Another coup which isn’t a coup

Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Fisher and David Miranda write

Brazil today awoke to stunning news of secret, genuinely shocking conversations involving a key minister in Brazil’s newly installed government, which shine a bright light on the actual motives and participants driving the impeachment of the country’s democratically elected president, Dilma Rousseff. The transcripts were published by the country’s largest newspaperFolha de São Paulo, and reveal secret conversations that took place in March, just weeks before the impeachment vote in the lower house was held. They show explicit plotting between the new planning minister (then-senator), Romero Jucá, and former oil executive Sergio Machado — both of whom are formal targets of the “Car Wash” corruption investigation — as they agree that removing Dilma is the only means for ending the corruption investigation. The conversations also include discussions of the important role played in Dilma’s removal by the most powerful national institutions, including — most importantly — Brazil’s military leaders.

The transcripts are filled with profoundly incriminating statements about the real goals of impeachment and who was behind it. The crux of this plot is what Jucá calls “a national pact” — involving all of Brazil’s most powerful institutions — to leave Michel Temer in place as president (notwithstanding his multiple corruption scandals) and to kill the corruption investigation once Dilma is removed. In the words of Folha, Jucá made clear that impeachment will “end the pressure from the media and other sectors to continue the Car Wash investigation.” Jucá is the leader of Temer’s PMDB party and one of the “interim president’s” three closest confidants.

It is unclear who is responsible for recording and leaking the 75-minute conversation, but Folha reports that the files are currently in the hand of the prosecutor general. The next few hours and days will likely see new revelations that will shed additional light on the implications and meaning of these transcripts.

The transcripts contain two extraordinary revelations that should lead all media outlets to seriously consider whether they should call what took place in Brazil a “coup”: a term Dilma and her supporters have used for months. When discussing the plot to remove Dilma as a means of ending the Car Wash investigation, Jucá said the Brazilian military is supporting the plot: “I am talking to the generals, the military commanders. They are fine with this, they said they will guarantee it.” He also said the military is “monitoring the Landless Workers Movement” (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST), the social movement of rural workers that supports PT’s efforts of land reform and inequality reduction and has led the protests against impeachment.

The second blockbuster revelation — perhaps even more significant — is Jucá’s statement that he spoke with and secured the involvement of numerous justices on Brazil’s Supreme Court, the institution that impeachment defenders have repeatedly pointed to as vesting the process with legitimacy in order to deny that Dilma’s removal is a coup. Jucá claimed that “there are only a small number” of Court justices to whom he had not obtained access (the only justice he said he ultimately could not get to is Teori Zavascki, who was appointed by Dilma and who — notably — Jucá viewed as incorruptible in obtaining his help to kill the investigation (a central irony of impeachment is that Dilma has protected the Car Wash investigation from interference by those who want to impeach her)). The transcripts also show him saying that “the press wants to take her [Dilma] out,” so “this shit will never stop” — meaning the corruption investigations — until she’s gone.

The transcripts provide proof for virtually every suspicion and accusation impeachment opponents have long expressed about those plotting to remove Dilma from office. For months, supporters of Brazil’s democracy have made two arguments about the attempt to remove the country’s democratically elected president: (1) the core purpose of Dilma’s impeachment is not to stop corruption or punish lawbreaking, but rather the exact opposite: to protect the actual thieves by empowering them with Dilma’s exit, thus enabling them to kill the Car Wash investigation; and (2) the impeachment advocates (led by the country’s oligarchical media) have zero interest in clean government, but only in seizing power that they could never obtain democratically, in order to impose a right-wing, oligarch-serving agenda that the Brazilian population would never accept.

