01.16.18 Speaking of candidate tips . . .

Posted January 16, 2018 by Keith Berner
Categories: Politics

Tags: , , , ,

Left-Hand View occasionally runs pieces by guest bloggers. This piece, by Paul M. Bessel and Barbara Braswell, is a perfect companion to the candidate communications tips I posted a couple of days ago.

Some people are naturals at public speaking, but others are terrified. If you’re in the latter category, you have little choice but to get over it. Our suggestion is practice, practice, practice. Give your stump speech to a loved one or a good friend who is willing to offer constructive feedback. Give it in front of a mirror or video it so you can review it later. Do whatever you must to increase your comfort.

As you practice, observe yourself carefully to see if you use “verbal gestures,” such as: like, y’know, ummm. Nearly everyone uses these in daily speech, but public speakers are well advised to eliminate them. Also, don’t use the word “literally” unless you literally mean “literally!”

Work especially hard on your opening and closing. Have a good ending, such as (loudly and clearly!), “I would appreciate your vote for me. My name is xxxxx and I’m running for xxxxx.” That’s what you want them to remember. (Your audience will probably only remember about 10% of what you say, but will certainly remember the feeling you gave them and what you said last.)

Have about two or three major points to raise, no more. If you forget a point (it can happen to anyone), don’t call attention to it. Instead, try to quickly remember another point and go right to it.

If you are at a candidates’ forum or debate, anticipate the questions in advance or ask others what questions they think will be asked. Before the forum or debate, work on answers to these anticipated questions.

Don’t focus on your resume. Voters are more interested in what you will do, not what you have done. Only mention your resume as it applies to issues or as it demonstrates your prior commitment to the community.

Avoid speaking in a monotone. Vary your tone and tempo, and put extra “oomph” on the main points. Use your hands for emphasis.

Never say, “I don’t need a mic.” The audience will yell that you do and you’ll be starting off on the wrong foot. Check the microphone before the start of the meeting, to see if you might have to adjust it.

Always keep the microphone in front of your mouth. (You’d be surprised how many don’t do this.) And always face the audience, even If you are referring to something beside or behind you.

Speak loudly, even if you have a microphone, and remember to keep speaking loudly – don’t taper off into a whisper. If you speak loudly and clearly, people will think you know what you’re talking about, even if you don’t.


Pick people in the audience to speak to directly, but look at others as you proceed. (If it’s uncomfortable for you to make eye contact, look them in the forehead ­­– they can’t tell the difference.) If someone is nodding in agreement, feel free to acknowledge them – they’ll love it.

If it’s a candidate forum or debate, never attack anyone personally, just their policies. Even then, say something nice about that person before you stick the knife in. (At a debate, we once declared Robin Ficker** was not a racist – as some alleged – but then said he was completely wrong on the matter at hand. He responded by saying something nice about me. That’s your goal.)

It’s better never to mention other candidates’ names, no matter what. You want your audience to remember your name, not anyone else’s.

If there is a time limit, try to finish just a little early and don’t waste time commenting on the time limit.* Glance at a clock in the room. It’s better than looking at your watch. (That really hurt George H. W. Bush in 1992.)

Dress nicely. Some politicians can get away with the rumpled look, but not many. Wear something that will be visible to the audience so you stand out, such as something red or bright blue.

Get there early and walk among the audience introducing yourself, smiling all the time. No need to get into wonkish details at that moment, just “I’m xxx and I’m running for xxx. Feel free to contact me later if you have questions.” Make sure you have an adequate supply of business cards with you and offer them to everyone before they ask you. Make sure your email is on your card so people can contact you.

Work the room again after the event. Ask each person with whom you speak if they liked what you said. If yes, great. If no, ask, “Tell me more about what didn’t work for you.” Don’t make them uncomfortable. Not everyone will like you or want to talk at all.

Wear a name tag with your first name as large as possible, your surname smaller, and what office you’re running for. Put it on the right side of your chest so people can see it when they shake your hand. Bring extras for when (not if) it drops off your clothing.

If someone starts to argue with you, figure a way out. If need be, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree” works nicely. (We did that when Joe Arpaio*** once tried to pick a fight with us.)

