SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Friday August 30, 2019 - 04:18:00 PM

Way to Go, Joe

When it comes to reducing polluting plastic in food packaging, Trader Joe's is making steady progress. TJ's groovy grocery gurus boldly announced plans to eliminate a million pounds of plastic from their 2019 waste stream and they are now on track to removing 4 million pounds of nasty plastics—annually.

Styrofoam trays for meat are being swapped out for recyclable PETI trays. Say goodbye to plastic flower bags; say hello to bags fashioned from compostable materials. And there's an on-going purge of plastics from TJ's Deli, Frozen, Fresh, Grocery, and Produce aisles. AOK, TJ!

A World without Forests, Rivers, and Chocolate?

A few years ago, I predicted "a sign of the approaching End Times": I'd know the end was near when I walked into a grocery store and found they were selling chocolate-covered potato chips.

Well, the Apocalypse must be near because Trader Joe's is now offering bags of chocolate-coated chips AND packets of chocolate-covered popcorn.

Meanwhile, scientists are warning that chocolate has joined elephants and tigers on the Endangered Species List. 

As the Climate Reality Project points out, the cacao plant (source of the world's chocolate) is threatened by equatorial climates that are growing steadily hotter and drier. According to John Mason of the Nature Conservation Research Centre, “In 20 years, chocolate will be like caviar. It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won’t be able to afford it.” They're calling it the "Chocopocalypse." Need another reason to become a full-time climate activist? How 'bout this: farmers note with alarm that soaring global temperatures have already begun to reduce the yield of coffee beans. 

A Few Choice Words 

So how do we make the world safe for chocolate-flavored espresso drinks? Here's a short prescription from author/activist Arundhati Roy: "The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling—their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability." 

A Few No-Cause-to-Rejoice Notes 

In a recent column, Berkeley Prof. Robert Reich observed that "most Americans have little or no influence on public policy" and underscored the fact by citing a report co-authored by two university professors from Northwestern and Princeton. They reviewed 1,799 policy issues before Congress and concluded that "the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy." 

What!? You mean the clicks on those online petitions were all for naught? 

So who is Washington listening to? Reich again: 

"At the core of the American system are 500 giant companies headquartered in the US but making, buying and selling things all over the world. Half of their employees and contractors are non-American, located outside the US. A third of their shareholders are non-Americans." 

The take-away? Increasingly, many of our laws—like our electronic toys and tools—are no longer "Made in America." 

Nearly 1000% for the 1% 

Feeling the pinch? The Economic Policy Institute recently published a report revealing that "CEO compensation has grown 940% since 1973" while "typical worker compensation has risen only 12%." Meanwhile, as Reich writes, adjusted for inflation, "Americans have seen no significant gains in their incomes, for decades." 

The Amazon Fires Are Only Part of the Picture 

If it can be said that the Lungs of the Earth are in flames, so, too, are the Earth's kidneys, thorax, stomach, and spleen. It's not just the Amazon that's being consumed by man-made fires (more than 74,000 fires set just this year have incinerated 2.1 million square miles). But let's not ignore the massive fires burning on nearly every other continent. 

In the Arctic, fires in Russia's Siberian forests (more than twice as large as the Amazon) released clouds of smoke large enough to cover the European Union. In Africa, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo have seen more than 10,000 massive wildfires sweep through their forests. In March of this year, entire towns were wiped off the map by massive brushfires in Australia while New Zealand lost more than 5,600 acres of South Island forests in the worst forest fire since 1955. And, we all know what happened to California's trees and homes in 2018. 

No Laughing Matter 

Greenland recently lost 12.5 billion tons of ice in a single day. On August 25, the San Francisco Chronicle carried an installment of the WUMU comic strip that made light of this dark situation. The Danish writer/artist team of Mikael Wulff and Anders Morgenthaler (hence, "WUMO") pictured the Titanic on the open seas in the year 2025. A concerned sailor asks the captain: "Shouldn't we be on the lookout for icebergs?" And the captain replies: "What icebergs?" 


The Barbiefication of Rosa Parks 

The folks at Color of Change (CoC) are giving a half-salute to toymaker Mattel for creating a Barbie doll in honor of Rosa Parks. Unfortunately this "touching tribute to a civil rights icon" distorts Park's life and CoC is telling Mattel "We think they should fix it." 

