The July 26 New York Times proclaims the statistics of the pandemic’s toll: 
For the world, there have been 16,034,200 cases in nearly every country with 644,925 deaths while the number of new cases is growing faster than ever with a daily average of more than 200,000.
The U.S. (including four territories), with at least 4,190,400 total cases has the most of any country in the world while recoding 146,314 deaths. “Case numbers are surging throughout most of the United States, including in many states that were among the first to reopen. Because the number of people hospitalized and the percentage of people testing positive also are rising in many of those places, the case spike cannot be solely explained by increased testing. Still, coronavirus deaths remain well below their peak levels. And as some places reimpose restrictions, others continue to reopen their economies.”
The State of Minnesota has had at least 50,331 cases and 1,611 deaths. “Over the past week, there have been an average of 689 cases per day, an increase of 22 percent from the average two weeks earlier.”
The pandemic has been having and continues to have a major negative impact on the world and U.S. economies. For the week ending July 25, the initial U.S. jobless claims rose to 1.4 million. This increase was the first in nearly four months, “a sign the jobs recovery could be faltering.” Now the $600/week jobless aid is nearing an end. Evictions loom for millions who cannot afford their rent while foreclosures loom for homeowners who cannot pay their mortgages. And the U.S. federal government recorded a budget deficit of $ 3 Trillion for the 12 months ending this June.
These calamities have had a disproportionate impact on our African-American brothers and sisters. For example, in Minnesota 48% of Black workers have filed for unemployment compensation versus 22% of white workers. “One of the big reasons for the unemployment disparity in Minnesota is that Black Minnesotans are more likely to be employed at hotels, restaurants, retail, health and other service-related industries that have seen the most job losses because of stay-at-home orders and other pandemic-induced slowdowns.” In addition, “the pandemic also has disproportionately hurt American Indian, Latino and Asian American employment in the state. Women, younger workers and those with less education have also taken a bigger hit.”
In the midst of these immense problems and challenges, President Trump continues to lie and demonstrate his incompetence. As a result, the rest of the world is shocked and dismayed. I worry that Trump will attempt in some fashion to try to steal the election.
Although I am retired with good health and financial savings and thus not personally affected (so far) by these woes, I worry about the impact of these crises on my sons and grandchildren. More generally I am worried about the negative impact of these crises on people and countries all over the world and the U.S. in particular that will linger for all their lives as I believe happened to those who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
“Investing in the Future” was the sermon today at Westminster Presbyterian Church by Associate Pastor Sarah Brouwer. It drew upon Jeremiah 19: 1-14, where the Prophet sends a letter to the Jewish people who have been taken into exile in Babylon after the Babylonians had destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. God tells the exiles, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
This passage of Jeremiah continues. “Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will [the Lord] visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to [Jerusalem]. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord., and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you [Jerusalem] into exile.”
According to Rev. Brouwer, this passage reminds us today to shed our expertise and judgment, relearn old ways and accept marginal status in the current pandemic in order later to flourish.
On July 8, 2019, the U.S. State Department launched the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights. This new Commission deserves both commendation and criticism. Below are its positive points, and a subsequent post will discuss the many legitimate criticisms of this new institution.
U.S. Primary Sources for Human Rights
According to Secretary of State Pompeo, the Commission regards the U.S. Declaration of Independence from 1776 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 as pillars of U.S. dedication to human rights. As the Secretary said at the launch, “The Commission will focus on “human rights grounded in our nation’s founding principles and the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An American commitment to uphold human rights played a major role in transforming the moral landscape of the international relations after World War II, something all Americans can rightly be proud of. Under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights ended forever the notion that nations could abuse their citizens without attracting notice or repercussions.”
In other statements the Secretary has asserted that freedom of religion and belief is the foundational and most important freedom. While that perhaps could be debated, it is clearly an important freedom.
Both of these declarations indeed honor human rights, and the inclusion of the Universal Declaration is an implicit admission that the U.S. alone does not have all the answers on this subject. Here then are some of the key points of these two documents that call for commending the Commission.
U.S. Declaration of Independence
These are the familiar words from the U.S. Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
On December 10, 1948, the U.N. General Assembly at a meeting in Paris, France adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by a vote of 48-0. Eight countries abstained: the Soviet Union, five members of the Soviet bloc (Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Ukraine and Yugoslavia), South Africa and Saudi Arabia. The other two U.N. members at the time were absent and not voting (Honduras and Yemen).
Some of this Declaration’s words in its Preamble and 30 Articles are reminiscent of the language of the U.S. Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. Here are some of the provisions of the U.N. document:
“[R]ecognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” (Preamble)
The “peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women.” (Preamble)
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” (Art. 1)
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” (Art. 2)
“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” (Art.3)
“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” (Art. 4)
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” (Art. 5)
“All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.” (Art. 7)
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.” (Art. 8)
“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” (Art. 9)
“Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” (Art. 10)
“Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty . . . .” (Art. 11(1).)
“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” (Art. 14(1).)
“Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.” (Art. 16(1).)
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” (Art. 18) (Emphasis added.)
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.: (Art. 19.)
“ Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” (Art. 20(1).)
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family . . . .” (Art. 25(1).)
Other UDHR provisions, which have been overlooked in various comments about the Commission and which relate to its negative points to be discussed in a subsequent post, are the following: “[H]uman rights should be protected by the rule of law” (Preamble); U.N. “Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms” (Preamble); “[E]very individual and every organ of society . . . shall strive . . . by progressive measures national and international, to secure . . . [these rights and freedoms] universal and effective recognition and observance”[Proclamation); “The will of the people shall be the basis of authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage . . . .” (Art. 21(3).)
The importance and significance of these provisions were emphasized by the Commission’s chair, Mary Ann Glendon, in her book: A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2001). The Preface says the UDHR “became a pillar of a new international system under which a nation’s treatment of its own citizens was no longer immune from outside scrutiny. . . . Today, the Declaration is the single most important reference point for cross-national discussions of how to order our future together on our increasingly conflict-ridden and interdependent planet.” Her book’s Epilogue emphatically states:
“The Universal Declaration created a bold new course for human rights by presenting a vision of freedom as linked to social security, balanced by responsibilities, grounded in respect for equal human dignity, and grounded by the rule of law.”
“The Declaration’s principles, moreover, have increasingly acquired legal force, mainly through their incorporation into national legal systems.”
“One of the most basic assumptions of the founders of the UN and the framers of the Declaration was that the root causes of atrocities and armed conflict are frequently to be found in poverty and discrimination.”
The U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights indeed are major sources of human rights, and the Commission’s proclaiming them as important is an action to be commended.
On June 27, 2019, Kimberly Breier, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, addressed the 49th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Medellin, Colombia.
This gathering marked the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the OAS Charter and the American Declaration of Rights and Duties of Man, a document that proclaims “all men are born free and equal, in dignity and in rights” and that “remains the foundation of the Inter-American human rights system.” Another important OAS document is the Inter-American Democratic Charter from 2001 that “requires our governments to work together to promote and protect the institutions of representative democracy.”
After discussing current problems in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Honduras, the Assistant Secretary made these comments about Cuba:
“In Cuba today, we see an expectation that change is inevitable, and that it can’t come quickly enough. Young Cubans born under a dictatorship are uninterested in hollow revolutionary slogans.”
“They want what youth everywhere else want: opportunities to use their talents, exercise their voice, and build a bright future for themselves. As democratic societies, we must support young people in Cuba – and elsewhere in the hemisphere – in their hopes for democratic change. We applaud Secretary General Almagro for his efforts over the past year to bring attention to the state of human rights in Cuba.”
On March 7 Venezuela had a major electrical power outage that continues to this day. On March 11 this outage resulted in harsh words and actions by the United States, Cuba and Venezuela. When and how it will end, the public does not know.
