Posts Tagged ‘racism’

Bolsonaro, Marina Silva Tied in Brazil Amid Racism, Inciting Hatred Charges

April 16, 2018
  • Accusations against Bolsonaro based in part on 2017 speech
  • Datafolha poll shows lawmaker with 17% of vote intentions
Jair Bolsonaro

Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg

The first poll since Brazil’s former president was arrested showed environmentalist Marina Silva technically tied as a leading candidate in the next election with Jair Bolsonaro, who is facing accusations of racism and inciting hatred.

A Datafolha poll released by Folha de S.Paulo newspaper showed Bolsonaro with 17 percent of vote intentions and Silva with 15 to 16 percent. The polling scenario didn’t include former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose chances of returning to power have likely ended after he was jailed on a conviction for corruption and money laundering.

Lula was a front-runner for October’s presidential race before his arrest a week ago, and the three scenarios in the Datafolha poll with him as a candidate showed the 72-year-old still getting 30 to 31 percent of vote intentions. Bolsonaro was next with 15 to 16 percent, followed by Silva with 10 percent. Members of Lula’s Workers’ Party reaffirmed that he remains a candidate after the poll was released, Folha de S. Paulo reported Sunday.

Bolsonaro, a lawmaker and former Brazilian army captain, was on Friday charged by General Prosecutor Raquel Dodge for, among other incidents, remarks during a speech in Rio de Janeiro in April 2017. The charges, made to the Supreme Court, accused the 63-year-old of prejudice against Brazil’s indigenous population, women, refugees and LGBT people.

Congressman Jair Bolsonaro has made incendiary remarks about blacks, gays, women and indigenous communities. Credit Rodolfo Buhrer/Reuters

‘Sensationalist’ News

Bolsonaro’s adviser and lawyer, Gustavo Bebianno, said in a video shared in message groups that the candidate isn’t a racist, and that this will be “easily proved” in any legal proceeding.

Bolsonaro’s press office said in an emailed statement that the charges were “groundless” and aimed to produce “sensationalist” news — adding that, as a lawmaker, the candidate has the right and duty to discuss controversial topics.

The prosecutor’s office statement quoted Bolsonaro saying in the 2017 speech that he had four male children but that his fifth, a female, was the result of a “moment of weakness.” According to Dodge, his remarks violate constitutional rights of the victims and the rights of the whole society.

If convicted, Bolsonaro could face up to three years in prison and a fine of as much as $117,000.

See also:

Right-Wing Presidential Contender in Brazil Is Charged With Inciting Hatred



Martin Luther King: ‘We Can’t Keep On Blaming the White Man’

April 4, 2018

Fifty years after his death, many pay lip service to his ideals, but far too few are following his example.

Rev. Jesse Jackson visits the balcony outside room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, where he was when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, on April 3, 2018 in Memphis, Tenn.
Rev. Jesse Jackson visits the balcony outside room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, where he was when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, on April 3, 2018 in Memphis, Tenn. PHOTO: JOE RAEDLE/GETTY IMAGES

After Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead 50 years ago as he stood on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tenn., riots broke out in more than 100 cities. There were also reports of violence on college campuses and even on military bases overseas, where some black soldiers refused to report for duty.

Federal troops were sent to Baltimore. In Chicago, Mayor Richard J. Daley ordered police to “shoot to kill” arsonists and “shoot to maim” looters. In Washington, so many fires were set that you couldn’t see the U.S. Capitol because of all the smoke. Gen. William Westmoreland, who commanded the U.S. forces in Vietnam and happened to be in Washington at the time, said the unrest had left the nation’s capital looking “worse than Saigon did at the height of the Tet offensive.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson responded by convening a meeting of the nation’s most prominent black activists, and the invite list is instructive. It included A. Philip Randolph, who led the fight to desegregate the military; Whitney Young, head of the National Urban League; Roy Wilkins, leader of the NAACP; and Bayard Rustin, a top adviser to King who had helped organize the seminal 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., and the 1963 March on Washington.

It almost goes without saying that the leading civil-rights organizations today can no longer count people of that caliber in their ranks. Which may be the clearest indication yet that the movement is over and that the right side prevailed. If black Americans were still faced with legitimate threats to civil rights—such as legal discrimination or voter disenfranchisement—we would see true successors to the King-era luminaries step forward, not the pretenders in place today who have turned a movement into an industry, if not a racket.

Racial gaps that were steadily narrowing in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s would expand in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, which suggests that the disparities that continue today aren’t being driven by racism, notwithstanding claims to the contrary from liberals and their allies in the media. It also suggests that attitudes toward marriage, education, work and the rule of law play a much larger role than the left wants to acknowledge. More marches won’t address out-of-wedlock childbearing. More sit-ins won’t lower black crime rates or narrow the school achievement gap.

Even electing and appointing more black officials, which has been a major priority for civil-rights leaders over the past half-century, can’t compensate for these cultural deficiencies. Black mayors, police chiefs and school superintendents have been commonplace since the 1970s, including in major cities with large black populations. Racially gerrymandered voting districts have ensured the election of blacks to Congress. Even the election of a black president—twice—failed to close the divide in many key measures. Black-white differences in poverty, homeownership and incomes all grew wider under President Obama.

Discussion of antisocial behavior in poor black communities, let alone the possibility that it plays a significant role in racial inequality, has become another casualty of the post-’60s era. King and other black leaders at the time spoke openly about the need for more-responsible behavior in poor black communities. After remarking on disproportionately high inner-city crime rates, King told a black congregation in St. Louis that “we’ve got to do something about our moral standards.” He added: “We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world too. We can’t keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves.”

