02.18.19 Prohibitionism comes to Takoma Park

Posted February 18, 2019 by Keith Berner
Categories: Takoma Park

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In the past few years, Takoma Park (and neighboring Takoma DC) have seen a burst of vibrancy, particularly in the form of new restaurants, such as Busboys and Poets, Cielo Rojo, Mansa Kunda, Republic, Seoul Food, and Takoma Beverage Company. (I’ve left off the list some older restaurants and a couple of spots I think are lousy.)

It seems that a quiet backwater, originally settled by sober Seventh-Day Adventists, is suddenly becoming a destination for the region. It’s exciting to be able to grab a bite of good food nearby and to see people on the streets enjoying themselves. And (gasp!) it’s also nice to be able to have a beer or glass of wine without leaving my zip code.

Last week came the announcement of a new restaurant and bar, The Girl and the Vine (TG&TV), planned for an empty building where previous cafes and confectioneries have been.

NIMBYism is hardly new to Takoma Park, a town where progressives dig in hard against over-development (this is admirable) and against almost anything under the rubric “change” (this is ultra-conservative). So it was no surprise that immediate neighbors of the planned establishment filed their opposition to its liquor-license application in order to prevent the restaurant from opening. This was simply de rigeur, for a community seemingly allergic to change. (The good news is that a petition supporting the license application has garnered nearly 500 signatures in a few days.)

What has amazed me is the anti-alcohol zealotry the NIMBYs have latched onto this time. Here are some choice quotes from the “official” opposition to TG&TV:

  • “If this alcohol license is approved, that will bring to ten the number of alcohol outlets in Old Town Takoma Park ” [gasp!]
  • “A number of us have experienced the down-side of these bar-restaurants. . . anecdotal observances of intoxicated patrons being served more alcohol at some bars; and at least one bad traffic accident when a drunk Republic patron failed to negotiate the curve on Carroll Ave at Columbia. . .” [emphasis added]
  • “Republic’s success seems to have spurred on additional alcohol outlets opening in close proximity. . .”
  • “This high density of alcohol outlets never has a positive effect on neighborhoods.”

So far, so NIMBY. But a post on a neighborhood listserv crosses a disturbing line:

  • “I wonder if the Takoma Park AlAnon community might want to weigh in from the perspective of the alcohol culture that seems to be consuming the Takoma Park commercial scene, especially given TP’s large population of young folks who are so vulnerable to that culture.” [So, if Takoma Park had fewer young people, this restaurant would be fine?]

Here we move from “don’t build it near me” to a call for theocracy by Al-Anon. (I have nothing against Al-Anon — I am close with people who have benefited greatly from their services.)

So, were these people ideologically opposed to alcohol before a restaurant was planned to be near them? Or did they trot this moral rectitude out in service to their general anti-progress agenda? Is it possible these are remnants of the former Adventist control of Takoma Park?

I don’t really care. But, just as I believe that theocrats shouldn’t get to make laws about gay rights and abortion, so do I believe that just ’cause you don’t drink, you get to stop new restaurants from opening. Moral zealotry has no part in public decision-making.

Now, I will grant that whoever lives next door to anything will experience downsides that those farther away won’t. The question is how one balances the legitimate concerns of a small number of opponents against the broader interests of a wider community. There is no magic formula for adjudicating these kinds of conflicts. I would just call on development opponents to be honest about their legitimate concerns, rather than using an anything-goes, kitchen-sink barrage of irrelevancy in their efforts (as was the case with the war over Takoma Junction development last year).

I, for one, stand with the person across the street from the proposed new restaurant: “Takoma Park is finally becoming what I thought it could be when I moved here 13 years ago.” Hooray for that!

©2019 Keith Berner

01.09.18 Some Countries

Posted January 9, 2019 by Keith Berner
Categories: Bigotry, Civil Liberties, Democracy, International Affairs, Politics

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Readers of this blog and my followers on Facebook know by now that I am a democracy and anti-bigotry zealot. I have particular contempt for countries that voted in their authoritarian and/or racist governments and I reserve a special place in hell for those whose existence is underwritten by my tax dollars.

Here is a very incomplete list of countries that are bad in various ways. These are the countries that stand out for me, which is obviously subjective and not comprehensive.

