SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Friday May 03, 2019 - 02:34:00 PM

No More Oily Politicians

Oil money is one of the key political lubricants working on behalf of the 1%. Now a group called No Fossil Fuel Money has created a campaign—and a website—to hold politicians oil-accountable. Go online to see it your local reps have signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge. Here's a teaser:

Who Has Signed: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Eric Swalwell, Seth Moulton, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, Pete Buttigieg, Wayne Messam, Andrew Yang, Marianne Williamson.

Who Hasn't Signed: Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Tim Ryan, Julian Castro, Beto O'Rourke, John Delaney, and John Hickenlooper.

Among the Californians Who Have Signed: Barbara Lee, Ro Khanna, Delaine Eastin, John Chiang, Laura Oatman, Fiona Ma, Mike Eng, Tony Thurmond, Scott Wiener, Jovanka Beckles, Buffy Wicks, Dianne Feinstein, Dave Jones, Nancy O'Malley, Kevin de Leon, Antonio Villaraigosa, and Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Protect the King: Barr the Gates

After watching Trump-appointed US Attorney General William Barr's performance during the recent US Senate hearings, I agree with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Barr deserves to be fired and/or jailed for lying under oath.

Here's my 7-word characterization of Trump's AG: "A toady who looks like a frog."

Barr has been widely criticized for acting like Trump's attorney instead of the nation's attorney general. Clearly, Trump has been hiding behind Barr. Just as clearly, Trump deserves to be hidden behind bars.



Stuck with Trump? 

When it comes to impeachment, Nancy Pelosi says Trump "is not worth the trouble." Adam Schiff, fearing that impeachment would be blocked in the Senate, recently told Bill Maher: "We should vote his ass out of office." But a growing number of Dems—including presidential contenders Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris—are openly aligning with Rep. Rashida "impeach the M-F" Tlaib. 

Meanwhile, we're stuck with Trump. So here's a simile for our woebegone situation: Having Trump in the White House is like discovering that you've rented your spare bedroom to a serial arsonist. The guy is a proven danger but he refuses to leave. If you accept the arsonist-in-the-bedroom scenario, "not worth the effort" doesn't wash. In the real world, you'd call the cops and have him evicted. 


Robert Reich: America Has Already Fired Trump 


Goldman Awards: Guess the Messenger 

In her eloquent opening address at the Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony on April 29, Alexandra Cousteau offered the following quote and invited the audience to guess the author: 

Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions. It has become a common cause of all the people of this country. It is a cause of particular concern to young Americans, because they more than we will reap the grim consequences of our failure to act on programs which are needed now if we are to prevent disaster later.  

Clean air, clean water, open spaces-these should once again be the birthright of every American. If we act now, they can be. 

Many of us guessed Al Gore. 

Nope: Richard M. Nixon in his 1970 State of the Union Address. 

Goldman Awards: A Message for Al Gore 

Many years ago, when Al Gore made a visit to Berkeley, I joined the crowd in MLK Park (then known as "Provo Park") and attempted to present Gore with a gift—one of the license plates from my car. The plate read: "GO SOLAR." 

When I thrust the plate at Gore and invited him to take it, he gave me a suspicious glance and replied: "I'm not about to." At which point, a security guard stepped forward to accept the offering. 

On Monday, at the Goldman Environmental Prize event in SF, I had another message for Al. But this time I didn't utter a word. And I'm still debating whether I should have interrupted his speech. 

Gore began by rambling amiably but, when it came to addressing the existential threat of climate change, he pounded his fist on the podium and declared forcefully: "We will win!" He went on to praise environmental activists for accepting the science of climate change. He named Greta Thunberg, the charismatic Swedish teen who started the Student Strike for Climate. He praised the demonstrators in the Extinction Rebellion. He even invoked the struggles of the Black Lives Matter movement. But, as his presentation was approaching the end, he had not yet mentioned the single, most promising climate-action development ever to hit Washington. 

I felt an increasing impulse to stand and shout: "Al! What about the Green New Deal?" 

Instead, I remained silent, holding out hope that Gore would acknowledge Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and the GND. He didn't. 

I suspect I was not the only one in the huge Opera House audience who was on the verge of shouting the same question. 

Pot on the Pavement 

On my Sunday morning run uphill to the Berkeley Rose Garden, I spotted a new sign on the road in front of the Euclid Avenue entrance. The road sign wasn't on a pole, however. Instead, the message was stenciled directly onto the asphalt. The ad hoc ad, from, promised home delivery of a range of high-value products—i.e., "pot, weed, ganja, marijuana, cannabis." The ad was half-covered in fallen leaves but there was something about this odd advertising strategy that clicked: looking around I discovered that, sure enough, the blacktop billboard was located near (can you guess?) a pothole. 