Secretary Pompeo’s Morning Comments 
On the morning of March 11, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a press conference at the State Department said Cuba and Russia “have played [a central role] and continue to play in undermining the democratic dreams of the Venezuelan people and their welfare.” He followed with these comments about Cuba:
“No nation has done more to sustain the death and daily misery of ordinary Venezuelans, including [its] . . .military and their families, than the communists in Havana. Cuba is the true imperialist power in Venezuela. The Cuban government of Miguel Diaz-Canel provides political cover for Maduro and his henchmen so that they may stay in power. It is Cuba that has offered Maduro its unwavering solidarity. It’s Cuba that calls Venezuela’s true government, led by Interim President Juan Guaido, which 54 of the world’s democratic nations recognize as a legitimate government—Cubans call this a puppet government of the United States.”
“Yet it’s Cuba that’s trained Venezuelans’ secret police and torture tactics, domestic spying techniques, and mechanisms of repression the Cuban authorities have wielded against their own people for decades. Members of the Cuban military and intelligence services are deeply entrenched in the Venezuelan state. Cuban security forces have displaced Venezuelan security forces in a clear violation of Venezuelan sovereignty. I even hear that Maduro has no Venezuelans around him. Many of his personal security and closest advisors are acting not at the direction of the Venezuelan people, and frankly, perhaps not even at the direction of Maduro, but rather at the direction of the Cuban regime. They provide physical protection and other critical material and political support to Maduro and to those around him. So when there’s no electricity, thank the marvels of modern Cuban-led engineering. When there’s no water, thank the excellent hydrologists from Cuba. When there’s no food, thank the Cuban communist overlords.”
“Why is Cuba asserting so much influence in Venezuela? What’s in it for them? Follow the ideology, follow the corrupt elites, and perhaps most importantly, follow the money. Cuba’s communist revolutionaries share a natural affinity with Maduro’s socialists. They both disdain private property rights, the rule of law, and free and fair elections. The very same economic theories that have decimated the Cuban economy since 1959 have now turned Venezuela’s economy, one of the richest in Latin America, into a case of decline that economists study with amazement and horror. Both of these countries routinely violate the basic human rights of their peoples.”
“The two nations also share a feature: a deeply corrupt ruling class. Maduro learned from the Castros that the best way to stay in power is to buy enough generals to protect you and make sure that the only way to be rich, or even to avoid poverty, is to feed off the regime and stay in its good graces.”
“Lastly, there’s an economic relationship between Cuba and Venezuela as well. The Maduro regime sends up to 50,000 barrels of oil to Cuba per day, and Cuba needs this cheap Venezuelan energy to prop up its tottering socialist economy, while Maduro needs Cuban expertise in repression to keep his grip on power. That’s a match made in hell.”
Cuba’s Response Regarding Venezuela 
“The Revolutionary Government strongly condemns the sabotage perpetrated against the power supply system in Venezuela, which is a terrorist action intended to harm the defenseless population of an entire nation and turn it into a hostage of the non-conventional war launched by the government of the United States against the legitimate government headed by comrade Nicolás Maduro Moros and the civic and military union of the Bolivarian and Chavista people.”
“This adds to the ruthless economic and financial warfare imposed on Venezuela with the clear intention to subjugate, through shortages and deprivations, the political and sovereign will of a people that has not been brought to its knees.”
“This is an escalation of a non-conventional war led by the US government against that sister nation, which is taking place after the failed provocation orchestrated on February 23 with the intention of carrying by force an alleged humanitarian aid into Venezuela, thus challenging the legitimate authorities of that country and violating International Law and the principles and norms of the United Nations Charter, with the purpose of causing widespread death and violence as a pretext for a “humanitarian intervention.”
“The experience of Cuba’s own history and the history of other countries in the region show that these actions are a prelude of violent acts of a larger scope, as was the case of the armed invasion through Bay of Pigs in 1961. The international community has accumulated sufficient evidence to be on the alert.”
“The usurper and self-proclaimed ‘president’ made in the US has publicly said that, when the time comes, he would invoke Article 187 of the Constitution to authorize the use of foreign military missions in the country; and has repeated exactly the same phrase used by his American mentors: ‘All options are on the table.’”
“He just needs to receive an order from Washington, since it is known that, during his tour around South America, he already asked certain governments to support a military intervention in his country.”
“The offensive launched against Venezuela has been accompanied by a ferocious campaign of McCarthyist propaganda and lies coordinated by the National Security Advisor of that country, John Bolton, as a pretext to apply by force the Monroe Doctrine, for which he has counted on the active participation of the anti-Cuban Senator Marco Rubio, who has frantically resorted to social networks, thus evidencing his interest and personal and conspiratorial involvement in the maneuvers perpetrated against Venezuela.”
One of the most relentless and shameless statements made has been the slanderous assertion that Cuba has ‘between 20 and 25 thousand troops in Venezuela’ which ‘exercise control’ on that sister and sovereign nation and ‘keep’ the members of the glorious and combative National Bolivarian Armed Forces ‘under threat.’ Cuba categorically rejects that lie and equally strongly refutes any insinuation that there is some level of political subordination by Venezuela to Cuba or by Cuba to Venezuela.”
“It is absolutely not true that Cuba is taking part in operations carried out by the National Bolivarian Armed Forces or the security services. This is a slanderous rumor deliberately disseminated by the government of the United States. When Bolton as well as other politicians and officials of the US government rely on such rumors, they are deliberately lying to pursue aggressive political purposes. They have sufficient data and information and know the truth.”
“Cuba does not interfere in the internal affairs of Venezuela, just as Venezuela does not interfere in Cuba’s internal affairs.”
“Unlike the United States, which has about 80 military bases in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the one that is usurping the Cuban territory in Guantánamo; and around 800 in the entire planet, with more than 250 000 quartered troops, Cuba does not have any base in any country; or specialists in torture and police repression; or secret prisons; or naval or air forces prowling around the coasts or the immediate air space of sovereign States; or satellites watching every single detail.”
“The Revolutionary Government warns and denounces that the tendency of the government of the United States to lie without any limit or restraint whatsoever has already had dangerous consequences in the past that could replicate in the present.”
Maduro’s Comments 
Early on Tuesday, the Venezuelan foreign ministry said that talks on keeping some U.S. representation collapsed due to hostility from Washington and that the presence of U.S. diplomats entails risks for peace and stability.
Later in a televised statement to the country, Maduro said the electrical problems would be resolved by the end of the week. He also said, “his opponents in Venezuelaand the United States Government [are] responsible for these blackouts, which became frequent in the country under his Administration and despite the fact that almost all the stations of the National Electric System (SEN) are under the protection of the public force under his orders. [Our opponents] are going to insist on their attacks so I ask for maximum awareness and understanding if new attacks affect the service of their people, in their community, in their state, maximum understanding.” Maduro also said President Donald Trump was the “main [one] responsible for the cyber attack” to [Venezuela’s electrical power system].”
Pompeo’s Late Night Comments 
At 9:50 pm (EDT) Secretary Pompeo issued the following tweet: “The U.S. will withdraw all remaining personnel from [the U.S. Embassy in Caracas] this week. This decision reflects the deteriorating situation in [Venezuela] as well as the conclusion that the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy.” (Emphasis added.) This was reiterated in the following statement by the State Department: “this decision reflects the deteriorating situation in Venezuela as well as the conclusion that the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy.”
Pompeo’s comment that the “presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy” could be read as a hint that the U.S. was planning some kind of military intervention. A former U.S. diplomat who has worked in Caracas, Brett Bruen, said this announcement “appeared hasty and lacked the details . . . to make sense of what American actions and policy are” and “played into Mr. Maduro’s warnings that the United States was the actual power behind an attempted coup.”
It is well documented that Venezuela has been experiencing a devastating economic crisis with outrageously high inflation, lack of food and medical supplies and the exodus of millions of its citizens to neighboring countries.
At the same time it is difficult to trust the conflicting statements by the governments of the U.S., Cuba and Venezuela. I pray that there will be no U.S. military intervention.
On July 17, the day before the centennial of Nelson Mandela’s birthday, Barack Obama delivered the 16th annual Nelson Mandela Lecture in Johannesburg, South Africa to a crowd of 15,000 in a football (soccer) stadium (the Wanderers Stadium) and to a worldwide livestream audience of millions, including this blogger. The lecture’s title: “Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World.”  Below are photographs of a poster for the lecture and of Obama giving the lecture.
