Posted tagged ‘Ben Cardin’

07.09.18 An open letter to my Democratic elected officials: Stop Floreen now!

July 9, 2018

In addition to publishing this blog post, I will also email it to all the officials listed below. I encourage all readers to send something similar to their elected representatives.

To:
US Sen. Ben Cardin
US Sen. Chris Van Hollen
US Rep. Jamie Raskin
Sen. Will Smith
Del. David Moon
Del. Jheanelle Wilkins
Del.-Elect Lorig Charkoudian
County Executive Ike Leggett
County Councilman Tom Hucker
County Councilman George Leventhal
County Councilman Hans Riemer
County Councilman-Elect Gabe Albornoz
County Councilman-Elect Evan Glass
County Councilman-Elect Will Jawando

With today’s news that the Maryland Board of Elections will allow Nancy Floreen’s independent run for county executive to proceed this fall, I call on you to waste no time in standing up to this nefarious attempt to undermine our party’s nominee. The time to stop Floreen’s bid is now, before the Washington Post and its pals in the development industry start funding a smear campaign that will drown us in propaganda and weaken our nominee and our party.

I urge you not only to speak out, but also to ban Floreen from all party gatherings and activities henceforth.

While you might be forgiven for not endorsing our nominee, if you fail to denounce Floreen’s campaign, you will have taken sides against the Democratic Party, which I and others will not forget.

©2018 Keith Berner

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06.22.18 Revisions to Keith Berner’s biennial voter guide

June 22, 2018

You may want to review the original version of my guide, which I published on June 5.

Governor: Rich Madaleno Ben Jealous
US Senate: anyone but Ben Cardin
US Congress CD6: Roger Manno
US Congress CD8: Jamie Raskin (unopposed)
Montgomery County Executive: Marc Elrich
Montgomery County At-Large:
—–Definite (in alpha order): Brandy Brooks, Jill Ortman-Fouse, Will Jawando, Chris Wilhelm
—–Pick two of three: Bill Conway, Seth Grimes, or Jill Ortman-Fouse
MoCo D1: Meredith Wellington
MoCo D3: Ben Shnider
MoCo D5: Tom Hucker
MD Senate D18: Dana Beyer
MD Senate D20: Will Smith (unopposed)
MD Delegates D20: Lorig Charkoudian, David Moon, Jheanelle Wilkins
Moco Democratic Central Committee At-Large:
—–Women: Marie Mapes
—–Men: Justin Chapelle, Edward Fischman, Dave Kunes

With so many dilemmas of riches, new information incoming, and an opportunity to interact directly with candidates, I am revising some of my original recommendations.

Governor. It is without any joy that I am switching my recommended vote from Rich Madaleno to Ben Jealous. I still believe that Madaleno has the most talent and experience in this race, by a considerable margin. Sadly, his campaign just hasn’t caught fire: he has remained around 6% in polls for a good while now. The race is now pretty clearly between Jealous and Rushern Baker. If you agree with me that Baker is too bland and centrist and likely to get creamed by Larry Hogan in the fall, you have to vote tactically. Vote for Ben Jealous to stop Rushern Baker and set up a strong November match-up that Democrats can win.

Montgomery County Council At Large. I have moved from listing Will Jawando as someone definitely to vote against last summer  to believing he has the smarts, policy understanding, and progressive philosophy to deserve your vote. I had been concerned in the past about what I thought was a thin history of community service in our county. At a meet-and-greet this week, Jawando disabused me of that notion, rattling off a nice list of his contributions, including a summer reading program for disadvantaged youth. (See also his response about this on the Progressive Neighbors questionnaire – Question 6.) I’m also impressed by the zero rating the pernicious developer group Empower Montgomery (EM) gave him in recent mailings. (See why EM is bad news.) I remain concerned that Jawando’s outsized political ambition will distract him from his job on County Council after a couple of years, but am willing to accept this risk.

So, if I am moving Jawando into my top four in the 33-person at-large race (where you get up to four choices), whom am I “demoting”? This practically breaks my heart, because all the candidates whom I have considered seriously would be fabulous in office.

So: Chris Wilhelm and Brandy Brooks absolutely remain among my top choices. My other finalists have been Bill Conway, Seth Grimes, and Jill Ortman-Fouse.

