A Word on Gerrymandering (and the need to get out of MoCo)

Sometimes, there is no better way to clear your mind than to get in the car and just drive. Your author had such a day, this past Saturday, and drove to College Park, then back home, then on to Frederick, Burkittsville (AKA Blair Witch country), Boonsboro (Annapolis Rock), then back home on a zen, introspective trek down 70/270.

The road trip was gloriously non-political, for the most part.

Don’t get me wrong. I like being active in MoCo politics. That’s why I have this project. But sometimes, we all need a break, which is why I commend those candidates who opted not to send canvassers out last weekend. While I’m not religious myself, those observing Easter or Passover Seder were probably not in the mood to talk politics with strangers (even in Takoma Park), and those who were not, were hopefully enjoying the mild, sunny weather (as Mother Nature is about to give us another middle finger tomorrow).

As candidates toiled away on questionnaires and other paperwork, I had the luxury to get away – and still, I couldn’t completely banish politics from my mind.

This is Maryland’s 8th congressional district:

Aside from the continuing debate over whether we need to widen I-270 (my opinion: NOPE), my mind drifted to the number of congressional district lines I crossed.

College Park is partially in Anthony Brown’s district (MD-4) am duchess partially Steny Hoyer’s (MD-5). (What was I doing there? Running a 5K, and my time was 19:15, thank you very much).

The ribbon-thin I-270 corridor connects Jamie Raskin’s 8th district from heavily populated, left-leaning Montgomery County to the upper mushroom cloud that encompasses northern Frederick and Carroll counties.

Various proposals have been made to work with other states to help end gerrymandering. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is addressing Republican- and Democratic-administered partisan gerrymandering, as ordinary citizens have put the issue to the forefront with humorous and poignant displays, like the 2014 Gerrymander Meander.

I am far from the first person to conclude this, but the fact of the matter is:

1. Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty, but Republicans more frequently so.

2. We effectively face a prisoners’ dilemma, as neither side wants to disarm before the other.

If asked, point blank, whether or not Maryland should move to a nonpartisan/disinterested/computer-generated redistricting system, my answer would be…absolutely.

First of all, this would be a much better option than letting Hogan do it himself.

Second – yes, this may lose one (maybe two, but propbably one) Democratic seat. But as we’ve seen since November 2016, stranger things have happened. Call me naive, but we could potentially keep those districts blue the old fashioned way – through grassroots activism and, oh, maybe finding a good candidate.

It’s a risk, but a far worse and entirely possible outcome would be to lose in an already gerrymandered district. John Delaney only beat Republican Amie Hoeber 56-40% in 2016, which sounds like a lot but is not in comparison to the trouncing the other congressional races in the state produced. (Or maybe that’s a good thing?)

Some may say they are tired of the Democratic Party, or its Progressive wing, taking the moral high ground and coming up with nothing (this may be true in some cases, such as Bernie Sanders going too easy on Hillary during the primary debates).

My argument is based on the concept that the more small- democratic option will win out in the long run. Take a look at public financing in our county elections. We’ll see how that plays out in the primary, of course, but candidates who have opted into taking public financing have each built a base of small donors that has earned them confidence in their potential to prevail over those taking traditional, private financing, who may have started with a cash advantage in the short run.

Will Maryland Democrats benefit in a similar way if we eliminate gerrymandering, sacrificing an undemocratic advantage in the short term for a more honest victory in the long run?

We’ll have to find out, eventually.

Looking Back: Is Conor Lamb’s Win a Victory for Moderate Democrats (and an indictment of progressive ‘purity tests’)?

Democrats around the country recently celebrated the narrow victory of Conor Lamb over Republican Rick Saccone (49.8%-49.6%) in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th. As Lamb wouldn’t be described as a rank-and-file “Progressive” – holding personal, although not legislative, pro-life views, a number of more moderate Democrats on social media have argued that Lamb’s victory, like Northam’s victory in Virginia, indicates that turning toward the center is the key to winning elections. NPR also addresses the “purity test vs. big tent” debate.

I would argue, however, that there really isn’t even a correlation. Centrists like Lamb and Northam have won. Centrists like Clinton and Ossoff have lost, with many attributing their losses to a general anti-Establishment tide, (and in Ossoff’s case, ties to Pelosi and the DNC proving fatal). Progressives have lost fair-and-square in primaries (such as Perriello’s loss to Northam in the Virginia primary), but progressives have also come out on top (like our own Jamie Raskin).

The election results since 2016 suggest a much stronger (though not exclusive) trend in rejecting Trumpian AND DNC establishment politics. The failed campaigns of Gillespie and Ossoff can be attributed to a Trumpian campaign and a deluge of DNC establishment support, respectively.

