3 January 2022
Seriously, does the world deserve a pass mark for its performance in 2021? Let's see.
Firstly, the Covid pandemic. After nearly 2 years of infections and deaths, Covid-19 ramped up at the end of 2021 with nearly 1.6 million new cases every day, and a daily death rate of 7,902. These were only the reported cases.
But the response to the pandemic has been as bad as the virus itself. This response has been chaotic and erratic, and dangerously inconsistent.
Instead of a united front against a common enemy, the global response has been influenced more by backlashes motivated by suspicion (Africa), politics (pro-business reactions against mandated masks and lockdowns) and denial (the anti-vaxxers).
And were the vaccinations against Covid shared equitably, to try and shut down the virus everywhere? Or was common sense trampled in the stampede to get the vaccines first?
The Journal of Global Health reported the ugly truth that Covid-19 vaccine distribution was substantially unequal, and the large majority of doses were aquired and administered in the wealthiest countries. The Journal warned that vaccine hoarding would cause persistent Covid-19 'hot spots' and "opportunities for the emergence of new, potential escape variants of SARS-COV-2 that would deepen the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and crisis throughout the world."
At the end of 2021, Africa was still only 7% vaccinated.
These problems haven't yet been solved.
"Stop the Steal" was another virus in the USA that infected the minds of many of the approximately 70 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. These voters then largely supported Trump after he lost the election, and many then chose to believe Trump's false claims that the Democrats and President Biden had somehow stolen the election from him. One in three Americans believe these extraordinary claims, although no proof has ever been provided.
As history recorded, some of these Trump supporters then stormed the US Capitol building, and tried to subvert the election results by force. This attempt to overthrow the democratic process is still playing out in US courts.
More than 725 individuals have now been charged with various offences, including 225 charged with assault and resisting arrest, and 75 with using a deadly weapon.
Democracy fared even worse in the rest of the world.
Africa has seen the return of military coups in West and Central Africa, in Sudan, Guinea, Chad, Mali and Sudan.
And just when it seemed that democratic progress was finally on its way in the Horn of Africa, civil conflicts and political violence made a comeback, as in Ethiopia and Somalia. Free and fair elections have also proven to be an elusive goal in Uganda and Tanzania.
Following the Taliban takeover, the desperate plight of the Afghan people "will likely provoke more western hand-wringing than concrete action" according to The Guardian. "We're looking at 23 million people marching towards starvation," says David Beasley of the World Food Programme. "The next six months are going to be catastrophic."
In other parts of Asia, such as Myanmar, the military coup has resulted in torture, massacres, mass graves and displaced people. Hong Kong's comparatively brief flirtation with freedom and democracy following the British handover in 1997, has now been crushed by China. Protestors have been imprisoned under draconian new laws, and the Pillar of Shame statue has now been removed from Hong Kong University.
The Pillar of Shame statue commemorated the students who were killed in the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. The then Chinese Premier, Deng Xiaoping used the People's Liberation Army to kill hundreds (some claim many thousands) of student protestors who were agitating for democratic reform. The Tiananmen Square massacre is still a forbidden topic in China.
Art News notes that "authoritarian governments will always try to control all aspects of life - including art. But, in some form or another, art will always outlast politics." This is a brave statement, but hopefully, also relevant.
What was bad news for personal freedom in 2021, was good news for the arms industry. This trade boomed, following the record profits of $531 billion in 2020.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that these profits "marked the sixth consecutive year of sales growth by the top 100 firms, and came even as the global economy shrank."
The arms trade is one of the world's most profitable industries. So who are the world's largest manufacturers of weapons, and in which countries do they manufacture these weapons?
In late December, President Biden signed America's largest ever annual military budget of $777.5 billion into law.
This US military budget is by far the largest in the world - more than triple that of China, which is the second-biggest military spender.
It's difficult to understand why the USA needs such a massive military budget, especially considering its withdrawal from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The US Defence budget passage into law took place in the same month (early December) that the US Census Bureau estimated that 21 million Americans didn't have enough to eat as pandemic relief payments ran out and grocery prices rose.
