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Closing Arguments–some final thoughts on the Presidential Election of 2020

2016 flashback

It’s been over four years now, but I can still hear the voters I called during the 2016 election to ask whom they were supporting for President. “Trump” some would bark back with a defiant grunt. There were not that many of them, but it sure hurt when I heard them. Even when I had a Hillary Clinton supporter on the line, most were lukewarm in their support. Their responses were a sharp contrast to the phone bank volunteers at the Hillary campaign office in Albany, CA, mostly women who were enthusiastic about electing our first woman president. I kept warning that only complacency could defeat us, and it turned out to be true. I remember asking one young woman in Nevada if there were any issues that concerned her. She couldn’t think of any. What about the Supreme Court?, I asked, which at that time had a vacant seat due to Republican obstruction. Aren’t you concerned about your rights to an abortion and birth control? If only Democrats and people on the Left were as motivated by the future of the Supreme Court as the the Right has been motivated, I lamented. I shouldn’t have been surprised that the Religious Right had no problem holding their noses to vote for the most unChristian candidate ever nominated by either party. The same voters who were all for impeaching Bill Clinton for having consensual sex with an intern were then unconcerned by a candidate who has consistently demeaned women and been accused of rape. Their focus on abortion and LGBTQ rights outweighed any issues they had with Trump. For more, see https://tomyamaguchi.blog/2017/11/14/no-citizens-united-for-the-mega-churches/

I have always been terrible at predicting the future, yet I knew a potential Trump presidency would be a disaster. I posted my arguments to this blog on why we should never let Trump become President, and those posts are still here to read. My favorite is Trump’s Gettysburg Address, posted before he gave an actual speech in Gettysburg during the campaign. https://tomyamaguchi.blog/2016/09/27/trumps-gettysburg-address/ As it turned out, Trump has been more than a terrible public speaker. In fact, he has been a worse disaster than I expected. A pandemic could not have arrived at a worse time than during Trump’s control of the federal government.

Why we need to do more than just vote

As I wrote previously on this blog https://tomyamaguchi.blog/2018/07/06/five-important-things-i-want-you-to-consider-as-we-approach-the-november-election/, a friend confessed after the 2016 election, “I wish I had done more than just vote.” I could at least say I did more than vote in 2016, even though my effort was not successful. Could I have done more? Yes, though I would rather not beat myself up about it. I did what my energy allowed me to do. I can say the same for this election and offer this challenge to you who read this post. Will you wake up on November 4 wishing you had done more than just vote? The time is now to get involved.

If Joe Biden is not a perfect enough candidate for you, and you are planning to vote third party, as too many did in 2016, this is the reality of the consequences of your vote. If you aren’t voting for Biden, you are voting for Trump. It is as simple as that. Yes, it would be different if we ditched the Electoral College and used the national popular vote. It would be more democratic to use Rank Choice Voting so people had more ballot choices. We can work for these reforms for future elections. For this election, we have to accept the flaws of this system. In addition, Russia appears as determined to divide the Left as they did when they convinced just enough people to vote for Jill Stein or write in Bernie Sanders.

We need to vote for Biden in huge numbers in every state, not just the battleground states. Remember that Hillary Clinton did get almost 3 million more votes than Trump did. With an even larger margin of victory for Biden, no one can question the results of the election. Evicting Trump after a Biden landslide should not be a problem. In addition, we need to hold the House and take back the Senate. That means holding onto seats that flipped from Republican to Democratic in 2018.

On the other hand, a Trump victory means an end to our democracy as we know it. Trump will be free to continue enriching himself and his friends. They will make fair elections impossible by making it more difficult for people to vote. Their refusal to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy sources will head us on a path of irreversible climate change.

Thoughts on Vote By Mail (VBM)

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I will not be working as an election officer on November 3. For one thing, I am now 70 years old and do not want to risk exposure to the Corona virus. For another thing, California is conducting the entire election by mail. While fears have been expressed that the state is not prepared for the change, I have more confidence, given my experience working past elections.

Trump’s ignorance of the voting process is another example of how he is unfit to hold any office, not just President. HIs efforts to cast doubt on the legitimacy of our voting process is harmful to our democracy. Sadly, he doesn’t care because he only sees how this helps him.

First, let us dispense with the term “absentee” ballot. Trump argues that absentee ballots are good, while mail ballots are bad. That’s like arguing there is a difference between divorce and no fault divorce. You once needed a reason, like infidelity, to get a divorce. We have since done away with that requirement. The same applies to Vote By Mail ballots or VBM ballots for short. You no longer need to provide a reason why you can’t show up at the polls on Election Day in order to vote by mail. Everyone who wants one gets a VBM ballot. In fact, many bring their ballots to the polls to drop them off on Election Day. In recent years, they have outnumbered voters who show up to mark their ballots in person. Alameda County, California has updated its Election Day procedures to have an early pick up of VBM ballots simply because those ballot boxes were getting full hours before the polls closed.

Trump has told his followers to vote twice, once by VBM and again at the polls. Of course, this is illegal. In addition, the system is designed to prevent it. That is why we have the Provisional Ballot. In a typical (non COVID) election, Alameda County, prints out a roster that includes those voters who have received a VBM ballot. So if you are a Trump voter who has shown up to vote twice, you will be informed that you need to surrender your VBM ballot and envelope (the one you sign to prevent someone else from voting your ballot) in order to vote at the polls. Now, the Trump voter could lie and say they did not receive their ballot or they threw it away. In fact, that happens all of the time when people tell the truth. In the last primary, my ballot was lost in the mail, and I cast a provisional ballot at the polls. People do throw away their ballots thinking they are sample ballots. They forgot that they had signed up to receive a VBM ballot for every election. Again, no problem. These voters are provided with a provisional ballot and envelope that is kept separate from the ballots cast at the polls. When that provisional ballot arrives at the Registrar of Voters office, it will only be counted if no other ballot from that voter has been received and the signature matches the one on file. Provisional ballot voters are informed they can call the office to verify their ballot has been counted and, if it hasn’t, why not. In fact, I called and verified that my provisional ballot was counted in the March primary.

