01.22.17 The false dichotomy between economic and social justice (+ thumbs up for transgender rights)

Posted January 22, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: Bigotry, Politics

Tags: ,

This is a follow-up to my recent post about the self-flaggelating lie the left is absorbing and touting, that all those poor white men have a legitimate reason for choosing Trump. There is nothing wrong, of course, with Democrats’ working harder for economic justice and doing a better job of communicating this goal. But the real problem with the argument, as it has been presented in the media, is the either-or choice it embodies. For no apparent reason, the New York Times among other false-equivalence purveyors is saying that in order to help the poor, the left needs to stop giving a shit about people of color, women, gays, immigrants, and (yes) trangender people. They call this drive for social justice “identity politics.” The Racist Right already turned “political correctness” into a dirty term, when all it means is compassion and respect. So now we’re told (and self-haters on the left are believing) that caring about identity is wrong and self-defeating.

This is utter and dangerous bullshit. There is absolutely no reason why economic and social justice cannot go hand in hand. As I wrote in my last post, if angry white men choose to eschew economic advancement in their obsession to make sure no African Americans or immigrants qualify, fuck ’em.

How far this ethos has already penetrated the left was on display the other evening over dinner with friends, as we were preparing for the Women’s March.* A couple of people declared that the Democrats and the media have been paying far too much attention to transgender rights, “given how few of these people there actually are.” Let them wait their turn, they said.

So, instead of fighting for justice for all, we are to rank everyone by how much they deserve it and jettison those whose cost to us is greater than their ROI (return on investment). How reminiscent this is of the early suffragettes, who banned black women from participating. How much this reminds me of the African Americans in my integrated neighborhood growing up, who fought to stop any affordable housing from being built nearby (I’ve got mine — they don’t deserve any). So easy for cis-gender people to downplay the horrific injustice delivered daily to our transgender brothers and sisters.

I’m also reminded of an incident last year, when I hosted a community meeting between  mostly white neighbors and a mostly black prisoner-reform program that was seeking to rent a storefront near us. Though I supported the concerns of my neighbors (the planning for opening the program office had utterly neglected security), I wrote afterwards about the racial tensions inherent in the meeting. One neighbor then publicly attacked me for being “politically correct.” This white Anglo woman is married to a Mexican and has probably never voted for a Republican in her life. But she had fully taken aboard the racist ethos and vocabulary of the right.

I don’t want to march, unless it is arm-in-arm with my transsexual friends and neighbors. I don’t want to organize unless it is with African Americans, women, gays and lesbians, and immigrants. I don’t want to fight for economic justice, unless it is for everyone.

Democrats and other lefties would be fools to allow the right to set another yet another trap for us and to march right in. We must shout from treetops: there is no dichotomy and we will not allow bigots to define vocabulary and set agendas. The left has failed over and over again for nearly 50 years through cowardice, incompetence, and inarticulateness. That era must end.

*To my friends who were there (and, whom I assume will read this): please know I love you and acknowledge our mutual agreement on almost everything. But you also know me well enough to know I couldn’t give this a pass (I didn’t at the dinner table either). I hope you know  that this is not an attack on youbut rather a missive to persuade you).

©2017 Keith Berner

 

01.19.17 Shame on America. Shame on Americans.

Posted January 19, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: Bigotry, Politics, Presidential Campaign 2016

Tags: , ,

Any critical thinker will find that the United States has more often than not behaved in direct opposition to its proclaimed values. From the Indian genocides, to slavery, to Jim Crow, to the overthrow of elected governments around the world, this country has put its hypocrisy on display over and over again.

The election of a racist, misogynist, xenophobic, Putin-loving, authoritarian, is – as I’m hardly the first to note – a new nadir of horrific depth. Yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. But there is no denying that the overwhelming land area of the country and about half of the population are getting in Trump exactly what they wanted.

On both right and left, there is a popular trope afoot that a neglected, impoverished sector of the American populace — the white working class — had good cause to rise up for change.

