Archive for the ‘International Affairs’ category

09.04.17 I’m 98% anti antifa

September 4, 2017

I almost giggled the first few times I heard that right-wingers were using terms like “extremist left” and “alt-left.” Of course, it wasn’t just the people every progressive could identify as right wingers doing this. Rather it was the New York Times and The Washington Post showing how not in thrall to the left they were. In pursuit of mainstream credibility, they were shy about refusing a platform to the GOPs anti-science freaks and pushed a general narrative of (false) equivalence: if the right was increasingly extreme, then surely the left was equally so.

All the while, anyone who paid attention knew that the lest vestiges of a violent left disappeared from the US in early ’70s.

I have my own extremist conspiracy theories and violent fantasies. I believed in the aughts (and still suspect) that if the corporate elite suspected elections might actually reform the system, elections would be canceled and tanks would roll in the streets. Obama’s election certainly didn’t disprove this: after all, Obama proved himself to be the ultimate Wall Streeter at the same time that he was among the worst civil liberties presidents in history (particularly in his full backing for the NSA).

I do think that armed revolution is probably the only way our political and economic systems could be pried completely from the grips of the selfish wealthy and their amen corner in hard-right churches across the country. Further, I think the “low information” nature of the United States is at least partly due to purposeful conspiracy on the right: the use of consumer baubles, cultural icons, and religion to create a dumbed down education system with TV as the opiate (now add opioids to that mix).

Yeah, 2% of me wants that armed revolution and would like to see all the corporate elite begging for food, while (by-then-former) GOP officials swing from trees.

But here’s a fundamental reason why I don’t embrace violence and revolution: what comes next?

This is the same reason why I have turned against the philosophically justified “responsibility to protect,” the international doctrine under which great powers like the United States have a duty to intervene to stop moral atrocities around the world. A quick survey of US international interventions – even those with some portion of noble intent – reveals that almost every single one has left things worse than they were before we got there. It is horrific to stand back while Assad and Putin slaughter millions. But if the US were to send in the Marines, would the bloodletting cease or would who is doing the slaughtering simply change for a time, with no reduction in carnage? And if we took the place over, how long would before our main purpose there became enriching General Dynamics and Apple?

So, you say you want a revolution (the classic Beatles song is going through my head)? It would be nice to see the bad guys dead or deposed. But do you really think the poor, women, and people of color would end up better off? At a very basic level, what if all the violence shut down those nasty coporations, which – until now – have been getting food from farms to tables all over the country and kept the water running? (Look at Venezuela! Yes, some poor are better off then under the oligarchs, but now there’s starvation on every corner and the health care system has collapsed.)

Or to get even more basic: When systems of order collapse, the power of the powerful becomes absolute.  I’m not a woman, but if I were, I might rather be out and about where there are imperfect institutions of order – even ones that abuse equal rights every day – than if the local strongman got to determine by himself whether I became his sex slave or made it home.

I hate unfettered capitalism. I hate institutionalized racism. I hate the Trump Regime. But, to replace them, there has to be a plan to replace them. There needs to be very careful thinking about the proverbial “day after” and it damn well better be better than the day before. Will there be a way to measure who has benefitted from violent overthrow and how the overall balance works out (in order to calculate whether the greatest possible good has been achieved for the greatest number of people)?

It may not be satisfying, but change within our deeply flawed system is the only means to try to help those who need it most to get at least something. Destroying the entire system at once means blood in the streets. Are you positive whose blood it will be?

As I have written, I believe the only chance to stop our current slide into fascism and dysfunctionality will be by electing folks who believe in democracy and will replace those who don’t. And it won’t – in our two-party system – be the Greens who get elected. It will be Democrats. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are our only path to progress, however unsatisfying the pace may be.

In this complex world, we don’t get to choose exactly what we want. The unjust system might be overthrown and replaced by something even less just. I might elect Democrats and they might disgust me. But if the result they produce is less bad than that produced by the GOP, it is good.

