Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Yesterday was Black Friday, in the U.S. and in Brazil. Unlike the common use of “black” to indicate something negative — a black eye, a black day — the origin of the phrase in commerce is positive, not pejorative.
Stores that are in the red have losses, stores that are in the black are profitable. And the day after Thanksgiving is (supposedly) the day when stores sell so much that they go from red to black for the year.
But this year, it somehow seems that things are looking black (in the pejorative sense) for both Brazil and the United States. The latter has just elected as its next President an habitual misogynist, racist liar. He is now engaged in selecting his cabinet, and his choices are, so far at least, abysmal — very rich people who have no practical experience in government.
In Brazil, current President Temer went through the same exercise a few months ago, after Dilma’s ouster by impeachment. Sad to say, his choices have been worse than abysmal — very rich people with altogether too much practical experience in government.
The practice, for most, has been driven by corruption. Yesterday, a third cabinet-level appointee had to resign because of accusations of influence peddling. There is not a single Temer appointee, outside of the financial area (Treasury, Central Bank, BNDES) of whom anyone in full possession of their faculties can say “I’m sure he’s not corrupt.”
There was one — the former Culture Minister, who resigned because the Cabinet Secretary tried to get him to countermand a decision by the federal historical heritage agency that embargoed a thirty-story tall building near historical landmarks — the Secretary had bought a top floor of the building.
Add to this the scurrilous attempt by Congress to pass an “anti-corruption” bill that would whitewash all off-books (“caixa 2”) payments formerly received by politicos for their campaigns. The ploy is to have a vote where each party’s representatives casts all its votes — in essence, a secret ballot, since no individuals must admit how they vote.
This entirely undemocratic subterfuge is being adopted because the latest plea bargain agreement, by Odebrecht, is sure to implicate at least 200 current members of Congress as recipients of off-books largesse.
In the meantime, two former governors of the State of Rio have recently been brought up on criminal charges, the current governor is under suspicion, various of the overpriced Olympics works are now being subjected to a fine-toothed comb, and politicians are scurrying for their livelihoods.
The Curmudgeon has been in the U.S. for a week; viewed from that distance, the dysfunctional political system that has run Brazil for the past century needs radical reform.