Do ballots get mailed to voters who have died or moved? Of course. If someone tries to illegally vote a ballot, it will be rejected if the signatures do not match. Again, people can and should check to make sure their ballots have not been rejected. In this election, voters can sign up to be notified by text message when their ballot has been received and accepted. In California, you can go to https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ballot-status/wheres-my-ballot.

What to do after the election

There is a great deal worry about what will happen after the election. Will there be a coup? Will recounts get tied up in the courts as in 2000? Will Republican governors appoint their own electors to send to the Electoral College? Will Trump not accept the results and refuse to leave? While preparing for future possibilities is not a bad idea, I prefer we focus on getting the votes in the ballot boxes first. A Trump victory would make those scenarios meaningless, anyway. 

So let us focus on winning the election and winning by a huge landslide that holds the House and takes back the Senate. Remember that contested House and Senate races can delay certification, such as in 2008/09 when Al Franken eventually won over Norm Coleman in Minnesota.

If we do win, we need to learn from our mistake in 2008. Yes, we elected Barack Obama with a sweeping agenda on health care, climate, education, immigration, and more. And what happened? We generally did little or nothing at all. I heard progressives complain that Obama was responsible for not getting enough done. Then we generally failed to vote in the mid terms and ended up handing the Congress back to the Republicans. Obama’s court appointments got held up and were eventually filled by Trump. What we have won with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) has been under continual attack, and a challenge is now going to a conservative dominated Supreme Court. 

After 2020, we need to do more than just vote. We need to stay engaged and lobby our representatives as taught by those who created the Indivisible Guide. If you haven’t read the Guide, here it is https://indivisible.org/guide. It is as relevant today as it was in 2016.

We need to vote in every election, not just for President. We need to vote up and down the ballot. That includes governors and state representatives who will be in charge of redrawing congressional districts. Our Congress has been so badly gerrymandered, it not longer represents a majority of the voters.

First order of business is to end the pandemic and rescue our economy, just as in 2009 when Obama’s first task was dealing with the recession that was handed to him by the Bush Administration. No doubt, Republicans will be obstructing the way they did in 2009, so we will need to end or modify the filibuster. We need to expand and protect the ACA, even if we can’t get Medicare for all. Can we at least get the public option? And we need to enact climate legislation. I believe we can get a tax or fee on carbon pollution. A doable plan is a carbon fee and dividend, as proposed by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. https://citizensclimatelobby.org

Those are my closing arguments, friends. The rest is up to you.

October 26, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My email to my California senators on the Barrett nomination

I have sent the following emails to my California senators on the nomination of Judge Barrett. The Judiciary Committee votes tomorrow. Call or email your senators. Let them know we need judges who won’t politicize climate science.

Dear Senator Harris:

I want to thank you for your question to Judge Barrett on climate change, although I would have worded the question to ask if she accepts the science of climate change, instead of asking if she believes humans are changing the climate. As Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson reminds us, science is true, whether we believe it or not. Her response, as quoted by The Hill news site, is “You have asked me a series of questions that are completely uncontroversial…and then trying to analogize that to elicit an opinion from me that is on a very contentious matter of public debate and I will not do that. I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially one that is politically controversial.”

Climate change should not be politically controversial. Unfortunately, Judge Barrett has sided herself with those who have politicized climate science, as they have politicized the COVID-19 pandemic. For that reason, I cannot trust Judge Barrett to make any rulings where scientific knowledge needs to be considered. For that reason alone, I would reject her nomination.

In addition, as you have pointed out, a nomination to fill a sudden vacancy on the Supreme Court should not have been made this close to the general election. Many of us have already cast our mail in ballots. The people should have a chance to elect the next President and Senators before that vacancy is filled. It was in fact, Judge Ginsburg’s last wish before her death. Out of respect for Judge Ginsburg we should honor her wish.

Lastly, I live just a few blocks from the house where you lived on Bancroft Way and am proud to have you represent me in the Senate. Senator Perdue’s disrespect insults not only you, but all of us in California you represent. His racist behavior needs to be condemned by the US Senate.

On a lighter note, I wish your a happy birthday. https://twitter.com/tomyamaguchi/status/1318595000586792961

Dear Senator Feinstein:

I want to thank you for your decision to vote against the confirmation of Judge Barrett as indicated by your tweet. “Last week Judge Barrett showed why she shouldn’t be confirmed to the Supreme Court. Her answers showed that she is hostile to the ACA and Roe v. Wade. If she is confirmed, many fundamental rights will be in jeopardy.” However, I must express disappointment hearing the news of your compliments to Senator Graham, accompanied by a hug, on the confirmation process. I strongly disagree with the conduct of Senator Graham and all of the Republicans who are ramming this nomination through the Senate just weeks before the election. Many of us have already voted. It is hypocritical that these same Republicans refused to even meet with Merrick Garland to fill a vacancy created in February of 2016. The voters should be allowed to elect a new president before a court vacancy is filled. That is the last wish of Judge Ginsburg. We need to honor her wish.

In addition to the reasons you list, I would reject Judge Barrett for her response to the question by Senator Harris on climate change. The Hill news site quotes her response. “You have asked me a series of questions that are completely uncontroversial…and then trying to analogize that to elicit an opinion from me that is on a very contentious matter of public debate and I will not do that. I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially one that is politically controversial.” Climate change should not be politically controversial. Unfortunately, Judge Barrett has sided herself with those who have politicized climate science, as they have politicized the COVID-19 pandemic. For that reason, I cannot trust Judge Barrett to make any rulings where scientific knowledge needs to be considered. For that reason alone, I would reject her nomination.

October 21, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My emails to my senators on the Supreme Court vacancy

To Senator Feinstein:

Thank you for your statement “Under no circumstances should the Senate consider a replacement for Justice Ginsburg until after the presidential inauguration.”

