08.02.15 Against the local Tea Party (for a plastic bag ban)

Posted August 2, 2015 by Keith Berner
Categories: Takoma Park, Montgomery County, Bigotry, Environment

Tags: , , ,

Recently, my city councilman, Jarrett Smith, introduced a bill to ban plastic bag distribution by businesses in our fair little city. I hardly need to mention the environmental benefits of such a ban and the inevitable opposition by big business (the chemical industry).

What alarms me is that progressive Takoma Park is home to its own little Tea Party: “freedom-loving” libertarians who wish we were more like Alabama. This local Tea Party vigorously opposed a ban passed last year on use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes (which, with leadership from County Councilman George Leventhal [At Large] will soon become law in Montgomery County.) They’re back now to oppose plastic bans in the name of freedom.

Here is an exchange between me and one of the Tea Partiers on the Takoma Park’s main discussion listserv:

From: “James DiLuigi jdiluigi@aacinc.net [TakomaPark]” <TakomaPark@yahoogroups.com>

Subject: Re: [TakomaPark] Bans as Takoma Park City Policy

Date: August 2, 2015 at 12:36:37 EDT

To: “TakomaPark@yahoogroups.com” <TakomaPark@yahoogroups.com>

Catherine [Tunis] makes a point that has concerned me for some time now.

Takoma Park is a community of citizens who accept and care for one another without being foxed to do so by laws.

Most of us have come here by choice and relish the small town and inclusive society we have fostered.

I have become concerned regarding the legislative approach, rather than a voluntary/educational approach, that has been taken on various matters recently.

Let’s stop this management by fiat before it begins to threaten the welcoming society we have worked so hard to create.

James A. DiLuigi, AIA, CSI

Access-Ability Consultants, Inc


From: Keith Berner <tkpk@kberner.us>

Subject: Re: [TakomaPark] Bans as Takoma Park City Policy

Date: August 2, 2015 at 13:22:03 EDT

To: Takoma Park list <TakomaPark@yahoogroups.com>

Yes, many Takoma Parkers care about each other without being forced to by law. But can Takoma Parker’s properly care for the environment without laws that restrict environmentally damaging business practices? Let’s go back to the origin of this debate: Councilmember Jarrett Smith’s progressive legislation to ban plastic bag distribution by TkPk businesses. This is hardly an encroachment on residents’ ability to care for each other.

The “nanny state” that dictates and controls all we do is a classic bogeyman of the right. But they’re not all wrong. There are certainly places we don’t want the state to tread (the bedroom, for example, or free speech). But environmental and health protections rarely cross that line. In fact, they are essential for curbing business practices that do not capture “externalities” in market-driven transactions. Your “right” not to wear a seatbelt has an external cost that I pay in the form of higher insurance premiums and health care costs. A “free” plastic bag at checkout has the external cost of polluted waterways, parks, roads, etc. Your right to pack heat threatens my right to be safe from violence.

Further, many or most areas of the country fall too far to the laissez-faire side of the line. Takoma Park and Montgomery County provide much-needed alternatives to the libertarian and pro-big-business ethos  that pervades the American body politic. That is, those of you who see our progressive oasis as too infringing on your right to pollute can move almost anywhere and enjoy more of this (in my view) destructive “freedom.” 

We don’t need Tea Party-like libertarianism in our community (though, of course, those with these views have every right to express them and to try to elect politicians who share such views). I say: two thumbs up for progressive communitarianism, where society and the planet are sometimes given precedence over individual self-interest.

—Keith Berner


By the way, Mr. Luigi most recently made waves on the listserv by calling for city legislation to be reviewed by a committee of homeowners who have been residents for more than 10 years. The GOP couldn’t come up with a better plan to disenfranchise people of color, immigrants, and those of moderate means.

@2015 Keith Berner

05.03.15 Bernie Sanders for President

Posted May 3, 2015 by Keith Berner
Categories: Presidential Campaign 2016

Tags: , , ,

In this dismal 2016 presidential season, we finally have a candidate to be proud of, someone to represent our ideals, someone to be truly excited about. What enthuses me most about Bernie Sanders (beyond his integrity) is his commitment to run directly, explicitly against the plutocrats. It seems to me that the root cause of nearly all ills in our very ill society is the utter dominance (close to complete ownership) of the political and economic systems by giant corporations and their largest shareholders. Even the top 1% are outside this group; it’s the top 1% of that 1% we’re talking about. Embodied by the Koch Brothers, those who control everything seek only to increase their control, while minimizing the size of their own club.

