SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Monday February 25, 2019 - 09:01:00 PM

Bordering on Insanity

Isn't it odd (not to mention blindingly hypocritical) that Trump complains about a fictitious "threat" to America's southern border while simultaneously threatening to launch a full-bore military invasion by sending US troops across the border of Venezuela? When it comes to "threats to borders," who poses the greater danger—poor migrant families seeking asylum or heavily armed US troops seeking to control Venezuela's oil and minerals?

A few notes from the must-read Venezuela Fact Sheet (Standard disclaimer: "Maduro may not be the world's best politician, but still . . . ."):

Fiction: President Maduro was not legitimately elected.

Fact: Maduro won the Presidential election with a greater majority (68% of the vote) and backed by a greater majority of the population than any recent US president. In that election (which was judged legitimate by international observers), the US-backed candidates lost decisively and Juan Guaido's faction didn't even participate.

Fiction: The Maduro government in Venezuela is about to fall.

Fact: The elected government of Venezuela retains the loyalty of the majority of the people and of the military despite US-imposed economic sanctions, blackmail and threats.



The Bill that Could Stop The Donald 

Win Without War sends a troubling message: "Trump just declared that 'all options are open' in Venezuela. That’s as clear as it gets: He’s threatening military intervention." 

The US has a long and shameful history of bloody interventions in Latin America. Now Venezuela is once again in Washington's crosshairs—with Nicaragua and Cuba (the ultimate "prize") also on the target list. Thanks to onerous US sanctions, many Venezuelans are experiencing violence, hunger, and poverty. Trump's offer of "humanitarian aid" is a stunt designed to trigger further unrest inside the country. The last thing the struggle in Venezuela needs is a US military invasion. Fortunately, we can do something to stop this madness. 

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) has introduced a bill to block the Trump administration from taking any military action against Venezuela without the approval of Congress. But Congress has to get its act together, immediately. 

What We Can Do: Urge Rep. Barbara Lee to sign on to Rep. Cicilline’s bill to oppose unauthorized military intervention in Venezuela! 

Global Protests as US Targets Venezuela 

The stakes could not be higher as people around the world are mobilizing to support the Venezuelan people by marching to oppose the growing threat of US military intervention in Venezuela. More than 100 cities worldwide held peace protests over the past weekend. In the East Bay, protests were held at Oakland's Oscar Grant Plaza. 

Here's some background on the situation that you won't find in the mainstream press: 

UNAC Statement on the situation in Venezuela 

Venezuela Fact Sheet 

A Letter to Barbara Lee 

Thanks for the note about your endorsement of Kamala Harris's presidential bid. 

In truth, I would have been more thrilled had you endorsed Bernie or Elizabeth or Tulsi. I admire Harris but she has not been a visionary leader on the Green left and she has a troubling alliance with Israel's Netanyahu.
Hoping you will add your support to H.R.1249 [to save the Cold-War-era INF nuclear weapons treaty unilaterally threatened by Trump]. 

Thanks for becoming one of the co-sponsors of Rep. Ro Khanna's bill calling for a declaration officially ending the Korean War. 

And thanks for co-sponsoring legislation to repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which has allowed US presidents to start unconstitutional wars at least 41 times in 19 countries. 

The Creeping Tabloidization of Network News 

On February 22, all three major TV news networks—ABC, CBS and NBC—ran the same lead stories. With all the other news happening in the US and worldwide, the American viewing audience was treated to a salacious trifecta of celebrity scandals: R. Kelley's abuse of underage women; Jussie Smollet's apparent concoction of a "fake noose" story; and NFL honcho Robert Kraft's visit to Florida, which allegedly included a lay-over at a Miami massage parlor. 

Is this what the titans of newscasting have come to? Tabloid-dejur-alism? 

Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow must be twirling in their graves. 

NBC Pressing on for War 

Here's a classic case of the Mainstream Media reinforcing Washington's Warhawkery. The following is a transcript of NBC's Nightly News for February 15, 2019. It begins with an incendiary warning from Lester Holt that promotes John Bolton's Trumped-up fear-mongering in place of objective journalism. 

First, here's Lester Holt's fraught introduction: "There is tough new talk coming from Iran tonight about the possibility of war with the US and Israel. It came in our Richard Engel's exclusive interview with Iran's foreign minister." 

Engel's halts his opening sentence half war through and allows US VP Mike Pense finish the introduction. Here's how it played out: 

Engel: "Just one day after a US-lead conference to pressure Iran . . ." 

Pence: ". . . the Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust and it seeks the means to achieve it." 

Only then does NBC cut to a shot of Engels and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sitting down to talk. 

But before Zarif the interview begins, Engel tells the viewing audience what they are about to hear: "Tonight: A warning from Iran's foreign minister." 

Without further preamble, Engels asks his first question: "Do you think there's a risk that there may be some sort of war between Iran, the United States and Israel?" 

In a calm and thoughtful voice, Zarif replies: "There certainly are some people who were successful in creating the war last time [who] are hard at it again, but I think some sense will prevail and people will find out that it's suicidal to engage in a war with Iran." [Does that sound like a threat of war?] 