I am not surprised by Majority Leader McConnell’s statement that he would fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court that was created by the death of Justice Ginsberg. Nor am I surprised that he made his statement as soon as we received the news of the terrible loss to this country, not even giving us sufficient time to mourn and reflect on her accomplishments throughout her long career. I am not surprised that he would take this course in direct contradiction of his position in 2016 when he refused to even provide Merrick Garland a hearing for a vacancy created by the death of Justice Scalia that February. I am not surprised because he said he would do it in 2019. In fact, his response to the question was quite blunt. “I would fill it,” he told the audience, which responded with laughter. 

I am not surprised, yet I am no less disgusted by both Mr. McConnell’s action and the audience reaction, as if this is all just a power game. Well, this is not a game. We elect our senators to act fairly and ethically while they are in office. I believe we should hold our elected officials to a higher standard.

One difference between now and 2016 was that the court vacancy then was created in February, just as the primary process was starting. We are now at six weeks before the general election with Congress getting ready to shut down to conduct their re election campaigns. That should be reason enough to wait until a new President and new Senate are elected and sworn into office.

Sadly. Mr. McConnell does not feel the same urgency to provide our country with pandemic relief. He has not bothered to call a vote on the HEROES Act, months after it was passed by the House of Representatives.

I agree that confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice can and should wait until 2021. Thank you for taking your position.

My message to Senator Harris is a request to join Senator Feinstein on her position.

September 19, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tribute to Friend Stephen Matchett

A well known and loved Quaker in the San Francisco Bay Area, Stephen Matchett, died on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Stephen was a member of San Francisco Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. I was not a close friend of Stephen’s but I did spend a fair amount of time with him, especially while riding bicycles.

Stephen died on the anniversary of the death of my friend, housemate, and bicycle activist Bob Berry. May 19 is the birthdate of political activist Malcolm X, who would have been 95 on the day Stephen died.

Stephen was a political activist. He was probably best known as a facilitator and organizer with Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). AVP was developed by Quakers to teach conflict resolution skills for people in prison. In recent years, AVP has expanded beyond prisons and conducts workshops for those who want to end violence in their communities. Stephen would travel to prisons throughout California on his bicycle, carrying all the workshop materials he needed on his bike. Stephen was very organized in his ability to pack and transport large loads.

Stephen not only traveled everywhere by bike and public transit, he made a decision to never ride in a private vehicle for the rest of his life. This included regular Quaker gatherings in California, such as College Park Quarterly Meeting and Pacific Yearly Meeting.

During one Pacific Yearly Meeting session held at Walker Creek Ranch in Marin County, those of us who pedaled to the meeting gathered for a group photo before the ride home. I use that photo for my Twitter profile page. Stephen is the tallest in the group and next to me on my right.

PYM Walker Creek

When I was editor of the Strawberry Creek Monthly Meeting newsletter, I would fill blank spaces with quotations from Quakers and other activists in the peace, environmental, and social justice movements. One of my quotes came from Stephen Matchett. It was at a yearly meeting at Walker Creek Ranch that Stephen spoke at a meeting for worship before plenary. “Tell me more about this God you don’t believe in. Chances are I don’t believe in that God either.” When I asked for his permission to use the quote, Stephen said he wasn’t sure if his statement was original. Well, it is original enough for me. I used it several times.

Stephen did believe in God. He facilitated Bible study sessions during yearly and quarterly meetings. I found it interesting that an openly gay man would have no problem in leading discussions on the Bible. Stephen has helped me deal with my own issues with Christianity and become more comfortable with a book I used to consider a source of oppression.

I would talk to Stephen during travel to and from the spring session of College Park Quarterly Meeting. The spring meeting is usually held during the third weekend in May at Ben Lomond Quaker Center in the Santa Cruz mountains. We would both travel by use of train, bus, and bike. While I took Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor from Berkeley to San Jose, Stephen used CalTrain from San Francisco. During one of our last conversations, Stephen was debating not renewing his driver’s license and just caring a non driver’s ID card.

Spring quarterly meeting was held this past weekend, May 15-17. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, it was conducted via Zoom, instead of at Ben Lomond.

Early this spring, Stephen was diagnosed with a brain tumor and spent his final days at the Coming Home Hospice in San Francisco.

On the day of Stephen’s passing, his brother David posted the following to Stephen’s Caring Bridge site.

Stephen is no more Stephen —

I went over about 3 after the chaplain said “it’s now.” It’s meaning the world to me that I got to be there. 

He was breathing when I went in, I called my parents to say I was there, I read him something my father had written him, then something from my cousin, and played him a message someone had recorded for him today, and then when I was returning the chaplain’s call we talked about how you could tell, and I said, well, it looks like his chest isn’t moving. So somewhere in there he stopped breathing, and I couldn’t say when. But there was no sigh, no gasp, no struggle — I can’t imagine a more peaceful way to leave.

This won’t be the last post here, but it’s the last post from a day when Stephen was with us. Entering a new reality (all of us).

In 2013, Stephen led a Quaker Center weekend workshop titled “Come As You Are: Reading the Bible with Friends.” The announcement includes the following biography.

Stephen Matchett is a Quaker by birth and by convincement, and a 30-year member of San Francisco Monthly Meeting. Once an appellate criminal defense lawyer, he now spends much of his time facilitating conflict resolution workshops in prisons and in the community with the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). In recent years he has had an active traveling ministry among unprogrammed Friends, offering presentations on reading early Quaker writers and on Friends’ beliefs, and following a call to support and encourage contemporary Quakers’ (re)acquaintance and engagement with the Bible. In recent years he has been convening early morning Bible study at College Park Quarterly and Pacific Yearly Meetings, and the growing number of Friends finding meaning in those sessions led him to offer this program last year and to agree to offer it again this year upon request.