King’s successors mostly ignore this advice, preferring instead to keep the onus on whites. Where King tried to instill in young people the importance of personal responsibility and self-determination notwithstanding racial barriers, his counterparts today spend more time making excuses for counterproductive behavior and dismissing criticism of it as racist. Activists who long ago abandoned King’s colorblind standard, which was the basis for the landmark civil-rights laws enacted in the 1960s, tell black youths today that they are victims, first and foremost.

A generation of blacks who have more opportunity that any previous generation are being taught that America offers them little more than trigger-happy cops, bigoted teachers and biased employers. It’s not only incorrect, but as King and a previous generation of black leaders understood, it’s also unhelpful.

Black activists and liberal politicians stress racism because it serves their own interests, not because it serves the interests of the black underclass. But neglecting or playing down the role that blacks must play in addressing racial disparities can only exacerbate them. Fifty years after King’s death, plenty of people are paying him lip service. Far too few are following his example.


50 Years of Blaming Everything on Racism

March 11, 2018

The 1968 Kerner report on urban riots absolved blacks of responsibility and ignored real progress.

Former Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner holds a copy of the Commission on Civil Disorders report in 1968.
Former Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner holds a copy of the Commission on Civil Disorders report in 1968. PHOTO: BETTMANN ARCHIVE

After the deadly riots of the 1960s in Los Angeles and Detroit, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a commission—which is what politicians do when they don’t really know what to do or need to stall for time. The result was the Kerner report, issued 50 years ago last month.

The report blamed black urban unrest on white racism, segregation and official neglect, all of which continue to get cited to explain the racial inequality that persists today. “What white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto,” the introduction read. “White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.” The riots were attributed to “the failure of all levels of government—Federal and state, as well as local—to come to grips with the problems of our cities.”

The Kerner report’s most famous assertion was that the U.S. was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal,” even though the decades leading up to the riots had suggested the opposite. The Truman administration’s desegregation of the armed forces in the 1940s was followed by Martin Luther King Jr. ’s successful civil-rights movement of the 1950s and the passage of landmark civil-rights and voting-rights legislation in the 1960s. The educational and economic strides blacks made during this period were also unprecedented, and racial disparities were narrowing.

In 1960, just 7% of blacks between 20 and 24 were enrolled in college; by 1970, that percentage had more than doubled, to 16%. College enrollment among whites also rose during this period, but not by as much. These educational gains allowed more blacks to lift themselves out of poverty and access better-paying jobs. Between 1940 and 1970, the proportion of families living below the poverty line fell by 40 percentage points among whites and by 57 points among blacks. White-black gaps in homeownership, life expectancy and white-collar employment also were shrinking in the postwar era, contrary to the pessimism of the Kerner Commission.

Moreover, white racial attitudes were shifting. In 1942, national support for school integration stood at 30%; two decades later it would be 62%. By 1963, racial discrimination in public accommodations was already illegal in 30 states, and more than 80% of whites were opposed to restricting job opportunities by race.

None of this suggests that 50 years ago racial discrimination in housing and employment, or bigotry in the criminal justice system, was a figment of blacks’ imagination. And while there was measurable social and economic improvement in the postwar period, racial gaps persisted, as they still do today. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to square this racial progress with the Kerner report’s description of the riots as an “explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II.”

The reality is that the worst rioting of the 1960s was concentrated in the North and West rather than in the Deep South, where racial oppression was most severe and racial attitudes were slowest to change. The year before the 1965 riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles, a leading civil-rights organization had ranked living standards in L.A. as best in the nation for black families. When Detroit rioted two years later, the black unemployment rate in the city was lower than the white unemployment rate nationwide; black Detroiters had the highest homeownership rate in the nation; and the black poverty rate in Motown was just half the national average among blacks. The Kerner report’s attempts to blame everybody for the rioting except the rioters strain credulity.

The commission was also overly pessimistic in many ways about the direction the country was heading. In his new book, “Enlightenment Now,” Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker shows that steady progress in social attitudes continues today, whether the measure is interracial dating, racist jokes or antiblack crimes. “No form of progress is inevitable, but the historical erosion of racism, sexism and homophobia are more than a change in fashion,” he writes. “Racial segregation, male-only suffrage and the criminalization of homosexuality are literally indefensible: people tried to defend them in their times, and they lost the argument.”

We can’t hope to address effectively the social pathology on display in so many black ghettos by playing down the role of culture and personal responsibility so as to keep the focus on white racism. What blacks were doing on their own to develop human capital and to narrow racial gaps in the first half of the 20th century has a far better record of success than any government program. This history is seldom discussed among politicians in search of votes or activists in search of relevance, but it ought to be part of any serious national debate about racial inequality today.

Appeared in the March 7, 2018, print edition.

The Free-Speech University

February 18, 2018

Steve Bannon is giving a talk at Chicago. Its president is confident he won’t be shouted down.

The Free-Speech University


Snow carpets the ground at the University of Chicago, and footfalls everywhere are soft, giving the place a hushed serenity. Serene, too, is Robert Zimmer, the university’s 70-year-old president, as he talks about a speaking invitation that could turn his campus turbulent.

Steve Bannon is scheduled to talk at the school early next month—there’s no confirmed date—and Mr. Zimmer is taking criticism for the imminent appearance of Donald Trump’s former right-hand man, a paladin of alt-robust conservatives. Mr. Bannon is precisely the sort of figure who is anathema on American campuses, yet Mr. Zimmer is unfazed by the prospect of his visit, confident that it will pass with no great fuss.