There is another Democrat in the race for 2016 who has spent a political career sticking a finger in the wind to determine what daily role to play, who is currently pretending to oppose this dominant elite. Don’t be confused: that is all triangulation and no passion, calculation without commitment. Hillary Clinton is the opposite of authentic – she is all artifice all the time.

Bernie Sanders is the real deal. He will speak – nay, shout – the truth from now until (at least) until a year from now.

“So,” those seeking to catch this blogger for inconsistency will ask, “What about your telling us recently that we will have to vote for the Pretender in November 2016″? That was your blogger as political analyst predicting what is (still) a likely outcome of the primary season. But now is not the time to vote or campaign based on fear. This is the time to support and vote for our ideals. We need Bernie Sanders. Sure, it would be a dream come true for him to win the White House. But even if that doesn’t come to pass, only he can save us from a campaign season of pretension and reaction. Only Sanders can and will keep bringing the true state of the nation to the forefront of the so-called debate. Without Bernie Sanders, there will be no debate at all.

I toyed with endorsing former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley for president. O’Malley is a good man and a solid progressive. But he lacks the fire that Bernie Sanders has. Further he was the mayor who introduced abusive policing to Baltimore, which has borne it’s ugly fruit over the past two weeks. This doesn’t permanently count O’Malley out for me (I could turn to him if he ends up appearing to have a better shot than Sanders at beating Clinton), but he is not my first choice. Bernie Sanders is.

I sent Bernie Sanders my contribution today. Are you ready to join the campaign?

©2015 Keith Berner

05.02.15 Put police on probation

Posted May 2, 2015 by Keith Berner
Categories: Bigotry

Tags: ,

Baltimore has demonstrated that a white political and police establishment is not required for police to devalue black men’s lives. In a city with a black mayor, black police chief, and a significant number of black officers, Freddie Gray was still considered nothing more than trash – arrested without cause and killed for nothing more than sadistic pleasure. The problem in this country is not black culture, urban culture, or ghetto culture. The problem is police culture.

While we can rejoice at the indictment of the six Baltimore officers who killed Gray, we are only a couple of months past having a video of Eric Garner’s being choked to death by NY cops not being sufficient to result in an indictment. Piecemeal responses to individual cases of racism and abuse by American police departments are net enough. There won’t be enough videos of abuse to shame bad cops into good behavior. The time has come for concerted national action, including removing sullied DAs and police departments from the first line of investigating abuse and deciding whether to prosecute.

Who knew (I didn’t!) that right here in Maryland we have a “law enforcement officer bill of rights,”  that provides enormous protection to bad cops? While the rest of us have to settle for the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, somehow jurisdictions across the country have decided that being a cop requires extraordinary protection for acts of injustice, no matter how violent and outrageous. Every single one of these misguided laws needs to be repealed or overturned.

I say it’s time to put every single police chief and police officer – coast to coast – on probation. Give all of them 90 days to take training that includes nonviolent techniques, anti-racism, and community building. At the end of 90 days, test them. A written test is a place to start, but more is required. There should be random testing of cops on the beat, by setting them up in contrived situations to gauge their reactions, including comparisons of how they treat white suspects vs. those of color. Let independent committees (comprised of community, judicial, and political leaders) judge the results. And, fire the failures.

Law-and-order types have advocated zero-tolerance policing for years. Now, let’s turn the tables and kick out the bad apples after a single instance of racism or unprovoked violence.

©2015 Keith Berner

04.26.15 Heather Mizeur: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out

Posted April 26, 2015 by Keith Berner
Categories: Maryland, Takoma Park

Tags: , , , ,

Almost all politicians are ambitious. At least in the back of their minds, they ponder their route to the White House or – at least – the next higher available seat. There is nothing wrong with this per se, except when a line is crossed and the politician’s priority is serving oneself, rather than a greater cause or “the people.”

