Human Rights: a line in the sand

While Democrats argue whether issues like a woman’s choice really are “core Democratic values” they remain pretty comfortable ignoring the human rights of non-Americans. This week Human Rights Watch documented extra-judicial killings by Egypt’s army – let’s ditch the euphemism and call them what they really are – death squads. HRW is calling on the United States to cut off funding to Egypt’s dictator (and Trump Rat Pack bro) Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. But Democrats are in an awkward position because, while they were running the circus, Clinton and Obama coddled Egyptian dictators as much as Trump. A GAO report written during Obama’s administration alluded to Egyptian human rights abuses. And they are worse now under Trump.

Last Month Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin proposed legislation that would violate First Amendment rights of those boycotting Israel for its military occupation and settlements. There is a similar bill in the House, co-sponsored by a number of Democrats, including one representative from Massachusetts. In the Massachusetts legislature there are two more of these “anti-BDS” bills being considered. In fact, these AIPAC-sponsored bills have popped up all over the country like the plague of ALEC legislation. In New York, governor Andrew Cuomo set up a blacklist to punish those using the constitutional right to boycott.

My point – foreign policy is not just national. It pulls states and even cities into controversies over everything from human rights to free speech. And out in the states and cities, we ought to have a voice.

The boycott controversy recently came up in Massachusetts Democratic Party platform discussions. Progressive Democrats want to insert language into the platform stating that “Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank are obstacles to peace.” Settlements have been condemned by virtually every nation outside the US, by the UN, and even members of Israel’s security establishment see the problem. If you can see how “gentrification” might be a problem, now imagine gentrification plus martial law, ethnic cleansing, and land theft. I’d call that an obstacle to peace. It’s as much a fact as global warming. And the reality is denied just as doggedly by Democrats.

Former AIPAC lobbyist Steve Grossman thinks the issue is “divisive” for Democrats and broadly hints that he couldn’t possibly remain in a party that won’t support Israel’s Occupation. Barney Frank’s former aide James Segel thinks the party needs to hold fast to “protect the values and commitments we hold dear” – meaning another half century of occupation and land theft? Rubber-stamp vetoes in the UN?

Democrats are on the wrong side when they attack free speech and human rights. And this has got to stop.

The Democratic Party’s platform may be the “most progressive” ever written. But this does not include its foreign policy section. That part was written by Hillary Rodham Clinton and reflects her neo-conservative and neo-liberal views. Traditionally, state parties have deferred on matters of foreign policy to a presidential candidate. But the approaches both parties have used for generations are not working. And despite Democrats calling for more “soft power” it’s hard power they always use. Invading new countries each year and spending our national wealth on war is bankrupting us, not making us safer. Right now, 53 cents of every dollar of discretionary spending goes to “defense.” And Trump wants even more.

So if Republicans are on the wrong track, what’s our plan?

One state Democrat Party – Washington – actually thought about it and did something. Progressives from this state wrote their own foreign policy platform, and it’s based on the golden rule, not on golden contracts for Raytheon and Boeing:

In 2016 the two truly “divisive” issues separating progressive Democrats from Hillary Clinton-ites were her hawkishness and support for corporate-friendly trade deals. While we may all want to put the 2016 election behind us and join the unity tour with Bernie Sanders and Tom Perez, issues of Democratic support for neo-liberalism and neo-conservative foreign policy are not going away. They have to be resolved.

Democrats from each state need to weigh in separately. Like Steve Grossman, there are certain lines in the sand for some of us. I’ll never find a home in a party that turns its back on human rights. As a newbie delegate to the Massachusetts Democratic convention in June I’m optimistic that important changes can be made, at least in this state. But I’m not blind to the reality that Clinton and Obama people still own the party.

I hear the #DemExit and Draft Bernie calls, though impatience and the right wing seem to be driving many of them. I am reminded by my progressive brothers and sisters in the Greens and elsewhere that I may be on a fool’s errand. And maybe they’re right. My sixth sense tells me they are right. But I think patience and a certain amount of blind optimism are warranted right now. Now is a unique opportunity to move the center of gravity toward the left in a party that has lost its way – and admits it.