The first two weeks of Temer’s newly installed government provided abundant evidence for both of these claims. He appointed multiple ministers directly implicated in corruption scandals. A key ally in the lower house who will lead his government’s coalition there — André Moura — is one of the most corrupt politicians in the country, the target of multiple, active criminal probes not only for corruption but also attempted homicide. Temer himself is deeply enmeshed in corruption (he faces an eight-year ban on running for any office) and is rushing to implement a series of radical right-wing changes that Brazilians would never democratically allow, including measures, as The Guardian detailed, “to soften the definition of slavery, roll back the demarcation of indigenous land, trim housebuilding programs and sell off state assets in airports, utilities and the post office.”

But, unlike the events of the last two weeks, these transcripts are not merely clues or signs. They are proof: proof that the prime forces behind the removal of the president understood that taking her out was the only way to save themselves and shield their own extreme corruption from accountability; proof that Brazil’s military, its dominant media outlets, and its Supreme Court were colluding in secret to ensure the removal of the democratically elected president; proof that the perpetrators of impeachment viewed Dilma’s continued presence in Brasilia as the guarantor that the Car Wash investigations would continue; proof that this had nothing to do with preserving Brazilian democracy and everything to do with destroying it.

For his part, Jucá admits that these transcripts are authentic but insists it was all just a misunderstanding with his comments taken out of context, calling it “banal.” “That conversation is not about a pact for Car Wash. It’s about the economy, to extricate Brazil from the crisis,” he claimed in an interview this morning with UOL political blogger Fernando Rodrigues. That explanation is entirely implausible given what he actually said, as well as the explicitly conspiratorial nature of the conversations, in which Jucá insists on a series of one-on-one encounters, rather than meeting in a group, all to avoid provoking suspicions. Political leaders are already calling for his resignation from the government.

Ever since Temer’s installation as president, Brazil has seen intense, and growing, protests against him. Brazilian media outlets — which have been desperately trying to glorify him — have suspiciously refrained from publishing polling data for many weeks, but the last polls show him with only 2 percent support and 60 percent wanting him impeached. The only recent published polling data showed that 66 percent of Brazilians believe legislators voted for impeachment only out of self-interest — a belief these transcripts validate — while only 23 percent believe they did so for the good of the country. Last night in São Paulo, police were forced to barricade the street where Temer’s house is located due to thousands of protesters heading there; they eventually used fire hoses and tear gas. An announcement to close the Ministry of Culture led to artists and others occupying offices around the country in protest, which forced Temer to reverse the decision.

Until now, The Intercept, like most international media outlets, has refrained from using the word “coup” even as it (along with most outlets) has been deeply critical of Dilma’s removal as anti-democratic. These transcripts compel a re-examination of that editorial decision, particularly if no evidence emerges calling into question either the most reasonable meaning of Jucá’s statements or his level of knowledge. This newly revealed plotting is exactly what a coup looks, sounds, and smells like: securing the cooperation of the military and most powerful institutions to remove a democratically elected leader for self-interested, corrupt, and lawless motives, in order to then impose an oligarch-serving agenda that the population despises.

If Dilma’s impeachment remains inevitable, as many believe, these transcripts will make it much more difficult to leave Temer in place. Recent polling data shows that 62 percent of Brazilians want new elections to select their president. That option — the democratic one — is the one Brazil’s elites fear most, because they are petrified (with good reason) that Lula or another candidate they dislike (Marina Silva) will win. But that’s the point: If what is being avoided and smashed in Brazil is democracy, then it’s time to start using the proper language to describe this. These transcripts make it increasingly difficult for media outlets to avoid doing so.

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Stock Share Buybacks Now Bought Out — American Enterprise in Decline

Research from no other place than Wall Street, itself, indicates that almost all of the returns since 2009 have been due to stock share buybacks!

Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist and perma-bull at Charles Schwab, recently acknowledged that “… there has not been a dollar added to the U.S. stock market since the end of the financial crisis by retail investors and pension funds….” Since every buyer has a seller (and vice versa), what group or groups had enough of a buying presence to push the S&P 500 14.2% off of the February closing lows? Corporations. (Seeking Alpha <http://seekingalpha.com/article/3968290-stock-buyback-conundrum-will-companies-keep-much-longer>)

Most people assume what has kept the market afloat this year after sinking 11% at the start of the year was a mixture of better news out of China, oil prices stabilizing, and indications that the Fed won’t raise rates as much as thought. But the real thing bouying the market could be something else: Stock buybacks…. The stock buybacks come at a time when major investors including individuals, foreign investors, and pension funds have been selling off their shares, according to a note from Goldman Sachs, amid market volatility and weak oil prices. (Fortune <http://fortune.com/2016/04/25/buybacks-stock-market/>)

Over the past five weeks, the value of shares bought back has fallen 42% (yoy). The number of scheduled buybacks has fallen off substantially this year (35% below last year’s pace). So, we can anticipate the market will lose some of the hot air that once kept it aloft. Buybacks aren’t yielding the returns they once were, and the corporations have already taken on a load of debt for past buybacks that is even threatening the credit rating of some. Earnings have declined steadily as money spent on building for the future has dropped dramatically. It looks like the golden years when companies buy themselves are winding down, and we shall all convalesce together.

With so many American corporations convalescing, it’s a good thing we have Obamacare…

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Stock Share Buybacks Now Bought Out — American Enterprise in Decline

 

The shift in the conversation on Palestine-Israel in the Democratic Party

Philip Weiss writes

In the Washington Post, Abby Phillip and Anne Gearan report on the concessions that DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is willing to make to Bernie Sanders to try and placate his hordes at the convention in Philadelphia at the end of July. DWS wants to give Sanders “seats on a key convention platform committee,” but that might not stop Sanders from picking a fight over the party’s policy positions, including our focus:

Even with the committee assignments, Sanders plans an aggressive effort to extract platform concessions on key policies that could prompt divisive battles at a moment when front-runner Hillary Clinton will be trying to unify the party. Among other issues, he plans to push for a $15 national minimum wage and argue that the party needs a more balanced position regarding Israel and Palestinians, according to a Sanders campaign aide who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Go to the bottom of the story and you get the Israel Palestine news.

Clinton aides have said that on a slew of issues, Sanders is not far from the party. But the issue of U.S. policy toward Israel — which a Sanders adviser said “absolutely, legitimately will be a point of conversation” — has made some of Clinton’s backers nervous.

Sanders is seeking a more “even-handed” U.S. approach to Israeli occupation of land Palestinians claim for a future state. The current platform does not address the nearly five-decade occupation directly, but it endorses “a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian accord, producing two states for two peoples.”

Speaking last month during a contentious debate with Clinton, Sanders — who declared himself “100 percent pro-Israel” — said that Israel’s 2014 military assault on the Gaza Strip was “disproportionate” to the threat posed by Hamas rockets launched from the Palestinian territory into Israel.

Behind his words is a long debate among U.S. and international policymakers — one that divides the Democratic base and could pose a challenge for Clinton when she must bring her party together: how to weigh Palestinian interests when dealing with Israel, and whether resolute U.S. backing for Israel diminishes leverage to promote peace and fair treatment of Palestinians.

“On one hand there is not an enormous amount of difference between them. They are both pro-Israel, they are both pro-peace,” said one longtime Clinton supporter. “But in the context of the campaign terms like ‘even-handed’ can come to mean that the United States is signaling a shift” — and Clinton would oppose that.

Remember Hillary Clinton’s hard-right Israel positions stated again and again, including at AIPAC in March: She will invite Netanyahu to the White House in the first month; she will take Israel relationship to “the next level,” whatever that is; she will fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement hammer and tongs and working with Republicans to do so; and she said that Donald Trump has “no business being president,” because he has pledged neutrality on the Israel Palestine question, and an American president must never be neutral on Israel.

Then Bernie Sanders pulled the rug out from under her in that “contentious” April 14 debate in NY, saying that Netanyahu is not always right and that Israel used disproportionate force against Gaza in 2014, when it killed 500 children, and the audience cheered. They cheered because this is the Democratic base’s position, fairness toward Palestinians.

