6/13/21: Berkeley Daily Planet: Columns SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Sunday June 13, 2021 – 05:59:00 PM

No Home in the Biome?

On June 7, Mayor Jesse Arreguin shared the screen with NBC Evening News anchor Lester Holt to discuss the NIMBY vs. YIMBY debate currently roiling Berkeley’s neighborhoods. Not broached in the broadcast was the issue that much of the pressure to build denser housing comes from UC Berkeley’s plan to augment revenues by increasing the number of customers—er… make that “students”—from 55,130 to 67,200 over the next 15 years—a 22% increase.

In order to accommodate this planned 12,000-plus surge in the civic population, UCB plans to add another 8 million square feet to the 11.9 million square feet of Berkeley acreage that it currently occupies. This unprecedented 68% expansion will be needed to add 11,739 new beds for students, another 549 beds for new faculty and staff, and 1,240 more parking spaces.

It occurs to me that, if single-family homes are sacrificed to make room for multi-story apartment buildings (fueled by growth-addicted developers and revenue-seeking UC administrators), there is a constituency that is not being represented.

With the loss of open space as backyard gardens are buried beneath high-rise apartment complexes, what will become of the birds, bees, butterflies, squirrels, raccoons, and deer that currently inhabit our vegetated neighborhood open spaces?

Will the city’s only gardens be rooftop gardens? And, without open spaces to roam and forage, will bucks and fawns be replaced by new populations of the dominant denizen of compact urban squalor—the rat?

Hippie Summer Boomer Bummer

A colorful poster recently popped up on my Facebook page. It showed a colorful, hand-painted VW “hippie van” with a peace symbol on the side and what looked like a trio of squids wrestling on the rooftop. The words surrounding the art read: “How old were you during the summer of love?” and the date “1969.”

The first comment following the poster is succinct. As Mark Moerman was the first to note: “1967 was the Summer of Love.”

Quick, someone pass the acid—I mean, the Prevacid!

The $185,000 Ad Fox News Wouldn’t Air

According to a Los Angeles Times report, Fox News refused to broadcast a paid political ad that included interviews with Capitol police officers who were caught up in the pro-Trump riot that rocked the country on January 6.

The spot’s producer, MeidasTouch, had pre-booked $185,000 of air time to broadcast the ad on Fox for seven days, starting on June 6 with Chris Wallace’s Sunday show and rounding out the rest of the week with airings on Fox and Friends.

The commercial, consisting mainly of quotes from officers who experienced the siege first-hand, casts significant shade over the GOP’s roster of “Jan. 6 Deniers”—including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde, and Wisconsin Rep. Ron Johnson. Here’s to candor: take a gander.

Nuclear Weapons. “No-first Use” Versus “First: No Use!”

Green Party Presidential candidate Howie Hawkins recently sent a message to the American people inviting us to join the countries that have signed and ratified the Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons (TBNW). To date, 54 United Nations member states and 607 NGOs (non-government organizations) have joined to pledge “no-first-use” of nuclear weapons. (Hawkins has also called for reducing the US military budget by 75 percent.)Here are some other numbers: 32 nations—including the US and eight other nuclear-armed countries—have stated their opposition to the TBNW. Currently (as far as we know), there are 13,400 nuclear weapons in nine national arsenals.

While a majority of Americans support the TBNW, many also support a “no-first-use” policy. Russia and China have both taken the no-first-use (NFU) pledge but the US has not. The NFU offers little comfort since it implies that a retaliatory “second-use” nuclear strike is a reasonable alternative. A global nuclear war (or even a “regional” use of nuclear weapons) would destroy much of the living world.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is a “proud co-sponsor” with Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) of a bill to “Restrict the First-Use Strike of Nuclear Weapons (S. 1148).” Feinstein writes that “this critical legislation would prohibit the President from conducting a first-use nuclear strike without an explicit declaration of war by Congress.”

Unfortunately, if you think about the practical application of S. 1148, it becomes clear that this “good will gesture” is inherently flawed. Imagine if you were the leader of Russia or China and the US Congress convened to debate whether or not to authorize a nuclear “first strike” at targets inside your borders. Wouldn’t this be likely to provoke you to launch your own missiles in an act of “preemptory self-defense”?