Now, enter the craze to condemn progressive challengers as “purity test” advocates who (and this is my favorite) want “ponies and unicorns” because they don’t take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

The Democratic Party doesn’t have to host an internal struggle between the “big tent” camp and the “purity test” camp – it can be inclusive, while also pulling for the best candidate, who, it may turn out, could happen to be progressive.

In order for this to be the case, we need to level the playing field, however. Being a “big tent” part does not have to mean accepting the candidate that the party establishment’s loyal donors and consultants push on you.

Are progressives likely to lose general elections because they veer “too far left” on issues? It depends on what you attribute to the “left.” If doubling down on identity politics, “intersectionality,” and esoteric terms such as “cis-hetero-patriarchy” used as epithets is what defines the “left,” the  the answer is, unfortunately, yes.

As a side note – it would serve us well to reclaim “intersectionality” as a positive concept – that different minority groups can pull for each other’s equal rights. Unfortunately, I see the term being used in battle cries for contestants in the Oppression  Olympics.

The focus needs to shift back towards constructive solutions in cases of discrimination, not a witch hunt-type search to find various things “offensive.”

An example I gave in a Facebook argument highlighted the difference between someone saying “I’m a disabled woman of color, and I’m oppressed” and saying “Knowing what I know about our discriminatory and convoluted healthcare system, these are the problems I see and here are the solutions I propose…”

Now, back to Conor Lamb. Despite some socially conservative personal views, Lamb did campaign on some progressive ideas, such as appealing to unions and supporting background checks for gun owners. 

The key takeaway here is that Lamb’s platform fit his district. Lamb’s victory didn’t come down to campaigning as a centrist, but to honing in on the issues voters care most about. This would be classic representation of one’s constituents. Go figure.

Is this to say the Hillary wing of the Democratic Party loses because they focus too much on identity politics? To say so might be an oversimplification, as this critique of Mark Lilla’s analysis of identity politics points out. Did Hillary really over-focus on out-of-touch interpretations of identity politics?

Not exclusively, but yes.

Her high-profile supporters, like Lena Dunham certainly did.

Then, of course, there are the Clinton supporters who call those who backed Sanders “sexist” and “Bernie Bros” who stole the election from Hillary because she’s a woman. Or those who called Sanders supporters “White Privileged.”

If this isn’t identity politics gone haywire, I don’t know what is.

There is a fundamental difference between the aim to represent interests of minorities and advocate for equal rights – and to assign an entire mandatory set of political views on groups based on immutable characteristics. The latter is prejudice. Democrats NEED to understand this.

Does this mean racial/gender/class/LGBTQ rights should not be addressed? Of course not. As in, of course they should be addressed – but the focus needs to be on “solution,” not “oppression.”

Like Conor Lamb, successful Democratic candidates, whether progressive or centrist, need to focus on the issues that constitute to care about.

One wrinkle in this theory could be climate change. A recent poll found environmental issues to rank fairly low in priorities of Maryland voters. Millennials may iron out this wrinkle, though, as studies show that climate change concerns increasingly define the vote of our growing constituency.

This idea of not running towards the center, but honing in on the appropriate issues also applies to Maryland and MoCo politics, we don’t merely have a choice – for council or Exec or state Delegate, – between progressives and centrists. We have the chance to evaluate which candidates’ platforms and knowledge bases best apply to what concern residents the most.

Will Rose Kransnow bring up more sexism allegations, as Seventh State reported, against her opponents in attempt to win over sympathetic women voters? Will George Leventhal’s having an immigrant wife and ability to speak Spa ish win him the Latino vote? Will the MCDCC move forward in holding separate elections for male and female seats? Identity politics could very well be at play in Montgomery County and it’s up to voters to decide where this priority lies.

My opinion as an observer is that identity politics is not going to win elections. Instead, opposing identity politics of the right may strike back, as it has already in some places. Unfortunately, this is the fallback for establishment Democrats. You can find lobbyists within these identity-based interests, and donors are less scared of identity politics than they are of business regulation or single payer healthcare. I’d like to see a more scientific study of the focus on identity politics versus economic population among candidates as it correlates to influence of private interests.

My theory could be proven wrong, but I would like to throw it out there.

 

Millennials for Marc (aka this blog’s only endorsement)

I’m not making so-called “endorsements” except for this one.

First, “endorsements” would be rather presumptuous. I’ve only just gotten this vlog + blog project off the ground and I don’t have enough of a presence to “endorse” anybody. Second, while I pretty much know who I am voting for, I want to interview and hear from all sides and don’t want to create a disincentive for a candidate in opposition to one I am voting for to come on my show. Besides, everyone is fair game for criticism, critique, and mockery.

That being said, I am publicly stating that I am voting for Marc Elrich for County Executive. Those of you who know me personally probably know that, so for a great deal of you, this isn’t news.

