Extra! Extra! Alagoan Tabloid Warriors Condemn the DEM!

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Extra Alagoas (Brazil) today: “Fuel mafia involves all 102 mayors of Alagoas.”

The headline in Extra Alagoas today: “Federal police raid goes to the heart of organized crime in Alagoas.”

Second story: “Exclusive: Extra-salary payments feed corruption scheme in Assembly!”

Quando fechar as contas do primeiro ano de sua administração, o governo Téo Vilela terá pago R$ 122 milhões a mais ao Tribunal de Justiça, Assembléia Legislativa, Ministério Público e Tribunal de Contas. Além do crime de improbidade administrativa, o descuprimento à lei representa um rombo mensal de R$ 10 milhões que deveriam ser destinados aos servidores estaduais, que há anos estão com seus salários congelados.

When it closes the books on his first year in office, the Vilela government will have paid R$122 million extra to the state judiciary, the Assembly, the prosecutor’s office and the state accounting tribunal. Beside the crime of administrative improbity, this violation of the law represents a loss of $10 million monthly that ought to be destined for state public employees, who have had their salaries frozen for years now.

Photo caption:

Téo abraça o amigo Antônio Albuquerque

Governor Vilela embraces his friend Antônio Alburquerque.

Reportagem completa no EXTRA, amanhã nas bancas.

Complete report in EXTRA, on newsstands tomorrow.

I am not sure if this EXTRA has business ties to the Globo paper of the same name in Rio, but it presents some pretty standard features of Brazilian sensationalist journalism: the scandal-driven cliffhanger — “tune in at 11 to learn whether a common ingredient of chicken soup can kill you!” (not really) — guilt by association, editorializing in the news hole — “that money should have gone to state employee salaries” — and a charge whose basis is not explained.

Why are the extra payments to those agencies improper?

What is the rule that has allegedly been broken?

The reference is the payment of the “13th salary” to employees of those state agencies — a common practice. (If I pay the salary of a ghost employee, am I “feeding a corruption scheme”? Yes. But if I did not mean to, and took reasonable steps to avoid doing so, then I might credibly claim to be a victim of the fraud scheme, right?)

Not that all that might not be the case, mind you.

For example, EXTRA also reports that a member of the Albuquerque clan has been named to the state accounting tribunal:

A posse apressada de Rosa Ribeiro Albuquerque no cargo de conselheira do Tribunal de Contas de Alagoas, para evitar possíveis ações judiciais, de nada adiantou. Na próxima semana, o advogado Richard Wagner Medeiros Cavalcanti Manso irá protocolar no Tribunal Regional Fe-deral, em Recife, uma ação popular pedindo a anulação da eleição e posse da nova conselheira do TC. Ele alega que a indicação da irmã do deputado Antônio Albuquerque é inconstitucional e pede a concessão de liminar suspendendo o ato da Assembléia Legislativa.

The hasty swearing-in of Rosa Ribeiro Albuquerque to the TCE, in a bid to avoid potential legal challenges, was utterly futile. Next week, attorney Richard Wagner Medeiros Cavalcanti Manso will file a [public-interest lawsuit] with the federal district court in Recife asking that her swearing-in be reversed. He alleges that the appointment of [Assembly president] Antônio Albuquerque is unconstitutional and seeks an injunction against the act of the legislature authorizing it. 

This is to editorialize in the news hole, of course: “It was utterly futile” will only be true in the event the petition succeeds.

It could be that the state employees (principally teachers) — who launched a strike as soon as the new governor came in, much as French railway workers did against Sarkozy, or New York City garbagemen and teachers when Bloomberg took office, or as SNTE Section 22 did in Oaxaca againt Ulysses Ruiz — might even have a valid point.

I am just remarking here on the journalistic style of the thing.

I would tend to evaluate it at about a New York Daily News on the tabloid sensationalism scale — the lowest of the low being the New York Post and the highest being, I don’t know, your better-quality investor newsletters.

It is interesting to see a crisp-looking newspaper applying tabloid techniques on the leftward side of the spectrum, though.

Reinaldo Azeredo of Veja recently invoked the vast, spooky machinations of a deeply entrenched and powerful “leftist machinery of collective representation” of long date.

But then again, Reinaldo Azeredo of Veja is a crude, gabbling disinformation artist. See

To that end, they use disqualification, rumors, lies, the machinery of collective representation in which they wrap themselves, all angel-faced, sucking the resources from a poor nation to benefit the hidden interests of ideology. But they intimidate no one.

If you browse a Brazilian newsstand, you know that the invocation of a vast, shadowy media conspiracy out to martyr Veja is pretty much a complete fiction, and in any event appears to fly in the face of real-life information about the current situation in the print distribution racket here in Sâo Paulo:

See

“Protect our monopoly or the terrorists win!”

