Tomyamaguchi’s Weblog

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Trump’s Dog Whistle

Is Donald Trump a racist? Honestly, I don’t know. I can’t read what’s in his heart any better than others. I would ask in turn, was Lee Atwater a racist? Atwater created the Willie Horton ad for George H. W. Bush’s campaign. Meanwhile, Atwater enjoyed hanging out with black musicians and playing blues music. The Horton ad is one of example of how racism has been used by cynical politicians to get elected. Ian Haney Lopez’s Dog Whistle Politics examines how politicians can exploit voter bias without being blatant enough to get caught. It is called plausible deniability. In the case of Willie Horton, at no time is he identified as black. The ads don’t have to. His picture says it all; big, scary black man who looks means and angry. Flash the words “rape” and “murder” with his face and the picture is complete. If you call out Dog Whistlers on their race baiting, they will not only deny it, but accuse you of racism. Obviously, you are the one seeing something that they can pretend wasn’t intended.

The Trump Dog Whistle is no different or original. His appeals for “Law and Order” are taken directly from Richard Nixon and George Wallace. He even took “Make America Great Again” from Ronald Reagan. To Trump, America was great when it was controlled by white, heterosexual men.

Then there is Trump’s Birtherism. The goal of the Birthers is delegitimize Obama’s presidency by accusing him of being born in Africa. He is not a real American. He is an outsider, not one of us. He isn’t white. When Tea Party demonstrators say, “We want our country back,” they mean from the black man who does not have the legitimacy to run it. (BTW, Trump now blames the origins of the Birther movement on Hillary Clinton, when it as actually started by the right wingers.)


The use of the word “our” is interesting in this graphic from a Trump email. It is a photo of the Clinton’s embracing in the Oval office with the narrative “Don’t let Hillary move back into OUR White House.” The “our” is in all caps, bringing attention to the next word, which is “White.” This house is for whites. The Clintons, who associate with the black man Obama, lost their legitimacy to be there.

I blogged earlier this summer about Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow.” Again, I urge everyone to read it to understand how structural racism works in modern American society. Alexander and Lopez use the term “colorblindness” as the way Dog Whistlers shut down the discussion of racism and deny that their tactics are racist. With their bizarre logic, the Black Lives Matter movement is racist.

Trump has had trouble with disavowing support from white supremacists and has even shared their social media posts. When asked directly, he pleads ignorance. “I don’t know.” Historians have found how immigrant bashing is similar to the Know-Nothings just before the civil war.

When Trump gave his Wisconsin speech to a primarily white audience, he wanted us to believe he was appealing to black voters. In reality, he wants his prejudiced white supporters feel more comfortable with their prejudice.

Trump’s History Undermines New Outreach to Black Voters

Trump West Bend, Wisconsin speech

While dying of brain cancer, Atwater came to regret his use of race to win an election. Let’s hope that something that drastic doesn’t happen to Trump before he realizes that his campaign for the presidency is a part of the problem, not the solution.

There are so many reasons why Trump should not be elected President, I have lost count. I am listing as many reasons as I can on why a Trump presidency will be a disaster. It will definitely be a setback for race relations in this country. That is why we need to defeat Donald Trump by double digits and prove that race baiting has no place in American politics.

September 22, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Know Nothing Donald

Like many people early in the election season, I underestimated the support for Donald Trump’s presidential bid. Then Trump began to rack up delegates and force more mainstream candidates out of the race. I realized his isolationist, anti-immigrant message was striking a chord with many more people that I had been willing to accept.

Trump’s campaign has been compared to the rise of fascism in Europe before World War II, bolstered by Trump’s retweets of Neo-Nazis and Benito Mussolini himself. Much of Trump’s onstage demeanor is comparable to Mussolini. The crowds at his rallies chant “Trump! Trump! Trump!” in unison, evoking the atmosphere of a Hitler rally.

Comparing Trump to Hitler can be problematic. Trump has no plans for world domination and prefers economic isolationism. Nor would he get away with building concentration camps, even if he wanted to. He’d be too busy deporting immigrants and building a wall on the Mexican border. I doubt he will even be able to get those done.

It turns out, we don’t need to look to early Twentieth Century Europe to find a comparable time in history. We can find it here in the US in the decade before the civil war. I heard historian Kathleen Frydl explain it in a radio interview. She was talking about the the Know-Nothings. Officially, they were called the American Party that rose after the dissolution of the Whigs. Know-Nothings were notable for scapegoating immigrants, then mostly Irish and Catholic. Meanwhile, the country drifted to civil war, unable to resolve the issue of slavery.

I really enjoyed Frydl’s analysis and read her article in the Huffington Post. I was familiar with the Know-Nothings. My late housemate was a history buff who had a special interest in the Whigs. He joked that William Henry Harrison was our greatest president because, by dying of pneumonia one month into his term, he was not able to do anything terrible.