I have, in effect, demoted Ortman-Fouse into a three-way tie with Conway and Grimes. I still think Jill Ortman-Fouse has a good chance of winning, but I am disturbed by the very high ranking given to her by Empower Montgomery. Ortman-Fouse shared with me the questionnaire she submitted to EM and I don’t see any obvious reasons for concern. But I am bothered by her willingness to accept their support without comment (and have asked her to renounce it and denounce them). Just the same, Ortman-Fouse remains on my list.

I also still think highly of Bill Conway whom I think is well positioned to win. I am concerned that Grimes is not as well positioned to win at the other two, based on my observation that he has trouble “sealing the deal” when he meets informally with progressives. So, I’ll be flipping a coin between Conway, Grimes, and Ortman-Fouse until I actually cast my vote.

Another nuance revision from two weeks ago is that I strongly urge voters to reject Evan Glass. My opposition to Glass has increased because of Nancy Floreen’s endorsement and the high score he got from EM (in addition to his WaPo endorsement I already wrote about). There remains no doubt which side Glass is on in MoCo’s major cleavage: the role of the development industry in our politics.

D20 Delegate. I have not changed any of my endorsements: Lorig Charkoudian, David Moon, and Jheanelle Wilkins. The only revision here is that I was gentle to Darian Unger two weeks ago. It is now apparent that Unger’s love affair with himself has fueled a highly unethical campaign. Voters should not only reject Unger’s style of politics, but should send him a strong message to return to community service and give up the quest for public office. (See my two recent posts about Unger: here and here.)

Democratic Central Committee. This body is not widely known or understood. Most of the time, these folks organize fundraisers, phone-banks, and door-to-door canvassing. But, under Maryland law – and in an affront to democracy – this is the body that appoints candidates to fill openings in public offices. (An example is that when Jamie Raskin won his Congressional seat in 2016, the CC appointed then Del. Will Smith to fill Raskin’s seat and Jheanelle Wilkins to fill Smith’s seat.)

In fact, a HUGE number of Maryland senators and delegates have been appointed by party committees. Therefore, it is important to vote only for reformist progressives as CC members: progressive because thats the type of appointments we want them to make; reformist, because we want them to work to change Maryland law to replace appointments with special elections.

Here are my recommendations for DCC for Montgomery County at-large (the D20 races are unopposed). Note that the party split the races by gender this year.

  • Women (select up to four): Marie Mapes (only)
  • Men (select up to four): Justin Chapelle, Edward Fischman, Dave Kunes (only)

Candidates whom I am not endorsing here are not necessarily bad: I just don’t know anything about them. For the same reason, I am not making endorsements in other races, such as school board, judges, and other offices.

©2018 Keith Berner

 

06.05.18 Keith Berner’s biennial voter guide: for the June 26 Maryland Democratic primary

June 5, 2018

Note: I am not endorsing in races outside my district (Maryland D20 & Montgomery County D5), except when I have particular knowledge of the candidates.

Governor: Rich Madaleno
US Senate: anyone but Ben Cardin
US Congress CD6: Roger Manno
US Congress CD8: Jamie Raskin (unopposed)
Montgomery County Executive: Marc Elrich
Montgomery County At-Large:
Definite (in alpha order): Brandy Brooks, Jill Ortman-Fouse, Chris Wilhelm
Pick one of two: Bill Conway or Seth Grimes
MoCo D1: Meredith Wellington
MoCo D3: Ben Shnider
MoCo D5: Tom Hucker
MD Senate D18: Dana Beyer
MD Senate D20: Will Smith (unopposed)
MD Delegates D20 (in alpha order): Lorig Charkoudian, David Moon, Jheanelle Wilkins

Maryland Governor

Rich Madeleno is the most qualified and capable person running for governor — by far. He is also a passionate progressive who will work every day for economic and social justice, environmental protection, and immigrants’ rights. Madaleno’s long service in Annapolis has been remarkable, earning him wide respect for his fiscal expertise. He knows better than anyone else in the field, the people and processes of Maryland government.

In case you’re still wavering, consider Congressman Jamie Raskin’s and District 20 Delegate David Moon’s enthusiastic endorsements. Finally, I watched Madeleno in two Progressive Neighbors (PN) candidate forums and both times he made the strongest, most compelling arguments against Governor Larry Hogan. Remember: that’s who we have to beat in November!

