Why Labor Should Have A Say

Tonight is gubernatorial debate night, so I’m pretty sure this blog post will fly under the radar. I myself will be live-streaming the County Executive debate, and if I’m not fed up by that point, I’ll catch the Jealous vs Boss Hoagie debate on YouTube on the way home, or on a commute (thanks, YouTube premium!)

Nevertheless, I do feel like releasing a relatively short blog on a point that will undoubtedly come up during one of tonight’s debates: the importance of acknowledging labor issues in the discussion of economic development.

First, I’ll stand consistent in my opposition to the influence of money in politics. This stance applies to both corporate money AND union money. I don’t think corporations or their lobbyists should have disproportionate financial influence on our legislation, and I would say the same about labor unions as the Right often makes that point. This if fair. That being said, I do not view a candidate’s having been endorsed by labor unions as the same as being “financially beholden” to them. This summer, The Washington Post tried to make this argument, and journalist, activist, and friend Ben Spielberg adeptly refuted it.

There are multiple misconceptions among so-called “fiscal moderates” in labor-management discourse. Some throw out the glib stereotype that advocates of pro-labor legislation “don’t understand economics,” or “just want free stuff” (easily refuted – isn’t the whole point of being “pro-labor” that we’re on the side of those who work for a living?) More cogent arguments address a local jurisdiction’s competitiveness, arguing that “business-hostile” practices would force businesses to pack up and move elsewhere (such as Virginia). I’ve argued against this point in a Progressive Maryland blog about the $15 minimum wage.

Perhaps the strongest argument fiscal conservatives make, however, is that some pro-labor proposals end up hurting those whom it intends to help.

Let’s take the minimum wage argument, which is twofold. If the minimum wage is too high, certain businesses would have to lay off workers, and $15 per hour is not enough to live on anyway. My response, however, is not that we need to scrap the idea altogether; it’s that the minimum wage is an optimization problem.

$15 is not an arbitrary number. It’s a thoroughly estimated threshold at which businesses can still thrive and while giving a significant boost to employees trying to pick themselves off the ground. It is not ideal for either side. No one is denying that smaller businesses in particular may need to look elsewhere to maintain profitability in the interim. This is why pro-labor legislators are also looking into incubators and other assistance initiatives to help local businesses grow. Personally, I’d like to see developers and property owners make more of the cuts so small business owners wouldn’t face such high rents, but that’s a whole other issue. From the labor angle, it is also true that $15 is not a livable wage, but that doesn’t mean it does not help. Anyone who is familiar with the phrase “it’s expensive to be poor” will understand the mounting costs of finding oneself behind in rent or utilities or car payments. A higher minimum wage enables a working person to fall less in the hole while they pile on the hours, seek higher-skilled professional training, and apply and interview for higher-paying jobs.

This brings me to the greater point I’d like to make: that those who prioritize the interests of management over the interests of labor, claiming that pro-labor legislation would end up hurting those it seeks to help, underestimate the intelligence of our labor force. Employees know full well there is a tipping point, and that there is a figure too high, which would cause a small business to make layoffs or shift cuts. They also don’t want to lose their jobs. Sometimes they’ll even take the more “fiscally conservative” position. As an example, the District’s Initiative 77 on tipped wages actually met mixed support among DC’s waiters, likely dependent on how much they thought their tips might be affected as a result. Last year’s testimonies by minimum wage laborers before the Montgomery County Council, however, showed overwhelming support for the Fight for $15. What I would take away from their arguments, is that labor voices should be trusted. When labor has a voice in local government, we would have a better chance at working out the optimization problem together. We already hear a fair amount from the Chambers of Commerce, and it’s only fair to bring both management and labor to the table, as both sides would have a close relationship to the issue.

This reasoning also applies to the much-demonized public employee unions. While some may concede the necessity of private sector unions, public sector unions are often equated with corruption, “big-government” spending, and inefficiency. A common criticism of giving public employee unions a seat at the table in County government is that it would be a self-serving conflict of interest – public sector employees manipulating legislation to give themselves a raise amid a budget shortfall.

The truth is, just as the minimum wage private sector employees don’t want to lose their jobs, public sector employees also have a vested interest in a sustainable County budget. The public sector unions are not dumb; they know what would be asking for too much, and they also want to minimize layoffs while maximizing efficiency. While some kneejerk anti-tax, small government-absolutist would prefer a slice-and-dice approach, a truly balanced position would be to listen to the public unions and negotiate to figure out the government employee version of the labor-management optimization problem. It is in no one’s interest to have an economic crisis brought on by unsustainable and inefficient spending – least of all the unions.

I Interpreted Nancy Floreen’s Interview On The Kojo Nnamdi Show (So You Don’t Have To)

[PLEASE NOTE: I find it necessary to reiterate, amid the heightened sensitivity of many of us associated with various campaigns after a pretty bitter and intense primary, that the views presented in this blog are mine and mine alone. I do not speak for Marc Elrich or any other campaign, I am on nobody’s payroll; I am simply a left-wing blogger and commentator, and just for fun at that. Should I say something undiplomatic – and I most certainly will – these words are exclusively mine. They are absolutely NOT endorsed by any candidate I support or volunteer for elsewhere in my spare time. So take it or leave it.]

Last Friday, Council member Nancy Floreen (formerly D – Developers; now I – “Industry”) was interviewed on Kojo Nnamdi’s WAMU Politics Hour. I sat through it during lunch out of morbid curiosity, or in the way that we tend to rubber-neck at a multi-vehicle car wreck on the Beltway. To be brutally honest, Floreen was comically unbearable, to the extent that I am cautiously less concerned about her candidacy. I do not see how anyone working outside the real estate development industry could find her appealing. Of course, there are some voters that may go in the TFG (“too far gone”) category – neo-McCarthyists who are convinced that Marc Elrich is going to try and turn the county into Venezuela, and are generally immune to facts – but much of this cohort will end up voting for the county fool, heckler-in-chief Robin Ficker.
I would be more worried about Floreen as a threat if she were a rhetorically astute politician. Some people are giving her credit for her “clever” decision to sit out the six-way primary and challenge Elrich, who will have to find a new base of donors to overcome a financial disadvantage, but even supporters of Elrich’s opponents in the primary are speaking of Floreen’s move as opportunistic and even ugly, so this “cleverness” may actually backfire. The interview showed, however, that Floreen does not have a populist bone in her body. As I argued in my blog about the precinct results of the County Executive primary, voters generally wanted a change, and a plurality of voters chose progressive change. Floreen showed herself not only to be the anti-change candidate, but did so in an extremely (and characteristically) condescending manner. Because clearly, if Floreen’s pro-real estate industry approach doesn’t sit well with you, it’s because she just knows better than you.

So here goes. I will break down every cringeworthy statement from the Nancy Floreen interview, so you don’t have to sit through it if you haven’t already.

One of the first things Kojo’s stand-in Tom Sherwood mentions to her is how the Democratic Party of Montgomery County, upon Floreen’s presumed retirement, acknowledged the “great things” she did for the Democratic Party (to which Floreen cocks her head and smirks), after which she decided to leave the Democratic Party altogether in order to challenge the Democratic nominee. Floreen said that she had “decided to stay out of it,” but then “At the end of the day, though, after the primary . . .my phone started ringing off the hook, and people said, Nancy, you have to get in this race!”

Really, Nancy? Your phone just started ringing off the hook? In previous interviews, she had said something along the lines of “friends and neighbors” asking her to run, but this doesn’t seem like typical behavior for “friends and neighbors” of presumably happily retired, long-serving Democrats. Unless of course, all of her “friends” have last names ending in LLC. She then goes on to lament how all the work she had done to “advance Montgomery County” would go to waste, as Sherwood interjects, “Is Marc Elrich really that bad?” Floreen repeats her statement that Elrich is a “fringe candidate” (as my previous blogs would show is a complete distortion of the truth, not to mention the gross false equivalency made with actual “fringe candidate” Robin Ficker, but what does Nancy care). Floreen smugly continued, “at least 20,000 plus people agreed with me.”

No. These 20,000 people did not “agree with you.” They were hilariously misled.

I had been approached numerous times by paid Floreen canvassers. Most of them do not even live in Montgomery County and probably were indifferent to her actual candidacy. They would say things like “Would you like to support more voter choice in the general election?” or “Would you like to support the candidacy of a long-serving pro-choice Democrat?” or “Would you like to see more women on the ballot?” If you tried asking one of these people anything about her policies, they were not able to answer or would just be completely false. To say that everyone who signed her petition agreed with her is a gross misrepresentation. That said, being more or less in the know of what she’s really all about, I told these canvassers a polite version of “fuck off.”

“What is your complaint about Mr. Elrich?” Sherwood asked. “And if you could, could you say his name?”
Nancy shook her head, mouth agape, and looked to be on the verge of an eyeroll.
“You know, the election should not be a coronation.”

