There is very little material in English about this project, I finally spent some time to translate and create an English and French wikipedia page. I am not otherwise involved with this project (yet!) but think it deserve more visibility, and that we should leverage it and similar project in other countries.
I am sure (or at least hope) that some of them are very much in favour, but are there others calling into question the accuracy / legitimacy of these type of analyses?
Information flows somewhat like this here: First they ignore it hard, then media comes and make a fuss and that makes the gov. officials respond with disdain or support (depends on the strategy they adopt). But if it gets hotter something bigger magically happens to distract public opinion.
At least it is already on dados.gov.br, which is the brazilian portal for open data, meaning at least received some support from groups inside the government. But almost no interest from conventional media.
No one beside themselves has the power to declare any of their spendings as illegal. So they could, for example, declare they spent $190 dollars on burger and fries for one person, and nobody can do anything about it.
Operation Serenata may tweet about it. Some people will read that and complain on twitter, and life goes on.
Our current unelected president was recorded talking about killing people to stay in power, and nothing happened. People in high-paying government jobs are tricking the system to get paid twice and nothing happens. Politicians can vote on their own pay raise, which they do many times per year, and nothing happens.
None of these big things have consequences, so something as small as someone spending a bit more on lunch is so irrelevant that they don't even care to try and hide it.
It's not an easy answer, things are not black and white. I think a great deal of the politicians don't give a shit about such initiatives, don't even understand them and their implications. But there's a great deal of people working close to theses politicians who keep pushing for a better future. I don't know them all because I have been mostly focused on the tech aspect of it, but you could reach out for some of them and they would guide you through their network.
For instance, Cristiano Ferri  has been doing a great work in this area. He was the head of the Laboratorio Hacker while I was there, and is very connected both to the politicans and the community.
 http://labhackercd.leg.br/ - Unfortunately HTTP, lol. I think it used to be served through SSL, but can't really remember.
This project is nothing more than a sharper and better diagnosis of topical symptoms. Unfortunately, the underlying disease remains without treatment. And if you allow me to explain such disease bluntly, here it is: the Brazilian voter is astonishingly stupid. Brazilians vote very, very badly. Politicians with a long and explicit history of corruption are routinely re-elected and remain very popular (e.g: Maluf, Sarney, Calheiros, Collor, Lula and almost everyone in the 3 big parties: PMDB, PSDB and PT).
There is even a standard justification for this behaviour, people say "rouba mas faz" (he steals but gets things done).
Like in most of the 3rd world and countries with authoritarian history, the overwhelming majority of the Brazilian voters don't understand how corruption, nepotism, patronage and incompetence affects them. I bet Turkey, Russia, Poland and Hungary are the same. Democracy goes far beyond the formal institutions, you need a civic heart, a belief within every citizen's mind that the public good matters a lot and affects everyone. In most 3rd world countries people just don't "get" this.
I think that the stupid voter behavior is not part of the DNA of Brazilians. It is something that can change even if it looks very hard to do it. A lot of Brazilians are actually very tired of corruption, they know pretty well how bad things can get when politicians steal public money regardless of their level of education. They know it is that bad. Teachers don't get paid, policemen going on strikes, bridges falling, economy in shambles, etc. It affects their daily lives and it keeps getting worse.
I think that the "Rouba mas faz" might be true in some places but not everywhere. Now, think about it: you feel hopeless when you know that it's a problem but you don't know any better how to vote. How could you know? How can you trust 100% on someone else's integrity to represent you, specially in Brazil? It is at this point that the problem needs to be tackled from multiple angles. One of them being this initiative. Changing legislation, which happened, in regards to how campaign are run and who is eligible to become a candidate, punishing those who stole public money (Maluf is still in jail, Cabral is in jail, no everyone is in jail but justice is working now).
USA voters don't do much better, don't worry. We just have a printing machine that churns out new dollars at record pace so we face no debt deadlines.
"The price of one bona fide, registered American vote varies from place to place. But it is rarely more than a tank of gas."
A good book that descibes it is "Washington, D.C: A Novel (Narratives of Empire)." of Gore Vidal.
The headline is super misleading, the point of the article is that selling votes is more common than outright impersonation or other forms of voting fraud.
In Brazil they do it the honest way.
As voting is compulsory in Brazil, a lot of people vote on the person that appeared on the television, or the person that had pamphlets being distributed at the red lights, so spending money on campaign works, indirectly buying votes.
One could say the US is just as corrupt, or more, than Brazil.
US may occasionally see third-world-BS, but in many places elsewhere in the world it is a fact of life.
40 billion USD in cash sent to Afghanistan by plane just "vanished". https://www.cnbc.com/id/45031100
For the sake of comparison, the largest corruption scandal of Brazil to this date revolves around 42 billion BRL, which is about 13 billion USD. http://g1.globo.com/pr/parana/noticia/2015/11/pf-estima-que-...