Don’t assume no one is looking at you when you’re not speaking. Keep smiling and looking at people in the audience, not other candidates. Don’t look or act bored; keep moving your head and eyes. Never look down. Never put your hands on your face, especially by your mouth. Never have private conversations with others on a panel, or the audience will feel left out and resent you.

Remember that you are not only speaking to the people in the audience. You are communicating to all the people they will speak with. Those who attend candidate functions are activists. They are bound to speak to many others and state their preferences. Do all you can to close the deal then and there.

*Keith Berner adds: Also, don’t waste time thanking the facility, its employees, the host organization, the guy who mowed the lawn, your parents for raising you, etc. And: use humor (unless you truly don’t have a sense of humor, in which case it will sound as forced as it feels.)

**Robin Ficker is MoCo’s own obnoxious GOP gadfly.

***Joe Arpaio is the racist, law-breaking Arizona sheriff whom Trump recently pardoned.

Paul M. Bessel is a retired lawyer and Barbara Braswell is a retired federal employee.  Both are political and community activists and accomplished public speakers. Bessel has made a name for himself in part by becoming the source for constantly updated lists of who is running for what and political events in Montgomery County. Your blogger refers to these lists nearly every day.


01.13.18 Running for office? Communications tips.

Posted January 13, 2018 by Keith Berner
Categories: Montgomery County, Politics

Here are a few basic tips before you put yourself in front of the public:

  1. Register your own domain. Those with @aol.com email and website addresses look like neanderthals.
  2. Don’t use a stupid domain like @goodforfamiles.com or @justiceforall.com. Use some form of your name (e.g., @keithberner.com or @keithforcouncil.com). This looks professional and allows you to tell your story in the content of your communications. When you try to squeeze your philosophy into your email address, you end up being a one-note candidate or (worse) appearing to be nothing more than a slogan. (And, unless you are a professional copywriter, your slogan is almost guaranteed to be corny or vapid.)
  3. Put up a website. If you are running for any office higher than small-town city council, put yourself where most people will look for you.
  4. Make sure your website is findable through popular search engines. Like a tree falling in a forest, a site that can’t be found makes no noise.
  5. Put your contact information, especially your email address on your website. Don’t make me have to choose between donate-now and volunteer buttons as the only way to send you an inquiry.
  6. Don’t ignore inquiries. If you can’t be bothered to respond to interested parties now, we know how bad your eventual constituent service will be.
  7. If you can afford it, hire professionals to create your brand, both visual and written. If you can’t afford it, use the best quality images and writing you can find.

What prompts this outburst from yours truly? Well, I am currently trying to gather contact information for ~130 candidates in Montgomery County so that endorsement questionnaires can be sent to them. It amazes me how many of them have no website or have sites that provide no means to reach them without giving them money or volunteer time. I also am aghast at the ~40% who have simply ignored my inquiries.

Get with it, people. Or get out of the race.

©2018 Keith Berner

01.07.18 America’s utter shame

Posted January 7, 2018 by Keith Berner
Categories: Bigotry, Corporate Power, International Affairs, Politics

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

I remember laughing at Italians’ expense when they elected and reelected their buffoon, Silvio Burlesconi. Who’s laughing now?

As some of us shudder at our clearly mentally-ill and intellectually challenged president, the world shudders with ­­– and laughs at – us. With nearly 40% of our countrypersons still supporting the giant Cheeto, we deserve the ridicule.

One could say it’s not our fault. I mean, how could anyone expect Americans to have a brain, when so many are force-fed Fox News and other vapid TV fare, along with a completely dumbed-down primary/secondary education system? (As I have postulated before, a case can be made that anti-intellectualism is a purposeful conspiracy of corporate chieftains and theocrats.) So, it ain’t their fault, the precious darlings. Right?

It’s not like the revelations of this last week (thanks, Fire and Fury) are a surprise to anyone. Those with any analytical ability knew all of this by early in the 2016 primary-election cycle. Yet, the American people, tens of millions of them, signed on. They may not be completely at fault for their massive ignorance. But post-election analysis has demonstrated that a huge majority of the electorally stupid were driven by rank racism, for which there can be no forgiveness.

Not all of Trump’s supporters and current enablers are stupid, of course. The intellectual fellow-travelers (leaders, actually) are blindly self-interested. The Ryans and McConnells of the USA, along with a large number of those corporate leaders, just did the math: electing a sick moron would put more cash in their pockets and more power in their portfolios. Right now, Wall Street is laughing all the way to the bank. For these folks, destruction of the world is just fine, as long as it comes with another Learjet for personal use.