The lecture weaved the life and legacy of Mandela into an overview of world history from his birth in 1918 to the late 20th century and early 21st century to the current situation. Here is an abridged version of that lecture; the full text is available on the websites listed in the last footnote.
The World of 1918
The lecture started with a dramatic picture of the changes in the world from 1918, the year of Mandela’s birth, when there “was no reason to believe that a young black boy at this time, in this place, could in any way alter history.”
The World of the Late 20th Century
The lecture then moved to the “the remarkable transformations” of the world by the end of the 20th century and Mandela’s “long walk towards freedom and justice and equal opportunity . . . [which] came to embody the universal aspirations of dispossessed people all around the world, their hopes for a better life, the possibility of a moral transformation in the conduct of human affairs.”
When Mandela emerged from prison in 1990, It “seemed as if the forces of progress were on the march, that they were inexorable. Each step he took, you felt this is the moment when the old structures of violence and repression and ancient hatreds that had so long stunted people’s lives and confined the human spirit – that all that was crumbling before our eyes. And then as Madiba guided this nation through negotiation painstakingly, reconciliation, its first fair and free elections; as we all witnessed the grace and the generosity with which he embraced former enemies, the wisdom for him to step away from power once he felt his job was complete, . . . we understood it was not just the subjugated, the oppressed who were being freed from the shackles of the past. The subjugator was being offered a gift, being given a chance to see in a new way, being given a chance to participate in the work of building a better world.”
“And during the last decades of the 20th century, the progressive, democratic vision that Nelson Mandela represented in many ways set the terms of international political debate. It doesn’t mean that vision was always victorious, but it set the terms, the parameters; it guided how we thought about the meaning of progress, and it continued to propel the world forward. Yes, there were still tragedies – bloody civil wars from the Balkans to the Congo. Despite the fact that ethnic and sectarian strife still flared up with heartbreaking regularity, despite all that as a consequence of the continuation of nuclear détente, and a peaceful and prosperous Japan, and a unified Europe anchored in NATO, and the entry of China into the world’s system of trade – all that greatly reduced the prospect of war between the world’s great powers. And from Europe to Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, dictatorships began to give way to democracies. The march was on. A respect for human rights and the rule of law, enumerated in a declaration by the United Nations, became the guiding norm for the majority of nations, even in places where the reality fell far short of the ideal. Even when those human rights were violated, those who violated human rights were on the defensive.”
The World of the Early 21st Century
In more recent years, however, “we now see much of the world threatening to return to an older, a more dangerous, a more brutal way of doing business.” We have to recognize that “the previous structures of privilege and power and injustice and exploitation never completely went away” while “around the world, entire neighborhoods, entire cities, entire regions, entire nations have been bypassed. In other words, for far too many people, the more things have changed, the more things stayed the same.”
“The result of all these trends has been an explosion in economic inequality. . . . In every country just about, the disproportionate economic clout of [many of] those at the top has provided these individuals with wildly disproportionate influence on their countries’ political life and on its media; on what policies are pursued and whose interests end up being ignored. . . . A decent percentage [of them, however,] consider themselves liberal in their politics, modern and cosmopolitan in their outlook.”
“But what’s nevertheless true is that in their business dealings, many titans of industry and finance are increasingly detached from any single locale or nation-state, and they live lives more and more insulated from the struggles of ordinary people in their countries of origin.” Nevertheless, “too often, these decisions are also made without reference to notions of human solidarity – or a ground-level understanding of the consequences that will be felt by particular people in particular communities by the decisions that are made.”
“Which is why, at the end of the 20th century, while some Western commentators were declaring the end of history and the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy and the virtues of the global supply chain, so many missed signs of a brewing backlash – a backlash that arrived in so many forms. It announced itself most violently with 9/11 and the emergence of transnational terrorist networks, fueled by an ideology that perverted one of the world’s great religions and asserted a struggle not just between Islam and the West but between Islam and modernity, and an ill-advised U.S. invasion of Iraq didn’t help, accelerating a sectarian conflict.”
“Within the United States, within the European Union, challenges to globalization first came from the left but then came more forcefully from the right, as you started seeing populist movements – which, by the way, are often cynically funded by right-wing billionaires intent on reducing government constraints on their business interests – these movements tapped the unease that was felt by many people who lived outside of the urban cores; fears that economic security was slipping away, that their social status and privileges were eroding, that their cultural identities were being threatened by outsiders, somebody that didn’t look like them or sound like them or pray as they did.”
“Perhaps more than anything else, the devastating impact of the 2008 financial crisis, in which the reckless behavior of financial elites resulted in years of hardship for ordinary people all around the world, made all the previous assurances of experts ring hollow – all those assurances that somehow financial regulators knew what they were doing, that somebody was minding the store, that global economic integration was an unadulterated good. . . . But the credibility of the international system, the faith in experts in places like Washington or Brussels, all that had taken a blow.” The Current World Situation
“A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment began to appear, and that kind of politics is now on the move. It’s on the move at a pace that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago. I am not being alarmist, I am simply stating the facts. Look around. Strongman politics are ascendant suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained – the form of it – but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning. In the West, you’ve got far-right parties that oftentimes are based not just on platforms of protectionism and closed borders, but also on barely hidden racial nationalism. Many developing countries now are looking at China’s model of authoritarian control combined with mercantilist capitalism as preferable to the messiness of democracy. Who needs free speech as long as the economy is going good? The free press is under attack. Censorship and state control of media is on the rise. Social media – once seen as a mechanism to promote knowledge and understanding and solidarity – has proved to be just as effective promoting hatred and paranoia and propaganda and conspiracy theories.” (Emphases added.)
“So on Madiba’s 100th birthday, we now stand at a crossroads – a moment in time at which two very different visions of humanity’s future compete for the hearts and the minds of citizens around the world. Two different stories, two different narratives about who we are and who we should be. How should we respond?”
“Should we see that wave of hope that we felt with Madiba’s release from prison, from the Berlin Wall coming down – should we see that hope that we had as naïve and misguided? Should we understand the last 25 years of global integration as nothing more than a detour from the previous inevitable cycle of history – where might makes right, and politics is a hostile competition between tribes and races and religions, and nations compete in a zero-sum game, constantly teetering on the edge of conflict until full-blown war breaks out?”
“I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision. I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.], and Abraham Lincoln. I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom and multi-racial democracy, built on the premise that all people are created equal, and they’re endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.And I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible and that it can achieve more peace and more cooperation in pursuit of a common good.” (Emphasis added.)
“I believe we have no choice but to move forward; that those of us who believe in democracy and civil rights and a common humanity have a better story to tell. And I believe this not just based on sentiment, I believe it based on hard evidence.”
“The fact that the world’s most prosperous and successful societies, the ones with the highest living standards and the highest levels of satisfaction among their people, happen to be those which have most closely approximated the liberal, progressive ideal that we talk about and have nurtured the talents and contributions of all their citizens.” (Emphasis added.)
“The fact that authoritarian governments have been shown time and time again to breed corruption, because they’re not accountable; to repress their people; to lose touch eventually with reality; to engage in bigger and bigger lies that ultimately result in economic and political and cultural and scientific stagnation. Look at history.”
“The fact that countries which rely on rabid nationalism and xenophobia and doctrines of tribal, racial or religious superiority as their main organizing principle, the thing that holds people together – eventually those countries find themselves consumed by civil war or external war.”
“The fact that technology cannot be put back in a bottle, so we’re stuck with the fact that we now live close together and populations are going to be moving, and environmental challenges are not going to go away on their own, so that the only way to effectively address problems like climate change or mass migration or pandemic disease will be to develop systems for more international cooperation, not less.”
