Monthly Archives: April 2016

Hypocrisy of the Brazilian Congress Not Made Clear in News Reports

dilma-rousseffNews stories out of Brazil are full of the impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Roussefff. The stories cover the charges against Dilma (in Brazil they use first names for a second reference) and the reaction of the very frustrated Brazilian populace. What I have not seen much of, however, are reports about the people pushing for impeachment.

Let’s start with the prime motivator and leaders of the lower house of congress in Brasilia. Eduardo Cunha is from the opposition Democratic Movement Party and is facing his own charges of corruption.

The Wall Street Journal did a full story on Eduardo’s woes, but most publications either don’t mention it or drop it in near the end of the story. The Brazilian press, by contrast, have regular stories about the charges and the latest actions of the prosecutor to build a case.

The Guardian had a good summary of many of the pro-impeachment people in their story about the final vote (boldface mine):

On a dark night, arguably the lowest point was when Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right deputy from Rio de Janeiro, dedicated his yes vote to Carlos Brilhante Ustra, the colonel who headed the Doi-Codi torture unit during the dictatorship era. Rousseff, a former guerrilla, was among those tortured. Bolsonaro’s move prompted left-wing deputy Jean Wyllys to spit towards him.

Eduardo Bolsonaro, his son and also a deputy, used his time at the microphone to honour the general responsible for the military coup in 1964.

Deputies were called one by one to the microphone by the instigator of the impeachment process, Cunha – an evangelical conservative who is himself accused of perjury and corruption – and one by one they condemned the president.

Yes, voted Paulo Maluf, who is on Interpol’s red list for conspiracy. Yes, voted Nilton Capixiba, who is accused of money laundering. “For the love of God, yes!” declared Silas Camara, who is under investigation for forging documents and misappropriating public funds.

And yes, voted the vast majority of the more than 150 deputies who are implicated in crimes but protected by their status as parliamentarians.

At times the session exposed the farcical side of Brazil’s democracy, such as the Women’s party that has only male deputies, or the Progressive Socialist party that is one of the most right-wing groups in congress.

These are hardly supporters of democratic and clean government. Somehow, phrases such as “the notoriously corrupt” members of Congress — a phrase used by US news outlets, if they mention the corruption at all — just does not have the same impact as what The Guardian laid out.

To be clear, I am no fan of the PT, Dilma’s party, but for this congress to vote to impeach her over corruption goes way beyond the pot commenting on the hue of the kettle.

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Filed under Corruption, International News Coverage, South America

Economic Stability Needs Free Press

Despite all the complaints about how poorly “the media” covered the Wall Street shenanigans that led to the 2008 Great Recession, people still turn to the unfettered and independent media outlets for news about stocks, bonds and the general state of the economy. In fact, the whole system of savings and investment would not work without a free press.wall_street_after_dark

The media — and this includes knowledgable bloggers — provide the public with loads of information about what is going on in the marketplace. They look at government regulations, company news and the overall status of the market.

One of the reasons there is global support for the U.S. stock markets is because there is such a strong tradition of free and unfettered media. (And perhaps, part of the trauma of the 2008 collapse was because how poorly the market was covered at the time.)

In fact, one of the most important part of any successful stock market is a free press that is allowed to dig into company records and government actions. Look at London, Paris, Tokyo and even Hong Kong.87502278_shanghai12

So is it any wonder there are uprisings and complaints about how things are going in the Chinese stock markets?

China Digital Times summarized a series of articles of how people across China are complaining about their losses in Chinese investment instruments.

According to the [Wall Street] Journal, some 1.6 million investors lost a total of at least $24.3 billion to collapsing wealth-management products over the past year. Many say they invested because of the perceived endorsement of government officials and state media, and are now demanding reimbursement from authorities.

Rather than move to make sure people got the best and most accurate information about where and how to invest their money, the Chinese government, instead, has decided to restrict even more information.

A series of leaked media directives published by CDT further illustrates efforts to manage discontent. Trying to steer a course between inciting panic and stoking further exuberance in June, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Film, Radio and Television told broadcasters not to “join the chorus of the bull or bear market. Rationally lead market expectations to prevent inappropriate reports from causing the market to spike or crash. […] Do not conduct in-depth analysis, and do not speculate on or assess the direction of the market. Do not exaggerate panic or sadness. Do not use emotionally charged words such as ‘slump,’ ‘spike,’ or ‘collapse.’”

Additional directives instruct editors to focus on “illustrative examples of steady growth,” while downplaying or holding back on anything negative about the property and stock markets.

