Posted tagged ‘Barack Obama’

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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07.02.17 Purity or victory: What’s a progressive to wish for?

July 2, 2017

So much hand wringing in the Democratic Party, ever since Trump unexpectedly beat Hillary Clinton! The intensity of the anguish only increased after Democrat Jon Ossoff failed to beat Karen Handel in Newt Gingrich’s former Georgia district in June. This put the Dems’ record at 0 for 4 in special elections this year. The sky must be falling more rapidly than ever.

After last November, many argued that Democrats failed to capture the White House because they hadn’t run on a clear economically populist message. This view continues to hold sway despite subsequent polling showing that Clinton lost not on economics*, but on her own failures and how culturally alienated (not economically alienated) Trump voters were. (You can read “culturally alienated” here as racist; though other cultural memes such as guns and religion certainly played a part.)

Some commentators have jumped on this latter bandwagon, lecturing Dems that it’s time to give up on “identity politics” (the right wing’s term for giving a shit about minorities and women) and abortion rights. That is, if only Dems would sell their souls, they’d start winning: Without the Neanderthals on your side, you’re toast!

Leftier Democrats (including most Bernie Sanders supporters) buy the economic argument lock, stock, and barrel. The solution, in their view, is to go whole hog for single payer, more regulation, and higher taxes on the rich. Your blogger fits well within this policy camp, but, as we shall see, not wholly with the proposition that this approach is a panacea for electoral woes.

The first thing required of Democrats at this point is some perspective:

  • The Democrats didn’t lose the presidential election. Our candidate won the popular vote by over three million votes. She lost the electoral college by only 70,000 votes in three states. And, of course, she was a terrible candidate and a certain foreign power put a thumb on the scale against her.
  • Compared to previous results in the districts the Dems have lost this year, their totals have improved dramatically. All four special elections thus far have taken place in deep-red places. We should be encouraged by the results, rather than discouraged.

So, my proposition is that Democrats do not need to renounce social and racial justice, or even economic centrism, to win at the presidential level. I don’t believe, in fact, that die-hard racists – those who would rather give up their own health care before seeing any of “those people” get any – can be won over in any case.

Nonetheless, Democrats were wiped off the map across most of the country at the local and state level during the Obama years. As admirable as the former president is in many ways, he was a terrible politician – he paid no attention to the fate of the party and the party, for its part, utterly lacked integrity and competence. This has been and remains an unmitigated disaster for at least three reasons:

  • State office holders (legislatures and governors) create electoral districts. In our horribly flawed democracy, when the GOP controls those levers, it assures that Democrats can’t win at any level.
  • Local and state offices are the bench from which candidates for Congress (and the presidency) emerge. If you have few Democrats holding these offices, you’ll have fewer ready to run for Congress.
  • Losing begets losing: Local voters who only see Democrats as losers or as incompetent or as out of touch with their issues become accustomed to rejecting them.

A progressive neighbor of mine (almost all my neighbors are progressive) asked me to comment about abortion rights, in this context. This question gets to a struggle in most political parties: which is more important, purity or victory? The GOP has certainly struggled with this question and has answered it by booting all the moderates out of their party. This has not hurt them – yet – because our system is tilted in their favor (the built-in advantage for less-populated areas), because they already control most of the levels of power, and because of Democrat incompetence.

So, should Democrats accept anti-choice politicians (or gun nuts) as the price of winning?

Recently, Democrats who were never particularly comfortable with Bernie Sanders to start with, along with many progressive women (for obvious reasons), excoriated Sanders for assisting the mayoral campaign of an anti-choicer in Oklahoma City. This particular struggle has also played out in venues like January’s Women’s March, where anti-choice women’s groups were made personae non gratae.

Abortion rights, gay rights, immigration rights, and the importance of black lives are litmus test issues for me. But I’m here in Montgomery County, Maryland, where I will never be faced with a dilemma in choosing a Democrat over a Republican.

How about in Oklahoma City? Or the suburbs of Atlanta?

There is a moral dilemma. If we insist that our party be pure, we may be hurting a Democratic candidate who could win and do a lot of good for people who need it. Think that if a somewhat distasteful Democrat wins over an evil Republican: they may help lift more black folks out of poverty and devote more resources to the needs of single moms and their infants and the schools those kids will go to. Is it moral to, in effect, facilitate the victory of a Republican, who will help only the wealthy and, most likely, be even worse on social issues than the flawed Democrat?