On the right, this is self-serving bullshit, because the GOP has never given a hoot about those people. Sure, some of the rednecks were too dumb to realize they being duped. But the above-the-national-income average of Trump voters reveals the falsehood in the claim. Trump voters were not primarily driven by hope for a better life or by stupidity. No, they voted the way they did because they are racist pigs. These people don’t care if they lose their health insurance, as long as they are certain that African Americans, Latinos, and all those other “outsiders” aren’t getting any. (Oh yeah, and as long as women and gays know their place.)

On the left, this lie is just another round of way-too-common self-flagellation. Again, it’s utter bullshit to believe that the Democratic Party platform and the Clinton campaign forgot about people in need. Hundreds of pages of policy were devoted to improving the lives of the poor and middle class.  Could there have been more emphasis on those policies in the campaign’s public communications? Maybe. But it’s ridiculous to think that racists would have voted any differently with more information. It is the very fact that Democrats are proud to be diverse that resulted in our loss.

The reality is that this is a deeply racist country without any deep commitment to democracy and justice. Unless we face this fact, we on the left are going to keep shooting at each other and avoiding reality. There is no other side – whether among elected officials or their near-fascist followers – that is worth negotiating with, nonetheless catering to.

The only way to overcome American Shame is to beat those who perpetrate it. There should be no talks with Republicans, no visits to Appalachia to feel poor white men’s pain. No, we must find and organize righteous voters. We should be recruiting righteous candidates. We should be forcing the hard right (the only right remaining in the US) to own its failures and alienate at least some of its racist supporters (those who decide that they need to eat, even if that means black people get to eat, too).

So, no votes for Trump nominees from Democrats. An unbreakable filibuster for every Trump court appointment. No cooperation in Congressional committees or Democratic votes for GOP bills in the House and Senate.

Barack Obama tried turning his cheek for his first five years in office. We must not repeat that mistake. And we can start by rejecting the claim that there was any blame on our side (apart from party incompetence and Clintonian misjudgment) for the beatings we have taken everywhere.

None of this means that the Democratic Party and the left in general have nothing to learn or change. But it does mean that we must focus on victory and call the bigots what they are, today and from now on.

©2017 Keith Berner

 

01.16.17 Bernie and Hillary supporters go for the jugular

Posted January 16, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: Presidential Campaign 2016

Tags: , , , , ,

I endorsed and contributed to Bernie Sanders’s campaign (twice). When it was apparent (after the New York primary) that he had no path to victory in the primaries, I endorsed and contributed to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. I have Facebook friends on both sides who apparently believe that trashing the other candidate and their supporters is more important than stopping the GOP/Trump agenda.

From a Bernie supporter on Christmas day:

All right, Planned Parenthood, you gave us Hillary Clinton, and that gave us Donald Trump. And now you want our help? Why shouldn’t we put our efforts into starting a truly progressive health care organization?

He and his respective bitter losers have been screaming for weeks about how Bernie would have been a “certain” winner against Trump. There are some smart, highly logical people in this group, who are so blinded by their ideology that they can’t see the error in conflating hindsight with prediction. (And who thinks it would be a good idea for some disgruntled boys to found a service in place of PP? Is it ok to throw women under the bus while they try to grow their little fantasy into an international movement?)

Oh yeah, this same person denounced Bernie himself, when Bernie got behind Clinton at the convention.

Today, a gang of Hillary freaks used a Slate article in praise of John Lewis (who recently called Trump’s presidency illegitimate) to launch more than 80 comments attacking not Donald Trump, but (you guessed it): Bernie Sanders. (The person who posted – a friend of my friend — did so with the comment “Don’t get me started on that asshole Sanders.”) In the face of James Comey, Russian hacking, Clinton campaign mistakes, Clinton’s horrific mishandling of the email scandal, they blame (you guessed it again) Bernie Sanders for delivering Trump to the White House.