We’ve said again and again here that Israel can divide the Democrats, grassroots versus establishment, and it should divide the Democrats, it’s that important an issue. And the media will break up over this issue, as they should; and Dana Milbank and Jonathan Chait and Jodi Rudoren will go right with Jeffrey Goldberg and the Atlantic and New York Magazine, and Jake Tapper and David Corn will go left and bring scores with them. Looks like we’re going to meet our rendezvous with destiny before long.

Why is Clinton worried about divisive? Because of fundraising. Remember that when President Obama pushed through a platform position at the Democratic convention in 2012 saying Jerusalem was the forever capital of Israel, there was a floor demonstration by the grass roots (and this was before the 2014 Gaza slaughter) to try and defeat the plank, and the chair of the convention said that Obama was “absolutely livid” that the platform hadn’t included the language originally. Maintaining a rigid pro-Israel stance is essential to fundraising.

And Clinton’s position is surely based on what Haim Saban, her megadonor, wants.

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New Evidence About the Dangers of Monsanto’s Roundup

Sharon Lerner writes

John Sanders worked in the orange and grapefruit groves in Redlands, California, for more than 30 years. First as a ranch hand, then as a farm worker, he was responsible for keeping the weeds around the citrus trees in check. Roundup, the Monsanto weed killer, was his weapon of choice, and he sprayed it on the plants from a hand-held atomizer year-round.

Frank Tanner, who owned a landscaping business, is also a Californian and former Roundup user. Tanner relied on the herbicide starting in 1974, and between 2000 and 2006 sprayed between 50 and 70 gallons of it a year, sometimes from a backpack, other times from a 200-gallon drum that he rolled on a cart next to him.

The two men have other things in common, too: After being regularly exposed to Roundup, both developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer that starts in the lymph cells. And, as of April, both are plaintiffs in a suit filed against Monsanto that marks a turning point in the pitched battle over the most widely used agricultural chemical in history.

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The Donald vs. the Blob

Stephen Walt writes

Barring a bizarre and unforeseen turn of events, next November American voters will have to choose Hillary Rodham Clinton or Donald Trump to be the nation’s 45th president. The two candidates could not be more different: female versus male; longtime public servant versus self-absorbed private businessman; Democrat versus Republican; unapologetic liberal internationalist versus xenophobic nativist; uber-cautious, poll-driven politico versus vulgar and impulsive bomb-thrower. It’s quite a choice.

Their campaigns could not be more different either, especially when it comes to foreign policy. The Clinton campaign has already assembled a “massive brain trust” of policy wonks and former government officials, including Michèle Flournoy, Nicholas Burns, Madeleine Albright, Jake Sullivan, Derek Chollet, Tamara Wittes, Phil Gordon, Michael McFaul, and many, many more. As befits a former secretary of state, former senator, and former first lady, her foreign-policy machine is the living embodiment of the mainstream Foreign-Policy Establishment.

By contrast, Trump’s foreign-policy views seem to spring out of his own impulsive id, and the handful of foreign-policy advisors he’s revealed are hardly bold-faced names with glittering resumes. Indeed, such is Trump’s alienation from the foreign-policy establishment that some 120 Republican foreign-policy gurus recently released an open letter denouncing his candidacy and declaring him “utterly unfitted to the office.” Trump can’t even win the backing of conservative humorist P.J. O’Rourke, who might have been expected to support him for the comic value alone.

You’d think this disparity would give Clinton a big advantage in the general election, and that may in fact prove to be the case. But I’m not so sure.

For one thing, most Americans don’t care that much about foreign policy, and they rarely choose presidents on that basis. Economic conditions drive presidential elections more than international events do, so even if voters believe Clinton is the sounder choice on foreign-policy grounds, it may not matter that much.