By the 2018 midterms we should have an idea of what the party is really committed to, how democratic it’s prepared to be, and how welcoming to progressive values it is.

And that should begin with a renewed commitment to Human Rights and new ways of formulating foreign policy.


Which side are you on, boys?

There are a number of things wrong with the Democratic Party. Lack of a 50-state strategy and undemocratic party rules come to mind. Big donors and selling out to Big Pharma say a lot too. Their enbrace of neo-conservative foreign policy and neo-liberal globalism alienated both progressives and Candidate Trump’s supporters. But the thing that fries many of us most about the DNC is its habitual refusal to stand up to Big Business, to name the source of our pain.

Last week Chris Hayes interviewed Tom Perez and Bernie Sanders, both of whom are on a Unity Tour to shore up the shaky relationship between centrist Democrats and progressives inside and outside the Democratic Party. Perez wants Americans to know the DNC has a positive vision for America. Whatever that specific vision is, it’s not clear Perez himself has any notion.

Sanders, on the other hand, wants the nation to know that we have to fight back against Trump and an American kleptocracy, oligarchy, autocracy — choose your phrase. Sanders chose “billionaire class.”

But, despite the many hits the American working class has taken, Perez just could not be pressed by Hayes to admit that we are in the middle of a class war. Hayes asked him point-blank, “Do you have to name the enemy?” Perez waffled. This revealing moment told me the DNC was not quite ready to abandon its funding from Big Donors, that the DNC was not quite ready to trust its grassroots. The interview continued in this vein when Hayes asked Perez if the DNC supported single payer healthcare and — once again — Perez waffled and mumbled. He’s a man with no answers.

In contrast — hate him or distrust him — there’s no question which side Trump is on. With Tom Perez, you’re never quite sure which side the Democratic Party is on.

One of my favorite blogs is Robert Paul Wolff’s “Philosopher’s Stone.” The other day Wolff wrote about what he had learned from a lifetime of studying Marx — what Marx got right, and what he got wrong. It’s a worthwhile read. According to Wolff, the thing Marx got most wrong was his conviction that the working class would rise up and fight back. He ended his meditation with this:

“I know all about gerrymandering and voter suppression, but that is no explanation. Bernie Sanders, God bless him, was the only candidate in the last Presidential cycle talking about the fact that the rich are screwing the poor. Why didn’t he pull 80% of the total vote of both parties? I don’t get it.”

Tom Perez can answer that question without saying a word.

They never heard the future calling

When I was a twenty-something, just entering the computer world of the early 1970’s, computer languages to watch were Fortran, PL/1, COBOL, Lisp, Algol, APL, Pascal — and a hundred types of assembly language.

Even back then, one language was especially reviled for its ugly syntax — or rather the fact that no one could program with it without using special pads of coding paper. This was a language developed by IBM in 1959 called Report Program Generator (RPG). RPG was really only good for one thing — generating boxes and boxes of “greenbar” — thirty pound stacks of computer printouts. Even in 1971 the preferred business language was COBOL.

Fast forward a mere thirty years to 2000. RPG programmers were already recognized as an endangered species — endangered by evolution. One article provocatively (“RPG — the Walking Dead?”) asked: “Is RPG dead?”

So there you had it — a generation ago, on the cusp of a Y2K apocalypse (that never happened) — a forward-looking author counseling fellow programmers to abandon relics like RPG, learn computer languages of the next millennium — and be prepared for the wave after that — Object Oriented Programming:

Unless you’re ready to retire, you should stop by your favorite bookstore, pick up a copy of UML Distilled: A Brief Guide to the Standard Object Modelling Language or a similar book, and start learning the ubiquitous language of OO designs. Also download the Whiteboard edition of Together/J (www.togethersoft. com) and start familiarizing yourself with an OO design and analysis tool. Besides helping you learn OO concepts, Together/J will help you learn Java by reviewing the source code it generates. With this knowledge, you should be in a better position to learn the next OOP language in vogue with minimal effort. The clock is ticking. Where will you be when it strikes midnight? Hopefully, not with the walking dead.