My friend commented on that post by declaring that Bernie Sanders didn’t mention Hillary’s name often enough as he campaigned hard for her in the fall. Geez, if only Bernie had said, “Hillary, Hillary, Hillary,” she’d be president, right? I wrote back to him, denouncing this destructive movement and calling for unity.

In both cases, these individual “friends” of mine took the 5-10% of the national agenda I disagreed with them on to denounce me in harsh, personal and political terms. The Bernie supporter called me a “right-winger” who was “trying to destroy [his] world” when I switched my loyalty to Hillary last spring. The Hillary supporter has accused me of “being enamored of [my] own intellect.” Both leveled these insults publicly.

It’s awful political news for all of us that these people won’t stop fighting with each other and that both consider me (and Planned Parenthood and John Lewis) the enemy. Fighting the last battle assures a loss in the next war!

It’s horrific personal news, when these fanatics are so rigid that they throw a friend overboard over a partial disagreement.

A pox on both their houses. Democrats will have to build a big tent and win without them. As for me, my life will be happier with friends who don’t insult me when I disagree with them.

©2017 Keith Berner

01.15.17 David Trone: He’s baaaaack (and will be uglier than ever)

Posted January 15, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: Montgomery County

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

As you may recall, liquor salesman David Trone burst on the local political scene a year ago (after never having done a thing for the people and communities of the region) by spending $13-million to purchase a seat in Congress (MD-8). This came after years of  contributions to right-wingers around the country in order to increase his personal profits from hooch sales in their jurisdictions. Trone might have won, had another glory-seeking, right-wing contributing pro-business candidate — Kathleen Matthews — not split the anti-progressive vote with him. Fortunately, Jamie Raskin benefited from the contest between Matthews and Trone.

Will we be so lucky when Trone jumps into the 2018 race for Montgomery County executive (primary date: June 2018)?

In fact, the chances are that it will be progressssive candidates who will split the vote when Trone dumps $20-30 million into an attempt to purchase the entire county. (Think it’s too early to conjecture about the reign of havoc Trone intends for us? See Seventh State blog.)

Get scared now, MoCo progressives. 

June 2018 seems a long ways away. But if we are going to beat Trone, we have to start thinking right now about how. A number of regressive candidates, besides Trone, have already indicated an interest in running, including Roger Berliner (against a livable wage, against a plastic bag ban), Nancy Floreen (the Queen of Concrete), and Craig Rice (ditto the critiques of Floreen and Berliner).

There are only two likely candidates worthy of serious consideration by progressives: Marc Elrich and George Leventhal.

My working hypothesis is that Berliner, Floreen, and Rice can’t win against Trone, because he will spend them into oblivion and their Big Developer pals will desert them for the guy with the Real Big Money.

What scares me is that Elrich and Leventhal will both be strong, their supporters and campaigns will be bitter enemies, and the injuries they inflict on each other will end up enabling Trone to walk into office. 

My assessment of Elrich and Leventhal will start out with the usual set of criteria: ideology (particularly: will Leventhal choose to step away from his longstanding ties with the development industry) and competence (who is more likely to be able to run an effective county government). With Trone’s specter looming over the proceedings, though, a vital third criterion will come into play: which is able to run the perfect campaign to beat Trone.

So, my dear progressive readers, we may experience déja vu all over again: just as many Bernie supporters had to swallow hard and back Hillary to stop Trump*, either Elrich or Leventhal supporters will have to drop some pride and some ideology to back the candidate who can win. We all better start contemplating this prospect now. We will  need a pre-primary, where a comparison of campaign messaging, organization, and money raising acts as our guide for whom to ultimately back in June. I expect we will be able to make that assessment by a year or so from now.

*Yeah, I know the bet on Hillary didn’t work out. But, the Bernie supporters who claim with certainty now that he would have run better against Trump are taking hindsight conjecture and trying to turn it into predictive fact. And, the continued bitter sniping between “Berners” (I love that designation!) and Clinton fans is a demonstration of why forces of evil beat the left (center left and more left) so often.

