SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Friday April 12, 2019 - 12:04:00 PM

Trump and Free Speech

Donald Trump recently threatened to cut UC Berkeley's federal funds if the campus administration failed to honor Trump's concept of "free speech" on campus. But Trump's decree was basically an exercise in empty rhetoric because (1) UC Berkeley already has long-standing policies to protect free-speech and (2) already allocated federal funds cannot be withheld by a decree from the Offal Orifice . . . . ummm, excuse me: I meant Oval Office.

Irony, thy name is Trump.

At the same time DJT pretends to be an advocate of "free speech," he continues to silence and muzzle the government's own research scientists. From NASA and NOAA to the EPA, professional scientists have been ordered not to speak or write the words "climate change" or "global warming." Those phrases—and any research addressing these existential planetary threats—have now been officially scrubbed from government websites and reports. 

AI Achieves Something Really Dumb 

What is it about some people (male nerds, usually) that they are addicted to the pursuit of replacing humans with machines? The Los Angeles Times offers this latest example: "It may sound like science fiction, but the idea of using computers to help write scripts and other tasks is gaining serious traction in Hollywood." 

In this case, IBM's supercomputer, Watson, was hired to write a script for a car ad staring a Lexus ES. Watson studied a collection of award-winning TV commercials and came up with the following 60-second tale of love, loss, risk, challenge, heroism, and redemption. Does this spark joy? 


Breitbart Targets Barbara Lee 

After East Bay Congresswoman Barbara Lee tweeted about the serious threat of climate change, the right-wing newsmongers at Breitbart attacked her. Breitbart (which routinely disparages the Green New Deal as “radical,” crazy, left-wing extremism) resorted to name-calling—but the best they could come up with was to call Rep. Lee a “climate believer.” 

Team Lee responded: "Well, guess what? She is [a climate-change believer]—along with the majority of Americans. So if that’s all they got — bring it on." 

Breitbart also has tweet-dissed the GND as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez's "signature '12 years until climate change' doomsday scenario." Wait a minute, not-so-Brightbart: the 12-year doomsday warning didn't come from AOC, it comes from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  

Climate change is a real and escalating threat. Rising seas, rampaging storms, and raging wildfires are already destroying homes and claiming lives. Unless we act, our children and grandchildren are toast. Literally. 

Team Lee issued the following statement: "Barbara is a proud co-sponsor of the Green New Deal because she knows it will upgrade our infrastructure, create millions of good-paying jobs, and move us toward 100% renewable energy. But despite the data, President Trump and his Republican cronies are content with destroying our environment and our future—as long as they get a special-interest-backed check to go with it." 

Public Citizen De-voiced by DeVos 

According to Public Citizen, a leading public advocacy organization founded by Ralph Nader, Betsy DeVos Department of Education is blocking visitors and employees from accessing the organization's website. Visitors attempting to access Public Citizen’s though the department’s public wireless networks only receive a message that warns access is “in violation of your Internet usage policy.”  

"This is a blatant violation of the First Amendment," says Public Citizen president Robert Weissman. As Weissman notes: "Our website contains lots of information critical of DeVos and the department. This material includes a cutting-edge report that shows how the department mismanaged teacher grant programs and threw thousands of teachers into debt. And it includes information on our lawsuits against the department for unlawfully trying to delay or roll back protections for victims of predatory for-profit colleges."  

DeVos has not responded to PC's complaints. 

Bernie Bans Warbucks 

Bernie Sanders has called for the US to end the Korean War. On the other hand, Bernie refused to meet with Veterans For Peace Chapter 57 in Vermont. He continues to support the Pentagon's fleet of F-35 nuclear bombers (due to arrive at Burlington Vermont Airport later this year). World BEYOND War activist Alice Slater writes: "If you get a chance, ask [Bernie] why he supports a wasteful nuclear-capable bomber at all, never mind in Vermont. " 

Breaking News: The Sanders Campaign has just announced it has signed on to CODEPINK's Divestment Pledge, promising to accept NO contributions from the US weapons industry. 

This is big news, says Peace Action's Kevin Martin. "As good as [Sanders] is on many issues," Martin writes, Bernie "was #2, after only Lindsey Graham, in terms of 2016 prez candidates' campaign contributions from weapons manufacturers, taking well over $100K, if memory serves. So this is potentially very significant." 

But is it OK to accept donations from employees of these companies? 

Just Foreign Policy Director Robert Reuel Naiman proposes the following:
[T]hey can take donations from employees of weapons manufacturers, but the maximum donation from them is $27, or the current average contribution from all individual donors, whichever is greater. They can take donations from employees of weapons manufacturers, but not "unusually big ones". . . . So, let them donate. But not more than their fellow citizens are donating.  

Warren and War and Peace 

CODEPINK's next challenge could be Elizabeth Warren. On April 11, the Massachusetts Senator sent out a stunning proposal for a "Real Corporate Profits Tax" that would put an end to a system where major US corporations that make billions in profits pay zero dollars in federal taxes. Unfortunately, in the course of explaining her new proposal, Warren included the following: 

It’s almost Tax Day, and chances are you’ll be paying federal taxes this year. Maybe it’s a lot, maybe it’s a little. But chances are you’ll be kicking in something for our military, for medical research, for highways and bridges — the kinds of investments our federal government makes to defend our country and strengthen our economy. 

Sadly, this reveals that Warren is not only a believer in "markets," but she is also oddly comfortable with US militarism. Warren accepts the proposition that the Pentagon exists to "defend our country" from foreign attacks when the opposite it true—the Pentagon spends most of its time targeting other countries with attacks that lack legal standing or moral justification. 

