Monday Reads: The Boys from Brazil and Florida

The Sunny Orange Grove, Constancia Nery

Good Day Sky Dancers!

The United States Policy in South and Central American countries haunts us again. Two distinct events point to the actions of the past.  We’ve never really been held to account for “the Banana Wars” of the early 20th Century, US Imperialism in the 1890s to the 1930s, and the resulting territories we took after the Spanish-American War.

Don’t even get me started on states like Texas, California, etc., that were clearly not US entities until they were taken by war. Our failed drug policies and the egregious, illegal actions of the Reagan administration poisoned the well.

We were active in ‘regime’ change by continuing to back right-wing juntas against leftist regimes like those of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba and Niagara.  The JFK and LBJ administrations backed actions that led to the 1964 Brazilian Coup. This weekend’s news resembles a lot of our activity in Brazil then.  Vincent Bevins is a scholar on the US policy of toppling regimes. He considers the topping of João Goulart In Brazil to be a significant victory for the U.S. during the Cold War. It established a military dictatorship in Brazil. Brazil is the fifth most populous nation in the world. Bevins writes in his 2020 book The Jakarta  Method that this action “played a crucial role in pushing the rest of South America into the pro-Washington, anticommunist group of nations.”

He also had an Op-Ed published in the New York Times in May 2020 expressing the opinion that “The ‘Liberal World Order’ Was Built With Blood. As the United States reckons with its decline, it should understand where its power came from in the first place.” 

If you read the commentary coming out of New York and Washington, or speak with elites in Western Europe, it’s easy to find people panicking about the loss of “American leadership.” From Joe Biden’s campaign pledges to trans-Atlantic think tanks, exhortations to revive American supremacy and contain China are everywhere.

They have reason to be worried: This moment is shaking the foundations of America’s hegemony. It is painfully clear that the United States is ill-equipped to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, which does not play to American strengths (we can’t shoot it, after all). President Trump has for years been dismissing allies and antagonizing international institutions. And China is seemingly laying the groundwork for its arrival as a great power. American officials are now talking openly about a “new Cold War” to confront Beijing, and China now seems such a threat that Hal Brands of the American Enterprise Institute wonders whether the United States should get back in the business of covertly toppling unfriendly governments.

It’s unsurprising that establishment pundits, American policymakers and their allies would be alarmed about American decline. The United States and Western Europe have been the winners of the process that created this globalized world, the main beneficiaries of Washington’s triumph at the end of the Cold War. But a lot of people feel very differently.

Morro da favela, Tarsila do Amaral, 1924

I remember the Reagan years as a continuation of regime change policies, which meant installing right-wing and military dictatorships in places like Nicaragua as long as they weren’t communist and accepted American Economic expansion. The Reagan administration’s actions were against the law established to stop the Banana Wars.  Once again, we have U.S. interests stoking a junta in Brazil.  From the BBC: “How Trump’s allies stoked Brazil Congress attack.”

The scenes in Brasilia looked eerily similar to events at the US Capitol on 6 January two years ago – and there are deeper connections as well.

“The whole thing smells,” said a guest on Steve Bannon’s podcast, one day after the first round of voting in the Brazilian election in October last year.

The race was heading towards a run-off and the final result was not even close to being known. Yet Mr Bannon, as he had been doing for weeks, spread baseless rumours about election fraud.

Across several episodes of his podcast and in social media posts, he and his guests stoked up allegations of a “stolen election” and shadowy forces. He promoted the hashtag #BrazilianSpring, and continued to encourage opposition even after Mr Bolsonaro himself appeared to accept the results.

Mr Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, was just one of several key allies of Donald Trump who followed the same strategy used to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 US presidential election.

And like what happened in Washington on 6 January 2021, those false reports and unproven rumours helped fuel a mob that smashed windows and stormed government buildings in an attempt to further their cause.

The day before the Capitol riot, Mr Bannon told his podcast listeners: “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.” He has been sentenced to four months in prison for refusing to comply with an order to testify in front of a Congressional committee that investigated the attack but is free pending an appeal.

Along with other prominent Trump advisers who spread fraud rumours, Mr Bannon was unrepentant on Sunday, even as footage emerged of widespread destruction in Brazil.

