Blame It On Rio: Arab Spring Coming Soon to a City Near You

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It’s hurricane season and a series of tropical storms are forming over the Atlantic. But their genesis is not meteorological, rather, it is socio-political.

Brazil and Turkey are two of many countries whose economies have improved dramatically during the last 10 years, creating a substantial middle class; but now these hard-working folks are getting relentlessly nickel-and-dimed, while receiving an inferior quality of life and paying more taxes.

The democratic process of voting for new leadership is meaningless because the new are just as greedy, power hungry and repressive as the previous, serving only to protect and enrich their own political and economic cabal. These new leaderships, in their third term, are led in Turkey by Erdogan, in Brazil by Lula da Silva+Dilma Rousseff, and both are experiencing the wrath of a disillusioned, well-educated citizenry.

The Brazilian and Turkish governments have publicly admitted that they were caught completely off-guard by the sudden outburst of the Arab Spring. Even journalists in these countries referred to the genesis of these combustive events as “spontaneous.”

Spontaneity frightens those in power, especially if there are no leaders with whom to negotiate, or to target and neutralize. Such an unpredictable swarm heightens an already volatile crisis.

These governments of the people are clearly out of touch. They either couldn’t accept the possibility of such an outburst because it’s the well-fed middle class or they willfully ignored the growing warnings like those before 9/11. Whether they appease, negotiate or crackdown on the protesters, governments face a lose-lose scenario.

The wealthy get the big tax breaks and the working and middle class pay higher taxes to make up for the shortfall and even get told what to drink. Brazilians are fed up with being taxed to financially support the billions spent to construct new soccer stadiums for the World Cup and Olympic games, instead of to upgrade social services and combat crime. The Turkish government wants restrictions on when to sell and advertise alcohol. In a striking parallel NYC government has provided enormous tax breaks to deep-pocket corporations and the wealthy on super luxury condos and attempted restrictions on sugary drinks.

The Gini index is a measurement of economic inequality. In the December 2012 article in The Brooklyn Bureau entitled “Brooklyn’s Income Inequality: Global Causes, Local Effects”, Gerard Flynn reported that NY State  has the nation’s highest inequality rating. Within NYS, Brooklyn is #3, after Manhattan and Westchester. Additionally, the Brooklyn ranking has had no significant change from 2006 to 2011, confirming a long-term trend.

Locally it’s not inevitable, indeed the odds are increasing, that we can have significant demonstrations. A community-specific incident can unleash pressure-cooker frustrations and spread like wildfire through social media. The Arab Spring began with a fruit vendor in Tunis. The “Tropical Spring” in Brazil began with a minor bus fare increase. And the Turkish affair was ignited by police brutality on a small group of peaceful protestors in Taksim Square. Why not a bodega owner in NYC who has had enough after receiving a frivolous fine or a stop & frisk gone bad?

Just as Giuliani faced his signature crisis with 9/11 in his last year in office, so may Bloomberg face his signature crisis in his third term, ironically like his Brazilian and Turkish counterparts.

Politicos and social experts will provide countless excuses why it can’t happen in the Big Apple and will only reach the level of another pesky Occupy Wall Street protest. Expect the unexpected. Alarmist? Pessimist? Realist. This is simply a clarion wake-up call that we are not immune to the dark side of globalization.

—Albert Goldson is an Architectural & Engineering Contract Manager specializing in transportation megaprojects, energy, security and urban planning. An internationalist, he is a long-time Williamsburg resident.