Posted tagged ‘GOP’

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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08.05.17 Twenty-twenty

August 5, 2017

The New York Times reports today that the GOP presidential campaign for 2020 is heating up. This is another delightful indication of Trump’s spreading toxicity among even the racists, theocrats, and corporate elites. Here’s hoping 2018 and 2020 bring all-out warfare in the GOP between the Trump and traditional wings of the party, leaving no one unbloodied.

Maryland state Delegate David Moon (D20) asked on Facebook the other day what people (i.e., progressives) think of Al Franken for president. There are a number of intriguing names being bandied about on the Democratic side, including: Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Deval Patrick, Elizabeth Warren, and more. (Apologies to anyone I’ve left out — this was off the top of my head.)

I feel no pressure to pick anyone for a long time. Here are my principles for that race: I am willing to support any Democrat who

  • is not a bigot or misogynist
  • is not a theocrat
  • supports First Amendment rights (that counts you out, John Delaney)
  • is pro-choice
  • CAN WIN!

Of course, I would prefer a candidate who isn’t in bed with Wall Street or in favor of bombing other countries. But we all need to make “CAN WIN” a litmus-test issue above most others, which also means we need to avoid all-out warfare between Clintonites and Berners. It will be a gazillion times better to have a Democratic president with whom we don’t agree on everything than to have any Republican in the White House.

©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

03.01.17 An awful day

March 1, 2017

My stomach for reading the news has been getting queasier by the day over the past week. I already assumed — before Trump’s big speech last night — that I would have to avoid my daily diet of the New York Times and Washington Post today. I assumed that the daily horror would be some new policy announcement. No such luck.

Today was the day when NYT and WaPo, along with much of the rest of the media (I assume — I can’t bear to read it) decided to normalize the Trump regime. “How presidential!” they declared. “What a respectable tone,” they pointed out.

Yes, February seemed bad. But there was a certain amount of Schadenfreude during the month, as we witnessed the regime’s utter incompetence. There was hope — as day after day of temper tantrums and mismanagement played out — that the GOP might eventually tire of the antics and decide that enriching the 1% might work out better under President Pence.

But, with the cheerleading of our supposed newspapers of record today, we know that this regime is in it for the long haul, with full, enthusiastic GOP support from now ’til kingdom come.

Normalization of bigotry, incompetence, and corruption was the shoe left to drop. It has now fallen. I may never be able to read a newspaper again.

©2017 Keith Berner

01.29.17 Watch your words

January 29, 2017

What we call things makes a difference (note the Tea Party use of “Death Panels” — this was no accident). Here are two vocabulary changes I am now adopting:

  • I will not refer to the cabal that temporarily rules our country as an “administration” or “government.” Rather it will always be “Trump regime,” “GOP regime,” and (when I think even that is too gentle), “fascist regime.” Regime conveys the illegitimacy of the racist authoritarians in power and their contempt for the norms of democracy and rule of law.
  • I will make few, if any, further references to Great Britain or the United Kingdom. It is the racists of England who produced Brexit, just as the racists of the United States brought us our regime. The other nations that make up the UK had nothing to do with it. And as England carries this noxious policy through (led by PM Theresa May, who has appointed herself Trump’s lapdog, making even the ever- docile Tony Blair’s relationship with W look well adjusted), Scotland will certainly leave. So, “Little England” will be left (perhaps with its own lapdog, Wales, and perhaps with Northern Ireland in order to keep the Troubles from erupting again). Little England is a contemptuous moniker for a once-great nation that will deserve the international isolation it ends up with.

I maintain a “boycott list”: countries I will never set foot in because their people have chosen a path of racism, authoritarianism, and/or aggression. I am hereby adding Little England to that list, which now includes Austria, Hungary, Israel, Poland, and Russia. (Elections in Russia are hardly free and fair, but with Putin’s astronomical approval ratings, we know where the Russian people stand.) If I weren’t a US citizen, this country would certainly be on my boycott list, at least until the current regime were replaced.

©2017 Keith Berner

11.07.16 The GOP’s existential threat to democracy

November 7, 2016

For the past 50 years, the Republican Party has pretended to have a number of missions. It has seemed to be the party of patriotism, a militarily aggressive foreign policy, the Bible, and the Wall Street elite. In 2008, I described the party as an awkwardly constructed “3-1/2 legged stool” (see Parts I and II): a coalition that didn’t really fit together, but was joined for convenience. That analogy was true, but—in retrospect—rather superficial.

Last week, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait took a deeper look in an aptly titled piece, “The GOP’s Age of Authoritarianism Has Only Just Begun.” The author (who, in my estimation is the best analyst of the US body politic today) unpacks the apparent paradox between libertarianism and authoritarianism (which I had referred to eight years ago). He demonstrates that the core driving force of the GOP is service to the wealthy. This is the GOP of Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand, under which it is immoral to suggest any impingement on the right of the rich to keep every penny they control.

While “libertarianism” can mean different things to different people (including protection of civil liberties and civil rights), the US version has been deeply aligned with the GOP. The justification here is that full liberty is meant only for those who can afford to purchase it and enforce it. And this is where authoritarianism comes in.

In the aughts, as W’s “with-us-or-against-us” politics was in full swing, I remarked sardonically that the only reason why the GOP hadn’t called tanks into the streets and canceled elections was because of their confidence that elections posed no threat to their and their donors’ power.

