Signal-Noise Case Study of the Week: The Eternal Dominion of President Squid!

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“Third term: Why Lula does not have this right.” The teaser reads: “The president publicly denies a desire to remain in power for four more years, but does nothing to deter allies who want to amend the constitution to allow it.”

“When distant and unfamiliar and complex things are communicated to great masses of people, the truth suffers a considerable and often radical distortion. The complex is made over into the simple, the hypothetical into the dogmatic, and the relative into an absolute.” –Walter Lippman

The Tribuna de Minas (Minas Gerais, Brazil) offers the first attempt I have seen to explain the enormous media-driven flap here in Brazil over the possibility that the incumbent Brazilian president will “pull a Chávez” — or, as defenders of the president are more fond of putting it, “pull a Cardoso” — and seek to revise current legislation that limits the federal president to two four-year terms.

Under the Constitution of 1988, the limit was one term (first four, then five, then four years again, if I remember correctly, though I am no sure that I do). But Cardoso was able to mobilize a Constitutional amendment to permit him a reelection run.

It is a debate that I am still finding utterly confusing. Honestly, at this point I can really only register the state of my own confusion, while trying to assess the efficacy — and sincerity — of various offers to unconfuse me on the topic.

There is nothing that pisses me off more than buying a newspaper then having to spend the entire day having to run down and recorroborate everything it tells me.

Judging purely from my own exposure to the topic so far, however, you seem to have two dueling memes here:

  1. A cover story in Istoé magazine last week, showing Lula enthroned as emperor, displayed side by side on the newsstands with a Veja cover story showing the red beret of Chávez and calling the Bolivarian ballbuster a “dictator”; and
  2. Constant affirmations by the sitting federal president that reelection to a third term is absolutely the furthest thing from his mind, along with mild and oblique references to Hugo to the effect that “no one is irreplaceable, and thinking otherwise poses a risk to democracy”

Perhaps I am living in a world of illusion [cue spook theremins playing the theme from The Twilight Zone] but I could almost swear that I have heard President Squid practically declaiming the famous Lyndon Johnson speech — “I shall not seek, nor shall I accept …” — translated into the man’s trademark country-bumpkin Portuguese, emphatically and repeatedly and with a certain note of irritation starting to creep into his voice.

My kneejerk impression, therefore, for what it is worth: This is yet another media-fabricated total tempest in a teapot, a mountain made of a molehill based on an empty talking point raised by marginal political players with a snowball’s chance in hell of even being scheduled for debate in committee.

I could be wrong, and it will require some work to run down properly, but the fact that many of the sources who are vouching for it have tried very hard in the past to get me to believe in non-existent facts entertaining the plausibility of which requires me to suspend belief in the Laws of Thermodynamics.

Rio mayor Cesar “The Naked” (“Chairman”) Maia, for example. I have read the guy’s political newsletter for quite some time now, and I have, unfortunately, reached the conclusion that it is not fit for human consumption even after you boil it.

The whole thing reminds me a bit of the manufactured flap over the introduction of that terrifying Big Brother Internet bill here a while back, of which one Boing Boing reader wisely and (as hindsight suggests) with apparent prescience wrote:

First of all, the title “Brazil’s congress wants to track Internet users” is inaccurate: only a few people in congress want this. Just like in the U.S., the fact that a bill is proposed doesn’t mean it’s widely supported. Second, it should be noted the President already declared to be against this bill a couple of days ago. And of course, as someone else said, there’s still a long way for this to get approved. I personally don’t think there is any chance that it will happen. Plus there’s always the Supreme Court, in case it is found this bill is unconstitutional.

It also reminds me of the buckets of ink spilled, more recently, over the alleged allegation that “the meat of the Brazilian boi zebu (bos indicus) is not real beef.” I have still been unable to confirm independently that anyone is actually making that allegation, much less anyone whose opinion actually matters. See

Meanwhile, even the lefty press — Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil, for example — has made quite a point of stressing “the risk of personalism” there in the Orinoco Basin.

This article does not help much in putting the issue into perspective, even though it promises us a regional perspective in the lede.

