Archive for the ‘DC’ category

12.15.13 Hans Riemer: Embellishments and lies

December 15, 2013

Montgomery County Councilman Hans Riemer (At-Large) has been embellishing his record ever since he declared for council in 2006 (before the paint was dry in his first-ever Maryland domicile). He came to us with specious claims about his importance as a savior of Social Security as we know it. More recently, he tied himself closely to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign victory even though he had disappeared from the campaign many months earlier, without an explanation. Riemer’s colleagues on County Council complain behind closed doors that he regularly tries to take credit for others’ work.

All of this is distasteful, creating a general impression of sleazy self-service. But has this been outright dishonest? Not clear. Now, however, Riemer has crossed the line.

Hans Riemer is lying about his support for the minimum wage bill that just passed in Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties.

Marc Elrich (At-Large) led the effort to get a decent minimum wage ($11.50/hour) on the books and to reach it in a reasonable amount of time (2016). He put together an agreement with PG and DC legislators to pass equivalent measures, so that the employment impact of higher wages in our county would be mitigated. When I began following the issue closely a few weeks ago, I was delighted to see that Elrich had support from George Leventhal (At-Large), Nancy Navarro (D-2), and Valerie Ervin (D-5): four of the necessary five votes on the nine-member council.

I reached out to Phil Andrews (D-1; disclosure: he is a personal friend) and Riemer to see if I could help move either to be that fifth vote. Andrews confirmed his opposition (and, indeed, he was the lone dissenter when the final bill passed 8-1 on November 26). You can count on Andrews to own his positions and be honest about them, even when you may disagree with him.

Not the case with Riemer. What ensued in response to my inquiry were several rounds of squirrely emails in which he kept claiming credit for being philosophically in favor of a better minimum wage and leading the effort to get a bill passed:

• “I came out very clearly for an increase in the minimum wage weeks ago” (Riemer, 11/18/13).

• “. . . my support for raising the wage is bringing other council members along” (Riemer, 11/19/13).

Meanwhile, Riemer’s real position was that any new minimum wage not be enacted until the state took action, be substantially lower than Elrich’s bill (even lower than $10, depending on what Maryland ended up doing), and take much longer to implement (as late as 2020) – see Riemer’s blog.

Because of Riemer’s opposition to the progressive bill, Elrich and his cohort eventually had to settle for a one-year extension on full implementation, to 2017, but they beat back Riemer’s attempt to gut the wage itself – the final bill included the $11.50 rate. Notwithstanding Riemer’s argument that Elrich’s measure should be opposed because PG and DC wouldn’t pass such a progressive bill, PG did indeed pass a nearly identical measure the following week and as of this writing, the DC council appears poised to pass it unanimously.

Here’s the comical part: If you watch the final vote on the bill (30 seconds), you can see five hands go up immediately. Riemer (on the far left [ironically]) is so opposed to the measure that he is the waits to raise his hand  until he sees that he can’t stop it. Then, he jumps on the speeding bandwagon just in time to claim that he was the one driving it all along.

Hans Riemer worked hard to kill a decent minimum wage in Montgomery County, but that didn’t stop him from claiming credit for its passage. This is from his self-congratulatory blast email on November 27:

“I am proud that I helped deliver an 8-1 council vote for this hugely important progressive priority. . . . I worked hard to strengthen the county proposal. My work fighting to protect Social Security taught me that the broadest policies have the best impact.”

So, Social Security’s Savior was a fighter for the workers of Montgomery County? Give me a break. Propaganda is far more important to Hans Riemer than progress. He can call himself “progressive” from now ‘til kingdom come, but the word is utterly meaningless when he utters it.

I have been a harsh critic of Riemer ever since he magically appeared in our county claiming to be our next progressive hero, without ever having done a shred of work in the region and without having even bothered to hold a single conversation with our real, live progressive fighters.

I have tried the past couple of years to go easy on the poor lad, hoping that he would ditch the false claims and fulfill his progressive promises. I don’t maintain that he’s always wrong or dishonest. But this recent bit is just too much.

Everyone paying attention to local politics gets this. And we have between now and the June 24th primary to educate everyone else.

PS. It’s typical that Riemer has endorsed White House Darling Will Jawando for the open state delegate seat in D-20, who – as I have written – is clearly the worst candidate in the race. Maybe Riemer hopes to create an empty-ambition caucus.

©2013 Keith Berner
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04.11.11 DC: The Wrong Fight (GOP Kills Abortion Funding in DC)

April 11, 2011

“Taxation without Representation,” read DC’s license plates. Sure, it would be nice for the District to have a voting representative in Congress. But, apart from the symbolism, who really thinks that Eleanor Holmes Norton’s (D-Delegate-DC) ability to vote on the floor of the House would make any real difference to DC citizens?

