Posted tagged ‘ACLU’

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

August 3, 2017

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:

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?)

July 31, 2017

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

05.03.14 Terrill North for Montgomery County District 5

May 3, 2014

The District 5 race for Montgomery County Council makes me very sad: two very decent and qualified candidates have had all the oxygen sucked out of the race by two bad guys. First, the good guys.

I’m proud to endorse Terrill North for this seat. North is the most consistent progressive in the race. I have known him for about a decade and am a fan of his integrity and passion for economic and social justice. You just have to love a VP of ACLU Maryland, long-time activist with Progressive Neighbors, former advocate with Earth Justice, and leader of a Silver Spring mentorship program for at-risk youth. Putting North on county council will ensure that local hero Marc Elrich (At-Large) will have a partner for the things we care most about.

Give other good-guy Evan Glass credit: while everyone was else cowered in fear, Glass declared his candidacy for D5, before Destructive Force Valerie Ervin quit her post mid-term. Glass is a serious and capable candidate with a long history of community leadership in Silver Spring, including service as chair of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board. Just like North, Glass advocates for closing the educational achievement gap, sustainable environmental practices, and bus rapid transit (thanks to Elrich for that plan!).

If North and Glass were alone in this race, we could expect an uplifting campaign in which voters might end up having to flip a coin. I am going with North, because he has direct experience with a broader range of progressive issues than Glass. But I expect that Glass would also do a fine job on council.

Alas, these two good guys have been eclipsed by two politicians you should not vote for.

Tom Hucker served MD D20 well as delegate since 2007. As one progressive political leader puts it, “I agree with Tom on the issues 90% of the time.” Tom was going to remain a delegate until Valerie Ervin quit her council post. I get why Hucker wasn’t interested in taking on Ervin (fear), but don’t respect it. When it became apparent that Hucker was going to jump in the race after Glass and North had been working it for weeks, I and others pleaded with him to run for an at-large seat instead, creating an opportunity for progressives to take two seats: D5 and one of the at-large slots. His name recognition and connections with political leaders across the county would have made him a favorite to knock off an incumbent like Nancy Floreen or Hans (The Liar) Riemer. Hucker’s response (not verbatim): You can’t expect me to do that. It would be too hard.

Notwithstanding the selfishness of taking an easier road, I was prepared to back Hucker enthusiastically, until I started hearing about the nasty, underhanded campaign he was running. Yes, Hucker is the bully I was referring to in my recent post on the state of local politics. His 2006 campaign for delegate was widely considered to be unsavory, which I had put this out of my mind in recent years. But when I started hearing that Hucker was spreading false rumors about his opponents this year and publicly attacking their backers (driving one of them to tears), it revived unpleasant memories and revealed that this is Hucker’s default modus operandi, not an aberration.

I made about a dozen calls about Hucker to community leaders, elected officials, and political observers, seeking reassurance about his character. Instead, every single person I spoke to — none of whom was associated with his opponents’ campaigns and some of whom expect to vote for Hucker — described him as a bully. I heard not only about campaign tactics, but also about strong-arm behavior in Annapolis that had alienated allies and reduced his effectiveness.

When I called Hucker to tell him why I would not be endorsing him, he angrily described himself as the victim of “scurrilous hearsay” spread by “desperate” opponents who “have nothing to offer.” When I repeatedly pointed out to Hucker that this stuff was coming from neutral observers and even political friends, he just couldn’t hear me. This is classic bully: playing the victim of the very sorts of behavior he engages in.

I really wanted to endorse Hucker, at the very least in order to stop Chris Barclay (see below). But I decided that I just could not ethically attach my name to his style of politics. And here’s the practical aspect of my decision not to back him: Can you think of the other bully who has been in the headlines? That’s right, Tom Hucker is a Chris Christie in the making. How long will it be before Hucker’s behavior results in scandal that takes him down and a part of the progressive agenda with him? I don’t think progressives should take the risk.

I also oppose Hucker for two substantive reasons. He is a union guy first and foremost. There have been other labor backers — people like Elrich, Ervin, and county executive Ike Leggett — who, in the midst of the county’s recent budget crises, demanded that the public employee unions share the pain with other county residents, rather than be given a pass. Hucker has promised the unions never to ask them again to contribute to a sustainable county budget. County residents voted in 2012 to put an end to “effects bargaining” by the Fraternal Order of Police (FoP), under which the union could object to impositions of simple workplace rules (like a requirement to check email). Hucker has promised the FoP that he will fight to restore their stranglehold on common sense.

More surprising is Hucker’s opposition (in two recorded votes) to indexing the state’s new minimum wage to the rate of inflation. Indexing is essential for assuring that newly increased minimum wages don’t end up as poverty wages a few years later. When confronted with this at a recent Silver Spring Democratic Club forum, Hucker hemmed and hawed and finally admitted to having voted against indexing, saying that he was doing what the party leadership in the House wanted him to. That is, Hucker was more concerned about his political future than he was about good policy in support of working women and men.

