Saturday, August 29, 2009

Finding Justice After Torture

There was always something that bothered me on the show 24, Jack Bauer never eats. He is running all around the world killing, torturing, defending America all in one day. It’s incredible really, and because the show is so dramatic it has a huge following. No one who watches the show though cares when Bauer tortures people because it’s just part of the show. When it’s real though, the people have a different response.

Attorney General Eric Holder has decided to investigate the torture methods that have recently been documented in reports released by the Justice Department. Some of which included holding electric drills to detainee’s head, and threatening to kill their children.

In what seems like a response to the Justice Department, the CIA released reports written in 2004 and 2005 detailing information they received from Khalid Shaik Mohammed (planner of the attacks on 9/11), which says the information “dramatically expanded our universe of knowledge on Al Qaeda plots.”

All American’s (whether you watch 24 or not) were shocked at the methods being used on detainees. This was especially seen when photos of the methods came out in 2004 from Abu Ghraib prison. The balance between keeping American’s safe and not violating the laws and morals, which are trying to be defended, can sometimes be difficult. In this case though, torture was being used not to find out information on attacks on the country, but finding out where other members of Al Qaeda were and how they could be found.
The reason why there has not been another terrorist attack since 9/11 in America is because of the great police work put in place after that horrific day.

In polls, the people show they do not want our government to torture (58%), and they also want the Obama administration to investigate if the treatment of prisoners (50%) by the Bush administration.

In his statement on issuing a special prosecutor the Attorney General said “my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law. In this case, given all the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action…” The law is what we are trying to defend against the terrorists, and when the founding fathers decided that all men should be created free and equal, they too wanted to defend what they were fighting for. People are shocked at what has happened at Abu Gharib and other secret prisons across the world, not because it is a new concept, but because it is un-American.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Stop Being Afraid

President Obama’s campaign ran on one word: Change. It was quick, easy to remember, and resonated with a lot of people. Obama was a great candidate who also kept his cool and always knew exactly what to say. But the big question in the media was whether or not people would vote for a black man. While he tried not to make race an issue, the press kept asking him about it even before the controversy with Reverend Wright. But it didn’t matter. He had a strong message, and the people voted for him because they felt he was the stronger candidate to lead the country.

This time though, he’s losing the media game which he played so well during the campaign.

It recently came out that Conservatives for Patients Rights put out a misleading advertisement about England’s health care system. Republican members of Congress are telling people to be afraid of a government run health care system. Democrats have started a “war room” so they can fend off attacks on the proposals they’re putting out there. All in all, both sides have spent over $57 million dollars on advertisements.

Whether you are for or against what President Obama is proposing on health care, I think most American’s would agree that the rhetoric which has been put out there has disenfranchised our country. Personal freedom relies on being able to collect information in order to make a decision which they feel can improve their quality of life. That is a fundamental truth in democracy and it is not being practiced.

This has been seen in the town hall meetings. So far my favorite has been where a women asked Senator Specter a loud but pointed question, and later admitted on FOX News she didn’t even listen to the answer. Not to mention all the screaming which has drowned out any debate which is of course the point of town hall style meetings. These circuses and the media rhetoric which has taken place around the healthcare debate has boiled up so many emotions it has been hard for people to sit down and think about the issue.

In the fast paced media, and the thirty-second sound bites that fill up their time, it’s always hard to cut through the ridiculousness that is out there. The news channels that are supposed to give people their information have only been talking about the disinformation that is being put out to the public.

There has been nothing on the actual problem. Hardly any talk that while the reforms being proposed will cost one trillion dollars, doing nothing would cost three times that. Or that if insurance rates keep rising, hardly anyone will be able to afford any sort of health care.

When I was at Muhlenberg College I worked at the school’s polling center and every year we did a quality of life survey. One year we asked the question about how Route 22 (a major state highway) should be taken care of. The overwhelming majority said they wanted the state government to deal directly with the problem instead of handing it off to a private company. American’s aren’t afraid of government, but unfortunately the media is focusing on the people who are. That focus has infused the debate with false information that has scared more people about the reforms which need to take place.

So now, politicians are trying to save political capitol. It’s looking like anything that passes in Congress which is called “health care reform” will be considered a victory for Obama; Whether it is actually real reform or not.

So to the press: Get your act together. Politicians: Do your job. People: Stop being afraid.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

It's the people stupid!

So, officially, the Obama administration is saying that getting the two journalists (Laura Ling and Euna Lee) was strictly a humanitarian mission by President Clinton and they had nothing to do with it. They only, you know, talked to North Korea for several weeks through back channels, made sure Kim Jong il would like to meet Mr. Clinton, and then asked the former President to go to North Korea. And yes, the administration knew the reporters would be coming back with Clinton because that’s what they agreed to even before President Clinton left.

This is not to take away anything that has happened. I’m happy for the journalists and their families, as I’m sure all American’s were when we saw them come off the plane. But while people have suggested that separating this humanitarian issue with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions was a good idea, I think they forgot what country we’re talking about.

The reason why Lara Ling and Euna Lee were on the border (or not) of Korea was to report the human trafficking that takes place there. North Korea spends a lot of money on its military, when in fact they should be spending it on helping their people. Since 2007 there have been extreme floods that have lead to a food shortage because there’s not enough land to farm on. On top of that, in October of 2005 Kim Jong il prohibited private sales of grain and re-instituted a centralized food rationing system. By December of the same year, he also stopped all international assistance operations.

Living conditions are so bad in the North that thousands of the countries residents try and cross into China. Women and children are lured by the promise of freedom. But if they get into China they are either forced to become prostitutes, get married, or work hard labor.

Now you may ask: How did the country get in such bad shape? Let me tell you. North Korea is ruled by a dictatorship, and when Kim il Song (Kim Jon il’s father) was President he was influenced by the Soviet Union to attack South Korea in order to expand communism which lead to the Korean War. The United States took the South’s side, helped them fight back, and in 1945 (as part of the surrender of Japan) the United States agreed with the Soviet Union to to divide the Korean peninsula into two occupation zones. After this, Kim il Song adopted a policy of self-reliance in order to make sure there won’t be outside influence involving the countries future endeavors.

In 1994 President Clinton signed an accord with North Korea where the U.S. would give them oil to stop developing nuclear technology. This worked until President George W. Bush invaded Iraq and kicked the remaining weapons inspectors from the accord out of the country. Kim Jong il moved enough plutonium that could produce five or six nuclear weapons. In 2006 Kim Jong il tested a nuclear weapon and it has been reported that he is giving this technology to Myanmar.

President Obama cannot only deal with the nuclear issue though. By doing so he still leaves a situation of instability that will lead to a deterioration in a area of the world whose economy is becoming increasingly important. Their economy (and ours) can only grow and prosper if trade is open and the two countries work together to create a reciprocal relationship. Multinational corporations don’t mind investing in a country that has poor labor laws, but they can’t do it if the country does not invest in its infrastructure. The jobs that will come when the corporations move into the country will help the people, in time, reach a better quality of life.

By dealing with the human rights abuses in North Korea, President Obama can gain a new ally in the east, help the American economy, and Kim Jong il or future leaders of the country will think twice before launching or testing a nuclear weapon. They will not want to upset the international community, and risk sanctions that can hurt their economy or deter companies from investing within their country.
Sending President Clinton to North Korea was throwing Kim Jong il a bone. More importantly though, it shows that he is willing to negotiate. President Obama should take this opportunity to keep the dialogue going and work toward a positive and prosperous new beginning between the two countries.