What is a Visionist?

"A visionist is an artist, a creator or an individual that sees beyond what is visible to the eyes and brains of human beings. Visionists are thinkers, they are the recognisable brains in soociety, but most times they are seen as absurd, "nerds" and misfits – they just don't fit into the societies. They are people with great dreams and minds."

The English Wikipedia

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Globalized Brazil

I am wrapping up a three week visit to Brazil that has included the two southern states of Parana and Santa Catarina and the cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. I lived in Rio for six years (and in Salvador da Bahia for 2) over a span of nearly 20 years and know Sao Paulo from numerous family visits, but had only been once to the southern states almost 20 years ago. The visit to Parana and Santa Catarina was part of a six month Globalization Seminar at Tidewater Community College, and I had the pleasure of being one of six faculty and six students who flew and bussed all around those states. As the city of Chesapeake, one of the seven cities of the Tidewater region in SE Virginia, is a sister city with Joinville, the most populous city in Santa Catarina, TCC decided to use that connection to hook up with the largest university in Joinville, called Univille, a semi-private school of about 8,000 students. We lectured along with Univille professors for groups of students up to about 200 each evening.
Before and after a program of about 4 days in Joinville, we also visited the cities of Curitiba (state capital of Parana) , Morretes and the port of Paranagua in Parana state, descending from Cutitiba to the coast aboard a a scenic train that runs through the Atlantic rain forest to the coast. As the TCC trip is under the international business program of the school, the visit included tours of the Port of Paranagua, Perini Business Park, a major industrial park in Joinville, the production complex of WEG, Brazil´s leading manufacturer of electric motors and transfomers, the Blumenau textile fair, a boat ride around the Bay of Babotinga and the port of Sao Francisco do Sul, and visits to the tourist city of Comboriu and Santa Catarina´s capital, Forianopolis.

As mentioned in my last posting, we met with the former mayor of Curitiba and governor of Parana state, Jaime Lerner, after visiting the city and seeing all the things he had done to improve it, laying the foundation for Curitiba to be considered the environmental capital of Brazil. (Jaime Lerner agreed to see us although his wife, Fani, was gravely ill. I found out only a few days later that she had passed away and sent condolences.)

A primary conclusion of this trip is that Brazil has been globalized. (Actually, I took the name of this posting from a book here Brasil Globalizado, published last year with contributions from leading Brazilian thinkers and economists, which takes the position that Brazil has been on the path to globalization since 1990, but still has a long way to go in necessary reforms.) It is deeply involved in world trade and through a galloping information revolution, in world culture. I don´t want to cite the many statistics showing Brazil´s place in the world economy, because they are readily available. However, observing the immediate effects of globalization on a country that at one time, during most of the period I lived here, largely had its trade protected and suffered a gap between it and the world. Today, anything is available here, at a price of course often quite a bit higher than in the US. (The little figure of a stick man with the head of a globe, above, has been used on the wrappings of a kind of cracker, Biscoitos Globo, in both sweet and salty versions, sold only on Rio´s beaches for the past 70 years to the delight of little children and their parents, and older siblings.)

Brazil is much more wired than I have ever seen in the past, including on a visit only a year ago. This has given Brazilians a closer touch with the world. Everything now is accessible online (I was told a phone book is no longer printed because the info is online). Advertising and all kinds of services are being promoted online. Most hotels and public areas have wireless. Brazilians use cellphones and PDAs even more vigorously than Americans do.

There is something very global about Brazil´s culture today. The main TV soap opera playing now is called Road to the Indies (Caminho das Indias), a rather colorful portrayal of life and love that somehow crosses from Brazil to India (where everybody suddenly speaks Portuguese--which would be OK if it took place in Goa but it doesn´t). People here are fascinated with the rich texture of Indian upper class life, with flashbacks to Brazil. Another bit of evidence is the film Budapeste, based on the novel by Brazilian cultural figure (popular musician and now novelist) Chico Buraque de Hollanda. In this film, a Brazilian ghost writer finds himself in Budapest and decides to learn the most difficult language in the world (my paternal grandparents were Jews from Budapest) and is embroiled in efforts to ghost write in Hungarian, in addition to dealing with lovers in both Rio and Budapest. What all this means to me, is that Brazil is culturally engaged in the world. In the case of India, it reflects a Brazilian desire to be as dynamic as the Indians have been in moving their economy to be globally competitive (which most Brazilian products still are not), and perhaps to compare the talents of a Brazilian intellectual to the often crude ways of a former Communist Eastern European country. The ease with which the views of Budapest and Rio are flashed across the screen gives a sense of the closeness in time and space that marks postmodern globalization.

