Archive for the ‘Politics’ category

03.01.17 An awful day

March 1, 2017

My stomach for reading the news has been getting queasier by the day over the past week. I already assumed — before Trump’s big speech last night — that I would have to avoid my daily diet of the New York Times and Washington Post today. I assumed that the daily horror would be some new policy announcement. No such luck.

Today was the day when NYT and WaPo, along with much of the rest of the media (I assume — I can’t bear to read it) decided to normalize the Trump regime. “How presidential!” they declared. “What a respectable tone,” they pointed out.

Yes, February seemed bad. But there was a certain amount of Schadenfreude during the month, as we witnessed the regime’s utter incompetence. There was hope — as day after day of temper tantrums and mismanagement played out — that the GOP might eventually tire of the antics and decide that enriching the 1% might work out better under President Pence.

But, with the cheerleading of our supposed newspapers of record today, we know that this regime is in it for the long haul, with full, enthusiastic GOP support from now ’til kingdom come.

Normalization of bigotry, incompetence, and corruption was the shoe left to drop. It has now fallen. I may never be able to read a newspaper again.

©2017 Keith Berner

02.11.17 Slippery Hans does it again (re fossil fuel divestment; and he’s not the only bad guy)

February 11, 2017

On February 6, I posted about the Montgomery County bill to divest from fossil fuels (#44-16). I forwarded that post to all nine of council members – for most of them, it was at least the second time I had contacted them about this matter.

Two days later, I still hadn’t received any response from Tom Hucker, Nancy Floreen, and Hans Reimer, so I re-sent it to them, with this line on top:

“Where do you stand on this? Your silence is not acceptable.”

This time Riemer chose to respond:

If you watch the work session you may see my views . . . on this complicated legislation.” [emphasis added]

So, I wrote to him again:

“Hans—

Are you really telling me that if I want to know where you stand on a piece of public legislation, I need to sit through a Council work session? If I have misunderstood you, please set me straight.

—Keith”

What did I hear back? Nothing.

Hans Riemer has a long and shameful record* of trying to have it both ways, wanting to appear “progressive” (his favorite campaign word), while actually opposing progressive policy. The most egregious case was three years ago, when he fought long and hard to stop a minimum-wage increase and, when the final vote came, he kept his hand on the table until he counted five other hands in the air (meaning the bill would pass). Only then did he get on the bandwagon so that he could claim later to have helped the winning side. See the shameful (30-second) video here. (To be fair, Riemer was one of the good guys in the most recent effort to raise the wage. Even bad guys aren’t always wrong.)

Riemer has reached a new low in refusing to share where he stands with me, a constituent who has asked for him to state his position. His directive that I should sit through hours of discussion for the privilege of learning his positon is obnoxious.

Guess what, Hans Riemer? You work for me – I pay your salary!

So, Riemer is being his slippery self. But is that any worse than Nancy Floreen’s and Tom Hucker’s refusal to respond at all? Riemer is just dumber, because he has handed me more slimy rope with which to hang him. Give Floreen and Hucker credit for being more clever. But don’t give them too much credit, because their silence is also obnoxious.

Guess what, Nancy Floreen and Tom Hucker? You work for me – I pay your salary.

Meanwhile, George Leventhal – maintaining his record as THE most responsive member of County Council responded to me a second time about this issue. I respect Leventhal because of his forthrightness, but he is simply wrong on the issue. He wrote:

“There is no question that climate change is as great a challenge as any our planet and our species faces, but must we also divest from food and beverage companies because of the health risks posed by obesity? Must we divest from bank stocks because of risky investments in mortgage securities that brought on the Great Recession? Must we divest from Treasury bonds because we do not want to finance Donald Trump’s deficit spending to build a Wall on the Mexican border? How are we to respond when activist movements ask us to divest from these securities?”

Slippery-slope arguments like this are impossible to contest, because they rely on some mythical greater harm to be caused in the future by someone(s) who might — in misguided pursuit of purity – push too far. A slippery slope is fear mongering: in this case Leventhal is basically saying that we can’t trust the small minds on county council to distinguish between one policy with clear justification and a different policy with less (or none at all). Perhaps he’s right about the small minds, though.

I note that none of the councilmembers, Slippery Hans, Silent Nancy & Tom, or Leventhal disputed my math: a worst-case impact of fossil fuel divestment on the overall county portfolio would come to a 0.008% reduction in the rate of return.