I also think purity is bad strategy. Progressives cannot win the school board seats, the city halls, and the state legislatures everywhere with an identical message or set of priorities. And, we have to understand that the only thing that matters in January of a new Congress is the numbers of Ds (and Is aligned with them) vs. Rs. It’s the votes for Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader that determine everything that follows. There must be more Ds than Rs, even if I don’t love every single D.

We also have to be practical in our thinking: how much difference is the mayor of Oklahoma City going to make on reproductive freedom? He (it is a man) doesn’t have any authority on that issue and lives in a state where even a solid pro-choicer would have zero influence.

Another example worth considering is Joe Manchin, the Democratic – but rather right-wing – senator from West Virginia. He only votes with other Democrats about 60% of the time. He is wrong on guns and coal and numerous other issues. But, the key question is: if we “primary” him and beat him with a reliable progressive, can that progressive win in November?! Remember, Manchin is standing with Dems right now in opposing Trumpcare. And he will vote for a Democrat to lead the Senate in 2019.

(I’m not declaring absolute opposition to a race against Manchin. I am saying that this is not the no-brainer purist lefties may proclaim.)

Democrats in blue states and counties have a responsibility to move the party left. There should be no room in Montgomery County for Democrats who favor powerful, wealthy development interests. There should be no room in Maryland for Democratic state legislators (or governors) who support the bail bond or gambling industries or downplay racial injustice.

But, if we are to stop the GOP agenda and the party’s racist and xenophobic acolytes across the country, we have to beat them at the ballot box! Maybe if Dems were politically dominant right now, I would be fine with kicking out every Wall Streeter and abortion opponent. But protest marches and candlelight vigils are not going to take our country back. The only thing that can do that is winning elections. Towards that end, we need to temper the virulence of our internecine battles and tolerate some politicians we’d rather not. The Democratic Party must be a big tent.

So, to answer the neighbor who asked me to address this question: I can live with a mayor in Oklahoma City whom I disagree with completely on abortion. And I can live with a Joe Manchin in one of the most racist, Trump-friendly states in America. I feel this at the same time I feel it is past time to kick the right wing Dems out of Montgomery County and Maryland.

As a college football coach famously put it in 1950: “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” That needs to be progressives’ and Democrats’ mantra for at least the next few years.

*It was apparent that within days of the election that Trump voters, on average, were more wealthy than the rest of the country.

(c)2017 Keith Berner

01.19.17 Shame on America. Shame on Americans.

January 19, 2017

Any critical thinker will find that the United States has more often than not behaved in direct opposition to its proclaimed values. From the Indian genocides, to slavery, to Jim Crow, to the overthrow of elected governments around the world, this country has put its hypocrisy on display over and over again.

The election of a racist, misogynist, xenophobic, Putin-loving, authoritarian, is – as I’m hardly the first to note – a new nadir of horrific depth. Yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. But there is no denying that the overwhelming land area of the country and about half of the population are getting in Trump exactly what they wanted.

On both right and left, there is a popular trope afoot that a neglected, impoverished sector of the American populace — the white working class — had good cause to rise up for change.

On the right, this is self-serving bullshit, because the GOP has never given a hoot about those people. Sure, some of the rednecks were too dumb to realize they being duped. But the above-the-national-income average of Trump voters reveals the falsehood in the claim. Trump voters were not primarily driven by hope for a better life or by stupidity. No, they voted the way they did because they are racist pigs. These people don’t care if they lose their health insurance, as long as they are certain that African Americans, Latinos, and all those other “outsiders” aren’t getting any. (Oh yeah, and as long as women and gays know their place.)

On the left, this lie is just another round of way-too-common self-flagellation. Again, it’s utter bullshit to believe that the Democratic Party platform and the Clinton campaign forgot about people in need. Hundreds of pages of policy were devoted to improving the lives of the poor and middle class.  Could there have been more emphasis on those policies in the campaign’s public communications? Maybe. But it’s ridiculous to think that racists would have voted any differently with more information. It is the very fact that Democrats are proud to be diverse that resulted in our loss.

The reality is that this is a deeply racist country without any deep commitment to democracy and justice. Unless we face this fact, we on the left are going to keep shooting at each other and avoiding reality. There is no other side – whether among elected officials or their near-fascist followers – that is worth negotiating with, nonetheless catering to.

