Boycott the Rio Olympics to Defend Brazilian Democracy

By Thomas Palley

Reposted from Thomas Palley’s blog.

Terrible anti-democratic events are now unfolding in Brazil with the constitutional coup against President Dilma Rousseff, organized through a cooked-up impeachment trial.

The impeachment coup represents a naked attempt by corrupt neoliberal elements to seize power in Brazil. Make no mistake: it is a threat to democracy and social progress in Brazil, Latin America, and even the global community at large.

If Brazilian voices concur, the world should respond by boycotting the Rio Olympics scheduled for this August.

Background: the capture and perversion of Brazil’s war on corruption

The constitutional coup against President Rousseff represents a capture and perversion of Brazil’s war on political corruption. As is widely known, Brazil has been rocked by revelations of massive corruption centered on its national oil company, Petrobras, but extending far beyond.

Political corruption is endemic in Brazil and is a curse upon the country. As a consequence, governing without recourse to corruption is almost impossible as bribery and kickbacks have historically been the only way of passing legislation in Brazil’s fractured Congress.

To their shame, some members of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT) government under President Lula succumbed to this curse. However, the PT’s involvement is a small fraction of the overall scandal, which infects the entirety of right-wing and business opposition parties far more extensively.

The opposition parties saw both threat and opportunity in the corruption scandal. The threat was exposure of their own pervasive corruption. The opportunity was the possibility of using the economic recession and the PT’s tainting to overthrow President Rousseff, thereby capturing government, blocking their own prosecution for corruption, and putting a stop to the social progress and reversal of income inequality the PT has achieved.

Zero evidence of Rousseff’s corruption

But try as they might, the opposition has found no evidence of corruption on the part of President Rousseff, something that may be unique in the presidential history of Brazil. A cynic might even say that is the real root of Rousseff’s political failure, as her honesty has likely turned the system against her.

Lacking evidence of corruption, the opposition has turned to impeaching Rousseff on grounds of violating technical budget laws in her prior term (2011-14), when she used temporary budget financing from the national development bank. This practice is known as “pedaling” and has been used before by governments, including that of President Fernando Cardoso. They were never sanctioned, yet Cardoso and his party now support impeachment.

The practice of budget pedaling was declared illegal by the Federal Court of Accounts in April 2015 and the Rousseff administration immediately moved to pay off its pedaling debts.

But rather than seeing that judgment as definitively clarifying permissible budget practice, the right-wing and business opposition that controls Brazil’s Congress has contrived to impeach President Rousseff for past budget technicality violations.

As evidenced by their own past budget practices and thievery, the impeachment is not aimed at correcting and preventing fiscal misappropriation. Instead, the goal is to exploit the decision to gain power that they could not secure at the ballot box.

Coup of the corrupt and vicious

The most egregious aspect of the process is that the impeachment has been led by persons already convicted of corruption or facing imminent conviction, along with vicious authoritarians and retrograde neoliberals.

Congressman Eduardo Cunha, the Speaker of the Brazil’s lower house, has just been ordered to step down for taking $40 million in bribes.

Senator Renan Calheiros, President of Brazil’s upper house, has a history of being disciplined for ethical violations and is currently under investigation for taking numerous major kickback payments.

Congressman Jair Bolsonaro, who was an outspoken lower house supporter of impeachment, dedicated his vote to Brazil’s past military dictatorship and the colonel who tortured Rousseff in the 1970s when she fought back against the dictatorship.

Interim president, Michel Temer, has already been disciplined for campaign finance violations that render him ineligible to run for office. He is also under investigation as part of the Petrobras scandal.

Temer, who is not a member of the PT, has appointed a viciously neoliberal cabinet. That means Brazil, which elected President Rousseff of the Workers’ Party in 2014, now has a neoliberal government.

The agriculture minister is Blairo Maggi, an agribusiness billionaire known as the “soy king”, who is said to have destroyed more rain forest than any living person.

The minister of justice, Alexandre de Moraes, has been an open advocate of police repression in the state of Sao Paulo, and he has also now been given charge of the human rights ministry.

The minister of institutional security (which includes Brazil’s CIA) is General Etchegoyen, whose father was identified by Brazil’s Truth Commission as responsible for murder and torture during the dictatorship. Etchegoyen dismissed those charges as “frivolous”.

Lastly, the minister of finance is Henrique Meirelles, former CEO of Bank of Boston and an advocate of the most extreme neoliberal financial policies.

This ugly cast of characters makes crystal clear what is happening in Brazil.

Boycott the Olympics

The impeachment coup represents a grave threat to democracy and social progress in Brazil and Latin America. Democratic civil society in Brazil urgently needs the world’s help. If opponents of the coup call for a boycott of the Rio Olympics, the global community of democracies should immediately sign on.

An Olympic boycott could be a beautiful and powerful action. It can brilliantly spotlight the culpability and corruption of the coup conspirators, while sending a global message in support of democracy.

Everyone knows Olympics and World Cups are both sporting and political events. Governments use these events to gain legitimacy, which means the Rio Olympics now risks conferring tacit approval on the coup against President Rousseff.

History provides evidence of past failures to help, and those failures illustrate the need for present action. The greatest failure was the 1936 Berlin Olympics that gave tacit to approval to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. In 1978 the global community failed Argentina by participating in the World Cup at a time when Argentina’s dictators were brutally torturing and murdering Argentines by the thousands.