Of course, one might argue "oh, but 40 bilion dollars in cash going missing is not corruption, it's just unfortunate/bad management/insert excuse here". "Corruption" is just one of those words of which the meaning changes depending on the object it refers to - it's always the other person's, never your own.
Brazil, like other 3rd world countries, has an endemic cultural problem that hinders economic, social or technological progress.
You can "fight" corruption, but if it's part of your culture, it will always find a way back.
Congrats for the project, but you'd really need to rewrite 500 years of history to make Brazil a livable place.
I don't have much hope.
Your talk if full of prejudice.
Anyone else find over-the-top portrayal of patriotism annoying? Every time there is someone on the TV talking about "hard working and patriotic" (I don't even have a TV, only catch a glimpse at dunkin donuts and such) even when the topic on hand has nothing to do with hard work or patriotism. You are making a very valid point, but you literally had to start your comment saying you anticipate downvotes. It has become that bad.
Humans and their ancestors survived for several thousands of years in bands and tribes with between 10 and 50 individuals. Social cohesion and collaboration among them was essential for survival in confrontation with other animals or tribes fighting for the same resources (or females).
It is unavoidable that evolution shaped them to develop a desperate wish to "belong" to a group. Some call it tribalism. Nations just grab this tribalism and turn it into ideological justification for everything as in: "my country, right or wrong". Religions, political affiliations, corporations and sport associations use that trick too.
Não sou brasileiro.
However, there is also an expression (whose origin was also explained) that means "Mongrel complex (Complexo de vira-Lata in Portuguese), which is an expression used to refer to a collective inferiority complex felt by some Brazilian people in comparison to Europe or the United States."
Contrary to what was said here, the term coined by Nelson Rodrigues was not exclusive related to soccer. According to him: "By "Mongrel Complex" I mean the inferiority in which Brazilians put themselves, voluntarily, in comparison to the rest of the world. Brazilians are the reverse Narcissus, who spit in their own image. Here is the truth: we can't find personal or historical pretexts for self-esteem."
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongrel_complex
Perhaps jingoism and mongrelism are two sides of the same coin. It would certainly explain how Trump got elected after a campaign based on complaining about his own country.
Originally the expression came from football (soccer), as it happens in a lot of stuff within Brazilian culture.
In 1950 Brazil lost the finals for the Worldcup to Uruguai at Maracanã, the country biggest stadium. It was a national tragedy that left the country depressed (see "Maracanazo"). A very famous journalist from that age, Nelson Rodrigues, complained that the country was under a "stray dog syndrome", feeling unworthy when it was a lot better than that.
The important thing to notice is that Rodrigues was talking exclusively about football. He hated politics and deeply despised any form of nationalism. He actually didn't hold the national character in esteem.
It was much later on, on the 90's after his death, that the expression was hijacked and twisted to antagonize any Brazilian that criticizes Brazil in front of foreigners.
A stray dog turns garbage cans over in search of food.
I believe the term also refers to "mutt", a dog that is not purebred.
In the US, the "stupid" (as you call them) voters can stay at home if they are uninterested in the election. In the very least, this makes the voters be more involved.
Here, a lot of people only remember they need to vote when they try to buy beer on the Saturday before the election and they can't or when they turn the TV to watch their soap operas and see the mandatory political programs instead (and turn it off instead of watching).
From their faq:
1 - We were inspired by the Toblerone Affair, a case in which a Swedish politician was pushed to resign after being caught paying simple Toblerone chocolate bar with public money. That’s what we want to do: empower social control of public expenditures including values as low as a chocolate bar.
In Haiti, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the leader of the slave rebellion who overthrew the colonizers rapidly became one of the "1%" and a de-facto colonizer once he gained power and they realized that slavery and plantations and serfdom was quite lucrative and profitable.
This is an overly simplified, albeit correct, way to explain it.
In summary, Treisman will show that many factors appear to have an influence on whether a country is more or less corrupt. The colonial past of Latin American countries helps to explain part of it, but it doesn't appear to be a causa sine qua non.
Most intriguing is the link between how judicial systems that were setup to support the king may tend to be more corrupt since they were literally robbing property/money from his subjects. On the other side, the British system relies on judicial precedents and process, helping ensure a more fair trial between the government and property owners/business people.
In a simple risk game of likelihood vs. consequences, expensing a meal in an upper end restaurant will %90 draw political consequences from an AI, with a high degree of uncertainty in the cost to fight it, vs. accepting the hosts generosity, with a sub-%5 chance of consequences occurring like having to pay your share, or a minor sanction some years into the future.
I'd argue most politicians necessarily make risk and cost/benefit calculations before ethical signalling ones, and the indiscriminate application of rules in this case creates inverted incentives that demoralize the situation, and will cause them to start accepting insignificant bribes.
