Dec 262019
 


Lorenzo Monaco (Piero di Giovanni) Nativity 1406-10

 

House Democrats Mull Second Impeachment (ZH)
The Greatest Cover Up Of The Biggest Scandal (ZH)
Hunter Biden Owns Massive Home In Swanky Hollywood Hills (NYP)
Bloomberg And Steyer Hit $200 Million Mark In Combined Ad Spending (Pol.)
France’s ‘Unsustainable’ Pension System May Well Be Sustainable (F24)
Erdogan Says Turkey To Send Troops To Libya (R.)
Turkey Warns It May Evict US Forces From Military Bases (ZH)
Cattle Have Stopped Breeding, Koalas Die Of Thirst (SMH)
‘Merry Crisis!’: Sydney Mural Mocks PM’s Hawaiian Holiday (SBS)
How Ads Created A Global Junk Food Generation (G.)
The Soul Will Find a Way (Gray)

 

 

Will it be accepted?

House Democrats Mull Second Impeachment (ZH)

House Democrats may conduct a second impeachment of President Trump, according to lawyers for the Judiciary Committee. In a Monday court filing reported by Politico, House Counsel Douglas Letter argued that they still need testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn, which may uncover new, impeachable evidence that Trump attempted to obstruct the Russiagate investigation (of a crime he didn’t commit). “If McGahn’s testimony produces new evidence supporting the conclusion that President Trump committed impeachable offenses that are not covered by the Articles approved by the House, the Committee will proceed accordingly — including, if necessary, by considering whether to recommend new articles of impeachment,” reads Letter’s filing.

The Democrats also argue that “McGahn’s testimony is critical both to a Senate trial and to the Committee’s ongoing impeachment investigations to determine whether additional Presidential misconduct warrants further action by the Committee,” adding that McGahn’s testimony may also be relevant to future legislation which may stem from the details of Trump’s conduct. And while DOJ lawyers acknowledged in a Monday brief that the legal fight over McGahn isn’t moot, the fact that the House Judiciary Committee moved forward with impeachment on a completely different matter removes the urgency to resolve their case. “The reasons for refraining are even more compelling now that what the Committee asserted — whether rightly or wrongly — as the primary justification for its decision to sue no longer exists,” wrote lawyers for the DOJ.

The agency also argues that the Mueller impeachment investigation is over, when House lawyers and lawmakers have described it as ongoing and active, according to the report. McGahn’s participation in House impeachment proceedings was blocked by the White House, which claimed “absolute immunity” for advisers. President Trump chimed in over Twitter following the Monday court filing, quoting “Fox and Friends” host Brian Kilmeade, who said “now all of a sudden they are saying maybe we’ll go back and visit the Mueller probe, which is absolutely unbelievable, and shows they don’t care about the American public’s tone deafness…”

Read more …

Is Barr conning Turmp? I guess we can’t rule it out.

The Greatest Cover Up Of The Biggest Scandal (ZH)

[Joe diGenova] talks about former NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers, who is allegedly cooperating with Barr and Durham. What makes the Rogers issue interesting is that he was the original whistle-blower. He is not treated as such, because the media hates Trump and anyone associated with him, but Rogers was the guy who blew the whistle on the spying to the Trump people. The great puzzle thus far has been the lack of prosecutions, despite ample evidence. The FBI agents are all guilty of crimes that have been detailed in public documents and the IG reports. There is now proof that Comey perjured himself many times. Just from a public relations perspective alone, rounding up these guys and charging them with corruption seems like a no-brainer.

Almost a year into his tenure and Barr has charged no one with a crime. One obvious explanation is that Barr is running a long con on Trump and the rest of the country, on behalf of the inner party. Robert Mueller was supposed to use his investigation to hoover up all the data so it could not be made public, in addition to harassing the Trump White House. His incompetence meant Barr took over the job and is now hoovering up all the information on the various parties. That way, everyone has an excuse for not doing anything about plot. One bit of evidence in support of this is the handling of the James Wolfe issue. He was the Senate staffer caught leaking classified information to one of the prostitutes hired by the Washington Post.