The clock certainly was ticking, as it always is. Coal miners received similar advice a century ago — as New Bedford sperm oil whalers did a century before that — after prospectors found petroleum in Pennsylvania.

But after millions of years of human existence, is anyone really surprised that change is practically the only constant?

Besides the president?

This is a guy who’s made political pets of coal miners. Instead of actually helping them by rolling out alternative energy infrastructure projects and training miners for jobs with a future, Trump and his Republican Congress will simply give them federal pensions and hope they go quietly into the night. But as Alana Semuels writes in the Atlantic — why stop there?

If it bails out the miners, why stop there? Why not bail out all of the other pension funds, private and public, that are on the brink of insolvency?

Why stop there, indeed. The Trump administration could also create special programs to save the nation’s remaining 283 RPG programmers.

Like the miners (and the coal owners) who were warned a century ago that petroleum was coming, the poor pioneering RPG programmers were so hard at work on their coding pads — keeping American business humming — that they never heard the future calling.

* * *

Next week — how to make America GREAT for elevator operators and movie theater projectionists!

Put Foreign Policy in State Platforms

Only about six percent of Americans care about foreign policy. Thanks to geography and most of us speaking only English, Americans don’t really engage with the rest of the world – except when we’re pointing weapons at them. Most voters just accept that presidential candidates will formulate their own foreign policy by surrounding themselves with lobbyists and talking heads from ideological think tanks.

Well, if that sounds like a terrible idea to you, here’s another. Put specific foreign policy planks into all the state party platforms. And put the best and best-supported ideas into the national party platform.

Last year Democrats drafted a national party platform that some said was the most progressive platform of all time. And maybe it was – for the Democratic Party – and only when limited to certain domestic planks.

But when it came to foreign policy, the Democratic Party’s hawkish platform reflected its presidential candidate’s worldview. We would fight ISIS by giving taxpayer money to repressive and right-wing governments – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel – the Usual Suspects – though so far they’ve been useful only to Defense contractors. The DNC platform ignored Congress’s right and obligation to declare war while calling for the use of presidential AUMF statements – like the one Donald Trump used last week. The platform downplayed the use of ground forces while preferring technology – Tomahawks and drones – like the ones Donald Trump used last week. Nobody really has a different plan – just keep on using extrajudicial killing indefinitely, without ever declaring war, without ever clearing the endless war with Congress.

The DNC platform is full of jingoistic phrases such as “Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism.” But many are beginning to question whether it just might be the United States that has inflicted the most damage on world peace and stability. We originally funded Islamists to fight the USSR, have given Israel $128 billion since 1948 while simultaneously turning our backs on Palestinians, created failed states in Iraq, Libya, and Syria – and then created millions of refugees Europe and Turkey have had to deal with.

We’re not winning any friends with this.

Republicans of the Bush administration, and Democratic Secretaries of State Clinton and Kerry have all pursued policies of enlarging the world’s militaries – which ratchet up global dangers – failing to stop settlements, pulling NATO into our misadventures, conducting war games on Russia’s doorstep, throwing money at successive Egyptian dictators – all while playing God by deciding which regimes shall live, and which regimes shall die. Trump has pushed everything to its extreme, but what we’re seeing now is merely an exaggeration of the same foreign policy mistakes Democrats and Republicans have committed for years.

Meanwhile, the DNC leaves foreign policy to its presidential candidates. It also seems to think that, as long as Democrats pursue more enlightened domestic policies, maybe voters won’t even notice the foreign policy. But today’s progressive Democrats are taking notice. Many of the issues Democrats are arguing about now are not trivial differences. They deserve to be discussed, debated, and put into platforms.

Somewhere between domestic and foreign policy lie the American colonies. The ambiguous legal status and distances to places like Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Mariana Islands provide numerous opportunities for exploitation. Over decades, tax breaks and bonds bankrupted Puerto Rico. PROMESA was the Republicans’ way of sending thugs to break kneecaps and tell islanders to pay up. And PROMESA had bi-partisan support. To our shame, Democrats did almost nothing to help Puertorriqueños. Yet when it comes to taxpayer giveaways, “fiscal responsibility” rarely applies to the Usual Suspects, the DOD, or Defense contractors. That’s a bipartisan principle.

