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Three Days of Hatred and Mayhem: Musings on the Value of Life, Human Rights, Freedom and Justice

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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On Tuesday the 5th of July in Baton Rouge, Lousiana, Alton Sterling, a black man selling videos in front of a hardware-store, was pinned down to the ground by two policemen and then killed in cold blood. The next day, on Wednesday the 6th of July in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, another killing by a policeman ensued; that of Philando Castile who, in the presence of his girlfriend and her terrified four year old girl, was killed inside his car while trying to retrieve his driving license. Both outrageous incidents were live streamed and subsequently shown in the news on national TV, and widely announced by the media.

This was subsequent to a series of similar incidents the nation has witnessed in the last three or four years, where many of the victims were unarmed, or were actually walking away when they were shot. Some seem to have been killed simply because they dared to talk back to the officer, who responded violently. Some of those officers were indicted and even tried and prosecuted but few, if any, have been punished, pointing to some kind of problem in a justice system where blacks are three times more likely to be incarcerated or killed than the rest of the population, and this despite the fact that we have a black President occupying the White House. Some wise men, of the ilk of a Donald Trump, would say, it is because of it.

Then on Wednesday night July 7th, while a peaceful march and demonstration on the above incidents was going on in downtown Dallas (only a few blocks away from where President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963) a barrage of shots from a sniper with an assault weapon rang out bringing down three policemen immediately. The shooting and counter-shooting, all shown live on national TV, went on all night. It was like watching a crime reality show. At the end there were five policemen dead and seven severely wounded. These three incidents can only be characterized as mayhem and lawlessness pure and simple, executed with guns, which of course are innocent, necessary, and beneficial for self-defense as the NRA continues to insist.

Just as it happened with the phenomenon of mass incarceration (we are now the preeminent country for number of incarcerated citizens, mostly black), a reality show is soon to appear on Fox News dubbed Murder Police: a police animated series described as “the thin blue line that separates civilization from chaos.” What the heck, if we make light of the whole issue, make it humorous, perhaps it does not have to be seriously debated and discussed and we can carry on with our normal routine lives dedicated to making money, sports, and amusements galore.

Predictably, this tragedy was promptly followed by words of commiseration and sympathy from pundits and “experts” alike, memorial prayers, improvised monuments and flowers, vigils and eulogies by clerics and religiously inclined people, crocodile tears galore from sentimentalists and utopians alike, eulogies, political comments by politicians urging healing and reconciliation; what can only be characterized as a confused circus scene, pointing to a nation that seems to have lost its moral compass and its very identity. Much more rare are the voices of reasonableness and common sense; those advocating a serious analysis followed by a rational dialogue and a logical prognosis on this urgent matter which has to do mostly with civil and human rights. They exist but few pay attention to them.

I’d like to offer a reflection or two of my own on this matter. Not that I too have much hope of being listened to. Many better men than I have been crying in the desert lately and have been frustrated and stymied; but at least I will later on be able to tell my grandchildren that I was not one of those who saw what was going on and said nothing, and did nothing. To be sure, a writer’s pen may not be as powerful as a gun but it has been known to be persuasive at times and to have more lasting effects. At least so we may continue hoping, for the alternative is to give up in despair.

The first thing to observe and reflect upon in this event in Dallas, it seems to me, is the identity of the shooter. His name is Micah Johnson and he was 25 years old. One would expect him to be a criminal type with a long police wrap-sheet. But low and behold he had no criminal record. In fact he was a decorated veteran of the US army who served in the army reserve for six years (2009-2015), went to Afghanistan for two years and earned a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, among other awards. Moreover, he did not live in a crime infested underprivileged part of Dallas but in an upper scale suburb (20 miles away for the center of Dallas): Misquite. Now, this seems far from the “unhinged psychopath” portrayed in the media. In fact, branding someone a psychopath or unhinged, absolves a journalist or a politician or a sociologist, even a novelist, from having to do some hard thinking and research on a perpetrator’s background to determine his precise motivation.