“We have a better story to tell. But to say that our vision for the future is better is not to say that it will inevitably win. Because history also shows the power of fear. History shows the lasting hold of greed and the desire to dominate others in the minds of men. Especially men. History shows how easily people can be convinced to turn on those who look different, or worship God in a different way. So if we’re truly to continue Madiba’s long walk towards freedom, we’re going to have to work harder and we’re going to have to be smarter. We’re going to have to learn from the mistakes of the recent past. And so in the brief time remaining, let me just suggest a few guideposts for the road ahead, guideposts that draw from Madiba’s work, his words, the lessons of his life.” (Emphasis added.)
Guideposts for the Future
“First, Madiba shows those of us who believe in freedom and democracy we are going to have to fight harder to reduce inequality and promote lasting economic opportunity for all people.” (Emphasis added.)
“I don’t believe in economic determinism. Human beings don’t live on bread alone. But they need bread. And history shows that societies which tolerate vast differences in wealth feed resentments and reduce solidarity and actually grow more slowly; and that once people achieve more than mere subsistence, then they’re measuring their well-being by how they compare to their neighbors, and whether their children can expect to live a better life. And when economic power is concentrated in the hands of the few, history also shows that political power is sure to follow – and that dynamic eats away at democracy. Sometimes it may be straight-out corruption, but sometimes it may not involve the exchange of money; it’s just folks who are that wealthy get what they want, and it undermines human freedom.” (Emphases added.)
“Madiba understood this. This is not new. He warned us about this. He said: ‘Where globalization means, as it so often does, that the rich and the powerful now have new means to further enrich and empower themselves at the cost of the poorer and the weaker, [then] we have a responsibility to protest in the name of universal freedom.’ So if we are serious about universal freedom today, if we care about social justice today, then we have a responsibility to do something about it. And I would respectfully amend what Madiba said. I don’t do it often, but I’d say it’s not enough for us to protest; we’re going to have to build, we’re going to have to innovate, we’re going to have to figure out how do we close this widening chasm of wealth and opportunity both within countries and between them.” (Emphases added.)
“How we achieve this is going to vary country to country, and I know your new president is committed to rolling up his sleeves and trying to do so. But we can learn from the last 70 years that it will not involve unregulated, unbridled, unethical capitalism. It also won’t involve old-style command-and-control socialism form the top. That was tried; it didn’t work very well. For almost all countries, progress is going to depend on an inclusive market-based system – one that offers education for every child; that protects collective bargaining and secures the rights of every worker that breaks up monopolies to encourage competition in small and medium-sized businesses; and has laws that root out corruption and ensures fair dealing in business; that maintains some form of progressive taxation so that rich people are still rich but they’re giving a little bit back to make sure that everybody else has something to pay for universal health care and retirement security, and invests in infrastructure and scientific research that builds platforms for innovation.” (Emphases added.)
“You don’t have to take a vow of poverty just to say, ‘Well, let me help out and let a few of the other folks – let me look at that child out there who doesn’t have enough to eat or needs some school fees, let me help him out. I’ll pay a little more in taxes. It’s okay. I can afford it.’ What an amazing gift to be able to help people, not just yourself.”
“It involves promoting an inclusive capitalism both within nations and between nations. And as we pursue, for example, the Sustainable Development Goals, we have to get past the charity mindset. We’ve got to bring more resources to the forgotten pockets of the world through investment and entrepreneurship, because there is talent everywhere in the world if given an opportunity.”
“When it comes to the international system of commerce and trade, it’s legitimate for poorer countries to continue to seek access to wealthier markets. . . . It’s also proper for advanced economies like the United States to insist on reciprocity from nations like China that are no longer solely poor countries, to make sure that they’re providing access to their markets and that they stop taking intellectual property and hacking our servers.”
“While the outsourcing of jobs from north to south, from east to west, while a lot of that was a dominant trend in the late 20th century, the biggest challenge to workers in countries like mine today is technology. And the biggest challenge for your new president when we think about how we’re going to employ more people here is going to be also technology, because artificial intelligence is here and it is accelerating, and you’re going to have driverless cars, and you’re going to have more and more automated services, and that’s going to make the job of giving everybody work that is meaningful tougher, and we’re going to have to be more imaginative, and the pact of change is going to require us to do more fundamental reimagining of our social and political arrangements, to protect the economic security and the dignity that comes with a job. It’s not just money that a job provides; it provides dignity and structure and a sense of place and a sense of purpose. And so we’re going to have to consider new ways of thinking about these problems, like a universal income, review of our workweek, how we retrain our young people, how we make everybody an entrepreneur at some level. But we’re going to have to worry about economics if we want to get democracy back on track. ‘
“Second, Madiba teaches us that some principles really are universal – and the most important one is the principle that we are bound together by a common humanity and that each individual has inherent dignity and worth.” (Emphasis added.)
“Now, it’s surprising that we have to affirm this truth today: . . . that black people and white people and Asian people and Latin American people and women and men and gays and straights, that we are all human, that our differences are superficial, and that we should treat each other with care and respect. . . . We’re seeing in this recent drift into reactionary politics, that the struggle for basic justice is never truly finished.So we’ve got to constantly be on the lookout and fight for people who seek to elevate themselves by putting somebody else down. . . . we have to resist the notion that basic human rights like freedom to dissent, or the right of women to fully participate in the society, or the right of minorities to equal treatment, or the rights of people not to be beat up and jailed because of their sexual orientation . . . [do not] apply to us, that those are Western ideas rather than universal imperatives.” (Emphasis added.)
“Again, Madiba, he anticipated things. He knew what he was talking about. In 1964, before he received the sentence that condemned him to die in prison, he explained from the dock that, ‘The Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights, the Bill of Rights are documents which are held in veneration by democrats throughout the world.’ In other words, he didn’t say well, those books weren’t written by South Africans so I just – I can’t claim them. No, he said that’s part of my inheritance. That’s part of the human inheritance. That applies here in this country, to me, and to you. And that’s part of what gave him the moral authority that the apartheid regime could never claim, because he was more familiar with their best values than they were. He had read their documents more carefully than they had. And he went on to say, “Political division based on color is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one color group by another.”
“What was true then remains true today. Basic truths do not change. It is a truth that can be embraced by the English, and by the Indian, and by the Mexican and by the Bantu and by the Luo and by the American. It is a truth that lies at the heart of every world religion – that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. That we see ourselves in other people. That we can recognize common hopes and common dreams. And it is a truth that is incompatible with any form of discrimination based on race or religion or gender or sexual orientation. And it is a truth that, by the way, when embraced, actually delivers practical benefits, since it ensures that a society can draw upon the talents and energy and skill of all its people.” (Emphases added.)
“Embracing our common humanity does not mean that we have to abandon our unique ethnic and national and religious identities. Madiba never stopped being proud of his tribal heritage. He didn’t stop being proud of being a black man and being a South African. But he believed, as I believe, that you can be proud of your heritage without denigrating those of a different heritage. In fact, you dishonor your heritage. It would make me think that you’re a little insecure about your heritage if you’ve got to put somebody else’s heritage down. . . . people who are so intent on putting people down and puffing themselves up that they’re small-hearted, that there’s something they’re just afraid of. Madiba knew that we cannot claim justice for ourselves when it’s only reserved for some. Madiba understood that we can’t say we’ve got a just society simply because we replaced the color of the person on top of an unjust system, so the person looks like us even though they’re doing the same stuff, and somehow now we’ve got justice. That doesn’t work. It’s not justice if now you’re on top, so I’m going to do the same thing that those folks were doing to me and now I’m going to do it to you. That’s not justice. ‘I detest racialism,’ he said, ‘whether it comes from a black man or a white man.’” (Emphases added.)
“Now, we have to acknowledge that there is disorientation that comes from rapid change and modernization, and the fact that the world has shrunk, and we’re going to have to find ways to lessen the fears of those who feel threatened. In the West’s current debate around immigration, for example, it’s not wrong to insist that national borders matter; whether you’re a citizen or not is going to matter to a government, that laws need to be followed; that in the public realm newcomers should make an effort to adapt to the language and customs of their new home. Those are legitimate things and we have to be able to engage people who do feel as if things are not orderly. But that can’t be an excuse for immigration policies based on race, or ethnicity, or religion. There’s got to be some consistency. And we can enforce the law while respecting the essential humanity of those who are striving for a better life. For a mother with a child in her arms, we can recognize that could be somebody in our family, that could be my child. (Emphases added.)