Wall Street Journal reporter Laurie Burkitt retweeted one of the best reactions to the Chinese government actions:

And yet, the government continues to see it self as the main actor.

Why does this matter to journalists or even the people in the United States?
A great misunderstanding of how the Chinese markets work led to a global run on markets. And yet, only after the Western markets started falling because of what was happening in China, did people start figuring out the fall was an overreaction.

There is not enough foreign investment in the Chinese market for it to be a major problem. The London consultancy Capital Economics has said foreigners own just 2% of shares. — BBC  1/7/16

The smoke and mirrors situation in China built up by the ruling elite created a situation where otherwise strong Western investment instruments collapsed in just a matter of days. To be true, the collapse of the Chinese stock markets did indicate the Chinese economy was slowing. But again, had there been better reporting in China — that is had the government NOT restricted what reporters can cover — then the news about the slowing Chinese economy would not have come as such a shock.

The anti-free press fixation of the Chinese government is not just morally wrong, but it clearly also has a direct impact on U.S. investors, including a lot of retirement funds.4aa104a2bd6e75a39c9db8dad7319dbb

By the way, this has all happened before.

Back in the early 1990’s — when I lived in Shanghai — the government opened stock markets in Shanghai and Shenzhen. The party and government leaders encouraged people to invest. The people, figuring that the government has always taken care of them in the past will guarantee they will be taken care of in the future.

When the market collapsed in early 1992, millions of people lost their life savings. Men and women in their 60s discovered they had to now work many more years and save a lot more of their earnings to prevent starvation in their old age.

At that time the government did not step in to make good the losses. Deng Xiaoping was effectively in charge and forbade any bailouts. (Except for key companies, of course.) He made it clear the people will have to learn about the ups and downs of a marketplace economy with Chinese characteristics. He even allowed for and encourages small private companies to be set up.

The new leadership, however, has seem hell-bent to restore the all-pervasive nature of the Communist Party in Chinese society. They have apparently become nervous about the growing middle class. Seems once people get a taste of economic freedom, they tend to want political and social freedom as well. And that is not allowed.il_570xn-628619991_jc8m

So the government stepped up it campaign to crush freedom of speech and expression — including reminding the media their job is to represent the party — and stepped up its campaign of the government being mother and father.

The Chinese leadership claims they are concerned with preserving stability and avoiding social unrest. Yet the keep taking steps that lead to more social unrest.

By restricting the media to being only mouthpieces of the government, people will turn to rumors and whispering campaigns for information. And, as anyone who has played the “telephone game” will know, what goes in at the start is not necessarily what comes out the other end.

 

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Filed under Censorship, China, Connections, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Workers Rising Up in China

Despite all the rhetoric from the Communist Party that it has the the best interest of “the workers” at heart, it is clear workers have a different idea.

The most public image of workers rising up against the despotic rule of a communist party is the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s.

With the fall of the communist parties in Europe (more or less), the few remaining communist-run countries have kept a close eye on workers’ organizations.

One of the things that scares dictators about workers working in unison is the whole idea of self-determination. If workers can unify into a collective to get better pay and working conditions, why not form alliances to get better government? Likewise, if workers are allowed to elect their own leaders in the workplace, why not work for the right to elect local, regional and national political leaders.

Yep, unions are a real subversive factor. Especially against dictators and oligarchs.

Many thanks to CNN for assembling this great multi-media presentation of workers in China standing up for their rights and iron-heel steps being taken by the Beijing leadership to keep the workers under control.

China on strike

From the intro:

China’s workers have driven the explosive growth of its economy in recent decades. Now, with record numbers of strikes across the country, the government views them as an existential threat, and it may just be right.

The economic slowdown and subsequent forced layoffs have changed Beijing’s biggest fear of 900 million angry farmers to 500 million angry (or laid off) workers. The danger as Beijing sees it is that even workers whose jobs remain, will see other workers tossed out. The employed workers could start thinking they might be next.

The government in China holds onto only one real claim to power. Long ago it promised the people of China economic well being through economic reform. All that Beijing demanded is that no one talks about political reform.

Now the economic protection is falling apart. And, the leaders in Beijing may be getting a bit nervous about the stability of the ground beneath their feet.

Look at the numbers:

  • 2,726 Strikes or work related demonstrations in 2015
  • 74 Strikes or work related demonstrations per day
  • 1.6 million jobs cut from state-owned industries

These are not happy numbers for the Beijing leadership. It is no wonder there is a massive clamp down against news outlets and the Internet.

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Filed under Censorship, China, Human Rights, International News Coverage