Big media hires good looking young women to sleep with flunkies like Wolf in order to get access to information. Wolf was caught and charged, but instead of getting a couple years in jail, he got two months. He will come out and land into a six-figure job as a reward for being a good soldier. An alternative explanation is that what started as a straight forward political corruption case bumped into a long pattern of behavior. In the course of investigating that pattern, the trail went much further back than the 2016 election. If there is evidence of abuse going back to 2012, maybe it goes back further. It was the Bush people, after all, who pushed for the creation of secret courts and secret warrants. Maybe Dick Cheney was listening to your phone calls after all.

Read more …

A massive home in the hills for just $2.5 million?!

Hunter Biden Owns Massive Home In Swanky Hollywood Hills (NYP)

Recovering crack addict Hunter Biden owns a home in one of the swankiest neighborhoods in America, it was revealed Monday. The son of former Vice President Joe Biden shares a ZIP code in the Hollywood Hills with celebrities such as Ben Affleck, Christina Aguilera and Halle Berry, according to documents filed in Hunter’s Arkansas paternity case. The three-bedroom, three-bathroom mid-century home is valued at $2.5 million. It sits at the end of a private gated drive and includes a pool. Biden, 49, is currently expecting his fifth child with 32-year-old wife Melissa Cohen Biden. The property was sold on June 19, records show, but it’s unclear how much Biden paid for it.


One day after the sale, a former Washington, DC, stripper filed a petition for paternity and child support against Biden in Arkansas’ Independence County Circuit Court. Lunden Alexis Roberts, 28, says she gave birth to Biden’s kid, “Baby Doe,” in August 2018. [..] Hunter tied the knot with Melissa, a South African beauty, on May 28. They live in Los Angeles, according to a New Yorker profile of Biden, which said he moved there in 2018, in order to “completely disappear”. Hunter’s disappearing act could be difficult at the Hollywood Hills home — where nearly every room has walls of floor-to-ceiling glass windows.

Read more …

Is the presidency for sale? Why not, everything else is.

Bloomberg And Steyer Hit $200 Million Mark In Combined Ad Spending (Pol.)

They entered the race late, but the two billionaires seeking the Democratic nomination are making up for lost time. Together, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg have poured nearly $200 million into television and digital advertising alone, with the former New York mayor spending an unprecedented $120 million in the roughly three weeks since he joined the presidential race. That’s more than double the combined ad spending of every single non-billionaire candidate in the Democratic field this entire year. “We’ve never seen spending like this in a presidential race,” said Jim McLaughlin, a Republican political strategist who worked as a consultant for Bloomberg’s mayoral bids in New York. “He has a limitless budget.” The question isn’t whether anyone else will come close to matching Bloomberg or Steyer’s ad spending.

Rather, it’s whether all that spending is making any difference. At present, the two remain mired in single digits in the polls. Steyer isn’t spending at the same stratospheric levels as Bloomberg, yet with $83 million in ad buys so far, he’s still far outpacing everyone other than his fellow billionaire. The next highest spender on ads is Pete Buttigieg at $19 million. Unlike Bloomberg, who is attempting to jumpstart his campaign on Super Tuesday March 3, Steyer is largely focused on the four early voting states. He has spent nearly $37 million in Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire — much of it on digital ads. Since joining the race in July, he’s more than doubled the combined ad spending of Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the early states.

[..] “We’re running out of ways to describe [the ad expenditures] at this point,” said Nick Stapleton, vice president of analytics at Ad Analytics, a television ad tracking firm. “It’s pretty difficult to make a comparison…You’re looking at one-third of Obama’s 2012 total [ad] spend through the general [election] in one month.”

Read more …

Don’t ever use pension and sustainable in the same sentence. Not if you value your credibility.

France’s ‘Unsustainable’ Pension System May Well Be Sustainable (F24)

Three weeks into a crippling transport strike that has wreaked havoc on Christmas holiday plans, the French government is struggling to persuade a sceptical public – and increasingly critical experts – that its controversial pension overhaul is as vital as it claims. Workers at rail and public transport companies have downed tools in protest at the plan to meld France’s 42 pension schemes into a single points-based one, which would see some public employees lose their right to early retirement – and likely result in benefit cuts for millions. The government has come under fire in particular over a “pivot age” of 64 for a full pension, which will effectively force millions to work beyond the official retirement age of 62.