“It’s been quite interesting to watch this because, as you can imagine, there are many people who are opposed to Steve Bannon and wish that he hadn’t been invited,” Mr. Zimmer says. Nonetheless, “the students have been remarkable. The student government had a ‘town hall’ with the faculty member who invited Bannon.” The students ran the event, “and they were very clear that there was to be no disruption, that they wanted to have a conversation.”

But at American universities, it isn’t just the students you need to worry about. More than 100 Chicago professors have signed an open letter to Mr. Zimmer objecting to Mr. Bannon’s invitation: “The university should model inclusion for a country that is reeling from the consequences of racism, xenophobia, and hate.” They propose to “model inclusion” by excluding viewpoints they find objectionable: “We believe that Bannon should not be afforded the platform and opportunity to air his hate speech on this campus.”

Mr. Zimmer says most Chicago faculty support free speech, and the letter’s signers are exceptions. “What we see among our faculty is that only a few of those who dislike what they view Bannon as representing have asked that he be disinvited.” Most of their colleagues have instead “talked about counterprogramming, and have talked about protests—nondisruptive protests—which, of course, is totally fine.” He sums up their strategy: “It’s ‘How are we going to effectively argue with this guy?’, not ‘How are we going to prevent him from coming to campus?’ ”

Mr. Bannon was invited to the university by Luigi Zingales, a finance professor. Would Mr. Zimmer ever contemplate having a quiet word with the prof and asking him to withdraw his invitation to Mr. Bannon? “I wouldn’t even think of it,” Mr. Zimmer answers, in a mildly but unmistakably indignant tone. And no, he won’t be attending the Bannon event. “We have many, many talks,” he says. “I’m really pretty busy.”

Mr. Zingales’s attitude is consistent with the norm Mr. Zimmer seeks to uphold. When I asked the professor by email why he extended the invitation, he replied that Mr. Bannon “was able to interpret a broad dissatisfaction in the electorate that most academics had missed. Remember the shock on November 9, 2016? Regardless of what you think about his political positions, there is something faculty and students can learn from a discussion with him.” Mr. Zingales, too, welcomed peaceable protests as a healthy exercise of free speech. “I admire the way our students have conducted their protests,” he wrote. “It speaks very well to the values that our university shares.”

The University of Chicago has long enjoyed a reputation for tough, even remorseless, intellectual inquiry. Its world-famous economics faculty, for instance, is not a place where faint-hearted academics go to road-test their research. In recent years, as colleges across America have censored unfashionable views, Chicago has also come to be known for setting the gold standard for free expression on campus. Mr. Zimmer, who became president in 2006, deserves much credit. He has been outspoken in defense of free speech and in 2014 even set up a committee—under the constitutional law scholar Geoffrey Stone —that produced the Chicago Principles, the clearest statement by any American university in defense of uninhibited debate.

Mr. Zimmer, a mathematician, says Chicago’s intellectual and moral strengths are “totally tied together.” He’s also quick to point out that its commitment to free debate precedes him, naming virtually every one of his predecessors as a guardian of openness. Mr. Zimmer created the Stone committee, he says, after watching free-speech struggles at other schools: “People were starting to be disinvited from campuses—speakers of some stature, in fact. You started to see this pattern.”

A nadir came in 2013. That year the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) counted 34 “disinvitation attempts”—a record. The University of Pennsylvania canceled a keynote from the future prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, for fear of “potential polarizing reactions.” At Brown, New York’s then police commissioner, Ray Kelly, was shouted down by students holding signs like “Ray(cist) Kelly.” FIRE reports that the 2013 record was exceeded three years later, when the group counted 42 incidents.

Mr. Zimmer attributes this campus intolerance to “the national mood,” as well as a change in “the ambient environment” in which universities exist. He describes a sort of national attention-deficit disorder: “How much is the national environment amenable to long-term thinking and investment, versus just responding to particular issues, particular needs?” The importance of education and research, he says, “has certainly come under question” in recent years, in part because “the entire tone of the country has shifted toward people being more focused on the immediate and the short-term.”

Mr. Zimmer shames this age of ours by pointing to the Morrill Act of 1862, one of his favorite examples of investing in the long term: “In the middle of the greatest single crisis in the history of the country—the Civil War—the Congress passed, and President Lincoln signed, this act which essentially established the land-grant university system.” The foresight was there then, he says. It isn’t now.

Two examples: budget cuts that are starving state universities of the money they need to grow, and “the nature of our immigration policies.” Mr. Zimmer takes a particular interest in the latter: “Even just in the last two decades, if you look at Nobel Prizes awarded to Americans in the sciences, something like 40% are immigrants. And this doesn’t include those whose parents may have migrated to the United States.” Mr. Zimmer laments that Americans no longer seem to recognize fully “the unbelievable power that being attractive to the most talented people in the world has brought to the capacity of this country.” Trying to imagine the scientific and technological output of the U.S. over the past century without immigration, he says, is “simply inconceivable.”

But America, Mr. Zimmer believes, is “getting less attractive than other places,” so much so that it is in peril of “discarding this huge comparative advantage.” The problem, he says, precedes Donald Trump’s presidency: “It’s been exacerbated, but it’s not a new problem. Trump has obviously taken a position more pronounced than others, but it’s been a problem for some time.” Specifically, foreign students who come to the U.S. and earn doctorates face a lot of obstacles “to be able to work here, to have a spouse who can work here.” Ultimately, he says, people are going to look for other places to go—to America’s detriment.

