Posted tagged ‘Vladimir Putin’

07.25.17 John McCain, American hero?

July 25, 2017

In one sense, the answer is an unimpeachable “yes!” Nothing can ever wipe away John McCain’s heroism in Vietnam. His courage and resistance under torture were compelling and rare. But we are talking about events over 45 years ago.

Since the senator was diagnosed with brain cancer a handful of days ago, the accolades for this “fighter” have been overwhelming, including from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and plenty of liberal pundits. But what does McCain’s post-Vietnam record show us? Nothing but a right-wing politician who flirted with being a “maverick” for a brief time when running against W in 2000. He sure was entertaining and the media fell head-over-heels in love with that ephemeral persona.

Since then, he has run to the extreme right as fast has his feet could carry him, while the media still have nothing but stars in their eyes for his supposed integrity. He supported the entire neocon agenda and remains to this day the biggest hawk in elected office, ready to throw US arms against anyone unwilling to toe an imperialist line. He has promoted tax cuts for the rich and service cuts for the poor. He has opposed almost every instance of progress towards social justice.

And then, with the slogan “country first,” he selected Sarah Palin to be his vice president. Why anyone paid a whit of attention to him after that political treason, is beyond me.

This is the man who got brain surgery paid for by taxpayer dollars and hopped on a jet as quickly as he could, so that he could vote today to take away health insurance from tens of millions of Americans.

The media keep showering love on this evil man because he occasionally issues mild, coded criticisms of Trump. Especially in the realm of foreign relations, McCain knows as well as anyone the damage this regime has done to American interests since January — through attacks on allies, love for Putin, etc. Yet, McCain has refused to actually stand up and declare Trump — the man who insulted McCain’s Vietnam bravery — to be unfit for office.

John McCain is no maverick or hero. He is a run-of-the-mill GOP henchman who gives up everything, including his own integrity, to advocate for the ultra wealthy. He had an opportunity today to change his epitaph to what it might have been prior to his disgraceful political career. He didn’t. And this tells me everything I need to know about John McCain’s character and “heroism.”

©2017 Keith Berner

05.11.14 Don’t carry Assad’s water

May 11, 2014

An old friend of mine (call him “Joe”) withholds a small part of his federal income taxes every year to protest various US policies and writes an annual letter to the IRS detailing the reasons. This year, his top policy objection was Obama’s promised cruise-missile attack on Syria as punishment for Bashar al-Assad’s alleged chemical-weapons use last year. Joe points to an excellent article by Seymour Hersh in the London Review of Books that sows considerable doubt about Assad’s responsibility for the particular use of sarin gas. With W and the neocons’ manipulation of evidence to justify the unjustifiable in Iraq, I’m with Joe and Hersh at this point: very willing to disbelieve US intelligence and the politicians who decide how to make use of it.

I have trouble with Joe’s selection of this case, though. First, he’s going after a policy that was stopped in its tracks by public opposition in the US and UK. The US attack on Syria never happened, so why waste ink on it as a lead instance of US wrongdoing?

Second, Joe is willing to admit that “Assad may have used chemical weapons in the past” but elsewhere declares that Assad “was not violating international law.” Well, I guess the meaning of “was” is the bone of contention here. For Joe, the fact (which is in dispute) that Assad didn’t use chemical weapons on one occasion absolves Assad of guilt for use on other occasions. In considering Assad’s guilt or innocence under international law, Joe also blithely ignores Assad’s use of mass starvation and cluster munitions against civilians, which are in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Ok. I get the very narrow argument Joe is making. US bluster and threats of violence were uncalled for in response to a single crime that there is reasonable doubt about. Never mind the rest of the crime spree.

Now, Joe and I have a very deep philosophical disagreement. He is almost a pure pacifist, which I’m not. I believe as much in the duty to shoot an individual who is about to kill 100 as I do in an international duty to protect: the responsibility of bystander nations to stop atrocities that (1) they know about and (2) have the means to stop. Though I find US foreign policy to be replete with imperialist aggression and violence against the innocent, this does not, in principle, change my view that the US must sometimes use force to stop evil, as we did in the Balkans (some years too late) and didn’t do in Rwanda. Yes, I distrust US motives and policymakers. No, I do not believe the US can never do good by opposing evil.

Readers of this blog may recall that I ended up opposing US intervention in Syria last year because of a third principle of justified intervention: near certainty that the good to be achieved through such an intervention will outweigh the harm caused. I didn’t believe then and don’t believe now that Obama and those in his administration who supported a war policy had thought for a moment past the initial strikes they planned. They were not bothering to weigh ends, means, and consequences. I ended up believing that this poorly thought-out policy would likely result in a much larger scale of death and suffering than it could possibly prevent. (This mirrors, in part, my well-borne-out opposition to the neocons’ Iraq war: their ideology had so blinded them to the need for advance planning and consideration of consequences that, even if one believed Hussein had WMD [and I admit I allowed myself to be duped in 2003], there was just no possibility that W & Co. could be trusted to conduct a rational and balanced policy around it that would minimize death and suffering.)

Back to Joe. It disturbs me when thinkers and leaders on the left, in their eagerness to oppose the US or imperialism, choose to let other evildoers off the hook — even climb into bed with them. Joe denies that he is aligning himself with Assad by declaring the latter innocent under international law. It sure smells like alignment to me. I find this somewhat analogous to Hugo Chavez, who — in justifiably fearing US aggression against his desire to redress social and economic ills in Venezuela — found the need to make friends with North Korea’s Kims, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, Putin, and (of course) Assad. Sure, Joe: go after the US, but do you need to carry Assad’s water to do so?

I admire Joe’s withholding of tax payments out of principle. (I don’t make that same decision, because by paying my taxes, I feel better equipped to fight against the Kochs and others who oppose all public expenditures.) There are many things I regret seeing my money go for: US subsidies to industries that drive up food prices or worsen global warming; horrific amounts of spending on unnecessary weapons systems; the money put into the NSA and others who threaten civil liberties; elimination of estate taxes on the mega weathy. Why choose as your #1 target a policy that never was implemented (and which hardly any money was spent on) and make pals with a horrific mass murderer in the process?

PS. “Joe” is a real person, but his views are more nuanced than I present them here. Consider this fiction in order to make a point.

©2014 Keith Berner

11.23.13 Impeach Obama

November 23, 2013

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

Civil Liberties

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

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

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

Incompetence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facing Facts

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

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

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

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

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

©2013 Keith Berner