Why am I such a hardcore Elrich supporter? For the longer version, watch this (and ignore my goofy expression in the thumbnail):

The shorter version? Aside from agreeing with most of his policy positions, I admire his thought processes. Contrary to what some may believe, Marc is not an ideologue. Some of my favorite points he made in my interview are when he says, “Capitalism is an 18th century idea. Marxism is a 19th century idea. We’re having a debate in the 21st century over two ideologies that are over 100 years old as if we have learned nothing?” In a similar vein, he describes how he synthesizes ideas rather than fitting one policy solution within the constraints of an ideology: “I proudly pirate ideas from people across the spectrum because if I see something that makes sense I want to know what it is and see if there’s an application for it – so I think I’d make an interesting County Executive.” To which I agreed.

In addition to all this, Marc is simply likable. He’s approachable, he has a great sense of humor, and a VERY intriguing background (ask him about his visits to Central America as a Takoma Park city council member.)

Which brings me to Millennials for Marc.

I am hosting an event at Flanagans Harp and Fiddle in Bethesda on Sunday the 18th (yes, an Irish pub the day AFTER St. Patrick’s Day) for young voters to come meet their next County Executive.

The primary purpose of this event is to get young voters out to pay attention and vote in local primaries (and to register Democratic. In a previous blog, I refer to the quandary facing independent and unaffiliated voters). The second point is to introduce them to Mr. Elrich.

Sure, he’s my mother’s age, but he is someone you meet and then don’t conceive of an age gap.

What I have in mind for this event is not a conventional fundraiser or meet-and-greet with schmoozing, a generic campaign speech, and then more schmoozing. I’m hoping for young voters to have the opportunity to really get to know Marc and the way he thinks and listen to his stories. There will be live music featuring the band Evan and Ross and Stuart:

Plus, free food (for all), free drinks (for those who donate), and a chance to meet your next County Exec (anyone in the bar).

Not that I advocate voting for a candidate just because he’s the one you’d like to grab a beer with – although, he is the obvious choice for that, too. This all being said, personality and approachability is an extension of why I am voting for Elrich and enthusiastically volunteering for him. When you actually sit down and have a conversation with Marc, (first of all, four hours will go by in a flash), you get a sense of how he really thinks things through – which is why he’ll sometimes counter-intuitively vote against bills or not support proposals or initiatives that “sound nice” (looking at you, Coalition for Smarter Growth).

Despite decades in local offices, Marc does not give off the politician vibe in the slightest, which is a major reason why he’d be a refreshing and vibrant change to the character of MoCo, a place often considered the place where the Democratic Party Establishment sleeps at night (C’mon, y’all voted 65% for Hillary in the primary).

I could enumerate the specific policy positions he holds, but I’ll let Marc do that himself. One overarching reason (albeit another abstract one) for my ardent support is that he epitomizes what I’d liketo think of as the “rational left.” His views, like mine, are generally placed left of center on the spectrum, not because of some tribal allegiance, but because we compare and contrast ideas that are tried and work, and let the ideological chips fall where they may.

As I’ve stated earlier, he critiques capitalism, but does not suggest reverting to a state-controlled planned economy. He’s also not what some on the right would refer to pejoratively as a “social justice warrior” who calls for “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” and uses identity politics in ways that mirror the very prejudices one claims to oppose. He’s not afraid to overturn assumed conventions of thought, like the value of wage labor. “It’s not whether or not flipping burgers is worth $15 an hour,” Marc says. “It’s about what $15 means to that employee and his or her family.”

The Montgomery County Council at-Large race has over 30 candidates filed. I know, more or less, who I am voting for, but I can say there are a lot of GREAT options other than my four first choices. For County Executive, IMO, the is only one.  For MoCo and the Millennials that live here, Marc is a must.

At the most fundamental level, people who think like Marc will help save the Left from itself.

I don’t pretend to be neutral here. If I get accused of being a paid propagandist of the Elrich campaign… I’ve actually contributed $100 of MY money to THEM..but to be fair, I’ve eaten way more than $100 of free food at various events of his.

I’m just a volunteer; this is all my idea (and Louis from PMD).

It’s time to get younger people excited about local politics and less cynical when considering their elected officials.

And so, now that I’ve embarrassed the shit out of him with this high praise, come over to Bethesda for our Millennials for Marc event.

It’s going to be tremendous, you will enjoy it bigly, believe me.

Nah, don’t believe me, see for yourself. But seriously, it will be epic.

 

 

Do I Really Need To Make This Statement On Gun Control?

In wake of the recent school shootings in Parkland, I have nothing new to add here. The rift between generally pro-second amendment America s and the NRA agenda is increasingly obvious. It’s unfortunate that I do feel the need to make this brief statement on gun control, which I imagine most of Montgomery County agrees is a given.

