The Temer government
Mr Temer’s interim government has been marked by aggressive contention measures, polemic decrees, an over homogeneous team of (arguably honest) ministers and an unexpected hesitation in choosing the political leaders in the parliament and planning its next moves.
When it first came to forming an economic team with their origins in the market, the interim president was highly praised and gathered a lot of experts led by Mr Henrique Meirelles, former president of the Central Bank of Brazil. Their first actions were sharp and oriented towards a solution for the economic scenario (or, at least, an insight into a situation of stability) – they redefined the budget bills, assuming a gap of 170 billion reais (Ms Rousseff’s staff had agreed on R$96 billion right before she was ousted) and determined that the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) would return R$100 billion for public debts, which should also generate savings of R$7 billion.
Nonetheless, there seemed to be still great confusion regarding the general directions and the ministers. So far, there were situations in which the president needed to publicly state a different opinion from his own staff: one can recall, for example, when the Health minister claimed that health could not be a facility to every Brazilian and the Finance minister seemed unsure about the return of the Provisional Contribution on Financial Transactions – CPMF, abolished in 2007, as an extra revenue to help cover the huge fiscal gap in the economy.
Taking out what is left(-wing)
The desperate measures of what had once been called a mandate to solve the financial crisis, in turn, were far more unpopular than that and fomented some extra tension in an already politically divided country.
First, a ministry composed only by white males seriously worried those who defend or represent minorities – and there is a legit reason for that. The interim president has alleged that no woman would accept his invitation for ruling the ministries, but it is the first time in 37 years, therefore, since the military dictatorship in Brazil, that minorities were not represented. Besides, local policies for those minorities are not strong nor effective (Brazil is one of the countries with the highest rates of crimes against homosexuals, for example) , so yes, even though some might argue that the ministers were chosen based on their competence (with which one can only partly agree, since many of the positions meant for a ‘government of notables’, as Mr Temer used to refer to a team that included congressmen investigated in Operation Car Wash, were promised to allies in a pre-impeachment scenario), there is the need for representation, as a matter of defining how minorities might properly be governed. Once more politicians from different origins take the power together, it becomes way easier for the government, centered in the person of the president, to approve or create accurate and meaningful policies for those groups.
What seems somehow aggressive to Dilma’s defenders and leftists in general is that most of the ‘new’ government’s measures are, at the same time, liberal and cost-oriented (which means that, at least for the spotlight, this will not be known as a government that prioritizes social policies, even though Temer said there weren’t going to be any cuts in Health and Education budgets).
The interim president is proud to compare his short, aggressive economic goals to Juscelino Kubitschek’s (Brazilian president from 1956-1961, whose economic targets were under the motto ‘50 years of development in 5’), but his foes would rather link him to our years of military dictatorship. If it is to say that his attitudes are authoritarian – which could be more accurately defined as precipitate and vague -, since they don’t follow the populist vein that 51,64% of the Brazilian voters chose in 2014, hopefully this will be a time for a ‘Brazilian miracle’. But that is hugely unlikely.
The Game of Brasilia
Among all those sensitive measures, one of the most memorable (and rejected) was the mergence of some ministries and the instauration of other two. Mr. Temer temporarily abolished the Ministry of Culture, placing it as a subpart of the Ministry of Education. He did the same to the Ministry of Women, Racial Equality and Human Rights, incorporated to the Ministry of Justice, under the argument that it would save money.
Indeed, it would, but the savings were not significant compared to the debt of the country and didn’t pay off the general burst of indignation caused in the artistic class, that occupied public buildings in many capitals in Brazil for more than one week, until the president finally stepped back and restructured the Ministry of Culture.
This first month of government has been marked by ethical incongruences, too. Besides the Car Wash investigated ministers, the leader of the government in the Lower House, André Moura, is facing lawsuits regarding corruption, embezzlement of public funds and even homicide attempts. Furthermore, as I previously wrote here, ministers Romero Jucá and Henrique Alves had audios leaked in which they expressed how convenient it was for the end of the Operation Car Wash that Dilma lost her mandate (the first had to resign, whereas the latter was kept by the president for the ‘lack of evidences’ to point him as an obstacle to the investigation).
