Nocera and Kristof

In “A Silver Lining to Brazil’s Troubles” Mr. Nocera says that the economy is in tatters, but the country’s handling of a huge corruption case shows its democracy and judicial institutions are working.  Mr. Kristof considers “Refugees Who Could Be Us” and says the drowning death of a 3-year-old Syrian, Aylan Kurdi, reflected a systematic failure of world leadership.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Of all the BRICS, Brazil would seem, on the face of it, to be in the worst shape.

BRICS, of course, stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, a catchphrase that was meant to connect their rapidly growing economies. But that was then. Today, their economies are sluggish at best, and their prospects no longer seem so bright.

Everybody knows about China’s troubles: its falling stock market, its slowing economy and the amateurish attempts by the government to revive them, as if they should somehow snap to when the Communist Party gives an order.

Russia’s problems are also well known: In addition to the annexation of Crimea, and the ensuing Western sanctions, the Russian economy has slowed with the decline of the price of fossil fuels, its primary export. The South African economy is in such trouble that even its president, Jacob Zuma, described it as “sick.” Although India grew by 7 percent in the second quarter, that number was below expectations, and in any case, probably overstates the health of the economy, Shilan Shah of Capital Economics told BBC News.

And then, sigh, there’s Brazil. Inflation? It is closing in on 10 percent. Its currency? The real’s value has dropped nearly in half against the American dollar. Recession? It’s arrived. The consensus view is that the Brazilian economy will shrink by some 2 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, “between 100,000 and 120,000 people are losing their jobs every month,” says Lúcia Guimãraes, a well-known Brazilian journalist.

Compounding the economic problems, many a result simply of poor economic stewardship, a huge corruption scandal has swept up both Brazilian politicians and a number of prominent businesspeople. The scandal centers on the country’s biggest company, Petrobras, whose success had been an object of real pride during the go-go years.

Although the details are complicated, as its core the scandal is “an old-fashioned kickback scheme,” as The Times’s David Segal put it in a fine story last month — a kickback scheme that has been estimated at a staggering $2 billion.

Politicians and members of the business elite alike have been arrested. The country’s president, Dilma Rousseff, who was the chairwoman of Petrobras while much of the scheme was taking place, hasn’t been accused of anything, but her approval rating is in the single digits. People have taken to the streets to call for her impeachment, though there are really no grounds yet to impeach her.

Political corruption has long been a fact of life in Brazil, but rarely has it been on such vivid, and nauseating, display.

The double whammy of scandal and recession has created a mood that combines outrage, anguish and resignation. But there is something else, too. “People feel betrayed,” says Guimãraes. Rousseff’s party, the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) — or Workers’ Party — came to office in 2003 promising, idealistically, to create social programs that would help the poor join the middle class. Between 2003 and 2011, according to one estimate, some 40 million people have climbed from abject poverty to the lowest rung on the middle class.

“The worst thing,” a Brazilian friend of mine wrote in an email recently, “is this feeling of disappointment with the … PT, which brought so much hope to the middle class. I’d call this feeling a kind of political depression.”

And yet, as I look over the BRICS, I think there is more hope for Brazil than some of its fellow members. Admittedly, I am a lover of Brazil, and want to see it succeed, and so was pleased when, as I made phone calls and emails for this column, a surprising silver lining emerged.

It is this: For all the pain Brazilians are going through right now, its democracy and its judicial institutions are working.

“What I see, more than I’ve ever seen before, is that the country is weathering this storm,” says Cliff Korman, an American musician who has lived and taught in Brazil for decades. It has a free press, which has stayed relentlessly focused on the Petrobras scandal. It has prosecutors who are actually putting politicians and businessmen in prison, and bringing cases against companies. The judiciary is not backing down.

“Corruption is such a part of public life,” says Riordan Roett, the director of Latin American Studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “But now people are being held accountable. There is a sense that things could actually change.”

And unlike a half-century ago, when a military dictatorship overthrew a president whose left-wing programs it didn’t like — and held power for the next 21 years — there is no hint that such a thing could happen today. No matter how the economy goes, Brazilians are going to be able to choose their own leaders, and in so doing chart their own course.