Now, if you don’t care about the people in our colonies – in far-flung places some of us can’t even find on a map – and you still haven’t been convinced that foreign policy is important, let’s consider how it affects you personally.

Police forces are now militarized. It’s not just the APCs and tanks, all that military surplus and the surveillance gear, but the many vets-to-cops who are now the face of the modern police force. State governments are passing draconian bills that threaten or abridge civil liberties. You can’t post a thought, send an email, or place a cellphone call without it being monitored. Right here in Massachusetts, partly out of good intentions – but also because of lobby groups – Democrats have proposed house and senate bills that strip the Constitutionally-protected right to boycott Israel. In New York, governor Andrew Cuomo set up a blacklist to punish these boycotters. But regardless of how you feel about Israel, stomping on the First Amendment is not something Democrats should be doing. That’s the GOP’s job.

You can’t fly into the country without being asked to give up your phone and passwords. You can’t fly out of the country without being subjected to increasingly intimate pat-downs. Men of a certain age can skip their annual prostate exams because the TSA now provides them free of charge. And you can’t climb on a plane without fear that someone will call the cops on you for speaking Arabic, working on a math problem, using the wrong word, telling the wrong joke, or having goons break your nose and knock out your teeth if you object to being bumped on a flight you’ve paid for.

None of this is new. And this is not just Trump’s Great New America. This is the authoritarian America that Democrats had a hand in making.

Two hundred million Americans no longer enjoy civil liberties along borders with Mexico or Canada, or within a hundred miles of the oceans. Homeland Security can set up checkpoints, stop and question you, confiscate your belongings, detain you, subject you to the third degree. All in violation of the 4th Amendment. Democrats voted for the Patriot Act, the FISA Courts, expansion of Homeland Security, and resisted effective oversight of the NSA and CIA. Many Democrats didn’t even read the Patriot Act before signing it.

So if you think that foreign policy doesn’t affect you, think again. Foreign policy is not something that should be decided by a presidential candidate. This is why it is critical that foreign policy planks be presented, debated, and adopted in each of the state Democratic Party platforms. Besides setting forth principles for legislative priorities in our own states, they’ll also send strong messages to the national party.

Stop Censoring the Debate

The two month experiment by centrist and progressive Democrats in resisting Trump — while simultaneously trying to fix their troubled marriage — is showing signs of strain.

The odd couple, who have been sleeping “indivisibly” in a narrow double bed since Trump’s inauguration, may once again be getting tired of each other’s morning breath — if not their mate’s true nature.

From the introduction of Democratic Party platform planks, to discussions of how much support the DNC is giving progressive candidates in special elections, differences are apparent and profound. Centrist Democrats are asking for money already, and Progressives are giving instead to progressive PACs. Progressive Democrats are challenging the GOP in special elections, while the DNC hasn’t figured out what its national strategy is.

Still, the veneer of “indivisibility” must be preserved. And this is being done with a little sleight of hand — or, rather, some heavy-handed censorship.

To be sure, the Right Wing enjoys the friction in this stressed Democratic marriage. If nothing else it’s a nice distraction from the GOP’s own relationship problems. Jared Kushner’s New York Observer ran a piece recently telling progressives what they already know — that the DNC hasn’t been doing much to help progressives. The discussion over the Kansas election provoked a bit of heat on Facebook and on political discussion groups, though it was not unusually rancorous. But Indivisible’s response was to simply censor the whole discussion:

Elsewhere we’re seeing exhortations to avoid reading the right-wing press, to install content blockers in your browser, and to consult lists of “safe” vetted publications — all at a time it’s important to know what the other bastards are up to.

Not only that. An old adage reminds us that even a stopped click is right twice a day. This especially pertains to those great stopped clocks, the Right Wing. Must we ignore them, even if they occasionally make a good point? Or should heavy-handed “moderators” shape every discussion and, like the Great Chinese Firewall, protect us from opinions we shouldn’t be hearing and arguments we should be having?

