02.03.16 David Trone introduces dirty tricks to MD-8 congressional campaign

Posted February 3, 2016 by Keith Berner
Categories: Montgomery County

Tags: , ,

Well, it didn’t take long for big-money wine dealer David Trone to bring the worst of politics-as-usual to the important race to succeed Chris Van Hollen as our member of Congress. Yesterday, Jamie Raskin’s and Kathleen Matthews’s campaigns independently busted Trone spies who were pretending to be volunteers for them. (For more details, see today’s Washington Post.) Of course, Trone blamed and fired three staffers, accused them of youthful indescretion, and denied any advance knowledge of the Nixonesque scheme. If you believe that multiple Trone paid staffers came up with this themselves and not under Trone’s direct instructions, I have some land to sell you in the Everglades.

It’s bad enough that Trone has jumped into the race with an intent to purchase a seat in Congress. He has shown his true colors within days of his disruptive entrance.

MD-8 voters need to send a clear message that David Trone’s brand of politics is not welcome here.

©2016 Keith Berner


01.31.16 Heart and head do battle in the Democratic primaries

Posted January 31, 2016 by Keith Berner
Categories: Uncategorized, Presidential Campaign 2016

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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

01.30.16 WaPo’s fluff on MD-8 race ignores Raskin

Posted January 30, 2016 by Keith Berner
Categories: Maryland, Montgomery County

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

Full disclosure: I support Jamie Raskin for Congress, but am not formally affiliated with his campaign.

The Washington Post’s sole reporter on Montgomery County politics, Bill Turque, recently covered a Maryland District 8 congressional-candidate forum. Bless Bill: he wanted to shine a little light on all nine forum participants. But in taking an elementary-school-everybody’s-in approach to this important race, he forgot about journalism – the “balance” he seemed to be striving for was (1) unbalanced and (2) vapid.

Ok, it was novel to have GOP candidates present, in a race where a Democrat is 99% certain to win. Hence the seven paragraphs (out of 19) devoted to the GOP. Two of those were about a Democrat, Liz Matory, who switched parties in a fit of rage over the fact that no one anointed fellow-African American Valerie Ervin the automatic winner last summer. (Ervin quit the race in September, issuing a bitter screed about the lack of deference she got.)

Turque devoted two paragraphs to Will Jawando, who is bright and compelling for sure, but who has little chance of winning and is (at least according to this article) running solely on the fact that, as an African American, he would diversify our representation. (I expect that Jawando has more to say than Turque gives him credit for.)

Next Turque spends two paragraphs on one of the true heavy hitters in the race (along with Jamie Raskin): Kathleen Matthews. He actually gives her a sentence on policy positions (all of which are no-brainers for Democrats) before turning, again, to identity politics (Matthews: “We need more women in Congress.”) There’s nary a word on Matthews’s relevant experience (or lack thereof: she doesn’t have any) or previous service to the district (or lack thereof: she doesn’t have any).

Then, more identity politics: Ana-Sol Gutierrez as Salvadoran American and Kumar Barve, who would be the first Asian American member of Congress from Maryland (I fail to see the relevance in the age of Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal). Barve does earn a wee bit of substantive coverage from Turque for the candidate’s claims of business acumen.

Of course, to the extent that identity drivel is what the campaigns are dishing, a reporter can’t be blamed for reporting it. But one gets the overwhelming sense that Turque just doesn’t care about much else.

The outrage of this fluff piece is its treatment of Jamie Raskin, a clear leader in the race, based on fundraising, volunteers, and endorsements alone. Raskin runs leagues ahead of all the others in terms of legislative effectiveness (Barve and Gutierrez are the only other ones with legislative experience at all). If it were not for personal millions, Matthews and (new candidate) David Trone would hardly be irrelevant, and this might be a Raskin-Barve competition.

What did Turque have to say about Raskin? Just this: “Raskin . . . pledged to return any overdue books.” Huh? A man serves as a key leader in the MD legislature for years, is a constitutional scholar, and — at least in Takoma Park and Silver Spring — has more visibility in the race than anyone else, and that’s all Turque can find to say?

