The Somalian lesson

U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has been harshly criticized for seeming to elevate her homeland Somalia over the U.S. in a recent speech she made in her Congressional district. If so, she is not the first politician to tout the glories of a country abroad, but she happened to pick one that demonstrates all the ambiguities of current U.S. foreign policy. Touching that third rail can hurt.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was emphatic. “She should be expelled from Congress, deprived of U. S. citizenship and deported back to Somalia. “ The object of his ire? U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a member of the controversial progressive “squad” in the House of Representatives who added to her controversy by apparently having more praise for her homeland Somalia than for the U.S. in a recent speech to her constituents. Others echoed the DeSantis outrage.

However her words are interpreted, they are not really out of line with American tradition. What country has not at one time or another been grandly touted as an example for America? There’s revolutionary France, mistreated Ireland, besieged Britain, even – let’s face it – communist Russia. All had their adherents, but Congresswoman Omar took a step too far and trod on a most questionable aspect of current U.S. foreign policy – whether we’re doing good of doing bad in our many military interventions in various parts of the world, specifically Africa.

After the 9/11 attack, the gloves as they say were off. The U.S would not just seek revenge but suppress terror and restore democracy around the world, a tall order. An early target was Somalia on the horn of Africa. Its dire poverty called for aid, its terrorist component for bombs. It got both in plentiful supply.  But it turned out bombs were not enough. So the U.S. backed an invasion of Somalia by neighboring Ethiopia which destroyed one violent Islamist group only to give rise to another, Al-Shabaad, that continues to make trouble today. Some five hundred U.S. troops are on hand and Somalia continues to be bombed.

Celebrating a Somalian festival

It is this that angers Congresswoman Omar and may explain any disappointment she expressed with the U.S. in her speech. She complains that the recurring air strikes simply increase support for the terrorists. “It is critical that we realize that we are not going to simply drone the Al-Shabaad problem to death.” She insists that reparation payments should be made to the families of civilians killed in the bombing. More generally, she notes: “Too often U.S policy makes plans for influencing or changing regimes without considering the likelihood of success or the humanitarian consequences.”

Others agree. The U.S. military interventions tend to be too long with rarely an acceptable outcome. There’s the example of the twenty- year Afghan war which ended in a U.S. defeat by the Taliban. Recently, The Intercept got hold of a 2007 U.S Government analysis of the Somalian war that showed there was no clear U.S. goal or coordination among various agencies with an over emphasis on military measures. “This could almost have been written yesterday,” says Elizabeth Shackelford, who served with the U.S State Department in Somalia. Lessons not learned.

One glaring contradiction stands out. While the U.S. purports to be bombing terrorists in Somalia, it may be letting them in across its open southern border. Why kill people over there when you’re welcoming them over here? Belatedly, the U.S. needs to get its Somalia policies together or better yet let Somalia handle its own affairs without intrusive, unsuccessful intervention.

The Neocon Era

Hard as it is to construct a consistent U.S. foreign policy, considering all the pressures involved, Victoria Nuland managed to achieve it. As a solid member of the so-called neoconservatives whose husband Robert is a chief theorist, she had a clear plan and followed it to the letter. From her perch at the top of the State Department, she backed U.S. expansion into the Middle East, partly for the benefit of Israel, with the ultimate target Russia.

With the controversial wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria behind her she chose Ukraine as her first stop on the way to Russia. She aimed to replace a pro-Russian regime with a pro-American one. Her on-the-spot planning was meticulous down to the last Ukrainian to occupy a new office. “I think Yats is the guy,” she told the compliant U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in a telephone conversation later exposed by the Russians. She was referring to Akseney Yatsenyuk, who indeed became the prime minister after the successful coup. She contemptuously dismissed the doubts of the European Union.

It was a dramatic turnabout. A large country bordering Rusia was now pro-American much to Moscow’s distress. And there was still more. Testifying later before the U.S. Congress, Nuland somewhat reluctantly admitted that Ukraine has a number of biological weapons labs which should be kept out of the hands of the Russians. Their presence indicated a depth of U.S. involvement in the country beyond what was generally realized. The U.S. stake in Ukraine was serious.

With that in mind Nuland and her allies forged ahead, threatening to link Ukraine to NATO in violation of an earlier U.S. pledge not to expand the alliance toward Russia. For Putin a red line had been crossed, and he invaded, starting a war that is still with us. But the neocon goal has not been met. The Russian regime has not been replaced like the Ukrainian. Contrary to expectations, Russia has emerged from the conflict with a stronger military and economy and a ruler more secure than ever. Someone had to take the fall for this, and apparently it was Nuland.