Libertarians and Tea-totalitarians both claim that Democrats succumbed to political correctness in the 2016 elections. One aspect of this accusation was that Democrats support “identity politics” — defending vulnerable constituencies. Well, good for Democrats! And — centrist or progressive — we all had better acknowledge that, right now, the Democratic Party is the only thing standing between GOP authoritarianism and a vulnerable public.

But another aspect of the Right’s criticism points at the Democratic reticence to get out in the alley and mix it up, to habitually smooth over differences until no one really knows what Liberals stand for, to avoid conflict like delicate little “snowflakes.” And they’re right, pardon my saying so.

So, people, the Democratic couple this essay started out with is going to have to figure out how to move forward. They’re going to have to have it out, scream out loud — whether out in public or at a genteel cocktail party — and resolve their differences once and for all.

I’m getting a bit tired of hearing that pushing for Democrats to try a new, progressive, strategy is tantamount to rehashing the Clinton-Sanders primary all over again. We can’t have a discussion about strategies and directions if “moderators” censor the debate.

If you’ve ever seen Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?” you know that denying problems in a relationship never ends well. It’s time to let George and Martha really have at it.

Democrats need to engage on their differences. They exist, and they are serious. Disputation and resolution is the only way forward. Censorship is not only counter-productive, it’s something we cannot stand for — whatever the good but misguided intentions.

Keating Applauds Trump’s Missiles

When they invaded Iraq Republicans turned the country into a failed state ISIS could move right into. But then Democrats repeated the same mistake in Libya and Syria.

Fast forward to 2017. Many Democrats now recognize the mistake. But not William R. Keating, a slow learner who in my humble opinion needs a new job.

After Trump sent 50 Tomahawk missles into Syria on April 6th, the top five American newspapers ran 18 editorials praising the attack. There was not a single criticism. Breitbart’s Charles Krauthammer rejoiced that there was a new sheriff in town. Defense hawk and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Trump’s attack and urged him to take out Assad’s airfields. By bombing Syria, Farid Zakaria said, Donald Trump had finally “become president.” MSNBC’s Brian Williams called the missiles flying off to do their lethal work “beautiful.”

For the most part Democrats didn’t even bother to question whether it had been the Syrian government that killed the civilians with sarin gas. The Liberal Atlantic Monthly ran a piece titled Why America Should have Hit Assad Four Years Ago. Meanwhile, CIA-sponsored rebels are fighting US Army-sponsored rebels along the Turkish border. What the hell is going on? US involvement in Syria is not merely a fiasco, but a giant bipartisan fiasco demonstrating — once again — that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats can be trusted to execute a coherent American foreign or military policy.

Sending a barrage of missiles into another nation is well beyond dispatching a drone to kill a suspected terrorist (and everyone nearby). This kind of attack is without question an act of war. The War Powers Act requires the President to report to Congress within 48 hours of initiating “hostilities” and forbids forces from remaining past 60 days. So far we have heard nothing from the President. Tellingly, three weeks before the sarin gas incident, the U.S. beefed up troops intended for Syria, and signalled its intent to stay in Syria, even after ISIS had been defeated.

Here in Massachusetts, where we are fortunate to have sensible Senators, voters still need to pay attention to Liberal hawks. Elizabeth Warren, to her credit, demanded to know what Trump’s strategy in Syria was. Ed Markey, to his credit, voiced concern that Syria could become another quagmire.

But our very own 9th Congressional district Representative, William R. Keating, stands with Trump. Keating is an Iran hawk and had to have his arm twisted to accept Obama’s Iran deal. Keating also voted with the GOP to limit Syrian refugees. No big surprise, then — Keating applauded the missle launch.

Keating, especially, needs to hear from voters. But call everyone. If you live near one of the local offices, drop in.

