Environmental, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political

Racism in America: Police chokehold is not the issue (Part II)

(Following the previous post which constituted the initial section of the article, the present post is the concluding section of the article).

According to the Sentencing Project’s Report to the UN in 2018, Blacks are three times more likely to be searched, twice as likely to be arrested, and receive longer prison sentences for committing the same crime. Thirty-five percent of all executions in the US have been Black; they constitute 34 percent of prison inmates and 42 percent of people on death row.

However, while police brutality and related injustices are obvious, the most overwhelming burden for Blacks is the political disempowerment and economic inequities which they have to bear.

Blacks are approximately 13 percent of the population. But currently, while their presence in the House is roughly equivalent (52 out of 435), they have only three Senators (the highest ever), and no Governors. Of the 189 American Ambassadors, only three are Black, usually in “hardship posts” or less relevant assignments (like Bangladesh?).

According to Valerie Wilson from the Economic Policy Institute, in 2018, a median Black worker only earned about 75 percent of what a White person does (USD 14.92 per hour to USD 19.79), and The Economist reported that in 2019 mean household wealth was USD 138,000 for Blacks, and USD 933,700 for Whites. While more than 72 percent of Whites own homes usually in nice neighbourhoods, only 42 percent of Blacks do so usually in shabbier environments. Unemployment rates are typically twice that of Whites. 

Approximately 23 percent of Covid-19 patients are Black, and similar discrepancies are seen in terms of people suffering from blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, asthma, cancer, and other health challenges.   

Educational disparities are pronounced. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, while almost 80 percent of Whites graduate from high school, only 62 percent of Blacks do so. While 29 percent of White males and 38 percent of White females graduate from college, only 15 percent of Black males and 22 percent of Black females do the same. 

This is not because of innate intellectual differences traditionally used to explain the “achievement gap” (comparative lower scores in reading and math for Black students). As John Valant pointed out, Black performance in standardised tests has much more to do with exclusionary zoning policies that keep Black families from better school districts, mass incarceration practices that remove Black parents from children, and under-resourced Black school districts that impose relatively poor-quality teachers, weak supportive infrastructure and an environment of hopelessness and despair that students are compelled to endure. Expecting these kids to perform at the same level as others is like tying a weight to their legs and hoping that they can be competitive in a marathon.

President Johnson’s effort to “level the playing field” led to some Affirmative Action policies, and the formation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1965, to provide historically disadvantaged groups some extra educational and economic opportunities. Some progress has certainly been made. A small Black middle class of professionals has gradually come into existence, some Black entrepreneurs have been notably prosperous, and a few Black performers have gained spectacular success in the entertainment and sports industries (unrelated to affirmative action).

But, on the other hand, many Whites resented these programmes which were gradually challenged, and in some ways gutted, through charges of “reverse discrimination” (Bakke v Board of Regents University of California, 1978). The sentiment was that these policies unfairly violated a merit-based system of rewards, and created an entitlement culture for undeserving Blacks (conveniently forgetting that Whites had gained from it for centuries). Sometimes affirmative action only meant incorporating a few Blacks in various positions to prove an institution’s quantitative adherence to EEOC requirements. It was tokenist, grudging and alienating. Instead of bridging racial divides, they deepened them.

Ay, and there is the rub, as Shakespeare would say. The issue of racism is not about a chokehold of a White police officer, but its stranglehold on US society. It is ingrained in the predatory capitalism that the US worships with its emphasis on ugly materialism over human development, selfish individualism over collective welfare, desperate profit-seeking over social responsibility, immoral inequalities over a sharing culture, patriarchal dominance over an inclusive democracy, mindless consumerism over ecological concern, and a phenomenally successful strategy of keeping people, particularly the working class, divided and loathing each other.

It is also true that the races are prisoners of their respective assumptions, perceptions and judgments that lead them to see “the other” in radically distorted terms. Their narratives of history, their engagement with reality, and their judgment of events condemn them to their own rhetorical echo-chambers, making communications difficult. What the Blacks will see and remember will be vastly different from what the Whites will (e.g. Blacks will hear George Floyd crying out for his mother as a casually sadistic White officer chokes him to death, Whites will see the looting). In these conditions, hate becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Finally, when racism is reduced, and isolated, to a simple problem (e.g. police brutality), it will let politicians shake their cynical heads and issue condemnations with platitudes and clichés that will come trippingly to their tongues. It will permit them to tinker with this or that aspect of law enforcement and claim to have “fixed it”. It will encourage the power-elite to seek TV-rich moments such as taking a knee, or carrying a BLM placard, or raising a fist at a funeral memorial—high in symbolism but pitifully, perhaps deliberately, low in accomplishment.

