Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Jason Bowers uses a new kind of drinking straw made of avocado pits at The Bitter Alibi.

No change too small

Who says making the world better doesn't begin at home? Of course it does — and in hometown eateries and lounges, too. Just ask Jason Bowers, owner of three Chattanooga food and drink spots: The Bitter Alibi, The Fix Lounge and The Daily Ration.

"I personally don't use a lot of single-use plastics at home, so I don't think my restaurants should either," he recently told Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Sabrina Bodon.

Not handing out straws to every customer in three restaurants might seem like a little thing, but those little things add up. It is estimated that Americans use between 170 million and 390 million plastic straws a day. And those straws become part of the 150 million metric tons of plastic already floating down our rivers to the ocean, with 8 million more tons added each year.

Though nearly weightless plastic straws make up less than 1% of the water-borne debris, internationally they were the third-most-common piece of trash picked up on beaches in 2018 by the volunteer marine conservation group Ocean Conservancy.

Here in Chattanooga, Bowers eliminated plastic straws from his restaurants in 2018 and began supplying alternative straws only for cocktails, mostly at The Bitter Alibi in drinks with salted rims, or for those few who specifically ask for a straw.

He began by substituting the plastic straws with paper ones but found they deteriorated quickly — not really good for the experience of a craft cocktail. Now he serves straws made of biodegradable avocado pits which, though three times more costly for him, have been a success.

Around the country there have been some larger efforts: Seattle in 2018 banned commercial use of plastic straws and utensils. San Francisco and Washington, D.C., followed suit in 2019, and California enacted legislation that straws only be served to those who ask for them. Starbucks hopes to fully eliminate plastic straws from all its cafes by 2020, and several major airlines have switched to alternative versions.

Change comes slower to Tennessee. Especially when lobbyists from the plastics industry chum up to lawmakers. Tennessee joined North Dakota and Oklahoma last year in banning local governments from enacting bans or fees on plastic containers, packaging and the like.

For now, wise change in Tennessee will be limited to people like Bowers — and insistent consumers who say "no straw, please," and "no plastic bag, please," when ordering.


Trump cashes in on impeachment

Impeachment's not wholly a bad thing for the president, it seems. At least not when it comes to fundraising, according to RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.

"Democrats' baseless impeachment charade has only made support for President Trump stronger," McDaniel said in a statement last week.

Trump's reelection campaign, the Republican National Committee and two joint fundraising committees together raised almost half a billion dollars last year, including a record $154 million raised in the final three months of the year. The haul leaves Trump with nearly $200 million heading into 2020, campaign officials told The Washington Post.

That nearly $200 million gives Trump a financial war chest that far outstrips the resources of his top five Democratic opponents, who among them raised $114.5 million in the final quarter of 2019.

The RNC alone raised $241 million for the entire year, the officials said. Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee reported that as of the end of November, it had raised $83.6 million for the year and had $6.5 million in debt.



GOP choice means no choice

Beware of anything the GOP labels "choice." Like "choice" school vouchers that put our tax dollars into private hands. And now like "fair housing choice."

Fair housing choice is what Ben Carson's new HUD rule change proposal is called, but what it really will do is further weaken enforcement of fair housing and civil rights, according to fair housing advocates.

The heart of Carson's proposed new rule, of course, is peeling back what was designed to help communities lessen segregation and remove barriers to racial integration.

It would formally eliminate the assessment used by local governments to examine and address — read here eliminate — those barriers.

Follow the money, of course. The proposal would accomplish this by reducing the financial pressure on local governments to end residential segregation and discrimination, as required by the 1968 Fair Housing Act and the 2015 Obama-era regulations that were designed to accomplish the landmark law's enforcement.

The Obama regulations set up processes by which communities were supposed to take "meaningful action" to overcome long-standing segregation by analyzing housing patterns, concentrated poverty and disparities in access to transportation, jobs and good schools — even banks and grocery stores. If communities didn't comply, they risked losing billions in federal funds.

Carson, who suspended the Obama rules two years ago anyway, calls the steps of those processes "overly burdensome" and "too prescriptive."

When fair housing advocates unsuccessfully sued HUD in 2018 over the suspension, HUD withdrew the computer assessment tool that provided communities with data and maps to help them gauge neighborhood segregation.

Choice. Sure.