Posted tagged ‘Ronald Reagan’

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


01.31.16 Heart and head do battle in the Democratic primaries

January 31, 2016

Hillary Clinton is by far the most experienced and qualified candidate for president this year, with background in the White House, the Senate, and as Secretary of State.

Bernie Sanders represents my ideals and aspirations.

Hillary (and Bill) create scandal without crime, when they meet criticism with silence. Their arrogance and sense of entitlement led to Ken Starr and Monica Lewinski as it has to the continued prominence of the “email scandal” this year. If the Clintons had opened the books on Whitewater or said “I blew it and I’m sorry” as soon as the email issue arose, there would have been no festering wound that wasted their political capital and damaged our interests. This same arrogance led Hillary to sell her soul to Wall St. in million dollar speeches even though (1) she didn’t need the money, (2) knew she was going to run for president, and (3) knew (or ought to have) that her actions would hurt her politically.

Bernie is squeaky clean.

Hillary is nearly 100% artifice and focus-group-tested sound bites. (It was distressingly hilarious when her campaign announced a few months ago that she would henceforth be more spontaneous.)

Bernie is authentic. He says what he means and doesn’t pretend to be anyone else.

The Clintons turn nasty when they sense they’re in political trouble. Who can forget their racist campaign in 2008, once they realized that they had underestimated Barack Obama (another sign of their famous arrogance)? The same tic is on display in 2016, with Chelsea Clinton’s lie that Bernie would take away everyone’s health care. (Clinton supporters do the same kind of thing: in yesterday’s Huffington Post, Peter D. Rosenstein twice calls Bernie a liar, just because they happen to disagree.)

Bernie fights fair, exemplified by his refusal in the first Democratic debate this year to carry on about Hillary’s emails or to distort her record and positions.

Hillary couldn’t excite a roomful of kindergarteners hopped on Frosted Flakes. Bernie draws huge, passionate crowds wherever he goes.

I loathe the Clintons. It’s only somewhat about policy. Yeah, I’m very disturbed by Hillary’s hawkishness and history of Wall St. fealty. But what I truly hate is their character: the entitlement, the nastiness, the perpetual handing of rope to their (and our!) enemies. It’s shocking how politically tone deaf these veterans of national politics are. But arrogance and stupidity go hand in hand.

As one after another progressive pundit has made the case against Bernie in recent days, they keep coming back to how unrealistic his plans are. (On Facebook, I recently agreed with Paul Krugman’s argument in the New York Times against “relitigating” health care reform.) Or they point out that Bernie could lose by McGovernite proportions against whatever evil fucker the GOP puts up against him.

Of course, the critique of Bernie’s pie-in-the-sky idealism is on the mark. Faced with a hostile Congress (there’s doubt that even the Democrats would support his plans), there isn’t a chance in hell for single payer or free college tuition. But the flip side of that argument is that all campaigns tout plans that won’t stand a chance in the meat grinder of politics and legislation. What is wrong with painting a picture of where you would like to lead?

As for electability, Bernie’s supporters are right that many recent polls show him running as well or better than Hillary against named GOP opponents. But the flaw in this argument is that the national media has only just begun to beat up on him (thanks, Washington Post for your great leadership on this) and the GOP has mostly ignored him. How will his polling numbers fare when he is in the spotlight as the Democratic nominee? Not well, I assure you.

On the other hand, everyone knows everything about Hillary. There will be no new lines of attack on her. Those of us who loathe her will still loathe her. Those who love her know their lover well and won’t suddenly go fickle. That is, the polling on Hillary is what it is and is not going to change more than marginally in months ahead.

Oh how I want a Bernie Sanders in character and ideals to be our president. Oh how terrified I am that – even if he could pull off the nomination (which remains extremely unlikely) – he could lead us off the cliff in November.