Even if this measure were purely symbolic (as Leventhal claims), it is a no-brainer because it couldn’t do any more than infinitesimal harm. In fact, fossil-fuel divestment is not only symbolic: if enough pension funds and other investors pull out of these funds, their values will drop. When their values drop, other investors will pull out or not opt in. And a large enough value drop will punish the largest owners of the mega oil and gas firms in the one part of their beings that has feeling: their wallets. Less spending money for these evil-doers means less money for them to invest in purchasing more climate-change deniers for Congress.

It appears right now that Bill 44-16 has support only from its sponsors, Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, and Nancy Navarro. With a likely veto from blindly pro-business county executive, Ike Leggett, we need a mass effort to turn three more votes on the Council.

+++++

*Here’s a Hall of Shame of previous posts about Riemer:

It is early for me to target Riemer, given that his inevitable campaign for reelection won’t heat up for many months. Don’t worry, Dear Readers: I’ll be prepared to repost all of this when the time is right.

+++++

As for Nancy Floreen, she has nothing to fear from progressive criticism, since (1) she has a long record as the least progressive member of Council and industry pals have kept her afloat, regardless, and (2) she is term-limited and will stand zero chance in a race for county executive.

For Tom Hucker, it’s another story. His seat is comfortable only as long has he is able to keep a progressive label. Hucker’s record is good overall, but it won’t be helped by ignoring constituents or siding with the fossil-fuel industry.

+++++

Please contact your members (district, plus four at-large):

Councilmember.Berliner@montgomerycountymd.gov (D1) – co-sponsor

Councilmember.Elrich@montgomerycountymd.gov (At-Large) – co-sponsor

Councilmember.Floreen@montgomerycountymd.gov (At-Large) – silent

Councilmember.Hucker@montgomerycountymd.gov (D5) – silent

Councilmember.Katz@montgomerycountymd.gov (D3) – ?

Councilmember.Leventhal@montgomerycountymd.gov (At-Large) – opposed

Councilmember.Navarro@montgomerycountymd.gov (D4) – co-sponsor

Councilmember.Rice@montgomerycountymd.gov (D2) – ?

Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov (At-Large) – slippery

©2017 Keith Berner

02.06.17 Montgomery County must divest from fossil fuels (support Bill 44-16)

February 6, 2017

Bill 44-16 before the Montgomery County (MD) Council would require the country to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Credit goes to Roger Berliner (he’s not ALL bad), Marc Elrich, and Nancy Navarro for co-sponsoring this important legislation. I have already written to all my councilmembers about this. George Leventhal continued his record of being the only councilmember who responds to (my) constituent inquiries, but he is wishy-washy on this issue, writing to me, “This is not an easy call. I understand its symbolic value but I am concerned about anything that may put at risk the county’s ability to keep its promise to retirees.”

I have heard nothing from Nancy Floreen, Hans Riemer, or Tom Hucker, my other reps.

Supporting divestment should be a no-brainer. According to the Washington Post, fossil-fuel investments constitute $65 million, out of a $4-billion MoCo portfolio, or 1.65%.  So if we assume that moving those investments elsewhere would produce a rate of return 0.5% lower than leaving them where they are (this is a pessimistic assumption, since there are plenty of well-performing investments outside this industry), the overall impact would come to a 0.008% reduction in the portfolio’s rate of return. Bottom line: even under a pessimistic assumption, the impact would be negligible.

Those arguing against divestment either haven’t done the math, are climate-change deniers, or have a personal stake in the fossil fuel-industry.
Please contact your members (district, plus four at-large):
Councilmember.Berliner@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Elrich@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Floreen@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Hucker@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Katz@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Leventhal@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Navarro@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Rice@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov
Probably a bit less effective, but still worthwhile would be to use either use 350moco.org’s petition or to write to all councilmembers at once using the Council website.
©2017 Keith Berner

02.04.17 I’m a Democrat

February 4, 2017

I have worked on more Democratic political campaigns than I can count (starting with George McGovern in 1972 – that’s a picture of me at age 12 in Time Magazine, 9/25/72*). I even served as a precinct captain for four years here in Takoma Park, MD. I quit that post in 2006 out of disgust with Maryland’s machine politics and the pro-corporate Dems on the national scene. Notwithstanding my anger at the party, I continued to vote almost exclusively for Democratic candidates, because what choice did I have? (The exceptions are when I have written in “Mickey Mouse” in races where the GOP had no chance.)

kb72mcgovern

Since 2006, I have called myself “anti-Republican,” rather than “Democrat.”

