SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Friday June 19, 2020 - 01:35:00 PM

Rally 'Round the Plague, Boys

What's the word for all those hyper-Trump supporters who plan to risk their lives by shouldering their way into the red-hatted mosh pit Trump hopes to see waiting for him inside Tulsa's BOK Center?

Given the odds that many of them soon may be suffering prolonged and horrendous deaths from COVID-19, I'd go with: "Die-hard fans."

Will Trump's fans wear masks? Will they "social distance" inside the crowded hall? One thing is clear: while Trump expects the faithful to mass and mingle in the face of an ongoing pandemic, Trump and his lawyers are not taking any risks. The following small print appears on the official, online event registration page posted by

By clicking register below, you are acknowledging that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. By attending the Rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Center; ASM Global; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury. 

At Least One Branch of the Government Is in Mint Condition 

The US Mint's business plan is unique: The Mint is a government entity whose mission is to make money by making money. The Mint offers reproductions of historic pocket change and also designs new commemorative coins to entice upscale collectors. 

Since the Mint, by law, has no competitors, it can charge whatever it wants for its golden coins and silver dollars. A one-ounce silver coin with a face value of $1 can be purchased from the Mint for $64.50, while a one-ounce gold Liberty Coin with a face value of $1 will cost you $2,270. (Of course, the price does include a fancy wooden display box and a "certificate of authenticity.") 

The Mint's 24-page catalog is filled with lots of pricy offerings. Herewith, some examples. 

For traditionalists, there are versions of the classic Buffalo Nickel with James Earle Frazer's engraved profile of a Native American on the face and a rendering of an American buffalo on the reverse. (That's one-ounce of 24-karat gold.) The current cost of this replica of a 1913 five-cent coin? $2,315. How's that for inflation? (Actually, according to the Inflation Calculator, a 1913 dollar would be worth $25.90 today—a 2489,8% devaluation. Divide that by 20 and a 1913 zinc nickel would be worth $1.30 today.) 

For nontraditionalists, there are some brand-new bits of change. One of the most striking innovations is a 2017 version of the classic $100 American Liberty coin that replaces the profile of a young Caucasian woman (wearing a crown-like headdress with her long hair blowing in the wind) with the profile of a lovely Afro-American lady (with a burst of large stars encircling her ornately woven braids). One of these 99.99-percent-pure gold coins could be in your pocket for a mere $1,990. 

But one of the oddest bits of dollar-dealing appears on page 21 of the catalogue. Thanks to the minions at the Mint, it's now possible to paper your walls with currency—in denominations from $2 to $10 to $100. The sheets consist of eight bills and measure 10.5 by 12 inches. While a square-foot of Benjamins (cut and stuffed in your wallet) would be worth $800, in the Mint's reimagined "Eight Note Sheet," each square-foot of potential wallpaper would set you back $920. (A bargain, really, considering that a Four-Note-Sheel of two-dollar bills goes for $22.50.) 

The weird thing is: if the Mint is churning out sheets of "Wall Street Wall Paper," there must be a market for it! Do you suppose Jeff Bezos has a special room completely plastered with $100 bills? Somewhere in Disney Heaven, Scrooge McDuck must be cackling with delight. 

Police Violence: It's Not Just Racism 

Across America, the outcry against the ogre of institutionalized racism continues to rise. But there's another equally institutionalized problem at work that has nothing to do with race. Police violence is not just a black-and-white issue. Remember: the Minneapolis cops whose actions (and inaction) lead to George Floyd's death were not all white. One is Asian American (Hmong) and another officer, J. Alexander Kueng, is Africa-American. 

Remember: the Atlanta cops accused of unjustly tazing and physically assaulting two African-American college students in their car on May 30. Five of the six officers sacked for the attack were black. 

In 2015, BlackAmericaWeb reports, three Atlanta police officers mistakenly entered the wrong home and opened fire when confronted by the family dog. The dog was killed, the homeowner was shot in the leg, and one of the cops was critically injured by "friendly fire." It was another racially charged case. But this time, all three police officers were African-American, the homeowner was white, and the dog was a boxer. So police violence remains an issue that transcends the problem of institutionalized racism. 

