Lula: Gringos should keep out of the Amazon

Lula being Lula:

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says no "gringo should stick their nose in where it does not belong."

Silva was visiting Para state Tuesday, where the Belo Monte dam is planned. It would be the world's third-largest hydroelectric project.

The dam has been opposed by figures such as British singer Sting and more recently by "Avatar" director James Cameron.

I'm relying on the AP's translation and I'm not sure if the word was meant to have negative connotations, but da Silva did also once blame the financial crisis on "white people with blue eyes," and in any case, this probably isn't the most productive way to deal with the legitimate criticisms of the Belo Monte project.

That said, Lula's comments are a useful reminder that while Cameron and his cohorts view this as a case of rapacious multinational corporations exploiting the wilderness and the Na'vi … er … I mean … indigenous people who live there, Brazilians are justifiably proud of their country's industrial growth and don't like being lectured by foreign celebrities. Cameron and Sting probably don't want any part of a fight with Lula for the sympathy of the Brazilian public.   



French fare-dodgers get organized

The Parisians who flooded the streets of France's capital city this morning -- part of a countrywide push-back against President Nicolas Sarkozy's proposed austerity plan (which includes, among other simply intolerable measures, a new retirement age of 62) --  are grabbing headlines this week, but their attempts at mobilization pale in comparison to the budding subversion of another, surprising set of malcontents: unhappy -- and, as it turns out, unlawful -- commuters.

Recently, turnstile hoppers (hardly a new breed of traveler in the Parisian subway system) have ratcheted up their disdain for transit regulations, coming together in so-called mutuelles des fraudeurs to protect themselves against fare-dodging fines -- and, while they're at it, to stick it to the man. The mutuelles resemble a hybrid insurance agency and support group: Members pay monthly dues of about $8.50 and, in return, are guaranteed full reimbursement for any fines they receive for "forgoing" the proper subway fee. (Typical fares are $2; typical fines are $60.) There are a few technicalities, of course: For example, members are strongly urged to pay their fines to officials upfront and are only assured compensation by the mutuelle if they show up in person at weekly meetings (usually held in avant-garde coffee shops).

Fare-dodging may look like a straightforward variation on petty theft -- a money-saving technique that regrettably comes at the expense of the law -- but the "fradeurs" insist they're not just pinching pennies: They're taking a stand. "Gildas" (a mutuelle leader who, in the true style of a subversive, declines to give his last because "we don't like this type of questions") has a surprisingly well-thought-out -- if ill-reasoned -- explanation for his behavior.  

"There are things in France which are supposed to be free - schools, health. So why not transportation? It's not a question of money.... It's a political question."

He fashions himself as a historic revolutionary, not an everyday criminal: "It's a way to resist together," he says. "We can make solidarity."

Lest any American commuters (or communists) start getting ideas, be warned: At least in Virginia, Metro miscreants pay for their mistakes with a visit to court.