Hiatus

To those who are regular readers and newcomers alike: Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, whether it’s regularly or just once. Your interest and viewership is appreciated.

That said, for an indeterminate period of time, I will be hanging up my hat as a blogger. Between law school, trying to start a family, freelance writing, and my recent job at a law firm, I simply have too much going on to give this blog proper attention, especially with views remaining sparse and sporadic. Hopefully as things let up, I can get back to posting more regularly and substantively.

In the meantime, if you are so inclined, feel free to follow or add me on Facebook, where I still manage to get in some thoughts, news, and other topics of interest.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Be well.

The Murder Capitals of the World

The waves of migrants fleeing many Latin American countries is in no small part due to the horrifically high rate of homicide that collectively claims hundreds of thousands of lives annually.

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Source: The Wall Street Journal

With just 8% of the world’s population, Latin America accounts for roughly a third of global murders. It is also the only region where lethal violence has grown steadily since 2000, according to United Nations figures.

Nearly one in every four murders around the world takes place in just four countries: Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia. Last year, a record 63,808 people were murdered in Brazil. Mexico also set a record at 31,174, with murders so far this year up another 20%.

By comparison, the U.S.–which has one of the highest murder rates in the developed world–lost 17,250 citizens to homicide in 2016. The same year, the European Union, with 28 countries totaling 513 million people, had 5,351 homicides, while China, with over 1.5 billion inhabitants, had a little over 8,600 murders. Given the amount of shock, fear, and sensationalism such comparative rare murders can elicit, imagine the amount of terror and trauma experienced by people in Central and South America.

In recent years, growing numbers of families from Central America, including women and children, have fled to the U.S. because of horrific violence. Gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 18 enforce a reign of terror, dictating even where people can go to school or get medical care. El Salvador’s murder rate of 83 per 100,000 people in 2016—the world’s highest—was nearly 17 times that of the U.S.

A new study by Vanderbilt University shows that the strongest factor in predicting whether someone emigrates from Honduras and El Salvador isn’t age, gender or economic situation, but whether they had been victimized by crime multiple times in the past year. A World Bank study found that nearly a quarter of children in one Honduran municipality suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to violence.

To make matters worse, pervasive corruption has enabled much if this violence, if not colluded in it: law enforcement are known to be as abusive and exploitative as gang members, and often work in concert with organized crime; politicians or police officers who are not bought are cowed into fear, pushed out, or killed.

With little to no recourse for the violence they face, plus a lack of economic activity to boot, it is little wonder thousands are fleeing for their dear lives in droves.

Source: Wall Street Journal

America’s Role in the Migrant Crisis

As the Honduran migrant caravan makes its way through Mexico towards the United States–prompting widespread public acrimony and various threats by the administration–it is important to keep in mind the historical context fueling this seemingly sudden exodus. As Jericho explains: Continue reading

Climate Change is Reversing Progress in Malnutrition

About three decades ago, nearly one-fifth of the world was undernourished. By 2014–just a decade and a half later–that number halved, reflecting incredible progress in both food security and economic development.

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Unfortunately,  a recent U.N. report found an uptick in undernourishment, which rose from 750 million in 2013 to 821 million people in 2017, the level of 10 years ago. The main cause attributed to this sudden reversal was climate change, which has increased the frequency and intensity of natural disasters. Secondarily, major conflicts–namely in Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan–have led to a breakdown in food production and supply.

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The report also noted major geographical differences in the impact of climate change on hunger:

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Even more interesting for an international relations buff like myself are the geopolitical implications of this development:

The increase in undernourishment in Africa comes as China is challenging the international model of development aid by offering economic deals and loans for infrastructure projects rather than programs for capacity building increasingly favored by the West. While critics are accusing Beijing of exploiting resource-rich countries, supporters are pointing at promising growth numbers.

In Latin America — where slowing economic growth in countries such as Brazil and Venezuela has coincided with political unrest — China has challenged the more traditional Western aid system in a similar way.

But the more urgent task of preventing large-scale famines or disasters is still mostly being carried out by Western-led development aid organizations. Tuesday’s U.N. report suggests that their role will become even more crucial in the coming years.

Their vital role will also be more difficult in an increasingly fragmented world. But while humanity polarizes across nationalistically and ideological lines, the causes of both climate change and hunger remain too diffuse and transnational for any one country to resolve them. Greenhouse gas emissions affect the rest of the world no matter where they come from; lower crop yields in one country can lead to starvation in another. We must not lose sight of the global cooperation and innovation that helped us get this far in eliminating one of the greatest scourges of humanity.