No, guns do not belong in schools.

No, we do not need “thoughts and prayers,” we need legislation.

Denying you access to an assault rifle does not violate your freedom as an American (though I would say, denying you access to purchase marijuana does, because marijuana does not kill people.) On that note, do second amendment radicals interpret the right to bear arms as a way to defend themselves against their own government equally as paranoid about stealth bombs, drone strikes, undercover assassins…?

Is it really that unreasonable to treat gun ownership the same way as one would a drivers license? As in, one has to pass a test that shows basic cognitive ability and competency in operating such a weapon?

Once more to state the obvious – Exactly how far gone is the NRA? Once about gun safety and responsible gun ownership, I now see no other agenda besides “BUY MORE GUNS!!!”

Trump appears to be all over the place on this issue. First he promotes arming teachers, then he proposes a comprehensive gun control policy that would make even some Democrats happy. The hardline NRA loyalists, however, propose essentially turning schools into war zones by arming teachers, because, you know, it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun. Naturally, your algebra teacher is a well-trained sniper who can obviously take out the bad guy by surprise, if only he/she was allowed concealed carry.

I end this stating the obvious with a look at the World Peace and Unity Sanctuary in Pennsylvania that held a wedding ceremony with AR15s and blesses the rifles as a God-given right of its followers.

I do not need to begin to comment on the absurdity of this. All I can say is: imagine if it were a mosque?

Fiscally Responsible Progressivism is Not an Oxymoron

Hoan Dang is more progressive than one might think.

The at-large County Council candidate met me a few weeks ago in bustling Denizens Brewery for a change-of-scenery interview and quickly got into the weeds discussing the Montgomery County budget.

It would be understandable to assume Dang would be somewhat of a fiscal conservative. From a refugee family, Dang grew up with the story conservatives love to trumpet: fleeing communist Vietnam for capitalist America, then excelling in a career in engineering and finance. In our interview, Dang expressed himself as a budget wonk and finance expert that even some Libertarian-leaning voters on the Bethesda Beat comment section praise, but also as a progressive.

That’s right. We arranged this meeting at a Progressive Maryland happy hour where he expressed his support for the $15 minimum wage.

The “tax-and-spend liberal” as an epithet epitomizes the linear logic that assumes a trajectory of tax increases funneling money into a nebulous black hole, producing bloated and unpopular government projects that malfunction and call for more spending and more tax increases. Nobody likes this trajectory, but the flaw in reasoning here is that there must be the nebulous black hole.

Even if the black hole is made into a transparent glass box, the assumption is that what we’d see is an entanglement of accordion-like sheets of procurement expenditures smushed into it, “because that’s how we’ve always done.” Again, this may be the case, but where the assumption is wrong is that the box must be emptied. Instead, a procurement expert can get elbow-deep in the box and iron out these accordions of expenditure lists into easy-to-follow, bullshit-free budget allocations.

Speaking as a procurement expert, Dang emphasizes the importance of knowing where to spend and where not to, using the anologies of “rocket ships and pens.”

When purchasing parts for rocket ships, you don’t want to skimp on quality. While higher quality parts may cost more, lower quality parts may lead to costlier malfunctions. A cheap pack of pens that leak ink, meanwhile, are easy and cheap to replace – so it might not be the best idea to jump in and assume we need fashionable, status-signaling government pens.

This all should be obvious, but the role of a procurement expert would be to distinguish the finer lines between expenditures that fall closer to the rocket ship category versus those closer to pens.

For some reason, budget wonkishness connotates fiscal conservatism in the ideological sense. I’ve gotten this sentiment from Progressive Maryland colleagues as well. In the interview, Dang (similarly to Ashwani Jain, whose Obama administration ties suggest economic centrism to some) expresses unequivocal support for the $15 minimum wage.

Later on in the interview, I sprung what I thought would be the controversial question of the evening – the privatization of the Department of Liquor Control, which supporters of centrist candidates like Bill Frick overwhelmingly favor.

“Now is not the time,” according to Dang, who predicted an even greater budget shortfall in the coming year. Instead, Dang outlined efforts to restructure the management of the DLC, which aim to make it run more efficiently. It would not be necessary to unravel it into privatization and add insult to the county budget shortfall injury.

Interesting.

Personally, I am pretty ambivalent on this issue. I’ve never felt particularly inconvenienced when purchasing a beverage of choice in Montgomery County; if anything, it’s cheaper than in DC. (One exception – I have been inconvenienced when I realize that the MoCo Liquor in Silver Spring is closed on Sundays. Seriously, who observes this crap anymore. I hope it’s just to give employees a day off and not some religious bullshit, but I digress.)

