Working late hours on Friday, the congressional and White House negotiators finally agreed on a plan to pay for U.S. government operations through the end of September while trimming $38.5 billion in spending. Lawmakers then approved a measure to keep the government running for a few more days while the details of the new spending plan are written into legislation. Actual approval of the deal is expected in the middle of next week.
In the end, all sides claimed victory. For Republicans, it was the sheer size of the spending cuts. For President Obama and Senator Reid, it was casting aside Republican policy initiatives that would have blocked environmental rules and changed a program that provides family planning services. The deal came together after six grueling weeks as negotiators virtually dared each other to shut down the government.
Although the U.S. still remains the world's largest economy, and has the most powerful military, the most dynamic technology companies and a highly entrepreneurial climate, its infrastructure is ranked 23rd in the world, well behind that of every other major advanced economy. It is dying like a dinosaur. The signs of decay are everywhere. Economy is usually the first of such major signs that become so obvious when the empire is sinking. Americans today have the largest amount of debt in the world.
Yesterday on the doorsteps to my local mosque I noticed a young mother begging for donation holding an umbrella stroller in one hand and a cardboard in the other hand that said she and her husband had lost jobs, and that she needed help to support her two kids. It was an odd scene, especially considering the fact that the mosque is located in an affluent neighborhood and that it was not a pleasant afternoon. The young mother had to risk her dignity and endure the unpleasant weather to come out of her home and seek help. Her little baby, lying in the stroller, was crying - probably because of hunger or from raindrops.
Over the last 22 years of my residence in the Greater Philadelphia area, I have once in a while seen elderly people standing near highway entrances with placards or cardboards in their hands that said they would work for food, which was another way of begging or saying that they needed financial help. But never before do I recall seeing a young mother begging in front of a mosque.
With millions of lost jobs and the ever growing budget deficit it does not take a genius to know that the USA is a debtor nation today. The two wars - started by Bush Jr. - have broken the back of the American camel. Not only were these unnecessary, their consequences were not even thought out properly. The merchants and promoters of the war forgot the lessons of history, the basic reasons why empires fall, and more importantly the thematic cause and effect so richly imbued throughout the Qur'an and the Bible. Funny that these warmongers portrayed themselves as deeply religious people, even getting directives from God to invade and commit massacre of innocent civilians!
So the American people should feel good about the debate on economy that has been taking place in the Capitol Hill. After all, these elected reps own the problem and they must fix it now. As pundits would tell you, if it had not been for their policies, we could have possibly avoided those wars (and the ensuing economic crisis), stopped outsourcing of jobs to China and India, and put higher priorities on developing human capital that would benefit the U.S. economy and guarantee its prosperity on a long-term.
In spite of all the claims as to their objectivity, outside the Congressman Dennis Kucinich there seems no one really serious about curtailing funding to Israel. We are told that such cuts (which are less than 1 percent of the deficit) won't put a dent in the budget deficit. True. But when the same Republican politicians voted 228-192 to bar National Public Radio (NPR) from receiving any more federal funds last month it is not difficult to fathom their naked hypocrisy. It is worth noting here that the total federal funding to NPR amounts to only 2% of its overall revenues of $180 million, i.e., less than 4 million dollars. If a $4 billion yearly handout to the government of Israel can't put a dent, why should a mere $4 million grant to the NPR? Whom are these Israel-firsters trying to fool? Such an over-protectionist attitude towards Israel is unsustainable.
As I noted many times, the American politicians are failing their people. Many are openly behaving like fascists. Many others are closet fascists who would reveal their true ugly self when push comes to shove. If they are serious about finding intelligent solutions to our fiscal problems, they better carryout the recommendations made by the Simpson-Bowles commission proposing $4 trillion in savings mostly through cuts in some of the largest drivers of the long-term deficit, e.g., Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.
