Archive for January, 2011

U.S. Foreign Policy Produces Terrorism

The President of the United States or any member of Congress has tremendous gall anytime they stand in front of an audience and proclaim that the United States is still the great beacon of the world when it comes to justice and human rights.  It no longer is.  Through its foreign policy, our government continually brushes aside those principles in the name of national security.  We support through money, military aid, and international diplomacy what is supposed to be the very antithesis of our own governing system – undemocratic, ruthless, and corrupt autocrats all because they are with us and not against us in our war on terror.  At the end of the day, we must ask ourselves, are we comfortable with violating our principles for what seems to be a fleeting safety?  Can we rest easy knowing that our support of tyrants brings carnage and chaos to millions?  Lastly, and most importantly, are we sure that our betrayal of American ideals abroad makes us safer or does it just, like many experts believe, provide a huge recruitment boost for terrorist organizations?

For 23 years the U.S. government turned a blind eye to Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.  In Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh’s speech in Doha last week he mentioned a conversation he recently had with a friend in the joint special operations business.  The friend was devastated that Ben Ali had been overthrown because, “he was such a good friend” of the United States.  You see as long as he supported us in our “War on Terror” he had the full blessing of Washington.  Never mind that he ruled his country corruptly by stealing successful private businesses and abusing political contacts to enrich himself.  Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was our “guy” in Tunisia because he was for us and not against us in our fight against terrorism.

Of course many analysts are predicting that the Tunisian revolt is just the tip of the iceberg.  Right now in Egypt violent upheaval against the long time rule of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak is well underway.  Mubarak is a man much despised by his own people but supported by the U.S. because he again supports our war on the so-called “bad guys”.  When I was in Egypt last year I asked several Egyptians their opinion of their president.  None responded at all or simply changed the subject.  Understand that unlike in the U.S. any dissent against Mubarak in Egypt is brutally put down.  After 29 years of his rule many Egyptians still live on about $2 a day.  It is the widespread poverty caused by high unemployment and rising prices that have sparked the most recent turmoil.  Oh, and throw in a few alleged stolen elections by Mubarak and you have the recipe for a major revolt.

And just what has been the reaction of our leaders to Egypt’s strife?  As expected, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton spewed the standard pablum delivered at a time like this, “We believe strongly that the Egyptian government has an important opportunity at this moment in time to implement political, economic and social reforms to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”  Blah, blah, blah.  You mean to tell me that it takes violent protests in Egypt to get Hilary Clinton to realize Mubarak is a thug?  Besides it’s a little late now given the regime has resorted to killing its own people in the streets.  But again, Mubarak is our buddy.  What are several dead Egyptians when the larger ‘War on Terror” is at stake?

An analysis of our government’s hypocrisy would not be complete without a discussion of our unconditional support for Israel.  Let’s face it, with U.S support Israel is perpetuating an apartheid state no less egregious than the one that existed in South Africa pre-1994.  Within Israel the movement of Palestinians is restricted.  Millions are imprisoned in cramped quarters in Gaza and the West Bank.  New Israeli settlements expand onto previously held Palestinian land.  Essentially, the Palestinians are at the complete mercy of the Israelis with Washington’s full support.

Now we have the release of the so-called “Palestine Papers”.  These are secret documents that have leaked out detailing conversations between American and Palestinian Authority (PA) officials about the Goldstone Report.  The report was a culmination of the United Nations’ probe into war crimes committed during Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2008-2009.  If approved by the U.N. the report would have opened the door for international tribunals to try Israeli officials accused of war crimes.  According to the leaked documents, the U.S. connived the PA into stalling a U.N. vote on the report in the name of Israeli/Palestinian peace negotiations.  Additionally, U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell got the PA to agree to the following:

“The PA will help to promote a positive atmosphere conducive to negotiations; in particular during negotiations it will refrain from pursuing or supporting any initiative directly or indirectly in international legal forums that would undermine that atmosphere.”

So essentially, the U.S took away about the only bargaining chip the Palestinian people have in their negotiations with the Israelis, namely the ability to prosecute Israeli war criminals in front of the world.  How could this happen and why would the PA agree to this?  It has been speculated that perhaps the U.S. threatened to cut off aid to the PA.  or simply that Israel threatened to release tapes implicating  PA president Mahmoud Abbas helping Israel coordinate the attack on Gaza.  Abbas has been accused of this treasonous act because at the time Hamas was on the rise and he sought to destroy them in Gaza.  Either way it was an enormous sell out of the long suffering Palestinian people.  And once again, the United States was there helping a regime (Israel) orchestrate a massive injustice.

