Public Comment

Smithereens: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday July 25, 2020 - 12:08:00 PM

The Green Screen Is Going Dark 

Last year's week-long San Francisco Green Film Festival featured 58 environmental films from around the world and hosted more than 70 filmmakers and guest speakers, with expert panels and lively audience Q&As that lit-up the Castro Theatre and four other screening venues. 

But now it's a new year and, for the SFGFF, it's the last. Festival founder Rachel Caplan made it official on July 10 when she announced her "heartbreaking decision" to cancel the 10th anniversary celebration, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In its nearly decade-long run, the SFGFF screened more than 600 films and featured hundreds of prominent speakers including Margaret Atwood, Annie Leonard, Jonathan Franzen, Madonna Thunder Hawk, and The Yes Men. 

All is not lost. While the future of public cinema is in doubt (along with just about everything else), you can still go online and explore the first nine years of the SFGFF's remarkable legacy by clicking here. 

93 House Members Vote to "Defend the People; Defund the Pentagon" 

On July 21, a record number of Congressmembers mustered the courage to confront the Military-Industrial Complex by voting to reduce the Pentagon's record $740 billion budget. The proposal (co-sponsored by our very own Rep. Barbara Lee) would have moved a mere 10% of the Pentagon's budget to pay for underfunded human and environmental needs. Polling showed overwhelming public support, but our so-called representatives didn't represent us. The House of Representatives defeated the bill by a 324 to 93 vote. 

Forty percent of Democrats voted to move the money while all 185 members of the GOP justified the hard work of MIC's lobbyists by voting "no." One Independent (Bernie Sanders) voted yes. Final tally: There are 93 people to thank and 324 to spank.
To learn how your Rep voted (and let them know that you know) click here. 

Float Like a Butterfly, Sing Like SC 

Muhammad Ali was not only the greatest boxer of his day, he was also a fighter for social justice, a war resister, and a film star ("Freedom Road" and "The Greatest"). Turns out, he was a pretty good singer, to boot. Here's a video of his cover of one of Sam Cooke's greatest hits, "Stand by Me." 


Rewriting History: Forging Ahead—with a Forgery 

The Chronicle has done it again. Twice in a month's time, the Chron's "News of the Day" feature has blatantly re-written Middle East history. A July 21 news short headlined "Libya Fighting," stated: "Libya was plunged into chaos when a 2011 uprising toppled dictator Moammar Khadfy." 

Just a domestic squabble, folks, nothing to see here, move along. 

There was no mention of the US-lead military coalition that (with UN complicity) subjected the country to a fierce air assault that raged for more than seven months. Sure, there was a UN resolution that authorized the US, Britain, and France to send their bombers and fighter jets into the sky and fly thousands of miles "to protect civilians and civilian populated areas," but Russia voted against the resolution, arguing that "intervention by the coalition in what is essentially an internal civil war is not sanctioned by the UN Security Council resolution." 

Philippe Sands, a professor of international law at University College London agreed, noting: "It is difficult in international law to argue for a pre-emptive use of force to protect civilians from a possible threat that might arise in the future." 

It quickly became clear that the US goal was not to "protect civilians" but to topple the Libyan government through military intervention. 

The US Excels at Terrorizing Terrorists 

And "protecting civilians" was not high on the agenda when President Reagan ordered an assault on Libya on April 14, 1986. Justifying the air attack—which involved more than 100 Air Force and Navy jets—as a response to Libyan "terrorism," Reagan's rationale lead to an hour-long assault targeting a known residence of Libya's leader, Muammar al-Qaddafi. (Note: I'm giving equal time to competing surname spellings.) While the Pentagon's "anti-terrorism" exercise missed killing Moammar Gaddafi (third spelling), it reportedly succeeded in killing his 15-month-old adopted daughter, Hana. Also killed, according to Libyan sources quoted by Reuters: "Gaddafi’s youngest son and three grandchildren." 

And that's how the US military responds to the scourge of "terrorism." 

Herd Immunity or Natural De-selection? 

Fox News host Steve Doocy hurled a doozy when he recently complained how, "over the last couple of weeks," calls to start wearing surgical facemasks in public "have become political." This was typical of the way Fox News (now, sadly, America's most-watched TV news source) addresses the pandemic. 

Fox commentators and guests have misspent countless broadcast hours belittling the use of facemasks to slow the spread of COVID-19. As a result, Fox News can claim substantial credit for the contagion's resurgence across the nation. It was Fox that promoted the message of "anti-lockdowners" who demanded that Republican governors spurn facemasks and spur the re-opening of beaches, bars and bowling alleys. It was Fox that lead the parade of right-wing voices debunking the dangers of the pandemic. It was Fox that helped convince viewers there was no need to wear masks in the fora or the agora

But, when it comes to proving Fox News's prowess in promoting Faux News, here is the biggest turkey-feather in Fox's cap: Research has shown a correlation between areas where Sean Hannity is most popular and where infection and mortality rates from COVID-19 are most prevelant. 

As The Daily Kos cautions: "The COVID-19 pandemic is a grim reminder of why we need news media that is centered on facts and science. In dangerous situations—such as the worst global pandemic in a century—people need accurate information . . . . However, when they receive misinformation—or even conspiracy theories—from Fox News, other right-wing media, or Big Tech social media, then they can make bad decisions that have deadly consequences . . . . If the only people pressuring our elected officials are consuming Fox News and other right-wing media, then bad public policy decisions are going to get made, such as re-opening economies too early." 

We keep hearing that "the virus is an equal-opportunity destroyer" that doesn't care who its victims will be. But, thanks to the Fox Effect, Right-thinking, mask-denying, conspiranoid, MAGA-hatted Trumpers have become clear stand-outs when it comes to easy-access coronavirus contamination. 

