Common Sense Vs. Politics

An advertisement in Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal promoting sound public health caught my attention. I applaud the effort to continue to press forward with getting more people vaccinated to stem COVID-19. While the ad correctly urged an easy way to receive the shots it also presented what is wrong with our politics.

The fact that in Wisconsin there remains a need to clarify that these vaccine shots do not include a microchip or alter DNA made me put the newspaper down, and if anyone saw me, I surely just shook my head. When it comes to marketing to the anti-vaxxers no one can deny the effectiveness of partisans who used a pandemic to score points.

Meanwhile, The New York Times ran an article Sunday about the presidential election in France. The issue of Algeria, colonialism, and religion has been created by some partisans as a wedge issue in the upcoming balloting.

The legacy of Algeria has perhaps been most evident in the phrase “great replacement,” a racist conspiracy theory claiming that white Christians were being replaced by nonwhite immigrants.

Cleary the lack of critical thinking is not a local problem, as it spans the globe and presents itself in the most dreadful of ways. But wasn’t the emergence of the world wide web and countless ways to access information and gain knowledge to have lifted us all up as a global society?

So what happened where people now entertain the idea of microchips in vaccines and ‘replacement theories?

While history is replete with inaccurate information about health issues and it was only 62 years ago that our nation was actually discussing if a Catholic could be elected leader of the free world, should we not now be smarter and wiser with modern technology?

I grew up as a child hearing prognosticators speak of gadgetry akin to the world of The Jetsons, the space-age cartoon, being very possible within the coming decades. Life was going to be more advanced, the work world changed to make workers toil less, and the underlying assumption was we would be happier.

Computer chips revolutionized the world and advances, up and down the line, have allowed for everything from classrooms to space travel to speed forward with modernity. I marvel at those achievements as some of them mirror what we were told might happen as children.

But are we smarter and more able to think, reason, and use logic to not only navigate our personal lives but the larger community around us? In many aspects of our lives, such technology has been a clear asset. But how then, at the same time, do we account for what seems to be a growing segment of the world population insisting on rejecting facts and common sense, as noted in my two examples from today’s papers?

It is assumed, and I would argue correctly so, that using politics to steer our nation towards civil rights, and greater freedoms such as lowering the voting age and broadening the definition of marriage moved our nation closer to our ideals about democracy. But we have also seen the utter contempt for facts and logic used by some for partisan reasons actually grow; most recently by the willful undermining of life-saving vaccines.

The internet and the myriad ways to gain access to information and knowledge about every imaginable topic were to have lifted up humanity. In many ways, it has done that very thing. But we have also seen political forces misuse social media to create conspiracies and stir doubt as they score victories by how many they can deceive and delude.

I remain an optimist, seeing the glass half-full. But we need to be mindful that it can also be argued to be half-empty.

And so it goes.

Reprehensible Strongman Bashir Removed From Power, Killed Over 300,000, Now Needs Hague Trial

It is nearing 2:30 A.M., and due to the news being reported tonight on the BBC, I am most alert and in the office.  One of the most reprehensible strongmen in the world is being ousted from power.

The village of Um Zaifa in Darfur burns after an attack by government-sponsored militia on December 12, 2004

This blog, from its early years, has had one person on the world stage, more than any other, placed in the cross-hairs of history.  Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is a brutal war criminal and butcher of the people in Darfur.  More than 300,000 people died in Darfur according to the United Nations. I have long called on the world community to right the wrongs from Darfur, and to have a not-to-be-missed response to his atrocities.

In December 2010 President Obama said of al-Bashir, “There can be no lasting peace in Darfur—and no normalization of relations between Sudan and the United States—without accountability for crimes that have been committed.” 

Let me be more blunt.

Omar al-Bashir needs to rounded up and carted off and tried for crimes against humanity.  A decade ago the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir, accusing him of war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Darfur.  If anyone doubts that fact look at the rape victims, the corpses, the burnt villages, and photos of the refugee camps.