May 20, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Revisiting AIDS during this time of COVID-19

People who follow me on Twitter (@tomyamaguchi) may notice that I love to tweet obituaries. The Obits page is a place where I have found the life stories of interesting and unusual people. Now that I get most of my news online, I usually go to the Recent Deaths page on Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia lists each person’s death in the following order: name, age, country of citizenship at birth, subsequent nationality (if applicable), what subject was noted for, cause of death (if known), and reference. As I poured through the days of March, I noticed an increasing number of people who died of COVID-19. I decided to run a tally on a spreadsheet and have so far counted 144 deaths for that month. The average started at zero to one or two deaths per day. By mid March, the average was headed to five or six. By the end of the month, the average for all of March was about 4.5 per day.

Of course, a listing of such notables does not represent an accurate percentage of the entire population that has succumbed to COVID-19. As I counted out the number of deaths, it brought back to me memories of AIDS, which has also taken a number of notable people, including actors, writers, artists, scientists, and politicians. 

Forty years ago, just as AIDS was beginning to hit the gay community, my then wife and I decided to move with our 5-year-old daughter to the San Francisco Bay Area. For me, it was time for a change, and I had become weary of conservative San Diego. I was ready for a new community where progressive thinking represented the mainstream of the population. Yes, the community of Ocean Beach, where we last lived, was a very progressive place, but it was an island in a sea of rightwing politics. We lived in our little ghetto. If we wanted to see a movie, we walked to the Strand Theater. The Rocky Horror Picture Show was the midnight movie every Saturday. Food shopping was, of course, at OB Peoples Food. Couldn’t afford new clothes? The free box was behind the store, and the price was right. After several years, that was not enough.

Although I did not tell my family at the time, I had another consideration for moving to the Bay Area. The growing gay community in San Francisco was drawing me. Yes, there was a growing gay community in OB. However, San Francisco had so much more to offer. I was planning to eventually come out to my family and transition to a new life. I decided to wait until by daughter was a few years older. I did not want to leave my spouse alone to care for a small child.

In 1981, we bought a house. I was working in Point Richmond and commuting to work by bicycle. I had become a newspaper junkie and would stop in Albany (California, not New York) to pick up the morning papers; the Los Angeles Times that was flown up from LA earlier that morning and the national edition of the New York Times that was transmitted by satellite and printed by the Contra Costa Times. It was just a few weeks after moving into our house that I stopped at the newspaper racks was confronted by a disturbing headline. I am not sure which newspaper had the front page story, but it hit me like a brick. A strange cancer was spreading among gay men. No one could figured out why. It didn’t look good. It wasn’t long before the news became increasingly bleak. Instead of a few years, I ended up spending an entire decade in the closet. I was too afraid to come out for fear that I would catch this strange disease with a guaranteed death sentence.

Now those memories of four decades ago were returning with COVID-19. I found the need to process those feelings and memories. From my bookshelf, I pulled my hard bound copy of Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On, the story of the first years of AIDS. Although I had picked it up from time to time as a reference work, it mostly sat on the shelf since the first time I read it three decades ago. I read it again, cover to cover.

There are obvious differences between the current COVID-19 and AIDS pandemics. AIDS is not spread by casual contact, although many people were panicking at the time over false stories that it could be. The lag time between infection and appearance of symptoms is much longer with AIDS. For COVID-19 that time is measured in days and weeks. The HIV virus hides in the bodies of its victims for years before becoming what we have come to call full blown AIDS. Unlike early years of AIDS, there was no mystery over what COVID-19 was or how it was spread. We have had corona viruses before. This is just a new type that our immune systems are not equipped to combat. 

However, there are a number of similarities between the two, which is why I decided to reread Shilts’ book.

Federal government fails to act

Both AIDS and COVIC-19 arrived during a period of fiscally conservative government. The Reagan administration arrived in 1981 with the philosophy that government was the problem and cutting the size of government was the solution. The budgets of the Center for Disease Control and other agencies devoted to the health and welfare of the general public were drastically slashed. Nothing was left to fight a mysterious, new disease that was first known as gay cancer and continued to be renamed until AIDS became the consensus designation. Even as medical researchers, members of Congress, and gay activists pleaded for more money and resources, the Reagan White House refused to budge. Any non military government spending was government waste, as far as they were concerned.

That small government philosophy is again at the center of the Trump administration, which has measured its success on the number of government regulations it has ripped up, especially those designed to protect our environment. Beyond the budget and regulation cutting, government failure has taken on a new dimension with the entry of Donald Trump into the White House. From the first day of his administration, Trump has proven himself to be completely unfit for the job of President. He entered the office with no previous experience in government. He boasted his ability to lead was based on his business experience, even though his failures in business are clearly documented, such as in Trump Nation by Timothy O’Brien. He has shown little interest in learning how government works and even asserted that Article II of the Constitution gives him the power to do anything he wants. Thanks to a complicit Republican controlled Senate, he has escaped removal by impeachment. Trump has operated like an organized crime boss, motivated only by self interest. His closest family members are now in charge of the White House, even though they are as inexperienced as he is. Turmoil and confusion have reigned with high staff turnovers and many positions being held by “acting” administrators. He is obsessed with undoing everything his predecessor Barack Obama has accomplished, starting with the Affordable Care Act that has provided medical insurance to millions of previously uninsured Americans. During the transition between the outgoing and incoming administrations, a training exercise involved how to respond to a global pandemic. Two thirds of the Trump team involved in that exercise have since left the administration. In addition, the Obama administration created a handbook on how to respond to a pandemic. That handbook has sat on the shelf, unread, since Trump took office. Trump fired Obama’s pandemic response team and later denied it, even though he is recorded on video admitting to the firing. He said he was doing it to save money. Even as the virus was spreading into the United States in February, Trump was calling it a hoax, just as he has called global warming a hoax. He would later deny saying that, even though that too is documented on video. He contradicts the advice of medical experts, bringing even more confusion and doubt among the public. Without a consistent and truthful message, Trump is only making the situation worse.