“Lula stole the Election… Brazilians know this,” he wrote repeatedly on the social media site Gettr. He called the people who stormed the buildings “Freedom Fighters”.

Ali Alexander, a fringe activist who emerged after the 2020 election as one of the leaders of the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” movement, encouraged the crowds, writing “Do whatever is necessary!” and claiming to have contacts inside the country.

La rentrée, Anita Malfatti, 1927

The hubris of Trump allies is unbelievable. Bolsanaro is sitting in Florida. Terrence McCoy writes this in today’s Washington Post. How Bolsonaro’s rhetoric — then his silence — stoked Brazil assault”

For more than four years, the most fundamental of questions has loomed over Brazil: Would its young democracy survive the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro?

Latin America’s largest country embarked on what amounted to a test of its democratic strength in 2018 when it elected the former army captain who openly lamented the collapse of the country’s military dictatorship, once threatened to reinstall its rule on the first day of his presidency and sought at every turn to sow doubt in elections.

During his time in office, he did little to soften his bellicosity. He warned of a government “rupture” like the military coup of 1964. If he were to lose his reelection bid, he said, it could only be through fraud, and Brazil would “have worse problems” than the United States did on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of Trump supporters assaulted the U.S. Capitol.

His son Eduardo, a federal congressman, once warned that “there will arrive a moment when the situation will be the same as it was in the 1960s.”

For many Brazilians, Sunday afternoon was the arrival of such a moment, when Bolsonaro supporters laid siege to the three pillars of the federal government — the presidential palace, the supreme court and the congress — bringing democracy here to a sudden standstill. The scenes of smoke and violence were at once both shocking and predictable, the tragic realization of a prophecy Bolsonaro has repeatedly uttered to mobilize his base and terrify his adversaries.

If I’m removed from power, he often hinted, violence will follow.

The Guardian has this to say. “‘Trump of the tropics’ Bolsonaro and backers follow his friend Donald’s playbook once again. The links between Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump stretch back to well before the violence in Brasilia. Now, writes World Affairs Editor Kim Sengupta, the supporters of Brazil’s former leader are following their American counterparts with an attack on democracy.”

Bolsanaro remains out of the country having broken precedent by refusing to attend his successor’s inauguration. Some reports claimed that he had fled to escape possible criminal charges over a range of alleged offences while in power. The former president turned up in Florida where, according to reports, he is due to meet Donald Trump at his home, Mar-a-Lago.

There have been immediate and predictable comparisons between what happened in Brasilia and the attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters two years ago. The images from both assaults were similar: flag-draped intruders lounging on office chairs, ransacking and stealing property, assaulting guards.

Both sets of protesters were following authoritarian populist leaders who claimed they had been victims of electoral fraud. In Brazil, as in the US, the discontent has been fuelled by conspiracy theories in the social media.

As the Brasilia attack unfolded, well-known Trump supporters egged on the rioters, with Steve Bannon lauding them as “freedom fighters” who knew “criminal, atheistic, Marxist Lula stole the election”. Ali Alexander, a fringe activist who became prominent in Trump’s “ stop the steal” movement, exhorted: “Do whatever is necessary.”

The links between the camps of Trump and Bolsanaro, who revelled in his “Trump of the Tropics” moniker, began long before the Brazilian election and its aftermath, with Bannon one of the main conduits.

During the Brazilian election campaign, Trump wrote on his social platform: “President Jair Bolsonaro and I have become great friends over the past few years for the people of the United States… He is a wonderful man and has my complete and total endorsement

Members of the Democratic Party are asking President Biden to expel Bolsanaro from the US.


President Biden is headed to the border to signal his intention to ensure his immigration and asylum initiatives are fully implemented. Once again, Republicans are trying to equate the Asylum process with crossing the border illegally.  Notice Caveman Kevin’s latest crusade.  This is from Politico. “Migration issues cast long shadow over Biden’s visit to ‘3 Amigos’ summit.  U.S.-Mexico border tension looms over trade, environment and other issues on the table for Biden, AMLO and Trudeau.”

Joe Biden has no shortage of topics to tackle in his first presidential trip to Mexico.

There’s the major shift in border policy that came just days before the trip. There’s the arrest of an alleged drug trafficker in Mexico long sought by U.S. authorities. And there’s the border itself, which Biden visited for the first time as president when he made a stop in El Paso, Texas, on Sunday evening.