As long as they ignore the larger historical, political and psychological context in which White defensiveness and Black weaknesses are located, one can treat the symptoms and not the virus of racism. The intellectual honesty and moral courage this would require has been absent in the past, and there is neither much evidence, nor much hope, that we will see it anytime soon.

Postscript: Having lived in America for many years, I can personally attest to the fairness and decency of the vast majority of colleagues, students, and general people my wife and I have met, and the genuine graciousness and warmth of many friends that we have been blessed to have. This merely underscores the point that the issue is not individual but institutional, not personal but structural.

(The cases mentioned in the article are all Supreme Court cases.)

 Ahrar Ahmad is Director General, Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Foundation, Dhaka.

Bangladesh, Disasters - natural and man-made, Economic, Life as it is

Economic measures we should take in response to COVID-19 in Bangladesh

The 2020-21 budget of Bangladesh, under preparation now, could have been exciting. The country was having an unbroken run of 6 percent or higher growth rate for the last nine years. In 2019, it reached 8.2 percent. Poverty declined to reach 24.3 percent in 2016 (World Bank). Export earnings and remittance income, put together, covered more than three-fourths of the country’s import bill, and the country’s debt service ratio was at a comfortable level of 5.7 percent (in 2018). The achievements in the social sectors (in child and maternal mortality, in education, and nutrition) were praiseworthy, better than many other countries at similar levels of income.  

A number of mega projects involving huge expenditures (such as the Padma Bridge, Deep Sea Port, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, Karnaphuli Tunnel, Metro Rail Project) were taken up to develop and modernise the country further. The country was looking forward to celebrating 50 years of its independence (towards the end of 2021) in style.

COVID-19 pandemic has put an end to this euphoria. The highly contagious virus, with its high toll of human lives and livelihoods, pushed the world to a recession. The IMF estimates the world GDP to shrink by 3 percent this year. With supply chains broken, factories, trades and businesses either closed or nearly so, unemployment is expected to rise. The level of unemployment has already reached 26 million in the USA and 22 million in EU. The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that the virus had not reached its peak yet, and that there could be multiple spells of the virus.

Bangladesh has not been spared either. Although the impact of COVID-19 in terms of infection and fatalities (going by official statistics) remains lower than some developed countries, the casualties (which do not include community deaths and deaths in hundreds of private clinics around the country) can mount in the coming months. Like in most other countries, Bangladesh also imposed lockdown measures. Educational institutions, non-essential services, offices, shops and transportation services, small, medium and large industries including the vibrant and major foreign exchange earner, the readymade garment (RMG) factories, have been closed down.  However, some are opening slowly in recent days after the relaxation of lockdown measures.

The World Bank estimates a sharp decline of Bangladesh’s growth rate to around 2-3 percent in 2020, and further to 1.2-2.9 percent in 2021 from the 2019 growth rate of 8.2 percent. These are way below the 7-8 percent growth needed to reach the middle-income status by 2024.

The lockdowns have seriously disrupted normal economic and social activities in the country. Millions of workers engaged in shops and restaurants, in transport and communication sector, working as domestic help, self-employed as traders, hawkers, day labourers, totalling anywhere between 15-20 million, are expected to lose their livelihoods. With the closure of the readymade garment (RMGs) industry, another four million employees, mostly young women and their families, are expected to face difficult economic and social condition. Their low incomes make them vulnerable even to short periods of unemployment. 

Fear of the virus as well as loss of income are driving thousands of these vulnerable low income urban people to their rural roots. Others, who do not have this option, are staying back in urban slums, where congested living can be the breeding ground of the virus.

Given this background of unprecedented economic and social circumstances, the budget of 2020-21 will have to be significantly different from what could have been an “euphoric” budget. Instead, the budget will be one of damage limitation, caused by external circumstances and rebuilding.

The emergency measures are expected to tackle the emergencies created by the COVID-19 pandemic (in terms of both halting the progress of the virus and providing medical care to those infected), and supporting people survive through their immense economic hardship. The rebuilding measures, on the other hand, will address the issues of restarting the economy with directed support, subsidies, grants, and helping to build institutions to tackle future pandemics, including resurgence of COVID-19.

