In Maduro’s Venezuela one out of every three is malnourished and hungry, among those who may be considered more middle class it’s one in five. In Northern Syria, there are over 900,000 people caught in the war there, and 13 million Syrians have already been displaced. The near one million refugees have no place to go, no one to turn to. It’s been so cold, several children have frozen to death. In Kashmir, the government continues its limited Internet access and other restrictions against the mainly Muslim state, not to speak of the recent riots in New Delhi which is causing many to flee because Muslims are no longer wanted in those areas. In China the Muslim Uighurs are being put in so called reeducation camps for the slightest action, such as growing a beard. In Yemen war rages, in Libya, anarchy continues, in several countries, refugees keep coming and find no refuge, no let up to their angst and difficulties, no escape from poverty, sometimes no way to survive. I could go on about the suffering of the world, and yes these are man-made problems, and because they are man-made they are even harder to resolve, because the human imperfections that caused them still exist. There may be very little we can do, but we can remember these lives, learn from their courage, their fortitude, be inspired by how they endure and handle their suffering, be humbled by their strength and bravery and most of all remember them because their problems dwarf ours no matter how serious ours may be.
Human Rights Watch has just compiled a report tracking what happens to refugees and asylum seekers who return to El Salvador. Its findings are a blow to one’s conscience. At least 200 El Salvadorans migrants or asylum seekers have been killed, raped or tortured after being deported. HRW traced 138 Salvadorans who were killed by gang members, police, soldiers, death squads and ex partners between 2013 and 2019. The 70 others were subject to beatings, sexual assault and extortion. Of course El Salvador is one of the most violent countries, and many have sought to leave. A measure of this is that from 2014 to 2018 the US deported 111,000 Salvadorans but only granted asylum to 18.2% of those who applied for it. It does not mean that those who were deported fared well. They just were not part of those HRW tracked. Obviously current policy had a big role to play in all this but too it brings to mind a larger issue. Although some means are in place, the world tends to not respond, or not adequately respond, to humanitarian crises. Politics, often under the guise of sovereignty, more often than not interferes. The tragedy in Northern Syria is but one example. The death of those Salvadorans, the fate of those deported, and the need for people to leave El Salvador to begin with reach deep into many aspects of the foreign and humanitarian aid communities. Regardless, we must find better ways, ways free of politics, to address those crises wherever they are. As a civilization, a world, a country, we must institute whatever is needed to help those in need survive, whatever it is we might want if we were in that position.
A newsletter I receive had a small notice about an article in Fortune magazine which really caught my attention as I hope it will yours. The article which headline included that “America is moving towards a tax increase for the middle class”, was making a case for VAT, and in doing so shared some valuable if scary statistics—because a value added tax it claimed would raise more money than any other means. According to the CBO, Congressional Budget Office, federal spending will jump from $4.45 billion in 2019 to $7,375 billion in 2029. Although revenues are projected to grow, expenses are projected to outgrow the revenues collected from taxes. This means that the federal deficit which was $984 billion last year will grow to $2.156 trillion in 2029. The US would be borrowing 25 cents for every dollar it spends. The federal debt would rise to $29.6 trillion or 104% of national income when last year it was 79%. The gap between revenues and expenditures would be so wide that taxing the rich alone would not suffice. In this article the author claims only a VAT might help, a tax which would begin at the manufacturing level, make prices rise and be hard on most wage earners. It’s a tax some in Washington may be led to consider but it need not be the only solution.
The CBO’s numbers are sobering, distressing and frightening, at a time when no presidential candidate is addressing the issues they speak to and when another round of tax cut is possible. Yet we need not be experts to realize this looming fiscal quagmire (the author’s words) needs to be at the very least acknowledged. Policy makers’ silence and ignorance need not be ours.
Since 1973 there have been 167 death row inmates who were exonerated, mainly through the efforts of the ACLU and the work of the Innocence Project. It begs the question of how many others there have been or exist who are innocent and not aggressively defended. The renewed interest is due to the case of Ledell Lee who was actually executed in Arkansas in 2017. Arkansas was about to run out of one of the drugs used to execute prisoners and executed 8 people in11 days, Ledell Lee being one. Now evidence exists and is mounting that he was innocent. In Texas, the case of Cameron Todd Willingham became famous after his 2004 execution and subsequent evidence that he had been innocent. Executing an innocent man has to be one of the ugliest truth about our criminal justice system and the fact there can no longer be certainty that a convicted man on death row is guilty puts our criminal justice system on trial. Those who were or are innocent were convicted in a court of law where investigators, police, attorneys, juries and judges all agreed they were guilty. And further someone like Ledell Lee was failed by appeals, pleas for clemency, or whatever means someone may have tried to help him. Since these institutions acted out in the name of the public, therefore indirectly in our name, shouldn’t we ask if we are complicit no matter how oblique or opaque that complicity may be? And if that’s so then we each must also ask ourselves, what are we going to do about it?