We’ve already heard that line from you, Nancy. It’s an election, not a coronation – unless it’s you ascending to the iron throne, Cersei. And really – would you have been saying that if it were your then-preferred candidate, Rose Krasnow? Or David Blair? And if indeed you believe it is not a coronation, then would you really be leveraging your real estate-funded bankroll over publicly-financed Elrich so much? Please.

She then went on to dismiss the legitimacy of a victory by plurality (while not bothering to come up with a solution that didn’t support her own advancement, like rankchoice voting).

Once again, she’s asked directly about Elrich’s policies. Floreen responds with a generic platitude; “it’s about who Montgomery County needs to lead them forward.” And then: “interest groups should not be demonized.” BINGO.

A third time: “What exactly are the policies that you are taking issue with?” Floreen drones on about nonspecific “problems of the past,” ONCE AGAIN, NOT MENTIONING A SINGLE POLICY.

A caller from Chevy Chase has a question: How are Floreen’s views of economic growth different from those of Democratic candidates?
Floreen says the county needs a “cheerleader” who “welcomes investors” and is for “expanding the tax base.”

More fluff. Yes, we need someone to cheerlead. Welcome investment and growth – but nope, not manage it at all. Nothing about making business a symbiotic relationship or anything. But sure, rah-rah, industry. As for “expanding the tax base” – this has been one of the most overused phrases in this election. I love how the people who call for “expanding the tax base” seem to forget that the point of having a tax base is that you actually tax it.

Apparently Nancy would just like to “cheerlead” it. She does say that the tax base is what would enable the county to provide services, but she fails to make this connection as to how. Marc Elrich, on the other hand, does this extensively in his economic development platform.

Sherwood then brings up that Elrich, when he was interviewed, articulated the importance of having a discussion with the development community about their impact on schools and infrastructure. Floreen makes the same expression – eyes rolling, mouth agape, head shaking. She doesn’t have time for all this common sense. Again, with the “problems of the past” comment. Interestingly, Floreen faults Elrich for not having successfully addressed this issue “for the last 30 years” (12 of which he had been in office, compared with Nancy’s 16), when it’s actually people like Floreen who have stymied his efforts to do so. Floreen “cleverly” reveals “the dirty secret” that it’s not the County Executive who deals with this. Ok, good, then. So what’s your problem with Elrich? Even if he is what you say he is, how is he bad for business if this isn’t even his authority?

The interview then addresses concerns that her entry would help Robin Ficker by splitting the vote. Nancy, eyes rolling, disdainful and smug tone of voice: “You know what I say to that? That reflects a nominee who doesn’t have a base.”

Except, Elrich DOES have a base. A base he held onto in a six-way primary. A base the other candidates didn’t have. A base that is and will continue to expand as they become more informed as to how condescending and lacking of substance you are, Nancy Floreen.

She continues on, dismissing Robin Ficker as a serious candidate. While I would still probably bet that he will come in third, this dismissiveness may be the very thing that emboldens his base. He should be taken seriously (and then seriously defeated.) In fact, taking him seriously would be the best way to expose his idiocy – invite him to answer actual questions and provide substance, then wipe the floor with him. If you completely disregard him, think that his base is only fringe “deplorables” and that he will “never win,” well…. Hillary Clinton says hi.

The next caller asks about her connection with real estate developers. THIS IS RICH.
In the same breath, Floreen employs the “whataboutism” fallacy and turns the question onto Elrich and his connection to labor unions… and then says “let’s not dump on people who have invested in our past and invested in our future and create great homes and great places!”

Which is it, Nancy? Is it okay to dump on people who actually labor and produce the means by which businesses profit? Or was your intention to make up yet another false equivalency, claiming that Elrich’s support from labor unions justifies your support from developers?

Elrich has labor union support, but he cannot take money from them. He can only take $150 from each individual. YOU, however, take PLENTY of money from developers, and you don’t even try to deny it.

“These are all people who played by the rules,” Floreen says of developers.
RULES THAT THEY PAID YOU TO MAKE.

Another caller asks about the nearly nine percent property tax increase, which Floreen voted for when she was Council president. Nancy laments that the “issue they were dealing with was the issue of the schools.”

I almost feel bad for Nancy Floreen at this point. She can’t even corner the anti-tax vote here. In fact, Marc may out-flank her, should he get the message across enough that responsibly inforce development impact fees could help prevent the costs of schools and infrastructure from being shifted onto the taxpayer.

Sherwood finally addresses a question that I have asked along with other listeners – where Nancy Floreen stands, as an ex-Democrat, in the governor’s race. Nancy comfortably states that she remains neutral on state and federal elections.

Wow. So courageous. In a time where the Republican Party nationwide has gone so far off the deep end, you won’t even stand up for opposing its insanity. You won’t stand for anything. The only thing you’ve clearly stated you stand for is being pro-developer.

Honestly, I’d respect her more if she would just own up to being on the side of Hogan and other Republicans. It’s almost as if she doesn’t really know which voters she’s courting. It’s almost as if she “doesn’t have a base.”

Finally, Floreen is asked what the biggest policy difference is between her and Mr. Elrich.
“The real difference is about leadership…”
“That’s not a policy.”
Floreen then pivots to comments Elrich had made that were taken out of context, then blames Elrich for them being taken out of context.
“He’s going to have the unions sit at the table when he makes decisions…” Oh, the horror. Labor actually having a say! It’s only okay when the development community has a say in decision making!

Of course, Nancy doesn’t say or even speculate as to what actual policy would result from such a process. She doesn’t bring up a single policy. She never, throughout the entire interview, mentioned a single, solitary policy of Elrich’s, let alone explain why it would be problematic.

I’ll refrain from using a word like “shrill” to describe her voice as it has sexist connotations, and it’s not even quite the right word…. “scolding” comes much closer… but her tone is worth noting. Were this interview conducted in a language I don’t understand, I’d basically gather that she’d been saying the whole time: “You know, that’s the way it is, and I know better than you.” I am by no means exaggerating the condescension and disdain in her tone of voice and in her body language. She also did make a dig at Elrich’s personality towards the end of the interview, while demonstrating nothing short of a visibly unpleasant personality herself, alongside a complete failure to convey anything of substance.

I sincerely look forward to the County Executive debates leading up to the general election.

Change of Pace: Free Speech, Internet Culture, and the Intellectual Dark Web

If you believe the loudest voices on the internet, the political Right has co-opted free speech. It’s the triggered leftist who want to ban conservatives from speaking on college campuses, who dictate what pronouns you can use, and dictate where one should fall on the political spectrum based on their race, gender, or sexual orientation. Clearly, the Right is comprised of the freedom fighters against the Orwellian Cultural Marxist state that the Left wants to impose on us.

Gosh, now I’m having an identity crisis. I like free speech. I even like to listen to people I disagree with. I like to argue. I think people should be allowed to say whatever they want, short of directly inciting violence. I love that about America. But all this time I thought I was a far-left Takoma Park socialist Elrich-ista. Should I call myself a right-winger now?

Long-form podcasts are my guilty pleasure. Why guilty? Because lately, I fear that they have replaced books, as I can listen to them while running or cleaning or driving/sitting on the Beltway. Books require me to devote all of my attention, and time available for that is a luxury. I am working on this, and getting back to reading at least one book a week. Podcasts, though, are accessible and can accompany me everywhere.

I like podcasts of all kinds. Science. True crime. Ghost stories. Political or political-ish commentary on issues that make people uncomfortable…

I am referring to the group of (pseudo?) intellectuals who like to call themselves the “Intellectual Dark Web” – badasses who present ideas that are so controversial, they are banned from the mainstream media.

OK, I’m familiar with the dark web (ask me why…mwahaha). It is not badass. The ideas presented by these commentators/podcasters/whathaveyou are not banned in the mainstream media. I’d wager to say that for the most part, these people do not have the scientific substance to contribute on a mainstream platform, but do offer interesting alternative perspectives on an array of ideas that are fun to think about. I believe that bringing some of these topics to the forefront of honest and open discussion would be constructive, but I would hesitate to cite most of these people of a valid source for anything (except maybe Ayaan Hirsi Ali). They present ideas, speculations, and opinions – which we should not be afraid of. If the Left wants to reclaim free speech as theirs – and I believe they should – I think they should engage with these kind of voices and some of their challenging views.

Sam Harris As the host of the Waking Up podcast, (which I listen to often) neuroscientist, and atheist, soft-spoken Sam Harris has managed to anger the Right and the Left. The Right loathes his atheism and his criticism of Donald Trump; the Left thinks he’s a racist, or at least an Islamophobe. I find him to be a fairly objective centrist. While some on the left may disagree with me, I don’t see his opinions as dogwhistles or carrying thinly-veiled agendas. The height of the controversy surrounding Sam Harris was his decision to interview Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, which contained a chapter on race and IQ. In a preface to this interview, Harris noted the controversial nature of the author and the topic and stated clearly that he opposes attempts to correlate race and IQ. Harris said that even if one did find the two to be correlated, nothing good could possibly come as a result of such research, no matter what it showed. For the most part, I agree with what Sam Harris has to say about religion, Trumpism, gender, biology, and other topics. Like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, he calls attention to particular atrocities committed under Islamist regimes. I will say, however, that his views on Islam, at least indirectly, point to a more hawkish foreign policy recommendation than I would propose myself. Harris also has some pretty interesting things to say about consciousness and free will. This all being said, I wouldn’t cite Harris as a source for any real research; I find his topics more philosophical and fun to think about than scientific.

