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.

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