SMITHEREENS: Reflection on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday March 28, 2020 - 04:23:00 PM

Chronovirus: Delivered to your Door? 

I used to look forward to the arrival of dawn in the East and the arrival of the Chron in my driveway. But there was one thing that bothered me. The daily newspaper always seems to arrive stuffed inside a bright yellow bag of single-use plastic — even when there's no threat of rain. 

Now I'm wondering if there might be another problem with the Chron's home delivery operation: Are the folks who deliver the plastic-clad paper to tens of thousands of Bay Area doorsteps observing essential anti-coronavirus hygiene procedures — i.e., are they sanitizing their hands before bagging the daily news? 

If not, a single infected worker would be in a position to spread the disease widely through the Bay Area's large urban population. 

We could call this new threat "Chronovirus." 

Attempts to reach the currently-understaffed Chronicle for comment failed. A prerecorded voice advised that "it is extremely unlikely" that anyone would answer a call and the robo-options did not offer any info on the Chron's pandemic practices. 

So, for the time being, it might be good to get in the habit of washing our hands after removing the Chron from its dapper wrapper. 

And, meanwhile, Johns Hopkins University has made it possible to monitor the contagion's spread via an online COVID-19 data-map

A Revelation! Clearly! 

Several times over the past week, I found myself remarking on how beautifully sun-lit the days have been. But the cause for the clarity wasn't clear until I received an email from a friend who lives aboard a boat at the Berkeley Marina. 

"Had I mentioned the amazing clean air?" she wrote. 

"[My sailboat] is, after many days since I gave her a swab, still white! [And my dingy], Little Blu is clean still since I had given her a wash." 

This is not surprising. Orbiting weather stations have shown the thick layers of pollution in the skies over China and Italy have vanished and the air has become clean again—for the first time in decades. With humans confined, Nature restores herself. Go Mama Gaia! 

Some Reassuring Words from a Local Activist 

Local CODEPINK activist Cynthia Papermaster recently emailed some thoughtful words that gave me some comfort and I'd like to pass them on: 

I'm seeing some opportunities in this situation. 



  • quieting, grounding, enjoying solitude, slowing down
  • connecting with friends and colleagues in a caring way
  • contemplating extinction -- both personal and planetary-- giving us an opportunity to reflect on who we are and where we're going
  • seeing the failures of our capitalist and imperialist systems being blatantly exposed
  • making connections between the pandemic and planet-killing human actions and opposing both
  • taking stock of our routines and re-ordering our priorities
  • getting back to basics
  • valuing the beauty and abundance around us, or not, if we're struggling
  • putting the brakes on meeting after meeting, event after event, and having time to think, rest, garden, read, tidy, organize, de-clutter
  • figuring out how we want to spend the rest of our time here and reconciling with our mortality
FSM Activists Still Active 



One of the veterans of Berkeley's Free Speech Movement (now a teacher and a boardmember of the Los Angeles Unified School District) has long been a progressive voice in Southern California politics. She recently sent a message to colleagues in the Bay Area who have been working hard to secure the transfer of the Free Speech Movement Archives to UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library. Her message underscored the alarming impact of the coronavirus infection that is rampaging across the state. 

"Hope all of you are well, as are we in Echo Park. I must apologize for being unavailable, but since last Wednesday—in five workdays—LAUSD [Los Angeles Unified School District] has given out more than a million meals to our students, their families, and the homeless. And we are spending about $100 million to get 100% of our students connected to the Internet and with an I-pad or Chromebook to use while schools are closed. I just cannot focus on anything but all of this right now." 

Once an activist, always an activist. 

A Blithering Idiot's Dithering Comments on COVID-19 


The Viral Bailout Bill: Just the First Step 

On March 25, The Progressive Change Campaign Committee warned that the Senate's COVID-19 bailout bill was "a giant check to the Trump re-election campaign" and accused Democrats of "handing Donald Trump the Keys to the Country." 

The Huffington Post huffed that Mitch McConnell's bill "would establish a $4.5 trillion corporate bailout fund overseen by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, with few substantive constraints." 

BoldProgressives called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to "seize control of this process" and insist on a bill that would "help families and hold corporations accountable." 