Ben Jealous, former director of the NAACP and proud supporter (and endorsee) of Bernie Sanders, merits consideration in this race. We know that Jealous will be on the right side of issues. But, Jealous has no experience in elected office and one has to wonder if his rhetoric would be matched by results. There is one reason I can think of to choose Jealous over Madaleno three weeks from now: if it appears that he is in a better position than Madaleno to beat Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker.

Why does Baker, who has been endorsed by nearly the entire Maryland Democratic establishment, need to be stopped? Consider, first, that this is a center-right bunch (sorry, not even Chris Van Hollen is much of a progressive any more). Consider, further, their record of backing failures, like Anthony Brown in 2014 and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in 2002 — it’s not a gang that exactly has its finger on the pulse of Maryland voters. If Baker gets the nomination, look to him to run a lackluster campaign, much like Brown’s, and to get destroyed by Hogan. Finally, consider Baker’s endorsement of liquor salesman David Trone for Congress (District 6) in exchange for $39,000 in campaign contributions.

This rest of the gubernatorial field is so weak and inexperienced that only one candidate bears mentioning at all. Krishanti Vignarajah’s campaign is an insult to all Marylanders. She voted in DC until very recently and never provided service of any kind to our state. Her only “qualification” is having served as an aide to the previous first lady, hardly a policy heavy position. If, by some miracle, she were to pull out a primary victory, the GOP would get her knocked off the ballot in no time, because she has not resided the required five years in Maryland.

US Senate

My only recommendation here is not to vote for Ben Cardin. His domestic policy record isn’t bad, but his foreign priority is to enable the Israeli right. Cardin’s opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran and his attempt to pass legislation curtailing the free-speech rights of Americans who don’t support Israel are utterly disqualifying. It doesn’t matter whether you vote for carpetbagging Chelsea Manning or one of the other token challengers to Cardin, since none of them has the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell. All that matters is your not helping to drive up the senator’s vote total.

US Congress – District 6

Roger Manno’s record in the Maryland legislature can be compared to Jamie Raskin’s. Manno is a principled progressive and labor supporter who provides the leadership needed to turn good ideas into law.

One or two others in the race are not bad ideologically, but Manno is the only one who can beat liquor salesman and GOP-loving gazillionaire David Trone, who is the most pernicious influence in area politics since Doug Duncan’s End-Gridlock slate. Stopping Trone is of equal importance to stopping David Blair’s county exec run (see next section).

Montgomery County Executive

For progressives, this choice is even clearer than the one in the governor’s race (where there is somewhat of a dilemma between Madaleno and Jealous): Marc Elrich is the only candidate you can trust as county exec. Quoting from my endorsement last July:

Elrich is the least ego-driven politician I have ever met. He is not enamored of seeing his name or face in lights or of power for its own sake, but rather gets out of bed every day in order to make a better world, especially for the underdogs. Elrich is also the least corrupt politician in Montgomery County, having consistently refused to take contributions from the politically dominant development industry. While he is able to meet respectfully with all players in county affairs, Elrich is the only member of the council who has consistently prioritized community needs over industry interests.

Further, Elrich is one of the most intelligent and informed public leaders we have. His encyclopedic knowledge of zoning, public education (he was a MCPS teacher for 17 years), and other arcana means he is as prepared to govern as anyone.

Is Elrich perfect? Nope. For one thing he has a tendency stick his foot in his mouth with rash rhetoric, making him seem more extreme than he is. And he is a mite too rigid in opposition to growth and development for yours truly. (I worry about shutting the doors of our wealthy county on the poor who would benefit by coming here.)

But I would far rather err “to the left” on this — electing someone who will never simply do the bidding of the Chamber of Commerce, the development industry, or (deity forbid) the Washington Post — than to take a risk with any of the other, compromised candidates in this race. There is — sadly — little doubt that we will end up with a pro-Chamber county council next year and we need an executive who will check it, not enable it.