 

Jordan Peterson Hands down the most overrated charlatan of the “Intellectual Dark Web.” No, I don’t dislike Jordan Peterson because I’m a triggered leftist who lives in a politically correct safe space. It’s because I find a great deal of his ideas to be ridiculous. While 60% of what he says makes perfect sense, the other 40% is basically social conservatism repackaged into some pseudo-intellectual drivel designed to make lonely, underachieving white men feel better about themselves. I mean – forced monogamy, seriously? As for the 60%, that is mainly his warnings against excessive political correctness, (with which plenty on the left are on board), his rehashed Jungian psychology,  and his “clean your room” self-help mantra (which I learned from my parents, not from Jordan Peterson). What’s even more annoying is how much credit Peterson gets for classic strawman arguments – because clearly, anyone who doesn’t agree with your views on the merits of traditional gender roles wants to impose 37 different genders on you and denounce the masculine/feminine duality altogether.

 

Bret Weinstein, Eric Weinstein, Heather Heying. I didn’t link to all their personal websites, as you can go and read about them yourself if you are not familiar with who they are. Bret Weinstein was the subject of the Evergreen State controversy, in which he disagreed with the 2017 proposal on campus to require white students to stay off campus during the “Day of Absence,” finding it counterproductive. Weinstein argued that it exacerbated the problem of free speech becoming dependent on race. His wife, Heather Heying, also resigned from Evergreen, and she as an evolutionary biologist has argued that gender and sexuality do have roots in biology and are not entirely social constructs – though, she recognizes that there are exceptions and that differences in sexual orientation and gender presentation are also rooted in biology. Bret’s brother Eric Weinstein is a physicist and managing director of Thiel Capital and coined the term “Intellectual Dark Web.” All three are left-libertarians, free speech advocates, and favor evidence-based science. I don’t see what’s so bad about that.

Joe Rogan  Ah, yes.. The Powerful JRE. Confession: I LOVE Joe Rogan. He’s all over the place. If he were the guy next door, I think we’d definitely get along. Joe Rogan was the host of Fear Factor, an MMA fight commentator and comedian who hosts an eclectic podcast. He’s friends with Alex Jones and Abby Martin. He can get along with pretty much anyone. Rogan and his guests talk about virtually any subject, for three hours, and Rogan’s favorite topics are apparently health and fitness, intermittent fasting and aketogenic diets, DMT tripping, political correctness, various conspiracy theories, the pre-frontal cortex, hunting, and (likely questionable) herbal supplements. Of course much of what he says needs to be taken with a grain – no, spoonful – of salt, but it is nevertheless solidly in the “fun to think about” category. Some people on the Left think he’s a right-winger, or at least sympathetic to the right, because he does have this tendency to mimic the points of whatever guest he happens to be talking to, some of whom are right-wingers. But a composite of Rogan’s personal takes on repeated issues show he’s more on the left than anything. He’s certainly anti-authoritarian.

Dave Rubin,  host of The Rubin Report, is a “classical liberal.” He “left the left” because it is “no longer liberal” and has been overtaken by “Regressives.” Or, that’s what he’ll tell you literally every single episode. I used to kind of like Dave Rubin, I took him as a legitimate libertarian who could challenge my views on economics and government regulation, but he really is a broken record. What’s more, is that it’s clear that he’s decided upon (or is paid to have, he’s partnered with Learn Liberty) a rigid ideology to parrot, because when he’s challenged, he doesn’t really have much to substantiate his arguments. And he’s apparently OBSESSED with the gay wedding cake story.

Ben Shapiro Editor of the Daily Wire, staunch conservative, but not a Trumper. Fast-talking Shapiro is a very good debater, but he can be beat. Shapiro has a tendency to hammer you with statistics too fast for his opponent to attempt to correct them and they often seem valid enough, and when someone eventually verifies them and finds his “facts” misleading, it’s probably too late. That said, he’s a conservative, but not a Deplorable.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali The founder of the AHA Foundation, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-Dutch ex-Muslim who sheds light on the violence committed against women in Islamic societies. I think of her in a similar way as I do Sam Harris, except I find her writings to be far more reputable and substantiated and backed up with actual activism and experience. There’s no beating around the bush – Hirsi Ali is politically a Conservative (though European Conservatives are not the same as US Conservative Republicans). She certainly stands a lot further to the right than I would on issues like immigration, and is yet another case of someone “with whom I would have my disagreements, but raises important points we all should consider.” Having suffered FGM, Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells us the uncomfortable truth about some of the practices in fundamentalist Islamic societies, which defiant cultural relativists tend to gloss over.

Wrongspeak with Debra Soh The “Wrongspeak” Podcast is fairly new, and as of August, there are only three episodes. I hope she comes out with more. Dr. Debra Soh is a science journalist and writes about gender and biology. Her controversial (I guess) topic is, once again, linking gender and sexuality to biology. She also writes about gender dysphoria and transgenderism from a pretty objective, scientific perspective. While the Left may take issue with her not embracing every individual’s initial decision to transition into another sex, true liberals should appreciate what she has to say, because she does support inclusiveness of transgender individuals and lays out the science behind transgenderism and exceptions to conventional gender binary presentation. She just doesn’t think it’s a good idea to inject a five-year-old with hormone blockers when he or she shows signs of preferring things associated with the other sex.

And now, internet personalities who are considered in opposition to the IDW.

Cenk Uygur,  host of The Young Turks. Oh, how the Right, the alt-Right, and the Intellectual Dark Web LOVE to hate The Young Turks. Cenk, who can be rather bombastic and not the greatest debater in the world, is a favorite target of those who love to ridicule “triggered SJWs.” Hate him or love him, The Young Turks have amassed over a billion views. Full disclosure: I’ve regularly listened to The Young Turks for about twelve years. It’s been my blood-pumping staple for getting ready in the morning – but I recognize it for what it is. It is not news; it is commentary, and they fully admit that it is progressive/left wing commentary. The truth is, though, Cenk and his crew are NOT of the “triggered SJW” stripe. Cenk and his co-host Ana Kasparian (yup, a Turk and an Armenian, side-by-side) have said throughout that they are proponents of free speech, they do not support banning speakers on college campuses, and they are not for “trigger warnings” or “safe spaces.” The real value shows like The Young Turks add is the breadth of their coverage, which I do find, makes up for their lack of depth. For example, they covered Standing Rock and the Flint water crisis to far greater length and far sooner than mainstream media sources.

Kyle Kulinski.  Kyle is the host of Secular Talk, a YouTube political commentary channel which I find to the left of The Young Turks. Of all the internet personalities here, he’s probably the one whose views resonate the most with me. He’s a staunch left-libertarian, a critic of capitalism, censorship, organized religion, and hegemony. I do find, however, that both he and Jimmy Dore are a lot more doggedly skeptical about some things that I would lend more  credence to, however, such as Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia. Kulinski seems to think the Trump-Russia story lends no credence whatsoever. That being said, Kyle is a WAAAY better debater than Cenk Uygur, even though he also can get goofy at times.

Franchesca Ramsey The host of MTV Decoded. Or those videos that tell you why everything is offensive. She annoys me in a similar way as Jordan Peterson does from the right, but I can understand where she’s coming from….ok, I’m not allowed to say that, as a non-POC. Anyways, I don’t want to “white-splain” her videos, but my critique is that her characterization of so many things as offensive and somehow rooted in racism I find exaggerated and counterproductive to dialogue. She makes her points, and I do think that they are worth considering to various extents to become a more inclusive-minded and sensitive person, but you’re not going to get everyone to monitor themselves the way Franchesca may like us to. I say this pretty sure a few of my accessories I wore today were cultural appropriation of some sort.

In conclusion…

I like the “Intellectual Dark Web,” for the most part. I even like to listen to those with whom I disagree – and yes, I listened to Joe Rogan’s entire interview with Jordan Peterson.  But I’m against bestowing any of these people with a cult following. I like how each of them looks at things critically, but they themselves should also be looked at critically. Each, to varying extents, is guilty of the strawman argument trap (I’d say Peterson is the most guilty of that), validating their arguments with examples of the most comically extreme arguments of their opponents. At the end of the day, I think it’s a valuable thing to not only support free speech, but to engage with it. Listen to people you disagree with and people you partially agree with and find out what they have to offer. Honestly, it’s fun.

County Executive Precinct Results – Analysis

Recently, Seventh State posted their analysis of the Democratic Primary precinct results, focusing on overall turnout and the gubernatorial primary. They promised a follow-up analysis of the County Executive election – one of the most dramatic and contested elections I’ve ever been involved with. Alas, it appears that Pagnucco and Lublin are on vacation, so I’ll do it myself.