And now it appears the violent left has sprung back to life. The Antifa’s black-hooded, club-wielding, anti-free-speech goons aren’t going to launch or “win” a revolution. What they are already doing is grabbing headlines from the Nazis, the KKK, and the racist GOP. Since Charlottesville, the word “antifa” is suddenly everywhere (are there now more mentions of it than there are of Confederate statues?). So far, the newspapers of record that are reporting breathlessly on the phenomenon are reminding us in some of this coverage that the crimes of the right are far worse. Who thinks that Fox and the Wall Street Journal are being so careful? And how long until the Times and the Post re-embrace false equivalence in all its glory, by sowing fear of the left to match fear of the right?

The Antifa is discrediting Bernie progressives and moderate liberals at the same time. Two-thousand-eighteen is around the corner. The forces of reaction are already making the TV ads that will capture the hearts of low-information voters everywhere.  You can bet those ads will be full of Berkeley fires and DC property damage. If the left draws a single drop of blood these coming months, it will be smeared across the living rooms of the nation. You will see the face of some moderate Democratic senator morph into that of a communist hoodlum and that Democrat could lose because if it, keeping Congress in GOP hands.

Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi proved the value and moral rightness of nonviolence. In the current US political environment, though, violence on the left is not only morally condemnable, it is just plain STUPID.

Progressives and the “liberals” they dislike so much need to stand up together NOW to denounce the Antifa. Like me, you may at times silently cheer the injuries inflicted on those who so richly deserve it. But what we must do publicly is to develop Democratic candidates and bench strength (including some Dems we don’t much love) and win some goddam elections. It may be mildly nauseating to join hands with Nancy Pelosi to condemn the (left) mob, but it’s what we have to do.

I am scared, though, that the Antifa cannot be crushed and holds too much righteous anger to collapse on its own. If that is true, woe unto us, for now we face enemies on both sides.

©2017 Keith Berner

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08.13.17 American depths (Charlottesville & North Korea)

August 13, 2017

This has been one of the darker weeks in the American history of my lifetime. At least since last November, I have known consciously that the worst had not yet come, but emotionally, denial prevented me from hitting bottom. And, even as I feel the United States of America to be at utter depths now, there is probably more digging to come before we slowly begin to crawl our way back to something resembling a nation of compassion, rationality, and hope.

Of course, I’m writing about Charlottesville. (And I feel so badly for the good people of that town, whose name will be drenched in hatred and blood for years to come.) It is no surprise that white supremacists and Nazis would gather to spew hate. What is different this time?

  1. The hoods are off. There is apparently nothing that is considered too much for polite company, too outrageous to risk being associated with publicly. After decades of festering and culturing in the GOP, Trump has completely normalized the violence and hatred on display the past two days. Sieg heil, Nazi salutes, and driving into crowds of people you disagree with are on main streets and in living rooms across the country. Like gun deaths, soon we will cease to even notice them.
  2. For the first time since before World War II, we have a president who is a violent bigot, who cannot discern the difference between good and evil.* Even as numbers of Republicans have come out to condemn white supremacists as the sole cause of Charlottesville (the name now stands in for the events there), the inciter-in-chief – and all his henchmen – just can’t see where blame belongs. (And, of course, even those GOP officials who are condemning the hate are not speaking out about Trump or about his fitness for office. Are you listening, John McCain?)

I’m also writing about North Korea. The tweeter-in-chief is frothing at the mouth and is doing so without any forethought (as if he were capable of forethought). Since he has never read a book, he knows nothing of the Cuban Missile Crisis, or deterrence strategy, or even (absurd as it is) nuclear gamesmanship theory. The narcissist-in-chief probably doesn’t even know that Seoul is 35 miles from the DMZ and has a population of 25.6 million (greater metropolitan area).

So much for the “axis of adults”** we have been told would provide necessary supervision of the infant-in-chief. None of them knew in advance what Trump would say about the Kim regime. None of them could do any more than deny that he meant what he was saying over the past week: these supposed adults are little more than a shovel brigade. There are no brakes at all on an impulsive, vindictive, mentally ill man with the nuclear codes.

And, again, the few mumblings of criticism from the likes of Über Patriot McCain and Lindsey Graham don’t amount to shit. No one on the GOP – even in the face of a potential nuclear war – has a meaningful, powerful, actionable word to say about getting the Giant Cheetoh’s tiny hands off the nuclear trigger.

I am purposely demeaning Trump by calling him names in this blog post, something I have avoided doing up until now. Why have I avoided this? Because the name calling has the side-effect of dimishing the clear and present danger this man and his enablers pose to our country, our values, and the world. Yet, today, my anger and fear need full expression that tempered language just cannot fulfill.

The hate of Charlottesville, the toying with nuclear war – these are only the latest news items to consume us. Even worse than the events themselves is the coming to grips with a government – under the complete control of a racist, irresponsible party – that will do nothing – NOTHING – to save us.

How much lower must we go before someone, anyone, with actual power says: “No more”?


*This is not to say that previous presidents have not been racists or haven’t promulgated policies with racist impact. But Trump is both of a different magnitude and kind.

**John Kelly (chief of staff), Jim Mattis (secretary of state), H. R. McMaster (national security advisor), and Rex Tillerson (secretary of state)

©2017 Keith Berner

08.12.17 Chris Van Hollen: thy name is political cowardice

August 12, 2017

Sorry, Dear Reader, but I’m not about to let go of my outrage over Ben Cardin’s bill to criminalize free speech (S.270).

I have now written three times to Senator Van Hollen via his official campaign website. I have now written three times to his foreign affairs legislative assistant, Afreen Akhter. I have not received a single reply; though I was cc-ed on a reply Ms. Akhter sent to someone else:

Senator Van Hollen has not co-sponsored this legislation. He does not support restrictions on free speech and is reviewing the legislation in light of those concerns.

And here is what I sent to her today:

Ms. Akhter:

During the Reagan years, Act Up responded to the administration’s inaction on AIDS with this slogan: “Silence = Death.”

S.720 is not a matter of life or death, but Chris Van Hollen’s silence regarding our fundamental civil liberties is tantamount to endorsing Ben Cardin’s bill. I played a key role in helping Chris get elected to Congress the first time, something he thanked me for thereafter. I did not work for his election so that I could hear “has not co-sponsored this legislation” as an excuse for silence — this is political cowardice at its worst.

Will you present my views to the Senator? Will he stand up for he First Amendment and explicitly oppose S.270?

I would appreciate the courtesy of a direct reply.

— Keith Berner

Please stand with me in persistent support for civil liberties: please let Van Hollen and the rest of the Maryland congressional delegation* know how you feel.

*These Democrats are shameful cosponsors of Cardin’s pernicious bill:

  • Anthony Brown (MD-4)
  • John Delaney (MD-6), who is now running for president in 2020 (suppress giggles here)
  • Steny Hoyer (MD-5)
  • Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-2)
  • John Sarbanes (MD-3)

©2017 Keith Berner

08.03.17 Ben Cardin: still wrong; Chris Van Hollen: still silent

August 3, 2017

Per my post a few days ago, I wrote to Senator Ben Cardin (MD) in opposition to his bill criminalizing political speech he disagrees with. I heard back from his office today. Here is his note (my reply appears below that):

Thank you for sharing your comments on the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, S. 720. I appreciate your engagement regarding this piece of legislation, particularly your concerns over its potential impact on your constitutionally-protected First Amendment rights.

I understand that the American Civil Liberties Union released a letter that may have caused your, and other Marylanders’ concerns over the impact of S. 720 on civil liberties. I want you to know that I would not support legislation that would infringe upon those freedoms, and I welcome the opportunity to engage with you regarding some of the misunderstandings about the bill.

