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Riding Palocci: Ratfinking the Minister of Money

Many have commented that the first 100 days of the current government here have been relatively free of scandal, but in fact one has been building for quite some time now. It is less noticeable because it deals with macroeconomic stability rather than children born out of wedlock.

It would take some time to prepare, but there has been a barrage of headlines about the possibility that inflation will supersede the targets set by the Central Bank and Treasury.

In more consumer-oriented publications, charts showing the rising price of staples ad consumer goods are ginned up. A typical headline directed at the middle class might be, “cars more expensive here than in Korea.” The lead headline in Valor for the past two weeks has been a negative, speculative macroeconomic factoid. This is moral panic journalism, and an intense campaign of it.

The government responds with bland explanations of which the gist is there is nothing to worry about,.which, though reassuring, are, well, mostly bland.

And now to personalized the scandal.

Every scandal needs a folk devil, and the current Treasury Minister is the Chosen One for this scandal — after beating a similar scandal year ago when he was mayor of Ribeiraão Preto and prosecuted for embezzlement. He was found innocent when they finally got around to trying him, 7 years later, during which time the opposition press treated him as convicted criminal, of course.

Still, if the Treasury secretary is not trustworthy, then moral panic over economic uncertainty seems more probable. This is how these people think.

Between a stint in the Lula government and now, Antonio Palocci ran a modest consultancy which had no contracts with the government.

Now that he is back in the government, the company has been dissolved, but before its dissolution, it allegedly did rather well. As the headline in the Folha screamed, “Palocci’s wealth increases 200-fold!”

The government is blocking hearings on the matter, which has already been considered and closed by the executive ethics commission. The man’s explanations seem reasonable to me.

Above, while other senior opposition leaders have minimized the affair — who wants to commit political suicide in a state whose boat is being lifted by the same tide? — former vice-governor Alberto Goldman “wrote on his blog that Palocci got rich by illegitimate means,” namely “influence peddling,” according to the always spicy BC, above.

The Estado de S. Paulo,. meanwhile, runs the weakest and most obvious of the ratfinks with a headline reporting that Palocci’s dealings “triggered alarms at COAF” — this is an automated money-laundering detection system at Treasury. Federal police investigated, as they routinely do, and found that the alarm was a false positive.

Even so, the headline leaves you with the impression that the minister is engaged in shady deals.

What I remember most about Goldman, by the way, was the picket he held on the Av. Paulista protesting the arrest of Eliane Tranchesi, the owner of the Daslu luxury boutique. The Chinese smuggling mob has nothing on this woman, and here is this guy screaming that if the tax & fraud laws were actually enforced, the economy would go to hell in a handbasket.

These sorts of scripted media scandals always strike me as a sort of Cartesian soap opera: Let us doubt everything, even the indubitable!

Still, it is painful to watch the declining DEM-PFL wax moralistic even as their rising star, the former federal district governor, appears headed for prison for misconduct he engaged in on Candid Camera.

I found it interesting that BC would mention it: The Minister has hired the FSB publicity agency to handle his crisis communications. It does list a campaign it did for the corporate image of Sabesp, the state-run water and sewage giant that also lists on the Bovespa &  in New York.

Brazil is essentially run by publicists.

The group apparently knows what it is doing, and when to keep its client’s confidence:

Para preservar nossos clientes, a FSB não disponibiliza os casos de gerenciamento de crise no site. Entre em contato caso queira conhecer nossa experiência nessa área.