The truth is that, race aside, police officers are given the extraordinary power to confront, stalk and kill. And that kind of power corrupts—absolutely. It means: a police officer must never be questioned. It means: If you disrespect an officer, you may be assaulted. It means: If you are assaulted and try to protect yourself, that constitutes "resisting arrest" and can result in lasting injuries. It means: if you are unarmed and run from an officer, that's a show of disrespect that can get you killed. 

Perhaps there should be a word for the larger problem of crazed testosterone-fueled hyper-male authoritarian overreach. How about: "Masculinsanity"? 

Only one problem: Female cops have also killed unarmed civilians. So the problem is not just racial. And it's not just sexual. It's contextual. 

Barbara Lee Wants to Give Confederate Statues the Boot 

Our local congresswoman, Barbara Lee, has taken on another legislative challenge. 

Lee writes that, while she is inspired that "Americans in all 50 states and millions of people around the world are marching to protest racism and police violence," at the same time, she's bothered by a troubling anomaly: While people are "marching in solidarity and fighting for a better future . . . , across our country, Confederate statues and monuments still pay tribute to white supremacy and slavery in public spaces." 

And those public spaces aren't just found in the Old South. They are also to be found in Washington, DC. 

As Lee puts it: "It is time to tell the truth about what these statues are: Hateful symbols that have no place in our society and certainly should not be enshrined in the US Capitol." Yep: Right in the heart of the US Capitol, as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection. 

Rep. Lee originally introduced a similar bill in 2017, following the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Somehow, Republican legislators failed to see the urgency. But Lee is not deterred. "Now more than ever, it’s clear Congress must pass my legislation and remove these hateful symbols from our nation’s capital." 

The Confederate Monument Removal Act is cosponsored by Senators Harris (D-CA), Warren (D-MA), Schumer (D-NY), Markey (D-MA), Schatz (D-HI), Brown (D-OH), Blumenthal (D-CT), Sanders (D-NH), Bennet (D-CO), Hirono (D-HI), Duckworth (D-IL), Klobuchar (D-MN), Merkley (D-OR), Van Hollen (D-MD), Durbin (D-IL) and Coons (D-DE).  

Full text of the bill is available here

Meanwhile, a grassroots campaign that is spreading like crabgrass, is promoting a petition that calls for replacing every statue of a Confederate general with a statue of county-music star Dolly Parton. 


VoteVets's New Ad: How to Debase a Base 

There's been quite a row following the revelation that nearly a dozen US military bases have been named in honor of officers (some would call them "traitors") who served in the Confederate Army. 

As the veteran's group VoteVets observes: "We’d never name bases after America’s enemies, like Osama bin Laden. So why does Donald Trump so desperately want to keep the names of other racist enemies on our Army bases?" 

VoteVet got so steamed over this issue that they went out and created the following video: 


A CIVIL Law to Trounce Trump's Troops 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is among those alarmed by Donald Trump's recent "threats to weaponize the US military against the American people [and] depriving them of their First Amendment rights" by invoking the 1807 Insurrection Act to impose "dominance" on a civilian population that has grown increasingly resistant to Trump's lies, threats, crimes, cover-ups, and failures. 

Blumenthal has launched a petition to support his demand that Congress pass his CIVIL Act to "establish clear checks on the President's authority to deploy US troops on American soil." 

CODEPINK Wants You to Know 

"War is NOT Green," according to a recent CODEPINK meme. And here are the messages behind the meme. 

• "Did you know that the Pentagon is the world's single largest institutional consumer of fossil fuel?" 

• "Did you know that, if the Pentagon was a country, its fuel use alone would make it the 47th largest greenhouse-gas-emitter in the world?" 

So why does CODEPINK see red when it looks at Blackrock investing? Because Blackrock invests billions "in weapons manufactures like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin." COPEPINK wants Blackrock—"the world's largest investor in weapons and fossile fuels"—to mend its ways. And it wants the Chair of the Federal Reserve to "use our taxpayer money to bail out the people and not the weapon and oil companies." 