S. 720 seeks to amend the Export Administration Act (EAA), a 40-year-old law that prohibits U.S. persons from complying with unsanctioned foreign boycotts imposed by foreign countries. The prohibitions of the EAA have been consistently upheld as constitutionally sound. The new legislation amends the EAA to extend its existing prohibitions to unsanctioned foreign boycotts imposed by international governmental organizations, such as United Nations agencies or the European Union.

I want to highlight that this bill does not limit the rights of American citizens or organizations to express their views on Israeli or American foreign policy; nor does it limit the rights of American citizens or businesses from engaging in boycott activity of their own accord. I hope you will read my response to the ACLU, which is attached with this letter for your review. As I state in that letter and repeat to you now in this correspondence, I welcome healthy dialogue with constituents regarding the purpose and importance of this legislation, and I sincerely hope that this letter has addressed your concerns.

Thank you again for reaching out to me to share your thoughts on S. 720. Please do not hesitate to follow up with me should you have any additional questions or concerns regarding this bill, or any other matter of importance to you.

My reply:

Your assurances re my free-speech rights are empty until/unless I see further advice from the ACLU on this matter. The fact is that you once before prominently demonstrated your prioritization of Likud’s interests over US interests, when you opposed the Iran nuclear deal two years ago. You burned your credibility on matters touching on Israel at that time.

I will oppose your reelection and will continue to engage with Chris Van Hollen, Jamie Raskin, and other elected officials to defeat completely your misguided attempt to legislate your personal views on Israel and speech.

PS. I am Jewish and see you as a clear threat not only to my American civil liberties, but also to my ability to separate my ethnic identity from the horrific policies of the Israeli state.

In other news, Chris Van Hollen’s office still has no position to report, but this time his staff did give me the direct email address of his foreign affairs legislative assistant – please join me in writing to her: afreen_akhter@vanhollen.senate.gov.

I spoke again with Jamie Raskin today and he confirmed his opposition to S.270 and that he would produce a public statement on it before Congress returns from recess in September.

Finally, in a move that shows the lie in Ben Cardin’s email today, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) has withdrawn her cosponsorship of Cardin’s bill due to the ACLU’s analysis.

©2018 Keith Berner

07.31.17 Democrats seek to criminalize free speech (with friends like Ben Cardin, who needs enemies?)

July 31, 2017

Maryland Senator Ben Cardin introduced S.270, the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” on March 23. It attracted little attention until the past couple of weeks.

This blog post is not about where you or I might stand on Israel. I have written plenty on that topic, including how Jewish-American politicians contribute to anti-Semitism through their support for the country.

Rather, I’m writing about free speech, a right enshrined in the First Amendment and a fundamental underpinning of US democracy (indeed of democracy itself). That is the issue at hand here: S.270’s purpose is to criminalize (with shockingly severe penalties) my right to hold political opinions that the bill’s many sponsors happen to disagree with.

As I wrote to Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD-8) last week:

Principled opposition to this bill is something quite apart from one’s particular views on Israel.  If you believe in civil liberties, you support them. Our fundamental freedoms should never be sacrificed to the interests of another country (any other country). Once that principle is agreed to, you can have whatever debate you need to about Israel.

Just in case you’re a fan of the ACLU, here’s what they have to say about this pernicious bill: How the Israel Anti-Boycott Act Threatens First Amendment Rights.

Take another look now at the S.270 link and that of HR.1697, the House’s equivalent. There are 46 cosponsors in the Senate and 249 in the house. That is, half of our elected officials are ready to toss aside the First Amendment because they think servitude to Likud and settlers is worth it.

We have become sadly accustomed to GOP assaults on democracy, particularly in the form of voter suppression, but not to exclude theft of Supreme Court appointments and more. But note this: 14 of those cosponsors in the Senate and 71 of them in the House are Democrats, including such “liberal” luminaries as Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand* (NY), Ron Wyden (OR), and Maria Cantwell (WA).