Here is a GREAT map of the precinct results, showing who won, where, and by how much. Credit to Jordan Tessler @JZTessler on Twitter:

My key takeaways:

The notion that Marc Elrich is exclusively a Beltway Boy is a myth…

To be fair, Seventh State mentioned a while back that Marc was the top vote-getter in the past two Council elections, coming in first in the majority of precincts, including upcounty. Here, he wins Poolesville (hardly a Beltway-progressive hotbed), Mt Airy, and the dark-blue upcounty area around the Ag Reserve. In past blogs and in some social media kerfuffles, I’ve tried to debunk the notion that Elrich was the candidate for rich white NIMBYs. While it may seem that Elrich’s base is comprised of the strange bedfellows of far-left progressives and anti-development reactionaries, the “anti-development” contingent upcounty suggests not an exclusionary wealthy homeowner demographic, but a legitimately concerned citizen base who would rather not have their nature reserve paved over.

…But Takoma Park and Silver Spring are the progressive heart of the county.

If not the progressive heart of the whole country. Let’s keep it real. Silver Spring is #WokeAF. Having been active in this election for the past year, I (for better or for worse) have attended events mostly in Silver Spring, and there is hands-down not just support that leans Elrich, but legitimate enthusiasm to elect Elrich. Young people see him as our own Bernie Sanders 2.0. Older people know him personally or “go way back” and respect him for his decades of activism and consistent integrity. In Takoma Park live idealists who some may say exist in their own world or have never left their respective liberal arts colleges – but I would argue that Takoma Park liberals have (like me) found their leftist views solidified and hardened as they grew up and saw first-hand the need for racial equity and economic justice. Meanwhile, Silver Spring is home to… literally everyone and anyone. WalletHub ranked Silver Spring as the fourth most diverse city in America in 2018 (and yes, I am aware of the fact that Silver Spring is not an incorporated city). Immigrants, millennials, seniors, working-class people and wealthy people of all races, families, singles, and students live in this expansive suburb and facilitate the free exchange of ideas that contribute to the trend in urban centers leaning left. And Marc Elrich has found a base of support (and volunteers) across all these demographics.

David Blair had a VERY impressive Rockville Pike/I-270 corridor ground game. 

Predictably, David Blair’s home base of Potomac was one of his strongest precincts, but he and his staff hit hard the narrative (whether true or not) that upcounty was neglected, or at least underrepresented, in county government. North of Rockville showed particularly high Blair support, which could have been for a number of reasons. It is possible that some Blair voters did indeed choose him as the “business” candidate and would like to see more economic development along I-270. Likely, Blair’s financial capabilities and hard-hustling ground game, which recruited hundreds of paid canvassers, resulted in this impressive territorial cover, reaching constituents that other candidates did not have the resources, wherewithal, or intensity to reach. Based on my conversations with his staff, Blair accumulated a groundswell of support from young people of color living in upcounty – and not just because he offered them paid canvassing opportunities, but because of his enthusiasm for progressive causes such as gun control and women’s issues.

I reiterate, that Blair may be a lot more progressive than I had thought when I went hard against him – but the Washington Post endorsement(s) combined with the trend in Republicans and Libertarians to switch parties to vote for him as the “business candidate” turned off a lot of younger downcounty progressives.

I would have liked to see official results on this, but a source familiar with the matter said that a poll did show the under-30 voter to go for Marc Elrich.

Blair also made inroads in East County. 

I found it interesting the blue-and-green patchwork of Council District 4 and parts of East County. While I do not have that much of a hypothesis as to who appealed  to whom  and where and why, I can make a semi-educated guess that this bolsters my point that the vote for Blair might not have been simply an anti-Elrich/pro-business vote. Both candidates had support in East County, and I’d wager that it’s less of a case of intense neighbor rivalry and more a matter of name recognition and progressive positions on social issues.

Rose Krasnow didn’t make it much out of Rockville.

It could be that she entered the race too late. Or that she took public financing and that hindered her fundraising. Or that the Post’s endorsement of Blair and characterization of him as “the business candidate” had overtaken her lane – even though she was arguably the most pro-business candidate in the race, according to the Empower Montgomery “Economic Ballot.” I was personally surprised she didn’t fare better, given the dire need for more women in county government.

Berliner and Leventhal did not inspire

Face it, folks. Montgomery County voters want change. They may disagree on what kind of change – a progressive like Elrich, an outsider like Blair, a pro-business moderate like Rose – but voters did not pass Term Limits so they could see more of Berliner and Leventhal. There were merits to both of them, but nothing that another candidate didn’t provide along with a spark of change. To their credit, both ended up endorsing Elrich after the primary, and have made efforts to pull Democratic voters together. That being said, their messages did not resonate to the same extent as the three leading candidates. We do see one Leventhal precinct and a smattering of Berliner precincts around Bethesda, but not much else. Their respective supporters should be itching for Rank Choice Voting from here on out.

Elrich narrowly won the precincts along the Purple Line. 

I’ll leave this up to your own interpretation 🙂

 

 

She’s baaaaaaaack!

[Enter voice of Poltergeist blonde]

They’re baaaaaack…

That’s right. The MoCo Millennial is not gone forever. It’s true, I’ve been taking time away from political blogging since the primary was *finally* resolved in Montgomery County. There were a number of reasons for this hiatus, least of which was how exhausting incessant online fights had gotten.

Also, I’ve come to sort of eat my words after leaving you with a 4,000-word-plus blog on how awful it would be to have “evil corporatist”  David Blair as our County Executive nominee.

Honestly, I take it all back. Or most of it.

I say this not just because Blair endorsed Marc Elrich, or because Elrich brought him onto his transition team. It doesn’t even really have anything at all to do with Elrich – not directly, anyway.

I recently met with Blair’s political director, Lily Bolourian, to discuss having something of a “unity panel” and to clear the air/get through misconceptions about our respective candidates. The conversation went really well, and I must say I learned a lot. Confession: I do tend to get carried away when I latch onto a particular idea, but I’m pretty open to having my opinions evolve with more information, so make of that what you will. When you get past the fact that he is multi-millionaire in the pharmacy benefits industry, Blair actually has a number of progressive stances on social issues as well as halfway-decent economically progressive ideas. Seriously, how “far-right” is a candidate who supports universal pre-K?

Perhaps what was most encouraging was to learn was that a lot of Blair’s base supported him for his socially progressive policies, (which, to be fair, his money did help in getting out the message) and not because he was the “business candidate.” I think what turned me off about Blair the most (besides him not being Marc Elrich) was the gratuitous Post endorsement and the Republicans-turned-fake-Democrats who voted for him because they saw him as the fiscal conservative. Turns out, they would have been wrong anyway.

What I do still stand by is the concept of “Party Unity” being bullshit. It is still bullshit; it always was bullshit. Nancy Floreen’s entire career proves this.

Anyone who derides “Bernie Bros” for not enthusiastically backing Hillary in November 2016, or for daring to vote third party in Chesapeake-blue Maryland, who backs Nancy Floreen in her “Independent” campaign for County Executive is a LYING HYPOCRITE.

Sigh. You can’t even make this up.

Given that 70% of MoCo voters favored term limits and the fact that both Elrich and Floreen come from the current council, there is an entirely real possibility that Robin Ficker could make it in if they split the vote.

Robin. Ficker.

What’s more, is Floreen’s legal-yet-grossly-egotistical entry helps Larry Hogan more than anything. While Democrats should be funneling resources into electing Ben Jealous, they now how to pour resources into keeping Montgomery County blue, while Elrich ends up in a financial bind.   Meanwhile, Nancy will get as much funding as she wants from the real estate development community, and establishment Democrats are not doing their part in endorsing Ben Jealous.

So, yes. Party Unity is bullshit. Pro-corporate centrists shove “unity” down our throats when it’s a Hillary Clinton-type politician, but when it’s a progressive, they take the ball and go home. Who exactly are the whiners here?

I’m going to once again tip my hat to David Blair. He may still be a fiscal conservative – of that, I don’t even know, but at this point, it doesn’t even matter. He lost a hard-fought race, and he wasn’t a sore loser about it. The development community are the sore losers here, as are certain other members of the political elite and business establishment.

It’s time to grow up and practice what you preach, folks. Or at least admit it – you are terrified of progressive candidates because it just might in the very slightest affect your bottom line. To hell with working people who actually want to retain some dignity living in this county.

30 Is Not Old. (And Why I Need To Explain That)

For the most part, I’ve kept this blog about Maryland politics. The original alter-ego of mine, The MoCo Millennial, is the left-wing pundit that contextualizes local elections with philosophical meandering. The other, Takoma Wild Child (which is visible on Instagram) is the condescending “healthy lifestyle” advocate, who wonders, “I never get sick because I live a certain way, so why don’t you?”

I am saying this tongue-in-cheek, of course. (Note: A lot of what I say is facetious/tongue-in-cheek). There is an over-arching point, though: that I don’t particularly care how old I am or what I am “supposed to be doing” at a given age. And that works for me.