George Leventhal is the only other candidate not wholly in the pocket of the county’s bad guys. But I worry about putting anyone in an executive role who has Leventhal’s anger issues and tendency to bully. I do believe that Leventhal has good intentions, much of the time, and there has been no one better than him at constituent responsiveness. On the flip side, Leventhal’s eagerness to tout a substantively empty “compact” between MoCo and PG on preserving affordable housing along the Purple Line betrays a disturbing willingness to claim credit where none is due. Finally, Leventhal recently called for reducing MoCo’s energy tax, which is environmentally and fiscally irresponsible.

Speaking of the Post, this supposed quality newspaper embarrassed itself when it recently endorsed David Blair for county exec. Blair, who has no record of public service, has been drowning the county in mailers since February, as he attempts to purchase the election. The Post loves the millions Blair made in the pharmaceutical business. He is currently being ridiculed as #MoCoPharmaBro on Facebook and is perceived as such a danger to our county that opponent Roger Berliner (who otherwise deserves no respect or support) and Progressive Maryland are going after him with gusto (Berliner’s add compares Blair to Trone, another wealthy amateur). Blair doesn’t even vote consistently, which would eliminate him for me, even without his other flaws.

Montgomery County At-Large (four seats)

There are 33 Democrats running. Just wrap your mind around this for a moment. The most well intentioned political observers cannot possibly have gotten to know all of them. The best we can do is help each other fill in gaps and look at the past records of those candidates who have them.

I am somewhat better informed about the field than most, because I read the questionnaire responses of all 23 candidates who sought Progressive Neighbors’ (PN) endorsement, weeding out any who rejected public campaign financing. Following are my conclusions.

Brandy Brooks and Chris Wilhelm are running together as #TeamProgressive. The two of them are powerful voices for redressing capitalist excesses, improving our flawed democracy, and protecting the environment. Wilhelm, a MoCo public school teacher, has door-knocking and fundraising for a year, with impressive results. He is in sixth place among all the candidates in remaining cash on hand, as of May 15, and has a large ground operation. This puts him among the two progressive candidates with the best chance of knocking off chamber-of-commerce candidates in the primary.

There is some concern about Brooks’s short residence in Maryland (two years). On the other hand, hers was among the most compelling of the PN candidate responses I read, showing not only her philosophy, but also considerable knowledge of policy details. Brooks is not as strong financially as Wilhelm, meaning she is more likely of the two to be helped by the team they have formed.

Jill Ortman-Fouse is the other progressive with a strong chance of success on June 26. Her service as an at-large member of the Board of Education gives her name recognition across the county. Even better, she’s good at making friends: I have yet to hear any criticism of Ortman-Fouse’s character or performance. There is no doubt that our county will benefit from having education experts like her and Wilhelm on County Council. Ortman-Fouse also has worked on behalf of affordable housing, the environment, and other issues.

Pick one: Bill Conway or Seth Grimes

Both Conway and Grimes are the types who wow you immediately with their intelligence and in-depth understanding of policy.

I have witnessed over a decade Grimes’s public service as an activist and city council member in Takoma Park. His service on the board of Shepherd’s Table demonstrates his deep commitment to economic justice. His work on the Safe-Grow initiative, first at the city and then at the county level, makes him one of the strongest environmental candidates in the race.

Conway may be the most moderate candidate I am considering — and I don’t see this as a bad thing. After engaging with him directly and watching him interact with others, Conway has struck me as a no-bullshit realist. He seems to get the real constraints the county’s economic circumstances have on policy better than some of the progressives I’m supporting and he doesn’t pander. Also, it isn’t like Conway is “dangerously” moderate: he supports a minimum-wage increase and his wife, Diana Conway, is one of the county’s most prominent environmental leaders. (I don’t expect her to make policy for him. I do expect her views to be persuasive across the kitchen table.) Finally, Conway’s fundraising totals put him at the top, alongside chamber-of-commerce types like Charles Barkley, Evan Glass, and Hans Riemer. His victory could help send one of them to defeat.

Evan Glass is a nice and smart guy. But, if his hand-in-glove relationship with developers in the 2014 campaign were not enough to scare of you off, this year’s Washington Post endorsement should put the nail in the coffin. The Post’s record of support for big business and pave-it-all development is worse this year than ever. There is no chance they would have endorsed Glass if they weren’t convinced he’d be doing the Chamber’s bidding once in office.