If this is what the Washington Post and Bill Turque call journalism, they should be as embarrassed as we are for them. Really, the only game in town for coverage of MoCo politics these days is the Seventh State blog. That’s where to turn for serious analysis, as opposed to bake-sale fluff.

PS. The photo accompanying the article features Jawando, includes six others, and (you got it) omits Raskin.

©2016 Keith Berner

09.27.15 FFRF’s Attack on Pope Francis

Posted September 27, 2015 by Keith Berner
Categories: Media/Journalism, Miscellaneous

Tags: , ,

An open letter to Freedom from Religion Foundation

I am an atheist of Jewish heritage and an avid secularist. I have also been a supporter of FFRF.

I am writing regarding your wrong – and wrong-headed – full page ads in the Washington Post and New York Times on the occasion of the Pope’s speech to Congress:

Wrong. An invitation to a foreign dignitary and figure of worldwide respect has nothing to do with separation of church and state. (The opening of each congressional session with a prayer does, however.) Congress – and the American people – benefit from hearing the views of international leaders.

Wrong-Headed. FFRF is foolish to try to raise its profile by attacking this pope, who is beloved by the devout (of many religions) and secular across the world. Yeah, you will likely say, “We were attacking his speech to Congress, not him as a person.” But that is not the way your full-page ads will be perceived and this is all about perception. Your choice of this high-profile campaign is likely to alienate more people than it will attract and, thereby, set back the cause of secularism.

Further, I imagine your ads cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I cannot imagine that going after the pope will produce more in revenues for FFRF than the ads cost.

I cannot support an organization that does such a poor job of managing its resources, nonetheless adopts a public profile that will be so counter-productive. Fortunately, FFRF is not the only game in town. From now on, I will make an annual contribution to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, as a better steward of our cause.

©2015 Keith Berner


08.26.15 Maryland’s Senators Silent on Iran Deal

Posted August 26, 2015 by Keith Berner
Categories: International Affairs, Maryland

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

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

08.02.15 Against the local Tea Party (for a plastic bag ban)

Posted August 2, 2015 by Keith Berner
Categories: Bigotry, Environment, Montgomery County, Takoma Park

Tags: , , ,

Recently, my city councilman, Jarrett Smith, introduced a bill to ban plastic bag distribution by businesses in our fair little city. I hardly need to mention the environmental benefits of such a ban and the inevitable opposition by big business (the chemical industry).

What alarms me is that progressive Takoma Park is home to its own little Tea Party: “freedom-loving” libertarians who wish we were more like Alabama. This local Tea Party vigorously opposed a ban passed last year on use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes (which, with leadership from County Councilman George Leventhal [At Large] will soon become law in Montgomery County.) They’re back now to oppose plastic bans in the name of freedom.

Here is an exchange between me and one of the Tea Partiers on the Takoma Park’s main discussion listserv:

From: “James DiLuigi jdiluigi@aacinc.net [TakomaPark]” <TakomaPark@yahoogroups.com>

Subject: Re: [TakomaPark] Bans as Takoma Park City Policy

Date: August 2, 2015 at 12:36:37 EDT

To: “TakomaPark@yahoogroups.com” <TakomaPark@yahoogroups.com>

Catherine [Tunis] makes a point that has concerned me for some time now.

Takoma Park is a community of citizens who accept and care for one another without being foxed to do so by laws.

Most of us have come here by choice and relish the small town and inclusive society we have fostered.

I have become concerned regarding the legislative approach, rather than a voluntary/educational approach, that has been taken on various matters recently.

Let’s stop this management by fiat before it begins to threaten the welcoming society we have worked so hard to create.

James A. DiLuigi, AIA, CSI

Access-Ability Consultants, Inc


From: Keith Berner <tkpk@kberner.us>

Subject: Re: [TakomaPark] Bans as Takoma Park City Policy

Date: August 2, 2015 at 13:22:03 EDT

To: Takoma Park list <TakomaPark@yahoogroups.com>

Yes, many Takoma Parkers care about each other without being forced to by law. But can Takoma Parker’s properly care for the environment without laws that restrict environmentally damaging business practices? Let’s go back to the origin of this debate: Councilmember Jarrett Smith’s progressive legislation to ban plastic bag distribution by TkPk businesses. This is hardly an encroachment on residents’ ability to care for each other.