I remember a young student in one of my beginner philosophy classes, who made an intriguing comment on the ethics of war under discussion, and how intentionality can make all the difference, that one’s intention in going to war should never be that of killing for the sake of killing but that of defending one’s country, preventing a greater evil, protecting vulnerable people, or even more nobly, to defend democracy, or freedom. His comment was this: “but professor, when I was trained in the marines I was told that to be a good marine I had to become a perfect killing machine.” I must confess that I was taken aback by the comment.

Thinking about it, it would make sense to assume that Micah Johnson too was trained to be a perfect killing machine. It is safe to assume it since he more than proved it: he took on by himself an entire police department and managed to kill five of them and wound seven others; all facilitated of course by the fact that lethal arms suitable for a war battle are readily available in the US with the blessing of the NRA and the politicians beholden to it for their election.

But let us continue with the speculation: we train a perfect killing machine and then send him half-way across the world to fight for freedom and democracy, quite often ending with the sacrifice of his life. This “killing machine” then comes home expecting to enjoy the fruits of the values he fought for: freedom and democracy and prosperity. Instead, to his great surprise, he finds himself treated as a second class citizen, deprived of civil and human rights, respect and dignity by a justice system which is biased and divisive. He concludes that he was tricked: he went to fight to get for others around the world what he himself lacks at home.

The question arises: what would we do, were we in the same situation; would we be angry? The question is not asked to condone the violence of the misguided disturbed young man, which remains despicable and reprehensible, but as an attempt to understand his motives. Why did he think that, in his own twisted way, he was doing justice? Was it because he saw no justice being administered and so misguidedly took things in his own hands? To simply say that he was unhinged and leave it at that, is just too easy and solves absolutely nothing.

There is a final thought to contemplate and it is this: the young man, after having been cornered and afforded the opportunity to surrender by the police, was not finally killed by a man pitting the skills of one warrior against those of another, but by a robotic bomb who literally blew him up and destroyed him as a physical human being. In war one would call such an operation “overkill.” One kills, not with a precise bullet skillfully aimed and delivered, but by dropping a surprise bomb on the individual.

And of course, just as guns remain innocent and neutral, the robot also remains innocent and neutral, possessing no ethical conscience and feeling no guilt or regrets. No need to put it on a trial and prosecute it. The perfect killing machine, the robo-bomb, has just performed its job, the job of a killing machine. He does not even know that it is just a robot doing the same thing that some human beings also do, willingly or reluctantly, at times feeling guilt, or hatred or resentment, and at times feeling nothing because they have already dehumanized themselves.

Plenty of food for thought here, but I suspect that the inanities and the boring specious arguments will go on in the media; those seem to be more entertaining, require less thinking and gather better ratings.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Americas

Trust: Lessons from my Brazilian driver

Jennifer Richmond

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Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair– Anonymous

Be safe. That’s what we’re always told when we travel. It could be a short drive to another city or a flight to another state. Just be safe.

It’s usually said with about the same emotion as, “good morning”. It’s almost obligatory and carries little meaning. A courtesy. It’s said with a little more sincerity when you’re traveling overseas. The unknown could be dangerous – pay attention, be aware…be safe.

I nod and smile, because what else do you say? What does it really mean to “be safe”? Of course, some things are obvious – don’t go running down the street naked waving a flaming Molotov cocktail in your hand. Check. Keeping your clothes on in public is probably always a good idea. You’re pretty much always safer with clothes.

Don’t hitchhike drunk. Check. Although I did do that once with a friend in Nanjing, China and the friendly (and confused) garbage truck driver picked us up and dropped us off at the foreign student dorms, per our request in broken Chinese. But still, in general, not a good idea.