Stigmatizing, shame, and blame

During one of his press briefings on COVID-19, Trump admitting to a reporter that he takes no responsibility for his government’s failure to act. Just as with other crises, Trump would rather find others to blame. It is all China’s fault, he has asserted. He has accused China of failing to provide accurate information, even though Trump’s own intelligence agencies were giving him plenty of accurate information in early January. The Trump team insisted on calling it the Chinese virus and Wuhan virus. Blaming the Chinese has led to violent attacks on Asian Americans. Since then, Trump has pulled back on calling it a China virus. He has shifted his attack on New York City, which is getting hit especially hard as the pandemic grows across the country. Blame the liberal, Democratic, urban dwellers. Blame the poor who live in overcrowded apartments or on the street. Blame the immigrants from the South, even though there are fewer cases in Mexico than in the United States and borders walls won’t stop communicable diseases.

Gays took the blame for AIDS in the eighties, a well as the poor, the intravenous drug users, the sex workers, Africans, and other people with non-white skin. It was easier to blame the already stigmatized groups that face continual discrimination than find out how to treat or even prevent infections in the first place. As a result, many bright and talented people have been taken from us, just as the coronavirus has taken the notable people who fill the lists on Wikipedia. 

Public apathy and the failure of the media to report

Through the first years of AIDS, very few people cared. The media didn’t care and generally failed to report on the disease when only the stigmatized people in society were the victims. Ronald Reagan never mentioned AIDS during most of his two terms in the White House. That all changed with the death of Rock Hudson. Having a Hollywood star fall victim to the disease suddenly made it worth covering. By that time, it was too late for the thousands who had contracted HIV and were now dying of AIDS. Precious time was lost.

So it has been with the spread of the coronavirus. Not enough people took it seriously until after infections started popping up all over the country. By then, it was too late to contain. Now, we have to the price by basically shutting down the entire economy. If we had only demanded more preparation, more testing from the start, more ventilators in our hospitals, and more protective masks for our doctors and nurses. If only fewer of us had bought the Trump line that it was all a hoax.

Communities in denial

When we look back at the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, one persistent image will be the thousands of young people on Florida beaches during Spring Break, blatantly ignoring warnings to avoid close contact. Only old people were dying, they told reporters. They preferred taking the risk of getting sick than giving up their fun on the beach. However, COVID-19 kills young people, too. In addition, infected young people can spread the disease to family and friends when they return home, including the especially vulnerable elderly.

In spite of decades of warnings from health care professionals that the next pandemic was not a question of “if” but “when,” we failed to heed their warnings and failed to prepare. We now must pay that price.

When AIDS emerged among gay men in the early eighties, it wasn’t long before unsafe sexual practices were being identified as a chief source of transmission. Much of the unsafe behavior was taking place in San Francisco’s bathhouses. Those who called for the closing of the bathhouses were accused of being homophobic and enemies of gay rights. Local politicians were too timid to challenge the power of gay rights activists and the powerful bathhouse owners. Eventually, the bathhouses were shut down. By then, the disease was already out of control.

Bathhouses weren’t the only businesses in denial. Blood banks failed to screen blood donors early in the epidemic, even as evidence showed the virus was being spread through blood. Hemophiliacs were early victims when infected plasma donors spread the virus though Factor VIII, a treatment used for clotting blood. As with the politicians too timid to close the bathhouses, the blood and plasma industries were afraid of offending gay activists.

Look for the helpers

Many of us are familiar with this quote from Fred Rogers:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of “disaster;” I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.”

The bright spot in the similarities between COVID-19 and AIDS are the helpers who have stepped up to the challenge and responded with compassion and love. During this pandemic, they include the doctors, nurses, and other medical technicians who are treating patients while risking contracting the disease themselves. They are the essential workers that can’t stay home. They stock the shelves and bag the groceries at our supermarkets, as we cue up in long lines, keeping our physical distances, waiting to get inside and shop. They are the undocumented farmworkers who get those crops to market. They are the caretakers of the sick, elderly, and disabled. They are the neighbors entertaining each other from opposite sides of the street, singing from the balconies, and applauding en masse in the evening for the medical teams treating the disease.

In the time of AIDS, when no one else cared, the gay community learned they needed to care for each other. They created social service organizations and educational campaigns. The Shanti Project, a recently created organization for counseling those at the end of life, found new purpose, serving those dying of AIDS. In New York, writer and activist Larry Kramer cofounded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and wrote a play on AIDS, The Normal Heart. The gay community was not only caring for each other, but convincing heterosexuals to start caring, as well.

AIDS hit the Bay Area especially hard. I doubt there is any person here who does not know at least one person who has died of AIDS. My first knowledge of AIDS coming to my neighborhood was the death of a nurse who lived around the corner. I hardly knew him, and I didn’t know he was gay. Then, a former housemate died a few years after moving to another part of town. I shouldn’t have been surprised. She was an alcoholic and and a drug user. I don’t know if she was injecting drugs, but her immune system was surely compromised by her drug abuse. Ironically, her bisexual boyfriend remained HIV negative. He may even be alive today. I have not seen him in a couple of decades. When I decided to return to college in the early nineties and earn my bachelor’s degree, one of my classmates was a lovely man named Micah who was one of the cofounders of the Radical Faeries. I would visit him in his Haight Ashbury apartment and watch him treat his Kaposi’s Sarcoma lesions. He did not live to see the end of the spring semester. I returned to the Haight Ashbury apartment to attend his memorial. We sat in a circle, passing around the urn that held Micah’s ashes. Placing our fingers gently into the ashes, we said our goodbyes.

As I write this, there are over thirty cases of COVID-19 in Berkeley and no deaths. News of the first case came in an email from Berkeley’s mayor Jesse Arreguin. I was checking my phone as I was serving as a poll worker in the California primary election. A few acquaintances of mine across the country may have the virus. They don’t know because they can’t get tested. Will closer friends and family of mine become infected? That appears to be another question of not “if” but “when.”