And don’t forget, the left and the Democrats are at the edge of the abyss. Unlike when Ronald Reagan won in 1980 and W pulled off his wins in the aughts, the GOP now has a lock on Congress and a huge majority of states and this year’s party is far to the right of the GOP of even 10 years ago.

The only thing in the way of hard-right government by mandate in this country is a Democratic president in 2017.

I will vote for Bernie in Maryland’s April primary. And I won’t vote for Hillary in November, because I know that Maryland will go blue even without my vote. But if I were in Ohio or Virginia, I’d do what I must to prevent a catastrophe.

I want Bernie to win in Iowa and New Hampshire, because the progressive idealism he represents needs an ever-increasing voice in the national debate.

But after going back and forth on this for year, I’m back where I started: crossing my fingers that Clinton does nothing (more) to self destruct, wins the nomination, and vanquishes the forces of darkness in November.

PS. I contributed to Bernie’s campaign this year and would never give a dime to the Clintons or their wholly owned DNC.

©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.


Keith Berner

©2015 Keith Berner

12.07.13 Madiba: Our loss

December 7, 2013

Yesterday, Freedom House (the remarkable human rights organization I work for) published comments from our South Africa staff. Here is my letter back to them.

To My South Africa Colleagues:

Thanks for sharing your words with us. You know better than any of us here can how much Nelson Mandela meant to your country. You may not know how much he meant to many of us.

I grew up in the US Civil Rights Movement. But Martin Luther King was murdered when I was only eight years old. His memory shines, but Madiba was much more real, more present for me. Like some of you, even though I knew he would die soon, when I heard the news yesterday, I burst into tears.

The New York Times got it wrong today, with the headline “Mandela’s Death Leaves South Africa Without Its Moral Center.” No, his death leaves humanity without its moral center. Surely, Mandela stood astride your nation and its struggle, but he actually belongs to all of us. His vision and leadership gave him a stature like few people in history (perhaps Gandhi had equivalent stature).

We must all now yearn for statesmen and –women who can truly lead us to justice, not in the petty ways so many lesser politicians do, but with the transcendence that is now lost. May humanity have another such beacon soon!

My heart goes out to all of you.


I mentioned Gandhi in my letter. Who are the other visionary leaders who have transformed human history in such a positive way? Conservatives will cite Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. But we must never forget how  they both actively opposed the sanctions movement (the latter vetoed a sanctions bill in 1985 and launched in his fall 1980 campaign for president in Philadelphia, MS, the infamous site of 1964 civil rights murders). Most Americans will rightly cite Martin Luther King, Jr.; however, his profound influence was largely limited to our nation.

When we scan the globe in search of visionary leadership, we come up empty. Surely South Africa’s subsequent leaders insult Mandiba’s memory: Thabo Mbeki, the petty squabbler whose most significant legacy is his perpetration of a hoax that AIDS was an imperialist plot and set back the cause of fighting it by a generation and Jakob Zuma, the serial rapist turned president.

As for US leaders, Barak Obama seems to disappear into an insignificance when the mind’s eye beholds him next to Mandela. Our latter day civil rights leaders? Sharpton and Jackson in comparison to King and Nelson? Please!

Our country and world are devastated by injustice, venal conflicts, and oppression. We desperately need visionaries who can stand above momentary self-interest, petty profit, and zero-sum vengeance, leading us – all of us – to a better place. I am not a religious man, but if I were, that would be my prayer this holiday season.

©2013 Keith Berner

11.30.12 Darkness and depression

November 30, 2012

This will amaze you, dear readers, but some people actually take offense at my political writing. Hard to believe, I know.

Of course, such critics are wrong nearly all the time, because — as we all know — everything I write is right (or left). But, now and then, someone comes up with a critique that hits home. Hard.

Someone pointed out to me late yesterday that my use of the word “darkness” (as in “Prince of Darkness”) with Doug Duncan could be seen as going after him for his depression. (In case you are not aware, he dropped out of the 2006 Maryland gubernatorial campaign due to depression.) The association of “darkness” as a code word for depression hadn’t occurred to me, but I can see now why it occurred to others.

