08.12.17 Will Jawando can’t even keep track of what office he’s running for!

Posted August 12, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: Montgomery County

Tags: ,

Will Jawando, who has announced his candidacy for MoCo council at-large, is running his fourth campaign in three years (without ever having done anything for this community). No wonder he can’t keep track of what he’s running for. Thanks to Seventh State for catching this.

HIS ANNOUNCEMENT SAYS COUNCIL . . . BUT HIS WEBSITE SAYS CONGRESS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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08.12.17 Chris Van Hollen: thy name is political cowardice

Posted August 12, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: Civil Liberties, International Affairs

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Sorry, Dear Reader, but I’m not about to let go of my outrage over Ben Cardin’s bill to criminalize free speech (S.270).

I have now written three times to Senator Van Hollen via his official campaign website. I have now written three times to his foreign affairs legislative assistant, Afreen Akhter. I have not received a single reply; though I was cc-ed on a reply Ms. Akhter sent to someone else:

Senator Van Hollen has not co-sponsored this legislation. He does not support restrictions on free speech and is reviewing the legislation in light of those concerns.

And here is what I sent to her today:

Ms. Akhter:

During the Reagan years, Act Up responded to the administration’s inaction on AIDS with this slogan: “Silence = Death.”

S.720 is not a matter of life or death, but Chris Van Hollen’s silence regarding our fundamental civil liberties is tantamount to endorsing Ben Cardin’s bill. I played a key role in helping Chris get elected to Congress the first time, something he thanked me for thereafter. I did not work for his election so that I could hear “has not co-sponsored this legislation” as an excuse for silence — this is political cowardice at its worst.

Will you present my views to the Senator? Will he stand up for he First Amendment and explicitly oppose S.270?

I would appreciate the courtesy of a direct reply.

— Keith Berner

Please stand with me in persistent support for civil liberties: please let Van Hollen and the rest of the Maryland congressional delegation* know how you feel.

*These Democrats are shameful cosponsors of Cardin’s pernicious bill:

  • Anthony Brown (MD-4)
  • John Delaney (MD-6), who is now running for president in 2020 (suppress giggles here)
  • Steny Hoyer (MD-5)
  • Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-2)
  • John Sarbanes (MD-3)

©2017 Keith Berner

08.09.17 Roger Berliner is no environmental hero (plus: the shame of Mike Tidwell)

Posted August 9, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: Environment, Gun Control, Montgomery County

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On July 25, an email arrived in my inbox with the subject line: “Roger Berliner, the environmental leader you can trust.” It was signed “Mike Tidwell, Environmental Leader,” but was sent from the Berliner campaign, not from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network – CCAN, which Tidwell directs. This was an opening salvo from County Councilman Berliner in his endeavor to become MoCo’s next executive. He has joined the 2018 race against two other current councilmembers: Marc Elrich and George Leventhal.

Writing as Berliner’s mouthpiece, Tidwell goes over the top in declaring the candidate to be “the acknowledged county environmental leader” [emphasis added]. Hmmm: acknowledged by whom?

Well, let’s specify who has not shared in the accolades. For example:

  • Those who have sought to get plastic bags out of our streams and oceans. While Berliner did support the original bag tax that took effect in 2012, it seems the chemical industry got to him a year later and he championed a (losing) effort to remove the tax from most retail establishments. He was joined by Leventhal in that noble cause.
  • Those who don’t believe pretty lawns justify use of chemicals poisonous to children and pets. Safe Grow Montgomery (which is now under threat as a result of a recent court opinion) passed 6-3 in 2015 over Roger Berliner’s opposition (credit Leventhal for being a champion on this one).
  • Those who oppose unfettered development in the county, at least in part due to concerns about environmental impacts. Berliner has consistently sided with big developers’ attempts to pave everything outside the Agricultural Reserve.

Berliner was indeed the lead sponsor of a recent bill calling for MoCo to divest from fossil fuels. On closer inspection though, how heroic was this? Well, inside sources tell me that it was Marc Elrich who originally came up with the idea. It turns out that Berliner basically jumped the queue to introduce it before Elrich could and he got only two co-sponsors: Elrich and Nancy Navarro. Leventhal, Tom Hucker, Hans Riemer and the rest opposed the bill until it was watered down to be a non-binding resolution, at which point they jumped on the bandwagon. For a change, Berliner was on the right side of an environmental issue, but it didn’t end up amounting to much.