Related No-First-Use Note

How many lives might be saved if every US police department adopted a “no-first-use” policy when it comes to discharging their weapons.

Unfortunately, neither police nor combat soldiers are trained to exercise such restraint and, in fact, both are inclined to shoot-first if they so much as see anything resembling a weapon in a suspect’s hands.

Here’s a chilling thought. Wouldn’t it be fair to assume that this resistance to “not firing the first shot” is not limited to cops-on-the-street and grunts-on-the-ground but is equally present in the ranks of our military leaders and the civilian planners who guide nuclear policy?)

#NoWar2021: A Virtual Peace Conference

World BEYOND War recently hosted a powerful global gathering of peace activists from more than 25 nations. Hundreds of virtual attendees spent the better part of three days meeting online for panel discussions, workshops, and unscripted live interactions.

But even if such a rarified environment, the inbred US penchant for “militarized speech” occasionally burst to the surface of the pacifist dialog.

Case in point: In a workshop on Media Training, the facilitator’s recommendations were salted with verbal landmines. In the space of a single minute of screen-time, the following words shot forth: “tactics,” “target,” “escalate,” “engage,” “empower,” “campaign,” and “roll out,” along with the question: “How do we escalate our tactics?”

Project Save the World

Can webinars save the planet? The jury is out on that one but, in the meantime, scores of positive-thinking activists are busy posting Earth-saving content on (appropriately enough) the Worldwide Web. One of these resources is Project Save the World‘s World Repair Shop (WRS) where you can find more than 225 eco-chats archived on YouTube that play constantly. (Click here to link to the trove.) A recent selection of eclectic discussion topics included: Biochar and Climate Smart Food; Arctic Ice; Sustainable Construction; Proportional Representation; Life in Yemen (with Mustafa Bahran, Abdulla Nasher, and Qais Ghanem). And, for real-time interactions, WRS hosts regular live conversations at 9:30 AM Pacific Time. (Project Save the World is also the home of Peace Magazine.)

The Rise of Scornalism

Charles Pierce, whose Esquire bio reads “he’s been a working journalist since 1979,” writes: Normally, I do not pay a lot of attention to Sub-Left’nant Blimp of the National Review [a mocking reference to NR‘s Charles C. W. Cooke], but I figure that his sources on the Right are better than mine, so I present without comment the latest installment of The Adventures of Captain Crazypants and His Howling Morons. [A reference to our twice-impeached former president and his faithful hoards.] After citing two paragraphs from one of Cooke’s recent dispatches to the National Review, Pierce steps back on the podium to pronounce: “If the most immediate former president* has gone this cuckoo bananas, and is already planning to crank up his wankfests again, that’s a helluva story.”

Referring to the still insidious reach of “the stubby little clutches of the former president*”, Pierce observes if T***** were to show up “at Bedminster with his body painted blue and bellowing about His Imperial Majesty, surely nobody would begrudge us the video.”

That’s a fusillade of snark that sounds like it could have been launched from the decks of the Daily Kos. And, speaking of the Daily Kos….

The Daily Kos: Journalism Meets Scornalism

The feisty Oakland-based, online alt-news source known as The Daily Kos (founded by Markos “Kos” Moulitsas) has recently lamented the decline of traditional media—i.e., the collapse of print publications that have lost essential operating revenue as advertiser dollars have migrated from paper to screen. Many city papers have gone out of business and tens of thousands of print journalists have lost their jobs.

The Kos survives, in part, by maintaining an entertaining and progressive profile in the media landscape and promoting lots of progressive action campaigns. The Kos prides itself as a journalistic engine that values justice over jaundice but much of the time, the Kos cosmos isn’t the last refugee of professional journalism, it’s a leading purveyor of a new form of screen-based “opinion journalism” that is rife with rants that echo the ethos and cadences of influencers, gossips, and other self-referential voices that reign over social media.