Source: The Washington Post

The Nuremberg Laws

On this day in 1935, Nazi Germany passed two radically discriminatory laws—the “Reich Citizenship Law” and the “Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor”— better known as the Nuremberg Laws, after the German town where the Nazi Party held a special meeting promulgating them. Together these laws laid the legal groundwork for the persecution of Jewish people, Romanies (Gypsies), and other undesirables during the Holocaust and World War II.

These laws declared Jews—and in later amendments Romanies and Africans—as “enemies of the race-based state,” and forbade any marriage or intercourse with them. German women under the age of 45 were banned from working in Jewish households. Only those of German or Germanic blood were eligible to be citizens of the Reich—the remainder were classified as “state subjects” deprived of citizenship rights. Those violating the marriage laws were imprisoned, and after completing their sentence were rearrested and sent to concentration camps.

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1935 chart shows racial classifications under the Nuremberg Laws: German, Mischlinge, (mixed or “mongrel”) and Jew. Wikimmedia Commons.

The Nazis did not conceive of these laws on their own: they closely studied the United States, especially the “Jim Crow” laws of the American South, which they greatly admired for segregating racial undesirables from social, economic, and political life. They also borrowed the anti-miscegenation laws enacted in most U.S. states, which banned marriage and intercourse between whites and nonwhites (especially blacks). The Nazis were interested in how the U.S. designated Native Americans, Filipinos, and other groups as non-citizens despite living in the U.S. or its territories. These models influenced the citizenship portion of the Nuremberg Laws, which stripped German Jews of their citizenship and classified them as lesser “nationals” without certain rights.

As for determining how to distinguish between Jews and Aryans, the Nazis looked to America’s “one-drop” rule, which stipulated that anyone with any black ancestry was legally black and could not marry a white person. Similar laws also defined what made a person Asian or Native American, to prevent these groups from marrying whites. (Interestingly, Virginia had a “Pocahontas Exception” for prominent white families who claimed to be descended from Pocahontas.) In this area, the Nuremberg Laws ultimately ended up being less harsh—though of course no less bigoted—than the U.S. “one-drop rule,” decreeing that a Jewish person was anyone who had three or more Jewish grandparents.

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A Nazi poster from the 1930s assuring Germans they “do not stand alone” with respect to racist eugenics laws. Note the flags. Wikimmedia Commons

Needless to say, the results of the Nuremberg Laws were swift: non-Jews gradually stopped socializing with Jews or shopping in Jewish-owned stores, leading to widespread economic deprivation. Jews were locked out of many forms of employment, forcing them to take menial jobs. Jews wishing to leave were required to pay a 90 percent tax on all their wealth; but 1938, it was almost impossible for Jews to find a country willing to take them, damning them to eventual extermination shortly after.

Unsurprisingly, the Nazis were initially not wholly condemned by Americans before the war. American eugenicists of all political stripes welcomed Nazi ideas about racial purity and even republished their propaganda. Famed American aviator Charles Lindbergh was an admirer of Adolf Hitler and even received a swastika medal from him in 1938. Henry Ford’s The International Jew, a collection of pamphlets and booklets that described the insidious Jewish menace, was cited as an inspiration by Nazi leaders; in fact, Ford is the only American mentioned in Hitler’s Mein Kampf, where he writes, “Every year makes [American Jews] more and more the controlling masters of the producers in a nation of one hundred and twenty millions; only a single great man, Ford, to their fury still maintains full independence.” (Ford also subsequently received a medal from the Nazis.)

Of course, once the U.S. entered the war, it took a decidedly anti-Nazi stance. But African American troops noticed the similarities between the two countries, and subsequently devised a “Double V Campaign“: victory abroad against the Axis powers, and victory at home against Jim Crow.

Source: History.com

Pakistan’s Environmental Milestone

When it comes to environmental progress, Pakistan is far from anyone’s mind. Yet according to a recent report by the World Economic Forum, a Swiss nonprofit foundation, the country has planted over a billion trees, making its otherwise barren northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa resplendent with fresh saplings. Continue reading

Where Most Sporting Goods Are Made

The Pakistani city of Sialkot may not be a household name, but it is the source of the Adidas footballs that are being used in the World Cup (as they had been in the last one).

In fact, Pakistan’s twelfth-largest city — with less than 700,000 residents — is the world’s largest producer of footballs, manufacturing of 40-60 million footballs annually, about 60% of global production. Sialkot is also the world’s biggest maker of surgical tools. Even Germany’s iconic lenderhosen are best crafted by the leather-workers of the city. Unlike many other manufacturing hubs, most of this work is done by family-owned small and medium sized enterprises, often clustering together to pool their resources. Continue reading

Hero Highlights: Project Prakash

Of the world’s 1.3 million blind children, India is home to the world’s largest population, with estimates ranging from 200,000 to 700,000. As in many developing countries, a child born blind faces enormous social and economic hurdles: in addition to being stigmatized and marginalized in their communities, the vast majority of blind children are unable to get an education or a job. Many face physical and sexual abuses. At least half do not survive to adulthood.

