Public Comment

SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 03:57:00 PM

The Bombs Bursting in Error

So nice to finally have a rest from those nightly fireworks bombardments that rattled the Bay Area for hours every night from mid-June to July 4. 

Ironically, among the residents who suffered most from this "celebration" of American Pride, were combat vets who survived America's endless wars only to confront endless woes—like PTSD—back in the Homeland. The Homeland, itself, came under fire as skyrockets and flares triggered 200 urban and rural fires—just on July 4. 

How could the police be so helpless? According to one municipal tally, more that 6,000 complaints were received but only five citations were issued! (With fines of $50,000, you'd think the pursuit of serial pyromaniacs would pay for itself.) 

Perhaps, next year, a squad of undercover cops could infiltrate the ranks of these neighborhood rocket racketeers. 

If that happened, police in disguise could mean peace in da skies. 

Winnie the Poop? 

There's a wonderful learning place for kids on Hopkins Street called the Mustard Seed Pre-School. It serves children from 18 months to five years and divides its rambunctious population into four cohorts—The Roo Class, The Piglet Class, The Pooh Bear Class, and The Kanga Class. 

Recently the school decided to give away some excess furniture—a swivel chair and several wooden cabinets. Someone (let's presume an innocent youngster) was tasked to tape a "Free" sign over a street-facing banner celebrating the KANGA CLASS. 

The young helper dutifully placed the "Free" sign smack in the middle of the banner and, in so doing, created a message guaranteed to stop passersby in their tracks. The banner now declares: KANG[FREE]ASS. 

Speaking for the Trees 

All over North Berkeley, hidden messages are dangling in trees, courtesy of some anonymous tree-huggers identified only by the codes #ThankTrees and @ThankTrees. But one of these boreal "leaf-leaflets" contains what might be called an "eco-flub." Spotted on one sidewalk tree, this hand-drawn paper sign reads: "Humans Need Trees." And it goes on to list a tree's attributes: "Oxygen, clean air, clean water, shade, shelter, fuel, food…." 

Which of these items is not like the others? Right: "fuel." 

Burning trees for fuel just ain't eco. Deforestation, Global Warming and all that. 

If a replacement's needed in place of that shocking "F-word," how about "foliage," "flowers," or "fruit"? 

More Signs of the Times 

Before there was the Internet, before there was Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, Tumblr, Keyhole, or Hootsuite, before all that, there was . . . the telephone pole. 

Today, come rain or shine, full-power or blackout, wooden power poles still reign as one of the most accessible and well-attended messaging devices ever created. 

So what's up on the Wooden Blackboard this week? We'll here's a nice notice noticed in the neighborhood recently: It featured several images of shoes and the message read: 

Wanted: Unwanted Shoes. Have too many shoes in your closet? Shoes in decent shape that you don't need, use, or want? I want them! One pair, many pairs, for children and adults —all of them. I am collecting shoes to send to my people in Sierra Leone (West Africa). Call me at 510-421-4260 and I will come pick them up. And, if you will, tell your friends, too! Thank you! 

The message was signed: Sheka Sillen (your Sierra Leonean neighbor on Milvia Street). 

Parking Meter Alert 

This may be the only benefit stemming from the pandemic: free parking. Covid-19 transformed the shopping experience—with masks, hand-spritzers, and long lines—but at least we didn't have to worry about plunking quarters into parking meters. 

Well, that's changed. 

I began to suspect the rules had changed when my Berkeley Main Post Office box started receiving envelopes filled with checks intended for the City's Parking Citations department. (My address is just one digit different.) 

I went online to check things out and here's an update for anyone (like me) who didn't get the message. On June 1, Berkeley's parking meters were reactivated (50-cents-per-hour, citywide)—but the City continued to give a pass to violators in "residential permit parking, school zones, time limits, and parking meters." 

On July 1, however, the City resumed issuing citations "for parking meters, time-limited unmetered spaces, and vehicles parked for more than 72 hours." As of this latest notice, no citations were being written for violations "relating to school zones or residential parking." 

If you didn't get stuck with a surprise ticket over the past several weeks, consider yourself lucky. But times change, so if you plan to spend some time downtown, plan to spend some change downtown. 

Don't Let Kenye Con Ye 

Kanye West recently stunned the galaxy with news he is running for president in the 2020 election. The stunt has been promoted as "an apparent challenge to go head-to-head with President Donald Trump" but that's just a big lump of "fake news." Everyone knows Kanye and Donald are best buds who like to hang out together in the Oval Office. West has regularly tweeted praise for Trump while sporting his own personal red MAGA cap. 

When asked to outline his campaign platform, West told Forbes magazine: "I don’t have a policy." Instead, he said, he planned to rebuild America in the image of Wakanda, the fictitious movie home of the fictional Black Panther. 

Asked about his foreign policy, West replied: “I haven’t developed it yet." 

Probed about his tax strategy, West responded: “I haven’t done enough research on that yet. I will research that with the strongest experts that serve God and come back with the best solution…. I have an earplug in and I'm going to use that earplug." 

West expressed his opposition to abortion but, unlike most pro-life conservatives, West's pro-life proclivities are consistent—he is also opposed to the death penalty. 


West's rhetoric echoes Trump's, when he states: "We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future." In a May 2018 interview with Charlemagne tha God, West said his platform would be "the Trump campaign and maybe the Bernie Sanders principles. That would be my mix." 