Will Jawando has made strides over the course of his four campaigns for office in the past four years. His grasp of issues and his progressive stances on them are increasingly impressive. On a personal level, he is warm and gracious. But for me, his political ambition is off-putting, at best. I want to vote for people who want to be on County Council, rather than considering it a way station on their path to greater glory. I suspect MoCo will not be getting Jawando’s full attention after a relatively short period in office. In a weaker field, I might take this risk, but I see no reason to do so this time.

Hans Riemer, the sole incumbent running for reelection this year, was never worthy of the votes he has received and nothing has changed this go-‘round. The shame is that he is nearly certain to win.

Danielle Meitiv has managed to garner the love of nearly every progressive organization in the county without ever having done anything substantive to earn it. Before deciding to run for office, the only public thing Meitiv has accomplished was to get arrested for letting her kids walk alone on country streets (for which, she earned the rubrik “Free-Range Mom”). Meitiv is running on that fame and her status as a a climate scientist. This sounds great, but we don’t need a climate scientist in office at the county level — what we need are smart policy makers who know how to reduce county energy consumption on the ground. Meitiv is a nice person and a solid progressive. She just hasn’t earned the attention the progressive community is paying her and there are better candidates on the ballot.

Montgomery County Council – District 1

Progressives’ sentimental favorites in this race are Ana Sol Gutierrez and Bill Cook. Neither has any chance of winning, so a vote for either is as good as throwing your vote away. Gutierrez is relatively well known, but the district she served as state delegate (D18) overlaps only slightly with the county district she is running in.

Among the well-funded candidates with a good chance of winning, Meredith Wellington stands out. When she served on the Planning Board (1999-2007), she was the most consistent skeptic of the development industry. In the current campaign, she vows not to take money from those big-business interests and instead to favor community and the environment. While not all endorsements matter, Marc Elrich’s support for Wellington is telling: he believes she will be his partner on County Council, making sure that our government serves the people, rather than the Chamber. Progressive Neighbors also endorsed Wellington (along with Gutierrez).

Montgomery County Council – District 3

Ben Shnider has run an upstart campaign against Nancy Floreen’s ideological best friend on the current council, Sidney Katz. A Shnider victory over Katz would change the nature of the council profoundly for the better.

Montgomery County Council – District 5

I have been sharply critical of Tom Hucker in the past, mostly for being a bully. This remains a concern for me — as does the fact that he has been unreliable as an ally to Elrich on council. But Hucker does a lot of good work supporting workers, the environment, and economic justice. A very strong case would have to be made for not returning Hucker to council and his opponent this year, Kevin Harris, isn’t making one. Harris is taking a NIMBY position on bus-rapid transit (BRT) along Route 29 and is pandering to development opponents in Takoma Park on a local issue he should have stayed away from.

This is not a bad moment for me to digress to the issues of development and growth, in general. While I am ardently opposed to the political dominance of the development industry in our politics, I don’t believe that nothing should be built anywhere. There is a strong not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) element in the county’s slow-growth progressive community. When NIMBYs refuse to compromise for the greater good, they are no better than Republicans who oppose sharing the wealth. BRT on Rt. 29, for example, may inconvenience those who live in the immediate vicinity. But the benefits for less-wealthy commuters and for the environment outweigh those narrow concerns. 

Maryland Senate – District 18

Dana Beyer is the fearless firebrand we need in the legislature, not only to push progressive policy, but also to take on the Old Guard run by regressives like Sen. Mike Miller. Beyer is also whip smart — she has been a political activist for years and is as good an analyst of public policy, along a wide variety of topics, as you could ever hope to meet.

Beyer looks even better in comparison to her opponent Jeff Waldstreicher, whose voting record is fine, but whose repertoire includes dirty tricks. Seventh State reported today on Waldstreicher’s latest shenanigans: Waldstreicher Fibs His Way Out of Facing His Constituents.

Maryland Delegates – District 20 (three seats)

David Moon and Jheanelle Wilkins are a progressive’s dream come true. Moon’s record of accomplishment in four years as delegate is stunning across a whole range of policies (did you know he got an animal-rights bill passed last session?). Even when Moon loses (his attempt to end the tax exemption for golf courses), he changes the world by raising the issue (and he will win on this next session, mark my words).