The moral panic to be invoked by the likes of Azeredo for his noisy, Limbaugh-style, dittohead fans has to do, for example, with the notion that the Brazilian public broadcasting channel that just went on the air is going to be a clone of “All Hugo, All The Time” TV.

Probably utter nonsense as well, judging from the track record of Radiobras and the Agência Brasil news agency.

But I will try to show you some clips. It might be interesting to do an NMM(-TV)SNB(B)CNN(P)BS newsreel with TVes and the Tupi PBS side by side.

You should not just take my word for this stuff.

I am just some blogger. I do the best I can, but I sometimes make gabbling mistakes and fail to catch them. I constantly confuse the Zona Leste and the Zona Oeste of Rio, for example. A persistent brain fart of your translator. Wanted: copyeditor willing to work under slave-labor conditions.

Alagoas 24 Horas, meanwhile, is running a series of newsmaker interviews on the scandal at the Legislative Assembly, including the one reproduced below with “Big Paul of the PT.”

Second top headline: “Police arrest the Motorcycle Pervert!”

I will translate it because it is interesting to see “Big Paul” — who obviously has a political axe to grind here — carefully distinguishing between “fact” and conjecture.”

The man seems to be getting good PR advice, in any event.

Alagoas is a state

  1. Whose per capita GDP — $4,687 — is third-lowest among Brazil states;
  2. Whose contribution to national GDP is 0.7%;
  3. One of whose senators, until recently the President of the federal Senate, has been the object of a nasty (failed) campaign to impeach him;
  4. One of whose senators is the impeached former federal president Collor (who seized the savings accounts of Brazilian depositors in 1993 and pretty much just never gave them back);
  5. Where the local bar association is calling for a federal intervention because the state public security apparatus is in allegedly in crisis;
  6. Whose state judicial police department have been on strike for 120 days;
  7. Whose last gubernatorial elections had some peculiar technical problems with the electronic voting system that have yet to be clarified;
  8. The losing candidate in the last gubernatorial election, who is charging fraud, was the principal accuser in the last impeachment account against the president of the Senate;
  9. One of whose favorite sons — former President Collor’s first cousin — presides over the federal elections tribunal, which is in charge of the Brazilian electronic voting system, and tends to scream extraordinarily unjudicious things into the gazillion-jigawatt megaphone;

And so on. Narcologistics, death squads, all that sort of newsflow that is really, really bad for the tourism industry.

Alagoas, at a minimum, can sometimes seem sort of like the tail that wags the dog of the Brazilian federal union.

Alagoas 24 Horas has this from “Big Paul” of the PT.

O deputado Paulo Fernando dos Santos, o Paulão (PT) – em entrevista ao Alagoas24Horas – cobrou um pronunciamento oficial da Mesa Diretora da Assembléia Legislativa, já que a Operação Taturana atinge em cheio o setor financeiro do Poder Legislativo. A operação desencadeada pela Polícia Federal apura irregularidades na folha salarial daquele poder, na ordem de R$ 200 milhões.

State deputy Paulo Fernando “Big Paul” dos Santos (PT) — in an interview with Alagoas24Horas — demanded an official explanation from House leadership, given that Operation Taturana has hit the financial division of the legislative branch so hard. The federal police operation is looking into irregularities in the legislative payroll on the order of R$200 million.

Brazilian politicians, like sports stars, are often known by a nickname or first name. Like Pelé or the late, lamented PRONA’s “my name is Aeneas!” It is a local pecularity. Go figure. It has its charms.

Paulão destacou ainda que esta é a terceira operação da PF em Alagoas. “Já houve a ‘Carranca’, a ‘Gabiru’ e agora aparece esta que atinge a Assembléia Legislativa de Alagoas. Não posso avaliar a operação porque isto cabe aos órgãos que a desencadearam. O que posso é avaliar o resultado da operação”, comentou.

Big Paul also pointed out that this is the third operation by the feds in the state. “There was Carranca and there was Gabiru, and now it seems to have hit the legislature hard. I cannot evaluate the operation because that is the job of the competent authorities. What I can evaluate is the results of the operation,” he commented.

Na avaliação de Paulão, as operações que ocorrem em Alagoas denotam fraudes envolvendo desvio de dinheiro público e isto é muito grave. “Na realidade, depois que o presidente Lula assumiu dá para perceber que houve mais fiscalização do dinheiro público. A operação denigre ainda mais a imagem do Estado de Alagoas, atingindo diretamente os parlamentares”, colocou.

In his view, the federal operations in Alagoas point to fraud involving public funds, and this is very serious. “In reality, after Lula got into office, you could see that there was a lot more oversight of public spending. This operation drags the image of our state down even further, affecting elected officials directly,” he said.

This was a standard political talking point in the last president campaign:

  1. less than 40 anticorruption operations in 8 years of the previous government, but
  2. nearly 400 during Lula I.

This has the advantage of being pretty much totally true.