I should also mention that Green is really catching on here, a legacy of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio but also with a lot of new energy coming from world culture and Brazil´s easy connection to nature. People talk Green better than they act Green, but it is a good beginning. (Watching a well heeled woman open up her car door while stopped in traffic and tossing out a pile of paper trash caused me teeth to gnash.)

Brazil is always Brazil, thank goodness. Today I was delighted by a scene as I walked and sat along the Calcadao, when they close off one lane of traffic along the Ipanema and Leblon beachfront on Sundays so people can walk, bicycle and skate freely along it. For some reason, everyone now has a dog, preferably a little dog. But one fellows large black lab decided to go directly to a coconut sitting on the curb next to a family whose very young daughter had only drunk about half of its milk, and started licking the hole at the top and draining off the delicious liquid. Everyone laughed. Then the dog picked up the coconut in its mouth, lower jaw in the hole, and walked off with it. 15 minutes later, the same dog walked by the other way, still clenching the coconut in his teeth. I would like to see that scene happen in the States!

A trip to Brazil would not be complete for me without going to at least one show of Brazilian Popular Music (MPB). In Sao Paulo, Yeda and I went with some cousins to see the Caymmi family, Danilo, Dori and Alice, sing songs of their father and grandfather the great Dorival Caymmi, who passed away last year. This concert was dedicated to Caymmi and his frind, Brazil´s greatest novelist, Jorge Amado, both from Bahia and both of whom I knew when I served in Salvador da Bahia as US consul. I have to admit that I had trouble holding back tears listening to some of the Caymmi songs that represent Bahia not just to me but to most Brazilians as well. It was a great concert and I hung around afterwards to meet the Caymmi family and congratulate them. As it turns out, Dori lives in Los Angeles, so even Bahian music has gone global.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Meeting A World Class Urban Planner

I am now visiting Brazil with a 12 person faculty and student seminar group from Tidewater Community College (TCC) the final field experience of six months of meetings on the subject of Globalization. Brazil was chosen both as an emerging global power and because Chesapeake, one of the cities in Hampton Roads Virginia where TCC has four campuses, including Cehesapeake, has a Sister City in Brazil called Joinville in the Southern state of Santa Catarina. We are here to work with Univille, the prinicipal higher education insitution in this city of 600,000, the most populous in the state.

Before arriving here, however, we spent a couple days in Parana state, just north of Santa Catarina, visiting its capital, Curitiba, known as one of the most green cities in the world in the world due to the vision of its former mayor and also the governor of the state, Jaime Lerner. After visiting the beautiful Botanical Gardens that he built and observing improvements made in public transport and trash collection, we had the special priviledge of spending a hour with Jaime Lerner, an old friend and contact from my days as US Consul in Rio de Janeiro and with whom I have some family ties.

Here are some highlights of our discussion of an hour with Jaime Lerner:

  • Leaders of cities get bogged down in trying to decide exactly how to do things. It is much better to engage in the subject and work your way though the problem.

  • He often asks city mayors around the world "What is your dream?" That is different from asking "what is your problem." Leaders need a vision of what kind of city they hope to create for their citizens. You can then work on the problems too.

  • For success you need a) political will; b) solidarity of the population; c) a strategy; and d) a proper "equation of co-responsibility" among the different sectors of the city. Many politicians lack a strategic vision.

  • If you want to deal with global warming, you need to recognize that 75% of carbon emissions come from cities. You have to lick the problem in the cities.

  • He believes on the environment that you have to "teach children to teach their parents." In Curitiba it was only by mobilizing students to separate trash that the adults became conscious of the importance of this. In Curitiba the rate of separation is 70%.

  • Important rules for making cities green is to get people to drive less, live as close to their work as possible

  • Rising crime in cities comes from a lack of a stable economic relationship between the classes. People moved to to cities in Brazil to help build the cities and when building slowed down they no longer had jobs. It is important for different classes to be integrated and to support one another. They should live in the same neighborhoods.

  • When he first started working with his group, they found that it was best to find simple solutions for problems and spread out. Today, his group works more a process like "urban acupuncture," visiting a city for a couple of weeks, offering some suggestions and then withdrawing, leaving it up to the locals to follow up on suggestions.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

What is Global Governance?