The Democrats were able to stand fast and win some critical concessions from the Corporatocracy but much work remains to be done. The veterans' group, Common Defense, wanted to see $230 billion directed to medical professions, local clinics and hospitals trying to cope with the coronavirus epidemic, $15.5 billion dedicated to sheltering homeless Americans (many of them combat veterans), and would have required corporations to keep employees on the payroll and banned corporados from using bailout bucks to by back stock or grant CEO bonuses. 

Rev. William Barber and Dr. Liz Theoharis of the Poor Peoples' Campaign penned a joint appeal that argued the "unprecedented national emergency" triggered by the viral epidemic actually arose from "a deeper and much longer-term crisis—that of poverty and of a society that ignores the needs of 140 million who are poor or who are a $400 emergency away from being poor. The Poor Peoples Campaign has called for federal action to ensure "that our abundant natural resources are used for the general welfare, instead of wars, walls, and the wealthy—not just in times of crisis but at all times." 

And the Sierra Club—while praising the Democrats for securing additional funds to protect working families facing hunger, illness and evictions—warned that the Trump administration was likely to use the pandemic to distract attention from its plans to open land around the Grand Canyon to uranium mining, reduce protections for migratory birds, and "roll back standards to reduce mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants." 

How Many Trillions Make a Gazillion? 

As the Poor Peoples Campaign has noted, the current bailout bill fails to address systemic problems of inequity. And, as Bernie Sanders pointed out back in 2018, long before the virus emerged from Hubei Province, Amazon not only paid no federal income tax in 2017, "it received a $137 million tax rebate from the IRS." Amazon was one of 15 mega-corps that collectively claimed $24.5 billion in profits yet paid not a single dime to the IRS. 

More recently, a March 21 Associated Press report noted how the Federal Reserve "moved with unprecedented force and speed … to pump hug amounts of cash into the financial system" without having to deal with the inconvenience of having to seek enabling legislation. The report ran below the memorable headline: "Federal Reserve to Lend Additional $1 Trillion a Day to Large Banks." 

You read that right: One trillion dollars a day "until the end of the month." (Translation: $11 trillion.) No Senate or House vote needed. 


Bob's Back! Dylan Dialing Down in Dallas 

At the stroke of midnight on March 27, Bob Dylan released his first studio recording since 2017. The song, “Murder Most Foul,” is the first original song Dylan has released since 2012. The epic ballad — which runs nearly 17 minutes — was accompanied by Dylan's note that fans “might find it interesting” and a warning all to “stay safe, stay observant.” 

The title echoes a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and expands from a condemnation of the government conspiracy behind President John F. Kennedy’s assassination to a ramble through the decades that followed. 

There's a video below and, if you want to savor the lyrics in print, you can do so at this link


Should you wish to explore some of the darker details behind Kennedy's murder, check out local author David Talbot's New York Times bestsellers: Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years and The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government

Looking ahead. Director Oliver Stone (Platoon, Wall Street, JFK) has completed a devastating new documentary on the assassination called "JFK: Destiny Betrayed." Stone's film has been picked up by AGC Studios for television syndication. Only one problem: there is currently "no information on when or where the show might air." 



Bernie vs. Biden, Trees, and an In-CREDO-Bill Outcome

In mid-March, CREDO Mobile asked its members to share their presidential preferences and, for every response received, the socially responsible phone company promised to plant a tree. 



The invitation prompted 7,000 responses—which means 7,000 trees. In the CREDO tally, Bernie Sanders received 54% of the vote, Joe Biden garnered 43%, and Tulsi Gabbard came in third with a single-digit 1%. 

Asked to list their top two political concerns, the CREDO cadre overwhelmingly named “combating climate change” and “reducing income and wealth inequality.” 

In response to another question, 20% of the respondents claimed they were unaware that CREDO donates nearly $2 million a year to progressive organizations like Color of Change, Planned Parenthood, Rainforest Action Network, March for Our Lives, Americans for Tax Fairness, Friends of the Earth and NARAL Pro-Choice America. 

Much of this treasure is the result of a clever fund-raising strategy CREDO introduced many years ago: a simple request that customers "round-up" the charges on their phone bills to the next full-dollar amount. 