The only way to overcome American Shame is to beat those who perpetrate it. There should be no talks with Republicans, no visits to Appalachia to feel poor white men’s pain. No, we must find and organize righteous voters. We should be recruiting righteous candidates. We should be forcing the hard right (the only right remaining in the US) to own its failures and alienate at least some of its racist supporters (those who decide that they need to eat, even if that means black people get to eat, too).

So, no votes for Trump nominees from Democrats. An unbreakable filibuster for every Trump court appointment. No cooperation in Congressional committees or Democratic votes for GOP bills in the House and Senate.

Barack Obama tried turning his cheek for his first five years in office. We must not repeat that mistake. And we can start by rejecting the claim that there was any blame on our side (apart from party incompetence and Clintonian misjudgment) for the beatings we have taken everywhere.

None of this means that the Democratic Party and the left in general have nothing to learn or change. But it does mean that we must focus on victory and call the bigots what they are, today and from now on.

©2017 Keith Berner

 

01.14.17 Israel. And the Democrats who support it.

January 14, 2017

I’m Jewish. (I feel I have to start all my comments on Israel by declaring my ethnicity, because so many Israel supporters conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. I am not a self-hater.)

The US actually allowed passage of a recent UN resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policy. Not that our country actually supported the resolution. But, by abstaining (i.e., by refusing to express a view), rather than vetoing (as the US almost always does when the topic of Israel comes up), our country took a baby step towards bringing its Middle East policy in alignment with its stated values.

Oh, the uproar this caused. AIPAC and other Likud-aligned US organizations expressed their customary outrage with their customary breathless bluster. Then, a majority of Democratic House members (109-76), including new MD Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-8), voted to denounce the UN resolution, saying it was unfair to Israel. They joined an overwhelming majority of Republicans (233-4) to undermine President Obama’s gentle turn against rubber stamping everything Israel does.  (This gentle turn comes only after Obama committed $38 billion of our tax dollars to underwriting Likud and illegal settlements for 10 years to come).

Two years ago, our Senator — Ben Cardin — joined only four other Democrats to oppose the nuclear deal with Iran, perhaps Obama’s foremost foreign policy achievement. The other three “traitors” to the president were Robert Menendez (NJ), Joe Manchin (WV), and Chuck Schumer (NY). This graphic tells an interesting story:

picture1

Manchin is the outlier here: he is from a deep-red state and does not have a great record of party loyalty. The others, though, are rock-solid Dems who cast a rare vote against their party and president. And what do they have in common? Jewish identity (Schumer and Cardin) and reliance on Jewish support (those two, plus Menendez).

Is Israel being treated unfairly by the US and the world?

Certainly, there is a great deal of hostility to Israel from hypocritical anti-Semites whose behavior differs little from what they go after Israel for. Certainly, Israel has a right to paranoia, based on the Holocaust and the Arabs’ unremitting hostility and aggression.

But, even for those of us who believe Israel has a right to defend itself in a hostile world, there was never any justification for civilian occupation of foreign land or for Israel’s unjust treatment of its own Palestinian citizens. Since 1973, Israel’s aggressive de facto appropriation of other people’s land and sovereignty has turned it from victim to perpetrator. Even under brief periods of Labor Party rule (including right after the Oslo Peace Accords), Israel has never stopped expanding its settlements on the West Bank, stealing property that doesn’t belong to it.

Israel’s apologists in this country say (more or less), “Hey, no fair criticizing Israel, unless you rebuke in equal measure the knife-wielding Arabs who attack us.” A knife versus the most powerful military force in the region. Resident uprisings, sometimes violent, in the face of daily humiliation and nonstop brutality. At this point, it’s hard for me to see any distinction between the plight of the Palestinians and that of the Africans who had to battle Apartheid for decades, against all odds and the concerted power of South Africa, the US, and Britain. People with no recourse to justice and no hope of progress explode. Wouldn’t you?

Yeah, but what about all the other countries in the world that are oppressive, racist, and/or aggressive? Well, I certainly hate illiberal, bigoted regimes like Russia’s or Hungary’s, not to mention the numerous African states who are murdering and imprisoning their homosexual citizens. Obviously, Israel has no monopoly on outrageous behavior.

But there are three reasons why Israel deserves special opprobrium (at least from me):

1. Most of the other outrageous countries in the world are not fundamentally kept afloat by my tax dollars. The fact that I am paying for Israeli racism and oppression gives me a right – nay, a duty – to forcefully oppose its behavior and US support for it. (For what it’s worth, I’d love to see an end to US support for Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well.)