Although conflict on campuses “is not a new thing,” Mr. Zimmer does think that “right now, we’re in a particular period of moral fervor,” with people believing that there’s “a sense of urgency about the rightness of what they’re doing.” Mr. Zimmer was an undergraduate in the 1960s, so he’s no stranger to political ferment. The activists then, however, were motivated by two issues, civil rights and the Vietnam War: “There was a huge amount of focus on what the laws were, and what rights people had under them. And the Vietnam War was very much a matter of government policy.”

The 1960s protests “may have had cultural roots,” Mr. Zimmer says, “but there was a lot of focus on what actions the government should be taking.” Today’s campus indignation is “a bit more broad-based. Yes, what should the government be doing—but it’s also focused on corporations and NGOs, and what communities and universities should be doing.”

One could argue, perhaps paradoxically, that today’s campus activists are much more atomized as well. Identity groups push for their own particular agendas, often in absolutist terms: It matters to me more than anything else in the world that you call me “they,” not “she.” That’s not exactly a broad-based concern.

When I put this argument to Mr. Zimmer, he gently deflects: “Again, I’d go to the point that the main issue is—whether everybody is focused on one thing, or whether there are multiple groups focused on multiple things—that you get the same . . . kind of fervor, which says certain ideas should not be discussed and thought about. And that’s what the problem is.”

Mr. Zimmer has his eye on the future of free speech in another, innovative way. As president of a university, he sees himself as a stakeholder in America’s high schools. “High schools prepare students to take more advanced mathematics, and they prepare them to write history papers, and so on,” he says. But “how are high schools doing in preparing students to be students in a college of open discourse and free argumentation? I’ve started thinking about this.”

The free-speech president, as some of his colleagues call him, is going on a free-speech roadshow. Mr. Zimmer invited six high-school principals—including from his alma mater, Lower Manhattan’s Stuyvesant High—to dinner in New York City to talk about this question last month. He plans two similar dinners in Chicago, followed by more in other cities. The initiative is still embryonic, and although Mr. Zimmer insists he’s “not going to pretend to tell high schools how to prepare people,” he does consider it “an important question for high schools to confront.”

Mr. Zimmer says, optimistically, that even universities that “may not have been talking about issues of free expression two years ago” are at least “trying to confront them, at least recognizing that maybe there’s a problem.” In the same vein, it would be very healthy, he thinks, for high-school teachers “to actually be thinking about this in a kind of systematic way.” He’s observed that “a lot of students are not prepared for this environment.” Some of that is inevitable, Mr. Zimmer believes, because “free expression doesn’t come naturally for most people. It’s not an instinctive response.” Young people need “to be taught it”—and it’s better if universities don’t have to start from scratch.

Mr. Varadarajan is a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

Appeared in the February 17, 2018, print edition.

China urges shoppers to turn their backs on foreign goods after Heathrow duty free row

February 15, 2018

A plane taking off at Heathrow Airport,

A plane taking off at Heathrow Airport, CREDIT: PA


Claims that a store at Heathrow Airport “ripped off” Chinese shoppers have prompted calls in China for the country’s cash-rich consumers to rein in their overseas spending.

The People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, suggested in an angry commentary posted on its website that Chinese tourists should turn their backs on foreign goods.

It came after an employee at retailer World Duty Free, which is located at Heathrow, alleged that the store was offering 20 percent discounts on the next visit for consumers who spent £79 or more – but people travelling to China had to spend £1,000.

The claims went viral, forcing the airport and retailer to apologise.

But Chinese web-users were up in arms and state-run newspaper, the Global Times, vented fury at what it claimed was “cultural discrimination” and “ripping off” Chinese consumers.

The People’s Daily joined in with the chorus of disapproval in an article titled: “Heathrow airport has apologised, but the questioning won’t stop”.

“Victims should bravely use the law as a weapon to defend their rights against businesses which are dishonest and do not respect regulations and the rule of law,” the commentary said.

“As this shop treats customers differently, should we vote with our feet and stop buying foreign goods?”

A Duty Free shop is seen in Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport in London
A Duty Free shop is seen in Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport in London CREDIT: REUTERS

Such comments would likely cause alarm among British retailers.

Chinese spending in the UK increased to £231 million during the first six months of last year, up 54 percent from the previous year, according to national tourism agency VisitBritain.

About 115,000 Chinese tourists visited the UK during that period, an increase of 47 percent on the same period in the previous year.

Chinese experts were also suggesting that consumers should alter their spending habits when they are abroad.

Cui Hongjian, the director of the Department of European Studies at he China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times that the incident proved “racism festers deeply in the psyche of some British people and should be condemned”.

“Chinese tourists should adjust their irrational consumption idea of spending extravagantly when buying products abroad,” he said, in comments which were reported indirectly.

A Heathrow spokeswoman had previously told The Telegraph that it found the offer “unacceptable” and would ensure that “it does not happen again”.

Additional reporting by Christine Wei

Anti-fascist protesters rally against racism in Italy

February 11, 2018

Protesters have gathered to denounce racism after an Italian man opened fire on African migrants in Macerata. Immigration has become one of the most important political issues in the run-up to parliamentary elections.

Protesters rally against racism

Thousands of anti-fascist protesters on Saturday took to the streets to rally against racism in the eastern city of Macerata, where an Italian man earlier this month opened fire on African migrants, injuring six people.

Up to 30,000 demonstrators marched through the streets of Macerata carrying placards and shouting slogans against rising right-wing extremism. Protesters also gathered in Milan and other cities across Italy.

“We are here because we want to be a dam against this mountain of hate which is spreading continuously, a social hate against migrants and, in general, against the poor,” Francesco Piobbicchi, a protester, told Reuters news agency.