Ministers insist the new system will be more transparent and fairer, in particular for women and low earners, and is critical to plugging a deficit they claim can only widen further. But after weeks of travel misery, which has dampened the start of the festive season, polls suggest that a majority of the French remain unconvinced by their arguments. According to an Odoxa survey released on Dec. 19, 66% continue to support the strike, while 57% blame the government for the standoff. At just under 14% of economic output, French spending on public pensions is among the highest in the world, a key component of a costly but cherished welfare state.

The government – along with many media outlets – routinely brandishes a study warning that the system will run a deficit of more than 17 billion euros ($18.74 billion), or 0.7% of GDP, by 2025 if nothing is done. However, the dire forecast is just one of several scenarios elaborated by the Conseil d’orientation des retraites (COR), an independent pension advisory committee, whose other projections paint a rosier picture. In another of COR’s forecasts, the deficit run by the pension system would actually shrink to 0.2% of GDP by 2030, or 5 billion euros – less than a third of the amount splashed out to appease Yellow Vest protesters earlier this year.

Read more …

Erdogan plays uniquely to the domestic crowd. Knowing that makes him make much more sense.

Erdogan Says Turkey To Send Troops To Libya (R.)

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that Turkey will send troops to Libya now that the north African country requested it, and he will present deployment legislation to the Turkish parliament in January. Erdogan visited Tunisia on Wednesday to discuss cooperation for a possible ceasefire in neighbouring Libya. In a speech Thursday, he said Turkey and Tunisia agreed to support Libya’s internationally recognised government of Fayez al-Serraj.

Read more …

He says big things to get on TV, and he can always walk them back and claim he won.

Turkey Warns It May Evict US Forces From Military Bases (ZH)

Despite mounting political and diplomatic pressure by the US and its NATO allies, Turkey has again balked at US attempts of intimidation and dug into its refusal to abandon a new Russian missile defense, saying it won’t bow to the threat of crippling US sanctions or trade the S-400s for an American system. “They said they would not sell Patriots unless we get rid of the S-400s. It is out of question for us to accept such a precondition,” said Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, late on Tuesday after a cabinet meeting, quoted by Bloomberg.

“An irrational anti-Turkish sentiment has prevailed in the Congress and it is not good for Turkish-American relations,” Kalin added, noting that Congress “should know that such language of threat would push Turkey exactly toward places that they don’t want it turn to.” Namely, right into the hands of Vladimir Putin, who is on even better terms with Erdogan than Trump, despite Turkey taking down a Russian fighter jet over its territory several years back. Separately, as the WSJ reported this morning, Erdogan once again warned that he would evict U.S. forces from two military bases in his country if Washington imposes new sanctions on his government, creating a bitter quandary for NATO as it seeks to cope with Ankara’s deepening ties to Russia.

In a television interview this month, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said if the U.S. punishes Turkey for its purchase of a Russian air-defense system, then, “if necessary, we may close Incirlik and Kureci,” installations where the U.S. keeps approximately 50 B61 nuclear weapons, and operates critical radar. Erdogan’s declaration elicited an anxious reaction from U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said it raised questions about Turkey’s dedication to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization: “They have that inherent right to house or to not house NATO bases or foreign troops,” Esper said. “But again, I think this becomes an alliance matter, your commitment to the alliance, if indeed they are serious about what they are saying.” “It feels like watching a car crash in slow motion,” a Western diplomat in Turkey told the WSJ.

Read more …

Gundi Rhoades is a veterinarian, scientist, mother, beef cattle farmer and member of Veterinarians for Climate Action.

