Archive for the ‘Civil Liberties’ category

01.29.17 Silence = Evil

January 29, 2017

Here’s link to a google spreadsheet showing where every US senator stands on the Trump Regime’s Muslim Ban, which was announced on Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Trump’s statement re the Holocaust failed to make any mention of Jews.)

Of 51 Republicans, 47 have been silent (with some even spending the day tweeting about sports). The Righteous Three who have spoken out against the ban are Susan Collins (ME), Jeff Flake (AZ), and Benjamin Sasse (NE). Orrin Hatch (UT) has criticized the principle, but is neutral on the policy.

Of 49 Democrats, the Silent Hall of Shame is Joe Manchin (WV – most racist state in the country* – does he get a pass?), Ben Nelson (NE), Jon Tester (MT), and Tom Udall (NM). It’s interesting to note the reversal of NE’s two senators on this.

It has been widely noted that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) spoke out against a Muslim ban last year. They opposed a significant number of other Trump policies, as well. Now they are 100% on board with Trump in pursuit of their one overarching goal: wealth transfer to the wealthy.

Thanks to Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Erlich for posting this.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1hSGjyWJZIQJpGz4V2ftX_qioCgBtL59oJkkhx146nFE/htmlview?sle=true#gid=0

*My measure of WV as most racist is based on the fact that every state on the country voted bluer in 2008 than in 2004, except WV, which went dramatically the other way.

11.23.13 Impeach Obama

November 23, 2013

Readers of this blog know  I am not suggesting impeachment based on Obama’s being a Muslim socialist who was born in Kenya. (Oh that he were a socialist!) My bill of goods against the president starts with his right-wing stands on civil liberties (and Wall Street) and ends with his complete, nearly incomprehensible incompetence.

Civil Liberties

Barack Obama lost my enthusiastic support in the summer of 2008, when he switched sides on telecom immunity. Until then, he had supported holding the telcos (led by the always-evil Verizon) accountable for  sharing customers’ private data with the government. Then he suddenly decided  these corporate behemoths were golden. I voted for Obama in 2008 and cried when he won. But I knew then that the man others would accuse of socialism was at best a tepid liberal and at worst a  bonafide right-winger.

Obama has gone on to be the worst civil liberties president in American history. Apart from ending torture (which, granted, is a big deal), this administration has taken nearly all of W’s extra-legal, barely legal, or it’s-legal-because-we-say so surveillance and detention tactics and expanded them. It has pursued a drone war that doesn’t discriminate between the guilty and innocent or US citizens and foreigners. And, of course, there’s the NSA, which has shown the big lie in Obama’s promise to lead the most transparent and open government ever. Obama’s obsession with secrecy has led to the highest number of prosecutions against leakers in history, along with truly frightening attacks on the press, the essential institution for holding government accountable and preserving freedom.

The extent of this president’s obsession is shown by his reaction to Edward Snowden. When Obama backed out of a summit with Vladimir Putin earlier this year, do you think it was because of Putin’s dictatorship, with its attacks on civil society or its encouragement of violence against gays? Hell no! It was because Russia had taken Snowden in. Then, the mere possibility that Snowden might be aboard the Bolivian president’s plane, as it transited Europe in July, was sufficient for the US to get pliant allies to ground the aircraft so that our agents could see for themselves.

Incompetence

After the GOP shut down the government and nearly forced the US to default on its debts this fall, prognosticators were reporting lowest-ever ratings for that party and predicting Democratic gains in 2014. Since then, it is Obama’s ratings that have fallen off a cliff and Democratic candidates are running scared across the country, as they try to figure out how to distance themselves from the president. The political world has reversed course in little more than a month!

The Obamacare disaster not only has the potential to set back the cause of health-care reform for a generation, but has also breathed new life into the right-wing extremists who own most of the land area of the country and one house of Congress. If the GOP takes the Senate next year, there will be one man to blame: Barack Obama.

No, it wasn’t bad enough that the president forgot to pay  attention to whether the rollout of his signature achievement was going to work. He had to compound that self-inflicted wound (a European friend of mine referred to  it as an “own goal” – when a soccer player scores one for the other team) by repeatedly, knowingly lying to the American people about their right to keep their existing policies. What did Obama think – that no one would notice?!

(Substantively, I have no problem with forcing the cancellation of policies that would undermine the whole system. It’s the lying about it that is the problem.)