So the next time we hear some politician proclaim that America is that “shining city on a hill” for upholding the high standards of justice, democracy, and human rights around the world don’t believe them.  It is all hyperbole.  Behind the rhetoric are millions who are suffering because of our support of tyrannical regimes.  And that is why they (extremists) hate us.  It is not because of our freedom, but because we contribute to taking away theirs.

Article first published as Hypocrisy of U.S. Foreign Policy Produces Terrorism on Blogcritics.

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina

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Putting Things in Perspective

To be sure the shooting in Tucson, Arizona a couple of weeks ago was a horrific incident.  A U.S. Congresswoman and many of her constituents shot in broad daylight at essentially point blank range is enough to make many wonder just how ill American society has become.  Certainly, as a nation we should mourn the loss of human life especially the loss of child innocence – the tragic death of eleven year old Christina Taylor Green.

The reaction of America to the shootings from the President to the media to ordinary Americans has been predictable especially as it pertains to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  On a daily basis the media informs us about her improving condition.  We are updated on the ever expanding memorial of well wishes located outside of her hospital room window.  The President and her colleagues in Congress are forever telling us that she is a person of strong will, a hero, and someone who is dedicated to public service.  Many, including President Obama, have called the shooting a “national tragedy”.

The problem with this overindulgence day after day is that it lacks perspective.  Congresswoman Giffords was the victim of an act that through her votes in Congress she has helped perpetrate on others.  Since being sworn into the House of Representatives in 2007 Giffords has fully supported funding for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and wherever else our military adventurers have taken their road show.  The result of this funding has been carnage and chaos for millions in those war zones.

According to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh who I heard speak in Doha this week, the U.S. war machine has not lightened up and its violations of the Geneva Conventions have not lessened during the Obama Administration.  Hersh claims that we continue to torture prisoners at secret prisons in North Africa.  Assassinations through unmanned drone attacks in Pakistan have doubled causing increased innocent civilian casualties.  And those prisoners that are lucky enough not to be held and tortured are usually released only to be shot in the back as they leave the site of their captivity.  Ms. Giffords votes fund these activities.

Additionally, Hersh explained how the U.S spreads even more misery on local populations by supporting tyrannical rulers in the Middle East.  The U.S. gets natural resources and support in fighting the War on Terror and in exchange the autocrats are allowed to continue their despotic ways with the backing of our government.  Again, Congresswoman Gifford’s support of the War on Terror contributes to the agony of the millions living under dictators in the region.

Hersh wrapped up his speech in Doha by talking about Obama’s speech in Tucson.  He said, “I wish he (Obama) had the same compassion for civilians and the military on both sides in Afghanistan that he had for the slain in Tucson”.  And that is really the point of this article.  While the victims in Tucson should be mourned, Americans should reconsider our international crusade to rid the world of terrorism.  Do our policies encourage the same behavior they are meant to eradicate?  Are we any better than the terrorists if we perpetuate the same atrocities?  Is it just to kill and mistreat literally millions of innocent people in an effort to bolster our own security?  After all, they too were children, the elderly, and people who left behind others that miss them very much.  Personally, I believe President Obama was wrong.  The shooting of Congresswoman Giffords in Tucson, Arizona was not a “national tragedy”.  The national tragedy is the military actions of our federal government at the behest of the American people.  As a country, we need a perspective change.

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina

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Politicians Just Can’t Admit Failure

It’s a funny thing, but politicians more than any other group seem to have an incredibly hard time admitting failure when it comes to programs and policies they support.  Take congressional housing kingpin Representative Barney Frank for example.  A devout proponent of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Frank never saw the collapse of the two Government Sponsored Entities coming.  In fact, he made proclamations on at least one occasion before Congress that, “Fannie and Freddie are not in crisis”.  Of course, both were in a crisis ultimately requiring a huge taxpayer bailout.

Then there were Fed Chief Ben Bernanke’s constant denials that a housing bubble wasn’t forming and the economic joyride produced by his and his predecessor’s easy money policies was going to last forever.  The housing bubble was so bad that almost 3 years after it popped home values are still falling.

Now, add Nevada Senator Harry Reid to the list of failure denying politicians.  His cause – the third rail, the fourth estate, the system bearing the name that makes all statists smile.  Of course, I speak of Social Security.  Last Sunday on Meet the Press, the following exchange took place between host David Gregory and Reid:

SEN. REID:  One of the things that always troubles me is, when we start talking about the debt, the first thing people do is run to Social Security. Social Security is a program that works, and it’s going to be–it’s fully funded for the next 40 years.  Stop picking on Social Security.  There are a lot places we can go to…

MR. GREGORY:  Senator, you’re really saying the arithmetic on Social Security works?