Cattle Have Stopped Breeding, Koalas Die Of Thirst (SMH)

Bulls cannot breed at Inverell. They are becoming infertile from their testicles overheating. Mares are not falling pregnant, and through the heat, piglets and calves are aborting. My work as a veterinarian has changed so much. While I would normally test bulls for fertility, or herds of cattle for pregnancy, I no longer do, because the livestock has been sold. A client’s stud stock in Inverell has reduced from 2000 breeders to zero. I once assisted farmers who have spent their lives developing breeding programs, with historic bloodlines that go back 80 years. These stud farmers are now left with a handful of breeders that they can’t bear to part with, spending thousands keeping them fed, and going broke doing it. Cattle that sold for thousands are now in the sale yards at $70 a head. Those classed as too skinny for sale are costing the farmer $130 to be destroyed.

They are all gone and it was all for nothing. The paddocks are bare, the dams dry, the grass crispy and brown. The whole region has been completely destocked and is devoid of life. For 22 years, I have been the vet in this once-thriving town in northern NSW, which, as climate change continues to fuel extreme heat, drought and bushfires, has become hell on Earth. Here, we are seeing extreme weather events like never before. The other day we had about eight centimetres of rain in 20 minutes. These downpours are like rain bombs. They are so ferocious that a farmer lost all of his fences, and all it did was silt up the dam so he had to use a machine to excavate the mud. Most farmers in my district have not a blade of grass remaining on their properties. Topsoil has been blown away by the terrible, strong winds this spring and summer.

We have experienced the hottest days that I can remember, and right now I can’t even open any windows because my eyes sting and lungs hurt from bushfire smoke. For days, I have watched as the bushland around us went up like a tinderbox. I just waited for the next day when my clinic would be flooded with evacuated dogs, cats, goats and horses in desperate need of water and food. The impact of the drought on wildlife is devastating to watch, too. Members of the public are bringing us koalas, sugar gliders, possums, galahs, cockatoos and kangaroos on a daily basis. The koalas affect me the most. To see these gorgeous, iconic animals dying from thirst is too hard to bear. We save some, but we lose just as many. The whole town is devastated. My business has halved. But with no horses to breed, no cattle to test and care for, what am I going to do?

Read more …

I still can’t take Oz politics serious.

‘Merry Crisis!’: Sydney Mural Mocks PM’s Hawaiian Holiday (SBS)

A mural of Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Hawaiian garb with flames rising all around him has appeared on an inner-Sydney wall. Artist Scott Marsh on Tuesday posted a photo of the Chippendale artwork – with Mr Morrison saying “Merry Crisis!” via a speech bubble – on Instagram. Mr Morrison is depicted in the mural wearing an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, orange lei and Santa Claus hat while holding a cocktail. In the background, red and black flames rise high. It follows the prime minister’s decision last weekend to cut an overseas family holiday in the US state short to respond to the bushfire crisis. “Heading out to Hawaii when the country is literally on fire is probably not a really great move in terms of leadership. I think public sentiment around that is all pretty unified,” Mr Marsh told AAP on Tuesday.

Read more …

How to fight overpopulation.

How Ads Created A Global Junk Food Generation (G.)

Nepalese schoolgirl Prasiddhika Shrestha is holding up a video camera at her aunt’s house, filming her cousins as they devour crisps, corn puffs, soda and dalmoth, a traditional lentil-based snack. “What is it that you like eating most?” she asks them. “Lay’s chips and Coke,” says Diwani, who drinks between one and two litres of soft drink every day. Rihana includes a pack of Kurkure corn puffs in her daily diet. Prasiddhika is among 100 schoolchildren in seven countries asked by researchers from University College London to film themselves and the food they eat for a study about the exposure of children to unhealthy diets.

Kiran Dahal, a Nepalese schoolboy, is filming in his school’s canteen, where children are scrambling over each other to buy junk food at lunchtime. “I bought two [corn puffs], a packet of dalmoth, pakoda [fried snack], chewing gum and a packet of instant noodles,” he says, showing them to the camera one by one. Pupils Laxmi and Nima eat six packs of instant noodles between them each day. “We see Coke on TV during races and football matches. We also see instant noodles on advertisements,” they say. An unhealthy diet is a major cause of “non-communicable diseases” such as heart diseases, cancer, diabetes and strokes.