Hegemonist or externally aggressive countries

  • China
  • Iran
  • Israel
  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • US (even if there is no present agenda to take over other countries, history is replete with examples US aggression/domination)

Authoritarian countries

  • most countries in the world (see Freedom House’s democracy scores)
  • Brazil
  • China
  • Cuba
  • Hungary
  • Israel (in that non-Jews are second-class citizens and residents of the Occupied Territories have no rights at all)
  • Myanmar
  • Poland
  • Russia
  • Turkey
  • US (the US is not [yet] fully authoritarian, but its democratic foundations are under assault by the GOP)
  • Venezuela

Racist/bigoted/misogynist countries (including some where the far-right is part of government and some that have passed harsh laws against immigrants/immigration)

  • most of Central and Eastern Europe
  • Australia (one of the harshest countries in the world to refugees)
  • Austria
  • Brazil
  • China
  • Denmark
  • Hungary
  • Iran
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Myanmar
  • Netherlands
  • Poland
  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Switzerland (parts)
  • Turkey
  • UK (racism was the only reason for Brexit’s passage)
  • US

Countries where the people vote(d) for racist/authoritarian leadership

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Brazil
  • Hungary
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Poland
  • Russia
  • Switzerland (parts)
  • Turkey
  • UK
  • US
  • Venezuela

Countries where my tax dollars underwrite authoritarianism, bigotry and/or hegemony

  • Israel
  • US

If I weren’t American, I would certainly boycott this country. Israel is the only other country that appears on all these lists. While anti-Semitism is a serious issue, my strong opposition to Israel is neither anti-Semitic (I’m Jewish!) nor unfair.

Want to nominate other countries for this list? Disagree with some of my choices? Let me know!

©2019 Keith Berner

 

 

12.21.18 To Ben Cardin

Posted December 21, 2018 by Keith Berner
Categories: Civil Liberties, International Affairs, Politics

Tags: , ,

I just sent this to Maryland’s recently reelected senator:

At a time when US democracy is under full-throttled assault by an authoritarian GOP (and today’s news about Ruth Bader Ginsburg again highlights the fragility of our democracy), how DARE you be spending time on restricting civil liberties by criminalizing free speech, via your pro-Likud bill? I am a progressive Democrat who didn’t vote for you and who helped assure the Progressive Neighbors didn’t endorse you. The time has come to look into Maryland law regarding recall of elected officials. You are an affront to human dignity and democracy. For shame!

©2018 Keith Berner

12.01.18 What to do about Facebook

Posted December 1, 2018 by Keith Berner
Categories: Politics, Technology

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Sheryl Sandberg Asked for Soros Research, Facebook Acknowledges

The past two years, as demonstrated by articles like the this one from the New York Times, leave no remaining doubt that Facebook (the company) is evil: a parasite, feeding off democracy and willing to use anti-Semitic* tropes and right-wing thugs in pursuit of global domination.

We must consider stopping FB (and Google, at least) to be nearly as important as crushing the GOP. Yet, FB (the platform) is too important to many of us to quit it in disgust. While the company is evil, the platform does much good, from allowing progressives to organize and share information, to keeping families and friends in contact around the world. I, for one, am not going to quit and (thereby) cut off my nose to spite my face.

Hear are some actions you can take without cutting yourself off from the communications that are important to you:

  1. Write to Congress and demand that Facebook – and the other tech giants – be broken up and regulated. (I’m not saying this is an easy task, without impinging on free speech.)
  2. Go through your investments and divest from Facebook and other companies that are affronts to your values.
  3. Refuse to purchase or donate via Facebook. I get that many nonprofits benefit from FB fundraising. So when you see their appeals, go to their own websites to make your contributions. As for all the product marketing, do your purchasing elsewhere, period.
  4. Hide all product ads in your feed. If enough of us do this, it will send a message that we ain’t buying what they’re selling.
  5. Criticize Facebook on Facebook. As is my practice, I will post this piece on my blog and on Facebook. And I will keep on attacking Facebook on their own platform.

As you undertake these actions, be careful not to blame it all on Sheyrl Sandberg. She is an ugly figure (morally, not aesthetically) to be sure. But it is flat-out misogynist to blame her while letting the equally evil Mark Zuckerberg off the hook. He has carefully cultivated his image as just not being bright and mature enough to be responsible for anything. That’s bullshit: this is his company and if he valued truth and honesty, FB would be a vastly different place.

*There is a special place in hell for Jews (Zuckerberg and Sandberg) who play with anti-Semitism to enrich themselves.