It fails to mention, for example, the Bill and Hillary Show as a case parallel to the Kirchner couple, or register similar apocalyptic noises being made by Álvaro Uribe in Colombia:

Em moda na América Latina, após as bens sucedidas tentativas de permanência no poder do presidente da Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, e do casal Kirchner, na Argentina, a questão envolvendo reeleições por vários mandatos consecutivos desembarcou no Brasil. Mesmo taxada como “insensatez” pelo presidente Lula, a hipótese de um terceiro mandato entrou na agenda política e preocupa políticos e estudiosos. “É preciso estar atento ao que está acontecendo. É muito sério”, alerta o ex-presidente Itamar Franco (sem partido), que condena a reeleição como quebra “da tradição democrática brasileira”.

In fashion now in Latin America, after successful bids by Chávez and the Kirchner couple to hold onto power, the issue of reelection for multiple consecutive terms has now landed in Brazil. Even though branded [“an incredibly stupid idea”] by the sitting president, the hypothesis of a third term has made its way onto the political agenda and worries politicians and experts. “We must pay close attention to what is happening. This is very serious,” warns former president Itamar Franco, who condemns reelection as breaking with “the Brazilian democratic tradition.”

I would condemn a policy of official support for the practice of cannibalism in the Five Boroughs of New York, and would be shocked! shocked! to learn that Mayor Bloomberg was contemplating such a policy.

As far as I know, Mayor Bloomberg is not contemplating such a thing.

Next issue? Can we talk about traffic reengineering for Grand Army Plaza for a minute, for example?

Para o deputado Júlio Delgado (PSB), o momento é para o próprio presidente Lula colocar um ponto final na questão, “para o bem da democracia”. O cientista político Lúcio Rennó, do Centro de Pesquisa e Pós-Graduação sobre as Américas, da Universidade de Brasília (UnB), teme pela ausência da alternância de poder, que “é fundamental para a democracia”. Já Fábio Wanderley Reis, professor emérito da Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG), considera a medida como “casuística”.

In the view of federal deputy Delgado, this would be a good time for Lula to put an end to the issue, “for the good of democracy.” Political scientist Lúcio Rennó of the U. Brasília’s Americas program, fears a lack of alternation of power, which “is fundamental for democracy.” Meanwhile, Fábio Wanderley Reis, professor emeritus at the federal university of Minas Gerais, considers the measure “casuistic.”

Considers what measure “casuistic”? Someone send me the text and legislative history of an actual live bill, with responsible adults as sponsors, one that is likely to be put to a vote sometime before the heat-death of our solar system. Then, and only then, will I consider getting excited.

One of my favorite words, “casuistic.”

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The cover of IstoÉ this week reads FOOD: Careful, you are being deceived!

O assunto, que veio à tona pelas mãos dos deputados Devanir Ribeiro (PT) e Carlos William (PTC), propondo inclusive a realização de um plebiscito, ganhou corpo com o desarquivamento de uma proposta similar pelo presidente da Câmara, Arlindo Chinaglia, que permite a reeleição sem limites para cargos majoritários, e voltou à baila com a declaração do secretário de Relações Internacionais do PT, Valter Pomar, que alegou que a tese não é golpista ou chavista. A série de episódios pró-terceiro mandato mobilizou dez líderes partidários que, na última semana, divulgaram nota alegando que a discussão “compromete o clima de tranqüilidade e normalidade política e institucional do país”. Embora salutar, a reação, segundo o deputado Júlio Delgado (PSB), foi unilateral. “O momento é para o próprio presidente se dirigir à nação e se comprometer a deixar o poder em 2010”.

The issue, which arose through the offices of federal lawmakers Ribeiro (PT) and Willian (PTC), even proposing the holding of a referendum, gained substance with the [untabling] of a similar proposal by the speaker of the lower house, Chinaglia, that permits unlimited reelection for elected office, gaining further momentum with a statement by Workers Party’s secretary of international relations, Valter Pomar, who alleged that the idea is neither antidemocratic or Chavist.

There is quite a bit of context left for you to fill in there. Did Ribeiro and Willian introduce a bill? Does it have a number? Is it scheduled for debate in committee? What was the precise text and context of Pomar’s remarks?

The Agência Câmara, meanwhile — the news agency of the lower house — had this on the Chinaglia proposal last week:

O presidente da Câmara, Arlindo Chinaglia, divulgou hoje nota esclarecendo que é absolutamente incompatível com a verdade a afirmação – contida em matéria do jornal Folha de S.Paulo no dia 1º – de que ele teria “mandado desarquivar sem alarde” uma proposta de emenda à Constituição (PEC) “que permite a reeleição sem limites para cargos majoritários, abrindo caminho para a aprovação de um terceiro mandato para o presidente Lula”. Conforme explicou Chinaglia, a Câmara é obrigada pelo Regimento Interno a desarquivar, a pedido de seus autores, propostas que haviam sido arquivadas por causa do término da legislatura.