The president’s attitudes aiming at strengthening alliances are also questionable. A summary raise of the public employees’ salaries was recently approved, which will cause debts to escalate up to 6.9 billion reais until 2019, due to the cascade effect (salaries that are calculated based on other salaries, causing the adjustments in the lawmakers’ paycheck to be followed by a raise to a whole lot of other public employees), and seems to be only justified, in times of contention, by another of the president’s attempt to monetize his support and stability. This is believed to be especially necessary in a moment when popular demonstrations, like the one that happened on June 10th in at least 24 states and the Federal District, show that not only does Mr Temer not have support from many voters, but he is also rejected by them.
Now, it is for us to wait and see how an already so unpopular government will, within 180 days (until it is decided whether president Dilma will permanently be impeached or not), create measures to improve a forecast of a 3,81% shrinking in the GDP, cause a contraction of SELIC (Special System for Settlement and Custody, a rate that nowadays reaches 14,25%, showing an effort from the Central Bank to control inflation and consumption) and fight to diminish the frightening unemployment rates of 11,2% (in the first trimester of this year) without confronting nor outraging specific and non-specific groups of Brazilians who eagerly await this economic and political turbulence to pass.
Fakhrizadeh’s Assassination Could Endangers Biden’s Diplomacy
The international political situation heats up, especially in the Middle East, after the killing of Iran’s leading nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Apart from Mohsen, several other Iranian nuclear scientists have also been killed in the past decade.
Mohsen was attacked in eastern Tehran on Friday (27/11). He was ambushed by an armed group and the target of a Nissan car explosion before a gun battle broke out. He was rushed to the hospital, but his life could not be helped.
Iranian political and military officials have blamed Israel and US as the masterminds behind Mohsen’s assassination and attack. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for retaliation for Mohsen’s death. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also said he would retaliate and appoint Israel as the mastermind behind the attack.
Iran and Hezbollah are currently said to be targeting Israelis and Jews around the world. Places owned by Israel and Jews will be the main targets of their retaliation for Mohsen’s death. Israel is also raising its guard. The Israeli government is reportedly on standby and is tightening the security of its embassies around the world. Jewish communities around the world are also asked to be on high alert. The Israeli military has also increased its vigilance along the country’s borders.
What is interesting is that the US secretly deployed the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier to the Arabian Gulf region last Wednesday. Although US Navy Fifth Fleet Spokesperson, Rebecca Rebarich, denied the movement of the fleet was unrelated to Mohsen’s assassination, the international public interpreted the aircraft carrier in order to anticipate the escalation of threats that might arise after the murder case.
There is not much information about Mohsen. Mohsen is the head of the research and innovation organization at the Iranian Ministry of Defense. He’s the main figure behind Iran’s secret nuclear development.
In April 2018, PM Netanyahu mentioned Mohsen’s name when uncovering a nuclear file which he said had been smuggled by Israeli agents from Iran. He named Mohsen as the head of a secret nuclear project called the Amad Project.
In its 2011 report, the UN nuclear weapons watchdog also identified Mohsen as the mastermind behind Iran’s nuclear technology. He was considered to have the ability to do so and at that time it was suspected that he still had an important role in these activities.
Mohsen’s assassination is certain to provoke a new confrontation between Iran and its enemies, including the United States and Israel, in the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Mohsen’s assassination is considered as the culmination of the US and Israel’s strategic plan to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. In fact, various parties consider Mohsen’s killing to be the culmination of Israel’s long-term plan.
Mohsen has long been the target of several Israeli prime ministers as well as several directors of the Mossad spy agency. This murder was also predicted to aim at uprooting Iran as a country of nuclear knowledge.
However, some international observers have speculated that the main purpose of the assassination was actually to obstruct the US administration in the era of President-elect Joe Biden who will dialogue to find a diplomatic solution to end the conflict with Iran.
What’s more, President Biden has expressed his intention to re-enter the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, which has been largely devastated since President Donald Trump left the deal in 2018.