The point is very often spun — by Veja dittoheads, often — into “[the incidence of] corruption has increased dramatically under Lula!”

As though corruption cases investigated were the same thing as incidence of corruption, and incidence of corruption were the same thing as the public perception of corruption.

Quack.

See

O deputado petista revelou ainda que foram apreendidos os computadores do setor financeiro da Assembléia Legislativa e às informações que neles contém só são de acesso da Mesa Diretora. “Ora, compete então aos parlamentares que compõe a Mesa Diretora dá um pronunciamento oficial. Quem tem que dizer o que está acontecendo são eles, que pelo que estou sabendo, até o presente momento não emitiram nenhuma nota oficial sobre o assunto, mesmo tendo um assessor bastante competente”, salientou Paulão.

The PT deputy also revealed that computers were seized from the financial department of the state legislature, and that information contained in them can only be accessed by the House leadership. “Look, in that case, the House leadership owes us an official explanation. They are the ones who need to tell us what is going on here, because as far as I know, so far they have not even issued an official press release on the case, even though they have a very competent communications director,” Big Paul said.

“A sociedade quer uma resposta. A operação não é novidade. Apenas saímos do campo da especulação e passamos a concretude”, disse ainda Paulão. O deputado colocou ainda que o agente público que tiver culpa comprovada tem que pagar, mas tem que ser dado a ele, “o amplo direito do contraditório”.

“Society wants answers. This operation is nothing new. What is new is that we are no longer in the realm of speculation, …,” he said.

Concretude?

He says that public officials who are proven guilty must pay, but only after being given “the right to a full defense.”

O petista destacou ainda que a Operação Taturana foi cercada de coincidências. “Veja só, o novo superintendente da Polícia Federal (José Pinto Luna) assumiu na terça-feira e hoje já foi desencadeada a operação. Outra coincidência, é que me parece que o general Sá Rocha saiu de Alagoas. Eu acho inclusive que o governador Teotonio Vilela Filho (PSDB) tinha conhecimento de alguma coisa, mas o que falo é no campo das conjecturas”, colocou.

The petista also said that Operation Taturana was surrounded by coincidences. “Just look, the new PF superintendent (Pinto Luna) takes over on Tuesday and the operation starts today. Another coincidence is that, it seems, General Sá Rocha has left the state. I think maybe Vilela knew something, but what I am saying is mere conjecture,” he said.

Nestas conjecturas de Paulão, está a hipótese do secretário de Defesa Social, Sá Rocha, ter contribuído de alguma forma nas investigações da Polícia Federal. Indagado sobre o fato do Tribunal de Contas do Estado não ter detectado irregularidades na Assembléia Legislativa antes da Polícia Federal, o deputado Paulo Fernando dos Santos declarou:

In this conjecture by Big Paul, the theory is that the state secretary of Social Defense, Sá Rocha, may have contributed to the federal investigations in some way.

A reader writes in and says, “What, the General, and the governor, may have helped the feds, and this is supposed to make them look bad?”

Not an unfair observation.

If I were the governor’s flack, I would take that message and run with it. “We are not politicizing this issue, we are just doing what needs to be done, no matter who gets hurt.”

You hear this from some of the other PSDB governors as well, including Gov. Serra here in São Paulo.

Could have a further corrosive effect on the PSDB-DEM “coalition for a decent Brazil,” I suppose. But that coalition turned out to be pretty much of a losing proposition in any event.

If I were Dick Morris or Rob Allyn, I would advise the Toucans to distance themselves like mad. Especially with this Azeredo (non-)scandal in Minas Gerais.

PT flacks, meanwhile: “What we want to do here is jump up and down on the political graves of these people as vigorously as possible, without appearing to be dancing a celebratory maracatú in the process.”

You could get a good editorial cartoon out of that: Wearing mourning garb from the waist up and frevo pants and slippers from the waist down. Something something.

Asked about the fact that the state accounting tribunal did not detect irregularities before the feds did, the deputy stated:

“O Tribunal de Contas daqui não possui uma história bonita. Ele já aprovou as contas de Satuba, quando foram detectadas irregularidades pela Controladoria Geral da União e aprovou as contas do ex-governador Ronaldo Lessa, que segundo o governo atual deixou restos a pagar, então…”, finalizou o deputado.

“Our accounting tribunal does not have a very pretty track record. It approved the accounts of Satuba, where the federal auditor found irregularities, and it approved the accounts of former governor Lessa, which according to the current government left debts behind. So …” he concluded.

Lessa of the PDT — he left the govenor’s mansion to run for Senate, and lost, I think, in 2006 — and his supporters were extremely bitter about that.

I have not the foggiest idea where the dispute wound up, but you get the general point: David Sasaki-style fear, uncertainty and doubt haunt the official state beancounting agency!

“For our friends, anything; for our enemies, the law.”

The former president of the state accounting tribunal in Bahia was recently arrested, I recall reading. See

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