The economic value of "AI" is mostly to obfuscate and symbolically defray the chain of individual human accountability. While this may be working for the "good guys," in the public interest, it's really about protecting the people who are using what is essentially a Bayesian black box as an ethical proxy for their personal interest. It's fascinating and cool, but it's also a bit disingenuous to accept magical pretexts and other ethical proxies because we perceive them to be "on our side."
Politicians are already incentivised to get their bribes indirectly, that's a natural consequence of doing something illegal while expecting to have your actions recorded. But beyond that I don't understand, are you saying that because the AI allows for such efficient oversight that politicians will be unable to hide large bribes and be forced to accept "insignificant bribes"? But even if the only effect is that corruption is much cheaper, what is the downside to that? At least more people can afford it then.
> it's really about protecting the people who are using what is essentially a Bayesian black box as an ethical proxy for their personal interest
How is fighting corruption best described by "personal interest"? The only way I can make sense of this is of you hold the belief that rule of law is not fundamental for a just society, and the circumvention of the law that corruption represents somehow makes societies more just.
What I have said is that this particular AI approach changes the risks and incentives for politicians so that they are more likely to commit a greater number of small, but more real offenses, than the few outward anomalies the AI flags.
Which is worse? Expensing a bottle of wine, or having a vendor pick up the tab for an entire meeting? I would argue the latter has more impact on perceptions of corruption, yet this demoralized AI approach disproportionately punishes the former.
There is a style of argument that I'm starting to think of as "argument from tyranny," which begins with a denial of the coherence and legitimacy of the speaker, and ends with a defamation of character. They call it "sealioning," on the internets, but it bears more scrutiny, because it is part of why people are reduced to using pseudonyms.
As a side note: one of the project members was interviewed on The Changelog. The interview presents many topics related to the project, e.g. technology, community, challenges.
That doesn't strike me as a funny meal price. Assuming it's not an error, it would be nice to have some additional context on what the observed distribution of meal prices is, because at a cursory glance this looks like noise.
Is someone able to find a more substantial report?
R$239.50 or $74. That's 25% the minimum wage here in Brazil.
This means that this congressman was paying for someone else's meal, which is in itself an act of corruption.
And even if that's not the case, most Brazilians can't afford a 40 BRL meal on a regular basis, so why should a politician be able to do so with our money?
If you dig deeper into other reports, you can also see congresspeople spending public money in sex shops and clubs, for instance (https://twitter.com/cuducos/status/840882495868530688).
I don't know whether paying for someone else's lunch is OK according to regulations for meal stipends in Brazil. I wouldn't call that corruption off hand, but it might be forbidden. I defer to you on this.
Personally I live in Buenos Aires and I regularly spend USD 15 on a no frills lunch menu in a fancy-ish neighborhood (nothing fancy for the food itself, no desert, the kind of place where a group of 20 people from nearby offices have a loud lunch). From my experience Sao Paulo is more expensive than Buenos Aires, so it didn't strike me as odd initially.
That's out of reach for the statistical average of income from Argentineans, but it's not an amount that a congressman wouldn't be able to afford on their own dime. I certainly wouldn't get outraged at the expense or assume corruption - congressmen are paid significantly above minimum wage.
100 BRL would pay a buffet in a fancy barbecue shop, the absolute limit for me.
200 BRL+ is completely unnaceptable. Do they want to eat at a bistreau with public money?
These spendings that Serenata's robot tweets are literally reimbursements that congresspeople receive from the federal government for spendings needed while "on duty".
They aren't paid using their salaries. If that was the case, there would be no problem (legally speaking).
I am a software developer, so I get paid more than the average Brazilian. And I spend 14~18 BRL (4.3 to 5.5 USD) on a good meal regularly.
39 to 75 BRL is very expensive to our standards. The restaurant I take my wife on our anniversary costs 60~70 BRL per person.
Someone spending close to 75 BRL per day is the equivalent of eating every day in that nice restaurant you go a couple times a year.
Edit: if they actually did it every day then it wouldn't be a statistical outlier :P
Brazil is in many ways similar to Argentina (where I live) and the average voter doesn't value austerity much. Our current president is the son of one of the richest businessman in the country, and is a millionaire himself.
Namely, I'd like to see more public scrutiny against the illegal salaries judges receive in Brazil - which sometimes are twice or three times greater than the legal limit.
The UK had a similar issue which started off with looking at very specific instances where politicians made hundreds of thousands of pounds from fraudulent representations for expenses associated with a London "second home" and ended up ranking MPs by office expenses they were very much entitled to claim and highlighting legitimate claims for snacks just because they were funny. Trouble is, the basic conclusion was "all MPs are corrupt" which actually makes it harder to grab public attention over more serious conflicts of interest.
