EDITOR, The Tribune.
One popular saying springs to mind when attempting to digest the recent pious pronouncements from our good friends in the US State Department: Practice what you preach or change your speech.
The diplomats at the State Department in Foggy Bottom in Washington, D.C., seem hopelessly immune from the comedic goings-on in their own country. So concerned are they with the disorder in our house that they fail to take notice of the mess they seem to have made in their own.
It must have been a slow news day when this missive from Washington landed on the desk of a certain news editor, more accustomed to the screaming headline style of Fleet Street tabloids in London than to the local literati who don’t take too kindly to overly salacious headlines and turgid storylines.
Besides, what the State Department was peddling was not news. Fox Hill Prison is a deplorable rat hole that is not fit for human habitation. There is overcrowding and poor sanitation. We know this.
We know that intervention from the public purse is required but with the cupboard bare, there are more pressing demands at this moment – like healthcare, schools, funding the police and for social intervention programmes in an effort to slow the rate of incarceration at Her Majesty’s Prison.
But because it is a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black, the State Department should be the last institution to lecture other countries about prison overcrowding and the like.
The US locks up more of its citizens than any other nation in the world. And if they were to consider just the Federal prison system (never mind the state and the county jails), the US spends one-third of its Justice Department budget on prisons.
Their federal inmate population has increased by about 800 percent over the years and their prisons are operating at nearly 40 per cent over capacity.
Judges are constantly having to intervene to release inmates in order to ease chronic over-crowding problems. And the state prisons are worse. In Alabama, for example, one prison was at 193% of its capacity.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) regularly sues the government telling courts that overcrowding leads to increased violence, the inability to provide necessary medical care, degrading practices like requiring prisoners to sleep on the floor as well as exposure to extreme heat or cold, contaminated food and a lack of basic sanitation.
And people of colour are disproportionately represented across their prisons. Talk dat.
In another bald faced poke in the face, the US, currently the most dysfunctional political system on the planet, has dared to rebuke our system. They think it is we, not they, who need campaign finance reform the most.
While investigations continue about foreign influence and possible dark money making its way into their election system, they say our system is ripe for corruption.
While we rightfully grumble about our politicians being in the pockets of the white knights or the sunshine boys or lately the numbers boys, everyone agrees that we need to turn off the tap for these donations, but at the same time nobody has a clear suggestion on an alternative means to fund our elections and campaigns.
The obvious solution – with public funds – will get no traction from voters suffering from tax and spend fatigue.
Meanwhile, when the Republicans ran the Congress campaign finance reform wasn’t high on their agenda. To their credit, the Democrats who took over in January seem to be more serious about fixing the problem and have proposed a legislative fix that while it might pass the House will struggle to get through the Republican controlled Senate.
But even their Supreme Court seems to think that big money has a political voice. In 2010 they ruled that certain groups could spend as much as they want during election cycles and were under no obligation to disclose their donors.
But we are the ones with a shady system that is susceptible to hanky-panky. Give us a break!
In their biggest faux pas, the US dared fix their mouth to comment on our broken immigration system when theirs has been shattered to bits by their President who is stomping on legal and constitutional norms to deliver on a campaign promise to build a wall to keep brown people out of the US.
Their charge of statelessness here is on very shaky ground. Like many other nations we don’t practice birth-right citizenship. Our laws compel people born here to illegal immigrant parents to take on the citizenship of either or both of their parents. Rarely do we see true stateless people.
The Bahamas has been largely humane to the huge influx of Haitian immigrants who are a big financial burden on our system but they remain a people who we at least try to treat justly.
The Americans lock up the migrants who show up on their border and even throw the kids in cages. And once separated from their parents the authorities have hell to re-unite the two.
So, they ought not lecture us about the horrors of immigration while their own system stinks to the high heavens.
In short, the State Department, in these trying times for their own country should run their pronouncements and foreign country reports through a hypocrisy filter before opening their month and planting their foot firmly in it.
This is not to say that we don’t have work to do on all of the areas highlighted.
There is a religious admonition which states: First remove the beam out of your own eye and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.
But, hey Uncle Sam, thanks for the concern. And we worry about you too.
March 17, 2019