From Cairo to Bismarck

Paul Jacob

9/16/2012 12:00:57 AM - Paul Jacob

What do recent events in Egypt and in North Dakota have in common? Maybe very little, except a brazen tendency to evade reality.

The assaults on American embassies in Cairo, Egypt, and Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans (and largely unreported, eight Libyans, too) including the U.S. ambassador, occurred on the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks. Mysteriously, the story didn’t make the front page of either the New York Times or the Washington Post.

But Scott Wilson’s analysis of the story did hit the front page, in yesterday’s Post: “As Arab world evolves, U.S. pursues uneasy alignments.” We are quickly informed of “President Obama’s attempts to forge relationships with new regimes across the Arab world,” that “Obama has worked to ensure” these nations “will be supporters of the United States as they endure difficult transitions from autocracies to self-government,” and that the president is “a foreign policy pragmatist.”

The 28-paragraph coverage delves into whether Egypt can be counted on as a U.S. ally, noting that this week, after the embassy attack, President Obama said he would not call Egypt an ally. The report quotes numerous experts, but nowhere in the story is the reader informed that the U.S. State Department flatly and officially contradicted and corrected Mr. Obama. Yes, oh dear yes, Egypt is indeed an ally.

But Wilson’s most striking disconnect from reality? His mention of “more than $70 billion in U.S. aid since 1948” coupled with his surprise that, nonetheless, Egyptians “remain angry over American support for Israel and for autocrats like the ousted Mubarak.”

First, U.S. aid to Egypt was not divvied up with a check cut to every one of the 80 million Egyptians; it was handed to Mr. Mubarak to assist his autocratic aspirations. And that it certainly did for the 30 years of Mubarak’s tyrannical rule — under emergency powers suspending any notion of democracy, including the arrest and imprisonment of his political opponents and detractors. “We” did that, or at least, “we” helped.

Second, can the administration or the mainstream media really be surprised that many Egyptians “remain angry” at America, after decades of oppression funded by re-routing the hard-earned tax dollars of Americans to the care and feeding of a foreign thug, and roughly a year after the Egyptian people overthrew that thug without any help from the Obama Administration except mealy-mouthed statements issued after the tide had already turned against Mubarak?

Middle East politics are complicated to say the least, but ignoring our own record in the region and pretending that some parsed statement issued at the State Department in Washington, thousands of miles away from the scene, really helped the forces of democracy succeed is simply hubris.

If we cannot face reality, we cannot change it.

Denial appears to be more than just a river in . . . North Dakota, where a brouhaha offers a closer-to-home look at the impact of ignoring the forest for the trees or the trees for the forest, or both.

Once again, politics and our public football factories masquerading as educational institutions meet. Ten current and three former football players for the North Dakota State University Bison, reigning national champions of their particular collegiate subdivision, were charged with fraud for forging signatures on two initiative petitions. A total of 15 people (two not associated with the NDSU football program) now face a Class A misdemeanor charge carrying a maximum sentence, if convicted, of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

The two measures, one to permit the medicinal use of marijuana and the other to create a conservation fund, have been removed from the November ballot.

The solution to the crime of fraud is prosecution and conviction of those committing it. In Bismarck, North Dakota, the prosecution has commenced and, if the evidence proves unambiguous, the guilty might find themselves convicted and punished.

But what else should happen to make certain that such dishonest and illegal behavior doesn’t happen again?

The Fargo Forum reported that state legislators such as Rep. Al Carlson (R-Fargo) want to “take a look at the overall initiated measure process, not just signature-gathering fraud.” He suggests that top consideration will likely be making the citizen initiative process more difficult by raising the number of voter signatures required.

How would that address fraud? It wouldn’t.

But it might discourage any petition activity at all.

There is also talk of making such fraudulent activity on petitions a felony. But upping the future penalty, especially in a way that leaves a lasting criminal scar, likely won’t matter nearly as much as the current prosecution, conviction and a serious sentence will.

Meanwhile, what about other non-judicial repercussions? Did these lionized players face the music from the football program, the university?

The school’s athletic director Gene Taylor explained to reporters how seriously he and the university take these charges, but did not suspend any of the players, who continue their Saturday wins. The Bison football program did just recently suspend a player charged with indecent exposure, but Taylor said, “In terms of other issues across the country that student-athletes get in trouble for, this doesn’t rank to the level where I think they need to be suspended for a certain amount of time.”

Look, most of us see indecent exposure as more dangerous than forging petition signatures, but that doesn’t make forgery and fraud any better. Should criminal actions be discounted if the crooks keep their pants on?

NDSU President Dean Bresciani reminded unamused North Dakotans, inexpert at re-formulating reality to suit exigent circumstances, that there were other ways the state university could discipline these players — though, any such punishment would be private and the public would never know. “I think we had different people talking about different processes and not remembering that the public doesn’t realize that those four processes exist; they only think one process exists,” Bresciani explained. “It’s understandable confusion on the part of the public, and frankly the media.”

Yes. Confusion. The manifold instrumentalities of justice and virtue are impenetrable.

Though, in a democracy . . . why?

Perhaps because our leaders — responsible, it seems, for promoting virtue and justice in Egypt as well as North Dakota — don’t have the faintest idea what virtue and justice (or democracy and responsibility) actually entail.