Heather Mizeur is just such a politician. As a staffer in Sen. John Kerry’s office, she moved to Takoma Park, MD in the early aughts, at least in part because it was an easy place for a progressive to launch a political career. In many city wards, one needs only a couple hundred votes to win and you don’t even have to quit your day job to make one-evening-per week city council meetings.

Having won her seat, Mizeur promptly lost interest in it half-way through her two-year term. Her attendance rate at council meetings tanked and part-way through that second year, she resigned. Her ostensible reason was that she and her wife had found their “dream house” in another Takoma Park ward. In fact, Mizeur was done with city council: she considered her political bona fides sufficiently established for her to turn her attention to the national Democratic Party (running Kerry’s 2004 Maryland campaign and winning a seat on the Democratic National Committee). She also began plotting her run for the Maryland House of Delegates from District 20 and won that seat in 2006.

I heard no complaints about Mizeur during her first four-year term as D20 delegate. But, after that, Mizeur again lost interest in her current job. By 2012, neighbors to that “dream house” started reporting that weeks or months would pass without any sign of activity there. (She was already spending all her time at her new dream house on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.) Legislative insiders said that it also became increasingly difficult to get Mizeur to show up for D20 events and activities, whether in Annapolis or closer to her dark and lonely Takoma Park house.

Mizeur’s eyes were on the next prize: the governorship! Notwithstanding having served only a term-and-a-half as a backbencher and having no record of having run any enterprise larger than her one-staff delegate’s office (and the MD part of Kerry’s awful 2004 campaign), Mizeur considered herself fit to run the state. Shortly after declaring for governor, the candidate announced to a Washington Post reporter that if she didn’t win the race, she would be “done with politics.” Yeah, right. Mizeur came in a distant third in the June 2014 Democratic primary against two lousy alternatives.

Fast forward to last week, when Mizeur had someone post a good-bye letter to Takoma Park community listservs. (It seems that Mizeur had been absent from Takoma Park for so long that she no longer belonged to any of the listservs herself.) Here is the text of her letter:

Dear Neighbors,

It is with mixed emotions that Deborah and I share with you the news that we are putting our house in Takoma Park up for sale this week. We have made the difficult decision to move to the Eastern Shore full-time where our work to create an organic herbal medicine farm to support Deborah’s clinical practice is in full swing in Kent County.

This was not an easy decision for us. We love this community deeply. We have always described Takoma Park as a utopia for progressive activists and change agents and one of the best places on Earth to live. We have never felt more loved and embraced by any other community.

Following the Governor’s race and years of sacrifice by Deborah to fully support my political work as a City Councilmember and State Delegate, it is my turn to give back to her. The work on the farm is as incredibly rich and satisfying as it is demanding. We simply need to be there all the time, especially during this start-up phase.

And so while we are bursting with excitement and enthusiasm about this next adventure in our lives, we have a heavy heart to leave a home and a community that we love so dearly. We take comfort knowing that we will be visiting often and that friendships know no distance.

Thank you, Takoma Park, for the lovely memories, the charismatic passion you display, and the opportunity you have given me to serve. I look forward to our pathways crossing again real soon. This is not goodbye.

All the best,

Heather (and Deborah) Mizeur

Here is my response to the listservs:

No surprise here. Mizeur never cared about TkPk – she moved here to jump-start her political career by running for a city council seat and then serving only until it became inconvenient (not even a full term). Then as our District 20 delegate, she stopped showing up in our district as soon as she became interested in running for governor.

We need political leaders who share Mizeur’s progressive agenda, but we also need them to be genuine and truly committed to the constituents they serve. Mizeur’s pursuit of grandeur rendered our little corner of the world insignificant to her. As for her open letter, it is artificial and self-serving, as so many of Mizeur’s public announcements  have been.

Perhaps Mizeur will indeed miss Takoma Park. Takoma Park won’t miss her.

Keith Berner

Mizeur closed her letter by saying “this is not goodbye.” Vis-à-vis Takoma Park, her remark is completely disingenuous. She is done with Takoma Park for good, since we no longer serve any purpose for her.

But is this limelight-craving politician done with politics? Is she really fulfilling her promise to that Post reporter to pick up her marbles and ride off into the sunset if she didn’t land in the governor’s mansion?