The number of households in which there was sometimes or often not enough to eat reached 9.7% in December, compounded by grocery prices that had risen 6.4% from a year earlier.
It was no comfort for the hungry to hear about the other major news revelation of 2021, the release of the Pandora Papers.
The Pandora Papers are documents leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The ICIJ then allocated hundreds of journalists to follow the financial transactions of presidents, kings, politicians, celebrities, billionaires and sometimes convicted criminals who were using a sophisticated system to hide the existence and movement of large sums of money, frequently to avoid tax.
The International Money Fund estimates that the use of tax havens costs governments worldwide up to $600 billion in lost taxes each year.
It's a common perception that money laundering mainly takes place in obscure off-shore tax havens, but one of the major findings of the Pandora Papers is that in many cases, those wanting to hide their transactions were usiing compliant state governments in the USA.
At much the same time, Saudi Arabia surprised the world by cracking down on corruption in its kingdom. But observers were disappointed to learn that this had nothing to do with the Saudi cross-border murder and dismemberment of the journalist and critic, Jamal Khashoggi, and the subsequently clumsy Saudi attempt to deny and cover this up.
No, the Saudi corruption crack down was on camel owners who were using botox and other cosmetic aids to illegally beautify camels in Saudi camel beauty contests. Yes, forget about the possibiility of a Miss Saudi Arabia pageant, camels are the epitome of beauty in the Saudi kingdom. But no longer with Botox, butt lifts and false eyelashes.
Not long after this anti-corruption surge, reports surfaced that members of the Saudi hit squad who had carried out the killing of Khashoggi, and who Saudi Arabia claimed to have imprisoned for the murder (but only after an international outcry), were sighted living in luxury villas in Riyadh. This report reinforced western skepticism about the Saudi justice system, which is not transparent, and the report seemed to confirm that, especially in the Khashoggi case, so-called Saudi justice is a mockery.
2021 was also the year in which the US National Debt passed $29 trillion, and is, at this date, hovering on the brink of $29.5 trillion. The debate about the consequences of this debt is ongoing, but a more detailed understanding of the number itself is, well, staggering.
This is because, if 29 trillion is a difficult number to conceptualize, the New York Times reported that the number of just 1 trillion is also an astounding figure to visualise. For example, the NYT reported that 1 trillion seconds is the equivalent of 31,709.8 years.
A trillion seconds ago, "there was no written history. The pyramids had not yet been built. It would be 10,000 years before the cave paintings in France were begun, and saber-toothed tigers were still prowling the planet." Also, 31,000 years ago, the last Neanderthals were stilll coexistiing with Homo Sapiens.
And this NYT visualization stopped at 1 trillion, and didn't even begin to try and make sense of 29.5 trillion.
So. No, 2021 was not a good year. Governments seemed to print more and more money to cope with the Covid crisis. And mostly, corruption, greed, hypocrisy, indifference and impunity seemed to be the norm.
There were many statistics from 2021 that were depressing, for example, about refugees, refugee deaths, the murder of journalists, and the imprisonment of journalists. The so-called Anthropocene extinctions also continue apace, and deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest increased 22 percent over the previous year to become a 15 year high.
Yet another chilling statistic was revealed by the results of a poll taken in late December. This US poll found that 1 in 3 Americans believe that violence against the government can at times be justified. This approval for violence represented 40 percent of Republicans polled, and 41 percent of independents. These are disturbing figures.
The Editorial Board of the New York Times has also weighed in with the opinion that, "Over the past year, Republican lawmakers in 41 states have been trying to advance the goals of the Jan. 6 rioters - not by breaking laws but by making them. Hundreds of bills have been proposed and nearly three dozen laws have been passed that empower state legislatures to sabotage their own elections and overturn the will of their voters, according to a running tally by a nonpartisan consortium of pro-democracy organizations."
No, the report card for 2021 is not just bad. The 2021 global report is a catastrophic fail. Worst of all, few lessons seem to have been learned.
Leaders who will still be in positions of power in 2022 show little will or ability to do better.