2. I have special contempt for democracies whose people choose racism, oppression, or aggression. Israelis have been voting for right-wing governments for most of the country’s history. The last three elections have produced governments that are ever narrower, ever more nationalist, ever more fascist. I don’t blame the Saudi people the way I blame Israelis: Saudis have no input on their leaders, nor say in their policies.

I am hardly being unfair to Israel. I maintain a boycott list of countries where the citizens themselves are responsible for their countries’ policies, including Austria, Hungary, and Poland. If I weren’t an American, I would throw this country into that same category: a country where a functional majority chooses bigotry and imperialism.

3. The very fact of my Jewishness requires for me to take greater responsibility for the state supposedly founded in my name. I was raised without the Jewish religion. Rather, our religion at home was that of the Civil Rights Movement and opposition to the Vietnam War. I grew up understanding that — as a member of a historically oppressed people — I could not turn my back on oppression of others. My progressivism is rooted in my heritage. I would be betraying my parents if I were to support Israeli aggression or even only turn a blind eye to it.

How Jewish-American politicians contribute to anti-Semitism:

I get how Joe Manchin could side with the right-wing on the nuclear deal. I get how Jewish Americans who have long sided with neocon aggression or spent decades supporting authoritarian freaks in the name of anti-communism could find themselves on the “wrong” side on Israel. At least they’re being consistent with their values.

It’s another matter when the Cardins, Raskins, and Schumers of the US body politic vote against their party, their president, and their proclaimed values on only one issue: Israel. The more these politicians give Israel a hypocritical pass, the more they reinforce the idea in the rest of the world that there is no gap between Jewishness/Judaism and Likud. The more they destroy the very possibility (in the eyes of others) that Jews can be just, that Jews can be peaceful, that Jews can respect human rights and human dignity, the more hatred against Jews they engender.

And this leads us to the great self-defeating tragedy that Likud Jews are engaged in. Israel cannot survive as a democratic, Jewish state if it will not allow a two-state solution. Likud and the majority of Israeli voters who support it are dooming themselves either to a future of apartheid (I would say it has already arrived) or to being a minority in a new Palestine. The Israeli people are assuring a disastrous future for their homeland.

And hypocritical Jewish liberals in the US are undermining Jewish security and safety everywhere by demonstrating that they cannot be trusted on this topic. They sap their own power as progressives (making us progressives less likely to support them) and feed right into the thinking of anti-Semites who want to see Jews has a fifth column with a nefarious agenda.

Is the UN being unfair to Israel? Not this time, in any case. Am I being unfair to Israel? Excuse me, but no fucking way!

It is time for the US to join the rest of the civilized world (however much of that remains in this year of democracy-in-peril) in condemning Israel. (Abstention is not enough!) Further, we must stop underwriting that horrific regime and its racist people. It well past time for my elected representatives, no matter their ethnic or religious affiliation, to be true to their values and to earn my vote not only through a commitment to civil rights and civil liberties at home, but also abroad.

©2017 Keith Berner

04.16.16 Chris Van Hollen for Senate

April 16, 2016

This is a long piece. If you don’t know Chris Van Hollen well and have not been following the story of Donna Edwards’s lies about his record, you’ll learn by reading all of it. Otherwise, the executive summary is clear: Chris Van Hollen is an unusually effective progressive leader. Donna Edwards is unusually ineffective and lacks the character to be in public office.

Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-8) is a superstar. He offers a rare combination of deep progressive values, legislative expertise, and being part of the Democratic Party leadership. His talent is demonstrated by the fact that it took very few years after his election to Congress in 2002 to become a member of the leadership and that he did not have to become a corporate sellout to do so.

There have been times when your blogger has disagreed with Van Hollen. Two instances I recall were when he floated a potential unilateral concession to the GOP during budget talks several years ago, a move that I found distressingly similar to Barack Obama’s long period of negotiating with himself, while the GOP gave nothing. Another instance was when he briefly sided with the anti-privacy Senator Diane Feinstein regarding the NSA.

Otherwise, Van Hollen has been a champion of almost everything progressives hold dear: the environment, political reform (more on that, below), gun control (more on that, below), women’s rights, gay rights, Wall St. reform, responsible foreign policy. You name it, our congressman has been far more than a sidelines cheerleader. Rather he has provided real leadership over and over again.