And, like the right-wing blogs it derides, many of the commentators on Kos tend to rely more on opinion than research. Instead of carefully crafted arguments based on deep reflection, interviews, and fact-checking, the typical Kos writer relies on attitude, quips, and ridicule.

In the new world of Kos Journalism, articles are mostly op-eds and—like their brethren in the conservative trenches—Kos writers lean heavily in the direction of inspired defamation. In this new form of “scornalism,” the discourse tilts heavily in the direction of coarse. Postings are filled with salacious comments, insults, innuendo, mockery and bias. (But, at least, it’s not Republi-cant.)

Here’s a taste from a Kos writer to writes under the pen-name, “Hunter.”

In the course of a single short article, Hunter refers to the former president as “a grifting, incompetent, helium balloon of a man,” a “coughed-up hairball,” an “incompetent, death-dealing blowhard,” “the world’s most clearly dysfunctional reality TV star,” and “Typhoid Hitler.” And, for good measure, he skewers the GOP as “a party of spineless and immoral weasels.”

Entertaining but not journalism. Not even traditional op-editorializing. But it is arousing and amusing (if you’re on the same side of the political dish).

The Daily Kos Versus JFK Junior

But not everyone is amused.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. recently sued the Kos crew for “defamation” after the website posted a commentary that portrayed RFKJ as a prominent anti-vaxxer caught “cavorting with Nazis” during an anti-vaccination rally in Germany. The full title of the article was: “Anti-Vaxxer RFK, Jr. joins neo-Nazis in massive Berlin ‘Anti-Corona’ Protest.”

RFK’s lawsuit cites “the erroneous nature of Daily Kos‘s inflammatory ‘fake news'” and demands to know the identity of the accuser. And this is where the story takes a wiggy twist.

In sync with other habits of social media’s online “scornalism,” Daily Kos contributors are allowed to hide their true identities behind pen names. One of the most prominent writers on the Kos roster (praised by Bette Midler and Sarah Silverman, no less) slings his barbs while crouched behind the nom de guerre, “Aldous J. Pennyfarthing.”

The disputed Cavorting Kennedy dispatch was attributed to the pseudonym DowneastDem.

Kennedy has demanded to know the true identity of the writer and a judge has agreed that this is a just demand. In response, the Kos collective staunchly maintains that it has a First Amendment right to hide the identity of its writers to avoid “physical harm to themselves and their family.” A professional journalist, of course, has to stand by his/her published reporting. A Kos a contributor, however, is described as a “community diarist” and the website insists that “it’s important for Daily Kos to protect the pseudonymity of its community.”

But there is a well-established problem here—namely, anonymous opinionating removes social restraints and culpability, freeing the commentator to say anything without fear of being called to account. Anonymity enables ignominy.

While the contest over Free Speech versus Masked Speech continues, The Daily Kos can claim one solid factual coup worthy of “old school” journalism. According to a Kos fund-raising letter, “the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that just 12 people were responsible for 65% of all the COVID-19 misinformation on social media.” And “No. 2 on their list [was]… Kennedy and his Q-style-named organization, Children’s Health Defense.” PS: In February, Kennedy was banned from Instagram over his anti-vaxxing efforts.

Berating for Gadot: Galled by Gal

CODEPINK is seeing red over the news that National Geographic has chosen Israeli icon and sometime Wonder Woman Gal Gadot to host ImpactNat Geo‘s short-form documentary series on the plight of displaced Indigenous women around the world.

CODEPINK’s case is as follows: “Gadot served in the Israeli military as a combat trainer during Israel’s brutal 2006 war in Lebanon when indiscriminate Israeli airstrikes killed about 900 civilians. The following year, Gadot parlayed her military identity into a modeling career, including posing for a Maxim Magazine spread titled: ‘Women of Israel Defense Forces’.”

Gadot says she is executive-producing Impact to “inspire women” by offering uplifting tales of survival in Brazil, Puerto Rico, Michigan, Louisiana, Tennessee, and California. But a CODEPINK press release notes that the series offers “nothing for the indigenous people of Palestine, whose land has been stolen and olive trees burned by Israeli settlers. In 2014, during the Israeli assault on Gaza where over 2,000 Palestinians, a fourth of them children, were massacred, [Gadot] posted the hashtag #loveIDF with Shabbat prayers on her Facebook page.”