Neocon policy had demonstrated the ample military power of the U.S., but it did not come to a successful conclusion. It will be up to Trump, presuming he’s elected, to fashion a new policy based on his plans for improved relations with Russia and less military action. But his first term leaves some doubt since he appointed two neocons to top positions who promptly turned on him. What has he learned in the meantime? As for departing Nuland, she will be out of sight but probably not out of mind. We will continue to hear from the woman who left an indelible mark on U.S. foreign policy.

Was Stalin Mentally Ill?

Soviet ruler Josef Stalin caused the death of some twenty million innocent people in his storied career. Some had challenged him, others had offended him and still more just simply existed. That was reason enough. He had the power, and he enjoyed using it and frankly, took pleasure in killing. He never showed any regret for his atrocities while he held sway over a good chunk of mother earth and its people. What can we say? Was he mentally ill, a category to which we assign today many malefactors?

Let’s say the great dictator assembled a group of psychiatrists to tell him what was wrong. They dutifully examined his words and deeds and came to the unanimous conclusion that he was mentally ill. Unfortunately, the psychiatrists got the remedy, not Stalin. They couldn’t even make it to a labor camp in Siberia. They couldn’t even escape the room. “I may be mentally ill,” said Stalin as he quickly disposed of them, “but you’re dead and I’m alive.” And ready to go on to greater glory and renown as arguably the most effective ruler of the 20th century.

That’s psychiatry Stalin-style. But what does it say about our world today? Is mental illness congruent with remarkable statesmanship and the ruthlessness that accompanies it? If so, we may have to reconsider the casual way we equate mental illness with crime. It can be inaccurate and misleading. Crime speaks for itself. Today’s drug cartels gained control of Mexico some years ago, yet they are as violent as ever, displaying their joy in killing fellow Mexicans and maybe planning the same fate for Americans. The only cure is getting them somehow out of the picture.

Mercy and compassion alone will not do. As long as it’s not punished, crime will spread. What happened in Mexico is a wake-up call for the U.S. Over and over mental illness is cited as the cause for the rapidly increasing crime in the inner cities where drug cartels prey on local gangs. But does sympathy for the addicted also explain the inattention of the media and the U. S. Government to the drug trade? Do they think it’s a system that needs counseling, not suppression? The same goes for violent local criminals. In a typical case Kemal Rideout casually slashed a woman to the bone on the New York City subway for no apparent reason. When he was caught about to leave town, his lawyer claimed – what else? – he was mentally ill and could not help himself. This had worked four times before when he had committed violent crimes and avoided prison. Why not try again? Others look to his example.

Oddly, while the U.S. is increasingly lenient with drug cartels and inner-city criminals, it’s issuing more threats than ever against foreign powers, large and small, with economic sanctions and military action. It’s now engaged in a proxy war with Russia that doesn’t have a clear purpose and is not going very well. It may be time to look back at an earlier great power, the Roman Republic-Empire, which had a run of close to ten centuries – impressive; we’re just getting started – that historians say became so enfeebled at home it could no longer hold off the barbarian forces that finally took it over. Could a plague of mental illness spell the end of the U.S.?

Karl Marx and the Truckers

Truckers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your miles.

With apologies to Karl Marx, that could be the appropriate slogan for the truckers now on strike in Canada over having to show proof of vaccination for Covid if they want to cross the U.S. border, which they do thousands of times a day to keep the economy of both nations humming. They are indeed the lifeblood of the economies without which they cannot function. All goods go from place to place, and trucks take them there.

Not just truckers are involved. Thousands of people line the streets to cheer them on as they head for their destination, Ottawa, capital of Canada. They obviously speak and drive for a population weary of lockdowns and masks and other forms of coercion that writer Tony Hall calls “medicalized tyranny.” They are said to be based on science, but the science keeps changing. A human being can only cope with so much change.

“Freedom Convoy,” Ottawa, Canada. ΙΣΧΣΝΙΚΑ-888

Karl Marx, star promoter of communism, says that’s when a revolution occurs. A crisis precipitates it. But wait. The hundreds of truck drivers don’t seem very revolutionary. They are cheerful, even festive and, cold as it is with their fuel being removed by authorities, they seem to be enjoying themselves. It’s a democratic strike. No violence.

In the strike ridden U.S. in the late 1800s, top labor boss Samuel Gompers was asked what he wanted. He said succinctly “More.” Today’s truckers’ response to the same question might be “Less.” That is, less government intrusion on their lives. In Marx’s time strikes were economic, over pay. Today they may be cultural, a reaction to what they perceive as an assault on their values replaced by a fixation on race and gender. On their long hauls across the continent, they have time to ponder this.