Such diseases accounted for 66% of deaths in Nepal in 2017. A report this year by the UN’s children agency, Unicef, found that 43% of Nepalese children are either stunted or overweight. “The situation regarding junk food is very worrisome in Nepal,” says Atul Upadhyay of the global health organisation Helen Keller International, who is featured in UCL’s Nepal film study, produced in collaboration with the Kathmandu-based centre for research on environment, health and population activities. “Children are eating more unhealthy food than they are eating healthy food.”

Professor Sarah Hawkes, director of UCL’s centre for gender and global health, and the lead researcher behind the project, says the footage collected by children in Nepal was similar to those filmed in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tunisia, Vietnam and the UK. “All children we worked with shared the common experience of pervasive, powerful and, it seems, often unregulated advertising and promotion,” she says. “The children’s footage vividly communicates that, once they step outside schools, they, and their parents, have very little control over what they see and experience, what is on their local high street, or what is going into the food they purchase there.”

Read more …

Can’t beat James Brown for Christmas. Good story.

The Soul Will Find a Way (Gray)

It’s hard to bury James Brown. At any moment in a day you’ll hear his voice, his name, a beat or a song. A Brown phrase crystallizes a situation like when it’s time to leave a room – “it’s too funky in here” or when it’s time to go to work or party–“you gotta get on the good foot,” or when hearing someone being deceitful or stupid– “talking loud and saying nothing.” The substance that fed Brown’s music won’t decompose. For the sake of discussion, let’s call it soul power. Soul power is a connection to the people and their experiences: good, bad and ugly. It means hearing what you feel and feeling what you hear. It’s in the call and response like a preacher to the congregation.

It can be in one person singing their story alone, like when Otis Redding sings “Sitting on the dock of the bay.” It’s putting the blue note in a plea, a wail, a moan, a holler or a shout. It’s about the process of life with all its messiness. Now, this is not about who has or doesn’t have soul. It’s about where Brown got his supply. I believe, there is something cosmically black about South Carolina. My belief arises from the fact that the vast majority of African slaves brought to the United States for life on the plantation disembarked on Sullivan’s Island– the “black Ellis Island”–just off the coast of Charleston.

Brown picked up from the vibes the Africans brought off the slave ships and taken out into the fields. He inherited what they sang about and how they sang it. Plantation slaves subversively sang “Jackass rared, Jackass pitch. Throwed ole Marsa in de ditch,” while Brown sang “you can’t tell me how to be the boy when you know I’m grown.” The Roma or black Gypsies also settled among and intermixed with the Africans in the low country region of South Carolina. Thus a context for Brown’s constantly being on the road with his itinerant band of musicians, all decked out in their ornate costumes, living free-wheeling lives.

Read more …

 

 

 

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Mar 042015
 
 March 4, 2015  Posted by at 11:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


NPC Communist Party Young Communist League, Washington, DC 1925

It’s not that long ago, in 2001, that Jim O’Neill, then still with Goldman Sachs, coined the term BRICs, for the fast emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China. O’Neill saw a global power shift from the west to these four nations happening. Fast forward to today, and we see Russia under multiple attacks, including economic ones, from the west, as India just announced the second rate cut this year and China is attempting controlled demolition of the possibly biggest financial bubble in the history of the world.

And Brazil? If anything, it’s falling even faster off its pedestal than the other three nations. And in Brazil, it’s as much corruption scandals as it is the financial crisis and the plunge in oil revenues that take center stage. The stories have long been simmering, but they all came together in the media yesterday.

First, a seemingly minor one. Eike Batista was once the richest man in Brazil, and one of the 10 richest men on the planet, having made a fortune in gold mining and later oil. Then he went on to become probably the one man to lose the most money in the shortest time, going from $32 billion in early 2013 to minus $5 billion or so a little over a year later, impossible to pin down exactly for numerous reasons, but spectacular for sure.