•The idea of “Global Governance” has been around for over 20 years.
•It recognizes that in a world of accelerated globalization, some global solutions are necessary.
•The essence of global governance is a coordination of efforts by governments, international organizations, civil society and other groups of efforts to reduce or manage the threats of globalization and to promote the benefits of globalization.
•An important UN report, Our Global Neighborhood, by The Commission on Global Governance, a distinguished panel of international public servants was issued in 1995, but was not universally well received.
•Global governance is opposed by those who defend the sovereignty of states and mistrust large multinational bureacracies.
•Global Governance is not World Government. In fact, global governance would not be necessary, were there a world government.
•Global governance refers to the political interaction that is required to solve problems that affect more than one state or region when there is no power of enforcing compliance. Problems arise; networks of actors are constructed to deal with them in the absence of an international analogue to a domestic government. This system has been termed “disaggregated sovereignty.”
•Some, however, question the inefficacy of such informal regimes and recommend a more structured set of regimes coordinated through international organizations, such as the United Nations and regional organizations.

Clinton: Who cares about Lou Dobbs?

May 1, 2009
Clinton: Who cares about Lou Dobbs?
@ 1:06 pm by Michael O'Brien
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said CNN pundit Lou Dobbs can buzz off during a townhall meeting with career foreign affairs officers on Friday.
One questioner, Jan Strasser, an employee at the United States Joint Forces Command, asked what Clinton thought about a system of global governance, referencing the work on the subject by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Clinton's nomination to be the State Dept.'s Director of Policy Planning.
"Well, I can just imagine what Lou Dobbs will say about that," Clinton said to laughter, referencing the CNN host who has emphasized economic nationalism and decreased deference to larger world governing bodies.
"You know what? Who cares about Lou Dobbs?" Strasser responded.
"I agree with that," Clinton shot back to more laughter, before refusing to specifically answer the question, saying that Slaughter is working on the subject.

My Exchange With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

I must apologize for not posting to this blog for an unwarranted amount of time. Some other things, family, work and teaching concerns took over my life, a trip to California and now an upcoming trip to Brazil, but I thought I could make up for it by posting the following exchange I had yesterday with Hillary Clinton at the State Department. The setting was a town hall meeting she held with foreign service retirees, an annual meeting, but her first as Secretary.

For a full transcript and full video of her remarks and other Qs and As, go to:


QUESTION: Good morning, Mrs. Clinton. I’m Dan Strasser and had the pleasure of meeting you over a decade ago when I was the executive director at Val-Kill and you were the First Lady. And I want to thank you for all the work you did to promote Mrs. Roosevelt’s legacy in our work then, and I’m sure she’s smiling down on you right now wishing you all the best and very proud of what you’ve accomplished even in the short time you’re here.

My question – I should mention right now I work for General Mattis at Joint Forces Command and still actively engaged in the issues that this Department is involved in as well. My question actually is this, or proposal – many years ago when the last Clinton Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, first came to the Department, he had a big town hall meeting like this for the staff, which was very good. And I asked a question then. I said, “Mr. Christopher, we just finished the Cold War and we know that a great diplomat came up with a concept to how to deal with the Cold War, and that was containment.”

And I asked him, “Do you have a concept to deal with the post-Cold War period that we’ve now entered?” And being the lawyer that he is, he basically said, “Well, no, we’ve got to deal with each problem one at a time.” I was never really satisfied with that answer. And listening to the various things that you are doing and also Deputy Secretary Burns – Under Secretary Burns’ list of things, I wonder if you feel that you have an umbrella over – an umbrella concept, an overarching concept in which to contain what it is that this Administration and you are trying to do to deal with what I call the problems of galloping globalization in the world. And I do hope that you might have one.


QUESTION: May I – I know you’ve talked about the three --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Do you have any ideas?


SECRETARY CLINTON: Good. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I nominate the concept of global governance, which I know that Anne-Marie Slaughter knows a lot about, and which was proposed back in the late ‘90s when you were in the White House by the UN Commissioner on Global Governance. I believe it still has a lot of very good proposals that probably need to be updated, but recommend to you, considering global governance, as that concept for this Administration. Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I can just imagine what Lou Dobbs will say about that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You know what? Who cares about Lou Dobbs? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: I agree with that. (Laughter.) We – you mentioned Anne-Marie Slaughter, who some of you may not know is our policy and planning director, first woman to have that job, former dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton. And we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. I mean, we don’t want to get hung up on coming up with a word. But we do have a pretty clear idea of the kind of approach that we’re taking. But I think she would be very disappointed if I were to preview any of it right now, so give me a little – give me a few weeks, okay?

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I’m going to try to talk to her --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Talk to her, (inaudible).

QUESTION: -- as well.


QUESTION: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.)