Brazil's Battle of False Consciousness

President Dilma Rousseff is in the process of being impeached, having received a better than 2/3 (367-137) vote in the lower house in favor of sending a formal recommendation of impeachment to the Brazilian Senate.

The impeachment itself is based on whether President Rousseff committed crimes de responsabilidade, according to Brazilian law.

The foreign media's translation of the Brazilian Portuguese phrase crimes de responsabilidade, has been high crimes and misdemeanors, the latter phrase being a direct reference to Section 4 of Article Two of the United States Constitution: "The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

This is both a fair and an unfair translation. It is fair in the broad sense, when one recognizes that the Founding Fathers realized that there would be a need to question and potentially remove an elected official from office for both serious crimes but also for political offenses. It is part and parcel of what a democracy is all about. It is unfair, because many in the foreign press have implied that Brazil's current impeachment process does not have a basis in law. Nothing could be further from the truth. For a good overview of Dilma's fiscal missteps and their legal implications (in Portuguese), click here.

Lamentably, the foreign press and in particular Amy Goodman and Glenn Greenwald, in a recent Democracy Now segment, along with a supporting cast of journalistic commentators have taken up Dilma's and her Worker's Party's (the Partido dos Trabalhadores or PT) cry of golpe or coup d'etat.

Aside from the Orwellian use of the term golpe (the military is not behind the current scandal, or its prosecution, nor are they about to suspend the Constitution or democratic principles), there has been constant reference to the fact that Brazil's young democracy is fragile. That somehow what is going on in Brazil, is putting the very fabric of democracy to the test. This is true. It is a test, but every reason exists to believe that the very institutions and personalities in question will rise to the occasion, and be strengthened because of it.

The problem is that neither Amy Goodman nor Glenn Greenwald in the segment cited, explained the larger context. It is the larger context, which justifies a triggering of the impeachment process in Brazil. To say or even imply that members of the Brazilian Congress or members of the Brazilian Supreme Court have failed to follow the strict letter of the Brazilian Constitution and laws is slanted and uninformed yellow journalism at its best.

Read the U.S. Constitution and read the Brazilian Constitution and laws. Impeachment is by definition both a legal and a political process. According to the Brazilian Constitution and laws absolutely everything that is occurring is legal. I repeat everything that is occurring is legal. Dilma's manipulation of government accounts is an impeachable offense. How Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald or anyone could say otherwise is a travesty. And I confess, I am a huge fan of Democracy Now and Glenn Greenwald. Lamentably, they are both off base.

Of course the last time the United States went through an impeachment process it was based on an alleged case of perjury by then President William "Bill" Clinton, where he was called to the carpet by a Republican-led House of Representatives, for having fellatio with a White House intern. In good solid Arkansas cultural parlance the President publicly stated that "I did not have sex with that woman!" Where I come from (Missouri) and where the President comes from (Arkansas) he was right. Fellatio is not having sex. It might be a sexual act, but it is not having sex. But his action succumbed to the interpretation of a vengeful and conservative House of Representatives. Clinton was formally impeached. The U.S. Senate did not convict.

Was Clinton 's impeachment an attempted golpe or coup d'etat? No. It was and is an inherent part of the best of democracy at work.

By saying otherwise about Brazil, both domestic and foreign journalists are doing more harm to Brazil, than the impeachment process itself.

Why Dilma Is Not Innocent and Also Not Guilty (Yet)

In Brazil, things are different, and far more serious. Brazil has reached a
crossroads which is fraught with political, economic, sociological and philosophical implications. But it is also a crossroads of false consciousness.

The ideological camps are clearly divided. On the one side we have the neo-liberal opposition party agenda, led most symbolically by the PSDB (the Brazilian Socialist Democratic Party), the party of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC). On the other side, we have Dilma, Lula and the PT and a coalition of left-leaning political parties, including the PMDB (the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), led by Michel Temer, Dilma's Vice President, which has recently split with the PT and is positioning itself for the Presidency, should Dilma's case be accepted by the Senate.

Dozens of others have already reported on the massive scandal and investigations, and the fact that all three politicians in the immediate line of succession for the presidency are all under investigation (including over 1/3 of the Congress).

But let us pause here for a bit of context.

The wealth concentration in the United States attributable to the top 1% (read Paul Krugman), borders on an embarrassment. Wealth disparity in Brazil is much worse.

This is important, because allusions in the commentaries rendered in the segment from Democracy Now, made indirect reference to Brazilian media giant Globo as being the equivalent of FOX News. Or that the PSDB is right-wing and the Brazilian equivalent of the Republican Party in the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Given Brazil's demographics the vast majority of the political parties in Brazil are left of center. Including all of the leading political parties.

Do the rich control the media? Yes. Is there immense concentration of wealth in Brazil. Absolutely. But to think that a FOX News-like organization controls the public debate in Brazil is absurd. Globo has its problems no question, and it represents the elite, but it is no FOX News.

Since the PT came to power in January of 2003, there has not been one year, when Brazil was not subject to some major corruption scandal (looking back with 20/20 hindsight, in that the crimes came to light years later).

Lula ran for the presidency three times and lost three times before winning the 2002 election. The publicly declared platform of the PT was well known - namely, to stay in power for 20 straight years, as a necessary measure to correct the injustices imposed on the Brazilian people by political parties largely following a neo-liberal agenda, that reinforced an already skewed set of structural mechanisms at all three levels of government, which benefitted the rich as the expense of the poor.