I wrote back to Tidwell on August 3, recounting the councilman’s poor environmental record and concluding:

I agree with you that climate change is the most important issue humanity faces, but an environmentalist should care about and support environmentalism across the board. . . .Unless you can document how Berliner is better than Elrich, Leventhal, or anyone else, you have no credibility with this endorsement. (If you can document this, please respond directly — I am receptive to new information that could change my view. I plan to blog on this topic shortly, so time is of the essence for your reply.)

I got this reply that day:

Thanks for your note. I support Roger personally because he has done more on the issue of climate change than any other leader in the county over the past 10 years – in my view. Climate change is my biggest concern as a voter. Mike

That is: It doesn’t matter if Berliner is wrong about everything else. For Tidwell, climate change is all that matters and it gives license to rank Berliner above all others, including others who have at least identical records on climate change. This doesn’t fly in my book: by definition, you cannot be an environmental leader if you have a record of opposing environmental legislation.

Just how credible is Mike Tidwell, anyway? Well, he has certainly has done a lot of work on climate change and deserves respect for that. But his decision to shill for Berliner is not the only time he has gone off the rails.

In 2011, Tidwell penned an op-ed for the Washington Post, titled “A climate-change activist prepares for the worst.” Here is the choice quote:

How will we feed ourselves adequately if our breadbasket is a desert? Answer: We won’t, and there will be social unrest as a result. . . . So I even took my first-ever lesson in firearms use last December, an introduction to skeet shooting. I told myself it was in part for sport, but I did it mostly to test various types of shotguns for eventual purchase.

Here was Mike Tidwell telling us: “Arm yourselves, the end is near!” That was when I stopped writing checks to CCAN. Just as I don’t believe climate-change activism necessitates abandoning the rest of the environment, I am horrified that any progressive-change activist would join the NRA in promoting guns or engage in fear-mongering about imminent societal collapse.

Back to the county executive race. It would be one thing if you were a single-issue climate-change voter and it were Berliner vs. Nancy Floreen or Craig Rice (whose records are terrible). But the fact is that Marc Elrich has been walking and chewing gum at the same time for decades, building a record against climate change and for the environment more broadly.

 Marc Elrich is the only member of County Council with a consistent record on the environment. While most of county council has been in the pocket of developers since the early aughts; while Berliner has a negative record on pesticides and plastic bags; while Leventhal did as much as anyone to water down the fossil-fuel divestment bill and tried with Berliner to gut the bag tax; Marc Elrich has been a friend of the environment every single time.

I believe Mike Tidwell harmed his own cause when he associated it with gun-toting survivalism. He certainly isn’t helping it now by hitching his wagon to Berliner, an outright threat to the environment.

Dear voter: Don’t let Berliner and Tidwell sell you a batch of snake oil. For county executive in 2018, choose the one councilmember whom you can trust on the environment all the time: Marc Elrich.

©2018 Keith Berner

08.05.17 Twenty-twenty

Posted August 5, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: Presidential Campaign 2020

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The New York Times reports today that the GOP presidential campaign for 2020 is heating up. This is another delightful indication of Trump’s spreading toxicity among even the racists, theocrats, and corporate elites. Here’s hoping 2018 and 2020 bring all-out warfare in the GOP between the Trump and traditional wings of the party, leaving no one unbloodied.

Maryland state Delegate David Moon (D20) asked on Facebook the other day what people (i.e., progressives) think of Al Franken for president. There are a number of intriguing names being bandied about on the Democratic side, including: Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Deval Patrick, Elizabeth Warren, and more. (Apologies to anyone I’ve left out — this was off the top of my head.)

I feel no pressure to pick anyone for a long time. Here are my principles for that race: I am willing to support any Democrat who

  • is not a bigot or misogynist
  • is not a theocrat
  • supports First Amendment rights (that counts you out, John Delaney)
  • is pro-choice
  • CAN WIN!

Of course, I would prefer a candidate who isn’t in bed with Wall Street or in favor of bombing other countries. But we all need to make “CAN WIN” a litmus-test issue above most others, which also means we need to avoid all-out warfare between Clintonites and Berners. It will be a gazillion times better to have a Democratic president with whom we don’t agree on everything than to have any Republican in the White House.