See my previous posts about suburban Maryland’s own Trump equivalent:

©2017 Keith Berner

01.14.17 Israel. And the Democrats who support it.

Posted January 14, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: International Affairs

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’m Jewish. (I feel I have to start all my comments on Israel by declaring my ethnicity, because so many Israel supporters conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. I am not a self-hater.)

The US actually allowed passage of a recent UN resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policy. Not that our country actually supported the resolution. But, by abstaining (i.e., by refusing to express a view), rather than vetoing (as the US almost always does when the topic of Israel comes up), our country took a baby step towards bringing its Middle East policy in alignment with its stated values.

Oh, the uproar this caused. AIPAC and other Likud-aligned US organizations expressed their customary outrage with their customary breathless bluster. Then, a majority of Democratic House members (109-76), including new MD Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-8), voted to denounce the UN resolution, saying it was unfair to Israel. They joined an overwhelming majority of Republicans (233-4) to undermine President Obama’s gentle turn against rubber stamping everything Israel does.  (This gentle turn comes only after Obama committed $38 billion of our tax dollars to underwriting Likud and illegal settlements for 10 years to come).

Two years ago, our Senator — Ben Cardin — joined only four other Democrats to oppose the nuclear deal with Iran, perhaps Obama’s foremost foreign policy achievement. The other three “traitors” to the president were Robert Menendez (NJ), Joe Manchin (WV), and Chuck Schumer (NY). This graphic tells an interesting story:

picture1

Manchin is the outlier here: he is from a deep-red state and does not have a great record of party loyalty. The others, though, are rock-solid Dems who cast a rare vote against their party and president. And what do they have in common? Jewish identity (Schumer and Cardin) and reliance on Jewish support (those two, plus Menendez).

Is Israel being treated unfairly by the US and the world?

Certainly, there is a great deal of hostility to Israel from hypocritical anti-Semites whose behavior differs little from what they go after Israel for. Certainly, Israel has a right to paranoia, based on the Holocaust and the Arabs’ unremitting hostility and aggression.

But, even for those of us who believe Israel has a right to defend itself in a hostile world, there was never any justification for civilian occupation of foreign land or for Israel’s unjust treatment of its own Palestinian citizens. Since 1973, Israel’s aggressive de facto appropriation of other people’s land and sovereignty has turned it from victim to perpetrator. Even under brief periods of Labor Party rule (including right after the Oslo Peace Accords), Israel has never stopped expanding its settlements on the West Bank, stealing property that doesn’t belong to it.

Israel’s apologists in this country say (more or less), “Hey, no fair criticizing Israel, unless you rebuke in equal measure the knife-wielding Arabs who attack us.” A knife versus the most powerful military force in the region. Resident uprisings, sometimes violent, in the face of daily humiliation and nonstop brutality. At this point, it’s hard for me to see any distinction between the plight of the Palestinians and that of the Africans who had to battle Apartheid for decades, against all odds and the concerted power of South Africa, the US, and Britain. People with no recourse to justice and no hope of progress explode. Wouldn’t you?

Yeah, but what about all the other countries in the world that are oppressive, racist, and/or aggressive? Well, I certainly hate illiberal, bigoted regimes like Russia’s or Hungary’s, not to mention the numerous African states who are murdering and imprisoning their homosexual citizens. Obviously, Israel has no monopoly on outrageous behavior.

But there are three reasons why Israel deserves special opprobrium (at least from me):

1. Most of the other outrageous countries in the world are not fundamentally kept afloat by my tax dollars. The fact that I am paying for Israeli racism and oppression gives me a right – nay, a duty – to forcefully oppose its behavior and US support for it. (For what it’s worth, I’d love to see an end to US support for Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well.)

2. I have special contempt for democracies whose people choose racism, oppression, or aggression. Israelis have been voting for right-wing governments for most of the country’s history. The last three elections have produced governments that are ever narrower, ever more nationalist, ever more fascist. I don’t blame the Saudi people the way I blame Israelis: Saudis have no input on their leaders, nor say in their policies.