Furthermore, the public seems to be in a pretty rebellious mood this year, and a lot of that resentment is directed toward the “establishment.” Both the Trump and Bernie Sanders campaigns have been sustained by populist anger at well-connected fat cats whom voters believe have sold the country down the river, and that discontent appears to include foreign policy. An April 2016 Pew Research Center poll found that 57 percent of Americans believe the United States “should deal with its own problems and let other countries deal with their problems as best they can,” with 41 percent saying the country did “too much” in world affairs and only 27 percent asserting it did “too little.” Needless to say, such sentiments sound a lot more like Trump than Clinton.

For this reason, having the bulk of the mainstream foreign-policy establishment in her corner may not be a great asset for Clinton, and that impression increases when one reflects on how that establishment has behaved in recent decades.

The United States began the 1990s on top of the world, with both liberals and conservatives hailing the “unipolar moment,” dreaming of the “end of history,” and embracing a strategy of American liberal hegemony. Whether in the form of Bill Clinton’s strategy of “engagement and enlargement” or George W. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda,” the United States was going use its power to spread democracy and human rights far and wide — peacefully if possible but by force if necessary. Markets would grow, freedom would spread, and peace would prevail, all under the watchful but benevolent eye of America’s foreign-policy mandarins.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, U.S. policy in the Middle East eventually triggered the 9/11 attacks, which our vast national security apparatus failed to detect or prevent. The United States then fought two costly and unsuccessful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there’s still no end in sight in either country. Washington repeatedly failed to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement despite abundant potential leverage and numerous attempts. It also failed to build a positive relationship with Russia, mostly because the United States kept expanding NATO into Russia’s traditional sphere of interest. The United States couldn’t stop North Korea, India, or Pakistan from acquiring nuclear weapons or expanding their existing arsenals, and it reached a nuclear deal with Iran only after the Islamic Republic had built thousands of centrifuges and become a latent nuclear weapons state. The United States also helped produce failed states in Libya, Yemen, and Syria, and its overall response to the turmoil now roiling the Arab world has been incoherent, inconsistent, and ineffective. And in the meantime, China has been increasing its power, staying out of costly conflicts, and gradually challenging the status quo in Asia.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The United States can claim some minor successes in this period, but the overall record is unimpressive. America’s “unipolar moment” was surprisingly short, and the world we inhabit today is far bleaker than the one most experts anticipated back when the Cold War ended. Instead of an expanding sphere of stable and prosperous democracies, today’s world is one of sluggish economic growth, violent extremism, rising xenophobia, declining democracy, and resurgent great-power rivalry. U.S. foreign policy is not solely responsible for these trends, of course, but its various missteps helped cause many of them. In short, America’s vaunted foreign-policy establishment has some explaining to do.

And like Wall Street, it is also an establishment that rarely holds its members accountable. If you’re a respected member of the foreign-policy elite, you can plead guilty of lying to Congress, receive a pardon, get rehired by another president, screw up again, and then land a nice sinecure at a prominent think tank. You can lobby for an ill-planned intervention in Libya, help create a failed state there, and subsequently get promoted to the position of national security advisor or U.N. ambassador. You can help lead the nation into a disastrous war in Iraq, mismanage the postwar occupation, and fail upward to become president of the World Bank. You can get caught making false statements to the public and press and still retain the “full confidence” of the president. Or you can repeatedly fail to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East and then get rehired to try again and achieve exactly the same result.

When disasters cannot be swept under the rug, this same community is quick to blame the “system” and avoid naming names. The 9/11 Commission “shied away from holding anyone personally accountable,” and as one participant later admitted, “individuals, especially the two presidents and their intimate advisers, received even more indulgent treatment.” Similarly, the Schlesinger Report on the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison referred vaguely to “institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels” but declined to identify the individuals to whom this statement referred. Similarly, no one was ever held accountable for the Bush-era torture regime, and apparently no one lost their job after squandering billions of dollars trying to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. And it is an establishment whose supporting institutions are increasingly dependent on donations from corporations with their own international interests, from wealthy individuals with explicit political agendas, and from foreign governments looking to buy some favorable spin inside the Beltway.