So then Obama tried to undo the damage by announcing a “fix” that will allow people to keep these lousy policies. And immediately, analysts declared the fix unworkable. We are now learning day after day (thanks, Washington Post) about the details of the failed website: how the administration hired the wrong people to build it and ignored clear, persistent warnings that it wasn’t going to work.

The operational incompetence is stunning. The lying continues a long pattern of Obama political incompetence. It took nearly 3-½ years for the president to recognize that the GOP wasn’t interested in negotiating a deal, any deal – no matter how right wing. He kept negotiating with himself – publicly — continuously moving farther and farther toward GOP positions and getting nothing in return.

The Obamacare debacle began in 2009, when Obama abdicated all leadership on the matter to Congress, which – of course – was in thrall to the insurance industry and other corporate interests,  producing the complex mess that is teetering on the edge today. Obamacare – if it survives – will do at least as much to enrich private interests as to lower costs (higher than any other industrialized country) or produce better outcomes (worse than any other industrialized country).

In 2010 Obama (granted – with the complicity of spineless Democrats in Congress) ceded the entire political dialogue to the rising Tea Party and the likes of Sarah Palin. While talk of death panels dominated the media in summer and fall of that year, Democrats headed towards a crushing defeat at the polls. I’m not just referring to the loss of the House, but also the loss of statehouses, coast to coast. The GOP dominance in the states then produced the gerrymandering and voter suppression measures that will keep the GOP in power at least until the 2020 census, if not beyond. Much of this is due to Obama’s mind-numbing inability to use the bully pulpit, build effective political alliances, and buck up scared-of-their-own-shadows Democratic lawmakers.

Consider foreign policy. In a space of two years, Obama has taken the US from being a moral, human rights champion to being a realpolitik status-quo power that Henry Kissinger could love. Your blogger (who works for a human rights organization) is sometimes torn between idealism and realism in foreign policy. I get that this stuff ain’t easy. But to go from an embrace of Hosni Mubarak (a personal friend of Bill & Hill) to supporting the Muslim Brotherhood (who were, after all, the winners of a democratic election), to praising Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s thugs as if they were akin to Thomas Jefferson (why can’t John Kerry just shut his fucking mouth?!)?

The result is that everyone  in Egypt hates and distrusts us, even as we continue funneling billions of dollars to the brutal murderers who now run the place. For god’s sake: if you’re going to support a military dictatorship, at least do so in a manner that wins that dictatorship’s trust and respect! We learned this past week that al-Sisi is trying to negotiate closer ties with Putin.

The promised “pivot to Asia”? Gone south due to other distractions. The relationship with the European allies (who were practically drooling at the chance to start over following the horrific reign of W’s cowboy neocons)? Toast, because of our spying and a general sense of US fecklessness.

And then there are the “red lines.” Use chemical weapons, Obama says, and we’ll do something really, really bad to you. Except that we don’t really mean it. And so when we get a face-saving opportunity to back away from the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, we jump at it.

Whether or not to bomb Syria was not an easy decision – see my post on the topic. The problem was the stark declarations from Obama without, apparently, any consideration of what should come next. This administration doesn’t stop and ask: hey, what will we do if the other guy doesn’t respond the way we expect him to? There is no Plan B. Only destined-to-fail Plan As.

Facing Facts

Now hear this, Obama fan-boys and –girls: we are not comparing Barack Obama to W or Mitt. Of course Obama is better than any GOP alternative!

We ought to be comparing Obama to what he could have been and to what this country (and the world) need. We ought to be holding this man accountable for repeatedly handing our enemies (the Tea Party right) the rope to hang us with.

To those who say, “Well, being president is hard. What do you expect?” – I ask, is it too much to expect basic competence and a commitment to tell the truth (at least in our own self-interest)? Is it, really?

The title of this blog post is serious. I don’t expect it to happen, but I would be delighted to see Barack Obama resign or be removed from office. Let’s give Joe Biden a chance to see if he can get the basics of governance and leadership right.

The Obama administration is finished, kaput, done. All two-term presidents lose power as their lame-duck status grows. None has experienced a collapse of this magnitude at the very inception of the second term. None has faced entrenched, fanatical enemies like the GOP is today. Democrats and progressives would be smart to move on, to try something — anything — rather than sitting back and whimpering as this failed president sets the table for GOP victories to come.

