Sep 15th 2017

Is America Still A Beacon Of Light To Other Nations?

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

We do not need President Trump to tell us that he can make America great again. America is already great. The problem is that we are squandering our greatness by pursuing foreign and domestic policies that debase our moral authority and the values that made America great in the first place. We must change course, but for that we need leaders with vision, courage, and determination which is sorely lacking. The best and the brightest who can in fact chart a new path have become disillusioned with politics, making the prospect of renewal increasingly difficult. It is time for every American patriot to raise their voice and remind one another of what makes America a great nation and what it stands for.

The US Constitution is the backbone behind America’s greatness, and the preamble of the Constitution says it all. It declares that: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

Having lived in several countries in the Middle East and Europe, I know the meaning of discrimination and disdain—but here in the United States, no one is concerned about my religion, ethnicity, or sect. I am accepted for who I am today, and what I believe in and stand for.

This is the America I know–“the land of the free”–because for me the values that are enshrined in our Constitution is what makes America great. We must relentlessly protect these values to make America even greater, but we must first realize, however, what went wrong. Below, I present the ten most critical issues that America faces today; none are too difficult to overcome if we only will it.

The events in Charlottesville were a deeply troubling manifestation of bigotry and hate that became more pronounced with the election of President Trump. For a President to draw a moral equivalence between white supremacists, Nazis, and anti-Semites, and ordinary law-abiding citizens is beyond contempt. No, there are not good people among the racists who abuse their right to free speech to malign and threaten others only because of their different origin, sect, belief, or color.

America is “the land of the free,” and to preserve that we must not tolerate those who want to cleanse America of what made America a great nation—the ingathering of people from all corners of the world with their diverse cultural riches, resourcefulness, and creativity. They were embraced with open arms. This is the America I know, the land of the dreamers whose dreams often come true. We must allow no one to take that away from us.

Successive American Presidents promised, especially during their political campaigns, to fight against poverty, but they all failed. The divide between the rich and the poor is greater today than at any time in the past. The number of children living in poverty in 2015 was 14,500,000 and is growing. Millions suffer from malnutrition, perform poorly in schools, are exposed to drugs and violent crimes, and grow up angry, confused, and lost.

Instead of becoming constructive professional individuals that contribute to their community and the state, they become hopeless, jobless, and destitute–a liability rather than an asset. No, this is not the American dream. We must commit to lifting all from poverty because we can and have the resources to do it. No one should doubt American resolve–we have withstood the test of time, and we will continue to do so.

Thousands of little towns and villages far from urban centers are crumbling–successive administrations spoke ad nauseam about renewal, but renewal never came. Homes are dilapidated and crowded; young and old wander the street aimlessly. The old resign themselves to a meaningless life, passing time as time cruelly passes them. The young are despondent as they live a life of despair and desolation. Why can’t the wealthiest nation on Earth appropriate the necessary funding to restore such disintegrating places?

Why not allow the communities themselves to choose their own sustainable development projects that they can execute with outside expertise and government aid? The involvement of locals provides them with job opportunities, allows them to develop vested interests in their community, and feel empowered as human beings who can make a difference. This is a task that we must never abandon or neglect.

The healthcare system in America is broken because detached politicians never understood that healthcare is a human right. Every American, as former presidential contender Bernie Sanders eloquently articulated, has the inherent right to receive the medical care they need–and the government has the obligation to provide it. Whether it is done through the federal government or the state, no American should die because of inaccessibility to healthcare, go bankrupt as a result of high medical costs, or suffer from a curable disease.

Millions of Americans have no health insurance because they cannot afford it. We have and still are squandering hundreds of billions on foreign adventures, and much more is wasted on an inflated bureaucracy and the self-interest of officials who fight for their pet projects. There are many, like Sanders and his cohort, who look out to ensure a healthier America because this is and must be the American way.

We have become accustomed to legislative paralysis as if it were normal. Democrat and Republican leaders alike seem to view the other as rivals committed singularly to the presumed interest of their respective parties. They must be reminded that they represent all the people and are duty bound to cooperate and agree on any legislation that serves the American public. Years of deadlock in Congress point only to the ineptitude of so many Congress members whose blind ideological tenet is making them oblivious to what is good for America.

Collaboration between the parties produces better and consensual legislation that benefit all Americans. How else can we form “A more perfect union” when the zero-sum approach to politics and divisiveness reigns? America’s continuing greatness rests on leaders who put the nation’s and not their personal or party interests first–leaders befitting what America champions at home and abroad, discharging their responsibility with conviction and living up to the premise they were elected for.