Representative William R. Keating

  • Hyannis Office: 297 North St., Hyannis, MA 02601
  • New Bedford Office: 558 Pleasant St., New Bedford, MA 02740
  • Plymouth Office: 170 Court St., Plymouth, MA 02360
  • Phone 202-225-3111

Senator Elizabeth Warren

  • Boston Office: 2400 JFK Federal Building, 15 Sudbury St., Boston, MA 02203
  • Springfield Office: 1550 Main St., Springfield, MA 01103
  • Phone 202-224-4543

Senator Edward J. Markey

  • Boston Office: 975 JFK Federal Building, 15 Sudbury St., Boston, MA 02203
  • Fall River Office: 222 Milliken Blvd., Fall River, MA 02721
  • Springfield Office: 1550 Main St., Springfield, MA 01101
  • Phone 202-224-2742

MassDems Platform Changes

The 2013 Massachusetts Democratic Party Platform is not limited to concerns of the Commonwealth. The Preamble alone mentions immigration, infastructure, national defense, diplomacy, and multiculturalism. The “Ethics and Transparency” section calls for the overturn of Citizen’s United, for example.

Delegates to the June 3rd state Convention in Worcester have an opportunity to send a message to the national DNC by voting on amendments to the following platform sections: Business and Entrepreneurship; Economic Growth; Education; Energy and Environment; Climate Crisis; Ethics and Transparency; Healthcare and Human Services; Housing; Immigration; Justice, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties; Labor; Public Safety and Crime Prevention; Revenue and Expenditures; Transportation and Infrastructure; Voting and Democracy; and Women.

The current platform needs updating as a matter of course. It also needs changes in light of what just happened to our country. Our Revolution Massachusetts, Progressive Massachusetts, and Progressive Democrats of America have collaborated on a number of amendments and additions to the platform (you can find another version here). Based on delegate and other input, the Massachusetts Democratic Platform Committee will then rewrite the state platform.

What’s missing

The 2013 platform isn’t bad as a statement of liberal values — and the 2017 Progressives’ changes aren’t so radical as to give Democrats much heartburn. The old platform mostly gets a day at the spa. But for a picky reader there are a number of things missing from both the current version and new proposals. Despite language on reducing “defense” spending (when we’ve had a quarter century of war), nowhere in the platform is there any mention of Foreign Policy. Plus, there are a number issues that Democrats have neglected that now demand clear statements of principle — especially since the Trump administration is attacking them so viciously.

Some of my suggestions below assume Democrats will eventually regain political advantage, but some of them assume we may not — and that it may now be up to state government to protect health, environment, civil liberties, and community policing.

  • Foreign Policy and Militarism — stop supporting autocratic and undemocratic regimes — no more weaponry for Saudi Arabia — slash the military budget — end undeclared wars — insist on Congress’ right to declare wars — no more aid to Israel until they end settlements — no more aid for Egypt’s dictatorship
  • Democratization of the Democratic Party — will we ever be rid of superdelegates?
  • End the Surveillance State — enhance citizen privacy (a word that doesn’t appear even once in the document) — get rid of the Patriot Act — eliminate FISA courts — get rid of or make No Fly lists transparent — breathe life back into the 4th Amendment
  • End useless tax breaks — remove vague language guaranteeing favorable tax rates for “businesses that generate community growth and participation” — Wal*Mart? really?
  • Free college education — make it even clearer that free “higher education” means a four year college education
  • Environment — now that EPA and Superfund money has been slashed, Massachusetts should sue for remediation (for example, Aerovox dumped PCBs in New Bedford’s harbor and then moved to Mexico) — strengthen our own MA Dept of Environmental Protection
  • Healthcare backup plan — create with other Blue States a Single-Payer Healthcare system
  • Improve the “Immigration” plank by calling for Massachusetts to follow California in prohibiting any local or state officials or agency from acting in a federal capacity or spending state money to do so (this would effectively endorse Eldridge and Cabral legislation at the convention)
  • Put teeth in planks that call for gender parity — all publicly-traded corporations must have at least 40/45/50% women board members
  • Put teeth in the Women’s Choice plank — no public funding for institutions that refuse to provide full counseling or direct services to women
  • Restore Net Neutrality to the FCC
  • Create a Citizen’s Data Bill of Rights guaranteeing that your personal and online data belongs to you and not to Comcast (Europeans have had this for years)