The US was dangerous enough with competent, somewhat ethical leaders, given our enormous economic and military power. Now we are just fucking stupid. And even more dangerous than ever. The world would be rolling in the aisles, if they weren’t busy fearing being nuked.

Ironically, there is one other people on the planet as blatantly stupid and racist and they are also Anglo-Saxons. Yes, tens of millions of  English signed up for Brexit, even though it was obvious to all that it spelled doom for their economy (not to mention for European stability and – potentially – their own*). And they did their nasty deed overwhelmingly due to bigotry.

I remember, as a kid, reveling in the great record of Anglo-Saxons in establishing stable, liberal democracies. Of course, that was before I fully grasped the  genocides and gunpowder these supposed democracies rested on.** And now the Americans and English lead the world in the kind of imbecility no other country would endure without committing national suicide in shame.

Sure, it’s amusing for us intellectuals to make fun of the president. Then we face the immense power he and the all-in GOP actually have.

I have always been mortified by our country’s imperialism and internal injustice. Now I am so ashamed to be associated with the greedy, racist, and stupid who dominate our land that I just can’t stand it.

*Brexit could blow up Northern Ireland and encourage Scottish separatism.

**Consider American Indians, Australian aboriginees, Canadian Inuits, New Zealand’s Maoris, and the path of arrogant annihilation the English left in their wake everywhere.

©2018 Keith Berner


01.06.18 What to do about Citizens United (you might not like the answer)

Posted January 6, 2018 by Keith Berner
Categories: Politics

Tags: , , , , ,

Q: What should we do to overturn the infamous Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, which opened up our political process to corrupt ownership by big business?

A: Bupkus. Nada. Rien. Not a damn thing.


According to the Federal Register:

The Constitution provides that an amendment may be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures.… A proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution as soon as it is ratified by three-fourths of the States (38 of 50 States).

Also (from Wikipedia):

While there have been calls for an “Article V [states-intiated] Convention” based on a single issue such as the balanced budget amendment, it is not clear whether a convention summoned in this way would be legally bound to limit discussion to a single issue.

Take note:

1. A whopping supermajority is required to get a constitutional amendment through Congress. There’s a good reason why no amendments have been passed and ratified since the 27th Amendment in 1992.* Before that, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) essentially failed in 1977, notwithstanding broad support for it in the country.

Supermajorities require substantial consensus between political parties, something that has become less and less possible since the ERA went down. It is no accident that the ERA failed just as the right-wing, religious backlash against the libertine ’60s became politically salient. We all know what happened since: the GOP became ever-more reactionary and took over more and more of the land area of the US, to the point where you can’t find a Republican today who accepts facts or would join with Democrats to agree that bubonic plague is a bad thing.

Get this: there will be no congressionally passed constitutional amendment in our lifetimes, unless there’s a profound change in the nation’s fundamental political ethos (or unless the GOP gets 2/3 control of Congress). I ain’t exactly holding my breath.

2. A constitutional convention may actually be easier to call for (than going through Congress), given right-wing geographic dominance and the power bonus the Constitution provides for sparsely populated areas (e.g., Wyoming gets the same number of senators as California). The population of the 34 least populated states (102.9 million) doesn’t compare to the largest 16 (222.1 million)**, but almost all are completely right-wing and each state counts as one vote for purposes of calling a convention. So, even with a huge majority of  Americans opposed, a right-wing minority could call and dominate a convention.

If a constitutional convention were called to address a single issue, the odds are overwhelming it would be for a mandated balanced budget, not to overturn big-money control of our politics.

3. Wait: it gets worse. The constitution says nothing about how a constitutional convention would be governed or how/whether its scope could be limited. Scholars have differing interpretations of what would take place at a constitutional convention, but no one really knows, because the last such convention in the country was the one before we became a country. So, imagine a convention that ends up overturning the First Amendment or outlawing abortion or mandating machine guns in schools. Anything could happen.

Here’s a summary of the discussion to this point:

  1. Any amendment through the tried-and-true process (passing Congress and then getting ratified by the states) is an extremely unlikely prospect. Like, when pigs fly.
  2. It could be easier to call a convention than to get an amendment through the more common way.
  3. The dangers of a runaway convention are so astronomical that the risk*** is overwhelming. And we know enough to be certain that the results of any such convention will not be what progressives hope for.