Engel follows up: "We also asked if he would take up President Trump on his offer to potentially renegotiate the nuclear deal." [A deal that Trump violated but one that Iran and every other signatory nation still honors.] 

Zarif: "Why should we trust President Trump—that he would abide by his own signature?" [Fair enough.] 


Our Brave, Fighting Bombs and Missiles 

Our mainstream press and politicians never miss a chance to praise "our brave fighting men and women" in the armed services. But some of the real frontline fighters in the US Global War on Terror never get the credit they deserve. 

Why don't we hear praise for America's hard-working killer drones?  

Could it be that the government, military, and media don't like to mention drones because they are: covert, illegal, brutal and cowardly? These expensive, remote-controlled bombs—used mainly by the US and the UK—are currently inflicting murder and mayhem across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. In 2018, drones accounted for 27% of British air strikes inside Syria with 75 drone strikes in December alone.  

Creech Air Force Base in Nevada is a major control center for the Pentagon's killer drone program. Dozens of strikes are executed every day by Creech controllers who sit in air-conditioned comfort as they lounge in front of glowing screens and guide their deadly weapons toward distant targets­­­—which frequently include innocent civilians. 

For the past 10 years, anti-drone activists have been protesting along the road outside Creech AFB. This year's week-long "Fifth Annual Shutdown" gathering will run from March 30 to April 5. If you've got the time and the inclination, you can register to participate here. 


Worth reading: Missing Pieces: The Human Impact of Drone Strikes. 

Tweet Revenge 

The global activist group Avaaz (working in 18 countries on 6 continents in 17 languages) has come up with a clever plot to twist Trump's Tweets into expedient tools of self-sabotage. 

"What if we could use Trump's obsession with Twitter against him?" That was the challenge. Here is the solution: Imaging that each time Trump tweets a personal insult or a message of racist division, misogyny, or xenophobia, people could reply with: "Thanks for your Tweet! Because of it, 100,000 people around the world have just made a donation to stop policies like this." 

The idea is for people to sign up for a mere 10 cents per Tweet. Get on Trump's Twitter list and you can literally nickel-and-dime the Orange Orangutan from sun-up to sun-down. 

Avaaz predicts that "if enough of us sign up and bring celebrities on board, this story will be like candy to the media." Avaaz also notes that "many of Trump's tweets violate Twitter's user policy and maybe even break hate speech laws—but he gets away with it. So what we're doing is changing that by using the money to challenge the dangerous, often ignorant views he's sending out to millions."
Interested? #TrumpTweetsMakeCents 

We're Speechless: UC Takes Credit  

For Inventing the Free Speech Movement 

UC Berkeley's "CalGift" fund-raisers recently sent out a solicitation headlined: "Berkeley Moments Change the World!" 

Their funding pitch read as follows: 

Open-source software. The wetsuit. The flu vaccine. The Free Speech Movement. The accelerating universe. Two vitamins, 16 elements, and thousands of students’ lives changed.  

For 150 years, UC Berkeley has been changing the world by making life-altering discoveries and developing the next generation of thought leaders . . . .  

Big Give is an annual online giving day that brings the entire UC Berkeley community—alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff, and friends—together to support schools and programs and help them win prize money. Visit BigGive.berkeley.edu to learn more! 

So how do FSM vets feel about being used as a UC fund-raising tool? Here's a sample of responses that trickled in following UC's announcement: 

Vet 1: "Big Give"? More like "Big Take." Invoking the FSM to "win big prize money"? That takes the prize. 

Vet 2: The FSM did provide "life-altering discoveries" but UC's role was akin to the role the influenza virus played in the discovery of the flu vaccine. 

Vet 3: I’ll tell them how much we appreciated all the time and effort the University put into helping us create the Free Speech Movement: "Without their effort, it would not have been necessary." 

Vet 4: To me it is the students and the faculty who are the heart and soul of the University, and so when the University of California takes credit for the FSM, I see it as at least an indirect acknowledgment of that. It was a victory for the University—freedom won by its student activists and their community and faculty allies. 

Vet 5: Send a contribution to the Mario Savio Memorial Lecture at: https://give.berkeley.edu/fund/?f=FW6930000

A #MeToons Movement Update 

The Fusco Brothers, the SF Chronicle's cartoon quartet of bad-boy bachelors, continue to (1) mock the plight of hapless flies trapped in soup bowls and (2) women trapped in the same room with the Fusco Brothers. Apparently, not even courtrooms are off-limits. 

In J.C. Duffy's February 20 panel, a judge attempts (and fails) to rein in Lars Fusco's randy nature. May it please the court (and, in this case, it didn't), the exchange ran as follows: 

Lady judge: "Flirtation has no place in a courtroom, Mr. Fusco. And this gavel is no prop." 

Lars Fusco: "Neither are these lips." 

Note: A detailed letter was mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle, calling attention to the strip's serial misogyny and suggesting that the Fuscos be (1) replaced (i.e. removed) or (2) re-placed (somewhere else on the comics pages but no longer in the lead position, above all others). 

So far, no response has been forthcoming from the Chron