“Third, Madiba reminds us that democracy is about more than just elections.” (Emphasis added.)
“When he was freed from prison, Madiba’s popularity – well, you couldn’t even measure it. He could have been president for life. Am I wrong? Who was going to run against him? I mean, Ramaphosa [the current South African president] was popular, but, . . . he was too young. Had he chose, Madiba could have governed by executive fiat, unconstrained by check and balances. But instead he helped guide South Africa through the drafting of a new Constitution, drawing from all the institutional practices and democratic ideals that had proven to be most sturdy, mindful of the fact that no single individual possesses a monopoly on wisdom. No individual – not Mandela, not Obama – [is] entirely immune to the corrupting influences of absolute power, if you can do whatever you want and everyone’s too afraid to tell you when you’re making a mistake. No one is immune from the dangers of that.” (Emphasis added.)
“Mandela understood this. He said, ‘Democracy is based on the majority principle. This is especially true in a country such as ours where the vast majority have been systematically denied their rights. At the same time, democracy also requires the rights of political and other minorities be safeguarded.’ He understood it’s not just about who has the most votes. It’s also about the civic culture that we build that makes democracy work.”
“So we have to stop pretending that countries that just hold an election where sometimes the winner somehow magically gets 90 percent of the vote because all the opposition is locked up or can’t get on TV, is a democracy. Democracy depends on strong institutions and it’s about minority rights and checks and balances, and freedom of speech and freedom of expression and a free press, and the right to protest and petition the government, and an independent judiciary, and everybody having to follow the law.” (Emphasis added.)
“And yes, democracy can be messy, and it can be slow, and it can be frustrating. I know, I promise. But the efficiency that’s offered by an autocrat, that’s a false promise. Don’t take that one, because it leads invariably to more consolidation of wealth at the top and power at the top, and it makes it easier to conceal corruption and abuse. For all its imperfections, real democracy best upholds the idea that government exists to serve the individual and not the other way around. And it is the only form of government that has the possibility of making that idea real.” (Emphasis added.)
“So for those of us who are interested in strengthening democracy, . . . it’s time for us to stop paying all of our attention to the world’s capitals and the centers of power and to start focusing more on the grassroots, because that’s where democratic legitimacy comes from. Not from the top down, not from abstract theories, not just from experts, but from the bottom up. Knowing the lives of those who are struggling.” (Emphasis added.)
“As a community organizer, I learned as much from a laid-off steel worker in Chicago or a single mom in a poor neighborhood that I visited as I learned from the finest economists in the Oval Office. Democracy means being in touch and in tune with life as it’s lived in our communities, and that’s what we should expect from our leaders, and it depends upon cultivating leaders at the grassroots who can help bring about change and implement it on the ground and can tell leaders in fancy buildings, this isn’t working down here.” (Emphases added.)
“To make democracy work, Madiba shows us that we also have to keep teaching our children, and ourselves . . . to engage with people not only who look different but who hold different views.” (Emphasis added.)
“Most of us prefer to surround ourselves with opinions that validate what we already believe. You notice the people who you think are smart are the people who agree with you. . . . But democracy demands that we’re able also to get inside the reality of people who are different than us so we can understand their point of view. Maybe we can change their minds, but maybe they’ll change ours. And you can’t do this if you just out of hand disregard what your opponents have to say from the start. And you can’t do it if you insist that those who aren’t like you – because they’re white, or because they’re male – that somehow there’s no way they can understand what I’m feeling, that somehow they lack standing to speak on certain matters.” (Emphasis added.)
“Madiba, he lived this complexity. In prison, he studied Afrikaans so that he could better understand the people who were jailing him. And when he got out of prison, he extended a hand to those who had jailed him, because he knew that they had to be a part of the democratic South Africa that he wanted to build. ‘To make peace with an enemy,’ he wrote, ‘one must work with that enemy, and that enemy becomes one’s partner.’”
“So those who traffic in absolutes when it comes to policy, whether it’s on the left or the right, they make democracy unworkable. You can’t expect to get 100 percent of what you want all the time; sometimes, you have to compromise. That doesn’t mean abandoning your principles, but instead it means holding on to those principles and then having the confidence that they’re going to stand up to a serious democratic debate. That’s how America’s Founders intended our system to work – that through the testing of ideas and the application of reason and proof it would be possible to arrive at a basis for common ground.” (Emphases added.)
“And I should add for this to work, we have to actually believe in an objective reality. . . . You have to believe in facts. Without facts, there is no basis for cooperation. . . . I can find common ground for those who oppose the Paris Accords because, for example, they might say, well, it’s not going to work, you can’t get everybody to cooperate, or they might say it’s more important for us to provide cheap energy for the poor, even if it means in the short term that there’s more pollution. At least I can have a debate with them about that and I can show them why I think clean energy is the better path, especially for poor countries, that you can leapfrog old technologies. I can’t find common ground if somebody says climate change is just not happening, when almost all of the world’s scientists tell us it is.” (Emphases added.)
“Unfortunately, too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up. We see it in state-sponsored propaganda; we see it in internet driven fabrications, we see it in the blurring of lines between news and entertainment, we see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more. Politicians have always lied, but it used to be if you caught them lying they’d be like, ‘Oh man.’ Now they just keep on lying.” (Emphases added.)
We also see “the promotion of anti-intellectualism and the rejection of science from leaders who find critical thinking and data somehow politically inconvenient. . . . the denial of facts runs counter to democracy, it could be its undoing, which is why we must zealously protect independent media; and we have to guard against the tendency for social media to become purely a platform for spectacle, outrage, or disinformation; and we have to insist that our schools teach critical thinking to our young people, not just blind obedience.” (Emphasis added.)
“My final point: we have to follow Madiba’s example of persistence and of hope.”
“It is tempting to give in to cynicism: to believe that recent shifts in global politics are too powerful to push back; that the pendulum has swung permanently. Just as people spoke about the triumph of democracy in the 90s, now you are hearing people talk about end of democracy and the triumph of tribalism and the strong man. We have to resist that cynicism.”
“Because, we’ve been through darker times, we’ve been in lower valleys and deeper valleys. Yes, by the end of his life, Madiba embodied the successful struggle for human rights, but the journey was not easy, it wasn’t pre-ordained. The man went to prison for almost three decades. He split limestone in the heat, he slept in a small cell, and was repeatedly put in solitary confinement. And I remember talking to some of his former colleagues saying how they hadn’t realized when they were released, just the sight of a child, the idea of holding a child, they had missed – it wasn’t something available to them, for decades.”
“And yet his power actually grew during those years – and the power of his jailers diminished, because he knew that if you stick to what’s true, if you know what’s in your heart, and you’re willing to sacrifice for it, even in the face of overwhelming odds, that it might not happen tomorrow, it might not happen in the next week, it might not even happen in your lifetime. Things may go backwards for a while, but ultimately, right makes might, not the other way around, ultimately, the better story can win out and as strong as Madiba’s spirit may have been, he would not have sustained that hope had he been alone in the struggle, part of buoyed him up was that he knew that each year, the ranks of freedom fighters were replenishing, young men and women, here in South African, in the ANC and beyond; black and Indian and white, from across the countryside, across the continent, around the world, who in those most difficult days would keep working on behalf of his vision.” (Emphasis added.)
“What we need right now . . . is that collective spirit. And, I know that those young people, those hope carriers are gathering around the world. Because history shows that whenever progress is threatened, and the things we care about most are in question, we should heed the words of Robert Kennedy – spoken here in South Africa, he said, ‘Our answer is the world’s hope: it is to rely on youth. It’s to rely on the spirit of the young.’
