going down in our little town.

Apparently our mayor and mayors from twelve other cities in Minas and two in Bahia were caught with their sticky hands in the cookie jar, in a big way. Yesterday morning at 6am, in a Hollywood style surprise sting operation, the federal police simultaneously raided the homes of the 15 dirty-bird mayors in their respective cities, with guns, bravado, and lots of backup.

They pulled them out of their beds and marched them out in handcuffs and through the city in a very pubic display that rivaled Britney Spears getting her daily Taco Bell fix.

Apparently an eight month investigation showed that in the last few years they were all part of a embezzlement scheme that had them pocketing over R$200 million reais from federal programs for public health and education. Our city is by far the largest of any that fell under the scandal which means the allocations that our mayor was dipping into were bigger and his pockets a lot heavier. When they pulled him out of his house yesterday they not only found over a million reais in cash, but a cache of illegal guns, some of which were restricted for military use only. Hugh???? What was he planning on doing, shooting his way out of the country with a suitcase full of cash? Is this the wild west or what?

No, just business as usual in Brazil. I feel just terrible for Brazilians. People are angry and shocked, but nothing like the kind of outrage you would imagine – or that we would have in the US. Especially considering that the money for these programs comes from tax dollars and Brazilians pay one of the highest income taxes in the world. They ought to be rioting in the streets. But they aren’t. They are so accustomed to this kind of corruption that they have almost become immune to it.

We Americans get our puritan panties in a wad when a governor is caught soliciting prostitution, or a senator taps his foot in a bathroom. Seems kinda petty when compared to robbing millions meant for public schools and health care. Maybe, but perhaps it's just easier to get all worked up about moral issues because finger pointing is basically a past time of the human condition. In a form of psychological self-preservation I think we become programed to focus hard on what others are doing "wrong" so we don't have to look too deeply at our own failings. But with corruption as down right dirty and staggering as this, it's a lot harder to know how to even begin formulating a response.

On an odd sidenote:

A well known criminal lawyer and wannabe jazz singer came to C a year ago wanting to make a record of standards. He can sing, but doesn’t read music or have the know-how to arrange music and rehearse musicians. So C agreed to produce the record for him and has been doing the musical arrangements and coaching him and basically being the Svengali for his budding Singing Lawyer Career. Well guess who is representing our fallen mayor? I suppose the album won’t be coming out anytime soon.

Oh, and on a second odd side note – and this I think speaks volumes about the soul of Brazil:

The sting operation was baptized with the name “Pasárgada” which comes from a poem by Manuel Bandeira about a mythical paradise named “Pasárgada” where one can be friends with the king, have your woman of choice, the bed of your choice, where you aren’t sad and everything works. Leave it to the Federal Police to be inspired by an early 20th century modernist poem while hauling off criminal politicians. That pretty much sums up the two sides of the whole Brazilian experience – Poetry and Corruption. Oh, yeah, the poem also tells us that Pasárgada has pretty prostitutes too – which might mean an influx of American politicians and then it wouldn’t be such a paradise after all…

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