SEN. REID:  I’m saying the arithmetic on Social Security works.  I have no doubt it does.

MR. GREGORY:  It’s not in crisis?

SEN. REID:  No, it’s not in crisis.  This is, this is, this is something that’s perpetuated by people who don’t like government.  Social Security is fine.  Are there things we can do to improve Social Security?  Of course.

Even the lover of state power host David Gregory couldn’t believe the temerity of Reid’s comments about Social Security.

So, why was Reid’s description of Social Security so inaccurate?  Well, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), benefit outlays under current law will begin to exceed tax revenues on a regular basis starting in 2016.  Additionally, the CBO projects that the disability benefits portion of the “trust fund” will run out of funds in fiscal year 2018 and the old age retirement “trust fund” will be exhausted in 2042.  The CBO’s projections take into account baby boomer mass retirement and dispute Reid’s claim that Social Security is “fully funded for the next 40 years”.  And this doesn’t even take into account the fact that the Social Security “Trust Fund” currently has IOUs totally about $2.5 trillion because spendthrift politicians have raided it over the years to fund the rest of the warfare/welfare state.

The truth is Social Security faces insolvency because it is a Ponzi Scheme.  In fact, it’s a larger Ponzi Scheme than Bernie Madoff’s.  His was estimated to be in the hundreds of billions, Social Security’s is in the trillions.  You see Social Security is unlike other have paid retirement programs in that you don’t technically own your contributions to the fund and the fund is not invested in anything tangible.  As a matter of fact, the Supreme Court ruled in Flemming v. Nestor 1960 that the federal government is not even contractually obligated to pay you benefits even though you may paid into the program all your life.  Some deal, uh?  Yet Harry Reid maintains that it is I am sure because he doesn’t pay into it.

We are all aware of the devastation caused by the policies and programs supported by the likes of Barney Frank and Ben Bernanke.  Fannie and Freddie collapsed and the housing market popped in spite of the positive sentiments expressed by the dynamic duo.  Certainly, other examples can be found where politicians refused to admit failure and danger could have been avoided.  Hopefully, some other leader in Washington will have more sense than Harry Reid and work to do something to prevent the coming Social Security crisis.

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina

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When you think of America’s populist leaders, who comes first to mind? You might think of William Jennings Bryan, Eugene Debs, Huey Long, Martin Luther King, George Wallace, or Ronald Reagan. More recently you might think of Sarah Palin. These leaders vary a great deal in their styles, their origins, and their policy prescriptions. One thing they hold in common is an appeal to people’s resentment of established public authority – the way it ignores their problems, their needs, and their aspirations.

That brings us to Sarah Palin’s reference to real Americans. Remember how quickly race came into the argument after Sarah Palin used that phrase at the Republican convention in 2008? Nothing about those words had a racial overtone: not the context of meaning within her speech, not the setting or the audience for the speech itself, not Sarah Palin’s background or intentions, not anything. Yet the moment she uttered those words, partisan attackers announced: these are code words for white Americans. In Sarah Palin’s world, they said, blacks and other minorities aren’t welcome. She’s speaking to all the racists out there, and this is how racists speak to each other: in code. That’s the conservative agenda – to preserve America for real Americans.

Let’s think of an alternate way to understand these words. Legislators and leaders in Washington fall out of touch with the people they serve. They live in a bubble that shields them from common concerns, such as finding work, paying bills and taxes, raising families in safe communities with good schools, and so on. Real Americans are people who face these problems every day.

Their leaders, well-intentioned or not, seem bent on acting against the interests of people they serve. They don’t understand what real Americans need, because they don’t actually listen and they don’t seem to care about giving people with these sorts of problems a voice. Real Americans are people without a voice. Sarah Palin is popular because she gives them a voice.

Some populist leaders have been racist, just as historically, some populist resentments have derived from racist sentiments. But we’ve had many populist leaders who were not racist, and people experience many resentments disconnected from race. Similarly, racists may or may not follow populist leaders. Populism and racism have no natural affinity, no necessary connection at all.

Martin Luther King was a populist leader whose appeal went to members of all races. John C. Calhoun was a racist leader who appealed to a narrow base of resentful people who could hardly be called populist. Labor unions and other populist workers’ movements welcomed people of all races. The Ku Klux Klan and other segregationist organizations exemplified racist movements that were certainly not populist.

Let Sarah Palin talk about the concerns of people who feel left out. Let’s give everyone a voice. Especially, let’s not tar populist leaders as racists who speak in code. It’s a type of dishonesty we don’t need in this age of propaganda.

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