“So, young people, who are in the audience, who are listening, my message to you is simple, keep believing, keep marching, keep building, keep raising your voice. Every generation has the opportunity to remake the world. Mandela said, ‘Young people are capable, when aroused, of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom.’ Now is a good time to be aroused. Now is a good time to be fired up.”
“For those of us who care about the legacy that we honor here today – about equality and dignity and democracy and solidarity and kindness, those of us who remain young at heart, if not in body – we have an obligation to help our youth succeed. Some of you know, here in South Africa, my Foundation is convening over the last few days, two hundred young people from across this continent who are doing the hard work of making change in their communities; who reflect Madiba’s values, who are poised to lead the way.”
These young people “will give you hope. They are taking the baton, they know they can’t just rest on the accomplishments of the past, even the accomplishments of those as momentous as Nelson Mandela’s. They stand on the shoulders of those who came before, including that young black boy born 100 years ago, but they know that it is now their turn to do the work.”
“Madiba reminds us that: ‘No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.’ ’Love comes more naturally to the human heart, let’s remember that truth. Let’s see it as our North Star, let’s be joyful in our struggle to make that truth manifest here on earth so that in 100 years from now, future generations will look back and say, ‘they kept the march going, that’s why we live under new banners of freedom.’”(emphasis added.)
Various journalists saw the speech, which did not mention President Trump by name, as “a sharp rebuke” of him. Here are some of comments in Obama’s speech that support that interpretation:
A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment . . .is now on the move. . . at a pace that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago.”
“Strongman politics are ascendant suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained – the form of it – but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning.”
“The free press is under attack. Censorship and state control of media is on the rise. Social media – once seen as a mechanism to promote knowledge and understanding and solidarity – has proved to be just as effective promoting hatred and paranoia and propaganda and conspiracy theories.”
“So we’ve got to constantly be on the lookout and fight for people who seek to elevate themselves by putting somebody else down.”
While it is “not wrong” to want to protect the country’s borders or expect that immigrants assimilate, it cannot ”be an excuse for immigration policies based on race or ethnicity or religion.”
“We can enforce the law while respecting the essential humanity of those who are striving for a better life. For a mother with a child in her arms, we can recognize that could be somebody in our family, that could be my child.”
“You can be proud of your heritage without denigrating those of a different heritage.. . . You’re a little insecure about your heritage if you’ve got to put somebody else’s heritage down. . . . people who are so intent on putting people down and puffing themselves up [show] that they’re small-hearted, that there’s something they’re just afraid of.”
For democracy to work “we have to actually believe in an objective reality. . . . You have to believe in facts. Without facts, there is no basis for cooperation.
“Too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up.. . . We see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more. . . . They just keep on lying.”
“We also see the promotion of anti-intellectualism and the rejection of science from leaders who find critical thinking and data somehow politically inconvenient. . . . The denial of facts runs counter to democracy, it could be its undoing, which is why we must zealously protect independent media; and we have to guard against the tendency for social media to become purely a platform for spectacle, outrage, or disinformation.”
Before the lecture, one of Obama’s aides, Benjamin Rhodes, said, that it was the former President’s “most important public address since leaving the White House in 2017. It gives him an opportunity to lift up a message of tolerance, inclusivity and democracy at a time when there are obviously challenges to Mandela’s legacy around the world.”
Rhodes added, “”At the current moment . . . , values that we thought were well-established — the importance of human rights, respect for diversity — in many parts of the world those values are under threat. Mandela’s life is an inspiring example of how we can overcome obstacles to promote inclusive democracy and an equitable society with tolerance of others.”
“In the U.S. and around the world, many see recent developments that run counter to Mandela’s legacy. This [was] a globally minded speech, highlighting global trends and focusing on how, in his life, Mandela embodied perseverance. It will be aimed at young people in Africa and also around the world to show that we have been through darker times before and we can overcome these challenges to keep Mandela’s vision alive.”
As an admirer of Mandela and Obama, I was thrilled to see and hear Obama deliver a lengthy and illuminating speech, especially his comments on the world’s current situation. Those words are challenges to everyone who values knowledge, intelligence and honesty about the many problems now facing the U.S. and the rest of the world. As he said, each of us has a responsibility to something to promote social justice. He also reminds us to have a better understanding of those who are adversely affected by the many changes in the world.
Obama’s lecture also made we wonder whether it would be possible for all of the living former presidents (Obama, George W. Bush, Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Carter) to promulgate a joint statement about the need for every president to be informed about the serious issues and prudent in making decisions on these issues and about President Trump’s demonstrated incompetence as president.
These thoughts were reinforced by the recent comments of Bret Stephens, a New York Times conservative columnist. After admitting that he has supported “some of the [current] administration’s controversial foreign policy decisions,” he urges Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton to resign because “Trump’s behavior in Helsinki is . . . another vivid reminder of his manifest unfitness for office. That’s true whether the behavior is best explained as a matter of moral turpitude or mental incompetence — of his eagerness to accept the word of a trained liar like Vladimir Putin over the consensus assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies, or of his inability to speak coherently at a critical moment in his presidency. The president’s pathetic suggestion on Tuesday that he misspoke by failing to use a double negative also reminds that, knave or fool, he’s a congenital liar.”
A new perspective on different attitudes towards immigrants by U.S. elites and non-elites has been provided by Joan C. Williams of the University of California-Hastings College of Law.
“As recently as the 1990s, Harvard sociologist Michèle Lamont found that working-class men in the New York City area held generally positive attitudes toward immigrants, describing them as ‘family oriented’ and ‘hard workers, just like us.’”
“More recently, however, many working-class men express different attitudes towards immigrants.” Williams attributes this to stagnant real wages. She says “real wage growth for the working class has been abysmal for a generation, and for many native-born blue-collar workers the culprit seems obvious—immigration. “My fiancé’s worked at the same company for 21 years and it’s a union [job], and they are hiring Mexicans,” one Trump voter told the Public Religion Research Institute. “And I don’t want to be racial, but that’s all they’re hiring. He makes like $31 an hour, and they’re coming in at making like $8 an hour.”
Although “economists have demonstrated immigration’s positive effect on gross domestic product, . . .that misses a crucial point: People don’t live the averages. They live where they live, and see what’s in front of them. In 2016 Donald Trump won far more counties than Hillary Clinton did—but Mrs. Clinton’s roughly 500 counties represented two-thirds of GDP. Mr. Trump won in regions left behind.”
Today , Williams continues, “less than half of Americans born in the 1980s earn more than their parents did, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study led by Harvard economist Raj Chetty. Antitrade and anti-immigrant voices offer a clear explanation of why good jobs left the U.S. (free trade), and why the jobs that replaced them pay less (immigrants).”
“Those who believe otherwise need to communicate an alternative explanation and recognize that anti-immigrant fervor reflects cultural as well as economic divides.” These people primarily are what she calls “global elites, “ who “pride themselves on their cosmopolitanism. Some younger elites reject the notion of national borders entirely.” Indeed, many of these people “seek social honor by presenting themselves as citizens of the world. And many are, with membership in global networks dating to their college years or earlier.”
Such attitudes or beliefs are rejected by “many blue-collar whites [who] interpret this as a shocking lack of social solidarity. They are proud to be American because it’s one of the few high-status identities they can claim.” They “tend to stay close to home because they rely on a small circle of family and friends for jobs, child care and help patching that hole in the roof.”
“Driven in part by their contrary lifestyles and networks, elites and non-elites hold radically different core values. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that elites focus on achievement and individuality, while the working class prizes solidarity and loyalty—values that bind members to their communities.”
“This class culture gap is also fueled by what sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild calls ‘feeling rules’ in her book, ‘Strangers in Their Own Land.’ These unwritten rules govern who deserves sympathy and who doesn’t. Elites’ feeling rules mandate empathy for immigrants, viewed as vulnerable people separated from their families or fleeing persecution, gangs or conflict. This empathetic human-rights lens contrasts sharply with the neoliberal lens elites use for blue-collar Americans, who are often viewed as dimwitted and fat. Homer Simpson is emblematic.”
“All this has created a toxic environment in both the U.S. and Europe.”