The far bigger issue is that Congress rules DC as a colonial power. The latest chilling example comes from the brilliant last-minute “compromise” that averted a government shut-down by giving the GOP/Tea Party nearly everything they wanted. Sure, Obama seemed to draw a line in the sand when it came to women’s health, but threw local poor women under the bus: little mentioned and noticed is the provision in the budget bill that will now prevent DC from spending its own tax dollars on abortion coverage for women.

Yes, indeed. Even though the tax dollars in question come from DC residents, that money goes right back to Congress to be appropriated just as the right wing sees fit. This happens in no other jurisdiction in the country. Only here* can the gun lobby, the anti-drug crazies, and the religious fundamentalists from hundreds and thousands of miles away tell locals what they may and may not do with their own money. This latest insult comes on the heels of myriad similar actions over the years to prevent counting ballots on a medical marijuana bill, prevent life-saving needle exchanges, gut local gun laws, etc. Oh yes, there is also a requirement in the GOP budget bill that requires the District to fund a school-voucher program. (Like this crap has anything to do with cutting the federal budget deficit!)

And don’t for a moment think that the Democrats are good guys here. Dems are supporters of the NRA, which the past two years killed a measure to give Norton that precious floor vote by attaching to it the elimination of all local control of gun laws. And, in other circumstances (like this latest), Dems care so little about democracy, that they’re happy to ignore or trade away their brethren’s fundamental rights.

So, I think the fight for a single congressional vote misses the mark. DC residents need to fight – and fight hard – for the basic right of self-determination. How about a major strike? Why couldn’t better-paid DC residents who work for the federal government (especially Congress) boycott their employers? (Let’s exempt those who can’t afford to take a day off.) Start with a single organized day. If Congress doesn’t take notice, add another one. Then make it once a month. Then shut the whole place down for a solid week. At the same time, organize picketing at major tourist attractions to get the word out nationwide.

*I am writing this from Maryland, about a mile from the DC border. But DC is “here” to me. I spent years there and feel a substantial solidarity with my fellow Americans within walking distance. I’m sure lots of other Marylanders and Virginians agree. I hereby pledge to join the boycott, if and when it can be organized, and would urge my suburban neighbors to join me.

©2011 Keith Berner

10.14.10 David & Sam Get Married

October 14, 2010

This is cross-posted with the Washington Post’s All Opinions Are Local.

I’m thankful to live next to Washington in a year when Republicans didn’t control Congress and its power to override DC laws. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to attend last weekend’s wedding of David and Sam – dear friends who have been a couple for 12-ish years, about the same as my wife and me. What a fabulous wedding, from the ceremony, to the ambiance, to the luscious food! The utter joy of the event was transcendent.

And that is what a wedding ought to be. But could not have been – for these two people – in most other places at most other times.

There has been so much pain just recently: bullying and suicides and beatings, not to mention outrageous political pronouncements. But justice for gays and lesbians will not be stopped. If nothing else, the rise of more gay-friendly generations will ensure that.

In the meantime, even for David and Sam the struggle for justice isn’t over. Sam is Korean. He’s been in the United States for years, under student and employment visas. But David can’t sponsor Sam’s permanent residency in this country, because the federal government doesn’t recognize their marriage. A lost job for Sam could cost this loving couple the right to live in the same country.  (To do something about this, please give to Immigration Equality.)

Sadly, the prospects for marriage equality aren’t so bright in Maryland. This state may appear very blue at first glance, but political power resides with social conservatives such as Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and the Roman Catholic Church. I’d wager it will take six years for Maryland to catch up to DC on this one. It would probably take longer still if Maryland didn’t have DC’s good (and demystifying) example right next door.

©2010 Keith Berner


09.02.10 Bus-Stop Bigotry

September 2, 2010

This evening, I was waiting for a bus at Takoma Station.  I found myself sitting on a bench between two African American women, one of whom is a neighbor from two doors away, whom I’ve met and talked with several times.

Our conversation turned to the mayor’s race in in DC.  Though these are both Marylanders, the women were in passionate agreement with DC’s African-American community:  Adrian Fenty (the mayor) and Michelle Rhee (the schools chancellor) have got to go. After a bit, the woman I didn’t know burst out with: “That woman [Rhee], needs to get back to Korea.”

“But she’s American,” I sputtered, absolutely astounded.  “She was born and raised here.”

The woman repeated her statement.

“How is this different than someone’s commanding you to go back to Africa?” I asked.

“It’s completely different,” she said, while my neighbor — who makes a point of telling people how much time she spends in church and thanks god several times an hour — nodded in agreement.

“But this is bigotry,” I declared.  “How can you be bigoted?!”

I got blank stares.

My neighbor, incidentally, has lived in Japan and speaks Japanese.  And she wants to send Korean-Americans “home.”

I always want to believe that bigotry is too bizarre to actually be real, so I never expect it.  My naivite — my inability to grasp the entire phenomenon — keeps setting me up for devestating disappointment.

Perhaps I’ll become inured to it at some point.

I hope not.

©2010 Keith Berner