The old axiom “never look a gift horse in the mouth” has fallen out of favor for several reasons. One, most of us don’t often deal with horses. And they typically don’t gift.
However, it came to mind last week, when Jacksonville received a grant of $2.775 million from United Arab Emirates.
They run this one a lot: dole out $$$ to some B-List, C-List or D-List market after a disaster, and expect laudatory press coverage for donating what amounts to a rounding error for the country’s treasury.
And in market after market, it works. Our politicians would rather spend money made out of thin air, via Fed policy, short-term borrowing, or paying off past obligations in the future. Borrowing’s not getting cheaper. And there’s a lot of noise around the process.
There’s never a bad time to get a $2.775 million disbursement, of course. But it’s not much when stacked up against a $1.27 billion general fund budget, or the nearly $4 billion owed on that pension debt. Simply Red said it best: “Money’s too tight (to mention).”
Enter our new friends.
The city of Jacksonville, informed sources tell us, had been working that deal for some time. Nonprofits too. And council members, such as the selected District 10 Republican, have been heard bragging about how the $1.4 million being routed to the Irma-ravaged Ken Knight Road area is his key to election for whatever comes next.
The money was spent before it was received. And the political capital was minted. But there was a cost.
That cost is in the sanction, the granting of moral equivalence.
United Arab Emirates is among the world’s worst when it comes to human rights.
Human Rights Watch noted continued imprisonment and disappearances of political dissidents (similar to how the allied Saudis did Khashoggi) and a “sustained assault on freedom of expression and association since 2011.” The regime kills people judged to have “undermine[d] national unity or social peace.”
Freedom House says the country is “not free,” ranking it below Zimbabwe and Venezuela in political and civil rights. Human Freedom Index says it is the 15th-worst country in the world for personal freedom.
And they take the show abroad as well: UAE is part of the Saudis’ dirty war in Yemen, running detention centers and counterterror ops on foreign soil. And our forces are fighting that war for them—retired soldiers rendered a mercenary force for a nation antithetical to our values. So with all that in mind, in an American city which claims to have its fiscal house in order (credit downgrades notwithstanding), why are we taking any money from a government that doesn’t operate by anything approaching American values?
Ambassador Yousef Al-Otaiba was at the endowment event last Monday, at A. Philip Randolph Academy. I asked the Ambassador about human rights.
“We’re here to talk about our gifts to Jacksonville,” he asserted. “If you want to ask me a question about what our laws are, we’re happy to address that. But that’s not why we’re here today.”
How about Mayor Lenny Curry? He’s a Jaguars fan. So he knows what a punt looks like.
Curry said, “There’s experts in Washington, elected leaders in Washington who handle our foreign policy,” before pivoting to thank the Ambassador.
The crowd applauded. The Ambassador’s handlers gave me the kind of once-over usually used just before a law enforcement interrogation.
Curry and the Ambassador had the press wait around for a media availability that never came. They zipped off in SUVs—all American-made.
Foreign policy hasn’t always been the remote province of experts for Curry, however.
He offered a blistering defense of President Trump’s announcement that America was ditching the Paris Accord climate deal.
“@realDonaldTrump  @POTUS  campaigned on American jobs, cutting regs that killed those jobs & he won. He’s doing what he said he would do. #jobs ,” Curry tweeted in early 2017.
That was just before Hurricane Maria wrecked Puerto Rico, before Irma wrecked us, and before Michael wrecked the Panhandle. Certainly, climate change played no part in any of that. The gods were just angry.
In 2015, Curry didn’t want Syrian refugees. He was worried they would replicate the Paris attacks here, apparently. Or maybe he just wanted to score some points with the base on President Obama.
The UAE has an agenda independent of U.S. concerns and U.S. values. Yet for whatever reason, public employees solicited their money. And the imprimatur of the city went to legitimize UAE’s business model, with us as the vassals kissing the ring.