Williams’ Suggested Remedies
Williams provides three suggestions for members of the elite class to try to turn things around.
“The first is to recognize that the nation-state matters greatly for non-elites in developed countries. . . . Dismissing national pride as nothing more than racism is a recipe for class conflict and more racism. Better by far to embrace national pride, balance it with concern for those outside the nation, and refuse to allow racism to pose as national pride.”
“The second, . . .highlight the ways President Trump’s immigration and trade policies are hurting red-state constituencies that voted for him. Critics can point to farmers unable to find farmworkers, small-business owners unable to find dishwashers, and construction workers hit hard by steel tariffs.”
“The third step is to fight the scapegoating of immigrants by ensuring that hardworking Americans without college degrees can find good jobs. Economist Branko Milanovic has found that people in the bottom half of rich, developed countries’ income distributions have seen ‘an absence of real income growth’ since 1988. What’s happening, Mr. Milanovic argues, is the ‘greatest reshuffle of individual incomes since the Industrial Revolution.’ [Indeed,] the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that average wages fell last year for nonsupervisory workers in the U.S.”
“There’s no inherent reason why native-born blue-collar workers should be anti-immigrant. They often hold similar attitudes toward hard work and family values. Elites who sympathize with immigrants do themselves no favors by dismissing the working class as too bigoted or too stupid to recognize the economic benefits of immigration. Instead they should actually try to make the case and address the causes of anti-immigrant scapegoating.”
These suggestions make sense although I would add the following as elements to ameliorating the class divide: publicizing the many ways that today’s immigrants enhance the life and economy of the U.S.; emphasizing the need for immigrants in the many parts of this country with declining, aging populations; and reminding everyone of the many injustices that faced prior immigrants who are our ancestors.
There also is a profound need, especially for members of the elite and for individuals in both camps to find ways to meet and have respectful conversations about these problems.
 Williams, The Elites Feed Anti-Immigrant Bias, W.S.J. (July 9, 2018). Williams is a Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of California, Hastings College of Law, Chair of the UC Hastings Foundation and the Founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law. She also is the author of “White Working Class” (Harvard Business Review, 2017). She has degrees from Yale University (B.A., History), MIT (M.A., City Planning) and Harvard Law School (J.D.).
On July 10 and 11, 2018, the U.S. and Cuba in Washington D.C. continued to hold bilateral meetings. On July 10, the subject was law enforcement. On the 11th, migration. As was true for other such meetings, each country released statements about the meetings. Here is a summary of those statements.
According to the U.S. State Department, the two countries “addressed topics of bilateral interest on national security matters, including fugitives and the [U.S.] return [to Cuba] of Cuban nationals with [U.S.] final orders of removal.” They also “reviewed recent progress in the law enforcement relationship, such as new bilateral cooperation that resulted in the [U.S.] conviction of a Cuban national who murdered an American citizen and who had fled prosecution in the [U.S.], as well as areas where there is more work to be done, such as trafficking in persons.”
The U.S. also said there was discussion about “the health attacks against diplomatic personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, including two recent cases. The U.S. delegation reminded the Cubans of their responsibility to protect U.S. diplomats from harm.”
The Cuban Foreign Ministry’s statement had these words about the medical issues of certain U.S. diplomats in Cuba: “The Cuban delegation urged the U.S. government to desist from the continued political manipulation of the alleged health incidents that became a pretext to adopt new unilateral measures that affect the operation of the respective embassies, particularly, the rendering of consular services depended upon by hundreds of thousands of people.”
“The investigations carried out by specialized agencies and experts from Cuba and the United States for more than one year confirmed that there is no credible evidence or hypothesis or science-based conclusions that justify the actions taken by the U.S. government against Cuba to the detriment of bilateral relations. Last June 5, U.S. Secretary of State himself affirmed that ‘the precise nature of the injuries suffered by the affected personnel, and whether a common cause exists for all cases, has not yet been established.’”
Nevertheless, the Cuban delegation “reiterated its unchanged commitment to cooperate with the U.S. authorities to clarify this situation. Ensuring the health and security of Cubans and foreign citizens is and will be a priority of the Cuban government. “
In addition, the Cuban statement said, “The purpose of these exchanges is to coordinate the bilateral cooperation in the field of law enforcement and to advance in the combat against the different crimes that threaten the security of the two countries such as terrorism, illicit drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, cybercrimes, among others.”
Cuba added, “While reviewing the exchanges on the different areas of security, the Cuban side made reference to the concrete results of this bilateral cooperation, which has contributed to prevent crimes and prosecute offenders. The Cuban delegation also made emphasis on the information and requests for cooperation [while still waiting for a U.S. response] to further advance in the implementation of this mechanism.”
“Both sides agreed to continue with this dialogue and to keep holding the technical meetings between the law enforcement agencies from both countries to bring bilateral cooperation to fruition.”
“The delegations discussed the significant reduction in irregular migration from Cuba to the [U.S.] since the implementation of the [January 12, 2017 Joint Declaration]. Apprehensions of Cuban migrants at U.S. ports of entry decreased by 88 percent from fiscal year 2017 to 2018. The [U.S.] again raised the need for increased Cuban cooperation in the [U.S.] return of Cubans with final orders of removal from the [U.S.]”
The [U.S.] also reiterated that until it is safe to fully staff our Embassy, we are able to adjudicate only official and emergency visas in Havana.”
“A strong migration policy is vital to the [U.S.’] national security. The Migration Talks, which began in 1995, provide a forum for the [U.S.] and Cuba to review and coordinate efforts to ensure safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the [U.S.].”
Both “parties acknowledged the benefits of the Joint Declaration of January 12, 2017, in particular the elimination of the policy of “Dry feet-wet feet” and the “Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals,” in the decrease of irregular emigration.”
“They also agreed on the usefulness of the exchange between [U.S.] Coast Guard Troops and the [Cuban] Coastguard Service held in January 2018, and the technical meeting on trafficking in persons and immigration fraud carried out in December 2017.”
In addition, “compliance with bilateral agreements was reviewed, in order to guarantee a regular, safe and orderly migration; discourage irregular migration, and prevent and confront associated illicit acts. Cuba demonstrated that it rigorously fulfills its obligations, and reiterated its willingness to maintain and expand bilateral cooperation in this area.”
“The Cuban delegation urged the government of the [U.S.] to fully comply with its commitments to issue visas for migrants, in accordance with the Migration Agreements. . . . [The U.S.] decision to suspend visa processing services at its embassy in Havana directly affects migratory relations and family ties, damaging institutional exchanges and travel between the two countries.”
The Cubans also “expressed concern about the [U.S.’] Cuban Adjustment Act, which, together with other US regulations, encourages the irregular emigration of Cubans and exposes them to becoming victims of illegal traffickers and gangs associated with organized crime.”
Despite the Trump Administration’s continued hostile rhetoric and actions regarding Cuba, it is reassuring that the two countries are continuing to have respectful dialogue on many common issues and reaching agreement on some of these problems. May it continue!
 On July 11, 2018, the issue of the medical problems of the U.S. diplomats cane up at a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. Kenneth Merten, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, testified, “We don’t know who is responsible and we don’t know what is responsible for this. . . . We have taken this … very seriously, both in the Cuba context and the China context which is, frankly, still very much evolving.” At the hearing, Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) — the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman and ranking member, respectively — said they planned to meet with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan on Wednesday afternoon and would discuss the health incidents with him.” (Reuters, State Department Still Investigating Diplomats’ Illnesses in Cuba, China, N.Y. Times (July 11, 2018); Greenwood, State Dept: No answers in sonic attacks in Cuba, China, The Hill (July 11, 2018).) Prior posts about these medical problems are listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CUBA.
Cameroon’s current struggle between the majority Francophones and the minority Anglophones is the subject of a June 12 Amnesty International (AI) report.
Recent History of Conflict
This report says the “unrest began in October 2016 when “lawyers and teachers in English-speaking cities went on strike in protest at having to use French in schools and courtrooms. In the ensuing clashes, six protesters were killed and hundreds arrested, some of whom were put on trial for charges carrying long sentences or the death penalty.”