In Brazil, you can be neo-liberal macro-economically speaking and sociologically quite left-wing.

The current Lava-Jato (Car Wash) scandal which is focused on Petrobras, the government owned oil company, involves quite literally billions. Substantial portions of those monies are in offshore accounts that went to an array of politicians (including the PT and other parties), as well as large private sector companies.

The amounts involved make the Lava-Jato scandal one of the largest in the history of our current form of global capitalism. The Brazilians know this. Do they think that all politicians are corrupt? Yes. But don't insult the majority or even the minority of Brazilians, by implying that the Brazilian media is in charge of this referendum.

President Rousseff was Chairperson of the Board of Petrobras from 2003-2010, exactly the period when the vast brunt of the crimes being investigated were committed. One of the constant observations being made, is that Dilma did not personally benefit from any of the various corruption scandals that have plagued Brazil during this time.

If Dilma did not know about the Petrobras scandal (and again, there were many other PT-centered corruption scandals, some of which are still being investigated), then she is at the extreme end of incompetence and not fit for office. If she did know, and did nothing about it, she is complicit. The Brazilian people profoundly know this distinction.

Identifying False Consciousness

Dilma was impeached because she is a soldier, a warrior even, in the ideological fight for control of Brazil, and because she broke the law. Dilma was hand-picked by Lula to be his successor. Her mandate was to hold onto power until 2018, when Lula can run again for the Presidency (which is permitted by the Brazilian Constitution). What many outside of Brazil do not realize, is that the PT is not and has never been fully behind Dilma. She is there because Lula put her there. Crudely expressed but true. She had never held any elected office at any level of government before being elected President.

The false consciousness is that Lula, Dilma and the PT's approach to lifting millions out of poverty, was/is based on providing them fish, not teaching them how to fish. It was based on subsidies not structural reform.

Put another way, the poor have not been empowered with education, healthcare, and housing to the extent expected, with structural change at the governmental level with respect to small business, with viable nationwide micro-loan programs, job training, etc. The changes that Lula, Dilma and the PT coalition have made, were changes that created a more materially comfortable dependency. Simply put it was a great way to secure votes, and in Brazil, the poor vote.

But the last thing the PT wants (or any political party wants) is a critically thinking populace. Regardless of which side you take, people are thinking, and increasingly, thinking critically. Paulo Freire would be proud.

The problem that Dilma, Lula and the PT are facing, is that the extent of the corruption is vast and global. Are the media pro neo-liberal, yes. But the media did not commit the acts in question.

No one understands the opposition's appetite for power, the neo-liberal agenda and the complicity of the media more that Dilma and Lula. They and the PT's political coalition opened the door for this.

If there was any one mistake that the PT made it was this - in classic socialist fashion, they centralized power, and in this case, they centralized the already existing but heretofore de-centralized corruption schemes that had existed for decades in Brazil. They were right in assuming that by centralizing these schemes and with good management, the amounts involved could increase dramatically, providing enough money to finance with a surplus their planned goal of 20-years in power. What they failed to anticipate, is that the very tools they created to combat corruption (a centerpiece of the PT platform to get elected in 2002), would come back to haunt them.

The other false consciousness is the neo-liberal agenda, and a return to Brazil's version of free market based solutions. The problem here is that Brazil has never had a level playing field (does any country with a neo-liberal agenda?). By a level playing field, I mean a low-interest rate, low-inflation rate regime.

Part of Brazil's problem is that Brazil's equivalent of the U.S. Fed Funds Rate, the SELIC, is at 14.25%. See, Brazil Needs a Real Plan for Interest Rates.

This is not to say that a low-interest rate, low-inflation rate regime is not neo-liberal, it is still neo-liberal, but in the overall global framework of capitalism, such a regime is the only legitimate starting point for the establishment of a third golden mean of macro-economic policy in a country with such huge wealth disparity.

As it is, Brazil is structured so that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and high interest rates play a central role in this dynamic. In 14 years of power, neither Lula nor Dilma has changed that. Without structural reforms the recently created non-poor are slipping back into poverty.

Lula's and Dilma's greatest failure, is that even with control of the Brazilian Congress in-hand, they did not pass the needed structural reforms. That failure has caught up with them, the PT and millions at the bottom of the pyramid in Brazil. But we all have a short memory for pain.

My prediction is that if Dilma survives the Senate impeachment process and returns to the Presidency to serve out her term, Lula will be re-elected in 2018. If Dilma is in fact impeached and permanently removed from office, I think Lula's chances of re-election diminish dramatically. And of course the Lava-Jato investigation continues. That investigation alone could change the course of Brazil's history.

It is worth mentioning that the investigations are being conducted by institutions and bureaucrats who were appointed largely by Lula and Dilma. But giving politicians credit for doing what they are supposed to do is part of the problem.

The question that Amy Goodman and Glenn Greenwald need to investigate is, why is the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecuting FIFA and other related world football organizations and personalities, utilizing the U.S. Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), in a scandal that involves hundreds of millions of dollars; and not using RICO as an prosecutorial adjunct in the United States, to complement the ongoing Brazilian federal prosecution involving the Petrobras scandal and the Lava-Jato investigation, which involves potentially tens of billions?

Was that a legal decision? Or a political decision?