Read more: German-speaking Italy and the legacy of fascism

Tensions reached a fever-pitch on February 3, when Luca Traini, a 28-year-old who ran as a candidate for the far-right Northern League at local elections, went on a two-hour shooting spree targeting African migrants in Macerata.

Traini reportedly told police he was out to avenge the death of Pamela Mastropietro, an 18-year-old Italian woman who was found dead by police. Authorities arrested a suspected drug dealer with Nigerian origins for the murder of Mastropietro.

Police clash with Forza Nuova protestersEarlier this week, police clashed with New Force supporters in Macerata after the far-right supporters gave them a fascist salute during an unauthorized protest

‘Hate, terror and division’

Protesters also decried political parties’ attempts to use migration as a scapegoat for other issues in the run-up to parliamentary elections slated for March 4.

“If there’s unemployment, blame the government, not the migrants,” protesters chanted during the rally. “The political parties are using populism to create hate, terror and division,” said Valentina Guiliodora, who joined the demonstration.

Read more: Italy’s extreme right-wing on the rise

Italy has witnessed a resurgence of far-right activity, including growing support for neo-fascist party New Force (Forza Nuova), in tandem with a wave of migrants reaching Italian shores from North Africa over the past four years.

The Northern League party, which forms part of a right-of-center alliance expected to perform well during the elections, has campaigned on an anti-migrant platform. The far-right party’s leader Matteo Salvini said he was “ashamed as an Italian” for the anti-fascist march in Macerata.

The Enlightenment Is Working

February 10, 2018

Don’t listen to the gloom-sayers. The world has improved by every measure of human flourishing over the past two centuries, and the progress continues, writes Steven Pinker.

The Enlightenment 

	Is Working

For all their disagreements, the left and the right concur on one thing: The world is getting worse. Whether the decline is visible in inequality, racism and pollution, or in terrorism, crime and moral decay, both sides see profound failings in modernity and a deepening crisis in the West. They look back to various golden ages when America was great, blue-collar workers thrived in unionized jobs, and people found meaning in religion, family, community and nature.

Such gloominess is decidedly un-American. The U.S. was founded on the Enlightenment ideal that human ingenuity and benevolence could be channeled by institutions and result in progress. This concept may feel naive as we confront our biggest predicaments, but we can only understand where we are if we know how far we’ve come.

You can always fool yourself into seeing a decline if you compare rose-tinted images of the past with bleeding headlines of the present. What do the trajectories of the nation and world look like when we measure human well-being over time with a constant yardstick? Let’s look at the numbers (most of which can be found on websites such as OurWorldinDataHumanProgress and Gapminder).

Consider the U.S. just three decades ago. Our annual homicide rate was 8.5 per 100,000. Eleven percent of us fell below the poverty line (as measured by consumption). And we spewed 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide and 34.5 million tons of particulate matter into the atmosphere.

Fast forward to the most recent numbers available today. The homicide rate is 5.3 (a blip up from 4.4 in 2014). Three percent of us fall below the consumption poverty line. And we emit four million tons of sulfur dioxide and 20.6 million tons of particulates, despite generating more wealth and driving more miles.

In Bangladesh, students meet in a floating classroom built to reach isolated areas during monsoon season.
In Bangladesh, students meet in a floating classroom built to reach isolated areas during monsoon season. PHOTO:JONAS GRATZER/LIGHTROCKET/GETTY IMAGES

Greater LiteracyThe proportion of people who can read andwrite has nearly swapped places with theproportion who could not 200 years ago.Percentage of literate world populationSource: Calculated based on figures

Globally, the 30-year scorecard also favors the present. In 1988, 23 wars raged, killing people at a rate of 3.4 per 100,000; today it’s 12 wars killing 1.2 per 100,000. The number of nuclear weapons has fallen from 60,780 to 10,325. In 1988, the world had just 45 democracies, embracing two billion people; today it has 103, embracing 4.1 billion. That year saw 46 oil spills; 2016, just five. And 37% of the population lived in extreme poverty, barely able to feed themselves, compared with 9.6% today. True, 2016 was a bad year for terrorism in Western Europe, with 238 deaths. But 1988 was even worse, with 440.

The headway made around the turn of the millennium is not a fluke. It’s a continuation of a process set in motion by the Enlightenment in the late 18th century that has brought improvements in every measure of human flourishing.

Start with the most precious resource, life. Through most of human history, continuing into the 19th century, a newborn was expected to live around 30 years. In the two centuries since, life expectancy across the world has risen to 71, and in the developed world to 81.

When the Enlightenment began, a third of the children born in the richest parts of the world died before their fifth birthday; today, that fate befalls 6% of the children in the poorest parts. In those countries, infectious diseases are in steady decline, and many will soon follow smallpox into extinction.

The poor may not always be with us. The world is about a hundred times wealthier today than it was two centuries ago, and the prosperity is becoming more evenly distributed across countries and people. Within the lifetimes of most readers, the rate of extreme poverty could approach zero. Catastrophic famine, never far away in the past, has vanished from all but the most remote and war-ravaged regions, and undernourishment is in steady decline.

Our ancestors replaced dogma, tradition and authority with reason, debate and institutions of truth-seeking.

Within developed countries, inequality is rising, but real poverty is not. A century ago, the richest countries devoted 1% of their wealth to children, the poor, the sick and the aged; today they spend almost a quarter of it. Most of their poor today are fed, clothed and sheltered and have luxuries like smartphones and air conditioning that used to be unavailable to anyone, rich or poor. Poverty among racial minorities has fallen, and poverty among the elderly has plunged.