The treatment of prisoners is a defining characteristic that separates great nations from others that are not. No nation can legitimately claim greatness when demeaning abuses and horrendous tortures are approved by its highest authority. Such practices show that it is bereft of moral higher values that define our humanity. And we had more than some random snapshots of such unspeakable displays committed by the American occupation forces in prisons of Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. We wondered how such evil acts could have been practiced by highly professional forces of a liberal democracy like the U.S.A. that has been so vociferous with the rule of law, democracy and human rights in the rest of the world! We were told that Abu Ghraib should not define America; it was an aberration. Then we found out that the abuses and tortures of Muslim detainees were actually authorized at the highest echelon of power within the White House. The torture of the prisoners and detainees were systemic and no random affair. The former president and vice president of the U.S.A. still remain boastful of the justification of torture practices.
Years ago in my after-work spare times I had volunteered to work as a social worker towards behavior modification of prisoners in a couple of prisons (or what are called correction centers) in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I learnt then that some prisoners would be confined to solitary cells for bad behavior. They would be denied pillow, mattress and other privileges. Sexual abuses were not uncommon either. It was a very depressing environment for everyone: the prisoners - who had little chance of becoming better or correcting their errors and crimes, the employees and volunteers - who worked there. Once imprisoned those prisoners were treated like worthless scum; they were simply dehumanized. Once released after serving their time, they could not fit in or adjust to their freedom. No wonder that there were many repeat offenders or prisoners to the prison system. It was like revolving doors for most of them.
I was told how some prisoners would be body-cavity checked every time they had outsider visitors, including lawyers. Short of sexual abuses, nothing could be more dehumanizing and painful experience for those unfortunate prisoners. Unable to cope with the traumatic experience that they suffered, many would plead their loved ones, including their lawyers, not to come for a face to face meeting.
Recently, news reports surfaced that the Wikileaks whistleblower Private First Class Bradley Manning is being tortured in a US military prison. Manning is subjected to utter isolation that can drive many people insane, with short periods each day where he is stripped naked and abused by jeering inmates. Manning's attorney David Coombs revealed last month that for at least two nights in row, the Army private had been "stripped naked" for as long as seven hours at a time. In the mornings, he was left without clothes and forced to stand at attention. "This type of degrading treatment is inexcusable and without justification," he added. "It is an embarrassment to our military justice system and should not be tolerated. No other detainee at the Brig is forced to endure this type of isolation and humiliation."
You may remember that Manning is awaiting trial for releasing secret military documents to Wikileaks - including a video of US soldiers massacring Iraqi civilians. He was able to expose the war crimes of some American soldiers (much like the Mi Lai massacre), something that the U.S. government tried to hide from its citizens. And his brutal treatment appears to be part of an intimidation campaign to silence whistleblowers and crack down on Wikileaks. The US government is split on this issue, with diplomats publicly criticizing the military for Manning's treatment. However, the White House sees nothing wrong with the treatment of Manning.
Apparently, speaking out publicly against your government's near-torture of a prisoner convicted of no crime is worse than the actual abuse itself. State Department chief spokesman P.J. Crowley resigned after publicly bashing the Pentagon's treatment of jailed soldier Bradley Manning. Crowley, appearing at a journalism event at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology called the US military's abusive treatment of Manning "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid."
But does American government care about its tainted pattern of abuses and tortures? If it does, it ought to know that the exercise of power in today's challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with her laws and values. It cannot say all the good things and do just the opposite. Today's internet-savvy population will not settle for such hypocrisy, not even in communist China.
Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder backed down from his original intention of trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM), the man accused of planning and executing the 9/11 attacks, in civilian courts. In the early days of the Obama administration he had said that trying KSM in civilian courts would be the "defining event" of his time as attorney general. After some ten years, it seems that like the Guantanamo Bay prisoners, KSM will also be tried under military tribunal.
What does it say about a government that locks up hundreds of detainees indefinitely in the most abject way known to mankind and then denies them the right to have fair trial? We are told that as part of a compromise with the Republicans, the Obama administration has agreed not to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention center. All that moral preening that Obama made when he was on the campaign trail has been revealed to be just that - a posture that earned him later a Nobel Prize and nothing good! Are we surprised with such flip-flops? I am not.
As I see, all these are signs of moral bankruptcy of this nation. No nation can be taken seriously about its hollow claim to greatness when it is rotting from within.
Dr Habib Siddiqui has authored nine books. His book: "Democracy, Politics and Terrorism - America's Quest for Security in the Age of Insecurity" is available at Amazon.com.
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