Postscript 

As I was rereading And the Band Played On, I was struck by volume of AIDS history that has happened since the book was published. Randy Shilts died of AIDS in 1994 at age 42. His funeral was protested by the homophobic Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. Like others on the Religious Right, Phelps and his followers believe AIDS is God’s punishment of gay people. The church would gain more attention when it started picketing the funerals and burials of soldiers who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The protests provoked a debate on the limits of the first amendment.

When the book ended, the virus was finally given the term HIV after months of fighting between French and American researchers over who actually discovered it. In the last pages, AZT is identified as a possible treatment. The famous AIDS cocktail drugs were yet to come. Those drugs are now allowing those who are HIV positive to live normal lives. It is now possible for those with HIV to die of old age and from an unrelated illness. In addition, we now have PrEP which reduces the risk of infection from HIV.

Another controversial drug that emerged to treat AIDS patients was marijuana. Advocates of medicinal marijuana had previously touted it as a treatment for glaucoma. Now AIDS patients were viewing marijuana as a pain reliever, including for the nausea caused by chemotherapy. Loss of appetite was a common symptom of AIDS, and marijuana was found to be an appetite stimulant. In San Francisco, Mary Jane Rathburn became an unlikely hero. Famously known as Brownie Mary, she served pot-laced brownies to AIDS patients. She was actually one of a number of pot bakers, including Sticky Fingers Brownies, recently featured on KQED’s California Report Magazine. https://www.kqed.org/news/11810441/home-baked-how-pot-brownies-brought-some-relief-during-the-aids-epidemic . Activists like Rathburn and Dennis Peron were instrumental in the campaign to get marijuana legalized for medicinal use. We now have legal pot for both medical and recreational use.

Larry Kramer, cofounder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and author of The Normal Heart would go on to found the activist group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash the Power.) Known for their In-Your-Face activism, ACT UP members staged protests, such as die-ins in public places. Their protest at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, protesting the Catholic Church’s opposition to condoms, were among their most controversial activities. Kramer’s and ACT UP’s lobbying of the FDA resulted in the streamlining of the approval process for drugs to treat HIV/AIDS. Kramer’s play would be followed by more dramatic and artistic works on the subject of AIDS, including Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.

Cleve Jones, who is a prominent figure through most of the book, would go on to national fame with his creation of the Names Project. The AIDS quilts created by the Names Project have been displayed all across the country, including on the National Mall.

After Shilts’ book, the struggle for gay and lesbian equality took on new dimensions as transgendered people demanded inclusion. The movement took on the letters LGBT. Shilts’ followup and last book, Conduct Unbecoming, chronicled the movement of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Bill Clinton campaigned for president on the issue, and the resulting compromise passed by Congress was called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Barack Obama would later campaign against that compromise, and, ultimately, LGBT people were able to serve openly in the military.

In 1989, the San Francisco Examiner ran a special edition on the twentieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. As part of that edition, the Examiner conducted an extensive opinion poll on the public’s attitudes on LGBT rights. They found a majority of the public was very supportive, except in one area, marriage. People were overwhelmingly opposed to legalizing same sex marriage. Conservative Republicans ran on the issue, enacting state laws and even a national law called the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA. Through much of the last century and into the current one, Democrats who even supported civil unions were on record opposed to same sex marriage. Gays and lesbians started fighting back. A movement that once asserted its right to have anonymous and promiscuous sex was now demanding legal recognition for monogamous relationships. President Obama “evolved” on marriage equality and won his reelection. The battle went to the Supreme Court, and DOMA was overturned thanks to another unlikely hero, an elderly, lesbian named Edith Windsor. Soon, full marriage equality would become the law of the land. 

A follow up to Shilts’ book would be a valuable contribution to not only the continuing history of HIV/AIDS, but to the change of attitudes leading to LGBTQ (yes, we have added “queer” to that alphabet) equality. Maybe an enterprising journalist will take up the project where Randy Shilts left off.

April 7, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Staying Home, Part 2

I am beginning my second week of obeying my state’s stay-at-home orders. I have decided to remain in my house until at least the end of the month. As I wrote in my previous blog post, I consider this my job now. I need to send the message that I take this pandemic seriously and am willing to do whatever it takes to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Over the next week, I will be watching the news closely. If I feel comfortable, I may decide to return to work on April 1. In the meantime, I have been assured that my insurance benefits through Alameda Alliance are not in jeopardy if I fail to work the required 80 hours per month. I do want to get back to serving my recipients. I expect that I would be going directly to work and then directly home, avoiding any other social contact. Then I will consider if it is OK to return to regular shopping. Yes, we are running low on toilet paper, and my prescription for my cholesterol-lowering drug needs to be refilled by April 5.

Like many I am spending more time online. My weekly Quaker meetings for worship (Strawberry Creek Meeting and Berkeley Meeting) are now conducted via Zoom. I have another Zoom meeting coming up this week to decide if we are going to cancel our spring quarterly meeting that is scheduled for mid-May.

My biggest disappointment is that we won’t be holding our annual Berkeley CROP Hunger Walk next Sunday, as planned. It is organized by the international relief organization, Church Word Service, and allows us to fundraise for local hunger relief agencies. Our Berkeley agencies are the Berkeley Food Pantry (run by Berkeley Friends Church), Dorothy Day House, and Youth Spirit Artworks. The money is split with CWS getting 75% and the local agencies receiving 25%. Even though the walk is cancelled you can still donate online to our Berkeley Quakers Team, https://www.crophungerwalk.org/berkeleyca/BerkeleyQuakers . Thanks.

March 22, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I’m Staying Home

Why I’m Staying Home

3/17/2020

While I have been considering how I would need to respond the COVID-19 epidemic for a number of weeks now, it all became very real for me when I watched Governor Gavin Newsom’s press conference on Sunday, March 15. Right off the bat, he announced that everyone 65 years and older need to stay in their homes and not go anywhere; no work, no shopping, nothing. 