©2013 Keith Berner

03.27.11 AT&T + TMobile = Threat to Democracy

March 27, 2011

Commentators are bemoaning the effect of AT&T’s purchase of T-Mobile, combining the second and fourth largest cellular providers to become the undisputed number one. As they point out, the elimination of T-Mobile as the lowest-price carrier will certainly bring higher prices to consumers coast to coast.  But the greatest cost to the US public comes not in the form of higher prices, but rather in a further constriction in freedom of access to information.

Cellular consolidation is directly related to the unfortunately named “Net Neutrality.”  I say the term is unfortunate, because non-techies’ eyes tend to glaze over when they hear it.  I’d rather call the issue “internet freedom.” For those of you who have taken an interest in net neutrality, the issue has tended to be painted in economic or convenience terms (just as with the AT&T/T-Mobile merger). True, one hazard of allowing huge corporations to discriminate against content based on its source might be higher prices to get access to certain content or longer download times for content that the given corporation wants to disfavor because a rival produced it.

Much more chilling is the idea that huge corporations will simply prevent you from ever seeing anything they disagree with.  This has already happened at least once.  In September 2007, Verizon blocked NARAL (the abortion rights group) from sending text messages to its supporters. Why? Because Verizon disagreed with NARAL.

A commitment to — and legal enshrinement of — internet freedom would prevent the corporate elite not only from discriminating against the movie studio or TV channel their rival owns, but also against free speech that  they just don’t like. Late last year, the FCC took an apparent step in that direction; however, the “compromise” put forth by the agency applies only to internet access coming through wires (e.g., cable, DSL, FIOS). It totally exempts wireless connections, i.e., those you get through mobile devices.  Guess which kind of connection is the future of internet access.  You got it: the wireless kind.

So, how is the technology industry reacting to the FCC’s feckless compromise?  With absolute fury. Verizon, Google (that old “don’t be evil” motto means nothing) and every Republican in Congress believe that rights of corporations trump those of citizens.  To them, any restriction on corporate freedom — including the right to keep you from consuming whatever content you want on the internet — is to be combatted with all their considerable might.

To make matters worse, this entire spectacle is taking place in the context of enormous media consolidation. As daily newspapers disappear from towns and cities nationwide, broadcast news is now more or less reduced to CNN and Fox. Don’t let the latter’s right-wing ranting blind you to CNN’s ideology. Both networks are pro-corporate, militaristically nationalistic, sensationalist, and superficial.

I have long considered the internet to be the last bastion of freedom and democracy.  While decrying the fact that most Americans get their news from an ever-narrower list of sources — all of which buy into the pro-corporate status quo, I have also celebrated the fact that those of us looking for balanced perspectives and independent voices were free to find them. As imperfect as our democracy is, the threat of government censorship has remained negligible for a very long time.

But it is not government censorship we have to fear in the United States.  Rather, the biggest threat to meaningful freedom of speech and access to information comes in the form of corporate censorship.

Even under the most rosy scenario for net neutrality, the only three remaining cellular providers (AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint) will be exempt.  Sure, they’ll disagree with each other on this or that.  But, they will be in full cahoots with the Koch brothers, the rest of the US corporate leadership, and the US Congress (their nearly wholly owned subsidiary) to make sure that revolutionary thinking (even the unarmed kind) just can’t be found.

This fits precisely with the corporate elite’s purposeful program to dumb down the US public education system: a functionally illiterate populace lacking in analytical ability and spoon-fed an ideology of false freedom won’t have the means or desire to notice its invisible chains.  And corporate control, along with further enrichment of the ultra wealthy, will the unquestioned law of the land.

©2011 Keith Berner

12.6.10 Wikileaks: US Does China One Better

December 6, 2010

Very few things in this world are black and white.  I was as joyful as the next dyed-in-the-wool anti-war activist when Wikileaks published a trove of secret documents about the Afghanistan War a few months ago.  A la Daniel Ginsberg (of Pentagon Papers fame), here was a tiny crusader revealing the dark secrets of the aggressive, imperialist power.  The Question Authority button glued to my psyche (if not my lapel) was shimmering with delight.

My gut reacted less favorably to the dump of diplomatic cables that came out last week.  It’s one thing, I thought, to help end fruitless (if not unjustified) wars.  It’s quite another to break down the secrecy essential to diplomacy.  I’m a graduate of a leading US school of international relations.  It’s in my blood to respect statecraft and its tools. After all, isn’t diplomacy the opposite of war?