CoC specifically criticized Mattel for depicting Parks as someone who “led an ordinary life as a seamstress” until an “extraordinary moment on December 1, 1955.” This mini-bio imprinted on the packaging ignores Parks’ decades of activism as a dedicated community activist. As Jeanne Theoharis reveals in her biography, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, this "ordinary seamstress" was a community leader, a labor organizer, and a civil rights activist. "She fought for justice for Black women who were victims of sexual violence. She pushed for voter registration for Black people. She pressed for the desegregation of schools and public spaces. We cannot allow Mattel to rewrite her story and minimize her life’s work." 

I shared this with a sociologist friend who sent back a scathing assessment: "I saw a story about this latest 'diversity' product from Mattel. I was turned off completely by the glaring commodification of a black resister of the US status quo to seduce young black kids and their families. This accuracy of the company's historical facts? Poof! That's tacit acceptance of their 'ethnic' capitalism." 

Color of Change is inviting people to demand a recall and a re-write. You can send Mattel a message at this link

Concerns Raised over City Consultant 

Members of Wireless Radiation Education and Defense (WIRED), a citizens' group thas been working with the City to craft an ordinance to regulate 5G wireless transmitter stations in Berkeley, had expected the City to hire an independent outside consultant to work on the regulations. They were surprised to learn that the City had hired attorney Jonathan Kramer to do the work. 

Kramer's objectivity was called into question when it was discovered that he works for an entity called "The Telecom Law Firm." 

In mid-July, WIRED sent a letter to the mayor and councilmembers warning that Kramer and his firm "represent the telecom companies much more than representing the residents in the cities with whom they've worked." 

WIRED suggested two other attorneys who had received community praise for writing wireless ordinances for Burbank and Glendale. (The same attorneys also filed an amicus brief for the League of California Cities in the T-Mobile v SF case that allowed San Francisco to prohibit 5G wireless towers and transmitters from the city on the basis of aesthetics.) 

Another critic called Kramer "the go-to person to represent telecom mantras" and forwarded a link to a video of Kramer "in action." (Note: If you wish to watch, Kramer's presentation begins at minute 8 of the video's fifth segment.) 

During Kramer's August 18, 2018 presentation before a council meeting in Coronado, California, he spoke about the inevitable arrival of wireless transmitters and made no mention of the health or privacy concerns associated with 5G wireless (other than to remind the councilmembers that the Federal Communications Act prohibits the public from challenging the installation wireless technology on health or environmental grounds). 

Kramer described the industry's goal of massive electromagnetic penetration with the memorable statement: "Bathroom coverage is the goal." In other words, the proposed new electromagnetic tsunamis would need to be powerful enough to send penetrating beams of radiation through the walls of a bathroom located deep inside a house. 

Kramer told the council the Telecom giants "would like to have the cell sites on every block." He presented the industry's guide for determining it's coverage needs in the form of a "math formula" that he flashed on a screen. 

The formula read: "Nsc=SqMi Cx (10…25)." 

Translated, this means the number of necessary cell-sites is equal to the square miles of coverage required times the number of major wireless carriers hoping to cash in on the Internet of Things. In Coronado's case this meant 316 to 790 small cell sites installed over the 3-5 years. 

Kramer told council: "I would expect, as an engineer, that the number of small cell sites that would be proposed for Coronado over the next 3 to 5 years would be closer to the 790 rather than the low end…." 

(With Berkeley covering nearly 18 square miles, Kramer's formula would require installing 720 to 1,800 cell-site transmitters.) 

Kramer reminded Coronado's councilmembers that their influence in writing an ordinance was limited: "We're in the aesthetics business," he said. "We're not in the technology business. We're not allowed to regulate their technology." 

After Kramer finished his presentation, the Council voted unanimously to approve the powerful wireless transmitters, just so long as Verizon, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Cisco and Huawei did their best to keep the transmitters "hidden." Residents within 300 feet of a proposed transmitter would be given an opportunity to express their concerns at a hearing but they could not claim an exemption based on health concerns and there were no guarantees that their objections would be sustained. 

On August 21, the City responded to WIRED's reservations with an email that stated: 

"Dr. Kramer is under contract with the City and is near completion of his work. When the amendments are finalized, hopefully in a few weeks, you will have an opportunity to comment on them." 

[Full disclosure: I have worked with WIRED and the City on the effort to craft a 5G ordinance. The preceding item is a personal note reflecting only the thoughts of the author.]