The world is giving peace a chance. During most of the history of nations and empires, war was the natural state of affairs, and peace a mere interlude between wars. Today war between countries is obsolescent, and war within countries is absent from five-sixths of the world. The proportion of people killed annually in wars is about a quarter of what it was in the mid-1980s, a sixth of what it was in the early 1970s, and a 16th of what it was in the early 1950s.

In most times and places, homicides kill far more people than wars. But homicide rates have been falling as well and not just in the U.S. People in the rest of the world are now seven-tenths as likely to be murdered as they were two dozen years ago. Deaths from terrorism, terrifying as they may be, amount to a rounding error.

Life has been getting safer in every other way. Over the past century, Americans have become 96% less likely to be killed in an auto accident, 88% less likely to be mowed down on the sidewalk, 99% less likely to die in a plane crash, 59% less likely to fall to their deaths, 92% less likely to die by fire, 90% less likely to drown, 92% less likely to be asphyxiated, and 95% less likely to be killed on the job. Life in other rich countries is even safer, and life in poorer countries will get safer as they get richer.

A farmer works with rice sprouts on a farm in Nigeria.
A farmer works with rice sprouts on a farm in Nigeria. PHOTO: AFOLABI SOTUNDE/REUTERS

More Wealth, Less PovertyIn the long term, prosperity has become moreevenly distributed across countries andpeople.Percentage of world population livingoutside extreme povertySource: Calculated based on figures fromourworldindata.orgNote: The definition of extreme poverty wasmeasured by the number of people living on less than$1 a day until 2002 when the benchmark was raisedto $1.90

Despite backsliding in countries like Russia, Turkey and Venezuela, the long-term trend in governance is toward democracy and human rights. Two centuries ago a handful of countries, embracing 1% of the world’s people, were democratic; today, more than half of the world’s countries, embracing 55% of its people, are.

Not long ago half the world’s countries had laws that discriminated against racial minorities; today more countries have policies that favor their minorities than policies that discriminate against them. At the turn of the 20th century, women could vote in just one country; today they can vote in every country where men can vote save one (Vatican City). Laws that criminalize homosexuality continue to be stricken down, and attitudes toward minorities, women and gay people are becoming steadily more tolerant, particularly among the young, a portent of the world’s future. Violence against women, children and minorities is in long-term decline, as is the exploitation of children for their labor.

As people are getting healthier, richer, safer and freer, they are also becoming more knowledgeable and smarter. Two centuries ago, 12% of the world could read and write; today 85% can. Literacy and education will soon be universal, for girls as well as for boys. The schooling, together with health and wealth, is literally making us smarter—by 30 IQ points, or two standard deviations above our ancestors.

People are putting their longer, healthier, safer, freer, richer and wiser lives to good use. Americans work 22 fewer hours a week than they did in the late 19th century and lose 43 fewer hours to housework. They have more opportunities to use their leisure to travel, spend time with children, connect with loved ones and sample the world’s cuisine, knowledge and culture.

Thanks to these gifts, people in a majority of countries have become happier. Even Americans, who take their good fortune for granted and have stagnated in happiness, call themselves “pretty happy” or happier. And despite the panic about “kids today” (heard in every era), younger generations are less unhappy, lonely, drug-addicted and suicidal than their Boomer parents.

As societies become wealthier and better educated, they raise their sights to the entire planet. Since the dawn of the environmental movement in the 1970s, the world has emitted fewer pollutants, cleared fewer forests, spilled less oil, set aside more preserves, extinguished fewer species, saved the ozone layer and may have peaked in its consumption of oil, farmland, timber, cars and perhaps even coal.

* * *

To what do we owe this progress? Does the universe contain a historical dialectic or arc bending toward justice? The answer is less mysterious: The Enlightenment is working. Our ancestors replaced dogma, tradition and authority with reason, debate and institutions of truth-seeking. They replaced superstition and magic with science. And they shifted their values from the glory of the tribe, nation, race, class or faith toward universal human flourishing.

Three generations hike near Geneva, Switzerland.
Three generations hike near Geneva, Switzerland. PHOTO: ALAMY
These developments have been gradual and uneven, with many backtracks and zigzags. But the happy developments of the last two centuries are the cumulative gifts of the brainchildren they spawned.

● Disease was decimated by vaccines, sanitation, antibiotics and other advances in medicine and public health, driven by the germ theory of disease and our understanding of evolution, physiology and genetics.

● Famine was stanched by crop rotation, synthetic fertilizer, the replacement of muscle by machinery and the selective breeding of vigorous hybrids.

● Poverty was slashed by education, markets, global trade and cheaper food and clothing, together with social programs that support the young, old, sick and unlucky.

● Violent crime was tamed by a replacement of the code of vendetta by the rule of law, by fairer judicial systems and, most recently, by data-driven policing.

● Everyday hazards were blunted by safety regulations and engineering, driven by an increasing valuation of human life. A similar combination of regulation and technology is ramping down pollution.

● Oppression and discrimination may persist in some places by brute force, but they start to corrode when educated, mobile and connected people exchange ideas and are forced to justify their practices.

● War is being marginalized by the spread of democracy (which inhibits leaders from turning their youth into cannon fodder), global commerce (which makes trade more profitable than plunder), peacekeeping forces (which separate belligerents and extinguish flare-ups) and competent governments (which outcompete insurgents for the allegiance of their citizens). Also driving war down are norms against conquest, enforced by the international community with shaming, sanctions and occasionally armed intervention.

* * *

The evidence for progress raises many questions.