Just the thought that America is the world’s leader in incarceration with more than 2,200,000 currently in prison (which represents an increase of 500 percent over the last 40 years) is simply unfathomable and unacceptable. The dramatic increase of the prison population is not related to proportionate increases in crime, but mostly related to changes in the sentencing laws that require mandatory incarceration even for petty crimes. As a result, prisons are overcrowded, becoming incubators of extremism and crime.

Nearly half of prisoners have not committed violent crimes. More than 470,000 are in jail for drug possession or abuse, and 12 percent for committing public disorder. Billions are spent on maintaining this prison system when nearly half of the prisoners could be discharged. We must invest much of the money saved in rehabilitation programs while providing them the opportunity to acquire a new profession, join the work force, and become an asset to their communities.

It is not a new phenomenon to constantly and consistently blame the media for spreading “fake news” as many officials, including the president, do so often to cover for their own shortcomings. But to use the media as a scapegoat not only undermines the freedom of the press, but subjects journalists and reporters to violent attacks by those who blindly follow their leaders. It is true that the revolution in social media made the reporting of deliberate fake news easier and more pervasive. This, however, does not suggest that all media outlets are engaged in the dissemination of fake news.

There are scores of responsible, credible, and public service-oriented media outlets that report the unfiltered truth regardless of where such reporting may lead to. This is the heart of the First Amendment. No one, including the holder of the highest office, can or should be allowed to violate this sacred right with impunity. The media’s scrutiny of public officials is essential to a functioning democracy, and America must guard and respect this “fourth branch of government” to perform their duty for the sake of all Americans.

Climate change is not a fiction–it is happening in front of our eyes, and much has been said about the indisputable scientific evidence that supports it. For me, however, given that the US is the second biggest polluter after China, it must take the lead and assume the responsibility to work hand-in-hand with the rest of the international community to combat climate change.

Just witness what happened during the last week alone: three huge hurricanes, a powerful earthquake, and wild fires and floods occurring simultaneously, inflicting damage at an unprecedented scale. To politicize climate change at the expense of the welfare and well-being of future generation is a crime—a crime against humanity. To withdraw from the Paris climate change accord is reckless, narrow-minded, and sinister. Even in doubt, America must be in the forefront to tackle the reality of global warming with its ominous implications for generations to come.

We have yet to learn a lesson from the Vietnam war, and it seems as if waging wars of choice became the American way. We invaded Iraq under false pretenses. There was no nuclear program or any nuclear facilities in Iraq. We toppled the government of Saddam Hussein, dismantled the army, internal security, and bureaucracy, and planted the seeds of civil war between the Sunnis and the Shiites which continues to rage 14 years later, giving rise to ISIS while destabilizing the entire region.

Nearly two trillion dollars were spent and 4500 American soldiers sacrificed their lives for an elusive goal along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Syria was abandoned to the criminal whims of Iran and Russia while the world witnessed the slaughter of countless innocent civilians with equanimity. The longest war in Afghanistan continues unabated, and there is no end in sight. We toppled the Qaddafi government in Libya and forced Egypt’s President Mubarak out of power with the absurd notion of introducing democracy, disregarding the nature of their societies, cultures, and their political orientations. America cannot lead when it leaves chaos and instability in its wake.

Our foreign policy, which presumably is guided by our values and national interest, seems to be inconsistent and often counterproductive. Whereas we make supreme efforts to export our political system of democracy as if it were a panacea to cure all political ailments around the world, we cater to dictators–ruthless and brutal head of states who govern with an iron fist–and ally ourselves with corrupt regimes in the name of ‘national interest.’

Diplomacy and common sense seem to give way to bombastic militaristic rhetoric, leaving our friends and foes bewildered. Whatever happened to America’s leadership that much of the world needs? We simply cannot relinquish that role; we cannot abandon our moral responsibility, and we must never succumb to the caprices of anyone including the President. America has carved a special role in the world and it must now live up to it, because there is no other power that can replace America.

The greatest danger America faces today is not being attacked by North Korea or any other enemy who wishes ill for America. The danger is from within: Republicans vs. Democrats, rich vs. poor, the bigot vs. the law-abiding citizen, rampant discrimination, common human rights abuses (especially against minority groups), widening social inequality, and our leaders’ failure to do their duty as they became increasingly self-absorbed and indifferent about America’s future.

The embedded political, economic, cultural, military, and technological achievements of America remained unmatched. We must now rebuild on this strength and fight for America’s soul. This is what the American people want, and what the world expects from us.

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May 2nd 2021
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May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
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Apr 17th 2021
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Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
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Apr 9th 2021
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Apr 7th 2021
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Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
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Mar 15th 2021
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Mar 8th 2021
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Mar 5th 2021
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Mar 2nd 2021
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Mar 1st 2021
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Feb 28th 2021
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Feb 23rd 2021
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Feb 20th 2021
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