It’s 2017, that luxury is gone. All the fantasizing by Greens about a third-party’s route to salvation are out of touch with the reality of our rigid two-party system. Lefty calls for a political revolution to overthrow Wall Street Democrats may be noble, but may also be distracting us from our one and only task at hand: winning!

For those new to this blog, let me specify: I’m from the Bernie end of the spectrum. If I could, I’d kick the private sector out of all public services (starting with health care!), ban all guns, remove religion from the public square, confiscate excess wealth, and oppose US hypocrisy in foreign policy.

But, to insist on purity is to condemn the left (all of it) to minority status, on school boards, city councils, and statehouses across the country. I will henceforth call myself a Democrat and do whatever I can to help beat the GOP everywhere.  This will mean sometimes prioritizing a big tent over trying to topple elected officials who don’t always vote the way I want.

Yes, we should have internal debates in the party. Yes, we should support primary challenges to “bad” Democrats, but only when such challenges are not going to bite us in the ass that November.

It is the job of all people even moderately left of center in this country — just as it is the job of the most embittered Bernie (and Hillary) supporters – to elevate victory as a principle over purity.

The one thing Democrats can no longer tolerate: an incompetent party that rests on laurels, comforts itself in its own moral rectitude, and cedes the entire political system to the far right (which is now the only right in this country).

The Democratic Party, love it or not, is the only vehicle to take our country back. Get on board or get out of the way!

*That issue featured All in the Family and Sanford & Sons on the cover, under the headline “Toppling Old Taboos.” The bumper sticker I was holding at the rally in the old Cleveland Arena read “Nixon Bugs Me, Too!”

©2017 Keith Berner

02.01.17 Trump/Bannon or Pence?

February 1, 2017

For the first few days of this regime, I was rather celebrating the utter insanity (meant literally) and incompetence in the White House. I saw a ray of hope in its great potential for immobilizing dysfuntionality, not to mention the potential to alienate even the GOP Forces of Evil in Congress (who have thus far thrown aside their own stated policies in deference to the new Führer).

(See this outstanding piece by David Brooks in yesterday’s New York Times: The Republican Fausts. I often disagree with Brooks and don’t agree with everything in this piece, it is a powerful read and he is mostly, alarmingly spot on.)

Mike Pence as an alternative seemed worse. A competent, not crazy certified Thirteenth-Century Theocrat with strong ties to GOP elites would certainly get more done and hurt our society and culture even worse, right?

The news that Trump had elevated Steve Bannon to the National Security Council — over the Joint Chiefs of Staff — turned my outrage to terror. Brooks is not the only one in recent days to observe that Bannon is quickly consolidating control over all levers of power and government. His virulent racism, coupled with Trump’s nonstop temper tantrums are making me rethink a Pence presidency. Yes, Pence would gut necessary government spending, work tirelessly to enrich the wealthy, destroy the environment, and outlaw reproductive freedom (wherever he can). But so will Trump/Bannon!

What Pence seems unlikely to do would be to actively undermine world stability, start trade or military wars, empower foreign autocrats (Putin!), and actively undermine the US Constitution (further than the GOP already does through voter suppression, etc).

My mind is just about made up in favor of a 25th-Amendment (or impeachment) solution to this global crisis. My remaining hesitation is mostly about expecting a greater aggressiveness by Pence against LBGT rights than Trump and the idea that Trump/Bannon’s explicit racism is easer to counter than the GOP’s pervasive, implicit racism.

Twenty-Fifth Amendment, Section 4

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

What do you think, Dear Readers?

PS. I will no longer refer to well-known autocrats with their first names; hence, “Trump” (without Donald) and “Putin” (without Vladimir). These are monsters, not human beings and should not be personalized in any way.

©2017

01.29.17 To Chris Van Hollen: You voted for Ben Carson?!

January 29, 2017

This is what I just sent to our supposedly progressive senator:

Dear Chris:

I’m outraged to discover that you voted for Ben Carson to serve as HUD secretary. I don’t care if you think he is less bad than other potential nominees (the excuse Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown have given). Every single time a Democrat votes for a Trump appointee, the Democratic Party takes partial ownership for resulting policy. (I’m also disappointed by your votes for Sec. Def. and UN ambassador.) If the people of Maryland cannot trust you to do the right thing, whom can we trust? And if you will not stand firm against all GOP appointments and legislation, we have no hope of taking back our country.

—Keith

I note that even the more moderate Benjamin Cardin did not vote for Carson.

©2017 Keith Berner

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

January 22, 2017

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