In this section of the blog, I will be revealing more about myself, but those who know me IRL know that I have about only five weeks left in my 20s. That’s right. In September, I will no longer have any excuse not to properly “adult.” I am no longer a “young adult,” just a full-fledged, non-bullshittable, ADULT. So, what’s going to change?

Absolutely nothing.

I can still run fast. I can still do back handsprings. Nothing aches, nothing pains, nothing is sore unless I do an intense workout to really justify the soreness. I feel the need to point all this out, because self-professed medical know-it-alls tell me that muscular composition declines after 30, as does fertility, skin elasticity, you name it. Whatever. Challenge accepted. I still feel invincible.

At the risk of being condescending (and didn’t I just give you a trigger warning that I was about to be condescending?) I think I have my own lifestyle to thank for this.

See, I don’t diet. I never count calories. I don’t restrict eating times or consciously eliminate certain foods. That being said, I do have particular “dislikes” that help me out automatically – I don’t eat McDonalds (mainly because I detest the form of Capitalism it epitomizes), I don’t drink soda except for the occasional root beer (I just don’t like the taste…?) and I don’t particularly care for a lot of creamy-rich foods (it’s a weird texture aversion I’ve had since I was a kid).

I’m a long-distance runner. It’s been a given, a lifestyle, since I was 15. Every job I’ve had, schedule I’ve worked, country I’ve lived in – running has stayed with me throughout. My first thought with a new adjustment is – when and where I will run? My training cycle generally averages between 40 and 60 miles per week. Admittedly, the 60 mile weeks result in a rather voracious appetite, which I have no shame in satisfying.

I am aware that for some, long-term distance running can do a number on your joints or cartilage in the knees – which is why I am particular about my shoes, my resting periods, and also considering options such as swimming, biking, trekking, rock climbing etc, to mix it up should I encounter a day when running doesn’t seem to be working for me anymore. Long story short, my natural state is to be active. Even at work – and I DO have a desk job – I fidget incessantly and often have to get up and stretch.

I’m a big time water drinker and rarely am without a glass or mason jar of water nearby.

I generally avoid medicating myself unless it’s absolutely necessary. I honestly can’t even remember the last time I was prescribed something or encouraged to take something over-the-counter. Maybe when I had my wisdom teeth out, when I took vicodin for a day while drinking smoothies and watching Bollywood? I did get mono a few years ago, did I take something for that? Can’t remember. Anyways, I’m not talking about being a hard-core naturalist to the point where it’s irresponsible. If and when I come down with something serious, I would complete an antibiotic regimen as directed. What I am talking about is the very American tendency to pop a pill for every minor ailment. When I get a headache, for example, I tend to let it run its course without medicating it. My philosophy is painkillers address the symptom without addressing the problem. When I get a headache, chances are it’s because I’m not hydrated enough, not eating enough, or not sleeping enough (usually the latter). When I address the cause, the headache goes away, and I’m back in commission.

Speaking of sleep – that’s where I fall short. I average probably about six hours per night – which is not enough for an active lifestyle, for sure.

At some point, I want to challenge myself to a month of no-excuses eight-hour nights. I did it for a week – and while I had to cut certain activities short, I felt amazing. But yeah, it wasn’t realistic for the real world.

So, there you have it. My secret for feeling as strong, if not stronger, at 30 as I did when I was 20. (Notice I prioritize feeling healthy over numerical values like weight.)

There is a caveat, however. I don’t have children (not against having them but it’s not a priority). I also haven’t really internalized the inherent stresses of adulthood. I don’t have a mortgage, I’m not a homeowner, I don’t work overtime, I’m not exactly “building wealth,” I guess this is to say I don’t prioritize material gains, for better or for worse. I do what I can to manage my finances, but I tend not to waste energy stressing over them.

So, going forward, readers should understand that this is my ethos. As the MoCo Millennial rants about politics, the Takoma Wild Child continues to play outside (in the wild!) and embrace physical youthfulness in a way such that age means absolutely nothing.

On Unity (and Agony): Marc Elrich Against The World

“Kitsch has its source in the categorical agreement with being. . .

. . .political movements rest not so much on rational attitudes as on the fantasies, images, words, and archetypes that come together to make up this or that political kitsch.”

– Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

As YouTube’s and Bethesda Beat’s most infamous Marc Elrich supporter, I did not celebrate his slim margin ahead of primary opponent David Blair as the Election Day totals were completed last Tuesday. Why? Because there are thousands of absentee and provisional ballots to be counted. And, I’ve watched Game of Thrones, Season 4, Episode 8. Even if Elrich is built more like the Mountain, I’d end up reacting like Ellaria Sand if I’m not careful.

Maybe we should have an election by combat?

The state of the County Executive race is indeed agonizing. We were all prepared for it to be over last week. By now, we would be either celebrating or moving on. If we were to lose, at least we’d all be in good company and commiserating together and drinking. Instead, it will come down to the last of the provisional and absentee ballots, which will be finished up Friday the 6th and certified Monday the 9th, according to Bethesda Beat. If Blair beats Elrich, I may very well find out while I’m at work or something, not surrounded by Elrich fans and whiskey and wine.

And now, yet ANOTHER plot twist: Nancy Floreen has entered the race, at the eleventh hour. This news broke literally just as I was starting this blog entry. Floreen, as many know, is a centrist or center-right Democrat (although, apparently, not for long?) who often takes the most conservative positions on the council, such as  opposing the $15 minimum wage bill until she was basically peer pressured into supporting it.

The Countdown That Remains: Blair vs. Elrich

Before I go any further – a necessary disclaimer: These views are entirely my own. I am not and was never a paid staffer on Marc’s campaign or anyone else’s; I only volunteered. I do not represent his views, nor do my views happen to be lock-step with his. I can think of at least three issues on which I disagree with Marc. He does not tell me what to write, he has not approved anything written in this blog, and he might not even agree with some of my interpretations here. The Elrich campaign remains cautiously optimistic as the rest of the votes are counted. I, personally, might be less optimistic.

Here’s why: As it stands, Marc leads Blair by 166 votes. After election night, that lead was 492 votes. Blair basically dominated the absentee votes postmarked before the 26th. Here is a screenshot of Hal Ginsberg’s analysis on the Facebook group Our Revolution in Montgomery County:

Its main takeaways? Based on 2014 results, absentee and provisionals have skewed conservative. Progressive candidates including Marc himself have underperformed in provisional votes. What’s more, is that absentee voting has been particularly high in Council District 1, which includes Blair country Potomac. Also, there is the very educated guess that a lot of absentee voters are wealthy Potomac residents filling out their ballots according to the Washington Post recommendations before leaving for their summer homes.

Provisionals may still be a wild card, but the rumor remains that several Republicans have re-registered as Democrats specifically to vote for Blair, and their votes would fall into the provisional category. This may just be a rumor, however, and provisional ballots that happen to be affected by the glitch may very well be young voters, renters, and people who have to move a lot. This demographic *should* vote for Marc, but the effectiveness of the outreach Blair was able to buy could have turned them, too.

It is still uncertain. Marc could still hold on. I’m doubtful, but I hope I’m wrong.

The Existential Problem with Blairism

I will first state the obvious, that David Blair is not Donald Trump, and all comparisons beyond his being an outsider, self-funding businessman are just silly. Blair doesn’t carry that element of outright grotesque. He isn’t even as overtly obnoxious as David Trone. And yet Blairism is something I see as more insidious, with his motif of upbeat corporatism. It’s America’s version of “political kitsch” Kundera warned us about.

One of my favorite takeaways from Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being is the lesson that submission to kitsch – joining the parade and repeating back the Party’s slogans – is indeed worse than acknowledging how bad your life sucks. A careful read of Kundera reveals that this message is not simply against Soviet-era Communism, but against submission to an imposed political narrative in general. The narrative of Blairism is that American corporatism is the system in which we not only live, but must celebrate. He speaks in terms of “innovation” and “growth” and mimics a profit line-graph trajectory of where he believes Montgomery County is not, but should be, as if he were the County’s CEO and wielded similar authority. When one dares question his business record – which he uses as his qualification to hold public office – you’re met with an upbeat, glossy, smiling mask thinly veiling condescension and dismissiveness, telling you to #ChooseCivility.

Sure. You mean, #BowYourHead.

Blair’s forum answers suggested very superficial knowledge of County governance; they were generic, CEO-like, implicative of a corporate structure parameter, and were peppered with bland corporate buzzwords like “synergy” and “innovation” and “driven” – with a cringeworthy presence of “like” and “um.”

They basically sound like this Generic Brand Ad:

What makes Blairism dangerous and not merely annoying is that it promulgates the false narrative of the American Dream, and the notion that “more is better.” Blairism glorifies indiscriminate growth, density, and development, but with more excusably vague terms than the transparently urbanist GreaterGreaterWashington blog. Blairism incentivizes the “Protestant work ethic,” networking, being the “first one in/last one out,” and all other tenets of the rat-race centered corporate culture, the productivity-centered state of being. Blairism operates on the unfortunate American mindset that values that one percent chance of becoming among the One Percent more than the hard, cold reality that we are not nearly as upwardly mobile as we think.