I am a treated depressive. Depression runs in my family. It is a serious, and for some, debilitating disease. As much as I loathe Doug Duncan’s politics and policies, I have nothing but admiration for his willingness to speak about his disease and his ability to recover from it.

Depression — and other forms of mental illness — need to come out of the shadows (or, the darkness, if you prefer). Only by demystifying and removing the shame associated with mental illness can those who suffer be fully free to seek treatment and reach out to others for support.

To the extent that my choice of words yesterday set back that cause, I am deeply sorry.

PS. By the way, my choice of the moniker “Prince of Darkness” for Duncan was inspired by the case of Richard Perle, a hard right-wing superhawk and one of the original neocons, who served as assistant secretary of defense under Reagan. He acquired — and seemed to proudly wear — the nickname “Prince of Darkness” for his armageddon-like views. He is still alive, kicking, and (apparently) hoping for military destruction of all who don’t ascribe to his views.

©2012 Keith Berner

05.23.10 Missile Defense: Dreams, Lies & Nightmares

May 23, 2010

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the Pentagon is up to its old tricks: embellishing (aka “lying about”) the the prospects for effective defense against nuclear missiles.  More specifically, DoD had claimed that its SM-3 anti-ballistic missile had knocked off 84% its targets in tests.  Monday’s news was a study by academics Theodore A. Postol of MIT and George N. Lewis of Cornell showing that the actual kill rate was more like 10-20%.  DoD then admitted that 40% of its tests were not even against true prototypes of the incoming missiles of that would have to be countered.  Lies and deceit from the masters of the game.

While I certainly admire the Postol’s and Lewis’s work — for years they have been showing the lie in the Pentagon’s anti-missile boosterism — their study is beyond the central point:  nuclear missile defense has to be 100% effective 100% of the time to be worthwhile.

If you’re fending off conventional bombs, succeeding 84% of the time means 84% less damage on the ground.  With nuclear missiles, though, only one needs to get through to cause catastrophic damage.  What do you call a system that fails to prevent catastrophic damage?  “Worthless.”

Actually, missile defense is far worse than worthless.  For one thing, taxpayers have been sinking billions of dollars annually into fudged tests, outright failures, and dead-end technologies since Ronald Reagan announced his “Star Wars” initiative in 1984.  Never mind the schools and public transit that could have been built for that money; just think how much more effective our military would be with that money going for body armor and helicopters.

And the nightmare doesn’t stop there.  Missile defense is inherently destabilizing internationally.  Knowing that such systems are imperfect, potential foes are incented to try to overwhelm then with shear quantities of offensive weapons.  They read the US’s so-called “defense” as highly aggressive, making them more resistant to arms control of any kind and leading to expensive and dangerous arms races.  (Reaganauts claim that the arms race resulting from Star Wars ended up bankrupting the Soviets.  It may have hastened the USSR’s demise somewhat but can hardly be credited as the primary cause.)

Right-wingers have been gaga over missile defense since Reagan’s time.  For them, it is as theological as opposition to gay marriage.  It matters not the least that it doesn’t work in theory or practice.  And, they’ve played their game brilliantly, by spreading Star Wars spending to most of 435 congressional districts nationwide.

We could have hoped, though, that Obama — if not inclined to cancel these programs outright — would have at least been rational and nonideological about them.  As the Times reports, during the campaign,  “Mr. Obama repeatedly criticized what he called President George W. Bush’s haste to deploy unproven antimissile arms. He vowed that as president, he would assure that any defensive shield would meet rigorous standards of testing and effectiveness.”

Yet, as has happened in instance after instance, Obama has moved from rational, progressive policymaking, to appeasing the right (see his judicial appointments!) and, sure enough, he’s been a big cheerleader for the SM-3 program.

The nightmare continues.