Yes, he was talking to me. I am a couple of weeks away from my 70th birthday. The day before, I was standing with the crowd at Berkeley Bowl West, buying milk and thinking that this may not have been a good idea. However, I needed milk, just like I needed to do my work as an in home care provider earlier that day. I just got on my bicycle and rode to the places I needed to go.

I didn’t need another job. However, Governor Newsom has given me a new job. I now have the job of staying home. That changes the other jobs I have.

Even though I don’t smoke or have any other health problems that put me at risk for serious complications from COVID-19, I do care for people who have those risks, such as diabetes. I have not been experiencing any of the symptoms, and the chances I have come in contact with a person with the virus are low. If people without symptoms are able to spread the virus to others, however, that justifies me staying away from others who are at risk.

My IHSS work mostly involves housekeeping and shopping. While another person could fill in for me and do my jobs, finding a person to work in my place will not be easy. I am hoping for guidance from my union, SEIU 2015. Governor Newsom said at his press conference that he was talking with the union.

If I get COVID-19 and do recover, there is still the chance that I would become seriously ill, possibly needing a hospital bed and a respirator, I would become a part of the overload that our hospitals are facing right now. By keeping myself away from the virus, I would be part of the solution and not be an additional burden on our healthcare system.

So this is my new job. I am letting the world know I am taking this crisis seriously by complying with the Governor’s directive. That directive came one day before the counties in the entire Bay Area decided that everyone, regardless of age, need to limit their activities and stay home as much as possible. I am working at home, doing the jobs I don’t get paid for. I have been spending more time on Zoom, including two Quaker meetings for worship on Sunday, a Quaker  clerks’ meeting before that, and a meeting of the Alameda County chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby last night. I am not hurting financially. I do have 8 hours in sick pay through my union contract. I will be getting my social security check by direct deposit next week. On my birthday, I will get a nice, new present from New York Life, as I start drawing down on my 403b retirement account. in addition to Social Security, I am on Medicare. My main concern is that I have a health plan through my work, Alameda Alliance, that is my supplemental insurance for what Medicare does not pay for, such as dental care and prescription drugs. For that benefit I need to work 80 hours per month. I know I will fall short this month. I am hoping for some guidance from my union.

I am optimistic that I will be celebrating my 70th birthday, even if it is at home. After that my goal is to be alive on Tuesday, November 3, when I cast my ballot in the presidential election. I will vote to remove the incompetent and corrupt Donald Trump from office. Join me in voting for the Democratic Party nominee for President and replacing the cowardly Republican senators who failed to do their duties to remove Trump from office by impeachment. 

March 17, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Un Happy New Year

New Year 2020 is not going well for many of us. Wild fires in Australia are being fueled by a warming climate. Donald Trump kills an Iranian general and risks war with that country. Angry, depressed, and frustrated, I decided to go on a bike ride. After completing needed business this morning, I decided to take a ride across the Richmond-San Rafael bridge. I have wanted to return since riding out with many cyclists on the day it opened. I wanted to see if the trail was getting sufficient use. I also thought of taking a ride on SMART, which has been extended to the Larkspur ferry. The weather was just right for a ride across the bridge. Unfortunately, I never made it.

Leaving Point Richmond, I arrived at the intersection where the trail crosses the I-580 off ramp and then goes under the freeway to continue on the side that faces Chevron. A truck was parked right at the corner, completely blocking the entrance to the path on the other side of the street. A man was standing on the truck, trying to adjust the Walk sign. I saw that another path could get me around the blocked path, so I rode across the street, noticing that a car was approaching, and I didn’t know which of us had the green light. I quickly rode onto the adjacent path and suddenly found myself being thrown from my bike. I landed on the pavement on my left hand and left knee. The worker came rushing to help, pulling my bicycle off of me. I noticed that the knuckles on both of my hands were scraped and bleeding a bit. I put a small hole in the knee of my new jeans. I helped myself up to the curb as the worker explained that someone had hit the walk sign, and he was trying to fix it. I looked back and saw the cause of my tumble. There was a hole in the middle of the path that had a small piece of metal sticking up from it. I did not see it as I was crossing the street and ran right into it. Damage to the bike was minimal. My front reflector broke off my handlebars. The chain came off my front sprocket, although I did not notice until after I coasted down to the underpass, where I found a bench to sit on for awhile. 

I was hoping that my injuries were minor. Then I noticed my little finger getting sore and stiff. After getting the chain back onto the sprocket, I realized I needed to get home and get an ice pack on my injured hand. I walked my bike back to Point Richmond. On the way, I noticed that a short pole was covering the hole that caused my tumble. It appears that the worker had removed the pole so he could drive his truck onto the path by the signal light. The truck was now gone, and the worker had returned the pole to its place. If it had been there before, I definitely would have seen it and not run into it.

At Point Richmond, I waited for the 72M that would get me back to Berkeley via San Pablo Avenue. It was then a one block walk to my house on Channing Way.

I spent the rest of the afternoon on my bed with a cold pack on my hand. I noticed that it was slightly swollen. I discovered a large bruise under my knee where I had ripped a hole in my jeans.

Although I never made it to the bridge to assess the traffic situation, I saw that the trail leading to the bridge was getting some decent ridership.

I am still hopeful I will live to celebrate my 70th birthday this year, if I can keep myself all in one piece.

January 4, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

My email – Congress needs to impeach Trump

While I would have liked to have seen more than two articles of impeachment being voted on by Congress, I believe that these two articles are sufficient to remove Donald Trump from the office he continues to abuse. Speaker Pelosi has moved with appropriate caution on the use of the power of impeachment. She was criticized when she refused to impeach George Bush over the war in Iraq. I agreed with her then, I agree with her now. Impeachment is a serious use of congressional power and should not be used casually. 

On the other hand, I am extremely angry with congressional Republicans who appear to value the interests of their political party over the wellbeing of our country. This is not the Republican Party of 1974, when its leaders convinced Richard Nixon to resign rather than be impeached. It shows that the Republican Party no longer exists. It is now the party of Trump.