Statement from Amos Yadlin, former head of Israel’s military intelligence and head of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). Amos said whoever makes the decision to assassinate Mohsen should know that there are still 55 days left in which the White House has someone who sees the Iranian threat as they do. In fact, Amos says Biden is a different story. Amos’ statement certainly points to President Trump who is still in power in the White House.
Biden’s victory: An Opportunity for Transatlantic Reconciliation after Trump and Brexit?
Joe Biden’s victory Last November came at a critical point during the Brexit negotiations between The European Union and the United Kingdom. There has been a lot of speculation as to whether a change in the American presidency will substantially affect the talks between Europe and Britain. Realistically speaking, the effect the Democrats’ victory in the US will have, at least on Brexit talks before the end of this year, will be minimal.
On a positive note, now that Donald Trump has been defeated, this leaves very little room for the UK to use the threat of a quicker and better deal with the US to try to subdue the EU and make them accept a more pro British agenda. The UK has no longer the US is an alternative to fall back onto if no deal is the result of the negotiations by December 31st.
Since the 2016 British referendum, the decision to leave the EU was enthusiastically greeted by Donald Trump. In very simplistic terms, Trump saw The British “Yes” vote as an act that vaguely resembled his campaign slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again.” The long standing, more loyal foreign policy ally of the US in Europe, was slowly showing signs to move away from the multilateralism Donald Trump greatly despised.
Ever since the outcome of the Brexit referendum became official, Donald Trump voiced his strong support for the UK to pursue a hard Brexit, and even enticed the British government with the prospect of a robust trade deal between the US and the UK, to convince the UK to drop out of the EU without a deal. In reality, none of those big American promises ever materialised. From 2016 to 2020, Donald Trump did absolutely nothing to support the UK. Biden’s victory last November, makes any past promises made by Trump impossible to fulfil.
Biden will, in principle, follow a diametrically opposed foreign policy to Trump’s. He sees the EU, and not the UK, ask the key actor that will help him advance American interests in the European continent. While there have been mutual expressions of willingness to strengthen the relationship between the Americans and the British, Joe Biden has always been skeptical of Brexit, and has made it clear from the start that one of his priorities in foreign policy will be to rebuild the relationship with the EU rather than pursuing a trade deal with the UK.
Ideally, should the UK try to have some sort of leverage to negotiate with the incoming American administration, they need to aim to strike a workable deal between with the EU before the end of this year. That, however, seems unlikely to happen. From an American perspective, it is highly probable that the Biden’s administration will not prioritise any UK-US trade deal in the foreseeable future. There is a strong possibility that Joe Biden will focus on domestic and close neighbours (Canada and Mexico) Issues during his first year in the presidency.
While this is understandable, considering the legacy of the Trump, Biden also has to be careful enough to avoid the temptation to play hardball with the UK because of Brexit. If he does, this could prove to be a fatal mistake with long lasting consequences, specially in a moment when the West is struggling with its own internal weaknesses and the rise of external threats to its unity.
One aspect that both Europe and the US have to acknowledge is that the importance of the UK goes beyond striking a trade deal with the EU. Looking at the rise of more geographically widespread authoritarian and antidemocratic pressures from central, Eastern Europe, China and Russia, the UK is still plays an important role on the continent’s security. Talks on further cooperation on how the EU and the UK will cooperate on foreign and security policy once the transition period ends on 31st of December 2020 have not yet been held. The UK, unfortunately, is likely to remain a crucial partner on such topics especially due to its role as a prominent and active member of NATO, and therefore, talks on this issues should not be left unaddressed.
The UK is aware of its importance militarily, and this explains the £24.1 billion investment announced by the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, this year. This is the largest investment since the end of the Cold War and it aims to modernise the armed forces, as well as to expand the Royal Navy to turn it into the largest fleet in Europe.
This move will enhance the UK’s status as Europe’s leading military power. The UK has also been among the first respondents to recent security crisis in Ukraine and Belarus. Not engaging with the UK altogether in security and foreign policy issues may prove to be detrimental in the long run for the security in the EU, especially considering the rising tensions and instability in the Ring of Fire, from Belarus to Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Nagorno-Karabakh.
The EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) allow for intergovernmental cooperation, this means that states can pursue their own policies and coordinate them only when they align with the EU’s. The CSDP also allows EU member states to intervene when NATO as an alliance chooses not to. To date, there are 17 of such interventions, in all of these, the UK has been the biggest contributor.
Security is an area of opportunity for Europe and the US, Biden could potentially push for the Europeans to grant the UK an observer role in the Political and Security Committee, or the Foreign Policy Council to advance a common security and foreign policy for the region that wouldn’t only benefit Europe, but also the US interests in the wider European area.
Recently, the UK has been an advocate of what is called a “Global Britain” that echoes the times of the great British Empire’s prominence as a global player. How this will be achieved is still unclear. This grand strategy may fare impossible under current economic and political conditions in the UK and in the world, as well as with the uncertainty surrounding the future relationship of the UK with its neighbours after Brexit.
Anything can happen, the UK could pursue a close, special relationship with Europe where cooperation is prioritised, or there could be a more profound break between the two, where the UK sets its own agenda against the EU’s. For decades, the terms Europe and the EU have been used interchangeably. Now that one of the major European players is out of the organisation, both sides have not yet worked out how the future relationship will be. If it continues to be antagonistic this could send the whole continent into a spiral of chaos, reduced capabilities an increased volatility.
Exit the Clowns: Post-Trump America
As America emerges from the election in grindingly slow fashion, with the soon-to-be-ex-President constantly tweeting frivolous accusations of voter fraud and threats about legal action, it is worthwhile to take stock currently as to just where America sits and what it faces over the next two months before the official Biden inauguration (and yes, there will indeed be a Biden inauguration, have no doubt about that). The following is simply a list of points that should continue to be considered and analyzed as the United States moves away from this four-year experiment with political nihilism:
Perhaps the only thing even remotely positive to emerge from the global pandemic known as COVID-19 is the fact that it clearly allowed the United States to get over some of its traditional political institutional inertia when it comes to encouraging and motivating voter participation. While America has always had mechanisms to allow absentee voting for those overseas and regulations permitting early voting in every single state, these tools have always been extremely minor when compared to the overall voter turnout. America has by and large always been a “turn out on election day” people. This year was clearly different, where the Biden-Harris team literally emphasized early voting for two main reasons: first, to get people to stay motivated even in the face of increasingly disturbing pandemic numbers and cases of new infections all across the country; second, to countermand the varied strategies local Republican officials in the modern day have come to constantly use to depress voter turnout amongst registered Democrats on election day (like voter ID initiatives that are confusing and/or outright illegal). This strategy, in the end, will be seen as crucially important to the Biden-Harris victory as it was the counting of early voting in the wee hours of election day that turned the tide in key states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia while solidifying crucial leads in places like Arizona and Nevada. Eventually, this pandemic must end. So, it will be fascinating to see if the United States treats all the ways it gave voters the chance to vote in 2020 as a one-off never to be repeated or as a new approach to democratic participation that becomes a cherished new political tradition.
In my adult lifetime, most people in America celebrated breaking the 50% barrier when it came to voter turnout. This is a depressingly low number when it represents the oldest and most stable democracy in the world. 2020 saw eligible voter turnout at about the 65% level. To be sure, this is still not earth-shattering. But it is without doubt a significant increase for a population that tends to always find reasons to not participate, rather than finding inspiration to get out and vote. The physical numbers overall – over 80 million for Biden-Harris and roughly 75 million for Trump-Pence – reveal a true divide in American society that is likely to remain long after Trump’s departure from the White House. Which is entirely appropriate when you consider the fact that there is no such thing as Trumpism. The wave of voter dissatisfaction with Washington DC, that portion of the population that is largely white and non-affluent and feeling disenfranchised by elites, this phenomenon began long before Trump ever made a decision to run for President back in 2014. What Trump did, brilliantly it must be said, was position himself to become the figurehead of this dissatisfaction, tapping into the anger and frustration and elevating his own persona as its leader. The fact that some astute political experts are now even using the term “Trumpism” is a perfect analogy to how Trump has spent most of his business career: catching the tail-end of trends and using deft PR and brand management expertise to usurp the trend entirely. This is why people on the Left of the political spectrum in America need to be vigilant about what the 2020 election truly means. It is a worthy achievement to have won the Presidency, but most current analyses show something of a slight regression in the House of Representatives (so that Democrats’ control has slightly dwindled) and the Senate is going to remain in control of Republicans. This means the classic adage of cutting the head off the snake is irrelevant: this hydra has many heads and getting rid of the symbolic alpha head is not going to reduce the passion of the other side. In fact, given the advanced age of Biden making it unlikely that he can pursue a legitimate second term in 2024, it is far more likely America will see a resurgence of radically right conservatism by the next electoral cycle to make sure there is no President Harris taking over after one term of Biden.