Wilkins got a later start than in Annapolis than Moon did, having been appointed to her delegate seat seat two weeks into the 2017 session. (The vacancy was caused by Jamie Raskin’s election to Congress; Will Smith was appointed to that seat, and then Wilkins was appointed to Smith’s.) It has been a joy to watch her grow from being an I’m-on-board progressive to being a leader with substantive legislative accomplishments in the most recent term, on issues nearly as broad as those tackled by Moon.

Lorig Charkoudian is a newcomer only in the sense that she doesn’t have Moon’s and Wilkins’s incumbency. A PhD economist, she is well known locally as an expert on criminal justice reform, food “deserts” (lack of healthy, quality food in poor neighborhoods), and other economic justice issues. Charkoudian’s record of political engagement is such that she will hardly go to Annapolis unprepared: she is experienced in drafting legislation and knows how to get around the halls of the legislature.

Darian Unger is a good man who might stand out in a weaker field. In this one, he lacks the political talent, experience, and effectiveness of the other candidates. Unger has done a lot of public good outside of elective office. I wish he would find fulfillment doing just that — it’s where he shines.

©2018 Keith Berner

08.12.17 Chris Van Hollen: thy name is political cowardice

August 12, 2017

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

08.03.17 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: 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?)

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

08.26.15 Maryland’s Senators Silent on Iran Deal

August 26, 2015

Here is my open letter to Senator Ben Cardin. I will be sending a similar letter to Barbara Mikulski. Maryland Democrats should be outraged that both of our senators appear to be in thrall to Likud and AIPAC. Express your views to Cardin (202-224-4524) and  Mikulski (202-224-4654) or by visiting their websites. Though this should hardly matter on the substance of the issue, Cardin is Jewish and Mikulski is not. Just the same, the latter has been known to consistently take the AIPAC line on Israel.

Dear Senator Cardin:

I read in yesterday’s New York Times, that you are undecided on the nuclear deal with Iran.

Your fence-sitting is disturbing, because the logic in favor of the agreement is an absolute no-brainer: whether or not you love the details or the way Obama and Kerry negotiated, the horse has left the barn. The sanctions regime is dead, dead, dead.

If you liked the George W. Bush administration’s cowboy unilateralism, you’ll love US foreign policy after Congress kills the agreement with Iran. The US would be on its own internationally (with Israel is its sole ally). Not only will usual suspects, like Russia and China, rush to do business with Iran, but so will Europe. In fact, the rush is already on. And without any international sanctions regime, the only remaining leverage the United States (and Israel) will have will be military.

If you oppose this agreement, do you have a plan for recovering US influence and prestige afterwards? Do you relish a unilateral war that will cost enormous blood and treasure and only briefly delay Iran’s nuclear progress?

The question is not whether this negotiated agreement is perfect (by definition, no negotiated agreements are), but rather, what is the alternative? I have yet to hear a rational one from the belligerent right.

We know why the GOP is lockstep opposed to the agreement. First, there is the party’s long history of opposition to negotiations and arms control in principle (see this Times article reminding us of right-wing opposition to even Reagan’s and Eisenhower’s talks with the Soviets). And there’s the fact that anything and everything Obama does sends the GOP into paroxysms of feigned rage.

We know why Israel is opposed: it is in thrall to the racist, hegemonic regime it elected. That regime is, sadly, behaving contrary to Israel’s own interests, but is blind to this fact, as is the aggressively right-wing pro-Israel lobby in this country (led by AIPAC).

I cannot fathom why any Democrat – regardless of creed – would be in opposition. I am embarrassed that the only Democrats in stated opposition are Jewish (Schumer of NY) or count on Jewish votes (Menendez of New Jersey and Schumer).

I am a Jewish American. I use that formulation, since – in an irony of English-language construction – it is the second element of that phrase that is dominant. That is, I am American more than I am Jewish.

Are you? If you are, then your equivocation is uncalled for. You must prioritize US interests over Israel’s (notwithstanding Israel’s current inability to recognize what its true interests are).

Ben Cardin: You face a choice. Are you going to be a Democrat representing Maryland or a Likudnik representing Israel? Maryland Democrats can wait no longer for you to make up your mind and do the right thing.

Sincerely,

Keith Berner

©2015 Keith Berner