Chinaglia issued a statement saying that the statement reported by the Folha de S. Paulo on November 1, according to which he “ordered a proposed Constitutional amendment, which would open the way for indefinite reelection, discretely retrieved from the table” [reinserted into the official order of business] is “completely incompatible with the truth.”

The Folha, which can be a decent read on matters unrelated to the political dirty wars, does, unfortunately, have a history of printing things that are completely incompatible with the truth.

Which is why I never buy it. The rival Estado also requires boiling before consumption, but requires less expenditure of (critically scarce?) natural gas to do so, I tend to find.

There follows a very complex and boring explanation of Brazilian parliamentary paper-shuffling and the assertion that the disposition of this proposal, tabled automatically with the expiration of the last legislature, was purely a matter of protocol.

Uma proposta desarquivada em fevereiro (PEC 23/99) a pedido do autor, deputado Fernando Ferro (PT-PE), veda a reeleição. Por causa do desarquivamento dessa PEC, confome explicou Chinaglia, todas as demais 11 PECs que estavam apensadas a ela também foram desarquivadas. Uma delas, a PEC 99/99, do ex-deputado Inaldo Leitão, prevê a possibilidade de reeleições sucessivas, e estabelece que os candidatos devem renunciar aos cargos com seis meses de antecedência para disputar o pleito.

A proposed amendment that was [retrieved from the table] in February — Proposed Amendment [PEC] No. 23 of 1999 — at the request of its author, Ferro (PT-Pernambuco), prohibits reelection. Because this PEC was reactivated, Chinaglia explains, all the other 11 PECs  [paper-clipped] to it had also to be reactivated. One of them, PEC No. 99 of 1999, by former deputy Leitão, provides for successive reelections and that candidates must resign their posts six months prior to elections in order to run for reelection. 

I wonder if the Folha ombudsman addressed the issue. Will check later. Back to the Tribuna [I am slowly advancing in my project to get to know the regional and local papers of Brazil.]

O parlamentar considera muito improvável o avanço de qualquer medida nesse sentido no Congresso, mesmo assim, receia pela sobrevivência da questão. “É preciso acabar com essa idéia de terceiro mandato de forma definitiva. Sepultá-la, para o bem da democracia”. Para Rennó, mesmo avançando e, por ventura, chegando a ser aprovada, a proposta seria barrada facilmente pelo Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF). “Como no Brasil é o Judiciário quem tem feito mudanças na legislação política, estamos resguardados”.

The lawmaker considers it highly unlikely that any measure to this effect will make it through Congress, but even so, is concerned that the issue keeps coming up.

Wake me when somebody who knows what they are talking about thinks it somewhat less than highly unlikely to matter a good goddamn at all.

Entre aspectos positivos e risco ‘cesarista’

Between the positive aspects and the “Caesarist” risk

Lúcio Rennó, no entanto, chama atenção para alguns aspectos positivos do terceiro mandato ou de mandatos sucessivos, usados pelos defensores da idéia. “No Legislativo, os mandatos consecutivos acabam gerando especialização dos parlamentares, o que não deixa de ser algo positivo para o processo. O mesmo poderia acontecer com os executivos no caso de reeleições indefinidas”. Para o professor Fábio Wanderley Reis, trata-se, mais uma vez, de uma iniciativa oportunista, como aconteceu com a aprovação da reeleição no Governo Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC). Em ambos os casos, segundo ele, a popularidade do presidente levou-o a alterar em seu benefício “as regras do jogo com o jogo em andamento”. Porém, assim como Rennó, Fábio Wanderley lembra de aspectos positivos da medida usados, inclusive, pela tropa de choque de FHC. “A candidatura do presidente pode ser vista como forma de aumentar as opções do eleitor, que passa a contar com a possibilidade de reconduzir ao cargo o titular, se entender que ele merece ser reconduzido”.

Yada yada yada.

