SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Sunday May 19, 2019 - 09:18:00 PM

PG&E Profiteering

California Public Utility Commissioner Michael Picker and CPUC spokeswoman, Terrie Prosper recently laid down some bad news: If PG&E is allowed to burden customers with the estimated $30 billion in liability costs for the 2017 wildfires linked to the company's equipment failures, we can expect average utility rates to rise by $25 per month.

Here's why: In the aftermath of the company's declaration of bankruptcy, many PG&E stockholders are starting to move their investments elsewhere. So, in order to "encourage investors" to provide PG&E with more capital, the CPUC has proposed raising the guaranteed return on equity to stockholders from 10.25% to 16%. To many, it looks like more evidence that the CPUC is in the pocket of PG&E. 

And with Picker in their pocket and PG&E set to Prosper, who else at the CPUC is doing PG&E favors? Teddy Profitt? Cory Plunder? Mal Feacense? Robin Steal? (Help me out here, Carol Denney.) 

What's on Your Plate? 

Here's another reason not to toy with your Smartphone while driving: You'll miss out on spotting all those intriguing bumper stickers and baffling license plates. 

For example: The Uber driver in a Subaru who was recently observed sporting a rear-window sticker that read: "Don't Follow Me. I'm Lost Too." 

That was straightforward. License plates, however, can be tricky to decipher. 

There's a GMC Yukon out there that has a Raiders frame wrapped around a plate that reads "8GRAM415." 

Is that an encoded weed reference? As in: "An eighth of a gram for $15"? (Probably not: Too good a deal.) 

What else? Is someone celebrating a close-knit family that includes eight grandmothers, all living in the 415 calling area? 

Then there was the Mercedes-Benz with a Fly Navy frame and an encoded plate reading: "OK3INKY". Meaning it's OK to be three-years-old in Kentucky? Or: three Oklahomas would fit inside one Kentucky? Or just: OK Stinky? 

No question about the meaning of the plate on a dusty black Honda, however. It read: UUGHH. 

On a happier note, there was a sedan bearing a plate that read: URLOVLY. 

And recently, while returning from nose surgery in Walnut Creek, we found ourselves stuck in traffic behind a vehicle with the plate: BELABRD. 

For mile after mile we tried to decode the hidden message: Bela Bird? Belle Abroad? Be LA-Bred? Or just Belabored? 

Songs of Resistance from Joan Baez, the Stones and Cassius Clay 

Judith Ehrlich, director of the powerful Daniel Ellsberg bio, The Most Dangerous Man in America, is looking for help to finish The Boys Who Said No, her new, long-awaiting documentary about draft resistance during the Vietnam War. 

The filmmakers need another $168,000 to complete the 90-minute feature film. They've already paid for the rights to 1,357 archival film clips and now they need to buy the rights to a slew of Sixties anthems—including classics by Joan Baez, The Rolling Stones, Nina Simone, and the Mamas and the Papas. But the one piece of music I'd be happy to pay for has got to be a recording of "Stand by Me" sung by Muhammad Ali! 

A 45-minute preview of the film is available at (Password: boyz2). Donations can be made to the Eschatton Foundation dba The Resource Center for Nonviolence

And now, here's Muhammad Ali singing "Stand By Me." 


All Lives Are Sacred: Do You Have Any Final Words? 

Abortion is now outlawed in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Utah, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio. According to, a total of 30 US states have approved or introduced abortion bans—with legislation pending in Oklahoma, New York, Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and West Virginia. The common argument is: "All lives are sacred." 

So how is it that so many of these supposedly life-loving, anti-abortion states still impose the death penalty? What's with that, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oregon, Utah, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina? 

This announcement has been brought to you by your friends at Right-to-Lifers for the Death Penalty. 

Former Free Speech Activist Scores a Stunning Election Win 

According to the independent news platform, L.A. TACO, former Berkeley Free Speech Movement activist and State Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg has won "a blowout victory" in a runoff for a critical seat on the Los Angeles Unified School Board (LAUSB). Goldberg, 74, enjoyed the solid backing of the teachers union for campaigning as a critic of charter schools. Goldberg won a whopping 71 percent of the vote. 

Goldberg’s victory shifts the LAUSB majority. Now only three of the seven members are charter-friendly. Goldberg will replace LAUSB president Ref Rodriguez, a pro-charter advocate who was forced to resign after pleading guilty to felony conspiracy charges. 

Evoking her Berkeley past, Goldberg told a room of cheering supporters in Echo Park: “This is not the end, this is the beginning. We need a movement to make the changes we need.” 

A Chronic Condition 

A few weeks ago, my Sunday morning run ran longer than usual. When I jogged into the CVS at Shattuck and Rose to pick up the five-star edition of the Sunday Chronicle, all I could find was the two-star edition—which is basically the Saturday news edition with a few pre-printed supplements (Datebook, Style, etc) tucked inside. The Chronicle boxes on the street also had nothing but the two-star edition. 

