Oyster Creek, Tex, Lawrenceville, Va and Murietta, Calif, are among the many localities that have strongly objected to having a shelter for the Central American children who need to be taken care of until their immigration status is clarified or they are deported. As past and future demonstrations remind us, possible locations in Connecticut, Iowa, North Carolina, New York along with several other states also have objected, some with extreme measures such as a demonstration complete with rifles. According to several reports including one by Sonia Nazario who has long studied the effects of illegal immigration on children, they are fleeing violence—usually from gangs—and most would be in harm’s way if they went back. I can’t help think that the more we take politics and ideology out of how we perceive this problem, the more we are able to see it as a humanitarian crisis, of minors trying to escape despair, poverty as well as violence. Maybe that’s why as I was reading about these shunned children, I remembered Holocaust survivors telling me about the instances of boats full of Jewish refugees who kept being denied access to port after port, until in at least one instance they went back to Germany where many of the passengers ended in concentration camps. I wasn’t surprised therefore when I read that Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts, had the same idea when while speaking to the Boston Herald he made a comparison linking the children and the Holocaust. Yet, when asked by the White House if he could help with a location in his state, he did not say yes, but said he would be thinking through a practical solution. I was told by those same survivors that the Jewish refugees’ plight and fate eventually played a role in the establishment of the state of Israel, for many in the United States understood but too late that something had to be done. If Deval Patrick and I are correct and there is a link with what happened to Jewish refugees, then we need to ask ourselves, are we making the same mistake again? Will some of the children have to go back to harm and be killed in order for us to grasp our human responsibility?
It’s easy to feel downhearted about Afghanistan. That’s why reading about some of the changes there since 2001 can place our feelings in better perspective. In 2001 no girls attended school and only a million boys did. In 2012 there were 7.8 million pupils including 2.9 million girls. To be fair some schools are tents or operate in the open and there aren’t enough teachers, yet a movement seems underway and 36% of girls are said to be enrolled, a feat given the resistance and the obstacles. The status of women has been ameliorated. More than a quarter of parliament and government employees are women including some in the police and the army. Although violence against women is still a big problem, British officers are helping to set up a military academy that will include the training of 100 female army officers per year. Other signs are that in a country of 31.3 million, in 2012 there were 18 million mobile phones and life expectancy has risen a little from 56 to 60 years old. To note also is an important improvement in access to safe drinking water, which has gone from 4.8% in 2001 to 60.6% in 2011. Sanitation too has improved, 37% now have access to some type of toilets. Despite the eradication of polio being a persistent problem, the number of cases is declining, 37 in 2012 to 14 in 2013. Although opium was still the country’s main export, there are still large undeveloped resources of minerals and natural gas. When added together, one can’t help the sense that as the movement towards education and women’s participation grows—underground in need be—there is hope.
California state officials are opening a 40-bed psychiatric hospital on death row at San Quentin. Judge Lawrence Karlton said they had to. He ordered a psychiatric evaluation of all 720 inmates on death row and 37 already qualified for admission to inpatient psychiatric care pointing to the fact that additional space will no doubt soon need to be found. Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring commented that the order “was a measure of American greatness and American silliness….We are curing them to make them executable.” Courts have ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute people who are not aware they’re being killed. The peculiar situation created by the order points to the fact that underlying issues go even deeper than the death penalty. Justin Helzer’s suicide which started this whole process was diagnosed as schizophrenic and delusional. He had helped his brother kill 5 people and throw their dismembered bodies into the Sacramento River. In 2010, while on death row he blinded himself with a pen and in 2013 hung himself in his cell with a bed sheet.
It may be that mental illness is a contributing factor—or a cause—behind the inmates’ crimes, and if not it may be that incarceration may be a contributing factor—or a cause—of their mental illness. The implication then would be that the death penalty, the criminal justice system and the mental health delivery system ought to be seriously reviewed to take in those realities. A 40-bed psychiatric hospital is but a way station
What happens to SB 1372 currently before the California legislature is not important. Its very existence is what’s relevant since it is based on the ratio of CEO to workers’ compensation and as such highlights a reality behind the inequality that we frequently talk about these days. In 1965 says a study by the Economic Policy Institute, CEOs made 20 times what their median employees made. By 2012 the ratio had risen to 273 to 1! Leaving aside corporate culture and its values, can this ratio be spiritually, morally or ethically defensible? Spiritually, ethically and morally all humans are equals, not to speak of legally. And while differences among people are obvious, necessary and unavoidable, it’s difficult to see how they can justify a ratio of 273 to 1. It could easily be argued that this gap is nefarious to the moral fabric, to economic and social mobility, to the general culture and of course to the making of a fairer, sounder society.
SB 1372 proposes to tax corporations with a CEO to worker ratio under a 100 lower and those above higher than the current rate. Its proponents hope for federal legislation along these lines. It’s doubtful it shall pass since the California Chamber of Commerce calls it a job killer, but given that the CEO of CVS Caremark Larry Merlo’s salary last year was $12.1 million or 422 times the median CVS salary of $28,700, it makes a needed point.