©2018 Keith Berner

08.03.17 Ben Cardin: still wrong; Chris Van Hollen: still silent

Posted August 3, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: Civil Liberties, International Affairs

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Per my post a few days ago, I wrote to Senator Ben Cardin (MD) in opposition to his bill criminalizing political speech he disagrees with. I heard back from his office today. Here is his note (my reply appears below that):

Thank you for sharing your comments on the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, S. 720. I appreciate your engagement regarding this piece of legislation, particularly your concerns over its potential impact on your constitutionally-protected First Amendment rights.

I understand that the American Civil Liberties Union released a letter that may have caused your, and other Marylanders’ concerns over the impact of S. 720 on civil liberties. I want you to know that I would not support legislation that would infringe upon those freedoms, and I welcome the opportunity to engage with you regarding some of the misunderstandings about the bill.

S. 720 seeks to amend the Export Administration Act (EAA), a 40-year-old law that prohibits U.S. persons from complying with unsanctioned foreign boycotts imposed by foreign countries. The prohibitions of the EAA have been consistently upheld as constitutionally sound. The new legislation amends the EAA to extend its existing prohibitions to unsanctioned foreign boycotts imposed by international governmental organizations, such as United Nations agencies or the European Union.

I want to highlight that this bill does not limit the rights of American citizens or organizations to express their views on Israeli or American foreign policy; nor does it limit the rights of American citizens or businesses from engaging in boycott activity of their own accord. I hope you will read my response to the ACLU, which is attached with this letter for your review. As I state in that letter and repeat to you now in this correspondence, I welcome healthy dialogue with constituents regarding the purpose and importance of this legislation, and I sincerely hope that this letter has addressed your concerns.

Thank you again for reaching out to me to share your thoughts on S. 720. Please do not hesitate to follow up with me should you have any additional questions or concerns regarding this bill, or any other matter of importance to you.

My reply:

Your assurances re my free-speech rights are empty until/unless I see further advice from the ACLU on this matter. The fact is that you once before prominently demonstrated your prioritization of Likud’s interests over US interests, when you opposed the Iran nuclear deal two years ago. You burned your credibility on matters touching on Israel at that time.

I will oppose your reelection and will continue to engage with Chris Van Hollen, Jamie Raskin, and other elected officials to defeat completely your misguided attempt to legislate your personal views on Israel and speech.

PS. I am Jewish and see you as a clear threat not only to my American civil liberties, but also to my ability to separate my ethnic identity from the horrific policies of the Israeli state.

In other news, Chris Van Hollen’s office still has no position to report, but this time his staff did give me the direct email address of his foreign affairs legislative assistant – please join me in writing to her: afreen_akhter@vanhollen.senate.gov.

I spoke again with Jamie Raskin today and he confirmed his opposition to S.270 and that he would produce a public statement on it before Congress returns from recess in September.

Finally, in a move that shows the lie in Ben Cardin’s email today, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) has withdrawn her cosponsorship of Cardin’s bill due to the ACLU’s analysis.

©2018 Keith Berner

07.31.17 Democrats seek to criminalize free speech (with friends like Ben Cardin, who needs enemies?)

Posted July 31, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: Civil Liberties, International Affairs, Maryland, Politics

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Maryland Senator Ben Cardin introduced S.270, the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” on March 23. It attracted little attention until the past couple of weeks.

This blog post is not about where you or I might stand on Israel. I have written plenty on that topic, including how Jewish-American politicians contribute to anti-Semitism through their support for the country.

Rather, I’m writing about free speech, a right enshrined in the First Amendment and a fundamental underpinning of US democracy (indeed of democracy itself). That is the issue at hand here: S.270’s purpose is to criminalize (with shockingly severe penalties) my right to hold political opinions that the bill’s many sponsors happen to disagree with.

As I wrote to Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD-8) last week:

Principled opposition to this bill is something quite apart from one’s particular views on Israel.  If you believe in civil liberties, you support them. Our fundamental freedoms should never be sacrificed to the interests of another country (any other country). Once that principle is agreed to, you can have whatever debate you need to about Israel.

Just in case you’re a fan of the ACLU, here’s what they have to say about this pernicious bill: How the Israel Anti-Boycott Act Threatens First Amendment Rights.

Take another look now at the S.270 link and that of HR.1697, the House’s equivalent. There are 46 cosponsors in the Senate and 249 in the house. That is, half of our elected officials are ready to toss aside the First Amendment because they think servitude to Likud and settlers is worth it.

