Legality, Legitimacy and Logic – Why Expanding Secrecy Makes No Sense

Published in O Globo, authored by Gregory Michener & Irene Niskier. While President Jair Bolsonaro spoke in Davos, his Vice President, Hamilton Mourão, and Chief of Staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, perpetrated a small change in Brazil’s freedom of information (FOI) law that will amount to big negative effects for transparency, the federal public administration, and the current administration. To recap, a secrecy decree (9690/2019) increased the number of authorities who can classify information as reserved, secret, and ultra-secret. The...

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Bolsonaro and generals

Bolsonaro’s Turn to Secrecy – Weakening Brazil’s Freedom of Information Law

Originally published in Folha de São Paulo, authored by Gregory Michener and Irene Niskier. President Jair Bolsonaro was elected based on two noble promises: advance the rule of law to fight crime and corruption, and strengthen Brazil’s fiscal position by creating a more efficient state. Transparency is a precondition for advancing both of these promises. So how does a decision to greatly expand secrecy (decree 9690) in government contribute to realizing Bolsonaro’s promises? It does not; it does exactly the opposite. What is...

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Brazil’s Next President – “O Maluco” v. “A Máfia” (The Madman v. The Mafia)

Tomorrow, people will be forced to decide whether to vote for what one group of voters is calling a “madman” (Jair Bolsonaro) and another group of voters often refer to as “a mafia” (the PT or Workers’ Party). There is no least of these worst choices  – they are both appalling. It is an anti-candidate election; the winner will be the candidate voters reject less, not the one viewed to be the better choice. It’s hard to predicate a solid democracy on a contest between “not him” and “not that party”...

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Proposals to Root-Out Political Corruption in Brazil

As I have opined in previous posts, a) the party and electoral system is the key to understanding political corruption in Brazil; and, b) the media has been loathe to provide salience to any concrete proposals for reform, especially among civil society advocates. Simply put, Brazil’s fragmented party system, giant districts, and open-list competition produces hearty profits for the media. Why rock the boat if you can have the captain walk the plank? If the media will not give salience to reform proposals, let me indulge you with one...

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It’s the Party System. What To Do about It.

The irony of Brazil’s political system is that its fragmented party system – so seemingly appropriate for countering historical legacies of patrimonialism and monopoly power – has provoked forms of neopatrimonialism, whereby state resources are used to buy the support of other politicians. What can be done to fix Brazilian politics? As I wrote last post, it’s the party system, stupid. Moderate party systems work best, we know. Political scientists have found this out by examining tradeoffs in representativeness, accountability...

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Mensalão + Car Wash = It’s the Party System, Stupid.

It is safe to say that the problem with Brazil’s government is not its choice of coalition partners, but rather the lack of choice. Faced with a governing coalition in disintegration, Rousseff has given larger pieces of the state pie to several of Brazil’s many rent-seeking parties. One of them, the Partido Progresista (PP), has been accused of receiving R$358 million (US$100 million) in illegal party finance, bribes, and kickbacks in association with Petrobras and the Car Wash Scandal. Grim  details about the scandalous exploits of...

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Four Crises

Brazil is currently experiencing three crises and is in danger of igniting a fourth, a crisis of civic polarization. Much astute writing about these crises has already been penned or spoken by the likes of my friends Matt Taylor, Octavio Amorim Neto, Carlos Pereira, and Globe and Mail correspondent Stephanie Nollen, among others. The first  crisis is the mysterious Zika epidemic upon which copious amounts of ink have been spilled and I plead layman’s ignorance. This tragedy has affected us personally, as we are delaying a second...

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Back, observing.

In 2013-14 the pressure to publish academically at the FGV became significant, as I was facing a ‘third year review’ – of which I still await (respectable) results. As a result of my publishing obligations and a still-in-progress national/international research project, I left off Observing Brazil. The tradeoff between doing academic scholarship and writing about current events is not easily negotiated. But as a result of Brazilian crises that are economic, political, medical, and, increasingly civic, I have decided to...

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