Part of leadership is seeking compromise in service to the public good. Guess what? You cannot move legislation (or negotiate an arms control treaty), without giving up something to get agreement with the other side. There are limits to what concessions moral leaders can make. But ultimately, good compromise means calculating that what you’re winning is worth more than what you’re giving up.

Which brings us to Chris Van Hollen’s sponsorship of a campaign finance reform package in 2010 in the wake of Citizens United. The bill would have forced transparency regarding contributions to and expenditures by PACs. In order to gain support from red-state Democrats, the bill exempted the NRA (and, to appease other Dems, the Sierra Club) from its provisions. Most pro-gun-control Democrats supported the measure (which ultimately passed the House, but failed in the Senate) because the finance transparency to be gained was far more important than the potential lost insight into the NRA, whose agenda and actions were hardly a secret to start with.

Fast forward to the Maryland Senate campaign of 2016. For weeks, Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-4) has been portraying Chris Van Hollen as being in bed with the NRA, based on the 2010 bill, which had nothing to do with gun control. Given Van Hollen’s “F” rating from the NRA (which Edwards shares), your blogger considers this beyond distortion: it is an outright lie. Edward’s own advertising has featured this libel.

This past week, Edwards’s libel gained national attention, as a heretofore little-known PAC called Working for US, featured Obama’s image in a new ad making the same spurious claim about Van Hollen. The ad implied (1) that Obama opposed to the 2010 campaign-finance bill (he did not) and (2) that Obama had endorsed Edwards (he had not).

The President does not usually intervene in primary races between Democrats. But, the PAC’s ad (as put by the Washington Post in an April 14 editorial) was “beyond the pale.” Barack Obama publicly called for the ad to be pulled. In short order, House and Senate Minority Leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Harry Reid (D-NV) followed suit. (Van Hollen is part of Pelosi’s and Reid’s team. Would they be likely to work with Edwards now?)

If Donna Edwards had not already been spouting the same lie as the PAC promoted, she might have been able to distance herself from it. She can’t and, in fact, has reasserted it in recent days.

Party because the 2010 campaign-finance reform bill didn’t become law, it’s not easy to understand a PAC’s inner workings. Nonetheless, John Fritze at the Baltimore Sun reported on April 14 that the major funder of the noxious ad was a Maine-based hedge fund manager, S. Donald Sussman. (Kudos to Jonathan Shurberg at Maryland Scramble for pointing me to the Sun article.) Fritze writes:

Van Hollen’s campaign found irony in the fact that the ad was paid for a hedge fund manager. The Edwards campaign has said for months that Van Hollen is too cozy with Wall Street.

“Chris Van Hollen has been leading the fight to close the loophole that lets hedge fund managers pay less in taxes than working people,” Van Hollen spokeswoman Bridgett Frey said. “That she claims to take on Wall Street is clearly the height of hypocrisy.”

Your blogger worked hard to get Chris Van Hollen elected in 2002. I have remained a fan over the years, but entered 2016 also positively inclined towards Donna Edwards. Her voting record is nearly identical to Van Hollen’s and she offers the bonus of adding much-needed diversity to the overwhelmingly white, male US Senate. What Maryland progressive would not be proud to be represented by an African-American woman?

At the same time, I was disturbed by the pervasive stories of Edwards’s apparent inability to get along with others. Her lack of support in this race from the Congressional Black Caucus or many Prince George’s County political leaders has been striking. Various analyses have deemed Edwards among the least effective members of Congress, in terms of legislation passed or contributed to.

Nonetheless, I flirted with political neutrality in the contest between Van Hollen and Edwards. Van Hollen’s effectiveness is highly compelling. So is Edwards’s stated commitment to principle – I don’t mind having some progressive bomb throwers in power.

Edward’s despicable campaign decisively ends my flirtation. She is a hypocrite on campaign finance. Her claimed purity about the NRA helped damage an effort to do something about the issue.

It’s worse: her inability to get along with anyone makes her not a Bernie Sanders figure (who is rather pure, ideologically, but has a record of being able to work with those who don’t agree with him on everything). No, Donna Edwards is the Ted Cruz of Maryland progressive politics. Bomb-throwing that inspires a movement can be laudable. Alienating produces no value for anyone. The mendacious, hypocritical campaign Edwards has run saps any remaining attractiveness from her candidacy.