Sure—ever since the mid 1950s (with the exception of Pat Buchanan)— the GOP had favored aggressive US imperialism around the world (the military leg of the stool). But who were these policies ultimately in service of? The giant corporations who manufactured our might and the open markets that enriched the rest of US industry. (The 170-year history of US intervention in Latin America— supported by both parties—has often constituted outright theft of others’ resources.)

No doubt the GOP has championed theocracy (another stool), from assaults on reproductive freedom and gay rights, to prayer in the schools. At bottom though, this was purposeful manipulation of cultural and religious symbolism to exploit the lower classes into supporting an economic agenda counter to their own interests. Many claim that Trump 2016 embodies the realization by the down-and-out that the GOP has never had their interests at heart. Of course, this is not really the case, as shown by the $72,000 annual income of the average Trump supporter, well above the national average.

Even regarding economic policy, the GOP uses its stated mission (jobs, jobs, jobs) to obfuscate its real one. The Party doesn’t give a hoot about job losses caused by automation or trade, nor wealth losses caused by declining wages. There is no purpose behind their wealth transfers to the rich other than to make the rich richer (trickle-down is a convenient lie and its effectiveness been empirically disproven).

The Republican Party has opposed democracy and the US Constitution whenever it has served their core mission. From Nixon’s infamous “Southern Strategy,” to the voter-fraud fraud, to harassment at the polls, to W’s far-right rule as if he’d been popularly elected, contempt for the public has been a purposeful right-wing strategy. The current culmination is the Party’s announced intention not to allow a president Hillary Clinton to get a single Supreme Court appointment, if they keep the Senate. (Supposed uber-patriot, John McCain was the first senator to announce this intention last month. It has now been echoed by many or most GOP senators.)

The GOP and its donor class now feel threatened, not so much by a risk that their agenda will be turned back, as by the possibility of having their oh-so-close complete victory snatched away from them. They still don’t need to call out the tanks, but the Trump campaign is even better, as it avoids the inconvenience of civilian casualties (beyond the occasional immigrant beaten).

While it is uncomfortable for the likes of Ryan and Mitch McConnell to be tied to Trump and his Deplorables’ explicit racism and misogyny, their continued support for the man is not a display of weakness or hypocrisy. Most of their discomfort is feigned. As Chait points out, they believe a Trump presidency will lead to the final dismantling of the New Deal welfare state, elimination of most federal regulations, and the end of progressive taxation. These are their true goals and the ends justify all means necessary. So much the better if appeals to bigotry motivate a sufficient number of voters to allow a semblance of democracy to proceed.

(There is one aspect of discomfort that is real for Ryan, McConnell, and McCain: they consider Trump an amateur whose lack of self-restraint has seemed to put victory at risk.)

So, here we end up with authoritarianism in service to a libertarianism for the few. There’s no problem with a Supreme Court that hands victory to one presidential candidate over another or an FBI that delivers an October-November surprise in service to the forces of reaction. Who cares if minority voters are intimidated face-to-face, kicked off voter rolls, or impossibly inconvenienced by closing polling places only in their neighborhoods? What’s the problem with a know-nothing, wanna-be-dictator for president, as long as Ryan and McConnell are naming his advisers and cabinet appointments (not to mention his Supreme Court picks)?

The Trump campaign is only truly embarrassing to the small minority of so-called “intellectual” Republicans (like David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and Michael Gerson). These are a mostly honorable bunch, with whom I’ll disagree much more often than I agree, but whose motives seem noble, if misguided. It is interesting to note that there are almost no actual GOP officeholders that are members of this group. This is because all of them are exclusively interested in cash from the biggest donors, power, and the continued suppression of the popular will.

Two-thousand-sixteen is a GOP wet dream. The chance to get a president they can boss around, both houses of Congress, their own Supreme Court, and control of most US states, makes a little thing like democracy a trifling matter.

Chait predicts this is only the beginning. If he is right, progressives’ hope that the GOP will degenerate into civil war and destroy itself is fantasy. Instead, the corporate elite will learn from the lesson of having allowed an infantile candidate to lead them. Next time, they will be back with someone much more polished, who can control his own impulses, stay on-message, and go back to dog-whistles instead of blasts of racism and misogyny.

The GOP is not the only threat to US democracy, of course. A grossly irresponsible broadcast media is perhaps just as dangerous, as purveyors of sensationalism (CNN) and lies (Fox and the alt-right). Even the newspapers of record have been scared to speak out for truth, engaging in “false equivalence” (“Democrats declare earth round; experts disagree”).

I sympathize in principle with those who say we need a responsible center-right party to make our democracy work. (Maryland, an example of nearly complete one-party Democratic rule, is not pretty, giving rise to machine politics are that are also profoundly anti-democratic.) But there is no hope in sight that the GOP can resurrect its earlier moderation. Until big money is removed from politics, redistricting is made non-partisan (are you listening, Maryland?), and voting rights are aggressively enforced, moderation is impossible. And the problem is that the only way to accomplish any of these objectives is to get control of legislatures and courts.

It took Barack Obama five years to understand that he was dealing with an intractable enemy in the opposing party. One piece of good news is that Hillary Clinton will have no illusions in this regard. For the rest of us, there will be no point in trying to play nice with a radical, authoritarian GOP. All we can do is to beat them anywhere and everywhere they show their ugly faces. James Comey will have robbed us of the chance to bloody them badly this year. He needs to be removed from office and we have to try again in two years and four.

©2016 Keith Berner