We have become sadly accustomed to GOP assaults on democracy, particularly in the form of voter suppression, but not to exclude theft of Supreme Court appointments and more. But note this: 14 of those cosponsors in the Senate and 71 of them in the House are Democrats, including such “liberal” luminaries as Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand* (NY), Ron Wyden (OR), and Maria Cantwell (WA).

It gets worse, Maryland voters, as our own Hall of Shame is well populated. Apart from Cardin, here they are:

  • Anthony Brown (MD-4)
  • John Delaney (MD-6), who is now running for president in 2020 (suppress giggles here)
  • Steny Hoyer (MD-5)
  • Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-2)
  • John Sarbanes (MD-3)

Out of Maryland’s seven Democratic members of the House, only Elijah Cummings (MD-7) and Raskin are not trying to undermine our constitution.

I called Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s and Jamie Raskin’s offices last week to find out where they stand on Cardin’s bill. Both told me that the members were “still considering it.” Here’s what I sent to Van Hollen:

I’m not sure how much study one would need to determine that a piece of legislation like this elevates another country’s temporal interests over our fundamental civil liberties.

I called Van Hollen’s office again today and was told exactly the same thing as last week. It is apparent that Chris Van Hollen is ducking his responsibility to stand up for the First Amendment. This goes beyond political cowardice – since his reelection to the Senate is damn near guaranteed for life. In fact, I can think of no explanation for it at all. I urge you to write him and call him (202-224-4654) to get him to do the right thing.

Because I have a personal relationship with Raskin, I called him directly last Friday and was gratified to hear him denounce the measure unequivocally. When I told him that his staff didn’t know his position, he said he would take care of that promptly and issue a written statement. When I called back today, his staff still didn’t know his stand and had not seen a statement. I urge you to write him and call him (202-225-5341) to get him on the public record.

We learned two years ago, when Ben Cardin and Chuck Schumer were two of only three Democrats to oppose the Iran nuclear deal, that they will always prioritize Likud’s interests over American interests. This is a soft form of treason, in my book, and neither of these men deserves to be in elected office. (They are entitled to their opinions — no one is entitled to be an elected official.) What amazes me this go ‘round is how many additional Democrats are willing to swear allegiance to Benjamin Netanyahu instead of to the Constitution of the United States of America. Please remember this in 2018.

*Kirsten Gillibrand seemed like such a hero in the winter when she led Dems in the number of Trump appointments she voted against. Oh well.

©2017 Keith Berner

07.25.17 John McCain, American hero?

Posted July 25, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: Politics

Tags: , , , ,

In one sense, the answer is an unimpeachable “yes!” Nothing can ever wipe away John McCain’s heroism in Vietnam. His courage and resistance under torture were compelling and rare. But we are talking about events over 45 years ago.

Since the senator was diagnosed with brain cancer a handful of days ago, the accolades for this “fighter” have been overwhelming, including from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and plenty of liberal pundits. But what does McCain’s post-Vietnam record show us? Nothing but a right-wing politician who flirted with being a “maverick” for a brief time when running against W in 2000. He sure was entertaining and the media fell head-over-heels in love with that ephemeral persona.

Since then, he has run to the extreme right as fast has his feet could carry him, while the media still have nothing but stars in their eyes for his supposed integrity. He supported the entire neocon agenda and remains to this day the biggest hawk in elected office, ready to throw US arms against anyone unwilling to toe an imperialist line. He has promoted tax cuts for the rich and service cuts for the poor. He has opposed almost every instance of progress towards social justice.

And then, with the slogan “country first,” he selected Sarah Palin to be his vice president. Why anyone paid a whit of attention to him after that political treason, is beyond me.

This is the man who got brain surgery paid for by taxpayer dollars and hopped on a jet as quickly as he could, so that he could vote today to take away health insurance from tens of millions of Americans.

The media keep showering love on this evil man because he occasionally issues mild, coded criticisms of Trump. Especially in the realm of foreign relations, McCain knows as well as anyone the damage this regime has done to American interests since January — through attacks on allies, love for Putin, etc. Yet, McCain has refused to actually stand up and declare Trump — the man who insulted McCain’s Vietnam bravery — to be unfit for office.

John McCain is no maverick or hero. He is a run-of-the-mill GOP henchman who gives up everything, including his own integrity, to advocate for the ultra wealthy. He had an opportunity today to change his epitaph to what it might have been prior to his disgraceful political career. He didn’t. And this tells me everything I need to know about John McCain’s character and “heroism.”

©2017 Keith Berner