I generally stifle a giggle at the well-meaning “be safe” when I’m traveling to Asia. For sure, there are incidents against foreigners in Asia; the Abu Sayyaf terrorist incident in the Philippines was shocking. But typically, Americans are much safer in Asia than many large American cities (I’m looking at you Detroit, Chicago and New Orleans). If you accidentally leave your wallet on the table, or your cell phone in the bathroom, most likely a “good samaritan” is not going to turn it into a manager. Being safe means being aware of your belongings, not your actual being.

The urgency to “be safe” was greatly intensified when I told my family, I’m going to Brazil. Be really safe. Like, this time, I mean it.

My dad is a test pilot. When he gets nervous on a plane, I freak: not safe, not safe my brain screams. My husband is in law enforcement, with quite a bit of international experience. Contrary to what you may think, he infrequently tells me to be safe. When he worries, I pay attention. Brazil worried him.

Despite a lifetime of traveling and living abroad, namely in Asia, this is my first time to Brazil. Brazil, more than anywhere I’ve been, including Europe, “looks” like America. Like America, Brazil is an immigrant country. A Multicultural Mecca.

In my attempt to “be safe” I hired a car and a bilingual driver to take me around São Paulo. I hit the jackpot. Before turning 10 years old, Ricardo picked up an English dictionary and taught himself the language. And he didn’t stop there. Given that his Protestant family didn’t believe in TVs he became a voracious reader and spent hours in the library reading political philosophers such as John Locke and Antonio Gramsci. And so it happens that my driver was also a political philosopher of sorts, with a view from the streets (literally) of the Brazilian socio-political landscape.

Everything I learned from my Brazilian driver shed light on the challenges not only in Brazil but also in America and around the world: we have a trust deficit.

There are many similarities between Brazil and the United States, especially in their multicultural heritage, but its geography and history put it on a completely different trajectory.

Brazil’s rugged terrain and lack of viable ports make economic development difficult. As a result, the development necessary to take advantage of Brazil’s agriculture and commodity opportunities needs massive capital expenditures. This higher cost of development meant only the wealthy were involved in setting up towns and plantations. Low-skilled labor was imperative for working plantations, and slavery was the norm.

When slavery was abolished (Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery in 1888), low-skilled immigration was encouraged and flourished. Brazil’s Gino Coefficient highlights the income inequality and stark division between the rich and poor that continues to define Brazilian demographics, even into the modern era. It is also visible in its high crime rate, giving Brazil the title of Murder Capital of the World. Brazil has the most cities (17) in the top 50 dangerous cities in the world.

Brazil’s geography shaped its economy and in turn, its politics. The wealth disparity and need to develop the interior were components that eventually led to the rise of a military regime in the 1960s. The regime kept order and was able to command the resources for development through force, if necessary. As the interior developed, there were more opportunities for smaller landholders and a rise in the middle-class – the classic underpinnings for political liberalization.

Under these circumstances, in 1985 the military handed over control to the people in an election. In 1988 a new constitution was written. Thirty years of democratically elected governments later, and many of Brazil’s problems remain. The oligarchs – the powerful and wealthy – prevail. Justice usually reflects who you know and is unevenly applied. A string of politicians, including the current President Temer and past Presidents Lula and Rousseff, among others, have recently been implicated in the huge “car wash” scandal.

People are fed up with the corruption. And now, many are looking for a political “outsider” to shake up the establishment.

In this fraught landscape emerged Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro started his career in the military while the military still held power. He is neither a land-owner nor a peasant, and to many, is seen as a “vote for change”, outside of the elite power structure. Sound familiar?

He is the Brazilian Trump.

His fame is growing, and people show up en masse to hear him speak. His focus is a return to law and order in a country that seems out of control. Bolsonaro’s message resonates at a time when there are an increasing number of people nostalgic for the order under the former military government.

Rounding out the similarities, Bolsonaro, like Trump, has been called out for scandalous behavior, which hasn’t dampened his support. In 2014 he told a Congresswoman that he wouldn’t rape her because “she didn’t deserve it”. This is the little quip seen here in the anti-Bolsonaro propaganda picture. Note the cartoonish Hitler‘s tache too.