So I was already primed to be distressed by this latest Wikileaks case, even before 24/7 mainstream media coverage of Wikileaks’ malfeasance kicked in.  I was also disturbed about Wikileaks founder Julian Assange: stories of disgruntled former compatriots leaving the fold with tales of megalomania and arrogance, not to mention sexual assault charges from Sweden.  (Something nagged at me about whether these stories represented balance or selective support for establishment the world view, but I wasn’t ready to embrace that interpretation.)

I was formulating my reaction, pondering a blog post about how just because something is secret doesn’t mean it ought to be revealed.  (Do your in-laws benefit – or do you? – if they find out you don’t think highly of them, after all?  Won’t that simply mean future Thanksgivings will be less manageable?)  I was prepared to jump on the bandwagon and toss Wikileaks under it.

Then I started reading the tech media’s response to the mainstream media.   (See, particularly TechDirt and ReadWriteWeb.)  Rather than the popular story about Wikileaks’ threat to Life As We Know It, what shows up there is a clear-eyed portrayal of the establishment fighting back:

  • The State Department has warned US students that so much as mentioning Wikileaks in their on-line writing could permanently bar them from the Foreign Service.
  • Federal workers are being forbidden by their employer from reading anything Wikileaks publishes.
  • Amazon.com declared that it would no longer host Wikileaks data.
  • PayPal announced that it would no longer process donations to Wikileaks.
  • EveryDNS.net revoked Wikileaks domain registration (wikileaks.org), making it impossible for law-abiding US citizens (or anyone else) to access it.

What we have here, folks, is a full-throttle attempt by the US government to censor the internet (not to mention free speech), exactly what it accuses China of.  What we also have is another chilling example of US corporations doing the bidding of the US national security state.  (Remember the cell companies’ eagerness to turn over customer records to the government in the 2000s?)

“Wait,” you say!  “You usually accuse corporate America of owning the government.  Now you’re calling them its stooges.”

It’s all the same thing, you see.  The mega-wealthy owners of our economy have a giant stake in the economic and political status quo.  Their relationship with the government is hand-in-glove.  Sometimes one suggests courses of action to the other. Sometimes, it’s the other’s turn to take the lead. For both parties, “democracy” is a useful marketing slogan, as long as it poses no threat to powers that be.

I remain unconvinced that the unveiling of diplomatic cables is a good thing, per se, nor am I unconcerned about Assange’s character and actions.  (I certainly don’t take accusations of sexual assault lightly.)  But whatever might be wrong with Assange and Wikileaks, the spectacle of US government and business collaborating to shut down free speech and access to information, aided and abetted by the mainstream media, is the most significant part of this sordid affair.

©2010 Keith Berner

07.30.10 Standing Up to Anti-Muslim Bigotry

July 30, 2010

This is a long post that will take some patience to get through.  It begins with a classic internet hoax email sent to me (sadly) by a relative of mine.  (I guess he assumes, since we are ethnic Jews [I’m not “of the faith”] that I would be sympathetic to an anti-Muslim rant.)  Following that is a discussion between me, my brother (Seth), and the woman who originated this instance of the email calumny (Max).

Here’s the original email [color emphasis preserved from original]:

Date: Wednesday, July 28, 2010, 11:32 AM

Subject: FW: Fwd: JOYS OF MUSLIM WOMEN

A must read!

This was written by a woman born in Egypt as a Muslim.

This is not hearsay, and it will scare the life out of you.

Make sure you read the paragraph (in red) towards the end.

Joys of Muslim Women

by Nonie Darwish

In the Muslim faith a Muslim man can marry a child as young as 1 year old and have sexual intimacy with this child. Consummating the marriage by 9.

The dowry is given to the family in exchange for the woman (who becomes his slave) and for the purchase of the private parts of the woman, to use her as a toy.

Even though a woman is abused she cannot obtain a divorce.

To prove rape, the woman must have (4) male witnesses.

Often after a woman has been raped, she is returned to her family and the family must return the dowry.  The family has the right to execute her (an honor killing) to restore the honor of the family. Husbands can beat their wives ‘at will’ and he does not have to say why he has beaten her.

The husband is permitted to have (4 wives) and a temporary wife for an hour (prostitute) at his discretion.

The Shariah Muslim law controls the private as well as the public life of the woman.

In the West World ( America ) Muslim men are starting to demand Shariah Law so the wife cannot obtain a divorce and he can have full and complete control of her.  It is amazing and alarming how many of our sisters and daughters attending American Universities are now marrying Muslim men and submitting themselves and their children unsuspectingly to the Shariah law.

