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Tuesday, 01 April 2014 08:40

US and North Korea Have Something in Common: The Highest Incarceration Rates

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4543884606 2e9421d584 zThe United States and North Korea lead the world in imprisoning people. (Photo: Mark Kwakman)

In a recent New York Times (NYT) column, Nikolas Kristof used a 12 question test to point out some of the tragic absurdities of posturing by the big powers and claims to moral legitimacy. He entitled it, "Do You Speak Dictator?"

For instance, if the United States is number one in anything, it is literally the first in the world in the percentage of its population incarcerated.  Kristof, in one of his questions, points out, however, that North Korea probably comes in second or maybe even a tie in this dubious distinction award (exact numbers of those imprisoned in North Korea are not available). That's a rather horrifying ranking to possibly share with the world's most isolated dictatorship.

President Obama and all of his predecessors are always claiming that we go to war and aid pro-democracy movements (as a guise for securing free market hegemony), so why then, as Kristof asks, "Equipment from which country is primarily used to suppress the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain?" The answer of course is the United States. Why? Because Bahrain has oil, large deposits in US banks, and is a "moderate" Arab nation. Therefore, democracy is dispensable there.

In fact, historically, democracy is fine with US foreign policy only if the results of an election lead to a pro-free market economy.  Democracies in this hemisphere and in countries throughout the world have been overthrown if they threaten US commerce or access to natural resources.  We only support democracies that allow US corporations open access to their markets, fossil fuels and the maintenance of an oligarchy. (The latter is why, for instance, the Obama administration supported the overthrow of the democratically-elected Honudran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009.  Zelaya was proposing some modest land reform for the peasants. That's definitely gets you on the short list of democratically-elected leaders who the US wants replaced.)

Kristof asserts that we do little to promote human rights among our strategic allies.  Of course, DC is very sharp in its criticism of human rights violations among its adversaries. We might add that the US government is itself a violator of human rights in a number of areas including solitary confinement, abuse and prosecution of whistleblowers, detention of non-combatants in deplorable conditions, tolerance of police violations of First Amendment rights, etc.  

Kristof points out in his quiz that the US has not criticized Morocco's occupation of the Western Sahara (which began in 1975) while saber rattling about Crimea, as just one example of selective indignation in US foreign policy.

There are more revelations in Kristof's quiz -- and no big power comes off looking good, including Putin who wields his own style of duplicity -- with a heavy dollop of tyranny and homophobia.

For whatever it is worth, however, in the battle of domestic polling, Putin has an 80 percent approval rating, while Obama's hovers around 40, Kristof notes.

Make of it what you will. 

Kristof's conclusion is that if you are looking for a major power that is a moral beacon, the lighthouse is closed.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.