The allure of more right-wing traditionalists, nationalists and populists is a global trend in a world rapidly changing. Whether due to the growing individualism leading to the breakdown of social cohesion in the United States, the growing anti-immigrant sentiment and the resulting Brexit in England, or the ubiquitous corruption in Brazil, wistful notions of stability and order are endemic.

As these and other like forces continue to restructure the global order–politically, economically and socially – no one gets out unscathed. Perhaps the United States is best able to weather the storm, given its unique mix of geography, strong institutions and resources. The Brazilian economy, however, is largely dependent on high commodity prices and Chinese demand. As structural demand trends downward, and the Chinese face their own internal and external struggles, a variety of crises threaten multiple countries, like Brazil.

Further, a Brazilian characteristic – lack of trust – creates its own challenges. The lack of trust in American institutions is also at an all-time low, but as Ricardo reminds me, the American government was formed by the people to serve the people. In contrast, in the Brazilian system, the people are there to serve the state.

In the current climate, despite disparate trajectories, America and Brazil now share some of the same trust issues. As we explored this idea of trust and our distinct cultural experiences further, we came up with a rough theory. America’s free market capitalist economy generates trust. Although there are many currently disillusioned with capitalism and growing income inequalities, which in part is what is generating momentum in the more “right-wing” camps worldwide, consider the aspect of competition. When there is competition, the markets hold corporations accountable. If a company makes a poor product, it loses market share. In an economy like Brazil, based more on elite relationships than competition for gaining market share, this built-in accountability is lost. Trust never has a chance to develop.

By contrast, trust in America did develop, but to a certain degree, has been lost. However, there is a foundation for trust. The question is, can it be regained?

Despite many factors portending some rough patches ahead, Ricardo is hopeful. He doesn’t have any affection for Bolsonaro, but believes corrective measures are necessary to address inherent corruption – after all, the pendulum must swing in the opposite direction before slowing its cadence to a more sustainable groove in the middle.

The “Trump Trend” (and its European predecessors) is not an isolated event, but rather a reaction to global disorder, similarly affecting countries with diverse geopolitical histories; it is a symptom of our trust deficit and truth decay. Further, different political parties worldwide hold their own claims on the truth, making trust more elusive. Confusing the issue, in an internet era replete with fake news, truth and trust alike have become valuable commodities. Hold onto them.

Finally, levels of trust are generally inversely correlated to crime statistics, so… be safe!

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Americas

The U.S. Election and its Aftermath

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The midterm elections are over, the result … a split-decision.  The Democrats will control the House, raising the possibility of an impeachment attempt.  The Senate remains under Republican control with their majority increased by one seat.  The president reminded us at a post-election press conference that while he could not help in the all too numerous House elections, he did campaign in some of the marginal Senate races with almost universal success.  The prospect of a second Trump term now looms large, especially as a Democrat star failed to emerge.

Among the winners for House seats were a record number of women, including New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who at 29 is the youngest woman Representative ever elected.  Also two Muslim women:  Ilhan Omar, a Somali from Minnesota, who will be the first hijab-wearing woman to sit in the House, and Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian, who does not cover her head.  It should help clarify for people that hijabs are cultural not religious and often a personal choice.  Ms. Tlaib a Detroit native has extended family on the West Bank, who were shown celebrating in some news reports.

For those who expect any serious change in social or foreign policy, a reminder.  Ten years ago, Barack Obama was elected and handed a House and Senate also under his party’s control.  Did we get a decent health care-for-all bill?  Were the banks reined in after causing a world economic crisis by peddling baskets of high-risk mortgage-backed securities and gambling on derivatives?  Did we have peace?  The answer to all the questions is in effect a negative.