By passing this on, enlightened American women may avoid becoming a slave under Shariah Law.

Ripping the West in Two.

Author and lecturer Nonie Darwish says the goal of radical Islamists is to impose Shariah law on the world, ripping Western law and liberty in two.

She recently authored the book, Cruel and Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law.

Darwish was born in Cairo and spent her childhood in Egypt and Gaza  before immigrating to America in 1978, when she was eight years old. Her father died while leading covert attacks on  Israel .  He was a high-ranking Egyptian military officer stationed with his family in Gaza

When he died, he was considered a “shahid,” a martyr for jihad. His posthumous status earned Nonie and her family an elevated position in Muslim society.

But Darwish developed a skeptical eye at an early age. She questioned her own Muslim culture and upbringing.. She converted to Christianity after hearing a Christian preacher on television.

In her latest book, Darwish warns about creeping sharia law – what it is, what it means, and how it is manifested in Islamic countries.

For the West, she says radical Islamists are working to impose sharia on the world. If that happens, Western civilization will be destroyed. Westerners generally assume all religions encourage a respect for the dignity of each individual  Islamic law (Sharia) teaches that non-Muslims should be subjugated or killed in this world.

Peace and prosperity for one’s children is not as important as assuring that Islamic law rules everywhere in the Middle East and eventually in the world.

While Westerners tend to think that all religions encourage some form of the golden rule, Sharia teaches two systems of ethics – one for Muslims and another for non-Muslims. Building on tribal practices of the seventh century, Sharia encourages the side of humanity that wants to take from and subjugate others.

While Westerners tend to think in terms of religious people developing a personal understanding of and relationship with God, Sharia advocates executing people who ask difficult questions that could be interpreted as criticism.

It’s hard to imagine, that in this day and age, Islamic scholars agree that those who criticize Islam or choose to stop being Muslim should be executed. Sadly, while talk of an Islamic reformation is common and even assumed by many in the West, such murmurings in the Middle East are silenced through intimidation.

While Westerners are accustomed to an increase in religious tolerance over time, Darwish explains how petro dollars are being used to grow an extremely intolerant form of political Islam in her native Egypt and elsewhere.

(In twenty years there will be enough Muslim voters in the  U.S.   to elect the President by themselves! Rest assured they will do so… You can look at how they have taken over several towns in the USA .. Dearborn Mich. is one… and there are others…)

I think everyone in the U.S. should be required to read this, but with the ACLU, there is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us sends it on!

It is too bad that so many are disillusioned with life and Christianity to accept Muslims as peaceful.. some may be but they have an army that is willing to shed blood in the name of Islam.. the peaceful support the warriors with their finances and own kind of patriotism to their religion. While America is getting rid of Christianity from all public sites and erasing God from the lives of children the Muslims are planning a great jihad on America ..

This is your chance to make a difference…! Pass it on to your email list or at least those you think will listen..

Some of those I’m sending it to WILL NOT!

Put your head back under the covers so you can’t see the boogie man!

Here is is the reply I sent to Max and everyone else whom my relative had forwarded the email to:

Date: July 29, 2010 11:04:50 PM EDT

Subject: Re: JOYS OF MUSLIM WOMEN

For shame — this is bigotry, pure and simple!

I condemn anti-Semitism (against Jews and Arabs, who are both Semitic peoples) and all other forms of bigotry, from racism to homophobia to sexism.

There are fundamentalist extremists in all religions.  There is no more a secret conspiracy of Muslims to infest the US and impose Sharia than there are Protocols of Zion and a secret conspiracy of Jews to rule the world

I oppose fundamentalism, injustice, and violence on all sides.  I am grateful for the ACLU that works day in and day out to protect and preserve your civil liberties and mine.

I love my family and it pains me to have to respond publicly on this matter, but I cannot let communications like this go without comment.

Of course, among your civil liberties is your right to disagree with me and I am open to your feedback.

–Keith

And Max’s reply:

Date: July 30, 2010 8:05:44 AM EDT

Subject: Re: JOYS OF MUSLIM WOMEN

Hi Keith..

Obviously we disagree on this but here is the Urbanlegends confirmation of the factuality of the information……but then  the great thing about the United States we can all agree to disagree until the ACLU lobbies to take that right away!

Max

Analysis: Despite the attribution at the top — “Joys of Muslim Women by Nonie Darwish” — this text was not written by Nonie Darwish; indeed, the bottom two-thirds of it refer to her repeatedly in the third person. Darwish confirmed via email that she didn’t write the article, though it is, in her words, “to a large extent accurate.” She said her 2009 book,Cruel and Usual Punishment, better represents her views, however.