English-speaking teachers and lawyers in the northwest and southwest then began calling for reforms and greater autonomy, criticizing what they called “the marginalization of the Anglophone population by French speakers.” In response, the government started a “crackdown, including arrests and an internet shutdown. . . . English-language separatists then picked up the momentum, calling for an independent state.”
The separatists then “burned down schools and killed at least 44 members of security forces in the past year. . . . They have vowed to paralyze the country until their leader Ayuk Tabe, who declared himself the president of the English-speaking Republic of Ambazonia, is released. He was arrested in December  with 48 others in neighboring Nigeria and extradited to Cameroon.”
The government forces then “responded with arbitrary arrests and unlawful killings.” According to AI’s investigation, people “were blindfolded, gagged and beaten with shovels, hammers, planks and cables.” Samira Daoud, AI’s deputy director for West and Central Africa, said, “Security forces have indiscriminately killed, arrested and tortured people during military operations which have also displaced thousands of civilians.”
On October 1, 2017—the anniversary of Anglophone region’s independence from Britain–thousands took to the streets to demand a breakaway state. The military stepped in. Witnesses said troops opened fire from attack helicopters; the military denied this. [As a result,] “thousands of Anglophones fled the ensuing crackdown, which Cameroon authorities said was necessary to restore peace and curb banditry. They described it as an anti-terrorist operation.”
A month later, separatists launched the first guerrilla attacks on security forces, killing four over a few days.
This February witnesses say the government forces used “scorched earth tactics such as burning down villages then opening fire on fleeing residents. Then late last month the conflict’s bloodiest incident happened when government security forces “surrounded and killed more than two dozen suspected separatists in the town of Menka, in Cameroon’s Northwest Region.”
France and Britain, which governed the country under League of Nations mandates after World War I until 1960 have tried to stay out of this conflict. France has condemned separatist violence and urged dialogue while Britain has “encouraged the parties to reject violence.”
Based upon this investigation and report, AI made the following recommendations to the Cameroonian authorities:
Conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations detailed in this report;
Ensure that those identified as responsible for any human rights violations are promptly and fairly prosecuted in accordance with international fair-trial standards;
Take all legal measures to ensure accountability for crimes committed by the armed separatists.
Preventing arbitrary arrest and detention
Ensure that arrests and detentions are conducted in compliance with international human rights standards and domestic law, and that all security forces are trained on and understand these norms;
Ensure that there are sufficient, recognizable and precise grounds for arrest and that evidence is appropriately gathered. A suspect must only be arrested if there is a reasonable suspicion that he or she may have committed a crime. If there are insufficient grounds for arrest, the person must be immediately released;
Ensure that detainees are promptly brought before an independent civilian court that upholds international fair-trial standards, are informed of the charges against them, and have knowledge of and access to legal procedures allowing them to challenge the legality of their detention.
Preventing incommunicado detention, torture and death in custody
Ensure that all detained suspects are treated in accordance with international human rights standards, which includes access to a lawyer of their choice, family, medical assistance, to be held in a legal detention facility, in humane conditions free from cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and torture;
Publicly order the security forces to end the practice of detaining and interrogating people in unofficial detention sites;
Ensure that confessions or other evidence obtained through torture will never be invoked in legal proceedings;
Grant independent international monitors, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), unhindered access to all persons deprived of their liberty and allow them to carry out unannounced inspections of all detention facilities to investigate and monitor conditions;
Improve conditions in detention facilities and preserve prisoners’ physical and psychological integrity by providing all detainees with professional medical care, adequate food, water, lighting, and ventilation, in accordance with international standards.
Avoiding excessive and unnecessary use of force
Ensure that security forces abide by international policing standards, including the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, when responding to protests, and in particular restricting the use of firearms to situations of imminent threat of death or serious injury, or the equivalent;
Issue clear orders to the military, the gendarmes and the police commanders to immediately cease the use of excessive force in the context of cordon, search-and-arrest operations, as well as during public demonstrations;
Respect and protect the right of all persons to peacefully assemble and to associate with others.
Providing effective remedies to victims
Ensure that all victims of human rights violations and abuses are granted reparation including measures of restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.
Restore the confidence between state representatives and the Anglophone communities by initiating an inclusive dialogue and consult with Anglophone population to address their concerns;
Address deeply-entrenched human rights violations, such as marginalization and exclusion, to prevent the escalation of the crisis and the resurgence of other social conflicts that often generate violence.
For members of the Cameroonian diaspora and for U.S. citizens, please let your elected representatives know of your concern for the welfare of the Cameroonian Anglophones. Support our brothers and sisters in that great country! I also invite comments with other ideas for engaging in this struggle from the U.S.
On April 27, 2018, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2414 (2018) Regarding the Situation in the Western Sahara. This resolution was offered by the U.S. and adopted, 12-0 (with abstentions by China, Ethiopia and the Russian Federation).
After a long preamble, the resolution provided, in part, as follows:
“1. Decides to extend the mandate of MINURSO until 31 October 2018;
“2. Emphasizes the need to make progress toward a realistic, practicable and enduring political solution to the question of Western Sahara based on compromise and the importance of aligning the strategic focus of MINURSO and orienting resources of the United Nations to this end;”
“3. Calls upon the parties to resume negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary-General without preconditions and in good faith, taking into account the efforts made since 2006 and subsequent developments with a view to achieving a just, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in the context of arrangements consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations, and noting the role and responsibilities of the parties in this respect;”
. . . .
“10. Calls upon all parties to cooperate fully with the operations of MINURSO, including its free interaction with all interlocutors, and to take the necessary steps to ensure the security of as well as unhindered movement and immediate access for the United Nations and associated personnel in carrying out their mandate, in conformity with existing agreements;”
After the vote, the U.S. representative, Amy Tachco, said, in part, the following:
“The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) is a peacekeeping mission that should have finished its job a long time ago. It is a mission that began 27 years ago, almost to the day. It is a mission that was designed to help achieve a specific purpose — one that it has not yet completed. That is not the fault of MINURSO. The fact is that we, as a Security Council, have allowed Western Sahara to lapse into a textbook example of a frozen conflict. And MINURSO is a textbook example of a peacekeeping mission that no longer serves a political purpose.”
“The [U.S.] wants to see progress at last in the political process meant to resolve this conflict. That is why we have renewed the MINURSO mandate for six months, instead of one year. Over the next six months, we expect that the parties will return to the table and engage Personal Envoy Köhler. We also hope that neighboring States will recognize the special and important role that they can play in supporting this negotiating process.”
“The [U.S.] emphasizes the need to move forward towards a just, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution that will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. We continue to view Morocco’s autonomy plan as serious, credible and realistic, and it represents one potential approach to satisfying the aspirations of the people of Western Sahara to run their own affairs with peace and dignity. We call on the parties to demonstrate their commitment to a realistic, practicable and enduring political solution based on compromise by resuming negotiations without preconditions and in good faith. Entrenched positions must not stand in the way of progress.” (Emphases added.)
“In the meantime, we expect that all parties will respect their obligations under the ceasefire and refrain from any actions that could destabilize the situation or threaten the United Nations process.” (Emphasis added.)
On Monday night (June 4), U.S. Vice President Mike Pence hosted a reception at the White House for delegates to the OAS General Assembly, which met June 4 and 5 with most attention on the U.S.-led effort to suspend Venezuela’s OAS membership.
Most of Pence’s remarks at the reception, therefore, concerned Venezuela. But he managed to interject these unkind words about Cuba: “In Cuba, the Castro name has begun to fade, but under a handpicked successor, their legacy endures and the oppressive police state they established is ever-present. Under President Donald Trump, America will always stand for Que Viva Cuba Libre.”
Those of us who support normalization and reconciliation with Cuba need to be vigilant in monitoring and combatting the anti-Cuba policies and rhetoric from the Trump Administration and its allies like Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL).
This blogger leaves to others the challenge of doing the same with respect to Venezuela.