The emergency measures will have to focus on expanding the capacity of public healthcare institutions, through infrastructure development, procurement of equipment (PPE, masks, ventilators) and medicines (both anti-COVID-19 and for curing COVID-19 infection), and of course providing due support to all medical care staff, most importantly to the frontline care staff. And it will also have to beef up the country’s poor social protection initiatives (which is lowest in the Asia Pacific Region: UN Asia Pacific Region Report April 13, 2020). Part of the prime minister’s cash incentive of about 95.6 thousand crores taka could give the social protection initiative a boost, as well as provide cash incentives to medical workers.

The rebuilding measures, on the other hand, will focus on those sectors which are the main drivers of the economy, i.e. restarting RMGs, facilitating the repatriation of those who might have gotten stuck in Bangladesh. The measures could also include working capital support to small and medium industries, and small loans to traders. Low interest loans could also be provided to small businesses and industries who would like to configure their factory floors and work spaces to conform to the need for social distancing, to avoid further spread of COVID-19.

Beyond these, it will be immensely worthwhile to support agriculture, especially the smallholder farmers, through small loans to farmers, subsidised inputs, water and uninterrupted electricity supply during the dry season (now) and through ensuring availability of seasonal labour for harvesting. Microfinance institutions (MFIs), refinanced by Bangladesh Bank, could play an effective role in this area.

RMG sector, a major foreign exchange earner of the country, and employer of nearly four million workers (mostly for women), will need to be beefed up as early as possible. There could be a special fund to provide subsidised loans to the RMG industries on a case by case basis, judged by their ability to restart production, export and re-employment of staff laid off during the COVID crisis.

All these measures, detailed out and costed, will be a very tall order. The critical issue is how to get the budget financed.

The pandemic related crisis will severely restrict the growth of Bangladesh, and also imports, through reduction of economic activities. Both of these will severely reduce the government’s ability to raise revenue; the latter through reduction of revenue from import duties. The country will have to borrow: from external sources to the extent they are available, but also from domestic sources. These will create inflationary pressure, both because of reduced supply response and lower imports. The challenge will be to channel support to activities which could quickly respond through increased production.

 Dr Atiqur Rahman, economist and former lead strategist of IFAD, Rome, Italy.

Economic, Environmental, International, Life as it is, Political, Technical

Donald Trump’s Vicious Blame Game

In an effort to counter allegations of incompetence in handling COVID-19 pandemic, Donald Trump has again resorted to lies, deception and misinformation. This is typical of this administration’s response to any issue of significance.

In early January 2020, when COVID-19 (a strain of coronavirus) was wreaking havoc in Wuhan, China and despite country’s best efforts in locking down the city, the virus did spread to other parts of China as well as to South Korea, Donald Trump blamed China for not tackling the problem efficiently and was bragging in mid-Feb that America was well prepared to face this virus and there was nothing to worry about. He even dismissed coronavirus as nothing more than a common flu infection at the end of February and asked people to have common flu precaution.

Then COVID-19 pandemic attacked New York city from early March with all its viciousness. Thousands of New Yorkers started showing symptoms from early March and the death rate started to climb from early March. Donald Trump blamed the Mayor of New York for not taking adequate precautions in time to tackle the problem! Under relentless pressure from various states, he imposed lockdown from 23 March. But that was probably too late.

Now to deflect the public opinion from his disastrous handling of the pandemic issue, he started blaming China for this virus. He said a few weeks ago that he has evidence that the virus could have originated in a Chinese laboratory, but he declined to give any further evidence. Then Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State (and sycophant-in-chief), took up the issue and said on Sunday, 3 May 2020 that there was “a significant amount of evidence” that the coronavirus had emerged from a Chinese laboratory. But US intelligence agencies concluded that it was not a man-made virus. A German spy agency (BND) casts doubt on the American accusation that the virus, COVID-19, originated in a Chinese laboratory. In fact, the German intelligence report prepared for the German Defence Minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, concluded that the U.S. accusations were a deliberate attempt to divert public attention away from President Donald Trump’s “own failures”. The five nations’ joint spy agency representing US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand would not support Pompeo’s claim. Pompeo’s response was typical of a sycophant’s mantra that “whatever the master says, the sycophant says it exaggerated hundred times!”