Yesterday Mr. Batista made the news when the judge in a case against him for insider trading, was taken off that case for driving one of Batista’s luxury cars to his own home. He claimed the police had no place to store the vehicle…

Brazilian Court Upholds Removal of Judge From Eike Batista Trial

An appeals court on Tuesday upheld a decision to remove the judge presiding over the trial of Brazilian businessman Eike Batista , throwing out many of the judge’s rulings, according to a spokeswoman for the court in Rio de Janeiro. Later Tuesday, the court said it granted the judge— Flávio Roberto de Souza —a medical leave until April 8th. A separate appeals court had ordered last week that Federal Judge de Souza be removed from the case after he allegedly drove one of the cars he had ordered seized from Mr. Batista. Tuesday’s ruling was on a motion filed in December by Mr. Batista’s lawyers to have Judge de Souza removed from the case, claiming he had given a number of news interviews in which he used language demonstrating bias against Mr. Batista.

Judge de Souza has denied being partial. His removal will delay the case, which could be assigned to a new judge as early as Tuesday, the spokeswoman said. Mr. Batista is on trial for market manipulation and insider trading, charges he has denied. The judges who ruled on Tuesday overturned all of Judge de Souza’s actions during the trial until another judge can decide how to continue the case. The freeze on Mr. Batista’s assets ordered by Judge de Souza remains in place, however.

Police in February seized 11 vehicles, including a Porsche Cayenne the judge allegedly drove, as well as a Lamborghini Aventador, from Mr. Batista’s homes. They also took jewelry, a grand piano and a fake Fabergé egg as guarantees to repay investors in the event the entrepreneur is found guilty. The cars were to be sold at auction and the proceeds placed into escrow until the conclusion of the trial, an action allowed under Brazilian law. The piano, which was being kept at the apartment of one of Judge de Souza’s neighbors, along with one of the seized cars have been returned to Mr. Batista…

Then, on the same day, Brazil’s top prosecutor asked the country’s Supreme Court to start 28 separate investigations against 54 individuals, mostly politicians, in the Petrobras kickback scandal (‘under Brazilian law, politicians and cabinet members can only be tried by the Supreme Court.’) I don’t know how many politicians Brazil has, but it would seem 54 is a solid haircut. And, of course, current president Dilma Rousseff was herself head of Petrobras from 2003-2010, the period in which the kickbacks took place. She’s probably not among the 54 to be investigated, however.

Petrobras did Batista one better. Its market capitalization was a reported $310 billion in May 2008. It has since lost $270 billion of that. According to the BBC, $100 billion was lost just since last September.

Petrobras Scandal Takes Politicians To Court

Prosecutor-General Rodrigo Janot’s office did not release the names of the politicians, but plea bargain testimony by defendants in the case leaked to local media indicate that most are members of the ruling Workers’ Party and coalition allies in Congress. O Estado de S. Paulo and other newspapers said the list includes Senate President Renan Calheiros and Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Eduardo Cunha, both the top leaders of Congress and members of the PMDB party, the largest ally in Rousseff’s ruling coalition. The judge in charge of the case must decide whether to lift a secrecy provision and release the names and plea bargain statements.

The politicians were named by a former senior manager at Petrobras and a black market currency dealer whose arrest last March triggered an investigation into the funnelling of money from overpriced infrastructure contracts into the pockets of corrupt executives and politicians. Some of that money, prosecutors say, may have helped finance election campaigns for political parties, including Rousseff’s Workers’ Party and other members of her governing coalition.

The corruption probe known as “Operation Car Wash” has so far led to 40 indictments on racketeering, bribery and money laundering charges. Officials have indicted two former senior managers at Petroleo Brasileiro as the company is formally called and 23 executives from six of Brazil’s leading construction and engineering firms. The scandal threatens to have a ripple effect on Brazil’s already weak economy, prompting Petrobras to halt or cancel several investment projects.

Prosecutors are seeking the return from construction firms of about $1.6 billion siphoned off Petrobras contracts and are investigating Swiss bank accounts where funds were transferred and in some case laundered through off-shore front companies. The investigation and possible trial of politicians by the Supreme Court could take years. Brazil’s largest political corruption case to date, involving monthly payments to lawmakers in return for support in Congress for the Workers’ Party, took seven years before it went to trial in 2012.

Rousseff has denied knowing about the scheme during those years and has vowed to respect the Judiciary’s independence. A recent opinion poll, however, showed three in four Brazilians believe Rousseff knew about the scam. … even opposition leaders believe that recent calls for her impeachment will go nowhere.