Isn’t it good to be pessimistic, many activists ask—to rake the muck, afflict the comfortable, speak truth to power? The answer is no: It’s good to be accurate. We must be aware of suffering and injustice where they occur, but we must also be aware of how they can be reduced. Indiscriminate pessimism can lead to fatalism: to wondering why we should throw time and money at a hopeless cause. And it can lead to radicalism: to calls to smash the machine, drain the swamp or empower a charismatic tyrant.

A Tunisian man shows he voted in the country’s first presidential elections in 2014.
A Tunisian man shows he voted in the country’s first presidential elections in 2014. PHOTO: TASNIM NASRI/ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES

Only one in a hundred people lived undersome form of democracy two centuries ago;now, most do.Percentage of world population living in ademocracySource: Calculated based on figures

Is progress inevitable? Of course not! Solutions create new problems, which must be solved in their turn. We can always be blindsided by nasty surprises, such as the two World Wars, the 1960s crime boom and the AIDS and opioid epidemics.

And the greatest global challenges remain unsolved. This does not mean they are unsolvable. In 2015 the world’s nations came to a historic agreement on climate change in Paris, and pathways to decarbonization, including carbon pricing and zero-emission technologies, have been laid out. Since the closing days of World War II, nuclear weapons have not been used in almost 73 years of saber-rattling (including standoffs with the half-mad despots Stalin and Mao), and the New Start treaty between the U.S. and Russia, capping nuclear arsenals, went into full effect just this week.

On these matters, the policies of President Donald Trump —denial of climate change, planned withdrawal from the Paris accord, provocation of North Korea, nuclear arms expansion—are alarming. But continued progress is in the interests of the rest of the world, and numerous states, countries, corporations, political actors and sectors of the military are pushing back against the intemperate plans of the administration.

How should we think about future progress? We must not sit back and wait for problems to solve themselves, nor pace the streets with a sandwich board proclaiming that the end of the world is nigh. The advances of the past are no guarantee that progress will continue; they are a reminder of what we have to lose. Progress is a gift of the ideals of the Enlightenment and will continue to the extent that we rededicate ourselves to those ideals.

Are the ideals of the Enlightenment too tepid to engage our animal spirits? Is the conquest of disease, famine, poverty, violence and ignorance … boring? Do people need to believe in magic, a father in the sky, a strong chief to protect the tribe, myths of heroic ancestors?

I don’t think so. Secular liberal democracies are the happiest and healthiest places on earth, and the favorite destinations of people who vote with their feet. And once you appreciate that the Enlightenment project of applying knowledge and sympathy to enhance human flourishing can succeed, it’s hard to imagine anything more heroic and glorious.

Mr. Pinker is Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. This essay is adapted from his new book, “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress,” which will be published by Viking on Feb. 13.

Appeared in the February 10, 2018, print edition as ‘The Enlightenment Is Working.’

‘Turkey supports anything that harms the Kurds’

January 28, 2018

As Turkey’s offensive against Kurds in the Afrin region continues, DW spoke with Rami Abdel Rahman, who runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. He sees a multifaceted conflict filled with murky alliances.

Turkey has named the offensive Operation Olive Branch (picture-alliance/abaca/B. Milli)

DW: Turkey’s military offensive against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria has been going on for about a week. What are the developments?

Rami Abdel Rahman: The Turkish military is attacking along 10 corridors north and west of Afrin. Turkey and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which supports it, are making slow progress because of fierce Kurdish resistance. Over the course of six days, they only conquered two villages and parts of five others. That is not much considering the number and intensity of Turkish airstrikes and Turkey’s statements at the onset of the campaign. In reality, Turkish troops have barely advanced into the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin in northern Syria. In contrast to reports from both warring parties, our sources have confirmed a total of 133 fatalities so far: 47 Kurdish fighters, 51 FSA militants, four Turkish soldiers, 31 civilians killed by Turkish fire and two by Kurdish forces.

Read more: Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin

The Kurds have declared that they are pulling fighters from the Syrian cities of Raqqa and Deir el-Zour to reinforce their troops. But how is this possible considering that Afrin is a Kurdish enclave that’s separated from other Kurdish-controlled areas?

The only route available leads through territory controlled by the Syrian regime, via two towns north of Aleppo, to be exact. There have been reports claiming Damascus is allowing Kurds to pass its road barricades, provided they are unarmed and traveling as civilians. But my contacts in the area have not noticed an increase in men traveling through the region.

Rami Abdel Rahman


Rami Abdel Rahman

How credible are the YPG’s claims that they are sending dozens of foreign YPG fighters into the battle?

These foreigners predominantly joined to fight the Islamic State (IS). According to what we know, there are no foreign YPG fighters in Afrin. And, even if there were foreigners, they would not change the battle. They only have symbolic value and help generate favorable public opinion across the world for the YPG.

And who is fighting on the Turkish side?

Mainly Arabic and Turkmen FSA fighters from Aleppo, Idlib and Deir el-Zour. There are claims that the Nusra Front has joined the campaign against the YPG. But that’s not true. According to our information, claims that Chechen forces have joined the Turkish side are also false. So far, only Syrians are fighting alongside the Turkish army.

Read more: US and Turkey aiming to prevent direct clashes in Afrin — NATO

The objective of the FSA was always to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Why are they are pulling their forces from the embattled Idlib region to join the fight against the Kurds?