Stop the revival of anti-democratic Latin American politics

The stakes are high. Brazil is being closely watched by anti-democratic reactionary forces throughout Latin America. The global community must act vigorously to stop Brazil’s constitutional coup dead in its tracks.

Failure to do so will condemn Brazilian democracy and send a signal throughout the region legitimizing right-wing anti-democratic politics. That risks reviving the tragic cycle of political violence that has so injured Latin America in the recent past. Boycotting the Rio Olympics might help prevent that outcome.

Bernie Slanders: How the Democratic Party Establishment Suffocates Progressive Change

By Thomas I. Palley, Independent Economist Washington, D.C.

Cross-posted at the author’s blog, thomaspalley.com.  An earlier version of this appeared at Social Europe.

The Democratic Party establishment has recently found itself discomforted by Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign to return the party to its modern roots of New Deal social democracy. The establishment’s response has included a complex coupling of elite media and elite economics opinion aimed at promoting an image of Sanders as an unelectable extremist with unrealistic economic policies.

The response provides a case study showing how the Party suffocates progressive change. Every progressive knows about the opposition and tactics of the Republican Party. Less understood are the opposition and tactics of the Democratic Party establishment. Speaking metaphorically, that establishment is a far lesser evil, but it may also be a far greater obstacle to progressive change.

The elite media’s response was captured in a snapshot report by Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) showing that the Washington Post ran 16 major negative stories on Sanders in 16 hours, prior to the Michigan primary. The headlines were particularly hostile, and since only 40 percent of the public reads past the headline, that is as important as the substance of the story.

Economic policy has been the fulcrum of Sanders’ campaign, and the response of elite opinion has been exemplified by Paul Krugman of The New York Times.

For years, Krugman has mockingly used the term “very serious people” to attack Republicans opposed to President Obama’s policies. Now, he unironically revokes the credentials of all who do not support Clinton  by declaring: “every serious progressive policy expert on either health care or financial reform who has weighed in on the primary seems to lean Hillary.”

Regarding Sanders’ opposition to neoliberal trade agreements, Krugman writes “In this, as in many other things, Sanders currently benefits from the luxury of irresponsibility: he’s never been anywhere close to the levers of power, so he could take principled-sounding but arguably feckless stances in a way that Clinton couldn’t and can’t.”

The slamming of Sanders has also been joined by a gang of past Democratic appointee Chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers. In an open letter co-addressed to Senator Sanders, Messrs. Kruger, Goolsbee, Romer and Tyson mauled a favorable empirical assessment of Sander’s economic program conducted by Professor Gerald Friedman.  Without any detailed independent assessment, they simply declared the assessment unsupported by the “economic evidence”.

Messrs. Kruger et al. were then joined by Justin Wolfers, via one of his regular New York Times opinion pieces. His accusation was the beneficial effects of fiscal stimulus would disappear once full employment was reached and the stimulus withdrawn.

Wolfers is co-editor of the prestigious Brookings Papers on Economic Activity. Ironically, a recent issue contained an article by elite Democratic economists Larry Summers and Brad DeLong invoking a similar mechanism as Professor Friedman. Summers and DeLong argued a large negative temporary demand shock can permanently lower output: Friedman simply reversed that and argued a large positive temporary stimulus can permanently raise output and growth.

There is legitimate room for intellectual difference. What is so stunning is the tone of the critique and the fact it sought to diminish an important policy (fiscal stimulus) just because Sanders was using it to his political advantage.

Given their elite professional standing and easy access to elite media, these attacks quickly ramified throughout the mainstream media, illustrating how the elite media – elite opinion nexus works.

The slamming of Sanders reflects an enduring status quo defense mechanism which usually begins with insinuations of extremism, then mixes in charges of lack of qualification and realism, and ends with assertions of un-electability. It is applied in both political and public intellectual life.

The extremism gambit explains the persistent linking of Sanders and Trump. Whereas Trump is an egotistical demagogue and businessman with a disreputable business history, Sanders is a thoughtful social democrat with a long history of public service through high electoral office.

The un-electability charge pivots off the extremism insinuation as follows. Americans will not elect extremists; Sanders is an extremist; ergo, Sanders is unelectable.

As with the extremism insinuation, the un-electability charge lacks foundation. Polls show Sanders beating all the potential Republican nominees, and beating Trump handily.

The third charge is lack of qualification. The reality is Sanders has a fifty year history of political involvement, worked his way through the political ranks serving people, was Mayor of Vermont’s largest city, then Vermont’s representative in Congress where he co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and after that became a Senator for Vermont. That seems to be exactly the career and CV a President should have.

Lastly, Sanders has been dismissed as selling unrealistic pipe dreams. Social Security would be a pipe dream if we did not already have it; so would Medicare and public education too. There is a lesson in that. Pipe dreams are the stuff of change.

Rather than an excess of pipe dreams, our current dismal condition is the product of fear of dreaming. The Democratic Party establishment persistently strives to downsize economic and political expectations. Senator Sanders aims to upsize them, which is why he has been viewed as such a threat.

November will be a time for Democratic voters to come together to stop whoever the Republicans nominate. In the meantime, there is a big lesson to be learned.

Today, the status quo defense mechanism has been used to tarnish Bernie Sanders: tomorrow it will, once again, be used to rule out progressive policy personnel and options.

Progressives must surface the obstruction posed by the Democratic Party establishment. Primaries are prime time to do that, which means there is good reason for Sanders’ campaign to continue.