Could this be "Nature's way" of culling the human herd of "climate deniers" and "hydroxychloroquine true-believers"? If so, this may be the first time in history that a virus could play a role in a US presidential election. The GOP prides itself for perfecting the best "voter suppression" tools for skewing elections. Well, think again: if the virus continues to reduce the numbers of the Hannity Herd, the Fox-COVID-MAGA connection may prove Trump's undoing. 

Prepare for the "Aquapocalypse" 

More than 844 million people—one-ninth of Earth’s human population—lack easy access to clean, affordable water. Each year nearly 300,000 children under five die for want of clean water and adequate sanitation. As Esquire magazine noted in 2015, "21 of the planet's 37 aquifers are on the verge of collapse." On July 17, the National Geographic warned that "roughly 100 million people in India may gulp their last groundwater by year's end." (Adding irony to India's water woes, Esquire notes: "religious ceremonies are a major source of river pollution.") 

In numerous countries today, many of our poorest neighbors cannot protect themselves from coronavirus infection because there is simply not enough water available to wash their hands. These dire stats are worth remembering the next time you lather up for a COVID-19 scrub-down. Note to self: Don't leave the water running while soaping your fingers. 


House Votes Down Trump's A-bomb Test 

On July 21, Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, reported that a flood of citizen response—by phone and mail—persuaded a majority in the House of Representatives to oppose Trump's plan to resume US nuclear tests! "In less than 24 hours, over 200 Representatives heard from you and other Arms Control Association supporters," Kimball wrote. "With a vote of 227-179, those letters helped pass a critical amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2021 that would prohibit President Trump from conducting a nuclear test explosion." 

Now the issue goes before the Senate. Will a Republican-controlled Senate say "no" to Trump's nuclear ambitions? Trump already has threatened to veto the entire spending package if it includes a provision to remove the names of confederate leaders from eight US military bases. Given Trump's increasing acts of authoritarianism, will even a unified vote by the House and Senate be sufficient to ensure that "no president can unilaterally resume nuclear testing"? 

Another Response to Trump's Tyranny

Senators Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden, and Chris Murphy have introduced an amendment to the Pentagon spending bill that would prevent Der Trump from air-dropping paramilitary troops into any more American cities. 

According to Senator Wyden (D-OR): "Already over 35 senators are co-sponsoring the bill . . . to stop the Trump Administration from dispatching his personal federal army into America's streets . . . . What our country has witnessed over the last several days in Portland are fascist tactics I never thought I’d see used on American soil. If the line isn’t drawn in the sand right now, America will be staring down the barrel of martial law for months to come." 

You can sign on below to support this emergency proposal: 

Trump's secret paramilitary is unacceptable in America. I support emergency legislation that this must end. 

Americans Don T-shirts and Garden Tools to Stand Up to Tyranny  

In the aftermath of recent police attacks on citizen protests in Oregon, the Portland Mercury ran this headline: "Feds Gas Moms & Dads Again." In response to Trump's crackpot crack-down, Portlanders have risen to the occasion and joined forces to create some unique counter-responses. Two of the most memorable being: The Wall-of-Moms and Dads-with-Leaf-Blowers. 


Trump's Troopers Show How to Make Dissenters "Disappear" 

Win Without War writes: "Right now, unidentified federal agents are on Portland’s streets targeting, tear-gassing, beating, kidnapping, and illegally detaining protestors with impunity and without cause. This is an OUTRAGEOUS overreach of federal authority." 

And, now Trump has threatened to ship even more of his secret police to occupy other Democrat-trending states—including Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Detroit. 

But, as WWW notes: "You can’t wage a war that you can’t pay for." So, spread the word and join a "people's campaign" to demand that Congress block Trump's ability to occupy our communities by stripping targeted funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Click here to write your reps and demand that Congress refuse to pass any DHS budget unless it contains "a COMPLETE ban on the deployment of and funding for Trump’s secret police force." 

Trump's Troubled Reign Is Rife with Strife 

Trump has already hinted that he intends to remain in office even if he loses the November election. Dispatching federal troops in an admittedly partisan attack to suppress a "leftist cultural revolution" in Democrat-governed states is part of this strategy. Trump may not be a master of mathematics but he's an expert when it comes to division. 

The Billionaire Class—the One-Percent-of-the-One-Percent—is feeling the growing rage of popular revolt like never before. And, as history has taught us: 

One proven way to prevent a Class War 

Is to provoke a Race War 

Playtime Reading for the Kids at Home 

A lot of homebound tots are likely to go a bit dotty in the days ahead. No school. No playground. No sports. But it could be a good time to steer the kids away from the hypnotic lure of glowing screens. So, if you're looking for some books that will not only entertain your toddlers but will also deliver the message that compassion is preferable to conflict, the anti-war group World Beyond War has put together a short-list of peace-teaching reads. Here are six for starters:
Peace Begins With You by Katherine Scholes
Bread and Honey, a Frank Asch Bear Story
Playing War by Kathy Beckwith 

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson 

The Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni 

Tube World by David Swanson 

Remembering Jeff Byers 

Berkeley's Stagebridge community is morning the loss of storyteller Jeff Byers, "a generous and gentle teacher and mentor." Byers was known to many for his work with the "story archive" at the Asian Art Museum where he presided as a resident storyteller and guide. 

Storybridge is celebrating Jeff's life online, sharing words from his friends and videos of Jeff spinning tales drawn from Asian history. Here's one of those tales. 


For more about Jeff and how to support the causes closest to him, visit