Os dois estudiosos concordam, no entanto, que, apesar dos apelos da argumentação pró-reeleição e terceiro mandato, há ressalvas importantes a serem feitas. Uma delas, segundo Fábio Wanderley, diz respeito aos riscos “cesaristas”, em razão do respaldo do governante pelas massas podendo levar, no limite, que as próprias leis sejam atropeladas. Rennó, por sua vez, considera a alternância de poder como fundamental para a democracia. Ele também chama atenção para o fato de que o revezamento de grupos no poder contribui para fiscalização dos recursos públicos. “Quando um governante assume, ele acaba fazendo uma auditoria nas contas do mandatário anterior. Isso é salutar em termos de responsabilidade fiscal”. Mesmo no caso da reeleição, o cientista político lembra que há indicadores claros quanto ao aumento da disciplina fiscal nos dois mandatos.

Yada yada. The issue is an almost purely academic one.

Proposta é conseqüência da reeleição


Para o ex-presidente Itamar Franco (sem partido), a proposta de um terceiro mandato é para ser vista com muita cautela. “É uma questão muito séria que não vem sendo tratada da forma devida”. Ele considera que já chegou o momento de o presidente Lula fazer um pronunciamento no rádio e na TV se comprometendo com a população a concluir seu mandato em 2010. O ex-presidente atribui o surgimento da hipótese do terceiro mandato à reeleição implementada no Governo do presidente Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC). “Antes não havia nada disso. A tradição democrática brasileira, desde a Proclamação da República, era de apenas um mandato. Isso foi quebrado com a reeleição e, agora, surgem essas coisas. Terceiro mandato é conseqüência da reeleição”. Para ele, a questão torna-se ainda mais perigosa pela atual falta de oposição ao Governo Lula. “Se aprovarem um plebiscito para o terceiro mandato, nem o Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF) consegue reverter”.

Yada yada yada former president Itamar Franco — victim of one of the cheesiest photojournalistic hit jobs in history, by the way.

He was photographed standing on a raised platform with a Carnaval beauty, showing lots of booty. The booty-beauty was not wearing underwear.

The photograph was taken from a very, very low angle.  Use your greasy little imagination.

Itamar lembra que, antes de FHC, nenhum outro presidente, mesmo com popularidade em alta, usou do artifício da reeleição para se manter no poder. “O presidente Juscelino (Kubitschek) seria reeleito facilmente”. Ele lembra que, quando estava próximo de terminar seu mandato, foi procurado pelo então líder do Governo no Congresso, senador Pedro Simon (PMDB), para avaliar a hipótese de se colocar em pauta a emenda da reeleição. “Falei com ele (Simon) que, enquanto meu líder, ele estava desautorizado a fazer aquilo, por não condizer com a história democrática do país”. Em outro episódio, o ex-presidente conta que, quando lançou o então ministro Fernando Henrique Cardoso ao Planalto, pediu a ele que não instituísse a reeleição. “Ele (FHC) se comprometeu comigo. Outras pessoas presenciaram a nossa conversa. Mas não valeu de nada”.

Yada yada yada.

Dos 36 projetos sobre reeleição, 25 pedem seu fim

Of 36 proposed amendments on the subject of reelection, 25 propose abolishing it.

Um total de 36 propostas de emenda constitucional tramitam na Câmara modificando as regras da reeleição. Nenhuma delas está pronta para ser votada. A maioria (25) pede o fim da reeleição, aprovada em 1997, no Governo do presidente Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002). Uma delas é a da deputada Rita Camata (PMDB), que considera a renovação de mandato um erro e pede o término da medida.

Why none of what has been discussed at great lengthy really matters at this point.

Das propostas, 11 acabam com a reeleição mas fixam um mandato de cinco anos para o presidente, governadores e prefeitos. Outra, de Wilson Santiago (PMDB), propõe seis anos. A perspectiva de que alguma seja votada a curto prazo é pequena.

Of these proposed amendments, 11 call for an end to reelection but set a five-year term for the federal president, governors and mayors. Another, by Santiago (PMDB), proposes a six-year term. The prospect that any of these being voted on in the near term is slim.

The logic of the story is really exactly the same as that Globo segment I showed you the other day, on the killer electrical showerhead. See

Can a common food item mutate your children horribly?

Tune in at 11!

The answer: No, not really.

Not hardly at all.

In theory, maybe, but no case has ever been reported.

Nevertheless, everyone is very, very afraid.

Brazilian journalism’s favorite masterplot, in other words, reprises that sadistic schoolyard prank of our youth:

– “There is a huge spider on your neck!
– Agggh! Where? Get it off! Get it off!
– Ha ha! Made you look!”


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