For the record, I am not rehashing this interview as a way to make an official endorsement. Who am I to make endorsement anyway. I think it’s fair to contextualize all of my interviews, as there should be aspects of them I agree with and others that I don’t.

Other than County Executive, I’m not disclosing here who I’m voting for, but I speak openly about where I stand on the issues.

As far as the council election goes, I like to keep three things in mind, in this order, when I choose to vote:

1. Their stance on the issues.

2. Diversity in expertise – such as a budget expert complementing an environmental expert or transportation expert, etc, to increase breadth of knowledge.

3. Diversity of minority representation (race, gender, LGBTQ etc)

So, make of all this what you will.

About a week ago, Seventh State‘s Adam Pagnucco addressed the MoCo debt, ending with the bold statement that “you cannot oppose growth and favor expanding school construction and transportation investment” followed by “Bear that in mind as we head to Election Day.”

In the context of Pagnucco’s past writings, this can be read as a clear attack on the Elrich wing of MoCo progressives. Pagnucco has disclosed, on multiple occasions, his support and contribution to Roger Berliner’s campaign.

This is fine.

I’ve made my CE allegiance clear and don’t feel the need to feign neutrality here.

My argument, Executive race aside, is that with procurement expertise on the council, we CAN have both. We can keep the influence of business interests and developers in check while remaining fiscally responsible. It’s one thing to attempt to spur growth by chasing after shiny objects, but they need to be grounded on an often not-so-shiny foundation. This can be a bitter pill for some of the more-growth/bigger-is-better advocates to swallow.

 

 

The Ethical Dilemma of Chastizing Unaffiliated Voters

This may start out as another blog post of stating the obvious, so bear with me.

It is known that to make any electoral difference in Montgomery County, you must register as a Democrat.

Maryland in entirety might not quite be a one-party state, but MoCo pretty much is. Most council districts do not have any viable Republicans filing, and the Republicans that do run, outside of perhaps Ed Amatetti in District 2, elicit responses of “Oh, that’s cute!” or “LMFAO!” (The latter would be for County Executive candidate Robin Ficker). Needless to say, our closed primary system means that state and local officials in Montgomery County are chosen by a paltry minority of residents who are registered Democrats and go out and vote in the Democratic primary. The rest sit at home and complain (or don’t pay attention).

Which brings to attention the “plight of the unaffiliated voter” – of which Pew Research found comprise a plurality of millennials and Hispanic voters.

Judging by the people who I know outside of organized political circles, this is not surprising. Based on my unscientific observation of “friends who aren’t involved in politics,” your average 30-year-old early/mid career advanced degree holder in Silver Spring is registered unaffiliated, votes against Republicans, despises Trump, is rather disinterested in local politics, and cannot name their County-level elected officials. If it isn’t an aversion to all things political in general, it’s a cynical “I don’t like either party.”

In my one public “endorsement” video from last week, (for Marc Elrich, in case you didn’t know) I may have struck a nerve by calling unaffiliated voters “cynical.” In general, I stand by what I said, as I am describing th crowd with the “why bother” sentiment, which I have come across way too often.

I do make exception, however, for those dedicated to a particular third party and are actively taking steps toward making that party and its candidates viable. But I understand it’s an uphill climb.

It’s hard for me to find sympathy for unaffiliated voters who complain about MoCo’s elected officials, despise the Council, and push for measures like term limits.

You could have voted for your own candidates of choice, but you didn’t. You let the general election come down to candidates chosen by a minority, a few thousand voters in a county of over one million.

You stayed home. You didn’t vote. Because you are not a registered Democrat.

See the catch-22 I find myself in, here? I don’t want to be that person to solidify the one-party jurisdiction and tell everyone to fall in line. I also can’t sympathize with those who complain about council members and the like who they didn’t try to vote out of office.

This all being said, I’m not sure whether I’d support open primaries. I’d be interested to find out how much an open primary would be impacted by what I’ll call the “troll vote,” e.g. voting for the worst candidate of he party you normally oppose.

What I do take issue with is the unaffiliated voter that votes for term limits in the general to restrict the choices of a party you don’t even belong to. While I was ambivalent about term limits when it was proposed, in retrospect, I would favor public financing becoming the norm along with rank choice voting instead of term limits to mitigate the disproportionate advantage of incumbents.

All I can say now is this: While I understand the perils of the single-party government, I would strongly advise millennials in MoCo to register as Democrats and vote in the primary. The hard truth is, this is how you can have a say. There are about 30 candidates heading toward the filing deadline for Council at-large (as well as many others for several other open seats). Surely you can find one that doesn’t suck.

The Politics of Playtime (and my obsession with helicopter parenting)

It’s been brought to my attention by some friends that I’ve repeatedly (maybe excessively) brought up the trend/accusations of “helicopter parenting” and “millennial growing up in a bubble” in my interviews. Well, here I go again, revisiting the topic…But wait! There’s a reason!