The “nanny state” that dictates and controls all we do is a classic bogeyman of the right. But they’re not all wrong. There are certainly places we don’t want the state to tread (the bedroom, for example, or free speech). But environmental and health protections rarely cross that line. In fact, they are essential for curbing business practices that do not capture “externalities” in market-driven transactions. Your “right” not to wear a seatbelt has an external cost that I pay in the form of higher insurance premiums and health care costs. A “free” plastic bag at checkout has the external cost of polluted waterways, parks, roads, etc. Your right to pack heat threatens my right to be safe from violence.

Further, many or most areas of the country fall too far to the laissez-faire side of the line. Takoma Park and Montgomery County provide much-needed alternatives to the libertarian and pro-big-business ethos  that pervades the American body politic. That is, those of you who see our progressive oasis as too infringing on your right to pollute can move almost anywhere and enjoy more of this (in my view) destructive “freedom.” 

We don’t need Tea Party-like libertarianism in our community (though, of course, those with these views have every right to express them and to try to elect politicians who share such views). I say: two thumbs up for progressive communitarianism, where society and the planet are sometimes given precedence over individual self-interest.

—Keith Berner


By the way, Mr. Luigi most recently made waves on the listserv by calling for city legislation to be reviewed by a committee of homeowners who have been residents for more than 10 years. The GOP couldn’t come up with a better plan to disenfranchise people of color, immigrants, and those of moderate means.

@2015 Keith Berner

05.03.15 Bernie Sanders for President

Posted May 3, 2015 by Keith Berner
Categories: Presidential Campaign 2016

Tags: , , ,

In this dismal 2016 presidential season, we finally have a candidate to be proud of, someone to represent our ideals, someone to be truly excited about. What enthuses me most about Bernie Sanders (beyond his integrity) is his commitment to run directly, explicitly against the plutocrats. It seems to me that the root cause of nearly all ills in our very ill society is the utter dominance (close to complete ownership) of the political and economic systems by giant corporations and their largest shareholders. Even the top 1% are outside this group; it’s the top 1% of that 1% we’re talking about. Embodied by the Koch Brothers, those who control everything seek only to increase their control, while minimizing the size of their own club.

There is another Democrat in the race for 2016 who has spent a political career sticking a finger in the wind to determine what daily role to play, who is currently pretending to oppose this dominant elite. Don’t be confused: that is all triangulation and no passion, calculation without commitment. Hillary Clinton is the opposite of authentic – she is all artifice all the time.

Bernie Sanders is the real deal. He will speak – nay, shout – the truth from now until (at least) until a year from now.

“So,” those seeking to catch this blogger for inconsistency will ask, “What about your telling us recently that we will have to vote for the Pretender in November 2016″? That was your blogger as political analyst predicting what is (still) a likely outcome of the primary season. But now is not the time to vote or campaign based on fear. This is the time to support and vote for our ideals. We need Bernie Sanders. Sure, it would be a dream come true for him to win the White House. But even if that doesn’t come to pass, only he can save us from a campaign season of pretension and reaction. Only Sanders can and will keep bringing the true state of the nation to the forefront of the so-called debate. Without Bernie Sanders, there will be no debate at all.

I toyed with endorsing former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley for president. O’Malley is a good man and a solid progressive. But he lacks the fire that Bernie Sanders has. Further he was the mayor who introduced abusive policing to Baltimore, which has borne it’s ugly fruit over the past two weeks. This doesn’t permanently count O’Malley out for me (I could turn to him if he ends up appearing to have a better shot than Sanders at beating Clinton), but he is not my first choice. Bernie Sanders is.

I sent Bernie Sanders my contribution today. Are you ready to join the campaign?

©2015 Keith Berner


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