Russians … and Americans

Impossible for me to resist pointing out that Vladimir Putin has been at it again – squashing the opposition with tactics best described as heavy-handed. To whom is he intent on teaching a lesson this time around? To Greenpeace – a group long and well known for undertaking social action to protest environmental degradation.

At this writing 30 Greenpeace activists are being held behind bars in Russia, each in a separate cell, charged with both piracy and hooliganism, for protesting a Russian oil rig in the fragile Arctic environment. Their boat, a Greenpeace International ship named Arctic Sunrise, was seized by Russian border guards as it sailed in international waters.

For decades Greenpeace has been a nuisance on our collective behalf. It consists of a group of activists (followers) doing everything they reasonably (or unreasonably) can to draw the world’s attention to the price we all pay for “progress.” What they did not count in this particular case was Putin’s readiness, even eagerness to aggressively assert Russian sovereignty in waters potentially rich in natural resources.

I wish I could say we Americans, the American government, is a different animal altogether. But I am beginning to fear it is not. I am beginning to see some unpleasant resemblances between how we respond to so-called enemies of the state, and how do the Russians.

I will not here get into the debate about whether or not the administration of Barack Obama is more aggressive in its prosecution of whistle blowers, or, if you prefer, leakers, than were previous administrations. I will however point out that Bradley Manning was kept in isolation for 9 months; that (now) Chelsea Manning has been sentenced to confinement for 35 years; that Edward Snowden, in fear for his safety and security, has been reduced to hiding in, of all places, Moscow; and that Glenn Greenwald, one of the more courageous and independent journalists of his generation, is reluctant to return home, to the United States of America, because he is afraid of being arrested.

Is this what we have come to? Do Americans really want to smack of Russians? Have we in the wake of 9/11 become so permanently paranoid that speaking truth to power is a punishable offense?

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