Here’s something else to consider. Even though the GOP would never accept this, there are certain elements of reality that can’t be repealed (like the laws of thermodynamics). The one that applies here: any human being or group of human beings has a limited supply of attention and energy. If we spend time on x, we are not spending that time on y. (Yeah, talented multitaskers might spend time on multiple priorities, but there will be an opportunity cost to y of the time they spend on x – there’s no getting around it.) Consider this a human law of thermodynamics.

Let’s apply this law to the current case. If a hundred or a thousand progressives are devoting their time and energy to getting an anti-Citizens United amendment through Congress, they are not devoting that expended effort to things like: producing a sweeping Democratic victory in November or fighting for immigrants’ rights or protecting health care as a right. Given the unlikelihood of success, this amounts – at the very least – to a nearly criminal waste of time.

To the extent these sweet (but misguided) folks are actually hoping for a constitutional convention, their odds are slightly better, but the outcome would likely be catastrophic

Citizens United can be combatted piecemeal through legislative campaign-finance reform measures, including at the state level. (Let’s pass public financing in Maryland!) Will this make up for the full impact of CU? No. But it will make things somewhat better. And it won’t be dangerous or a complete waste of time try. CU itself will not be overturned until we get a different Supreme Court. And that won’t happen until Democrats start winning elections everywhere and at all levels. Hmmm. That sounds like a project worth working on.

*It took 202 years to ratify this common-sense mandate preventing a sitting Congress from raising its own pay.

**See 2017 population estimates.

***Risk more or less equals likelihood of a bad outcome multiplied by how bad the outcome is likely to be.

©2018 Keith Berner

12.31.17 The year I stopped reading the newspaper. And my hope for 2018.

Posted December 31, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: Politics, Uncategorized

Tags: ,

Don’t misunderstand. I still subscribe to the New York Times and the Washington Post. It’s just that – where I used to spend up to two hours reading them every day – I now have my fill after about 20 minutes of headline skimming.

And don’t get me wrong. I still maintain that every adult human being whose basic Maslow’s needs have been met must actively seek to understand and be involved in their world. It’s just that knowing all the details neither helps me grasp reality, nor helpfully informs the actions I take to try and make things better.

I cannot stomach and do not benefit the least from the blow-by-blow of GOP tax legislation. Likewise, I see no positive outcome for me or the planet if I read a thousandth article about someone’s president’s latest escapade. I already know the theme and have determined that’s good enough. (I apologize to some of my favorite columnists: I’m sure your piece today finds some new way to tell the sordid tale, but the same sordid tale it remains.)

The turning point for me came months after the 2016 election. It wasn’t until the reality of GOP evil and irresponsibility had sunk in that I finally gave up. Until then, I assumed that Republicans valued our country and constitution. I counted on at least some in the GOP holding the president accountable. But it just ain’t so. In pursuit of Ayn Randian dreams and in celebration of power, there is nothing too low for the party of racism, fascism, misogyny, Russophilia, and hostile retreat from the world.

So – as I have written – there is only one project that matters in 2018: booting Republicans out of power at every level and in every state. Nothing. Else. Matters. And I don’t need to read the daily paper cover-to-cover either to understand this or to fuel my persistent engagement in this project at the local, county, and state level.

Here is another thing that has changed for me. I used to say there could be Republicans of honor and goodwill, even if they were the minority of the party. I know longer believe that. Every single person in the United States who still calls themselves a Republican is as evil as every single one of their elected officials and their president.  I can respect and engage with principled conservatives. There are none of these creatures left.

Please, 2018: deliver us the obliteration of the Republican Party. If we can’t have it all at once, at least be the beginning of a longer process that produces a responsible conservative party. The Democrats should win first and then face some healthy competition.

©2018 Keith Berner


12.22.17 Thirty-plus at-large candidates in MoCo? How to choose?!

Posted December 22, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: Montgomery County

Tags: , , , ,

Bethesda Magazine reports today that a 30th candidate has filed to run for one of four at-large seats on the Montgomery County Council in next June’s Democratic primary election (which, given the overwhelming Democratic majority in the county, is the only election that matters). How is any moderately informed voter to sort out this crowd?