Warren is right to target the large corporations that dominate our economy, our laws, and our culture. But Warren is wrong to draw an equivalence between Pentagon spending and investments in "medical research, for highways and bridges." Some of our largest and most politically powerful corporations directly prosper by supporting the War Machine and it's business plan for "Regime Change" and "Forever Wars." 

Or, as CODEPINK puts it: "Making a killing from killing." 

Fiat Lux or Fiat Nukes? 

In February, the Trump Pentagon (in profitable cahoots with the US Arms Barons) began producing the W76-2, a "new generation" of nuclear doomsday weapon. Because these bombs are less than a third the size of the bomb that vaporized Hiroshima, the psychopaths that work for the Military-Industrial-Complex are promoting these weapons as "low-yield" devices that are more "usable" than the city-killing A-bombs of yore. 

The insanely misnamed "National Nuclear Security Administration" praises these weapons for being "highly targetable" and "concealable." Despite their smaller size, each "low-yield" W76-2 has half the destructive power of the nuclear blast that erased Hiroshima. 

The high-tech nuke-terrorists behind the W76-2 are also hard at work refining the tailfin design for another atomic weapon—the B61-12. This horrific killing device is also being hailed for being more "usable"—and it even comes with a convenient "dial-a-yield" feature. 

So who's making the big bucks off these small-but-mighty bombs? The usual unsung heroes of the Apocalypse—Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Bechtel, General Dynamics, Honeywell, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon. 

But let's not fail to notice the historic ontributions of the University of California and its Lawrence Livermore National Labs {LLNL). On hand for the roll out of the first W72-2 at the Pentagon's Pantex bomb-plant in Texas, was the director of LLNL, as well as the directors of the Los Alamos and Sandia national labs. LLNL's PR department puts a nice spin on its potentially world-ending labors by describing LLNL's employees as "Stewards of the nuclear deterrent... [working to] deliver solutions for the nation's most challenging security problems." 

Looking for a hero among all these these dark doings? Here's one: Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.)—who became chair of the House Armed Services Committee after Democrats took control of the House in the November 2018 midterm elections—has vowed to cancel the W76-2. 

Tax Time: How to Hack and Attack the War Machine 

Every year at this time, a determined group of peace-loving citizens takes a stand against Washington's military empire by nonviolently refusing to pay taxes. Some refuse all federal taxes; some refuse to pay an amount equal to the Pentagon's current 61 percent slice of the budget's $1.17 trillion discretionary-spending pie. 

It seems like a daunting course, to stand up to the IRS. But (speaking as a Vietnam-era tax resister) it's not necessarily as perilous as one might fear. Here is a timely note from my colleague, Jim Haber, a contemporary war-tax resister: 

"Please, don’t fear the IRS like they are really going to hurt you. They can harass, of course, but they don’t suddenly garnish your wages. Mostly they send notices, or more often, but still not frequently, phone calls. And when they 'assigned' my case to a private collection agency, their ability to harass me or take my money decreased!" 

Jim offers the following suggestions for standing up to the War Machine: "Check out the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) for a wealth of info, stories, and counseling. The People’s Life Fund offers counseling and education on various forms of war tax resistance." 

War Tax Resistance Granting Ceremony 

In league with NWTRCC, the People’s Life Fund presents annual tax-day peace-grants—funded with money war-tax-resisters have deposited in a trust account (instead of writing a check to the IRS). Some money is placed in escrow accounts (for use if and when the IRS comes knocking). The interest from these deposits (along with outright donations) is used to make grants to outstanding peace groups around the country. 

This Sunday April 14 at 3 PM in Berkeley's Fellowship Hall, the People’s Life Fund will host their annual War Tax Resistance Granting Ceremony. After a community potluck, PLF will distribute $15,000 to local organizations doing peace and social justice work. The Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists (BFUU) has long hosted this inspiring event. Suggested sliding scale donation $20 - $5 for building maintenance and to support BFUU's Social Justice work. (No one turned away for lack of funds.)
US Teetering on Brink of Internal War? 

On April 11, the Democratic National Committee sent out a nationwide phone alert to announce: "We just launched the DNC War Room, a unit dedicated to holding Trump accountable and getting him out of the White House." According to NBC, The Democratic National Committee (DNC) plans to target small- and mid-sized communities with a campaign highlighting promises it says President Trump has failed to keep." 

It's been a hard week. With the conclusion of the Mueller investigation, we thought the walls were starting to close in on Trump (and The Donald seemed to think so, too). Then came Bill Barr's 4-page brief and Trump's shouts of "exoneration!" 

This was soon followed by an onslaught of bad news. WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning was sent back to solitary. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was rousted from Britain's Ecuadorian Embassy and faces deportation to the US. Stormy Daniels Attorney Michael Avenatti was simultaneously hit with federal charges from agents on both the East and West coasts—and now faces an additional 36 criminal charges. Progressive Congressional Representatives Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are being targeted by rightwing, Trump-loving trolls and are receiving record numbers of death threats. 

What's next? Will Vladimir Putin hand Edward Snowden over to Trump? Will Trump order the Justice Department to arrest Hillary Clinton? 

Rally 'Round the Real Deal 

Berkeley will host a Green New Deal Town Hall with the Gray Panthers at 1:30PM on April 24 at the South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis St. There will be a follow-up Town Hall on the UC campus on May 2, 6PM, in Barrows Hall.