It gets worse, Maryland voters, as our own Hall of Shame is well populated. Apart from Cardin, here they are:

  • Anthony Brown (MD-4)
  • John Delaney (MD-6), who is now running for president in 2020 (suppress giggles here)
  • Steny Hoyer (MD-5)
  • Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-2)
  • John Sarbanes (MD-3)

Out of Maryland’s seven Democratic members of the House, only Elijah Cummings (MD-7) and Raskin are not trying to undermine our constitution.

I called Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s and Jamie Raskin’s offices last week to find out where they stand on Cardin’s bill. Both told me that the members were “still considering it.” Here’s what I sent to Van Hollen:

I’m not sure how much study one would need to determine that a piece of legislation like this elevates another country’s temporal interests over our fundamental civil liberties.

I called Van Hollen’s office again today and was told exactly the same thing as last week. It is apparent that Chris Van Hollen is ducking his responsibility to stand up for the First Amendment. This goes beyond political cowardice – since his reelection to the Senate is damn near guaranteed for life. In fact, I can think of no explanation for it at all. I urge you to write him and call him (202-224-4654) to get him to do the right thing.

Because I have a personal relationship with Raskin, I called him directly last Friday and was gratified to hear him denounce the measure unequivocally. When I told him that his staff didn’t know his position, he said he would take care of that promptly and issue a written statement. When I called back today, his staff still didn’t know his stand and had not seen a statement. I urge you to write him and call him (202-225-5341) to get him on the public record.

We learned two years ago, when Ben Cardin and Chuck Schumer were two of only three Democrats to oppose the Iran nuclear deal, that they will always prioritize Likud’s interests over American interests. This is a soft form of treason, in my book, and neither of these men deserves to be in elected office. (They are entitled to their opinions — no one is entitled to be an elected official.) What amazes me this go ‘round is how many additional Democrats are willing to swear allegiance to Benjamin Netanyahu instead of to the Constitution of the United States of America. Please remember this in 2018.

*Kirsten Gillibrand seemed like such a hero in the winter when she led Dems in the number of Trump appointments she voted against. Oh well.

©2017 Keith Berner

07.16.17 Not a single patriot

July 16, 2017

I belong to a Facebook group for the summer camp I went to 47 years ago. (Damn, I’m old!) On July 4, this year, someone posted a request for people to share their Independence Day memories from back then. What I recalled (proudly) was the campers raising the flag upside down and backwards to protest the Vietnam War – it was either 1970 or -71. And I remember the camp owner giving us a harsh lecture on patriotism. “Love it or leave it,” was the mantra of the day.

I remember being called a commie for walking down the street with long hair in my teens. Worse epithets were used against those who opposed the Reagan’s defense buildup in the ‘80s. And the militarists went ape shit, as usual, when people who were neither brainwashed nor morons stood up against the Iraq War. (That was when Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich [R – of course] spent taxpayer dollars to infiltrate community peace groups who were such a threat to. . . what exactly?)

It was the right – and increasingly the Republican Party – that declared, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” and accused us of being traitors.

Notwithstanding my belief that the US has more often than not been a hypocrite in touting democracy, I am a democratic patriot. Democracy is not merely about holding elections, but rather making them free and fair, inclusive, and backed by a robust civil society and a judiciary that acts for justice (imagine that!). This is the only system of government that fosters individual dignity and the rights of all to influence outcomes, at least in its ideals.

Come the year 2017, democracy has been under assault for a decade around the world. In the past two years, Hungary, Poland, and Turkey (among others) have more or less given up on it, adopting ever-more authoritarian practices.

The US Republican Party has never seemed to care much for democracy.* Prime example: voter suppression. To a certain extent, it is inherent in conservatism to oppose a full franchise, because the idea is to preserve the power of those who already have it. But the Trump regime has raised contempt for democracy to a whole new level. Not only does Trump praise authoritarians around the globe (including in the aforementioned countries), but his rhetoric and policies have put our own (albeit flawed) democracy in grave danger, not the least by ceding power to Russia, America’s most dangerous adversary.