CODEPINK is petitioning Nat Geo to drop Gadot from any future projects, including the final episode of Impact. “If Gal Gadot wants to inspire women to make change,” CP suggests, “she should rethink her unwavering support for Israel, atone for her actions participating in and helping whitewash Israeli war crimes and join the struggle for justice in Palestine. Supporting land theft and apartheid is neither feminist nor sexy.”

Eliminate Tax Breaks and Loopholes for the US OILigarchy

The Care2 Petitions Team has revealed one of Big Carbon’s Dirty Little Secrets.

“Every year, like a giant dirty birthday present, oil and gas companies receive their favorite gift of all: billions of dollars from American taxpayers’ wallets. It’s a form of lovey-dovey corporate welfare in which the government helps prop up the very industry most responsible for US contributions to climate change.”In addition, legal loopholes and preferential laws liberate the Carbon Barons from having to fret about reducing or removing the pollution they leave behind.

The Care2 Petitioners are understandably steamed: “What kind of a country would subsidize polluters and fail to provide a living wage and healthcare to its citizens?” they write. “End the OILigarchy!”

Meeting the Paris Climate Agreement pollution-reduction targets will mean eliminating Big Carbon’s sweetheart deals. “Instead of throwing taxpayer money right into the belly of the climate change beast,” Care2 declares, “the US government should be using those billions of dollars to fund progressive climate initiatives like building green energy infrastructure and jobs!”

But there’s a sticking point, and it’s a familiar one: “Republicans are blocking this strategy because they prefer cozying up to their wealthy fossil fuel buddies.”

There’s a petition we can sign to demand that President Biden and Congress eliminate these subsidies and loopholes.

Decarbonation—from Nation to NationHere are some hopeful words from May Boeve, Executive Director of the climate-action group, 350.org:
• On May 26, “a Dutch court ruled that Shell must reduce its net carbon dioxide emissions 45% by 2030 (with 2019 as a baseline). This decision sends a strong message to fossil fuel companies, banks, and pension funds all over the world that greenwashing and lies will not prevent them from being held accountable for the climate crisis.”

• Meanwhile, in the US, “Chevron shareholders voted against the oil company’s board to force the company to cut its emissions, and two climate activists were elected to ExxonMobil’s board.”

• And finally, on May 18, 2021, “the International Energy Agency joined the choir and said what campaigners and activists have been saying for years: ‘We have to get off fossil fuels NOW and leapfrog development across the globe towards a renewable energy powered future.’ Absolutely amazing.”

Ballot-Rigging in Washington

The vote was rigged! No, not the presidential ballot: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote on restoring net neutrality.

Net neutrality would assure equal Internet access for everyone by prohibiting the use of “fast and slow lanes” that make it possible to charge more for faster service.

Under pressure from the telecom industry, the FCC rejected the protections of net neutrality. Recently, the FCC invited public comments to guide its decision regarding the possible restoration of net neutrality.

The Daily Kos cites an investigation that found “an eye-popping 18 million of the almost 23 million comments submitted to the FCC to consider in the decision to repeal net neutrality were fake!”

This didn’t happen by accident. It was planned. Broadband companies spent more than $4 million to trick people into sharing private information that was then used to submit fake public comments in support of the industry’s goals. “Only 800,000 comments were found to be ‘unique’ and over 99 percent of them were in support of net neutrality.”

Meanwhile, Internet equity activists are calling on Joe Biden to break the “deadlocked” FCC by filling an empty commission seat with “a fifth commissioner who doesn’t have ties to the telecom industry and will stand up to the ISPs, who supports reinstating net neutrality, and who will expand broadband and ensure everyone—especially low-income neighborhoods and communities of color who have experienced the greatest harm by the digital divide—has affordable access to the Internet.

Sign the petition: Reverse the repeal of net neutrality!

Originally published at https://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2021-06-13/article/49242?headline=SMITHEREENS-Reflections-on-Bits-Pieces–Gar-Smith


Posted on

June 18, 2021

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