C’mon! It’s sweet that Heather is giving Deborah a chance to do her thing. But Mizeur has proven how easily she gets bored. It wont be long before she gives up herb farming for her next political run. Sadly for Mizeur, though, her new district on the Eastern Shore sends Republicans to Congress. And, since Maryland will have two young(ish), energetic Democratic senators (assuming Chris Van Hollen wins Barbara Mikulski’s seat and Ben Cardin doesn’t get abducted by aliens), that door will be closed, too.

So, look for Mizeur to abandon her “dream farm” for greener pastures: a state with a winnable House or Senate seat. At that point, she will indeed pay Takoma Park another visit, hat in hand.

 ©2015 Keith Berner

04.15.15 You’ll have to vote for Hillary (sorry!)

Posted April 15, 2015 by Keith Berner
Categories: Politics, Presidential Campaign 2016

Tags: , , , , ,

If you are are in  red or purple state, you don’t get to vote your conscience (or sit on the sidelines) in November 2016. Sure, there is lots to abhor about the Clintons, but the contrast between Democrats (disappointing as they are) and the GOP has become a deep chasm. Since I live in Maryland, I am comfortable declaring that HRC won’t get my vote in the spring or the fall. But if I were in Ohio or Maine or Virginia, I would not have that luxury.

Progressive hero (and Nobel-prize winner) Paul Krugman makes an eloquent case in the New York Times for stopping the GOP, regardless of what one thinks of the Democratic nominee:

As we head into 2016, each party is quite unified on major policy issues — and these unified positions are very far from each other. The huge, substantive gulf between the parties will be reflected in the policy positions of whomever they nominate, and will almost surely be reflected in the actual policies adopted by whoever wins.

For example, any Democrat would, if elected, seek to maintain the basic U.S. social insurance programs — Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — in essentially their current form, while also preserving and extending the Affordable Care Act. Any Republican would seek to destroy Obamacare, make deep cuts in Medicaid, and probably try to convert Medicare into a voucher system . . . And any Democrat would try to move forward on climate policy, through executive action if necessary, while any Republican — whether or not he is an outright climate-science denialist — would block efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions . . .The differences between the parties are so clear and dramatic that it’s hard to see how anyone who has been paying attention could be undecided even now, or be induced to change his or her mind between now and the election.

One thing is for sure: American voters will be getting a real choice. May the best party win. [emphasis mine]

Among the things Krugman neglects in his otherwise outstanding piece is the courts. Can you imagine Scott Walker’s, Ted Cruz’s, or even the (supposedly moderate) Jeb Bush’s court appointments? Even without all the other policy differences between the parties, preventing further right-wing radicalization of the courts across the country (not just the Supreme Court) should make every Naderite and Green vote Democratic in November.

©2015 Keith Berner

04.10.15 GOP Hates the Poor and Minorities

Posted April 10, 2015 by Keith Berner
Categories: Bigotry, Politics

Tags: ,

This is from Harold Meyerson in yesterday’s Washington Post:

Fueled by the mega-donations of the mega-rich, today’s Republican Party is not just far from being the party of Lincoln: It’s really the party of Jefferson Davis. It suppresses black voting; it opposes federal efforts to mitigate poverty; it objects to federal investment in infrastructure and education just as the antebellum South opposed internal improvements and rejected public education; it scorns compromise. It is nearly all white. It is the lineal descendant of Lee’s army, and the descendants of Grant’s have yet to subdue it.

04.09.15 Theology, Theocracy & Ideology

Posted April 9, 2015 by Keith Berner
Categories: Relgion & Secularism, Society

Tags: , ,


I’m an atheist. I’m quite certain there are myriad phenomena in the universe we can’t explain – and don’t even know about. I just don’t see how that proves the existence of god(s), though. That is, I believe there is a “science” – a logical explanation – for all but one of these mysterious phenomena, even if the explanation is beyond our current ability to fathom.

So which mystery can never be explained scientifically? The fact that anything exists at all. Either it has existed forever, which is impossible. Or nothing became something, which is equally impossible.

Theists will say that “God*” (or gods) provides the explanation. This does me no good. You posit a deity? Well, what predated and created that being? All your god construct does for me is to add an unnecessary layer on a still-unsolvable mystery. So why bother?