It’s a sentiment that seems to be shared by fellow truckers in France, Australia, New Zealand and to be sure, the U.S., where a similar convoy plans to leave California in mid-February and reach Washington by mid-March. It doesn’t seem as if this increasingly international strike is going to be easily settled. Alarmed by the closing of bridges that has shut down the vital trade between the U. S. and Canada and caused some industries to reduce operations, Canadian authorities have warned of dire consequences. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a target of truckers’ wrath, says the strikers are only a fringe element with unacceptable demands and refuses to negotiate. But some Canadian provinces have taken the sizeable hint and lifted their Covid restrictions.

Another group deeply offended by the truckers’ action are the so-called globalists, wealthy individuals who meet privately to map, as they see it, the future course of the world. It’s a fuzzily collectivist vision not unlike that of the master Karl Marx. Trudeau is a member, as are Bill Gates and George Soros, a heavy contributor to U.S. officials who don’t like to prosecute crime. Truckers need not apply.

The truckers have undergone a change of reputation in allegedly elite circles, including the media. A short time ago they were the celebrated heroes who braved the Covid epidemic to continue to supply their fellow Californians huddled for protection inside. They now seem to be considered a Marxist style proletariat intent on power. Sorry, Karl, it’s not power they seek but a rightful place and voice in a democratic polity and the continent long convoy is their way of achieving it.

Deporting a Journalist to His Death

Since more journalists are murdered in Mexico than anywhere else on eartth – 125 in the last ten years – it seemed reasonable for newsman Emilio Gutierrez-Soto to seek asylum in the U.S when his life had been threatened. He had committed the offense of writing about corrupt police practices in a small town in northern Mexico. For that he was warned he was about to die.

Photo by NPR

But when he reached the New Mexico border with his son Oscar in 2008, he found U.S. officials unimpressed. What was he so excited about? he was asked. The pair were placed in detention – a kind of prison while their request was leisurely considered. Eventually, a U.S. immigration judge turned them down, saying they had nothing to fear back in Mexico. They had even been promised bodyguards.

The ignorance displayed is breathtaking. It’s as if the judge, while next door to Mexico, had no idea of what was going on there. Perhaps he gets all his news from the mainstream media which mostly ignores the  murdered journalists and treats neighboring Mexico as just another normal state instead of the criminal enterprise it actually is. The judge may be a casualty of the media.

The bodyguards he recommended are under drug cartel control and would make quick work of the offending journalist unless torture were also involved. Gutierrez-Soto remarked: “I’d like to see the judge spend a weekend in Ciudad Juarez (a border town once known as the murder capital of the world) without protection.” Apparently, the judge has not taken him up on that, though it must be said that Americans who visit the border towns briefly and carefully are spared the kind of violence inflicted on Mexicans. That would be bad for business.

Released from detention after six months, Gutierrez-Soto worked on a food truck while awaiting the decision on asylum. Various groups came to his defense as the years went by, and in 2017 the National Press Club gave him an award. That seemed to speed things up but in the wrong direction. Father and son were ordered deported and in handcuffs they approached the border when an emergency injunction kept them in the U.S. and back in detention.

Thanks to pressure from the National Press Club and others, they are now living freely in Ann Harbor, Michigan, where Gutierrez received a fellowship from the University of Michigan. His treatment as an endangered journalist seeking help in the U.S. is truly extraordinary. It’s as if the U.S. sides with the drug cartels in wanting him to go back home to face “justice” in Mexico, e.g., certain death.

The case is indicative of a strange permissiveness toward the criminal rulers. They continue to pour their lethal drugs into the U.S. through a porous border that enrich Americans along with Mexicans. U.S. Immigration continues to withhold documents in this case, suggesting there’s something to hide. What could it be?

Inequality in America

On a Fox TV news broadcast Tucker Carlson noted that the coronavirus shutdowns have crushed huge parts of the economy. “Millions of Americans are out of work. But at least one person has become extremely rich, richer than any man in history. Just yesterday Jeff Bezos made $13 billion in a single day” – from a stock market surge. That’s to be expected, replied Sean Hannity: “People who make money provide goods and services that people need and desire. It’s called freedom, capitalism.”