At least since the infamous “pussy tape” last summer, predictions that the GOP would imminently abandon Trump have been a mainstay of every new crisis. It has never happened. With the revelations of the past week, it still has not happened.

To be fair, the conservative intelligentsia and pundit-class have turned on Trump en masse. Columnists from David Brooks to Charles Krauthammer have been pummeling Trump, as well as calling out their party for its utter lack of principle.

But, even given a clear and present danger to national security, GOP members of Congress cannot step away from their one true cause: enriching the wealthy. Oh yeah, there are the usual two or three GOP stewards who mumble a few words of gentle criticism, but they intend no action and their colleagues go on fiddling while Rome burns. (John McCain is a particularly heinous example, because he knows better: It’s not enough to sound smart by saying you know there will be “more shoes to drop,” Sen. McCain. Do something about it!)

It is clear now that Trump could indeed shoot someone on 5th Avenue (as he said last summer) without losing his base. It won’t matter if he is caught fucking a little boy in the Oval Office or is on video handing the nuclear codes to Moscow: racist voters won’t abandon him; neither will Fox News or Breitbart. As for GOP elected officials, the only hope of peeling some away will be indictments against Trump henchmen. Even then, only those who perceive an immediate threat to reelection will turn.

No outrage is too much for the GOP: the same people who have used patriotism as a bludgeon for decades. With push having come to shove, they don’t give a shit about their country or anything but themselves and their monied pals.

I can only hope that a sufficient number of Americans note and remember for years to come this GOP-led assault on our fundamental institutions and ideals. I’m not holding my breath.

*I encourage readers to re-read this piece: 11.07.16 The GOP’s existential threat to democracy.

©2017 Keith Berner

02.01.17 Trump/Bannon or Pence?

February 1, 2017

For the first few days of this regime, I was rather celebrating the utter insanity (meant literally) and incompetence in the White House. I saw a ray of hope in its great potential for immobilizing dysfuntionality, not to mention the potential to alienate even the GOP Forces of Evil in Congress (who have thus far thrown aside their own stated policies in deference to the new Führer).

(See this outstanding piece by David Brooks in yesterday’s New York Times: The Republican Fausts. I often disagree with Brooks and don’t agree with everything in this piece, it is a powerful read and he is mostly, alarmingly spot on.)

Mike Pence as an alternative seemed worse. A competent, not crazy certified Thirteenth-Century Theocrat with strong ties to GOP elites would certainly get more done and hurt our society and culture even worse, right?

The news that Trump had elevated Steve Bannon to the National Security Council — over the Joint Chiefs of Staff — turned my outrage to terror. Brooks is not the only one in recent days to observe that Bannon is quickly consolidating control over all levers of power and government. His virulent racism, coupled with Trump’s nonstop temper tantrums are making me rethink a Pence presidency. Yes, Pence would gut necessary government spending, work tirelessly to enrich the wealthy, destroy the environment, and outlaw reproductive freedom (wherever he can). But so will Trump/Bannon!

What Pence seems unlikely to do would be to actively undermine world stability, start trade or military wars, empower foreign autocrats (Putin!), and actively undermine the US Constitution (further than the GOP already does through voter suppression, etc).

My mind is just about made up in favor of a 25th-Amendment (or impeachment) solution to this global crisis. My remaining hesitation is mostly about expecting a greater aggressiveness by Pence against LBGT rights than Trump and the idea that Trump/Bannon’s explicit racism is easer to counter than the GOP’s pervasive, implicit racism.

Twenty-Fifth Amendment, Section 4

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

What do you think, Dear Readers?

PS. I will no longer refer to well-known autocrats with their first names; hence, “Trump” (without Donald) and “Putin” (without Vladimir). These are monsters, not human beings and should not be personalized in any way.

©2017