Elrichism, democratic socialism, or a more sane, Northern European-style capitalism favors a decent, balanced living, where people can compartmentalize work, family, and health. It enables working people to afford housing and healthcare with some cash left over to spend at local businesses, so that communities can house residents of diverse professions. It acknowledges the fact that not every person needs to be a CEO.

Blairism leads to a sterile world of high rises and highways and existence evaluated by the upward-trending line graph.

Specifically, Blairism centers on Montgomery County’s competition to “win” Amazon by presenting a more “business friendly” face, like that of Northern Virginia. Just as I wouldn’t want to date or marry someone who loves me for someone I’m not, I don’t want Amazon here if we need to be more like Northern Virginia. If I wanted that, I’d live in Northern Virginia.

Blairistan vs. Elrichia

How would I envision a region – or a country – governed entirely according to the principles of these two candidates? If I may hyperbolize somewhat, multplying the impact of this elected office to the apparent world views of the candidates.

In a word, Blair’s world would have…traffic. I envision a similar asphalt jungle of clogged roads and high rises as Fairfax County, Virginia. The “high paying jobs” Blair’s pro-business policies would attract would enable loyal corporate servants to live in these high-rises as the established network of executives would settle in Stepfordesque cul-de-sacs lined with McMansions. (See: Reston, Virginia). The character of individual towns and neighborhoods may be lost, in favor of uncontrolled density leading to sameness and blandness. Declining schools (as real estate developers would not be required to put more into the schools and infrastructure their residents would presumably need) would lead to wealthier residents commuting to private schools elsewhere. Lower income residents, meanwhile, would be forced to move farther and farther away from their schools and their jobs leading to more… you guessed it… traffic.

I imagine an Elrich world to be somewhat like parts of Europe – the civil libertarianism of Amsterdam, the revolutionary, self-questioning anti-establishment character of the classic French Left, and the social welfare innovations of Scandinavia, which has earned these countries high scores in overall personal happiness.

Which world would you like to live in? I’m a tangible, quality-of-life kind of person – not a quantity person, not a competitor for the numbers-person. Do I live in the wrong country?

Actually, when I think about it, the “American Dream” fetish, and the glorification of rags-to-riches has some aspect I can empathize with, which is rooting for the underdog. The thing is, while Blair was able to grow his small business into a Fortune 500 company, he did NOT start with nothing. I’d argue that Marc Elrich’s life story is a lot more compelling as an American “underdog” tale – an antiwar activist from a working class family, who worked as a co-op grocer and a schoolteacher before getting elected to the County Council on his fifth attempt, being the underdog on a lot of 8-1 votes, and defying the odds (in the form of money spent by the opposing candidate, hit piece articles,/fake news, misrepresentation of his ideas, peddling of conspiracy theories, etc) and becoming the next Montgomery County Executive.

So, Who Are the Blair Voters?

For the most part, I encounter three main types of Blair voters.

1. The Uninformed.

Low-information voters – and by this, I do NOT mean lower intelligence or lacking general knowledge; I mean voters who simply don’t follow local politics, and who may be quite knowledgeable in many other subject areas – may vote on name recognition. Again, not judging these folks. When I lived in DC, I didn’t follow city council elections all that much, and would simply vote for the woman or vote for the person whose name I’ve seen around, trusting my neighbors and such. When one candidate drowns out the rest, it’s easy enough to win on just the ratio of people giving the benefit of the doubt versus people who are rightfully annoyed.

2. The Gullible.

The knee-jerk anti-Elrich crowd falls into this category. These people trust the Washington Post editorial board, blogs like Greater Greater Washington, and developer-funded covert Republican fronts like Empower Montgomery when they release reports with cherry picked doomsday economic predictions (see my past blog about the Post endorsement). And yet I am not judging people who fall into this category either. They are simply inundated with the business community’s narrative, and blogs like GGWash at least masquerade as left-leaning, so it’s completely understandable that people might take their word for it if they don’t take the effort to follow the money.

3. The Cynical and the Selfish.

These people, I am absolutely judging. I am talking about wealthy Montgomery County “progressive” Democrats who virtue signal, sometimes using weaponized identity politics as a financially expedient way to #resist, because it doesn’t require any actual sacrifice to one’s wallet.

Flying a rainbow flag or a Black Lives Matter sign doesn’t affect your bottom line in Montgomery County as much as actually paying your fair share of taxes.

The Washington Post editorial board is an example of what I would place in the “cynical” category. As Elrich continued dominating the crowded primary, they panicked at the idea that no one was rallying behind a more “pro-business” candidate, and so they endorsed the one who wasn’t even the most right-wing (that would have been Rose Krasnow, according to the Empower Montgomery mailer), but the one with the most money. Cynical indeed.

I’d also place someone like real estate industry blogger Dan Reed in this category, even though he did not (allegedly) support Blair. His anti-Elrich tweet uses identity politics to make it look like Marc’s opposition to the “uncontrolled development at any cost” ideology was somehow racist. Keep in mind that Marc Elrich was the one who fought to preserve housing for immigrant communities along the Purple Line amid “revitalization” efforts.

My guess is that Reed does this for attention and retweets.

Now, Enter Nancy Floreen.

I must say. Nancy Floreen’s decision to jump in was impressively House of Cards. She takes advantage of a bitterly divided primary between two presumably unpopular lead candidates and goes straight into the general as an Independent without going through the grueling year-long campaign process beforehand.

Disclosure: I’m not a fan of Ms. Floreen. While I haven’t interacted with her enough to have a personal grudge against her, I find her overall demeanor condescending. She made assumptions about the reasons MoCo residents supported Term Limits in 2016 – a decision I disagree with, but I would acknowledge the varying arguments for it. She also appeared on MyMCMedia’s coverage of the 2018 primary, where she and the other hosts were pretty transparent in their rooting for a Blair victory, and where her voice was absolutely dripping with disdain as Elrich pulled ahead. All this on top of the fact that I disagree with her on a lot of policy issues.

At best, Floreen is an opportunist, for the reason stated above. At worst, she is the development community’s last gasp attempt to prevent Elrich become County Executive. This will become clear if she decides against running if Blair wins the primary. If (admittedly, currently unsubstantiated) rumors are true that she has been approached by Empower Montgomery before making this decision, it is clear that the real estate development community is losing their shit over the idea of having to pay slightly more for the infrastructure new residents would demand.

The “Establishment” – which I am defining as centrist corporate Democrats, big business executives, real estate development industry profiteers, and The Bezos Washington Post – are shamelessly, hilariously, and needlessly terrified of Commissar Marc B. Elrich. Honestly, that makes his supporters love him even more.

The False Hope of Unity

A few nights ago, I attended the Montgomery County Democratic Party’s traditional “Kiss and Make Up” Party, which aims to bring all Democrats – successful and unsuccessful candidates, elated and disappointed supporters alike – to unite and support each other with the goal of electing more Democrats. Do I agree that this is a good thing?

Yes and no.

First of all, if the idea is to just elect more Democrats, a Floreen candidacy against Elrich should be irrelevant, as Floreen would run as an independent.

Second of all, I’d say it’s a case-by-case question. I’m still figuring out as to where one may draw the line in determining when one has the luxury of voting one’s conscience versus voting for the lesser evil. I voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election, despite being an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter, because I knew how much was at stake. As one of many, many examples, attending the March on Saturday to keep immigrant families together was enough to justify voting against Donald Trump.

That being said – while some may still argue that Bernie Bros or Purity Ponies lost Hillary Clinton the election, the fact is that Hillary Clinton lost Hillary Clinton the election. While she did win the popular vote, her message failed to resonate in the swing states and rust belt states which, however unfortunately, determine the outcome of the election in our Electoral College system. The Democratic Party needs stronger candidates, and Hillary was a weak candidate. This means that we absolutely MUST critique the DNC and improve the way it operates by making it less corrupt.

I also completely disagree with putting party loyalty over progressive policy. Those who are quick to condemn “Purists” point to how Bernie Sanders is “not a Democrat.” My challenge to these people is to examine Independent Bernie Sanders and Democrat Joe Manchin. Which of these esteemed Senators is more likely to vote with Trump? Which is more likely to actively oppose confirming a Trump nominee? Exactly.

If having a “D” by your name is more important that actually standing for principles that distinguish you from Republicans, then…I rest my case.

So, enough of this “Unity” bullshit. Kundera would describe this false moral superiority as another iteration of “political kitsch.”

Speaking specifically to Montgomery County, I would make the call to NOT vote for the lesser evil at the local level. The outcome of a Robin Ficker election, which wouldn’t happen anyways, would not have nearly the global impact of a Donald Trump presidency, yet would certainly be the kick in the ass the entitled developer-backed Establishment Democrats might need.