In addition to regressive social attitudes, a lack of medical care access, and little to no disability-friendly institutions and infrastructure, the problem is made worse by the pervasive idea that, once a child reaches seven or eight years of age, their blindness is irreversible and untreatable. Yet the prevailing cause — congenital cataracts — is an otherwise easily treatable condition in the developed world. Imagine a lifetime of being disadvantaged and ostracized for something beyond your control and which could easily be addressed if there was the will and money. It is a disease of poverty.

Enter Project Prakash, founded in 2002 by Dr. Pawan Sinha, an Indian-born graduate of MIT. Named after the Sanskrit word for “Light”, he started the organization after a trip to rural India, where he witnessed the first hand the scale and severity of child blindness. After obtaining a grant from the U.S. National Eye Institute, he assembled team of about 20 clinicians, scientists, and outreach personnel to provide cataract surgery for as little as $300 per patient (though those too poor to pay get it for free). He tells the story in great detail Scientific American (sorry for the paywall.) Continue reading

Germany: The World’s Most Liked Country

According to the latest Nation Brands Index (NBI) published last December, Germany has the best “brand image” of 50 surveyed countries, unseating the previous titleholder, the United States. As reported in DW:

The Nation Brands Index (NBI) survey, carried out by German-based market research firm GfK and the British political consultant Simon Anholt, measured public opinion around the world on “the power and quality of each country’s ‘brand image.'”

Germany moved up to first place after coming in second in 2016. The US dropped from top to sixth, with France, Britain, Canada and Japan taking spots two to five.

The study calculated the final NBI score by researching how well people viewed a country across six categories: its people, governance, exports, tourism, investment and immigration, and culture and heritage.

The land of sausages, Merkel and “Made in Germany” was in the top five in all but one category. Only in “tourism” did Germany fall outside the top five, coming in 10th.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel welcomed the results, saying: “Germany’s image no longer rests on our economic strength. People think we’re capable of much in the world.”

Germany’s overall score improved partly because of better perceptions among Egyptians, Russians, Chinese and Italians. This suggests the country has widespread appeal for its various achievements in areas like governance, economic growth, and quality of life — all the things most governments would want to emulate.

Coming in behind Germany is France, which has also seen its star rise precipitously, climbing three places since last year. This is due mostly to better performance in “governance” and “investment / immigration”, which in turn reflects the high-profile effort of its new president to make the country more economically competitive and attractive. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, France remained No. 1 in culture.)

The United Kingdom remained steady at third place, dispelling fears that Brexit would cause a significant dint to its image. Its firm position reflects the continued potency of its culture, heritage, and diplomatic influence.

Canada and Japan both tied at fourth place, each performing well in governance, culture, and immigration / investment. (Notice a pattern here?) The U.S. dropped to sixth place, a respectable yet greatly diminished position. The reasons aren’t difficult to glean:

Foreigners’ views of the US worsened considerably compared to 2016, particularly in the category “governance,” where it slipped from spot 19 to spot 23.

The “Trump effect” explains the fall, according to Anholt.

“The loss of the US’s image in the governance category is indicative of the Trump effect, which was triggered by President Trump’s policies and his ‘America First’ message,” he said.

Americans themselves nevertheless viewed their country more positively than in 2016.

What are your thoughts about these results?

Canada, Finland, and Others Unveil Basic Income Experiments

Having been one of the first countries to test out a guaranteed basic income back in the 1970s, Canada is once again planning to experiment with this idea, via a proposed pilot program wherein low income participants will receive an average of $1,320 monthly without conditions.

The project, which is to be launched in Canada’s largest province, Ontario, in fall of 2017, is laid out in a paper authored by Hugh Segal, a former senator and now special adviser to the province. According to the official proposal, the program’s aim will be to answer the most common questions and concerns regarding a basic income, including:

  • Can basic income policies provide a more efficient, less intrusive, and less stigmatizing way of delivering income support for those now living in poverty?
  • Can those policies also encourage work, relieve financial and time poverty, and reduce economic marginalization?
  • Can a basic income reduce cost pressures in other areas of government spending, such as healthcare?
  • Can a basic income strengthen the incentive to work, by responsibly helping those who are working but still living below the poverty line?

Continue reading