The on-air exchange illustrates a difference of opinion on the vast gap between the very rich one per cent and the less affluent and struggling ninety-nine per cent, an inequality beyond any other in U.S. history. Today’s top salaries would defy belief even a generation ago. It’s hard to keep track of the climbing salaries, but it looks as if Safra Catz, CEO of Oracle (computer services), is on top, at least until tomorrow, with an annual $103 million.

Current CEO’s make as much as 1000 times what their employees earn, leading to questions of both fairness and good business. Abigail Disney of the founding Disney family raised the issue of Disney CEO Robert Iger’s $65.6 million salary. Surely half of that could be distributed to employees, she advised, without harming the company. Iger took the hint. He settled for a more modest $47.5million.

Today’s CEO’s are worth it, claims an article in Time magazine. There’s a blossoming of innovative firms with a global reach that needs leaders to match. Would that include Dennis Muilenberg, CEO of Boeing, who presided over the launching of the poorly designed 737 Max aircraft that resulted in two crashes and the loss of 346 lives? Families of the victims were outraged that he was removed from his job but left with a tidy $30 million in compensation.

Economic inequality leads to political inequality, supposedly the antithesis of democracy. In its wisdom the U.S. Supreme Court has decreed that money is the equivalent of speech to be used as freely as words in politics. But a greater amount of money buys a greater number of words in political campaigns and also buys more influence with candidates. An example is billionaire Sheldon Adelson, President Trump’s biggest donor, who insisted on a U.S. withdrawal from an agreement with Iran that limited its nuclear activities and offered relief from economic sanctions. Trump obliged, adding more sanctions alongside.

Billionaire Gorge Soros adroitly shifted his funding from national politics to local, putting $52 million into races for sheriff, mayor or district attorney in various parts of the country. Some of his successful candidates then implemented his radical policies that abetted or ignored the rioting in targeted cities.

William Jennings Bryan, 1908 Democratic National Convention

The so-called Gilded Age in the late 1800’s was also a time of great inequality, though not as extensive as today’s. Labor strife, a struggle among classes led to the Populist and Progressive reform movements and notable leaders like William Jennings Bryan and Teddy Roosevelt, later U.S. President. Inequality was reduced by opening up the political system and providing more help for working people.

Today’s one per cent have managed to avoid serious challenge because their potential opposition is divided on issues involving race and social change. They are thus distracted from the most important cause of all. So the one per cent rest content and if anything, inequality increases.

The Biden We Don’t Know

What we know about Joe Biden is none too flattering. On his rocky road to the Democratic Presidential nomination, which promises to be even rougher on the way to the election, he has stumbled in speech and action. Critics deride his snarled syntax and lapses of thought. A former Senate staffer claims he sexually assaulted her 27 years ago. And there’s no explaining how he used his Washington influence over Ukraine to add to his wealth at the expense of this distraught nation.

Yet there is something more to the Vice President that has been hidden from view but becomes clear in Bob Woodward’s 2010 book “Obama’s Wars.” This inside look at the White House debate over the Afghan war is filled with the endless, windy pronouncements of the President, his aides and top military commanders. They circle round and round the topic without deciding why we were in the eight-year war and what it was expected to accomplish. Just continue what we’re doing. was the consensus. Only try harder.

One voice stands out for independence and freshness of thought, and that is Biden’s. The room, he complained, confuse al Quaeda with the Taliban. Al Qaeda terrorists threaten the U.S., the Taliban do not. The U.S. has pushed al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, and they’re not likely to return. So why continue with nation-building and remaking Afghanistan when it’s not really working even with ten thousand troops on the ground.

Biden insisted the Taliban is not monolithic as commonly portrayed. There are hard core believers at the top, but down the line many others are far from committed and open to change. Their differences are exploitable as opposed to trying to kill them all. And the top echelon who will fight to the end are all in Pakistan. Yet we’re at war in Afghanistan. For what?

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden.

There were no answers to Biden at the meeting, just some shrugs and eye rolling. Obama rather condescendingly urged him on without seeming to mean it. “Verbosity” was the charge against him, as it is today, but was it the length and style of his talk that offended or the content? With consistency he went on to oppose the war in Libya as “madness” since the U.S. was already engaged in two other wars – Afghanistan and Syria. Considering the shambles of Libya today, he knew what he was talking about. He also noted that the extensive U.S aid to the rebels against the Assad regime in Syria was largely going to terrorists. Once again, a policy that made no sense.

What if Biden, instead of being ignored, had prevailed? The world would look different today – no ruined, inflamed Middle East and North Africa with a flood of refugees adding to the global burden. But sadly, this point rarely comes up in the current Presidential campaign where Biden is mainly seen to be faltering, unsure of the message he once strongly conveyed.