Slavery: work yet unfinished


Over a year ago, I wrote a post about the large number of slaves in a world where it is almost unanimously illegal. The number I cited was 27,000,000.

The Walk Free Foundation has joined in this study by releasing their first report on global slavery. Their number is around 29,600,000- almost ten percent higher. And it points out how wide the problem is. Some countries (Mauritania, Haiti) have a high proportion of slaves, and large countries like India, Pakistan, and China have slave populations in the millions. But no country is completely free. The use of illegal immigrants as sexual or servile labor exists even in the most advanced, liberal stated. They estimate 59,000 slaves live in the United States. They remark:

“The relative wealth of Canada and the United States, their demand for cheap labor and relatively porous land borders, makes them prime destinations for human trafficking.”

In some ways, it is still like the days of the Transatlantic slave trade. Economics makes the international trafficking of people lucrative, and while it is no longer legal, it is also difficult to control. For a citizen, it is unlikely that he or she will be enslaved; but for another class of people, they come to America in chains. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries it was Africans, now they come from all over the world. Families from Asia and the Middle East bring child servants with them (a well-known case from an Egyptian couple), and prostitution is in many ways buoyed by cheap involuntary labor. Living in the the Bay Area, I know that San Francisco has slaves, brought from Asian countries to work in brothels and “massage parlours.” Actions to rescue children have happened as recently as August- a nationwide sweep included 12 children in San Francisco.

Often we think of freedom in political terms. You live in a democracy like France or Japan, or you live in a dictatorship like North Korea. The first means you are free, the latter unfree. But it’s more essential than that. It’s about freedom to go to school, and to work where you want to. It’s about receiving pay and benefits for what you accomplish. It’s about being able to appeal to the government or private organizations for help and advice. It’s ultimately being treated as a person rather than property.

In America we think of “slavery” as a historical concept, something that was settled with the Thirteenth Amendment and a brief ceremony in a Virginia parlor. But it’s not just history. It is memory, it is reality. We have work yet unfinished.

Neat. Plausible. Wrong.

Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”

-H.L. Mencken

All parties accept that the situation in Syria is deeply complicated. On one side (which I guess would be the group against the pre-war status quo) there continue to be non-violent protestors against Assad. They are mixed in rebel-held areas with Sunni militias supported by Qatar and perhaps Saudi Arabia, and radical forces of mostly foreign extraction like al-Nusra that want a Sunni state at the expense of moderates and other religious groups.

This contrasts with an Assad regime supported by (and protecting) the relatively small Allawite Shite minority. They are given strong support from Hezbollah and thus considerable support from Iran. They also get large amounts of sophisticated weapons from Russia.

This is not even going into the Kurds and their involvement in Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey as a NATO nation dealing with a refugee issues, whether escalation could lead to strikes inside the borders of Israel. Many other countries in the region have been supporting one side or the other, or tried to be neutral (Lebanon) but failed or had to deal with the massive refugee crisis which will not end anytime soon.

So when U.S military intervention shows up, remember that any solution to a complex crisis that is neat, elegant, plausible also has another attribute- it’s totally wrong.

Dreams turned into debt

Dreams turned into debt

I’ve wondered how you would encapsulate the economic era that most Americans live in. The fundamental costs of living have skyrocketed. Many Americans are lucky to have zero retirement savings, because others are mired in long-term debt.

I decided to draw this graph to encapsulate what the post-industrial era had brought. With the death of high-wage unskilled labor and declining investment in training and education, wealth has turned into a sea of debt.

Arming a fractured world

In Monday’s debate, Romney said the following about Syria and American support of the anti-Assad insurgents:

We need to have a very effective leadership effort in Syria, making sure that the — the — the insurgents there are armed and that the insurgents that become armed are people who will be the responsible parties. (source)

Emphasis mine.

A few years ago, I bought a used book published in 1990 called The Fighting Never Stopped. It was an exhaustive chronicle of the dozens of violent and bloody conflicts that have happened since the end of World War II. A common trope among American academics is that the Cold War was the longest period of peace in modern times without a major struggle. The rise of nuclear-armed states, claimed to be rational, would herald the end of war due to deterrence.

Continue reading “Arming a fractured world”

People are more important than profits

Thursday evening, I attended a screening of The Healthcare Movie, a new documentary exploring the divergence of the Canadian and American healthcare systems over the past half century. Documentaries like Sicko do rightly point out America’s inferior system- both in financial sustainability and quality of care. The important aspect missing from Sicko is history. Why does the United States not have the same healthcare setup as its economic equals? Why have so many politicians, from Ted Kennedy to Teddy Roosevelt, failed?

There has been historical opposition from the American Medical Association  and in the last fifty years, private insurance companies. The famous Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine (video) was part of an AMA campaign. Since the second Red Scare, connecting universal health insurance with the Soviet Union (or more recently, just saying “socialism” a couple dozen times) has been an effective method of stopping both universal coverage, as well as the initial, much stronger drafts of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.

Continue reading “People are more important than profits”