That’s because none of the groups is actually fighting for Syria! They are all pursuing some foreign agenda. In this case, they’re following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s agenda. They have neither fought against IS, nor against the Syrian regime in Deir el-Zour. But now they’ve suddenly joined Turkey’s military operation against the Kurds. Some FSA fighters were forced out of Homs by Syrian troops but are now fighting in Afrin. Last week, Damascus regained control over 320 villages in Idlib province. All fighters affected by this have also moved to Afrin. It’s true that many opposition groups want to exact revenge on the YPG for attacking the local Arab population. We have reported on these attacks. But they were not as severe as Turkish and Qatari media reports made them out to be.

Image result for News for Afrin, Turkey, Photos

Read more: Erdogan fights Kurds and journalists 

Some observers claim that the Kurds are ready to cede Afrin to Assad to prevent it from falling under Turkish control. How credible is this?

In reality, that’s what the Russians are demanding. They’re putting pressure on the Kurds to hand over control over Afrin to Damascus. Russia wants all regions west of the river Euphrates to be under Syrian control. The Kurds rejected this demand. In response, Russia gave Turkey the go-ahead to attack Kurdish-controlled Afrin. They want to break the Kurdish resistance so they will relinquish control over the region. And the United States is doing nothing to stop this.

Read more: Where does the Assad regime stand on the Afrin offensive? 

Why would Turkey want to help Russia and the Syrian regime? Turkey opposes Assad, after all.

Turkey’s only genuine enemy in Syria is the Kurds. Turkey allowed jihadi fighters to cross its border as early as 2011, as we have repeatedly reported. Turkey supports anything that harms the Kurds. Over a year ago, Turkey withdrew its armed forces from eastern Aleppo, which then was surrounded by President al-Assad’s troops to use them against the YPG and prevent Kurdish-controlled Afrin linking up with other Kurdish areas. By withdrawing its troops from Aleppo, Turkey effectively handed over the city to Damascus.

Image result for News for Afrin, Turkey, Photos

Read more: Why the muted response from the US and Russia?

What can the Kurds now expect?

They’ll fight to the end. They have no other choice. They would have long since given in to Russian pressure if they were willing to do so. There are about 1.1 million civilians in Afrin: 600,000 Kurds and 500,000 Arab refugees. The YPG has about 10,000 fighters in the area.

Rami Abdel Rahman leads the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is affiliated with the opposition and relies on a network of activists and informants for its reporting. Many international news organizations and experts deem the SOHR’s reports credible. The critical security situation in Syria, however, often makes it impossible to independently verify this information.

An image from a video released on Friday is said to show foreign fighters in the Kurdish People’s Protection Units militia, also known as the Y.P.G., arriving in Afrin, Syria. Credit YouTube/Ypg Press

See also:

Foreign Fighters Back Kurdish Militia in Syria in Fight Against Turkey


Merkel: Ongoing need to protect Jewish institutions ‘a disgrace’

January 27, 2018

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, German leader warns of rising anti-Semitism in country, calls to create position of anti-Semitism commissioner

German chancellor Angela Merkel looks on after addressing the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) on January 24, 2018 in Davos, eastern Switzerland. (AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI)

German chancellor Angela Merkel looks on after addressing the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) on January 24, 2018 in Davos, eastern Switzerland. (AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned of rising anti-Semitism in her country on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, calling the need to protect Jewish buildings “a disgrace.”

It is important to remember the millions of Holocaust victims because recently, “anti-Semitism, racism, and the hatred of others are more relevant,” Merkel said in her weekly podcast on Saturday.

She said that schools, which already teach about the country’s Nazi past, need to work harder at that, especially so immigrant students from Arab countries will not “exercise anti-Semitism.”

She called it “incomprehensible and a disgrace that no Jewish institution can exist without police security —whether it is a school, a kindergarten, or a synagogue.”

The chancellor also reaffirmed her support of creating the position of anti-Semitism commissioner in the next German government, if her party can finalize tortuous negotiations to forge a coalition.

The commissioner would be appointed to counter growing hate speech against Jews and Israel in German from both its home-grown far-right and some recent migrants in the Muslim community.

Israeli flags were burned in Berlin in December to protest the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

The United Nations in 2007 designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day to mark the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi death camps.



UN says Trump slur on ‘shithole’ countries is ‘shocking’ and ‘racist’

January 12, 2018

Spokesman Rupert Colville says US president’s comments open the door to ‘humanity’s worst side,’ ‘go against universal values’

From agencies
The Times of Israel

The United Nations on Friday slammed US President Donald Trump’s reported description of African nations and Haiti as “shithole” countries as “shocking and shameful,” and “racist.”

Trump on Thursday questioned why the US would accept more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” in Africa rather than places like Norway in rejecting a bipartisan immigration deal.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that “you cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes.’”

Colville said that the comments, if confirmed, were “shocking and shameful” and “I’m sorry, but there’s no other word one can use but racist.”

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting on prison reform in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, January 11, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)

He also took issue with Trump’s reported suggestion that the United States should welcome immigrants from places like Norway, whose population is overwhelmingly white, instead of from African countries and Haiti.

“The positive comment on Norway makes the underlying sentiment very clear,” Colville said.

He said Trump’s reported comment could endanger lives by potentially fanning xenophobia.

“Like the earlier comments made vilifying Mexicans and Muslims, the policy proposals targeting entire groups on grounds of nationality or religion, and the reluctance to clearly condemn the anti-Semitic and racist actions of the white supremacists in Charlottesville — all of these go against the universal values the world has been striving so hard to establish since World War II and the Holocaust,” he said.

“This is not just a story about vulgar language. It’s about opening the door wider to humanity’s worst side, about validating and encouraging racism and xenophobia that will potentially disrupt and destroy the lives of many people.

“This is perhaps the single most damaging and dangerous consequence of this type of comment by a major political figure,” he added.