After running-and-stopping for another 30 minutes, I finally found a copy of the five-star edition at the small Indian market across from FatApples on MLK. But there was something odd afoot. For some reason, the Chronicle's usual comics were missing. In their place: the Sunday Comics from the Bay Area News Group/Mercury News

Interesting to compare the two. Both featured Doonesbury, Peanuts, Zits, Dilbert, Bizarro, Candorville, Lio, Mutts, Pearls Before Swine, Baby Blues, Garfield, Luann, Sherman's Lagoon, Sally Forth and The Family Circus. But there was no Blondie, Foxtrot, Curtis, no Hagar the Horrible and no Wizard of Id. (Also missing, but not missed: Wumo, Non Sequitur and Get Fuzzy.) Instead, the BANG gang included strips called Pickles, JumpStart, Red & Rover, Rose Is Rose, Wallace the Brave, and a recycled appearance of Lynn Johnston's late, great For Better or Worse

The Mutant Cnronicle, Pt. 2 

In another bizarre twist, this mutant edition of the Chron included a previously unknown Sunday-stuffer called Sportstars, a 32-page once-a-month tabloid devoted to (1) local sports news and (2) lots of advertising. 

One oddity immediately stood out. Of the 31 athletes appearing in news story photos, only one was a player of color. Of the 66 athletes portrayed in the ads, all but 7 where white. 

The only prominent photo of a black athlete appeared in a full-page ad on the back cover. It showed a serious-looking ball player alongside the slogan "Give it everything you've got." It was placed by the California Army National Guard and offered a $20,000 signing bonus for qualified recruits who were looking to "earn money for college." 

Not to be outdone, the US Air Force had its own full-page ad on the inside of the issue. It showed two faceless silhouettes parachuting out of the back door of a huge cargo plane above the headline: "World Travel and 30 Days of Vacation. Any Questions?" 

The USAF also appeared to be looking to snag cash-strapped would-be students, promising "tuition assistance [and] … a great job right out of school." 

Behind the Historic FSM v. UCB Face-off 

In Tom Dalzell's dazzling new book, The Battle for of People's Park, he describes the birth of the Free Speech Movement thusly: 

It began spontaneously on October 1, 1964, when Jack Weinberg was sitting at a CORE [Congress on Racial Equality] information table on campus. He was arrested when he refused to show identification and placed in a police car in Sproul Plaza. Up to 3,000 students and supporters surrounded the police car; speeches and the Free Speech Movement began. 

Some FSM vets recently questioned the characterization that the confrontation was "spontaneous." One FSM vet who now serves on the board of the Free Speech Movement Archives ( offered the following footnote to history: 

[Y]ou're absolutely right about the "non" spontaneity of October 1.  

The CORE chapter met the night before and decided to put out an extra large table in the hopes that the Deans might try to take our names for violating the rule against tabling. We intended not to give them our names.  

There were other groups that felt it was dishonorable to "hide" your name. But we were tired of the administration taking our names then disciplining us at a time of their choosing. The idea was to make them leave us in peace or to forcibly and publicly remove us. They chose the later course by arresting Jack and putting him in the Police Car.  

Obviously this was after organizing that started from the moment we returned to campus in the fall and discovered the ban.  

So yes, Tom Dalzell was wrong to say the FSM started on October 1…. [H]e might have said it burst into the headlines that day.  

Another FSM vet added: 

Yes: planned provocation and escalation, by moving the tables to the Sproul Steps and the like. On the other hand, no one had planned for the UCPD to actually bring a car into the plaza, just at lunchtime. The sit-down around the car was totally spontaneous, unplanned, and marvelous. 

The Voter Protection Project 

The Voter Protection Project (VPP) is campaigning to grant the full rights of citizenship to 713,224 Americans who are forced to pay federal taxes but are not allowed to vote. I'm referring to the residents of the District of Columbia. Washington, DC is a political anomaly that retains the status of a foreign US colony (like Guam or Puerto Rico) while remaining firmly embedded inside the continental US. 

The VPP claims "the foremost legal experts in 20 states are in favor of DC finally receiving full federal representation" based on the following bullet points: 

• The number of Americans living in the District of Columbia exceeds the populations in Wyoming or Vermont. 

• Despite not being a state, DC residents are still required to pay federal taxes 

• DC's voters lack representation in the House or the Senate 

• DC isn't allowed to have its own governor 

• DC can’t pass budgets or local laws without Congressional oversight and approval—an indignity unknown in any state 

So who could object to the campaign to finally grant DC statehood? Well, Republican politicians. The GOP is vehemently opposed out of fear that the District's younger, racially diverse residents might vote to send more Democrats to the House and Senate. 

Want to cast a vote for Democracy in DC? Here's a petition