(Political activist Paul Bessel maintains a constantly updated list of candidates here. His list, which includes some who are only rumored to be in the running, currently totals 40 for the at-large race.) 

It will be impossible for any of us to get to know all the candidates, so some shortcuts for winnowing down down the large list could be helpful. Here are my criteria:

1. Has the candidate filed for public financing? Under Montgomery County’s new campaign-finance law, candidates qualify for public matching funds by raising a sufficient quantity of small (up to $150 each) contributions from county residents to reach a sufficient quantity of total dollars raised. In my view, any county candidate not accepting public financing is ipso facto endorsing corrupt pay-to-play politics where wealthy interests purchase the county council they want. In MoCo, the development industry has been throwing around $4,000 contributions for years, which has resulted in our pave-it-all politics.

2. Is the campaign viable? To qualify for matching funds in the at-large race (there are different thresholds for county exec and district races), candidates must receive 250 individual contributions totaling at least $25,000. So far, only five of the 30 candidates have actually qualified (out of 22 who have indicated intent to qualify). I suggest that candidates who have not qualified for public financing by January 17 (when campaign finance reports are due) might not have the public support to merit serious consideration. (If that date strikes you as too early, set your own!) Of course, there could be some campaigns that fall a bit short, but seem to have momentum.

3. If the candidate is currently in public office, how have they done? Hans Riemer is the only incumbent in the at-large race. His tenure has been marked by exaggeration, obfuscation, footsie with the developers, and a lack of issue gravitas.* Don’t support him.

4. Where does the candidate fall in the county’s great divide: developers vs. everyone else? I’m not anti-development, but I am firmly opposed to the industry’s outsized, overwhelming dominance of our politics. The current council already includes a majority that is wholly in developers’ pockets and we don’t need any more of these. Besides Riemer, the most viable candidate who may fit into this category is Evan Glass. I like Glass enormously, but his last campaign was developer-aligned and I see no indication that he regrets that choice.

5. Has the candidate ever offered public or community service in the county? I don’t know everyone’s records, but one “bad guy” stands out: Will Jawando is running his fourth race in four years, but seems never to have done anything for county residents other than litter our yards and mailboxes with his publicity.

6. Diversity, diversity, diversity. In this #metoo and #blacklivesmatter era, there is no excuse for putting four white men in at-large seats in liberal MoCo. Even if it’s these guys who are catching your attention, you owe it to everyone to look harder for candidates who don’t look and sound the same as the current power structure. Reducing the power of white men is a long-term project that requires our attention at the local level.

I have already made one endorsement in the race: Seth Grimes (a white guy), because I know his record so well from his years of public and community service in Takoma Park. I am intrigued by several other candidates, but – as you might expect – I know only a small percentage of those running. I’ll be watching and listening closely in coming weeks and months. I hope you do, too.

*Please enjoy my previous comments about Riemer  just type his name into the search box on this site. Or, go directly to one of my favorites.

©2017 Keith Berner


12.17.17 Just when you thought it was safe to walk the streets. . .

Posted December 17, 2017 by Keith Berner
Categories: Maryland

Tags: , , , , ,

Ryan Miner reports today that  gubernatorial candidate (and current PG County exec) Rushern Baker is vetting Nancy Floreen (outgoing Montgomery County Council at-large member) to be on his ticket as lieutenant governor next year. Floreen is the last surviving completely unrepentant* member of Doug Duncan’s and Steve Silverman’s infamous “End Gridlock” slate of the early aughts. For those with short memories, this is the team that engaged in character assassination of all those opposed to full development-industry ownership of the county. Floreen has spent her entire 16 years in office trying to pave everything in sight, while opposing almost all economic justice and environmental legislation. I was among those looking forward to never hearing from her again, as she is forced out of office after next year, due to term limits.

As for Baker, I found him unexciting at Progressive Neighbors’ Gubernatorial Forum in October, but also unobjectionable. And, with his massive support from PG and increasing number of bigwig endorsements, I’ve been looking increasingly favorably towards his campaign to beat sitting governor Larry Hogan.

But principles are principles and if Baker picks Floreen, he will be dead to me.

*George Leventhal was also on that disgusting slate, but has not exactly been wearing it as a badge of honor, since.

©2017 Keith Berner