Housing Solutions 

Mark Benioff has pledged $30 million to fund a five-year program to "solve" the problem of homelessness by hiring scientists to compile huge amounts of new data. According to the Chronicle, "The goal is to study homelessness and come up with ways to be more effective in creating housing and services for homeless people. Another objective will be to compile a digital library of local and national research." 

Forgive me, but this seems like a waste. The answer to the problem of homelessness is as simple as it is apparent: Homes. How many Bay Area apartments could $30 million have created? 

Housing Solutions for Military Vets 

Looking beyond the Bay Area, isn't it odd that we honor "our brave fighting men and women" when they are overseas but when they return, we force military families into substandard squats lined with moldy walls, shoddy ceilings, sagging floors, and faulty faucets? 

Until the government addresses the plight of thousands of penniless war vets forced to live on city streets, America should stop calling itself the "Home of the Brave." What if every returning vet were guaranteed a decent, well-paid job and a clean, affordable dwelling? How about using some of the Pentagon's misspent billions to fund a federal program called "Homes for the Brave"? 

Housing Solutions: Small Homes = Big Impact 

It's not necessary to build a two-bath apartment to house a homeless family. In Mongolia, for instance, three generations of nomadic herders typical share a single communal space inside the family gur (aka a "yurt"). 

In recent years, the "Tiny Homes" movement has taken some giant strides. Since 1994, Reverend Faith Fowler (who presides over Detroit's Cass Community United Methodist Church) has been bringing down the cost of home ownership through the church's nonprofit, Cass Tiny Home Development. 

Yes! Magazine has called this "radical program" nothing short of "the American Dream come true" for some of America's poorest citizens: "[P]eople who are unhoused, people with disabilities, youth aging out of foster care, veterans, or those formerly incarcerated gain new accessibility to home ownership." And all for the average cost of $1-per-square-foot! 


Photo by Michelle and Chris Gerard/Curbed 

Rev. Fowler's mini-homes range from 250 to 400 square feet and can house up to two people. Fowler's flock has built 12 of these small-but-servicable shelters and work is underway on six more. A recent $400,000 gift from the Ford Motor Company Fund will pay for construction of an additional 25 homes (average cost: $16,000 each). 

Each resident is required to volunteer eight hours of community work per month and, at the end of seven years, each Cass casa (along with the land it sits on) is deeded to the occupant, mortgage-free. A resident becomes a homeowner. This is a solution that Mark Benioff should study. 

Student Killed Tackling Shooter; Carolina Cops Take Credit 

On April 30, two students were killed and four injured during what described as "a shooting spree at University of North Carolina Charlotte." (It the US the only country on Earth that uses the phrase "shooting spree"? Is the US the only country that normalizes mass-killings as being somehow on par with "shopping sprees"?) 

Campus Police Chief Jeff Baker praised his officers who rushed to the classroom and arrested the gunman. "Our officers' actions definitely saved lives," Baker said. “One officer immediately went to the suspect to take him down.” 

It wasn't until the next day that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney corrected the story. Putney disclosed that the gunman was actually tackled and "taken down" by an unarmed student, 21-year-old Riley Howell, who "took the assailant off his feet." Howell was killed in his struggle with the gunman. "But for his work," Putney said, "the assailant may not have been disarmed." 

Religion, the Miracle Cure 

It's a recurrent theme in reports of catastrophes. Whether its deadly hurricanes, floods, wildfires, or tornadoes, tattered survivors step forward to tell reporters: "We were spared, thanks to God. It was a miracle." (This observation fails to explain why other God-fearing neighbors died.) 

Now that mass-shootings have become as common as extreme weather events, Americans are selectively attaching the stamp of "miracle" to gun-slaughters as well. 

On Saturday, April 27, 2019, a woman was killed and several worshipers injured during shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein recalled confronting the gunman: "I couldn't see his eyes. I couldn't see his soul," Goldstein said. When Goldstein raised his hands, the gunman shot off one of Goldstein's fingers. And then, Goldstein told reporters, "Miraculously, the gun jammed." 

Given the death count, "miracle" just does not seem to be the best word to use. 

Letters the Chronicle Didn't Run Dept. 

Dear Chron: In the article "Bold move fails to oust president" (May 1) The New York Times repeats the Mainstream Media mantra about Nicolas Maduro's "widely discredited elections." Some facts:  

More than 150 international observers declared Venezuela's election fair and honest. Nine million Venezuelans voted in that election. Maduro won six million of those votes. In the same election, Presidential wannabe Juan Guaido, only won 24% of the votes for his National Assembly seat.  

In the article "Envoy blasts Pompeo over remarks on nuclear talks" (May 1), the Associated Press tosses in a gratuitous reference to Kim Jong-un's "rubber stamp Parliament." The AP has yet to raise similar concerns about Donald Trump's rubber-stamp Senate.