The Root of All Evil

Citizens United is bar none the worst Supreme Court decision in modern American history. In fact, I’d say it “trumps” all others, even those that take away rights of women and minorities, because it serves as the umbrella or roadblock of preventing the very candidates that want to take away these rights from ascending to office by outspending their rivals.

As many have described this election as a battle cry for rank choice voting (I don’t disagree), it’s also a case study for the need to get money out of politics.

Is it really a fair election if those who opted into public financing – which many argue is taking the moral high road, or at least proving one’s independence from special interests and large corporate and developer donors – end up fighting with one arm tied behind their backs, when a self-financer like Blair can come in with $3-5 million of his own money to drown out everyone else? What’s more, is when moneyed interests further put their thumbs on the scale by controlling the media narrative in favor of their candidate.

But I won’t be hypocritical here. I also think union money does not belong in politics – and my candidate has the overwhelming support (though not financial) from unions.

As I see it, with our current Supreme Court, the only hope is an Article 5 convention to add a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics, which is what Cenk Uygur’s Wolf PAC is doing, state by state. It’s a long haul, but I think progress is gradually being made. And yes, I understand the irony of a PAC fighting PAC money. To this, I would say that in this case, I’m an ends-justify-the-means person, as we cannot unilaterally disarm in a system where you need to get money from somewhere to have any influence whatsoever.

Side note: Progressive Maryland has gotten similar flack over the fact that the organization has a Super PAC. As Progressive Maryland does operate on donor money, right-wing bloggers jumped at the “gotcha” opportunity to attempt to tie Progressive Maryland’s donors to an anti-Blair flyer, which volunteers printed out at their work printers and distributed by hand. Because of the nature of the monied interests controlling the narrative, more attention was paid to the fact that Progressive Maryland has a donor-funded PAC than to the actual allegations cited in the flyer.

Tying this back to the County Executive race… Is Blair trying to buy the election? My answer is absolutely YES. The absentee vote tells a story. Blair was able to reach voters on a breadth and depth that publicly financed candidates simply did not have the resources to match. I am also aware, based on anecdotal evidence, that Blair has handed out free t-shirts, water bottles, and even metro cards to encourage passersby to support his candidacy. Personally, I find this tacky, but politically, it points to “buying their votes.”

The argument that some Blair supporters make – that his spending of his own money makes him independent of special interests, also does not hold water, considering his association with Empower Montgomery (see previous blog). I find it completely unconspiratorial to suspect that Empower has a dog in this fight. I find it only slightly conspiratorial to suspect that Jeff Bezos himself may have meddled in the election coverage, given the gratuitous double endorsement by the Washington Post, as the new DC metro area resident is searching for a second headquarters and presumably wants the best deal he can get.

Middle Fingers

Trump supporters and Trump apologists often say that the election of Donald J. Trump was “a middle finger to the establishment.” Trump opponents – myself included – liken the Trump Tower in downtown Washington to a giant middle finger to our Founding Fathers.

If Blair wins, I’d also see this as a middle finger to Montgomery County’s public financing experiment. The public financing option encouraged numerous candidates to run, leading to crowded primaries and confused voters and a fertile ground for a big spender to jump in and drown everyone else out. Likewise, I’d see a fair-and-square Elrich victory as a middle finger to corporatism. Considering that Marc was up against every imaginable adversary – developers and their money, big business executives, the Washington Post (and Jeff Bezos?), and millions and millions of dollars – if he STILL wins with a plurality comparable to that of some European elections, it really would be a triumph of progressivism over bullshit.

A Bad Prescription

If David T. Blair wins the Democratic nomination after all the absentees, provisionals, and recounts, he will most certainly NOT have my support in November. More than likely, I will write in Marc. I will, however, #ChooseCivility and refrain from giving him my own Middle Finger if I ever see him through tinted windows and past his taxpayer-funded security detail (taxpayers: maybe you should be interested in supporting candidates who can be their own bodyguards? Think about it…) because I see Blair as a symptom, not a disease.

As a former CEO of a pharmacy benefits manager, with developers on his side, Blair is prescribing us the drug of neoliberalism. The “Unity” behind Blair that loyal Democrats may call for is akin to relying on painkillers for an ailment instead of addressing the root of the problem, the thing that’s making you sick. (Digression – this is why I usually don’t take aspirin or ibuprofen for a headache. I try to address the problem causing it – be it lack of sleep, dehydration, or not eating enough – and when it goes away, I know the problem is fixed. Usually it’s sleep.)

In fact, Blair’s PBM executive background is a perfect metaphor for the unhealthy cycle of neoliberalism. The system perpetuates rat race-style capitalism, that stresses you out, makes you eat like shit and lose sleep, makes you sick, and requires you to spend more on prescriptions.

The Democratic Party is sick. Democrats lost over a thousand seats when Obama was President, and they couldn’t even nominate a candidate to beat the most unpopular president in modern US history. If we are really going to have a #BlueWave in November, we have to nominate candidates that are true to their word, are principled, and distinguish themselves enough as alternatives to Republicans so that young people – who have more at stake in the future – rally behind them.

It’s possible that some may rally around Blair. After all, he gives them free bling. Soon they’ll find, however, that this is where the “handouts” end, and the same rat-race corporatism that exacerbates income inequality will not only be imposed, but glorified.

It’s unlikely that many will rally around Floreen, except the development community, or possibly those who support her for the sole reason that she is a woman. She would not, however, EARN anyone’s support, as she conveniently bypassed the grueling primary that began in early 2017.

It would be nice if many rallied around Elrich, as young people, renters, people of color, environmentalists, conservationalists, small business owners, and civil libertarians have every reason to do so. But in facing Floreen, Marc will have the same establishment adversaries and with less money, depending on what the public financing laws allow for a contested general. Not saying I’d give up hope – I’d imagine we’d do everything we can to up our ground game and social media presence. While I can’t speak for Marc and his staff, who probably live for this kind of thing, I could only liken this to running a personal best half marathon (which was 1:27:30, by the way), and then being told, just kidding, you’re actually in a 20-mile race instead, keep going!

Robin Ficker will rally his contingency of far-right Republicans, fellow sports hecklers, and internet trolls.

At this point, 2018 looks pretty grim in its chances of having the County Executive galvanizing any kind of epic, gnarly swell as Democratic Party loyalists paddle their surfboards to ride the #BlueWave. But then again, since when has Rockville ever been “epic” or “gnarly”? The past County Executives that I can name are not exactly the embodiment of “cool” – or of inspiration, progressiveness, or mobilization – so why should that change?

I sure hope I’m wrong.

On Trolling and Hyperbole. CE Analysis Follow Up

I have a confession to make: I have broken probably the First Law of Millennial Code. I feed the trolls. And sometimes, I AM the troll.

Trolling can be fun. It’s like getting drunk without the hangover. That doesn’t mean it’s good for you, though we still do it. And this County Executive race has been ripe for trolling.

I wouldn’t, however, call myself a full-time troll. Or, as such, I wouldn’t say I’m a Fundamentalist Troll, whose sole purpose is to disrupt discussion with personal insults while usually remaining anonymous. My trolling of Bethesda Beat comment sections and Twitter and Facebook threads is generally 85% genuine analysis with 15% hyperbole and/or sarcasm interspersed. I’d say that’s fair. I’m not a professional journalist nor do I claim to be one. I also never claimed to be neutral – though all candidates, even those I like, are subject to mockery on occasion.

On a non-professional platform such as this one, I see nothing wrong in occasionally substituting a meme for standard analysis, even if it oversimplifies the point. The reason is that I assume that my readers have the intellectual capacity to distinguish memes, jokes, and hashtags from actual conclusions, and to realize that I can do so as well.

It has been brought to my attention – and I’m not singling out any one person, there have been multiple who have said this – that I have been gratuitous in my negative characterization of candidate David Blair.

To begin with, I had no personal issues with Mr. Blair. I was even in discussions with some of his campaign staff about having him for a YouTube interview, but he never followed through. I have often said how I am willing and eager to present opposing views on a show with an otherwise strong progressive bent.

After the Washington Post endorsed him, Seventh State  basically gave us an open lane to go on the offensive. Adam Pagnucco writes:

Besides Blair, the other big winner from the Post’s endorsement is Elrich. Elrich has been crusading against rival candidates who have been supported by wealthy businessmen for years; now he gets an ACTUAL wealthy businessman as perhaps his chief opponent. Elrich is no doubt rubbing his hands together in glee as his progressive hordes gird for battle against plutocracy. His field coordinator must be dizzy with joy.

So, a few of us ran with it.

Daily Kos article has been circulating, featuring a 2012 testimony of a woman whose prescription copays increased by 1400% under th Blue Cross subcontractor Catalyst. Blair, who was CEO of Catalyst at the time, reportedly doubled his executive compensation and spoke optimistically about consolidation in the industry.

During a forum last week, Blair lamented the high costs of prescription medications for seniors.

One can see how this offers some good, red meat for Team Elrich. The hashtag #MoCoPharmaBro took off.