©2018 Keith Berner

09.26.18 The Cherry Tree

Posted September 26, 2018 by Keith Berner
Categories: Judiciary, Politics

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George Washington: “I cannot tell a lie. I chopped down that tree.”

Bill Clinton: “What do you mean by ‘tree’?”

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions II: “I do not recall.”

Brett Kavanaugh: “I’ve never even seen a tree or been within a mile of an ax. PS. I’m still a virgin.”

©2018 Keith Berner

09.14.18 “The threat to democracy” from the cowardly center

Posted September 14, 2018 by Keith Berner
Categories: Democracy, Politics, Uncategorized

Tags:

This is in response to Fareed Zakaria’s column in today’s Washington Post , titled “The threat to democracy — from the left.”

I share concern about threats to free speech from the left.  But anyone, in the current climate of authoritarian, bigoted assaults on democracy — from Hungary to Sweden to the GOP — anyone who chooses this historical moment to claim equivalence between the dangers posed by the left and the right is not a (small-d) democrat. Zakaria should be ashamed of himself. At a time when we all have to be at the ramparts defending democracy, he chooses to worship at the false altar of equivalence. This is not a time for moral equivocation or reputation-protection through centrism. (We all know the type: the militant centrists who think proving they aren’t aligned with the left is the key to their legacies.) Zakaria has chosen sides in this epic struggle and his choice is the morally repugnant one. 

 

© 2018 Keith Berner

08.19.18 Call it what it is: an international criminal conspiracy

Posted August 19, 2018 by Keith Berner
Categories: Relgion & Secularism

Tags: ,

I suppose that Washington Post columnist David Von Drehle isn’t wrong to write: “No agency, I suspect, has built more schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, orphanages and clinics. No patron has inspired and endowed more masterpieces of music, art, architecture and literature.” His balanced piece, published two days ago under the title “The Church is tempted by power and obsessed with sex,” also declares that “its scandals and sins are monumental.”

But that latter line is too gentle, in my view. In fact, the Catholic church has been self-dealing and corrupt at least since Martin Luther objected to its sale of indulgences in the Middle Ages. It is the same institution that created the infamous and abusive Magdalene Laundries that endured in Ireland until 1996. And let’s not forget the Church’s silence and complicity before and during the Holocaust.

Only in the 1980s did we begin to learn about the extent of sexual abuse perpetrated at all levels of the Catholic hierarchy, in myriad countries around the world, and the massive, persistent conspiracy to cover up this widespread criminality and to enable continued abuse at the hands or priests (and, as in the Magdalene Laundries, nuns). Oh yes, it is the same organization that has ruined countless lives with what Von Drehle calls its “negative obsession with sex.”

The world abounds with conspiracies at various levels of criminality. There is currently an obsession on the right in this country about Latin American gangs. The Mafia lives and breathes in our imaginations and in local government around the world. And, of course, we cannot forget the GOP conspiracy to deny climate change and undermine voting rights.

I don’t know of an objective comparison of these various outrages in terms of the quantity of perpetrators and fellow-travelers, number of victims, financial and social damage caused, or in their pervasiveness over time and geographic impact.  But surely, the Catholic Church, with its worldwide reach, 2000-year history, and outright control of so many societies must be considered nothing less than the most damaging criminal conspiracy in human history.

Though I do not share their faith, I do not begrudge anyone their heartfelt belief. I can imagine (if only intellectually) the draw of tradition, the sense of community a religion can foster, and the deep comfort that belief in something greater than ourselves might offer.

It is now time, though, for every Catholic believer, not to reject their belief, but to examine with open eyes the behavior of an institution they enable with their weekly attendance and collection-plate donations. It is time for these Catholics to condemn their church loudly, clearly, and persistently. They must leave the old church and build a new one. Keep the liturgy and the doctrine, if you wish. But denounce Rome and it’s dispersed hierarchy. Start over with local faith leaders who represent and embody the compassion, mercy, and charity of Jesus.

Von Drehle uses the word “corrupted” to describe the Catholic Church. This word choice isn’t wrong, but it is weak, failing to capture the essential rottenness, hypocrisy, and criminality of the institution.

Only when individual Catholics take their responsibility to their true faith seriously can the their historical church be brought to its knees and a new venue and venture for love — of god, humanity, and our beautiful planet — be erected in its place. It is not sufficient for atheists like me to condemn the Catholic Church. Only Catholics themselves can end the outrage.

©2018 Keith Berner