It should be noted that though the article is at least partially based on Darwish’s personal experiences growing up in a Muslim country and reading the Qur’an, it’s awash in generalizations and makes pronouncements about Islam and Islamic practices that don’t necessarily hold true for all Muslims.

For more on Nonie Darwish’s views in her own words, see Cruel and Usual Punishment (Interview) – FrontPage Magazine, 13 March 2009.

For a differing view on the Islamic faith, see Myths About Islam by Christine Huda Dodge – About.com.

My next turn:

Date: July 30, 2010 10:17:41 AM EDT

Subject: Re: JOYS OF MUSLIM WOMEN

Hi Max!

First of all, I really appreciate your replying in a civil manner, even though we may disagree.  Second, I’m glad you take the time to check the accuracy of information before forwarding it, at least partly.

For what it’s worth, I was not disputing that fundamentalist Islam is cruel, especially to women.  There’s no doubt about that.  The things I dispute are: (1) that fundamentalist Islam represents a majority of Muslims (hard for me to disprove, but certainly there are huge numbers of Muslims who are relatively secular and wholly modern) and (2) that Muslims are going to take over our politics and country if we don’t stop them.  In 2009, there were 2,454,000 Muslims in the US out of a total population of 310,000,000 — that’s .079% (see: http://bit.ly/asL0Vf for Muslim stats; US total population I got from the CIA World Factbook). Like I wrote earlier, it is mathematically impossible for such a small percentage to become a majority in 20 years, unless the US suddenly goes out and actively recruits a hundred-million Muslims to immigrate here (like that would ever happen!). To report otherwise is nothing but race-based fear-mongering.

In contrast, Jews make up about 2.5% of the US population (http://bit.ly/ckang0).  Anti-Semites claim that we run the not only the US, but the world.  That’s a lie, of course (like the lie in the email you have circulated),  But, there is no question that Jewish influence in the US is far greater than our numbers: in terms of political organizing, campaign contributions, op-ed writers, scientists, lawyers, stock-brokers, artists, and intellectuals in general, we are hugely overrepresented. Honestly, what do we have to fear from a tiny and uninfluential Muslim minority in our country?

This is not to say there is no international threat to the US from militant Islamic fundamentalists.  They can do and have done great damage.  But even in the international sphere, these militants are a tiny minority of all Muslims.  It’s important, in any case, not to confuse an international military threat and the existence of people of a certain ethnic heritage or religious practice here at home.  (Think of the injustice done to Japanese-Americans during World War II, when we threw them into concentration camps because of where their parents or grandparents happened to be from.)

Ok, the culture and practices of fundamentalist Islam are abhorrent to us. I would argue that the Lubivitchers’ and Southern Baptists’ practices and beliefs are equally abhorrent.  And the fundamentalist Christians in our country are much closer to implementing their views though legislation than Muslims here ever will be.  (In fact, fundamentalist Christians already have imposed  their will on huge swaths of the US: consider, for example, the disappearance of evolution from our schools and of available abortion services in most states).

I can’t talk you out of being scared or of harboring ill-will toward Muslims in your heart.  But I can urge you to put your communications about these issues in perspective and to avoid inciting hatred for its own sake.

Thanks for listening.

–Keith

Seth weighs in:

Date: July 30, 2010 11:09:24 AM EDT

Subject: Re: Re: JOYS OF MUSLIM WOMEN

There is another urban legend – that Nonie Darwish is an unbiased commentator on Islam. When the West considers information on a culture or advocacy group, the source must always be taken into account, and Darwish is not a source whose opinions can be accepted blindly. She has, in a word, renounced Islam for a US fundamntalist-Christian strain of loyalty to Israel, and in so doing has essentially declared that her views on Islam are unsympathetic in the extreme. So when she labels  Islam as inherently Jihadist she is grinding an axe to a very sharp and dangerous point. And no one reading her should fail to appreciate that. This does not mean that her facts are wrong, it does mean that her opinions are suspect.

Max, I don’t know you. You don’t know me either. I will disclose that I am Keith’s brother. But you tell me too much about you by accusing the ACLU of stifling speech. It was the ACLU that was willing to lose half its members to defend the right of white supremacists to march in Skokie, Ilinois. The ACLU has rarely supported any limits on politically-incorrect speech. That you would say otherwise only suggests that you, Max, like Ms. Darwish, are more interested in agenda than accuracy. I will defend your right to spread untruths because I take a very broard view of speech rights.