Rounding out the D5 field is school board member Christopher Barclay, who doesn’t even live in D5 (and is the only one of the four candidates never to have done any work on the ground here)! That’s right, Dear Reader, Maryland law doesn’t exclude carnet baggers if they move to the district by election day, which Barclay promises to do. Why does Barclay even stand a chance? Because a Coalition only Concerned with Color — Ervin and current county-councilmembers Nancy Navarro (D4), Craig Rice (D2), and Cherri Branson (interim D5) — have endorsed him. His apparent prime qualification? He’s African American. His apparent secondary qualification? He’s needy, which means he would be indebted to politicos who help him. Word on the street is that Barclay has no money for this campaign or for moving into our district. This means that Ervin & Co. will be raising or giving Barclay the resources he needs for the campaign and for house-hunting. I can’t prove this point, but it seems to be a logical supposition.

(Barclay is also the politician I referred to  whose campaign manager was found rummaging around Hucker’s Annapolis office in the dead of night.)

For those of you who thought we might be rid of Ervin when she up-and-quit her Council seat mid-term, here is your wake-up call. Ervin got bored because she didn’t have sufficient power or limelight. So what she is doing is cultivating easily manipulable candidates in preparation for eventual runs at county executive, governor, or dictator of the universe. As part of this effort, Ervin has declared D5 a black seat. She is backing empty shirts like Barclay and Will Jawando (empty-shirt candidate for MD D20 delegate — more on him later), all in service to building a political empire. Ervin is seeking to remake the political fault lines in our county from developers/Chamber of Commerce vs. environment/slow-growth to people of color vs. white. All in service to her ambition.

I’m 100% in favor of affirmative action. And there is no question that people of color have been underrepresented in Montgomery County politics. But, in a year when the US president is black, the likely governor of Maryland is black, the current and likely future county executive is black, and four of nine current county council members are of color, is race really the most important criterion for selecting candidates?

In case you missed it, Terrill North happens to be African American. I don’t know why Ervin didn’t settle on him (though, she evidently promised a bunch of candidates her support this year, only to ditch them when push came to shove). Perhaps Ervin decided that North has too much character to serve her future empire. I have settled on him because he is the best man for the job. Period.

PS. In my recent post on dirty local politics, I referred to a political consultant who used blatant anti-Muslim hysteria and Nazi imagery as a campaign tactic. This is David Goodman, who used such horrific themes on behalf of then-MD D19 senator Mike Lenett in 2010 in a losing effort against Roger Manno. (The Gazette cited Goodman as “the architect of Mike Lenett’s aggressive direct mail campaign, which received low marks and helped contribute to one of the nastiest primary races [in 2010].”) He is working for North in this campaign. It turns out, sadly, that other local politicos like Jamie Raskin and Sheila Hixson have given this despicable man work. This sucks. It is also the nature of politics and ultimately not reason enough for me to punish North.

©2014 Keith Berner

12.30.12 Root causes: use your money to make a difference

December 30, 2012

For many years, one of my household’s largest annual contributions has gone to Common Cause, the national organization dedicated to political reform, including getting money out of politics, redistricting reform, and the like. My feeling was that no matter what one’s favorite cause might be — from hunger to abortion rights to the environment — only political reform could get us there, that this reform agenda was the root cause underlying all the other ones. (Our other largest annual contributions have gone to the ACLU, a local homeless shelter or food kitchen, and anti-global-warming organizations.)

At the end of the year, my email inbox fills with appeals from many worthy organizations. Today I received one that gave me a new insight. The email from Sum-of-Us made the same argument I have made for years about political reform as a root cause, but this time targeting corporate power:

“At the end of the year, I reach for my wallet to give to good causes. I might give to the homeless shelter down the street, or I might buy a piece of rainforest in the Amazon, or donate for livestock for farmers facing famine in Africa.

But sometimes it feels like those donations are just a Band-Aid, addressing symptoms but not causes. Because those homeless families, that beautiful rainforest, and those starving farmers all have something in common: Their problems have root causes. And increasingly in our society today, those root causes are related to corporate power and corporate greed.

It’s not random fate that the family in the shelter down the street went bankrupt — it’s because the parents were fired from their jobs after the private equity firm that owns their employer put short-term profit over long-term prosperity. That piece of the Amazon is disappearing because fast food giants’ demand for cheaper and less sustainable beef is causing more and more rainforest destruction. And droughts are wreaking havoc on farmers’ land across Africa — not to mention many other parts of the world — as the fossil fuel industry continues to deny climate change and pump dangerous greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.

So my ask for you is this: This year, as you think about your end-of-year donations, give to those good causes like the homeless shelter and the livestock. But reserve a portion of your giving now and for the coming year for strategic advocacy and campaign work — for groups like SumOfUs that are working to address the root causes of the massive problems we face, not just the symptoms.” [emphasis in original]

Even as I despair that much of Common Cause’s agenda is unachievable: you can’t get money out of politics as long as there is money in politics, I believe there is hope in taking on corporate power head on. We need organizations like Sum-of-Us and Public Citizen.  To a certain extent, these guys are not taking on the system, as Common Cause is. Rather they are fighting instances of corporate abuse case by case.

This fight is necessary: big business is the greatest single source of evil in our society today. From the Koch Brothers’ enterprises, to the gun manufacturers that underwrite NRA extremism, to the energy companies that fight tooth and nail against all efforts to mandate renewable energy sources and reduce consumption — even the money from corporate interests that fund politicians who vote to dumb-down the education system and consolidate media into a single pro-corporate bullhorn — billionaires and the corporations they control are making life worse for everyone else, every single day.

I am not calling for reducing support for Common Cause, but rather for adding to the mix organizations whose major purpose is combatting corporate evil. Please join me in doing so.

©2012 Keith Berner