There is a long list of things that are not been adequately discussed. Sure, this is important, but it shouldn't take up as much of our collective attention as it does.
The thing is, the data is already public, but the volume is just so big that nobody paid much attention.
Now, at very least, some politicians will be weary of spending something that MIGHT look suspicious. Mostly the young ones.
The old politicians here have no shame whatsoever and know they will keep being elected until they die or retire.
About the judges salaries, there are a couple of other Twitter accounts that regularly publish out-of-ordinary payments as salaries and pensions.
As a Brazilian, I don't think this will change anything, but I think it is a great project that will at least prevent some "in your face" absurds that our politicians like do from time to time.
The problem is more that this sort of data isn't likely to find the serious corruption, it'll likely just find pedestrian examples of misuse of public funds.
I've long wished for AI governance, and this is a great step in the direction I imagine that working. I for one welcome our new robot overlords ;)
Someone has to write the algorithms, and something tells me it's not going to be the 99%.
Though on the remote possibility that this does happen; I welcome our new AI overlords!
While AI is no solution for corruption, it could create a more transparent system with a lot more accountability highlighting the potential misuse of money.
Actually, even without sophisticated technology, whoever decides to read the free and available content, will quickly find many things that jump the eyes. For instance, I remember seeing that my city, under the new mayor, was paying for school buses while the school was off, in the month of January and three times the amount the previous administration used to pay (while kids were in school).
My city also had even a helicopter for the local security force, which was not actually police and was not able to even carry guns. The helicopter was paid, faithfull, for many years. But seen in public only once, in a parade.
At the time (many years ago), I tipped newspapers and nobody cared.
A few years ago I created a simple script that to download all the public available law proposals from the Congress (https://github.com/pablomelo/baixa_camara) and downloaded 300GB of data.
I wanted to create an app where voters could see where and what was the allegiance of their representatives (In Brazil there's no district division and a candidate for Congress can get votes from anywhere in the state. While it prevent's gerrymandering, it also allows politicians to have little commitment to their constituents).
The other excuse was that "corruption is small compared to the GDP". (And what about the chilling effects?)
Sure, there's an agenda to appeal for a certain rhetoric, but you must accept some facts.
Well, we already know as a fact that at least in Brazil the excuse is wrong. There's a long time that I don't hear it, so I guess people can't even deny anymore.
The new excuse is "but look, the people that inherited the power do it too, and nothing is happening to them". So, back to good old whataboutism.
But the idea is to find irregularities. That is, a congressman who says he had lunch at such a restaurant, but by analyzing the invoice and the address we find that this restaurant never existed. Or a gas station that does not really work anymore.
This is very common. It is not an analysis of what they do with their wages. These congressmen receive compensation beyond their wages to spend when working in their regions. This compensation has a value of four to five times more than their salary.
I heard of Benford's law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benford%27s_law#Accounting_fra...) that is used to detect accounting fraud.
Are there other known mathematical models to detect fraud?
It's not a value judgement. I think it's an interesting question.
Income is too concentrated, taxes are highly regressive, and half the federal budget goes into servicing the debt.
All spheres of brazilian government have achieved a good level of transparency. But the national debate is always skewed by the current scandal cooked up by the media (that's another serious issue: the media is also too concentrated).
Because one can argue that corruption foster inequality, where government workers steal money from the people, they give favor to rich "friends" making them richer.
I can guess your solution is to give more power to the state to solve the inequality issue, which actually worsens the corruption caused inequality.
If you look at overall tax burden, the lowest tier pays close to 50%. The highest tier, a bit over 25%. Trump tried to lower corporate tax to 15% and not even his party thought it was reasonable. In Brazil, corporate tax is zero.
One of the richest people in Brazil, Steinbruch, was caught trying to evade an estate tax of only 4%, when food is taxed at near 20%.
That amount is on par or above OCDE counties, and much higher than most developing nations.
What we don't have is dividend tax. Unlike corporate tax that one must pay every quarter, you only pay dividend tax if you give money back to shareholders, so reinvestments are not taxed.
Usually countries balance income and dividend taxes so the government has a stable income but doesn't penalize investments as much. In Brazil, we opted for screwing investors.
Not to mention that companies pay an enormous amount of money in combined sales taxes. A manufacturing company usually pays 17% for state sales tax, another 9,35% federal social security, and sometimes an extra 5% to 15% for "luxury good" (like shampoo).
So, again, you're completely wrong and companies (read YOU) pay a hell lot of taxes in Brazil.
Source: I worked in investment analysis in another life.
And they pay again when buying goods, I was shocked when I read about the welfare state and the welfare cliff in the US, for the propaganda I was subjected in Brazil it was hard to believe.
So Brazil is way worse for the poor than the US, and getting paid in Brazil as remote for me (as a dev) is cheaper, since I work as a contractor and would pay between 4-6% taxes against ~25% in the US.