Saturday, June 21, 2014

Lessons from Yugoslavia, At Least for Some of Us

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that we continue to learn nothing from our past, and it might not be such a big deal if the consequences of this unforgivable ignorance weren't so dramatic. It's not exaggerating to suggest that hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of our failure to totally grasp the lessons we should have drawn from the breakup of Yugoslavia. The series of events and interactions that transpired since the death of Tito and the failed attempt at a unified government have played out throughout the Middle and Near East, where a myopic US foreign policy time and again fails to understand that it cannot control events and cannot design an outcome contrary to the natural inclinations of similarly situated groups of people.

Yugoslavia's stability was a direct consequence of it being under the rule of a powerful leader who understood the need to create a strong but culturally diversified central government, but to balance that with a certain degree of local autonomy over matters of local interest but not having ramifications at a national or international level. With Tito's death, it was only a matter of time before that experience with local autonomy would intensify and transform into a sense of nationalism and desire for self-determination. At the very least it would translate into demands for greater representation in any national government.

You could even go back to the experience of the Soviet Union for lessons that should have been applied to the current crises in the Middle and Near East. President Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost initiatives were risky attempts at satisfying the growing impulses of an impatient public, but their success in fact planted the seeds of its own destruction, setting in motion desires for autonomy that led to the eventual breakdown of the Warsaw Pact and then the Soviet Union itself.

How is it possible that our so-called foreign policy experts did not foresee what would happen in Iraq, in Libya, in Syria, in Afghanistan, literally in all of the nations throughout this region. I realize that our foreign policy is driven by a myriad of influences and concerns over national interest and national security, but how could we even have that debate without even once making reference to the experience of Yugoslavia. The Kurds certainly learned from the experience, and no doubt the tribes and ethnic groups of the region learned from Yugoslavia's dissolution as well. What they learned is to be tenacious and firm in your demand for greater autonomy, greater power, and greater control over resources.

I mean, is my observation wrong, or does it seem that the only people pushing for a strong national government are the United States and those who spent much of the post war period living in exile where they had a disadvantage forming a strong internal coalition of power.

I have so little confidence in our political leaders and so-called experts; they all pursue agendas that are personally enriching and fail to represent our true interests overseas. Can we please, once and for all, stop this charade that we can manipulate and coerce people to do as we say. Once and awhile we are lucky and our interests may align, but otherwise we are simply kidding ourselves. We cannot make the world in our image, nor can we make it as we imagine it to be.

Once again, it is the pragmatists and the realists who are being silenced, as our foreign policy, much like our domestic policies, move from one mistake to another. No matter what the stage, it is the theatre of the absurd. Frankly, its a performance I'm tired of reviewing.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Injustice System is at it Again

Frustration has kept me from this blog for quite some time; I need to realize of course that my writing will do little if anything to provoke change where it is needed or to "inform" those who just don't get it, like with understanding the reality of an amorphous but no less real "Pragmatic Party" that dominates the center of American politics and draws the left and right to come to "it" rather than "it" moving left or right. But every once in a while I read a story or hear a newscast- in this case on the Colbert Report- that leaves me so flabbergasted I would otherwise explode if I didn't write something.

Such is the case with the story that almost 25% of the people in state and (mostly) local prisons are there simply because they could not afford to pay the court costs associated with a case that was litigated in their name. So yes folks, we have people in jail for the crime of being too poor.

You would think that in a society where there are payment programs for just about every debt imaginable, that our court system could not do the same. When you also consider that we also have people in jail because they are too poor to post bail, then you add in the number of people incarcerated for victimless drug possession arrests, it is becoming all too clear that our justice system is captive to an industry that profits from building and maintaining prisons rather than a system guided by principles of fairness, equity, and just plain decency.

The havoc that this type of incarceration is no doubt doing to poor families is unimaginable and unforgivable. The problem is that this problem is of no consequence to our political leaders, who have so many other supposedly vital interests to pursue. But, seriously, what could be more vital than a further degradation of a system supposedly guided and driven by the principle of justice.

As I learn more about this I will share what I find, but let us not lose sight of the fact that we are a country with a dysfunctional political system, a heavily manipulated financial system, and an economic system that pays little more than lip service to notions of opportunity and mobility. If we add to this a justice system defined by injustice, is there much left for us to tout to the rest of the world as a "shining city on a hill." The shine has oxidized. We are a mess, and, given the complete disconnect between our elected officials- especially but not only at the Federal level- and our citizenry, how can we be at all confident that our government is truly representative of the People. When we incarcerate people simply because they are too far, we really have sunk to a new low. Debtor prisons were the stain of a past century; it is said to see that we really never went away.