There are definitely voter trends that emerged new from 2020 that will be analyzed for years to come in terms of their long-term impact on future elections. First, it is clear the Republican cliché that only the extreme coasts of America are liberal and all the rest is conservative is dead. Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia all going blue prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt. Efforts made in the major urban cities of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Georgia show that ethnic minority turnout is not just becoming increasingly important, but it literally decides the fate of these given states for future elections. Not every data point, however, spelled positivity for liberals in 2020. The delivery of Florida for Trump but Arizona for Biden shows there is a sharpening divide between the political leanings of Cuban Latinx in FLA and Mexican Latinx in AZ. Also, while it was once considered a crucial part of Democrats’ presidential strategies and then became a critical “purple” state that could go either way, it seems clear that Ohio is now de facto a part of the Deep South politically, leaning solidly red with no real strategy to unhook it from Republican devotion. Finally, it will be interesting to see if the relatively unimportant states of Maine and Nebraska lead the way to a new proportional approach to electoral college votes. Both of these states actually saw a single vote out of their overall low electoral college vote counts split off and go against the overall will of the state. One EC vote in Nebraska went to Biden while the rest went to Trump. In Maine, the reverse happened: one went to Trump while the rest went to Biden. After the uproar in 2016, where Clinton defeated Trump in the popular vote by a secure margin but actually lost the electoral college handily, it would be interesting to see if Maine and Nebraska represent a new way to adapt the electoral college without actually getting rid of it.
Good-bye to the Nihilist CEO as President trend. One of the things I was most interested in seeing in the 2020 election was a reversal of the “Nihilist CEO” trend. I call it this because it basically came to be the overriding zeitgeist of the Trump presidency. Initially, Trump was interested in simply governing as a conservative President, but with a real agenda and goals. As mentioned before with the term “Trumpism,” this more traditional approach did not sit well with the radical conservatives that felt responsible for putting him in office. For them, ‘draining the swamp’ was not a process of replacing liberals with conservatives: it meant literally and figuratively razing the Washington DC establishment to the ground and salting over the earth so that nothing could ever politically grow again. This is why so many Trump appointments to the Cabinet and to major agencies were given to people who had literally spent their professional careers working against those very agencies. So, we had anti-environmentalists in charge of the EPA; an Education secretary who wanted to dismantle public education; energy appointments wedded to fossil fuels and wholly disinterested in new energy resources. The list goes on and on. In each case, what became obvious, was that those who were the most fervent for Trump were de facto anarchists about Washington, so deep-rooted was their hatred for DC. With Biden’s clear victory and his own long career in politics, it is obvious this approach will get jettisoned to the wayside. It is a return to expertise. A return to experience and traditionalism. The Trump clowns are exiting. Time will tell if they are simply replaced by Biden clowns or by true experts looking to work hard for the nation.
Ironic justice: the Electoral College Vote Count. Finally, it is deeply ironic that, in the end, the electoral college vote for Biden vs. Trump in 2020 will almost be a perfect inverse mirror of Trump vs. Clinton in 2016. Trump may have lost the popular vote in 2016, but he was always adamant that his electoral college win (304 to 227) was so “lopsided” that it meant he was sent to the White House with a decided mandate. Well, when all the votes are finally counted and verified in 2020, the electoral count will most likely be Biden 303 to Trump 228. This is why his claims of election fraud or malfeasance are so empty and ridiculous. Not only did Trump once again lose the popular vote (by a wider margin this time), he lost the electoral college vote by the same margin he claimed brought him so much political legitimacy in 2016. Ironic justice, indeed.
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