While Kanye's quest clearly isn't realistic or road-worthy, it could still work to sway the outcome of the November presidential contest. As the Daily Kos noted, most folk "aren’t buying rapper Kanye West’s recently announced presidential bid as anything more than a ploy to distract Democratic voters and help President Donald Trump win the 2020 election." 

Kevin Alexander tweeted: “Kanye is only trying to take votes away from (former Vice President Joe) Biden so his buddy Trump can win.” 

In 2018, West embraced Trump in a TMZ video, declaring: "I just love Trump. That's my boy." West also told TMZ: "When you hear about slavery for 400 years — for 400 years? That sounds like a choice,” he told TMZ. “Like, you were there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all?” 

In the May 2020 edition of GQ magazine, West praised the Trump regime, claiming: "It’s better now than when Obama was in office." 

It's clearly not a serious campaign. As CNN put it: "Getting on the ballot won't be Yeezy." It's already too late for Kanye's name to appear on the ballots in Texas, New York, or Illinois and, when he announced, West had only a few days left to collect 130,000 signatures to make the Florida ballot and another 12,000 names to qualify in Michigan. 

Clearly Kanye's quest is not a case of real-world politics. It's more an experiment in the power of the Celebrity Effect—a tool that has served Trump so well. The obvious goal would be to draw African-American support from Biden's campaign. Trump knows that Black Votes Matter. 

The question is: What did Trump offer West to prompt this diversion? If Trump is reelected (I cringe as I type those words), we might expect to see Kanye appointed to a cabinet position. Or perhaps a diplomatic post—as US Ambassador to Wakanda. 


Taking a Peek Inside Air Force One 

We're all familiar with Air Force One—the Flying White House—because we're always seeing Trump waving, saluting and tossing a small, clenched fist whenever he enters or exits the aircraft. But what's it like inside? 

Well, I happened to get a floor plan of the plane and here's what I found. 

AF1 is divided into 15 separate sections. The front of the plane features two floors. On the top level you'll find the flight deck (aka cockpit), followed by a bathroom for the flight crew, a crew lounge, and a large communications center. 

The layout of the lower level mirrors the same hierarchy of power that bedevils American society today. It begins with a grandiose President's Suite, a mini-Oval Office complete with a huge wooden desk that places the Reprimander-in-Chief closer to the nose of the plane than even the pilot and copilots overhead. 

The president's desk does not face forward, however: it faces in the starboard direction. This arrangement assures that Donald Trump is first-and-foremost when it comes to best-seat-in-the-house but it also means that whenever Trump signs an high-flying Executive Order, he does so while flying through the sky at 700 mph sideways

Behind the Suite is the President's Office, a lounge with several plush chairs. In between—a private Presidential Bathroom. (No details on whether the bowl is plated in gold.) 

Behind the POTUS Office sits the Medical Office, where Trump's blood-pressure can be monitored day and night. The next quarters contain the Galley, a small non-kitchen where Trump's preferred high-cholesterol pre-packaged fast-food treats can be warmed and dispersed. 

Next up (or next-back, as it were) is a similarly sized room that serves as a retreat for Senior Staff. Then comes the Conference Room, a sizable space with a large conference table surrounded by about a dozen upholstered chairs. Next down in the hierarchy of high-flying support staff is a large space set aside for Office Staff (containing both a conference table and a separate area that serves as a lounge area). 

After the Office Staff, the next cohort to receive recognition includes those special souls chosen to fill the "Guest Section." This appears to be the most cramped room in the layout (only slightly larger than the Presidential Toilet). 

Behind the Guests, a neighboring Security Section hosts members of the Secret Service. (Note: A small, mysterious part of the Security Section is walled off from the rest of the space and carries no explanatory identification.) 

Finally, who are the last passengers assigned to the seats in the "back of the Airbus"? No surprise. This is where you find members of the press. From the schematic of the Press Section, it appears that there are fewer than a dozen seats reserved for the media. It seems only fitting that reporters would find themselves cut off from the president by a roomful of palace guards ensconced in the Security Section. 

Defund the Pentagon; Defend the People 

Public Citizen's Robert Weissman has a question: "The United States spends more than $700 billion a year on the military. For every $1,000 we give the Pentagon, how much do you think we give the CDC to target new infectious diseases like COVID-19?" 

The answer? One dollar. 

"So here we are," Weissman grumbles, "utterly unprepared for one of the gravest national security threats in memory—a threat we can’t defeat with machine guns, tanks, jet fighters, or nuclear warheads. The coronavirus emergency is a wake-up call for the long overdue imperative of shifting spending away from the Pentagon and investing instead in priority human needs." 

And there's something we can do about this. In a couple of weeks, the House and Senate will ponder a moderate/progressive plan to trim the Pentagon budget by 10% and to use the liberated cash to fund critical health and anti-poverty programs. 

These proposals come from our own Rep. Barbara Lee, her House colleague Mark Pocan (D-WI) and from Bernie Sanders in the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has expressed his support. 

"By all rights," Weissman argues, "the Pentagon budget—which is up more than $120 billion just since Trump took office—should be cut by a lot more than 10%. But 10% is a strategic choice: It’s enough to be real, but it’s not so much that anyone can reasonably say our national security would be at risk. The fact is, the US spends more on the military than the next NINE highest-spending countries combined. And there are hundreds of billions in easily identifiable cuts in the bloated Pentagon budget." 

One quick click can send a message to Washington: Cut the Pentagon budget by 10% and use that money to keep Americans safe and to reduce wealth inequality.