I am hardly being unfair to Israel. I maintain a boycott list of countries where the citizens themselves are responsible for their countries’ policies, including Austria, Hungary, and Poland. If I weren’t an American, I would throw this country into that same category: a country where a functional majority chooses bigotry and imperialism.

3. The very fact of my Jewishness requires for me to take greater responsibility for the state supposedly founded in my name. I was raised without the Jewish religion. Rather, our religion at home was that of the Civil Rights Movement and opposition to the Vietnam War. I grew up understanding that — as a member of a historically oppressed people — I could not turn my back on oppression of others. My progressivism is rooted in my heritage. I would be betraying my parents if I were to support Israeli aggression or even only turn a blind eye to it.

How Jewish-American politicians contribute to anti-Semitism:

I get how Joe Manchin could side with the right-wing on the nuclear deal. I get how Jewish Americans who have long sided with neocon aggression or spent decades supporting authoritarian freaks in the name of anti-communism could find themselves on the “wrong” side on Israel. At least they’re being consistent with their values.

It’s another matter when the Cardins, Raskins, and Schumers of the US body politic vote against their party, their president, and their proclaimed values on only one issue: Israel. The more these politicians give Israel a hypocritical pass, the more they reinforce the idea in the rest of the world that there is no gap between Jewishness/Judaism and Likud. The more they destroy the very possibility (in the eyes of others) that Jews can be just, that Jews can be peaceful, that Jews can respect human rights and human dignity, the more hatred against Jews they engender.

And this leads us to the great self-defeating tragedy that Likud Jews are engaged in. Israel cannot survive as a democratic, Jewish state if it will not allow a two-state solution. Likud and the majority of Israeli voters who support it are dooming themselves either to a future of apartheid (I would say it has already arrived) or to being a minority in a new Palestine. The Israeli people are assuring a disastrous future for their homeland.

And hypocritical Jewish liberals in the US are undermining Jewish security and safety everywhere by demonstrating that they cannot be trusted on this topic. They sap their own power as progressives (making us progressives less likely to support them) and feed right into the thinking of anti-Semites who want to see Jews has a fifth column with a nefarious agenda.

Is the UN being unfair to Israel? Not this time, in any case. Am I being unfair to Israel? Excuse me, but no fucking way!

It is time for the US to join the rest of the civilized world (however much of that remains in this year of democracy-in-peril) in condemning Israel. (Abstention is not enough!) Further, we must stop underwriting that horrific regime and its racist people. It well past time for my elected representatives, no matter their ethnic or religious affiliation, to be true to their values and to earn my vote not only through a commitment to civil rights and civil liberties at home, but also abroad.

©2017 Keith Berner

01.07.17 Lorig Charkoudian for D20 Delegate – corrected MCDCC contact email addresses

Posted January 7, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: Uncategorized

In yesterday’s post, some email addresses for MCDCC members got truncated.. Here is the corrected list of the folks to write to in support of Lorig Charkoudian:

 

01.06.17 Lorig Charkoudian for D20 Delegate

Posted January 6, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: Maryland, Montgomery County

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jamie Raskin’s election to Congress in November kicked off a chain of events: first the need to fill his seat in the Maryland Senate and then, when sitting delegate Will Smith was appointed in Raskin’s place, the need fill that seat. The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) will make that appointment this coming Monday, January 9. To influence their selection, please write to all their members (see below) before Monday evening.

Last night, I attended a candidate forum in Silver Spring, sponsored by the MCDCC, Progressive Neighbors, and other organizations. The forum was an opportunity for six candidates to make their cases. (Information about five of the six candidates can be found on the MCDCC website – Yvette Butler is inexplicably missing.)