As I am emphasizing in these blogs, my own brand of leftism rejects the overly sensitive stereotype that elicits derisions like “snowflakes” and “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings,” or, the worst, “participation trophies.” In short, the fact that there is a considerable contingent of the left – particularly in Montgomery County – that embraces this coddled-ness actually drives me insane. I’d like to embrace the idea that the left can reclaim the grit and rough-and-tumble wildness that define a healthy existence and personal growth.

Sure, I call myself here The MoCo Millennial, but I certainly can’t claim to speak for all millennials. Among people I’ve known to varying degrees over the years, I have noticed a desire to….er…make childhood great again (sorry)… lamenting the phasing out of unstructured and unsupervised play. This sentiment isn’t shared among everyone, though. I’ve likewise known a handful of people my age who have been content with a more indoors, screen-based “safe” upbringing. I don’t want to look down on this preference – as I’ve said, the civil libertarian in me resents telling people what they should like and dislike – but I can judge them in that someone with this outlook would not make a good life partner for me down the road.

I brought this up briefly in my first interview with millennial  X-ennial MD House candidate Mila Johns:

Here, we distinguish trends that overall differentiate “late” millennials from “early” millennials with our fond recollections of having a 90s childhood.

In the first half of my interview with Councilmember Marc Elrich (I’ll talk about Part 2 in another blog), we touched on the negative side of virtual reality and the impacts of violent video games on empathy. It’s worth mentioning that Marc and I weren’t trying to get at wagging our fingers at those who prefer video games to playing outside, so much as delving into the idea of “too much of a good thing” with respect to technology. I had come up with this idea for discussion after listening to Sam Harris and Joe Rogan hypothesize that in the not-too-far future, people may end up living entirely in a VR world due to the irresistability of instant gratification versus the rewards for patience and effort and real social interaction.

Anyways. Back to “helicopter parenting.”

The reality we can’t ignore is the changing paradigm of safety, and there’s an irony in this. What may have been considered “safe” 30, 40, 50+ years ago – letting children play outside unsupervised from sun-up to sundown – has been hampered by milk carton-provoked stranger-danger of the 80s and 90s all the way to scares of child abduction that carries on to the present.

F.F.S., my mother still brings up the Chandra Levy murder from SIXTEEN YEARS AGO when she hears about me running alone, especially after dark. This, and I’m going to be 30 this year.

The irony is, though, that the greater threat of abductions and predators and abuse of children exists less so in the woods behind the house and more so on the internet.

Now enter Danielle Meitiv.

I could tell the entire story of her interactions with the Montgomery County Child Protective Services, but I’ll redirect you to read about it here. Or you could watch the interview above. “Free Range Mom” Danielle Meitiv argues that her way of parenting – that is, letting her children develop reasonable street smarts on their own – is actually standard parenting, or just, “parenting.” The idea is that children will eventually need to learn and develop life skills, and that this is accomplished best by gradually increasing the amounts of freedom and responsibility instead of sheltering children until college (and then being surprised when they go wild and/or get themselves in trouble without the capability to work their way out of it).

In the interview, I described my own childhood to Danielle, characterizing my upbringing as not overly sheltered but not particularly lenient either. I described my “healthy” tendency to break rules, such as exploring the woods across the street from the house without an adult…to which Danielle said, “You may as well put a big neon sign that says GO TO WOODS HERE.”

The thing is, my fixation on millennial “helicopter parenting” (either millennials doing the helicopter parenting or being a result of it) stems from how I lament the disappearance of the proverbial “woods behind the house” (or its urban/suburban equivalent). The childhood rite of passage of outdoor misadventures and learning experiences (again, urban or rural escapades apply), is being replaced with virtual “experiences,” which, as cyber predators have shown us, may not be superior in the safety element.

Danielle and I also addressed the role of elevated societal and academic pressure in cramping unstructured play. In a wealthy, educated, and competitive place like MoCo, what privileged child has time to play outside between school, homework, extra courses, exam prep, music lessons, organized sports, the obligatory checklist of extracurriculars…?

Bethesda Magazine even noted MoCo’s lousy physical education requirements as the focus on academic competitiveness has edged out physical activity.

As a side note, to be brutally honest, all of this is why I’m ambivalent about becoming a mother someday. I’d be torn between trying to foster an outdoor, creativity, unstructured adventure-centered childhood (probably by trying to replicate my 90s childhood) and not making my children anachronisms by making them socially and academically disadvantaged without the latest gadgets.

I would absolutely put my foot down on any kind of physical implant tracking device.