Your blogger feels almost guilty for toying with a decision not to endorse Chris Van Hollen. Racial and gender balance are important objectives. But they cannot outweigh the substantial differences between candidates for a single seat. Chris Van Hollen has the character, the skills, and the record of accomplishment Maryland needs in its next senator.

©2016 Keith Berner

03.05.16 Responsibility to protect: A moral dilemma in the Middle East

March 5, 2016

I just finished watching “The Square,” a moving documentary about the brief rise and harsh fall of the Egyptian revolution, 2011-13. In the film, we follow three activists (two liberals and one Islamist) who take part in the massive people-power overthrow of brutal dictator Hosni Mubarak. We see the military hijack the revolution and the Muslim Brotherhood betray it, resulting in the absolute religious dictatorship of Mohamed Morsi. The film ends as first the people and then the military, led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, overthrow Morsi.

“The Square” doesn’t show us the aftermath, as el-Sisi reinstates an absolute military dictatorship, murders thousands, and eventually releases Murbarak from prison. Neither do we witness the increase in terrorism across the country as Brotherhood supporters and the crushed remnants of liberal democrats wage a war of attrition against the military in a destroyed nation.

When I see or read about events like these, my heart breaks for the people on the ground. At the same time I am outraged about this country’s complicity. For decades, a United States, obsessed with stability for Israel, supported Mubarak with a blind eye to his terrors. (The Clintons, who consider the Mubaraks good friends, are – perhaps – the most complicit of our fellow citizens.) For a brief time, perhaps half the time that the liberal revolution seemed to have a chance, the US seemed to be on the right side in Egypt. But then the US backed the blatantly unfair elections that put the Brotherhood in power (elections do not equal democracy!).

The US switched back to supporting military oppression as soon the Morsi was overthrown. Only months after the el-Sisi massacre in Tahir Square and the full institution of rule by brute force, the shameful John Kerry (backed, of course, by Barack Obama) was in Cairo, embracing the butcher and praising him as a democrat.

The broader lessons here are (1) the US fails (at least its stated values, if not its great-power interests) when it chooses sides in fraught situations, (2) the US fails when it embraces dictatorships in the name of stability over human dignity, and (3) the US has been failing every single day for 50 years in supporting Israeli security over nearly every other priority.

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In the international human rights field (where I spend my working hours), there is a concept called “responsibility to protect” (RTP). This noble principle is meant to prevent further Holocausts, Rwandas, and Srebenicas (to name three of myriad examples). The idea is that the rights of human beings trump those of regimes, that state sovereignty is subordinate to preventing atrocities and genocides. In fact, states with the means to intervene in such situations are required to intervene.

If one cares about human life and dignity, this seems an unimpeachable moral philosophy. Indeed RTP is why I supported US intervention, as Muammar Gaddafi prepared to slaughter his opponents in 2011. The recent two-part series in the New York Times “The Libya Gamble” focuses on Hillary Clinton’s advocacy for intervention and the irony of her hubris about positive outcomes, with the Iraq War disaster still in the present. Not only was I with Clinton in 2011, I was also – briefly – on the side of US military intervention in Syria in 2013.

The NYT stories cover not only the decision making leading to US intervention, but also the aftermath, as the West loses interest and Libya slides into chaos, becoming (perhaps) a greater hotbed of international terrorism and human suffering than even in Gaddafi’s worst years.

This story is not really about Clinton or just Libya. Rather is it about the helplessness of the West to predict or manage outcomes, even on those relatively rare (in my view) occasions when its intentions align with its values. The US destroyed Iraq, increasing Iran’s power and creating ISIS. The US helped turn Libya into a failed state. The US repeatedly supported the wrong side in Egypt.

So, what does this mean in regard to RTP? It is a terrible moral dilemma. How do the lives lost in Libya’s collapse compare to those if Gaddafi had massacred his opponents? How does human suffering in Syria compare to an unknown outcome if the US had started bombing the in 2013? Do we have more blood on our hands by staying (mostly) out of conflicts or by intervening and “owning” the result?

My belief in RTP has been fundamentally shaken by the NYT series, as I have related it back to events of the past 15 years.

The GOP and its unrepentant neocons admit no moral dilemmas. For them, the answer is always intervention and always military. They never acknowledge the great hypocrisy of US foreign policy over 170 years, as the US preached democracy, but propped up dictatorships in service to US business interests. They never give up their simplistic and arrogant ideology, in the face of complexity and limited ability to dictate outcomes.