Sabrina Valle and Anna Edgerton, writing for Bloomberg, must have seen this coming. They have a very long article on Rousseff and her power politics, very much worth reading. Some excerpts:

Petrobras CEO Lost Job Over a $30 Billion Disagreement

As the kickback and money-laundering scandal engulfing state-run oil giant Petrobras escalated in late January, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff got calls from two of her top appointees. They were in the midst of a marathon board meeting and they heatedly disagreed. The first was from her former finance minister and current Petrobras chairman, warning her that the board was discussing the release of a potentially embarrassing number: a $30 billion writedown that company auditors were saying was partially tied to scandal-related losses. The chairman left in the middle of the meeting to call his political benefactor to discuss releasing it – believing it was a bad number conjured up by faulty methodology. Rousseff agreed.

The second call, later in the same evening, came from Maria das Gracas Foster, the Petrobras chief executive officer whom Rousseff had appointed three years earlier. She expressed the opinion that under Brazilian law the $30 billion figure, whether faulty or not, had to be released because if the board now knew the number, the market had a right to know as well. Foster was aware Rousseff preferred the number not be released and hoped her close friend the president would understand her position..

After a dramatic ten-hour boardroom showdown, the number would in fact be included in a note to Petrobras’s overdue third-quarter earnings but it would be costly to Foster. On Feb. 6, Rousseff replaced her with Aldemir Bendine, CEO of state-run Banco do Brasil – a government executive popular with Rousseff’s leftist Workers’ Party. The appointment sent the shares of the company formally known as Petroleo Brasileiro down 6.9% that day.

Rousseff’s replacement of Foster also has ruptured the long-held bond of loyalty the two forged over more than a decade as business and political allies rising up in the ranks among a sea of powerful men. Foster’s departure further helps to isolate Rousseff as Foster joins a cadre of onetime close supporters who have been swept aside in various government dust-ups.

For Brazil and millions of ordinary Brazilians, Petrobras has become both an embarrassment and a source of anger even as they hope for a rebound. Only five years ago, the company was the darling of the global energy world, able to raise a staggering $70 billion at a share sale because of deep-water oil and natural gas finds so huge that they were expected to propel Brazil to decades of growth.

The first allegations of Petrobras corruption came in March of last year [..] Foster, however, seemed to be weathering the storm until October, when video tapes published online by a federal judge in a Parana, Brazil, court showed that same executive confessing to investigators that Petrobras had long been compromised – that for at least nine years he and others siphoned millions in kickbacks from companies to whom Petrobras awarded inflated construction contracts.

As allegations of wrongdoing escalated, the public became more outraged and investors continued to dump Petrobras shares; the hard-charging Foster found the political weather turning foul. [..] Throughout the ordeal, Foster had offered to resign several times. Rousseff wasn’t having it..

But the scandal kept escalating. A growing list of former executives started cooperating with investigators, hoping for reduced sentences. Cash deliverymen went by flamboyant nicknames such as Big Tiger, Watermelon and Eucalyptus, according to testimony before the Parana court. One former Petrobras manager admitted to taking as much as $100 million in kickbacks as part of a plea bargain deal.

As the drama unfolded, the one constant was Rousseff’s support for Foster, the woman she met in the early 2000s when she was an energy secretary for a southern state of Brazil and Foster was Petrobras’s representative for a gas pipeline to Bolivia. This trust began to unravel in December, when Foster decided to ban 23 construction companies caught up in the probe from doing business with Petrobras, according to a person familiar with the situation. Rousseff’s public position was that corrupt individuals — not the companies that employed millions of Brazilians and worked on strategic infrastructure projects — should be held accountable.

Then came the contentious Jan. 27 board meeting. Foster found herself at odds with Guido Mantega, the Italian-born, left-leaning Petrobras chairman. Foster knew that a fight with Mantega was a fight with Rousseff. But at some point, with the back and forth exhausted, Foster signaled to her management team and declared “enough, huh?” according to people who were in the room.