Doesn’t Pompeo’s present accusation of “a significant amount of evidence” bear a striking resemblance to Colin Powell’s, the then Secretary of State under George W Bush, accusation in March 2003 that “Iraq’s behaviour shows that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction?” Colin Powell started his address at the UN Security Council in Feb 2003 with solemn assertion, “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence”. What a monumental lie and deception! No weapons of mass destruction, no chemical weapon of any description, no links of Saddam Hussein’s government with al-Qaeda etc had ever been found. George W Bush, Colin Powell and their cabal orchestrated lies and deceits to carry out their heinous crime of removing Saddam Hussein and put their hands-on Iraqi oil wealth.

The extreme right-wing administration of Donald Trump is mindful of America’s gradual economic decline and China’s rapid rise to the top position in the world economy. There is a conspiracy theory that is going around now that America considers the only way this trend can be reversed is by decimating China’s economy. How best can it be done other than implanting a vial of coronavirus in the economic powerhouse of China – Wuhan city? This virus would then spread to other towns and cities in China and Chinese economy would be devastated and America would achieve its objectives.

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But what Trump’s blockheaded strategists failed to appreciate was that the virus could not be confined to China alone; it would savage China as well as other parts of the world. As it happens, within a couple of months, the virus came back to attack America itself and killed already over 80,000 people and rising. This death toll is nearly 16 times higher than China’s, although Chinese population is more than 3.5 times of that of America. So, pro rata America’s fatality is more than 50 times higher than that of China!     

Donald Trump is desperate to start American economy after the lockdown, as election is coming within the next six months. Due to lockdown, more than 25million Americans (over 15% of the workforce) have already become unemployed and many of them may become permanently unemployed. American GDP is likely to shrink by around 15%, which is simply staggering. The death toll from COVID-19 is nearly 2,000 per day and so within another 10 to 12 days, the tally would exceed the 100,000 mark! With such a dire situation, Donald Trump is desperate to shift the blame to China.

If America can make the Chinese crime of making this virus stick, it stands to achieve a number of well-prized objectives all in one go. Firstly, Donald Trump’s awful incompetence and chaotic response to this pandemic will be forgotten by the people due to pent-up anger and the demand for reparation from China. Secondly, the reparation from China can easily be extracted as China has more than trillion-dollar investment in America’s treasury bonds. American government can easily freeze that asset under the excuse of extracting reparation and nothing the Chinese government can do to avert it. Thirdly, Trump election victory would be well assured as he can dish out tens of billions of dollars, snatched from China, to the affected and/or unemployed people. Fourthly, America can flash around the whole world that China is the culprit for this virus, which caused so much pain and suffering to almost every nation of the world. This will irreparably damage China’s standing in the world and economic relations with other nations and thereby secure America’s future prospect as the economic superpower.

All of these favourable outcomes depend on one key issue that China got to be shown that it was the originator of this virus. So, it is highly probable that America will go all-out for it. After all, America is renowned for all sorts lies, deception, vicious propaganda, military adventure and invasion, regime changes, pre-emptive strikes and so forth, all for their selfish interests.

But bitten by the Iraqi debacle and blatant falsehood, American spy agency wanted to clean-up its act and gave an honest verdict that the virus was not man-made. After all, whether the virus containing the embedded gene is naturally evolved or man-made can be found out from the genome sequence data of SARS-CoV-2. Already Gene Laboratories found that SARS-COV-2 (COVID-19) and related viruses were not made in a laboratory or engineered.

So, the opportunity for lying and deceiving on this virus is almost non-existent. But the Trump administration, with very limited technical knowledge and the medical knowledge extending to prescribing people to ingest or inhale disinfectants to cure COVID-19 infection, is completely unaware of genetic advances and thought that by doubling up their lies and publicity, they can change day into night!

In the most unlikely event if the virus was man-made, then who is to say that it was not made by America herself and transported to Wuhan? Finding the man-made virus in China does not necessarily mean that it was made in China. Implanting a small amount of infectious virus in a place like Wuhan is a child’s play for American spies. All major powers have chemical, biological and radiological weapons and laboratories to make weapons to attack enemies. Russia killed Sergei Skripal and poisoned his daughter with a Novichok nerve agent in England in 2018 by importing the nerve agent from Moscow. So, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that America would have implanted the virus in China to ensure Donald Trump’s election victory, make ‘America great again’ and destroy China (like Iraq) all in one go! But he should know that China is no Iraq!   

  

  • Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.