The Glass-Steagall Act repealed by Bill Clinton that led to the disaster, was never reintroduced.  We got an anemic version.  It had kept us safe for over six decades from the greed of bankers by separating investment banking activities from commercial banking, and therefore preventing banks from gambling with our money.

Instead of peace, Mr. Obama called Afghanistan the good war and sent another 100,000 troops there causing more loss of life and more Afghan refugees.  That was not all.  He attacked Libya and destroyed the country including a complex water system bringing water from the south to Tripoli.

Libya is in chaos and has recently abandoned any pretext of national government by canceling the December election supposed to have been agreed upon by major factions in the country.  Once a magnet for migrant African labor, Libya’s major export has become refugees, its own and the Africans.  Europe is inundated as refugees stream in from all of America’s wars:  Libya, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and others.  It’s worth noting also that the Taliban now control most of the Afghan countryside.

What will the young and newly elected do in Congress?  Not much as it takes years to have the seniority to accumulate power.  In the meantime, there is the pressure of elections every two years for a House seat, donors and lobbyists chipping away at any idealism, while the relative impotence of a freshman in this new university of intricate rules and procedures becomes apparent.

There is only one way to survive …

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Despite Challenges, Venezuelan Migration into Colombia can Boost its Growth

MD Staff

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photo: World Bank

In recent years, almost 2.3 million people left Venezuela to live, mostly, in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and Chile. In the short term, migration places significant pressures on the provision of services, institutions, labor markets and the social dynamics of the receiving areas, affecting most the vulnerable populations in both the migrant and local communities. However, if the short-term challenges are managed well, migration can boost growth in the long run.

Historically, the firsts countries affected in any migration flow are the closest neighbors. In Venezuela’s case, it is Colombia. For decades, many Colombians moved to Venezuela fleeing the guerilla war. Now, things have turned around: About 45,000 people cross the border from Venezuela into Colombia daily, seeking to earn a living and access to goods and services that are difficult to find in Venezuela.

Colombia hosts the largest number of Venezuelan migrants (1.2 million), 24% of whom are nationals who are returning to their home country. In absolute terms, Bogotá is the city with the largest number of migrants. However, in relative terms, the border areas (Norte de Santander, Arauca and Guajira) are the most affected, with the migrants representing between 2.5% and 5% of the population. These regions have development lags, which limits their ability to absorb migrants.

These are some of the findings of the World Bank report Migration from Venezuela to Colombia: Short- and Medium-Term Impact and Response Strategy, carried out jointly with the Colombian Government with support from the United Nations Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

According to the report, only 40% of the migrant children are in school, and the migrant population is twice as likely to be unemployed than the local population. The cost of additional public services caused by migration including education, health, water and sanitation, early care, housing support, employment services and institutional strengthening lies between 0.23% and 0.41% of Colombia’s GDP.

However, the report shows that even though the perception of insecurity has increased in receiving areas, crime levels have not increased – and in fact in some cases, they have decreased.

Despite all these challenges, migration can create economic growth for Colombia in the medium and long term due to the increase in investment and consumption derived from it. For every half a million people of working age that migrated from Venezuela to Colombia, the economic growth of the receiving country could accelerate by 0.2 percentage points, according to the report.

Prioritizing the rapid incorporation of migrants and returnees into the job market, mitigating vulnerabilities that can become traps of poverty, and foster a dialogue on local, national and regional politics are key to a successful turnaround.

The Colombian government has responded quickly and proactively, taking a series of measures aimed at facilitating migrants’ self-sufficiency and mitigating impacts in the receiving areas. The government has also facilitated migrants’ access to basic health and education services, which will mitigate the costs of migration in the medium term. Finally, the government has adapted its legal and institutional framework quickly, which has greatly facilitated the country’s response capacity. However, despite Colombia’s enormous efforts, the extent of this migration still requires a greater commitment from the international community.

World Bank

Colombia has reacted proactively and has allocated important resources to serve both migrants and the population living in the receiving areas. However, the extent of this migration requires a greater commitment from the international community.

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