I have not become a complete non-interventionist. We should have stopped the Rwandan genocide (the country is now ruled by a dictator who has brought universal healthcare and massive economic development to his impoverished people – another moral dilemma) and were right to stop the one in the Balkans (where a cold peace rules and underlying issues have never been resolved).

I guess where I land is that principles and ideology (whether RTP or GOP/neocon) are no excuse for not thinking, not seeking to grasp complexity, and – above all – not acting with humility. We can’t declare we will never act. But if we do not face the world with an acknowledgement of limited power and understanding, then positive outcomes are utterly impossible. Ultimately, morally fraught situations must be considered individually and after deep deliberation, rather than through a single, simple moral lens.

I have reluctantly come to agree with Obama’s decision not to become enmeshed in Syria (though, I condemn the shear incompetence that led him to declare “red lines” he was unwilling to enforce). In the midst of this horror, nonintervention is more responsible than the alternative. (And, we cannot know whether doing a better job of arming the so-called democratic rebels in 2012-13 would have made us proud. We can see a long history of US-supplied arms being used against us after we exit the bloodbaths we have created). But, deciding not to intervene militarily, does not, cannot, excuse US support for the el-Sisis of the world. Egypt is a case where the moral thing to do was to exit with our tail between our legs and let el-Sisi sink or swim on his own. (As for Israel, it deserves no support at all from the United States as long as it remains a racist, hegemonist power.)

©2016 Keith Berner

08.26.15 Maryland’s Senators Silent on Iran Deal

August 26, 2015

Here is my open letter to Senator Ben Cardin. I will be sending a similar letter to Barbara Mikulski. Maryland Democrats should be outraged that both of our senators appear to be in thrall to Likud and AIPAC. Express your views to Cardin (202-224-4524) and  Mikulski (202-224-4654) or by visiting their websites. Though this should hardly matter on the substance of the issue, Cardin is Jewish and Mikulski is not. Just the same, the latter has been known to consistently take the AIPAC line on Israel.

Dear Senator Cardin:

I read in yesterday’s New York Times, that you are undecided on the nuclear deal with Iran.

Your fence-sitting is disturbing, because the logic in favor of the agreement is an absolute no-brainer: whether or not you love the details or the way Obama and Kerry negotiated, the horse has left the barn. The sanctions regime is dead, dead, dead.

If you liked the George W. Bush administration’s cowboy unilateralism, you’ll love US foreign policy after Congress kills the agreement with Iran. The US would be on its own internationally (with Israel is its sole ally). Not only will usual suspects, like Russia and China, rush to do business with Iran, but so will Europe. In fact, the rush is already on. And without any international sanctions regime, the only remaining leverage the United States (and Israel) will have will be military.

If you oppose this agreement, do you have a plan for recovering US influence and prestige afterwards? Do you relish a unilateral war that will cost enormous blood and treasure and only briefly delay Iran’s nuclear progress?

The question is not whether this negotiated agreement is perfect (by definition, no negotiated agreements are), but rather, what is the alternative? I have yet to hear a rational one from the belligerent right.

We know why the GOP is lockstep opposed to the agreement. First, there is the party’s long history of opposition to negotiations and arms control in principle (see this Times article reminding us of right-wing opposition to even Reagan’s and Eisenhower’s talks with the Soviets). And there’s the fact that anything and everything Obama does sends the GOP into paroxysms of feigned rage.

We know why Israel is opposed: it is in thrall to the racist, hegemonic regime it elected. That regime is, sadly, behaving contrary to Israel’s own interests, but is blind to this fact, as is the aggressively right-wing pro-Israel lobby in this country (led by AIPAC).

I cannot fathom why any Democrat – regardless of creed – would be in opposition. I am embarrassed that the only Democrats in stated opposition are Jewish (Schumer of NY) or count on Jewish votes (Menendez of New Jersey and Schumer).

I am a Jewish American. I use that formulation, since – in an irony of English-language construction – it is the second element of that phrase that is dominant. That is, I am American more than I am Jewish.

Are you? If you are, then your equivocation is uncalled for. You must prioritize US interests over Israel’s (notwithstanding Israel’s current inability to recognize what its true interests are).

Ben Cardin: You face a choice. Are you going to be a Democrat representing Maryland or a Likudnik representing Israel? Maryland Democrats can wait no longer for you to make up your mind and do the right thing.

Sincerely,

Keith Berner

©2015 Keith Berner