Max, by breeding hatred that did not exist in reality to the degree you claim you are making the world far more dangerous than it would be otherwise. The Talibn had little power (box cutters are not power) before the US fed the flames of anti-Muslim jingoism. The Taliban will not weaken as long as average Muslims feel they need to protect themselves from average Americans.

Seth Berner

Max’s turn:

Date: July 30, 2010 12:26:54 PM EDT

Subject: Re: JOYS OF MUSLIM WOMEN

Hi Seth!

I am getting to speak w/ all the Berner boys today!

Actually I am more concerned w/ women’s rights than anything else..as you cannot surmise from my name I am a woman and I work on many efforts globally to end women’s oppression and slavery…and that crosses all religions and cultures but when it is previlant in the laws of certain countires or cultures that is a reason of concern for all humanity and especially to other women.

Comments?

Max

And my final reply:

Date: July 30, 2010 12:59:59 PM EDT

Subject: Re: JOYS OF MUSLIM WOMEN

Max–

I honor your support of women’s rights.  Indeed, I have been passionate about gender issues since I was raised by a feminist mother.  But I just don’t see how fighting one form of bigotry can justify using another form.

As I wrote, there is no doubt about the cruelty of fundamentalist Islam to women (among its other less-than-savory practices).  So — condemn those practices!  But don’t denounce Muslims — all 1.6 billion of them (and the measly 2.4 million in the US of A).  And, rather than relying on the message of one justifiably angry former fundamentalist Muslim, why not also seek out the view of Islamic feminists and progressives?  The brush you are using condemns these folks and the hundreds of millions of Muslims who don’t makes their women wear veils, don’t engage in honor killings, don’t blow up planes, etc.

(Do you know, by the way, that the Hindu Indians have an appalling record of honor killings?  Do you know that female genital mutilation in Africa is most prevalent in non-Muslim countries? Shall we seek to banish these people from our shores?)

In any case, there are countries in this world whose human rights records are atrocious, regardless of their religious make-up.   I support the cause of human rights everywhere – for women oppressed by fundamentalist Muslims, for Jews hated by Austrians (who continue to elect anti-Semitic leaders), for Falun Gang members brutally crushed by China.  I support the cause of Hispanics who have been subjected to progroms in Arizona.  Spreading hate — as opposed to shedding light — against any of the perpetrators will not relieve the oppression one iota.

Your communication (forwarding the hoax-ish email) helps no one.  If your cause is feminism, you are not even helping yourself and other women, because your uncareful, inflammatory speech kills your credibility.  Credibility is enhanced by truth, facts, and fairness.

And Seth is right.  Your view of the ACLU is factually incorrect.  You may disagree with the results of ACLU actions (for one thing, they will stand up every time for the rights of Muslims in this country to be treated fairly and justly), but it has never lobbied to remove or reduce the rights of *anyone*.  How does it help your cause to go after them?

Keith

Blog Post ©2010 Keith Berner; emails composed by each identified author.

05.10.10 Crayola Explains Arizona Immigration Law

May 10, 2010

Crayola explains Arizona immigration law
Confused about all the hubbub surrounding the new immigration legislation in Arizona? Crayola clarifies without all the legal jargon and complicated context.

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Now if only Mr. Sketch could explain that darn oil spill, we’d be all set.

Full story at Courant.

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05.04.09 Seventh-Inning Stretch Gone Bad (or Why My Deity Hates Baseball)

May 4, 2009

Little affronts to freedom of conscience are steps down a slippery slope to fascism and theocracy.

Back when I used to go to Baltimore Orioles games (before Peter Angelos’s misrule and disgusting politics soured me on the team), I used to get upset every time 7th inning rolled around.  Everyone’s favorite baseball song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” lasted all of about 45 seconds and was immediately followed by John Denver’s (ah-hem) classic “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” which seemed to go on forever.  Not only is it an awful song, but what the hell does being a country boy have to do with downtown Baltimore?

Now I long for the days of simply hating a baseball team’s taste in music.

Following the horror of 9-11, Major League Baseball ordered all teams to play “God Bless America” during the 7th-Inning Stretch, because – evidently – it wasn’t enough to sing the national anthem at the beginning of the game.  Those were the days of Freedom Fries and “if you’re not with us, you’re against us,” when national paranoia could only be combatted by US military aggression and nose-thumbing at the Geneva Convention.  Invoking God’s special love for the Best Country Ever fit right into the ethos of the time.