Unfortunately, I am finding myself needing to explain the use of hyperbole and memes in this case. In each of my hyperboles there is a grain, or even a heap, of truth.

Of course we do not think Mr. Blair is exactly the same as Martin Shkreli. But this 2012….coincidence..does merit some inquiry into his possible role in corporate policy making of the PBM that enabled copays to increase so drastically, or into the justification of his executive pay increases during this time, or how his priorities as a businessman might reflect his priorities as an elected official.

Likewise, nobody thinks Blair is exactly the same as Donald Trump. Blair has much better hair.

In all seriousness, we are not accusing Blair of fearmongering against Muslims or immigrants, sexually assaulting women, possible money laundering, or harboring sympathy for white supremacists. And OF COURSE Blair’s policy proposals are nothing like Trump’s.

The parallels we are referring to are mainly his being a wealthy businessman with no public service experience. He also has a tendency in forums to use repetition of superlatives in lieu of actual cohesive substance, though not to the extent of Trump.

I am clearly able to make this distinction while employing hyperbole to make a point. I assume my readers are as well.

This all being said, I do not believe that those accusing candidate Marc Elrich of being a Socialist are employing hyperbole in the same way. If they were, why would they even keep using this as an insult? Marc never denied being a member of the DSA (for the record, I am not a member, but I associate with some of them) and has indeed spoken about the merits of a mixed economic system that is more socialistic than ours (which doesn’t say much). He has repeatedly condemned our obsession with two outdated ideologies.

Adam Pagnucco seems to think this is incriminating.

I could not imagine Mr. Pagnucco or the people I have been arguing with to be intellectually dishonest enough to assume Marc is a Marxist socialist of the old Soviet or Venezuelan persuasion. Marc even challenges these critics to name a single piece of “socialist” legislation he has introduced.

David Lublin ultimately pulls through and calls out both sides for talking past each other.

What I am seeing on social media is a (deliberately?) unclear use of the word “socialist” as a personal attack. Is it just less effective to say “Marc has social democratic leanings that veer too far away from my preference for unfettered free markets?” It would be one thing if the socialist epithet accompanied honest parallels between Elrich’s politics and a failed system leading to 20th century dictatorships, or attempts to connect his actual policies with certain aspects of it, but what I see is his being a “socialist” of a certain definition serving as the premise for all his points being discredited. In this case, “socialist” is not benign hyperbole given the tone and context; it is a deliberate mischaracterization used to incite fear and conjure imagery of Soviet Russia, Venezuela, or (according to one person) Detroit. Anyone who actually reads his Economic development plan will realize that the characterization of Elrich as “socialist, anti-business, anti-development,” is not hyperbolic, it’s just false.

I’ll repeat myself. I like to troll, sometimes. I like to intersperse some hyperbole and sarcasm into actual commentary, and I like to lay out hot-button issues that I know will get a rise out of people. It’s fun. But in doing so, I do not, to the best of my knowledge, spread falsehoods. If caught doing so, I would immediately correct myself.

At the end of the day, though, I’m for free speech. If it’s what pleases you, go ahead and call Marc an evil socialist all you want. Maybe you disagree with the line I drew between my hyperbole and yours. Fair enough. But at the very least, admit that you are trolling. We all do it. It’s a part of internet culture that looks like it’s here to stay.

The County Executive Forum Questions Everyone Should Be Asking

1. Yanny or Laurel?

2. What color was that dress?

3. Discuss the significance of the 2005 hit single “Dragostea din Tei.”

4. What does the fox say?

5. According to Buzzfeed, which Disney Princess is your Spirit Animal?

6. Discuss proper turn signal etiquette on 495.

7. Name something Old Bay does not go on (trick question).

8. If all Millennials were forgiven their student loans and had more money to make political donations, whose campaign would benefit the most and why?

9. Choose the best metaphor for the White House sinkhole.

10. Help GRRM finish the last two books. Who ultimately wins the iron throne? How? There is a double meaning to this.

The Washington Post’s Anointed Business Candidate

For sure, it’s been a while.

After taking a break following my foray into Ficker land, the MoCo Millennial alter-ego of mine has indeed morphed into a clearly defined advocate for a particular strain of the left.

I do not resent the accusations.

As I got back from Ukraine last week, I came home to unfortunate news that gubernatorial candidate Kevin Kamenetz died suddenly of cardiac arrest, as well as the news that the Washington Post endorsed David Blair for County Executive.

First, my condolences go out to Mr. Kamenetz’s family and residents of Baltimore County. Even if he wasn’t your favorite candidate, no one deserved this. It just shows you, we need to live each day. Because you just don’t know.

The Blair endorsement was somewhat surprising, though not shocking. With the tidal wave of doomsday-outlook articles about the MoCo business climate, I figured Jeff Bezos The Post would stump for one of the “pro-business” candidates. I did think, however, that they’d go with Rose Krasnow, who has the relevant experience and is the only woman in the race, as she has frequently reminded us. Were I to buy into the business community’s narrative, she would have been my pick, and I’ve only ever had positive interactions with Ms. Krasnow.

To the Post’s credit, they are usually highly critical of wealthy businessmen who self-fund campaigns in order to buy public office as an “outsider.”

Our rather limited sources of local news – the Post, Bethesda Beat, Seventh State, Maryland Matters – have covered in great detail and in a grave, Doomsday-predicting tone the Sage Policy Group analysis of MoCo’s allegedly weak business climate. Empower Montgomery, which David Blair helped found, held a County Executive forum upon the release of the report. Interestingly enough, Blair’s name was conveniently removed from Empower Montgomery’s list of founders as he moved forward with his candidacy. The forum and its preceding Doomsday report received extensive coverage, all parroting the same talking point: that Montgomery County’s tax base is shrinking because its fiscal policies are hostile to business. In other words, we have to grow our tax base by….drumroll….cutting taxes.

This is called trickle-down economics, folks. It doesn’t work.

What is also noteworthy is that the same two-week span featured a Green Forum for County Executive, and a racial equity forum. I attended these forums (at least those that were held after work hours), and they addressed equally grim potential outlooks for the environment, racial justice, and income inequality.

Where was all the media coverage of these forums?

Also, it would be interesting to hear the response if George Leventhal and Purple Line Now collaborated to have their targeted forum, or if Marc Elrich cooperated with labor unions to hold theirs. The Washington Post apparently has no reservations with an organization with close ties to one of the candidates holding a forum with a narrative particularly tailored to the candidate in question.

And yet there is an even more sinister truth alongside the Post’s endorsement. Earlier last week, the Post featured an article about suburban poverty and have housing affordability in Prince George’s County. A majority African-American county that the Post emphasizes “was hit particularly hard by the foreclosure crisis,” PG County serves as an effective foil to Montgomery, which has boasted its wealth while touting its ethnic diversity as an asset. At-large candidate Brandy Brooks noted that for MoCo’s media and business establishment, racial and ethnic diversity is merely an “amenity.”

An “amenity” that the Post laments, comes alongside a population of “immigrants and other lss affluent residents” that “strain local resources and budgets.”

First – What a thinly veiled Republican talking point – blaming immigrants for burdening the system.

Second – How is that for “soft bigotry of low expectations”? Immigrants in Montgomery County as well as around the country have contributed to great degrees of economic success.

Racial undertones aside, other blogs including Seventh State have noted that Elrich supporters, like your author, need not be overly concerned with the Blair endorsement. In fact, it may play to our narrative, propping up “a wealthy businessman” against “progressive hordes” in a “battle against plutocracy.”

Well, okay then. Here’s what I have to say to that:

Challenge accepted.

Blair will likely open his attack on Elrich with a reference to the term limit vote. Montgomery County voters had their own reasons for supporting term limits, but the bottom line was likely a resounding disapproval with the current County Council. A Council which Marc often opposed on 8-1 votes.

My comparison of Blair with Trump has been called “intellectually dishonest.” While I never equated Blair with Trump in terms of bombastic rhetoric and grotesque demagoguery, the fact remains that both ARE wealthy businessmen self-financing their campaigns as “outsiders.” As is David Trone.

What’s at stake is not just ceding the county to the business establishment’s hand-picked wealthy candidate. It’s the army of individual supporters who contributed small donations of less than $150 as part of MoCo’s public financing option – a first step toward getting money out of politics.

It’s not a demerit toward Mr. Blair simply for being wealthy. It’s the danger that he could edge out a victory by blanketing the county with annoying YouTube ads that interrupt my streaming and 16-page glossy mailers.

This only shows the grassroots progressives that we have more work to do. We’re ready for it. And we don’t get paid for it.

On June 26th (or in early voting, that starts a month from today), Montgomery County voters will decide whether or not they will surrender to the narrative of select members of the business establishment that props up a “change” candidate, a “political outsider.” Underneath this mask, however, is the further entrenchment of the role of corporate money (be it special interests or the candidate’a own company) in undermining the democratic process.

The Washington Post has anointed its non-Marc candidate.

I say, BRING IT ON.