“It is the beginning of a new Brazil,” Roett says optimistically. It couldn’t happen to a nicer country.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Watching the horrific images of Syrian refugees struggling toward safety — or in the case of Aylan Kurdi, 3, drowning on that journey — I think of other refugees. Albert Einstein. Madeleine Albright. The Dalai Lama.

And my dad.

In the aftermath of World War II, my father swam the Danube River to flee Romania and become part of a tide of refugees that nobody much cared about. Fortunately, a family in Portland, Ore., sponsored his way to the United States, making this column possible.

If you don’t see yourself or your family members in those images of today’s refugees, you need an empathy transplant.

Aylan’s death reflected a systematic failure of world leadership, from Arab capitals to European ones, from Moscow to Washington. This failure occurred at three levels:

■ The Syrian civil war has dragged on for four years now, taking almost 200,000 lives, without serious efforts to stop the bombings. Creating a safe zone would at least allow Syrians to remain in the country.

■ As millions of Syrian refugees swamped surrounding countries, the world shrugged. United Nations aid requests for Syrian refugees are only 41 percent funded, and the World Food Program was recently forced to slash its food allocation for refugees in Lebanon to just $13.50 per person a month. Half of Syrian refugee children are unable to go to school. So of course loving parents strike out for Europe.

■ Driven by xenophobia and demagogy, some Europeans have done their best to stigmatize refugees and hamper their journeys.

Bob Kitchen of the International Rescue Committee told me he saw refugee families arriving on the beaches of Greece, hugging one another and celebrating, thinking that finally they had made it — unaware of what they still faced in southern Europe.

“This crisis is on the group of world leaders who have prioritized other things,” rather than Syria, Kitchen said. “This is the result of that inaction.”

António Guterres, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, said the crisis was in part “a failure of leadership worldwide.”

“This is not a massive invasion,” he said, noting that about 4,000 people are arriving daily in a continent with more than half a billion inhabitants. “This is manageable, if there is political commitment and will.”

We all know that the world failed refugees in the run-up to World War II. The U.S. refused to allow Jewish refugees to disembark from a ship, the St. Louis, that had reached Miami. The ship returned to Europe, and some passengers died in the Holocaust.

Aylan, who had relatives in Canada who wanted to give him a home, found no port. He died on our watch.

Guterres believes that images of children like Aylan are changing attitudes. “Compassion is winning over fear,” he said.

I hope he’s right. Bravo in particular to Icelanders, who on Facebook have been volunteering to pay for the flights of Syrian refugees and then put them up in their homes. Thousands of Icelanders have backed this effort, under the slogan “Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”

Then there are the Persian Gulf countries. Amnesty International reportsthat Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates haven’t accepted a single Syrian refugee (although they have allowed Syrians to stay without formal refugee status). Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s bombings of Yemen have only added to the global refugee crisis.

We Americans may be tempted to pat ourselves on the back. But the U.S. has accepted only about 1,500 Syrian refugees since the war began, and the Obama administration has dropped the ball on Syria — whether doing something hard like using the threat of missiles to create a safe zone, or something easy like supporting more schools for Syrian refugee children in neighboring countries.

Granted, assimilating refugees is difficult. It’s easy to welcome people at the airport, but more complex to provide jobs and absorb people with different values. (In Jordan, I once visited a refugee family hoping for settlement in the United States and saw a poster of Saddam Hussein on the wall; I wondered how that adjustment would go.)

In any case, let’s be clear that the ultimate solution isn’t to resettle Syrians but to allow them to go home.

“Stopping the barrel bombs will save more refugees dying on the route to Europe than any other action, because people want to return to live in their homes,” noted Lina Sergie Attar, a Syrian-American writer and architect.

There has been a vigorous public debate about whether the photo of Aylan’s drowned body should be shown by news organizations. But the real atrocity isn’t the photo but the death itself — and our ongoing moral failure to save the lives of children like Aylan.

And let us all be thankful — MoDo is off today.

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One Response to “Nocera and Kristof”

  1. Bill R. Says:

    the largest groups of refugees are from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran and Syria. By the end of September Obama will present plans to take in a million. It’s going to work out well.

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