The good news is that D20 has some great talent ready to serve: five of the six candidates would most likely do a fine job in the role (and the sixth might stand out in a less talented field). And all of them have a clear record of community service (something that has been sorely lacking in recent local candidates for office (e.g., David Trone, Kathleen Matthews, and Will Jawando).

Lorig Charkoudian was the clear winner last night. She was the most articulate of the candidates, able to respond quickly and clearly to everything tossed her way, with barely an “um” to be heard. What was most impressive about Charkoudian was her wealth of experience writing and promoting legislation (she is clearly the hit-the-ground-running candidate). She also was able to address, with specifics, topics well beyond her core expertise in criminal-justice reform and conflict mediation, things like environmental legislation, food security, and economic justice.

Jheanelle Wilkins, gets an honorable mention. She also has legislative experience, is able to articulate her positions clearly, and displayed knowledge across range of policy topics. Unfortunately, Wilkins is a member of the very MCDCC that will make this appointment. This represents an unacceptable conflict of interest. In fact, I intend to push publicly for the Central Committee to bar its current members from seeking office in the future.

Also, I was disturbed by Wilkins’s willingness to throw marijuana legalization under the bus unless the licenses for medical marijuana growers are distributed more fairly (i.e,. awarding licenses to one or more African American firms). I agree with her that the licensing process has been discriminatory (and embarrassing), but holding something good hostage to the repair of something bad is nuts. Would Wilkins be more devoted to such games of chicken than to policymaking?

Darian Unger also has some experience in drafting and pushing legislation. His service with Progressive Neighbors and as a volunteer firefighter is impressive and there is no question about his desire to serve. Just the same, his expertise seems narrower than some of the others, focusing mostly on the environment and civil liberties (topics dear to my heart). Unger seems to get easily tongue tied (I have heard him speak several times) and has a bothersome tendency to cross from policy advocacy to self-promotion. (This is a subtle point and I would understand if others found it less disturbing than I do.)  Just as in the case of Wilkins’s service on the MCDCC, I will be disturbed if Progress Neighbors endorses Unger.

Daniel Koroma and Yvette Butler impress with long records of passionate community service. But in comparison to the others, they seem less prepared to enter the legislative fray and less knowledgeable across a range of issues. I’m also a stickler for candidates’ abiding by the time limits set in candidate forums. Butler’s opening statement was past the 2-minute mark and seemed far from complete when she had to be asked to cease several times before complying. This being the second forum in as many days, one would think she would have learned in the first session and edited her statement, accordingly.

Amy Cress is the least prepared of the of the bunch and seems solely focused on gun control and special-needs education.

Three of the candidates knew me prior to getting into this race: Charkoudian, Unger, and Wilkens. Of these, only Charkoudian asked for my support. I count this against the other two, not because my ego needs that kind of stroking, but rather because an essential legislative skill is the ability to recognize and mobilize supporters. If candidates fail to ask for support when they are running, I wonder whom they will forget to call once they are in office. (To be fair, Wilkins only knows me from my letter to the Central Committee last month regarding the senate appointment. The fact that she responded to me then is a plus; the fact that she didn’t keep my contact info or note that I’m an activist worthy of being cultivated is a minus.)

Final note: I don’t know why, but candidate forums seem always to be poorly managed. I remember when a moderator at a Democratic Party forum few years ago thought it would be a good idea to measure time limits using an analog kitchen timer (rather than digital means). I’ve seen Progressive Neighbors fail more than once to set up coherent processes for Q&A. The big failure last night was having the moderator pose three questions at a time (in multiple rounds) to the candidates and giving each candidate only one minute to answer – and, sometimes, the three questions had nothing to do with each other. Not a single candidate was able to address all three questions every time and the audience was cheated out of more thoughtful replies by the candidates.

I suggest that no organization should sponsor or moderate candidate forums without serious forethought and talented moderators.

Please write to all members of the MDCC to support Lorig Charkoudian (I have omitted Wilkins from this list for obvious reasons). You do not have to write an essay – simply stating your view is enough. Here’s the list to write to:

@2017 Keith Berner