To be fair, most of the people who labor in government or in the penumbra of foreign-policy institutions are patriotic, well-meaning, intelligent, and dedicated and sincerely believe in what they are doing. They want the United States to be secure and prosperous, and they would like to make the rest of the world a better place. And sometimes they do just that. But many of these people are also ambitious, and they are imbedded in a system that rewards conformity, rarely if ever questions the value of U.S. “global leadership,” and is quick to marginalize anyone who thinks America’s self-indulgent approach to foreign policy might be doing more harm than good.

By virtue of her history, Hillary Clinton is intimately connected to this community and cannot help being linked to its recent performance. By signing up all those experienced foreign-policy insiders, she reinforces her association with some of the good things the United States has done in recent years. But it also means that she owns the past 25 years of foreign-policy missteps. Clinton was in the White House when her husband embraced “dual containment” in the Persian Gulf, when the United States led the charge for NATO expansion, and when it bungled the Oslo peace process. She was in the Senate when the United States went to war in Iraq, and she voted for that foolish war with apparent enthusiasm. She was running the State Department when the United States unwisely escalated in Afghanistan in 2009 (to no good purpose) and when it helped oust Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011 (ditto). She has little choice but to defend the strategy of liberal hegemony pursued by all three post-Cold War presidents: If anything, she is more enthusiastic about it than President Barack Obama has been. Her problem is that this record is not easy to defend.

Trump is under no such burden. Because his only responsibility over the past 25 years has been mismanaging the fortune he inherited, cultivating celebrity, courting a series of wives, and presiding over a reality TV show, he is free to criticize Clinton and her phalanx of advisors and appeal to the voters’ worst instincts with vague and wildly optimistic promises of his own. Knowledgeable foreign-policy experts have been quick to attack his various proposals, but these experts may not have much street cred this year.

To be clear: I’ve no desire to participate in a vast and risky social science experiment, and I won’t be voting for Trump next November. To the extent Americans care about foreign policy, they may prefer to stick with the familiar nostrums of liberal hegemony, and they may find the support Clinton gets from foreign-policy experts (including some prominent Republicans) reassuring. But if I were in her shoes, I wouldn’t write him off just yet.

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Chicago Election Official Admits “Numbers Didn’t Match”: Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders Election Fraud Allegations

Doug Johnson Hatlem writes

Jim Allen, Communications Director for the Chicago Board of Elections (BoE), acknowledges that “the numbers didn’t match” initially in the legally mandated 5% audit of voting and tabulating machines after the recent Illinois Democratic primary between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Allen, however, insists that this is simply a “perception issue” and that absolutely no election fraud took place.

Allen was responding by phone to my questions regarding allegations from citizen vote monitoring groups Who’s Counting? – Chicago and the Illinois Ballot Integrity Project (IBIP). Dr. Lora Chamberlain is a leader of Who’s Counting, which works with IBIP to credential election day monitors and joined them this year to audit the audit. IBIP was started in Illinois in the aftermath of the 2000 Al Gore versus George Bush Debacle. A total of six members of the two groups gave affidavit-based testimony at the April 5, 2016 Chicago Board of Elections meeting.

The testimony is, simply put, beyond stunning.

Read on about the testimony

 

 

The OPEC Epoch is Over – Where are oil prices headed now?

David Haggith writes

The fate of oil companies and nations hangs in the balance of oil prices. Russia could go broke. Some think that’s by US design. Saudi Arabia could experience its Arab Spring if oil prices remain too low too long. And OPEC is dead. That’s the biggest news for oil in this new century.

The House of Saud has stated clearly many times now and again this week in an even more emphatic manner that it intends to move the oil market from decades of OPEC price manipulation to a raw supply-and-demand equation.

Saudi Arabia’s move away from OPEC price manipulation is an oil battle fraught with peril for all.

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The OPEC Epoch is Over – Where are oil prices headed now?