Anyways, to make this political (because we have to), I’d like to push against the idea of making this a left/right issue. The left might say helicopter parenting is a right-wing practice, being authoritarian in nature and embracing corporate dominance through material attachments and gadget loyalty. The right, meanwhile, calls out left-wing “snowflakes” for their perceived inability to be self-sufficient, being “coddled,” and for loving “big government.”

Indeed, incidents such as the Meitivs’ invoke the role-of-government debate, but “free-range childhood” is a civil libertarian position – not solidly left or right. Viggo Mortensen’s character in Captain Fantastic embodies a left-wing survivalism in distinction from the more right-wing troupe of the rugged, Wild Western huntsman.

At the end of the day, I’m a left winger, and I’m an advocate of a screen-limited, outdoor-oriented, rough-and-tumble childhood. I hope there are others out there and that we’re not a dying breed.

 

Democrats And Their Ineffective Strategy To Defeat Larry Hogan

On a 100 degree day last July, everyone who lined up outside the Silver Spring Civic Center to see Bernie Sanders received a Ben Jealous for Governor sign to hold. I get it – Bernie was there to endorse Jealous. I didn’t really want the sign, though – I was (and still am?) rather undecided as to who to support in the gubernatorial primary. I was mainly there to hear Bernie speak – because why not. I will give Ben Jealous the credit, though, for a clever call to “stand at Trump’s doorstep to get rid of Trump’s doormat!” Clever as it may be, it characterizes a string of Democratic attempts to tie the incumbent Republican governor to the orange monstrosity in the White House.

Democrats, it’s time to stop. This strategy isn’t working. It’s time to come up with something better.

Even the Washington Post repeatedly affirms Hogan’s popularity and predicts his victory as the Democrats so far are relying on the “R” next to his name to do him in, instead of criticism based on substance.

Larry Hogan’s popularity is three things: misleading, understandable, and misguided.

It is misleading, because his mid-60s approval rating encompasses a great deal of tepid, “ok, sure, whatever, Hogan’s fine, I guess”- type voters, who could be swayed by someone more interesting than Anthony Brown.

It is understandable, because the average Joe in Baltimore County, who might not have the time, patience, or desire to fact check or read between the lines, may very well believe that he was hosed by the rain tax.

It is misguided, because people who do see though Hogan’s adept presentation as an inoffensive centrist really dislike Hogan.

I know I can’t go by this, but those I know who have interacted with Hogan in Annapolis say he is as conservative as they come. Publicly announcing that you did not vote for Trumo doesn’t cancel out your right wing leanings.

The problem is, we will find out exactly how right wing Hogan is if he’s reelected, and if the Democrats don’t maintain their veto-proof majority, which may happen if the Maryland Democratic Party wastes all its time trying to tie Hogan to Trump. Not only do they need to win on issues, they need to do a better job of affirming that Hogan hasn’t been able to do much damage because the Democrats control the legislature.

Do we need to let voters think that a ban on fracking was Hogan’s idea? Or that it was Hogan’s idea, without any Democratic pressure, to join other states in alliance to support the Paris Climate Accord? 

I’m not saying that we should swallow the idea of Hogan walking into his reelection. But there are far worse things than not being a one-party state for a few terms; namely,  losing on all fronts because of walking into the same trap.

Regardless of what people who personally know Hogan say about how he may be more ideologically Trumpian than how he has governed, the Hogan=Republican=Trump assumption is not a winning strategy.

Democrats have to win on merit. On coming out ahead in the free exchange of ideas.

This means taking back control of the narrative. This is of course, easier said than done, especially on issues that generate knee-jerk reactions, such as taxes. Quite often, unaffiliated voters, at the end of the day, would like to keep as much of what they earn as possible. Taxes aren’t he be-all, end-all, though, and some government services and regulations in the big picture result in more disposable income for working people as monthly expenditures (which, unfortunately, too many of us drastically overestimate how much we have control over) become more merciful. Case in point, opting out of health insurance and going to the emergency room. Too often, Republicans get the last word. Well, two (oversimplified words): Tax cuts.

This is the kind of narrative over which Democrats need to regain control.

We need to campaign on issues, not on how much we can tie Hogan to Trump (and waiting to pounce on the next Trumpian thing that Hogan might let slip one day…) If not, the Democrats may lose the governor’s race and seats in the state legislature, and we might just get what we wished for.

Candidates Discuss Personal Battles That Inspired Them To Run

On my YouTube channel, I recently featured interviews with two up-and-coming candidates, Jaye Espy (D15 delegate) and Ashwani Jain (County Council At-Large). I had known Ashwani from Montgomery County Young Democrats, he being a millennial himself. I remind him that, for all he’s accomplished, he’s even younger than me, at 28. I had only met Jaye Espy recently at a holiday event where she expressed interest in the show.