A week later, on Feb. 3, Foster was summoned by Rousseff to the presidential palace about 465 miles away in Brasilia. After two hours of candid discussion, the two came to terms. Foster and her executive team would be replaced by month’s end while a search for successors proceeded… Foster then boarded a commercial flight back to Rio de Janeiro and was booed by other passengers. There was no relief back home. Dozens of protesters greeted her at her Copacabana apartment, banging pots and pans outside her door, demanding she resign.

The CEO was still willing to stay on until Rousseff named a replacement but in a conference call from Brasilia with her five-member executive staff they declined to continue as lame ducks. Since Foster had said publicly she would never serve without her team, she had no choice but to go. The announcement came on the morning of Feb. 4 in a one-line regulatory filing that took the market by surprise.[..]

Petrobras continues to face huge challenges. With its market value shrunken, its debt ratings in the tank and its global image tarnished, it desperately needs to get back to basics. Over the past decade, its oil and gas production has lagged the company’s own projections — due to equipment delivery delays, maintenance issues and faster-than-expected declines in its older fields – even though that is starting to change.

Starting in 2007, stupendous deepwater offshore finds in an area known as the pre-salt had exponentially raised its reserves. Those discoveries still afford Petrobras plenty of potential upside assuming they are managed properly, analysts say. The most productive of its pre-salt wells pumps 35,000 barrels of crude a day. At the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota it takes more than 300 wells to pump that much. That’s in the top 1% for “all oil wells on the planet,” said Cleveland Jones, a geologist and researcher at Rio de Janeiro State University.

I think it might be wise to question the real reserves in those ‘stupendous’ finds. And in any case, the deeply inbred culture of corruption could easily waste all of it even if they are indeed so huge. With Lula as president, things seemed to go well, though he might have just been lucky to be at the right place at the right time. Rousseff has no such luck. And she doesn’t seem able to cope with the power she has, either. But it doesn’t look like she’ll have to bother with that for much longer:

Brazil’s Senate Resists Rousseff’s Austerity Push

Brazil’s Senate on Tuesday threw out a presidential decree that reduces payroll tax breaks for businesses, in a political setback for President Dilma Rousseff’s new fiscal austerity crusade. The Senate’s president Renan Calheiros said the matter was not urgent and should be presented to Congress in a bill rather than a temporary decree that bypasses lawmakers. Rousseff immediately responded by sending Congress a legislative proposal to trim the tax breaks, saying the change does not hamper the government’s fiscal savings plan.

In an action applauded by financial markets, Rousseff on Friday moved to pare back tax breaks on payrolls and export revenues to save the government up to 7 billion reais ($2.39 billion) this year and reduce its widening budget deficit. The new-found fiscal rigor threatens to tip the Brazilian economy into a deep recession, raising opposition from lawmakers and even senior members of her own Workers’ Party who want to water down the savings measures.

Since her narrow re-election win in October, Rousseff has made a dramatic U-turn in economic policy to regain the trust of investors worried with the financial health of an economy that until recently was one of the world’s most dynamic. Calheiros, a member of Rousseff’s main ally in Congress, the PMDB party, said her government was trampling on the constitutional right of Congress to legislate on important matters that affect Brazilians, such as raising taxes.

Opposition leaders praised Calheiros’ decision to assert the independence of the Senate, which will make it harder for Rousseff to push through belt-tightening legislation needed to avoid a credit rating downgrade. The surprise move by Calheiros, who has been a loyal ally to Rousseff during her first term, comes at a time of tension in Congress where politicians are worried that they will be implicated in a corruption scandal engulfing state-run oil company Petrobras.

One of other measures under fire includes a controversial decree that trims unemployment and pension benefits to save state coffers about 18 billion reais this year.

If the Petrobras affair doesn’t bring Rousseff down, her decisions will. You have to be an exceptional politician to survive the kind of huge economic downturn that Brazil finds itself in. Rousseff is no such exceptional politician. And of course most ‘leaders’ are not (that makes the few exceptional). That in turn means we will see increasing numbers of leadership changes as economies go downhill. Argentina went through 5 presidents in less than 3.5 years at the beginning of the century. Don’t be surprised if Brazil goes down that path too. And many other countries.