All that casts a shadow over the president, who arrived in Mexico City hours after the El Paso swing. Biden’s Monday and Tuesday schedule at the North American Leaders’ Summit is packed: One-on-one discussions, trilateral meetings, working lunches, dinners and, of course, photo opportunities.

“We have a big agenda that ranges from the climate crisis to economic development and other issues. But one important part of that agenda is strengthening our border between our nations,” Biden said during a speech Thursday on border security at the White House.

Biden will be the first U.S. president to visit Mexico since Barack Obama in 2014. For decades, presidents traditionally made their first overseas trip to either Mexico or Canada as a sign of solidarity among the trio of leaders. Often, the “Three Amigos” would pledge to be a (mostly) unified North American front. But that informal tradition ended in 2017 when President Donald Trump opted to make Saudi Arabia his first international destination. And then, with the globe in the grasp of the Covid-19 pandemic, Biden delayed his first foreign trip for nearly five months before traveling to the United Kingdom to meet with G-7 leaders in June 2021.

Since then, Biden has crisscrossed the globe to several world summits. But he had yet to make the trip south of the border. And while Biden has met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeatedly, he’s spent far less time with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, which has only added to the feeling in Latin America of being snubbed by the United States.

That has added another layer of pressure to this week’s long-awaited gathering, as the three leaders prepare to discuss key issues including border security, trade and economic development, and climate and energy.

The Biden administration rolled out several new policies to curb illegal migration last week, some of which rely on Mexico’s cooperation. Immigration will be atop the president’s agenda, but stopping the flow of fentanyl from Mexico will also be a priority as the drug and other lab-produced synthetic opioids now drive an overdose crisis deadlier than any the U.S. has ever seen. It’s a pressure point that Biden may be forced to address even as drug control advocates and experts say an anti-drug policy that relies on tighter border security is far from certain to work.

Adriana Varejão, Untitled, 1985

It’s easier for Republicans to scream lies and conspiracy theories than actually engage in policy. This is why they cannot govern. Zachary B. Wolf writes this for CNN.  “The speaker fight is over but the chaos is just beginning.”

This week Republicans must try to coalesce around the concessions McCarthy made and pass a package of rules to govern the House for the next two years. It’s an open question whether the party’s moderates, such as they are, will all buy in to the cut, cut, cut mentality McCarthy has agreed to.

Unlike the Senate, which has standing rules that carry over from year to year, the House adopts a new rules package for each Congress. This year, in particular, as they take over from Democratic control, Republicans want to make their mark in the rules package. The Rules Committee has posted a text and summary of the proposed rule changes.

Some of the new elements include things that amount to framing – replacing “pay as you go” language for budget matters with “cut as you go.”

Other elements could have more concrete consequences, like forcing specific votes to raise the debt ceiling and enacting spending cuts before the debt ceiling is raised. That debate will come to a head in the coming months as the government runs out of authority to add to the $31 trillion national debt.

On Sunday, Republicans all said they would try to avoid cutting defense and Medicare spending, which leaves a relatively small portion of the federal budget – think the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory arms of the government – from which to carve out spending.

The other way, besides spending cuts, for the government to cut down on deficit spending, is to raise taxes. The proposed rules reinstate a requirement that a House supermajority of 3/5, rather than a simple majority, sign off on any tax increases.

Read more at the link.  The last read I offer today is news from Georgia. This is reported by Holly Bailey at the Washington Post. “Georgia grand jury investigating Trump election interference completes probe.”

An Atlanta-area grand jury investigating efforts by former president Donald Trump and his allies to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia has concluded its investigation, according to the judge overseeing the panel.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney issued a court order Monday morning saying the special grand jury had completed a final report on its investigation. He said the report was accepted by a majority of the county’s judicial bench and that the 26-member panel was being officially dissolved.

The grand jury’s recommendations were not made public, including whether criminal charges should be filed. McBurney scheduled a Jan. 24 hearing to determine whether to release the report. His order noted the grand jury had “voted to recommend that its report be published” and appeared to make its release “mandatory” — though the judge said he would hear “argument” on the issue.

Fingers Crossed.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?