I respect of spirituality – things like mindfulness and meditation have unquestioned value. And even paranormal phenomena can fall under the rubric of that which cannot presently be explained, but which certainly has an explanation. Telepathy? Telekinesis? Foretelling the future? I don’t pooh-pooh this stuff out-of-hand, even though I may be skeptical of the particular claim or claimant.

I’m tolerant of faith. If you believe in Jesus or Mohamed or the Hindu gods, what is it to me? I get why humans seek explanation for the unknown, rebel against randomness and entropy, and take comfort in ritual. I see how church provides community.


Even though I don’t have a problem with faith per se, once any religion claims certainty and exclusivity, I begin to take umbrage. Seriously, out of all possible explanations of reality, across an infinite universe, what are the odds that some white guy who lived 2000+ years ago provided a correct explanation, nonetheless the only correct one? Given the lengthy odds against any human theology’s being remotely accurate, I don’t get religious adherence.

I suspect that many original prophets and a huge majority of current practitioners are sincere in their faith. But the corruption of a theology is inevitable as men (and it is nearly always men) exploit it and twist it to gain and maintain power (see Jimmy Carter quote, below). Just as the wealthy in modern-day USA use their economic power to control our politics, the media, and education, so have the charismatic and clever used their made-up doctrines to keep slaves in chains, women as chattel, and homosexuals in hell. It is this political religion that is beyond the pale. From Indiana to ISIS, the world is awash in cynical, brutal, hurtful religion.

And the hypocrisy is mind numbing. US Christian fundamentalists condemn Iran’s theocracy as they legislate their bible across this country. It’s not just the “religious freedom” laws, but also the disappearance from our textbooks of evolution or honest American history. (Since god ordained the US as “his” own nation, everything the US does – from its genocide to torture – must ipso factor be beyond reproach.)

Notwithstanding the secularism of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution (church-state separation, anyone?) religion is the law of the land, with explicit theocracy dominant in one of our political parties. Big US cities are islands of rationality and enlightenment. But the suburbs, small towns, and countryside – the vast land area of the country – lives in 13th century make-believe. Or, rather, it should be make believe, but isn’t, for the reason that the Constitution gives undue power to land over population (i.e., rural areas and small towns get huge bonus in our system).


Political ideology is just like religion, except it’s directly about power, rather than pretending not to be. Consider:

  • the Iraq War
  • climate change
  • austerity policies
  • the certainty of a Romney victory in 2012.

In each instance, ideologues knew the answers before questions were asked – no facts or insight required, no feedback accepted. I hardly mean to categorize every person of faith (or politics) as an ideologue. I do mean to accuse religious and political institutions of exploiting doctrine to maintain power at huge costs to humans and the planet.

As Catholicism’s ban on birth control condemns millions to die of sexually transmitted disease or starvation; as al Shabab massacres 147 students in Kenya; as Buddhists, Hindus, and Moslems slaughter each other in Southeast Asia; and as the icecaps melt, it is apparent that blind faith won’t bring peace or progress.

Yet, we are crippled in our body politic; our fear of offending the religious makes the nonobersvant deferential and meek. Even our most progressive officeholders won’t proclaim secular values as such or risk appearing publicly unpious. At least one bow to  religion is practically required in every stump speech and God Bless America has taken over baseball stadiums.

We need articulate and forceful leaders who will address directly religion’s impact on human dignity – people of stature who can reshape the discourse around religion, rights, and progress.

Last Word

After a few days of working on this post, I had left it there, looking for leadership and not sure what else to say about it.

Then today – by sheer coincidence** – I came across the perfect closure to these musings: a 2009 article (“Losing my religion for equality”) by Jimmy Carter. He writes:

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.

Jimmy Carter is a moral leader, a man of stature. Having left his church, he remains a godly man. In this piece, he holds religion explicitly accountable for hurting women. I might not have thought Carter a comrade in arms on these issues, because our theologies are different. But Carter provides a refreshing reminder that not only atheists make the case for secularism. That makes this atheist a bit more hopeful.

For today, anyway, Jimmy Carter is the leader I was looking for.

*I capitalize “God” when referring to the supernatural being Jews, Christians, and Muslims address by that name. I use the lower case when referring a generic deity.

**Or was it an act of God?

©2015 Keith Berner


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