How US Taxes Attack Foreign Spouses 

I was recently surprised to discover that the IRS not only taxes Americans and immigrant workers for the income earned in the US but the IRS also taxes immigrants for the money they made in their home countries

As Turbo Tax Help explains in response to a request from an American gentleman recently married to a foreign-born lady: "by including your [non-native] spouse on your tax return, your spouse's worldwide income will be taxed by the United States. This includes both US and Foreign earned (i.e.: wages) and unearned (i.e.: bank interest) income from all sources. So if your spouse does not have any US income but does have foreign income, that foreign income will need to be included on your married filing jointly tax return." And that amounts to double taxation. 

American citizens who earn income abroad are also subject to taxation by the US. However a Foreign Earned Income Exception (Form 2555) can exclude "up to $105,900 in foreign earned income in tax year 2019." 

Can Tech Save the World? WIRED Thinks So 

The April issue of WIRED magazine is dedicated to the idea that technology (which has lead to so much environmental damage) can be recruited to help stave off planetary collapse. And, on page 83, Berkeley is singled out for a special mention: 

Berkeley's 2019 ban on natural gas in new buildings has spurred more than 50 California cities to draft similar legislation. 

And here are some other positive footnotes from the issue: 

• Stockholm Central Station absorbs the body heat of its 250,000 daily commuters and shoots it underground to help heat a nearby 13-story office building. 

• Australia refurbished a 1949 diesel train a few years ago into the first-ever solar-powered train. Even better, 100 percent of Dutch national trains run on wind power. 

• China's new magnetic levitation train, the world's fastest, will reach speeds of 373 mph, carrying passengers more than 600 miles in two hours while putting out less than half the emissions of a regional flight. 

• California stopped buying (most) solely gas-powered vehicles for its fleets at the end of 2019 . . . to reduce greenhouse emissions in the state. 

• A 2018 US carbon-storage tax credit could spur retrofits of power plants to capture 54 million tons of carbon per year—the equivalent of taking 10 million cars off the streets. 

• Livestock accounts for roughly 14.5 percent of anthropogenic emissions worldwide. If farmers filled their pastures with trees and shrubs—an ancient technique known as silvopasture—their grazing land would absorb up to 10 times more carbon. 

• Methane emissions burped out by cows could be cut by 99 percent if farmers changed 2 percent of the ruminants' diet to seaweed. 

• Two-thirds of Americans support a carbon tax if the revenue is used for environmental restoration. 

45 Years of Common Ground 

Common Ground magazine is celebrating its 45th anniversary with an edition that contains a great retrospective gallery of covers and four of editor-publisher Rob Sidon's consistently sterling interviews. (Full disclosure: I'm a former editor of Common Ground and I love the publication dearly.) 

The interviewees include: "Ken Babbs, the Original Merry Prankster with stories about Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady, and the Grateful Dead," "A Conversation with Krishna Das about his Best Friend, Ram Dass," "Daniel Kottke, Steve Jobs' College Buddy," and a reminiscence with Common Ground founder Andy Alpine. There's also a fine salute to "The Cockettes: San Francisco's Gender-Bending Trailblazers." 

Now the challenge is where to find a copy. With Berkeley's libraries closed, the only spot I know where you can find Common Ground is inside a battered, shabby-looking news box sitting in front of Berkeley Natural Grocery (1336 Gilman). 

A DIY Enemies List? 

On March 25, visitors to the online edition of the NBC Nightly News encountered a pop-up ad that asked for public opinion on Donald Trump's performance as president. (Note: I stress the word "performance.") But the survey was not the open-ended solicitation of opinion that it first appeared to be. 

The "Official Trump Approval Poll" (accompanied by a campaign photo of Trump flashing a grin and a fist) contained only one question: "Do you approve of President Trump's recent job performance?" There were three response options: "Yes. No. Other, please specify." 

The questionnaire then asked for the respondent's first and last name, zip-code, email and mobile phone number. 

The not-so-subtle aim of the so-called "survey" appeared to be to identify Trump's opponents and create a database—but for what purpose? 

Trump Does TIME