Even the superpatriots of MLB backed off a bit the next season, requiring teams to play the hymn just on Sundays and holidays, a rule which is still in effect.  By 2007, only the New York Yankees – under the enlightened leadership of George Steinbrenner – saw fit to subject their fans to enforced religious patriotism at every single game. 

So, you want to quibble with “enforced,” do you?  After all, there were no brown-shirts or Iranian-style morals police punishing nonbelievers and non-nationalists, right?  Wrong!

Beginning in late 1991, Steinbrenner hired off-duty NYC cops to restrict fan movement during the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.”  Mean stares from the cops were not enough, though, so the team actually has ushers stand holding chains to block aisles and prevent fans from leaving their seats!  (Eight other teams — the Astros, Athletics, Marlins, Padres, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox, and Twins  — also have ushers restrict movement during Moments of Enforced Religious Patriotism, but they don’t use cops or chains.)

According to the Yankees, they have never gotten any complaints about their ongoing exercise in compulsive observance.  And the ACLU, while warning against “enforced cultural conformity and the use of a ballgame to impose political correctness on a captive audience,” said that the Yanks apparently were free to do as they wished, since they are a private entity.

That changed when the Yanks decided last August 27 to arrest someone for going to take a pee while he should have been standing still and pondering how perfect our country is and how much the Judeo-Christian deity loves it.  Yep, Bradford Campeau-Laurion (note the French name!), of Astoria, Queens committed the crime of daring to walk past a police officer during a Religiously Patriotic Moment and got his sorry ass thrown out of Yankee Stadium.  Now, he and the ACLU are suing on the grounds that forcing everyone to think and act exactly the same might not be the greatest embodiment of freedom (and might not be constitutional, either).

Having recently read about that incident, I trotted out to a Washington Nationals game last Thursday evening (note: not a Sunday or holiday).  I was enjoying a pleasant evening with friends, in a gorgeous new stadium, watching the Worst Team in Baseball prepare to drop yet another one when BOOM!  God Bless America came blaring out of every loudspeaker in the stadium and everyone around me – folks who moments earlier were thinking for themselves and holding various opinions about various things – stood bolt upright and all thanked God for His love of Our Special Country.

What’s my problem, you ask (apart from my little constitutional quibbles).

Well, for one thing, I don’t believe in God.  (I write this with a capital “G,” because it is the name of one religious tradition’s top being.)  No less a figure than the president of the United States grudgingly accepts my right to live here and have rights and everything, even though I don’t buy the whole thing about some white dude up in the sky who made everything and decides everything.  So, I also don’t feel like I have to listen to songs about deities, unless I’m going to an event (a Christmas concert, say) where that is the purpose.

I also don’t believe that deities should be in the business of determining which teams win or favoring certain teams over others.  (If deities are going to be in that business, the least they could do is make the Yanks lose!)  And I think they should turn deaf ears to humans who think of themselves – or their particular countries or teams or gardening clubs – as better than everyone else. 

No, if I had a god, he/she/it certainly wouldn’t be blessing America without also blessing Mexico, France, and Iran.  In fact, my god would also bless North Korea and Sudan (though, not their current leaders), not to mention cats and trees and amoebas.

There is nothing wrong with being proud of oneself or of one’s country, on those rare occasions worthy of pride.  But such pride ought not be competitive or zero-sum.  And that’s the problem with almost all patriotism: it isn’t sufficient to be happy about ourselves.  Rather, it’s about our victory over others, or the fact that we’re richer than they are, or have more and bigger tanks.  Such patriotism is inherently aggressive and hostile.

When aggressive patriotism is combined with a certainty of heavenly favor – and when that combination is then enforced on captive masses — I see great danger.  At the very least, the captives lose their ability to ask hard questions and challenge ingrained assumptions.  This loss of individual freedom or ability to think is also a loss of constraint on those in charge.  Little affronts to freedom of conscience are steps down a slippery slope to fascism and theocracy.

This is why I will not stand up for patriotic displays or pretend to worship a god I don’t.  This is why I object to being requested – nonetheless required – to do so.  And this is why I will not be attending any more Washington Nationals baseball games.  Even once the team gets on God’s good side and is no longer Among the Worst Ever, they’ll have to carry on blessing America without me.

©2009 Keith Berner