When Robert Mueller’s report was released, Republicans defended Donald Trump’s actions by arguing that he was a political novice who didn’t know what he was doing was illegal, i.e. inviting a foreign government to interfere with an election and obstructing the investigation of that interference. Then, the very next day after Robert Mueller testified before Congress, Donald Trump, in a phone call with the President of Ukraine, asked a foreign government to interfere with the 2020 election. So if Mr. Trump was ignorant of the law then, he cannot argue that now. In fact, one argument on why he continues to abuse the powers of his office is that Congress has failed to act on his past offenses. If that is the case, he is sure to continue to commit these abuses through the rest of his term.

As many have pointed out, this is more than a case of bribery and coverup. To argue that we should wait until the next election to remove Donald Trump from office fails to address the real concern, that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election and are clearly doing so again in the 2020 election. Our democracy is under attack, while Donald Trump and congressional Republicans continue to be a willing partners in that attack. Even in the impeachment hearings, they are spreading the Russian propaganda that Ukraine interfered in 2016 on behalf of Hillary Clinton, as well as other baseless charges against the Bidens.

In addition, if Congress does not use its power to impeach when appropriate, then impeachment as a power that has been lost. Future presidents will agree with Donald Trump that Article II gives them the power to do anything they want.

The Republicans may be right that Democratic members of Congress risk losing reelection by supporting impeachment. Like Speaker Pelosi, I am willing to take that risk. That is the risk of putting your country before your political party. I am ready to work for the reelection of those who vote to defend the Constitution against the blatant misuse of presidential power.

December 12, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Poway, Spring 1969

The news of the horrible shooting at Chabad of Poway has affected me in a personal way. It brings the memories of my own experience living in Poway, California. It was about 50 years ago that I moved to Poway and would live there, off and on for a couple of years. The news coverage reveals a Poway in 2019 that seems different than the one where I lived in 1969. The shooting itself reveals a Poway where little has changed.

Much of this story is in a personal web page I created on Tripod, which I call my adoption story. http://tfyamaguchi.tripod.com/adoption.html It was Easter Sunday in 1969 when my brother Joe invited me to attend mass at the San Diego Mission. He was a regular attender of La Jolla Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). I had pleaded with him a number of times to take me to Quaker Meeting, and he had refused my requests. Now, sitting in the crowded, historic, Catholic mission, my brother turned to me and whispered, “This is boring. Do you want to leave?” My answer was yes, and we ended up at La Jolla meeting for worship. It was my first Quaker meeting, and I felt like I had arrived home.

It was there that I met Tad and Alice Yamaguchi. When they found out I was living in rather miserable conditions in a boarding house in the North Park section of San Diego, they offered me a room in their home in Poway. I enthusiastically joined the Yamaguchi communal household. By that fall, my own last name would change from Campbell to Yamaguchi.

Poway in 1969 was a small and growing suburb. There were large open spaces that have since been filled in with more housing. It was just about 100% WASP. Many of the residents were in the Navy, being an easy commute from Miramar Naval Air Station. Poway public schools had a reputation of being progressive, but I would not know. I was determined to finish my high school year at Mission Bay and got a ride there every day from a teacher who also lived in Poway. The most ethnic diversity in the area was to the north in Escondido, which has a large Latino population. That is where a mosque was burned a few weeks ago, and the suspected synagogue shooter is considered a suspect in that arson fire. The only Jewish person I remember meeting while living in Poway was a coworker in a restaurant in Rancho Bernardo, which is located between Poway and Escondido.

When I moved in Alice told me about the racism she experienced in Poway. A black family was visiting their home on the quiet cul-de-sac. She went for a walk down the street with the two children of the family. As they walked hand-in-hand, she heard the neighbors talking loudly to each other. They were clearly intent on having their voices heard by Alice and the children, letting them know they were not welcome in the neighborhood. Hearing the children she was with being called “niggers” was too much for Alice to bear. She rushed the children back to the house with tears streaming down her face. When I moved in, there was a sign on the door with the message that all people were welcome, regardless of race and religion. At least there was one place on that cul-de-sac where that was the case.

Another time when our politics conflicted with the conservative views of our neighbors was on a day of nationwide protests against the Vietnam War. A small group of us stood on Poway Road with signs stating our opposition to the war. Those who drove by us responded with insults, calling us communists and traitors. I was actually afraid for my life that day. Fortunately, there was no violence.

There were other events that captured my attention in 1969. One was the first humans to walk on the moon, which I described in my blog post The Eagle Lands on Pomerado Road. https://tomyamaguchi.blog/2009/07/20/the-eagle-lands-on-pomerado-road/ Woodstock happened that summer, as well as the Manson Family murders. One news event that failed to reach me in that quiet town of Poway was the Stonewall riots. I had heard the news Judy Garland’s death on the radio while riding in a car pool headed to San Marcos Community College. As we cruised along the 78 freeway, George Jessel was offering his condolences and sharing his memories of the singer. Years later, I learned how Garland’s death had a role in the rise of the modern gay rights movement. I was in the closet then. Poway in 1969 was not a place where someone would want to come out as gay.

Decades after living in northern San Diego County, I am fascinated by how much has changed there, especially in politics. After an extremely close reelection, conservative Republican Darrell Issa decided to retire from his congressional seat in 2016 and was replaced by a Democrat. Orange County, directly to the north of San Diego and known for being the bedrock of Republicanism, switched to entirely Democratic House representatives in that election. 

When I lived there, both state and national representatives were proud members of the John Birch Society. Given the proximity of Camp Pendleton and the already mentioned Naval Air Station, it would not be surprising to find such a conservative bent in the electorate. Now, that electorate is changing with the coast becoming more urban and more liberal. Unfortunately, racism, antisemitism, and anti-immigration sentiment is still alive in North County, as that part of San Diego is known. The nineteen-year-old white man suspected in two hate crimes has made that evident. We will know more about his beliefs and his world view as the story unfolds. The sad news is there are too many more people just like him.

April 29, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment