Supreme court fake news probe: what you need to know

. May 28, 2020
Supreme court fake news probe: what you need to know Retail mogul Luciano Hang is suspected of financing an undergrounds fake news ring. Photo: Havan

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We’re covering the Fake News Probe: the latest Supreme Court charge against the Bolsonaro camp — and its legal issues. Worrisome employment numbers. And the flight of foreign capital from Brazil.

Questions asked about Supreme Court fake news sting

On Wednesday, federal marshals carried out a series

of search and seizure warrants against bloggers, far-right activists, a comedian, and businessmen suspected of taking part in an illegal fake-news-spreading operation. Six members of Congress will also be questioned in the case. The police action came as part of a <a href="">March 2019 investigation</a> opened by the Supreme Court into the spreading of fake news and threats against its members.</p> <ul><li>Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who presides over the probe, ordered the disclosure of the tax and banking records of all 17 suspects for the period between July 2018 and April 2020.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The scope of the investigation encompasses the 2018 election campaign and the suspicion that some of the suspects targeted this week had operated an illegal scheme to send millions of messages to voters, attacking Jair Bolsonaro’s rivals. If a link between the Bolsonaro campaign and this scheme is found, it would be grounds for voiding the election, ousting both President Bolsonaro and his VP, and leading to new elections.</p> <ul><li>Mr. Bolsonaro already faces <a href="">two lawsuits in the Superior Electoral Court</a> regarding that alleged electoral crime. For many political stakeholders, that should be the path to oust the president, rather than impeachment in Congress.</li></ul> <p><strong>Problems.</strong> While it might seem like a positive move to crack down on the spread of false information and anti-democratic hate speech, the investigation is also a perfect example of the Supreme Court overstepping its bounds. The fake news probe sidesteps the Federal Prosecution Office, allowing justices to act as judge, jury, and executioner — filing the case, leading investigations, and issuing the final decision.</p> <ul><li>A Supreme Court-led probe can only happen if a crime is committed on its premises. But Chief Justice Dias Toffoli, when ordering the probe last year, said the justices &#8220;are the court,&#8221; and thus any crime against them would fit the bill.</li></ul> <p><strong>Rupture?</strong> President Bolsonaro&#8217;s allies are calling for the impeachment of Justice Moraes, and compared Wednesday&#8217;s operation to Kristallnacht, the 1938 Nazi pogrom against Jews in Germany. In a live broadcast on social media, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president&#8217;s second-eldest son, promised to fight back. He said a &#8220;rupture&#8221; is not a question of <em>if</em>, but <em>when</em> it will happen.</p> <p><strong>Bottom line.</strong> At a time when the Supreme Court must rise to the occasion and protect civil liberties —&nbsp;facing an administration that challenges democratic institutions on a weekly basis —&nbsp;the justices are bending the rules, supposedly to &#8220;do the right thing.&#8221; That rarely ends well.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>The worst month for formal employment</h2> <p>For the first time this year, the Economy Ministry published up-to-date employment figures in Brazil. The General Register of Employed and Unemployed Persons (Caged) is one of the best sources of data on the number of people in formal work around the country. And its figures for the first four months of the year show a bleak picture.</p> <ul><li>In March and April, Brazil lost 1.1 million net formal jobs. As a comparison, the country lost 1.5 million positions in <em>all of 2015</em>&nbsp;— the peak of the last recession.</li><li>The coronavirus crisis has already affected one-quarter of Brazilians workers, with an additional 8.1 million people having their contracts suspended or suffering wage cuts.</li></ul> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2590629" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> This is only the beginning of the crisis. As Latin America —&nbsp;and Brazil, more specifically — becomes the epicenter of the pandemic, the labor market will suffer even more. The International Labor Organization believes that Latin American workers will be the <a href="">hardest-hit in the world</a> between May and June.</p> <p><strong>Pandemic.</strong> Part of the lack of confidence in Brazil&#8217;s economy is due to the country&#8217;s failures in tackling Covid-19. States such as São Paulo are already talking about reopening their economies, but infection curves are still rising. And the lack of testing indicates the confirmed cases are only a portion of the problem. ILO Director-General Guy Ryder adds that &#8220;there is reason to be concerned with Brazil&#8217;s capacity to adopt the right measures to prepare workplaces for the post-pandemic world.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>There&#8217;s more. </strong>Coupled with the economic crisis, Brazil has been in constant political turmoil —&nbsp;which further reduces businesses&#8217; appetite for risk.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Brazil outside of investors&#8217; radar?</h2> <p>Foreign direct investment in Brazil is taking a nosedive, falling to just USD 234 million in April — well below the USD 5.1 billion of one year before. Part of this, of course, is due to the pandemic —&nbsp;which has halted most investments worldwide. But the country&#8217;s botched response to the pandemic has also scared investors, who foresee Brazil&#8217;s coronavirus crisis lasting much longer than it should.</p> <ul><li>The Brazilian Real has been the worst-performing currency in the world during the crisis. Since the first Covid-19 case was registered in the country, the Real has lost 19 percent against the U.S. Dollar.</li><li>Foreigners are reducing their holdings of Brazilian bonds. Non-residents reduced their positions by USD 4.6 billion and now account for just 9.4 percent of the country&#8217;s federal domestic debt securities —&nbsp;the lowest since December 2009.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> With a cash-strapped government and a lackluster economy, Brazil will need foreign investment to get back on its feet.</p> <p><strong>But … </strong>The three-headed monster of a sanitary, economic, and <em>political</em> crisis should make Brazil&#8217;s recovery more painful and less predictable.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>Trade.</strong> Tensions between China and the U.S. are reaching new heights, with American lawmakers passing a <a href="">bill</a> to allow sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for human rights violations against the Muslim Uyghur minority. The Asian country, in response, is increasing soybean purchases from Brazil —&nbsp;a sign it could be securing supply. Per a Bloomberg <a href="">report</a>, China bought over 10 cargos in Brazil this week.</li><li><strong>At last.</strong> President Jair Bolsonaro signed into law a bill that grants BRL 125 billion in <a href="">financial aid to states and municipalities</a>, including BRL 60 billion in direct transfers over four months. The president, however, vetoed the articles allowing administrations to raise servants&#8217; wages before 2022. Governors and mayors supported the veto in private discussions but didn&#8217;t want the political burden of denying raises to their workers.</li><li><strong>Covid-19. </strong>As Brazil&#8217;s confirmed <a href="">coronavirus</a> deaths cross the 25,000 mark, health insurance companies pressure doctors into prescribing antimalarial drug chloroquine to their patients, according to a <a href=";utm_content=conteudo-relacionado&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_source=newsletter">report</a> by news website Uol. Endorsed by Jair Bolsonaro, the drug has no proven efficacy against the virus — and has been linked to heart problems and higher death rates. Our Explaining Brazil podcast this week discussed the <a href="">effects of the chloroquine gamble on Brazil&#8217;s Covid-19 war</a>.</li><li><strong>Rio.</strong> Several staff members at the field hospital in Rio de Janeiro&#8217;s Maracanã Stadium have resigned due to &#8220;appalling work conditions,&#8221; they say, &#8220;even for emergency situation standards.&#8221; The hospital is administered by a social organization <a href="">accused of embezzling funds</a> supposed to be used on the facility, and paying kickbacks to Governor Wilson Witzel. In terms of poor working conditions, however, the Maracanã field hospital is no exception. A total of 157 nurses are thought to have died of Covid-19 in Brazil —&nbsp;more than any other country.

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