How Wars Wound the World: Take a Course to Change the Course 

World BEYOND War, a US Peace Prize-nominated anti-war organization, is about to launch the latest in a series of extensive and challenging online courses with regular off-line assignments and occasional live interactions. The latest course, "War and the Environment," is set to run from July 5 to August 16 and explore "the relationship between two existential threats: war and environmental catastrophe." The course will address: "Where wars happen and why," "What wars do to the earth," "The damage nuclear weapons have done—and could do—to people and the planet," "How the War Culture is created and sustained," and "What can be done to move the world away from war and toward peace?" 

WBW's instructors include author and Professor of Environmental Health (retired) H. Patricia Hynes, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom disarmament expert Ray Acheson, Extinction Rebellion activist Caroline Davies, National Priorities Project researcher Lindsay Koshgarian, Peace Brigades Institute activist Brent Patterson, WBW Education Director Phill Gittins, and WBW Executive Director and Nobel Peace Prize nominee David Swanson. 

People who register can expect to spend a minimum of 1-2 hours a week reviewing each session's text and videos. But WBW notes, "the real richness of the learning occurs in live, hour-long online sessions, where we have the opportunity to explore new ideas, strategies, and visions for building a more peaceful world." All participants are expected to submit original essays and are encouraged to complete optional assignments. 

WBW has a uniquely flexible approach to covering the $100 tuition: "Pay less if you have to, more if you can." 

Could Trump Flunk the Electoral College and Still Claim Victory? 

The voting rights watchdogs at Abolish the Electoral College warn that the US Supreme Court is currently hearing two cases that could "change the way our elections work forever

"Remember how Hillary Clinton won the popular ballot by 3 million votes? As our undemocratic system currently works, Joe Biden could win 5 million more votes than Donald Trump but still 'lose' in the Electoral College. 

"Now the Republicans are trying to rewrite the laws to invalidate the Electoral College vote! Both cases ask whether members of the Electoral College can be penalized or removed from office if they do not vote for the presidential candidate chosen by their state’s voters. If the court decides these “faithless electors” can’t be penalized for voting for whomever they want, they could theoretically give Trump a second term even if Biden wins the Electoral College! 

"This shows, more than ever before, just how ridiculous this system is, and why we need to abolish it.

HARD Choices 

Oakland-based Action for Animals (AforA) has long been giving voice to campaigns to end animal abuse—in all its forms. It recently celebrated the announcement that the annual May Rowell Ranch Rodeo had been canceled, "thanks to COVID-19." The rodeo, notorious for its abuse of cows, bulls, and calves, has taken place on property owned by the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District (HARD) and AforA has come up with a suggestion about how to use the land "going forward": 

"HARD should donate the property to a local nonprofit, perhaps the East Bay SPCA, and transform the rodeo grounds into a Farm Animal Sanctuary and Education Center for Bay Area school children."  

Activities could include animal care education, humane ranching skills, and an organic garden. AforA cites Section 60042 of the California Education Code, which mandates that "humane education and kindness to animals" should be taught in public schools K-12. 

ACTON: Anyone who would like to support this initiative is invited to contact HARD General Manager Paul McCreary and members of the HARD board at 1099 E Street, Hayward, CA 94541. For more information: Action for Animals, PO Box 20184, Oakland, CA 94620. 

News You Can Use: Buff the Drum Slowly 

Brother printer cartridges are designed to stop working even when they remain filled with toner. This is because of a light-sensitive mechanism that shuts off prematurely. So, when the "empty" light starts flashing, try placing a small piece of dark tape over the pea-sized window on the side of the cartridge and voila! You should be good to go. 

For how much longer? Well, I bought my last toner cartridge on October 5, 2019. It started flashing "near empty" on November 20, 2019. When I covered the light-hole, the warning light stopped blinking, and I continued using the "empty" cartridge for another five months! 

Now my printer is blinking the news that the drum needs to be replaced. There's not that much to a Brother drum. It's mostly a plastic frame with a single roller in back but buying a replacement can cost around $114. But it turns out that the drum can be put back in use with a simple cleaning that takes less than three minutes. Here's a short video that shows how you can avoid adding more plastic to the waste-stream while saving a bunch of money.