As a high school freshman in 1977 I recall being drawn to the argument, made by the-then new American President Jimmy Carter, that human rights had to be a central feature to our foreign policy.  These decades later I am still a staunch believer in that point of view.  If anything, recent history has proved the correctness of the ‘Carter Doctrine.’  Tonight I am mindful, one way or another, that justice eventually arrives and brings its means to the job at hand.

Tonight it is reported that al-Bashir is stepping down—or more correctly being forced to remove himself from power.  Sudan has been rocked by months of anti-government protests.   The monster will be the second leader in the region to quit amid nationwide protests this month, as Algerian President Bouteflika also found it time to abandon his national thievery.

Now there must be a worldwide commitment to ensure that humanity has its day in court.  al-Bashir must stand trial in The Hague, and in so doing will allow for the victims and their families to have the justice they need.  And justice the world demands.

Impact Of Arab Spring Makes For Best Sunday Newspaper Read

The Arab Spring, and the impact it is having on the parts of Northern Africa makes for a fascinating read in the Sunday newspaper.

As the uprising closed in around him, the Libyan dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi warned that if he fell, chaos and holy war would overtake North Africa. “Bin Laden’s people would come to impose ransoms by land and sea,” he told reporters. “We will go back to the time of Redbeard, of pirates, of Ottomans imposing ransoms on boats.”

In a sense, both the hostage crisis in Algeria and the battle raging in Mali are consequences of the fall of Colonel Qaddafi in 2011. Like other strongmen in the region, Colonel Qaddafi had mostly kept in check his country’s various ethnic and tribal factions, either by brutally suppressing them or by co-opting them to fight for his government. He acted as a lid, keeping volatile elements repressed. Once that lid was removed, and the borders that had been enforced by powerful governments became more porous, there was greater freedom for various groups — whether rebels, jihadists or criminals — to join up and make common cause.       

In Mali, for instance, there are the Tuaregs, a nomadic people ethnically distinct both from Arabs, who make up the nations to the north, and the Africans who inhabit southern Mali and control the national government. They fought for Colonel Qaddafi in Libya, then streamed back across the border after his fall, banding together with Islamist groups to form a far more formidable fighting force. They brought with them heavy weapons and a new determination to overthrow the Malian government, which they had battled off and on for decades in a largely secular struggle for greater autonomy.

Even the Algeria gas field attack — which took place near the Libyan border, and may have involved Libyan fighters — reflects the chaos that has prevailed in Libya for the past two years.

Yet Colonel Qaddafi’s fall was only the tipping point, some analysts say, in a region where chaos has been on the rise for years, and men who fight under the banner of jihad have built up enormous reserves of cash through smuggling and other criminal activities. If the rhetoric of the Islamic militants now fighting across North Africa is about holy war, the reality is often closer to a battle among competing gangsters in a region where government authority has long been paper-thin.

Pure Hell Spelled Out In Algeria’s Amenas Gas Field

While the BBC has provided some of the best reporting regarding the Amenas gas field hostage situation, the story in today’s New York Times paints some of the details that were pure hell.

Before being captured, Stephen McFaul, 36, an electrical engineer from Belfast, Northern Ireland, barricaded himself in a room with a colleague at the first sound of gunfire, quietly using his cellphone to assure his family that he was all right.

“I joked that I was from Northern Ireland and that I had been through better riots,” he told the colleague, according to John Morrissey, a representative for his family in Belfast who was responding to reporters for media organizations around the world.       

Mr. McFaul, who had been sent to work in Algeria only three weeks ago, was seized a few hours later, Mr. Morrissey said, and ultimately placed in the last jeep of a five-jeep convoy that came under heavy air attack from Algerian forces.       

The first four jeeps were destroyed, and when Mr. McFaul’s vehicle veered off the road, he and a fellow worker managed to climb out of the back window, which had been broken. Their hands had been tied, their mouths taped and they had been forced to wear vests loaded with explosives, Mr. Morrissey said.       

The two made a run for it, reaching the security forces, who disarmed the explosives. The spokesman said Mr. McFaul was “bright and together and nervously excited” about returning home.