Monday, January 20, 2014

You, America, You Have Political Prisoners, Too

Dennis Rodman, a Hall of Fame basketball payer, appears genuine in his affections for Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea. For that, he is assailed, especially by those in the American media. 

It does not help that Un is holding an American, Kenneth Bae, in one of his prisons. Because of the tensions between our two countries, Bae has become a cause célèbre, having been labeled a “political prisoner” by the Obama administration. Now, supposed “high-minded” Americans want to know why Rodman, who is the only American on Earth with access to the reclusive Un, is not pressing his friend for Bae’s release. 

Meanwhile, these high-minded Americans ignore thousands of political prisoners in their own land – Americans who have served their time, but still languish in prison because it is politically expedient to keep them there. 

Freed prisoners are of no use to the powers that be in America. (They only matter to their families – a small segment of predominantly low-income Americans who, apparently, do not matter to the powers that be, either.).  But, a held prisoner is evidence of tough-on-crime politics. Besides, held prisoners are invaluable to local economies. They help inflate employment statistics; without them, many prison staff would be out of a job. 

The holding of a prisoner beyond his out-date insures prison-related jobs remain in the community. It is politics at its worse – a human rights abuse – when the lives of men and women are stacked like so much inventory on a store’s shelf - literal fodder to help sustain America’s middle class.

Prior to the exhibition game between the Korean national team and a team of ex-NBA stars from America, Rodman appeared, via satellite, on the Chris Cuomo Show. During the interview, Rodman “went ballistic” when Cuomo chided him for not speaking up for fellow American, Kenneth Bae. The following morning, Rodman apologized, explaining that he had been drinking, was “stressed out”, and had said some things he should not have said. It was a refreshing admission. 

Could it be that that same child-like honesty in Rodman is what attracted him in Un in the first place? In a land where the emperor cannot trust his own family – Un had his uncle executed for treason – Rodman may be one of the few people on Earth whom Un truly trusts. 

Nonetheless, the American press was brutal in its portrayal of Rodman, calling him “Idiot…clown…traitor.” 

Jesse Jackson, on the other hand, applauds Rodman for “…shedding light on a dark place.”  He compares Rodman’s efforts to the “ping-pong diplomacy” that preceded Nixon’s trip to Red China. He also points to the Harlem Globetrotters who went to Moscow and sang, “Sweet Georgia Brown” to Khrushchev’s communists as a similar instance of non-diplomat Americans shedding light on a “dark place.” Rodman simply had less help and more detractors.

Instead of deriding Rodman for not speaking up for one fellow American in a North Korean prison, Cuomo and Blitzer and Lemon should “speak up”, themselves, for the thousands of political prisoners being held in America’s prison. Or, don’t “fellow Americans” on American soil count?

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