Both candidates brought up their personal battles with medical conditions and discussed how they influenced their decision to run for office. Ashwani described his battle with cancer at a young age, and Jaye Espy talked about seeking treatment for her daughter’s mental health. Each personal story raised overlooked questions. Why are people with a severe illness, such as cancer, so often talked about, rather than spoken with? And why is mental healthcare often either stigmatized or cast into a wide net in attempt to cram into a one-size-fits-all treatment approach?

Ashwani discusses his run for office as a cancer survivor and his work for the Make A Wish Foundation and Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot:

Jaye Espy discusses mental health:

Aside from those questions, which we discussed in the interviews, it got me thinking about the fine line between having personal medical issues inspire a run for office or guide your campaign platform, and politicizing your personal illnesses. Ashwani talked about how some cancer patients were more open about their conditions than others. While some patients preferred to share their battles with cancer in a narrative as a courageous personal journey or as a victorious story to inspire optimism, others felt less comfortable with the idea of letting their illnesses define them. Likewise, Jaye Espy’s daughter, who was present, consented to her telling of her struggles with mental health, an issue that is often stigmatized with the blame placed on the patient. The purpose of Jaye’s story was to highlight the gaps in the mental health system. It was an expensive and emotionally draining process to find the right specialist, as treatment methods need to be tailored to the individual as well as the condition.

In neither case did I get a sense that they were politicizing a health issue. Whether or not Governor Hogan does so is up for debate, but the least I could say is that it would serve him well to do something to reign in healthcare and prescription drug costs.

Anyways, I did not get the sense from either of the interviews that the candidates were looking for sympathy. Their message sounded more like, “Here’s a structural problem, now let’s fix it.” Of course, it is a personal choice of the individual whether or not his or her own medical issues are up for discussion.

Ashwani also made a good point, that when he was diagnosed with cancer as a child, he felt like he was constantly being talked about as if he had no say in his future. This is why I often bring up personal agency. If anything could serve as an inspiration to take charge and run for office, it’s the feeling that everyone around you is trying to decide things for you.

I may not necessarily agree with all of their policies (though I probably do, for the most part), but any potential disagreements are irrelevant to the point. Even if these health issues are part of their respective central inspirations to their campaigns, it took notable courage to discuss them so openly.

I will continue to highlight past and upcoming candidate interviews in this blog, plus adding my own personal commentary on other topics.

Stating the Obvious: I Lean Left

If you know me personally, or even if you know which city I live in, my left-leaning political views should shock no one.

I live in Takoma Park, Maryland. My precinct eviscerated Trump in the general election, 855-41. Congressman Jamie Raskin posted election results that would make a Central Asian dictator envious. I might live in the bluest ward of the bluest city of the bluest county of the bluest state in the nation. Or something like that. (That being said, I do wonder. Who are these 41 Trump voters? Do I know them? Have I seen one of them on the street?)

I’m no exception to the rule of those who surround me. In fact, I may be considerably to the left of my neighbors based on how emphatically many of them are still proclaiming #ImWithHer. (I did offer my tepid support for Hillary in the general election over the disaster we have in the White House now.)

I say this all to offer full disclosure that this is a left-leaning blog. Even so, my views on some issues differ from some of the progressives around me as well. (It would be impossible not to, given that basically everyone feels they can call themselves progressive.)

I lean left on economic issues, especially on the corporate tax rate, money in politics, and single payer healthcare. While acknowledging that a market economy has worked better than other systems attempted, I like to refer to the remark from Councilmember Marc Elrich in my interview, that capitalism is an 18th century idea and Marxism is a 19th century idea. In the 21st century, are we still debating 200-year old ideas as if we have learned nothing? It’s time to synthesize aspects of both for a more sustainable economic system that keeps pace with population growth, technological innovations, and environmental implications.

But that’s a discussion for another time.

Where I’ll differ from some progressives is on such things as identity politics, political correctness, and in many cases, free speech in general. I am above all a civil libertarian in the fundamental sense, and I am strongly against imposing trigger warnings, safe spaces, or institutionalized restrictions against “cultural appropriation” or “microaggressions.” Those sensitivities, in  my opinion, are best handled on an interpersonal level.

I also may have some detractors in response to my critique of the implications of “rape culture” in the Aziz Ansari case.

All in all, this blog will be my take on (mostly) Montgomery County and Maryland-specific issues from the following perspective:

A) That a mixed, social-democratic type market economy best addresses the problems of income inequality, healthcare justice, and housing affordability.

B) Government has no role in what you do with your body, who you marry, who you consent to having sex with, who you publicly criticize, or what you smoke.

C) Civic engagement is overall a net positive.

So, there’s my spiel to lead off. The blog entries that follow will discuss local issues among other things, and here’s my full disclosure that I’m not going to pretend to be neutral. Peace.