Not long after reading Frydl’s article, I read the news of Trump’s appearance on CNN’s State of the Union. He was being questioned about the endorsements he was getting from David Duke and white supremacists. Trump’s response was “I don’t know anything about David Duke, okay? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists.” I realized how correct Frydl turned out to be. Donald Trump is a Know-Nothing. I occasionally use the hashtag #KnowNothingDonald when I see more examples of Trump’s Know-Nothing-ism. Some examples:

Trump appeared to connect Ted Cruz’s father with Lee Harvey Oswald. When confronted, he again deflected by saying he didn’t know anything about Cruz’s father.

At a rally, he told the audience that they would not be able to do anything once President Hillary Clinton begins appointing justices. He adds that “second amendment people” might find a way to do something about it, quickly followed with “I don’t know.”

When Clinton came down with a case of pneumonia, which is a lot more curable now than in Harrison’s time, Trump responded on Fox News. ”I hope she gets well soon. I don’t know what’s going on,” Trump said. “The coughing fit was a week ago — I assume that was pneumonia also.”

Today, Trump bashes immigrants, especially Mexicans, and Muslims. Ask him about global warming, and he replies it is a hoax. Just as the Know-Nothings did in the Nineteenth Century, Trump bashes immigrants, while not dealing with the serious issues that we confront in the Twenty-first Century. Let’s hope the story doesn’t have the same tragic ending.

Know Nothing politicians won’t take responsibility for the actions of the people they provoke. That for me, is the most disturbing part. They send coded messages to their supporters, called the Dog Whistle. I will write more about that later. Before that, I would like to address Trump and civil rights. Stay tuned.

See Kathleen Frydl’s article in the Huffington Post:

Also, 2016 Republicans: A “Know Nothing” party for the 21st Century by Mark DeLucia in Salon:

September 22, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Must be Fifty Ways/reasons I oppose electing Trump

Honestly, I have lost count of all the reasons why I don’t want to see Donald Trump elected as President of the United States. I can’t think of a worse candidate nominated by a major party in my lifetime. Last January, I was among the many who believed there was no way Trump would last through the early primaries. I expected a more mainstream Republican, such as Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, or Jeb Bush to eventually win the nomination. Surely Republicans will come to their senses, I thought. That didn’t happen. To me, that is the most troublesome part of this election; that many people actually think Donald Trump is a good idea. How bad would a Trump presidency be? Let me count the ways.

When Paul Simon performed at the Democratic convention, I think it is safe to say his contribution was among the lesser moments of that convention. He sang Bridge Over Troubled Water, which is a great song. In fact Simon and Garfunkel sang it at the Democratic convention in 1972. The trouble is that Garfunkel was the lead singer on that song, and, although Simon is not a bad singer, he certainly is not as good as Garfunkel. So, we connect that song with Garfunkel’s voice. Simon would have been better off singing one of the songs he wrote for his solo career. I started thinking of songs that would work. Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover comes to mind. With a few changes, it could become Fifty Ways to Leave Your Nominee, and he could sing it to the Republicans.

I don’t know if I can list 50 reasons to not elect Trump, but I thought I would give it a try. I would like to start with Trump’s candidacy against the “rigged system.”

Trump is warning his followers that he won’t win because the electoral process itself is rigged. It plays very well into his conspiracy theory thinking. The real forces in control will determine the outcome. They will orchestrate wide spread voter fraud that allows people to vote multiple times and stack the results against Trump. As a person who has worked as an election officer at my local polls over the years, I have one question for Trump. Has he even participated in the electoral process or paid much attention to how that process works? If he did, he would know that first time voters need to show some form of ID in federal elections. That has been happening since the passage of HAVA (Help America Vote Act) when George W. Bush was president. Every person needs to sign her or his name on the roster before receiving a ballot. The idea of someone coming in five or ten times on one day to vote is ludicrous. Even if someone wanted to register at different precincts under different names, she or he would have to get fake ID’s for each name before registering. And how much would that influence the final vote? Not enough to make it worth that much effort. In fact, if it was so easy, Trump could simply get his supporters to register multiple times to vote for him.

As President Obama has pointed out, each state runs its own elections and creates its own rules, as long as they don’t conflict with federal law. A number of states have enacted even stricter ID laws that are now being overturned by the federal courts for being too restrictive. Instead of ensuring fairness, they work to disenfranchise the minorities and the poor. If the system is rigged in anyone’s favor, it is in favor Trump’s supporters, who are upper income and more stable in their housing. They have no problem jumping through the hoops of restrictive Voter ID laws. The addresses on their driver licenses are more likely to match the addresses on the voting rosters.

So how can that system be rigged against Trump? Is he saying that election workers like me are rigging the system? OK, I admit it. I supported Hillary Clinton in the primary where I served as judge in my precinct. I didn’t say whom I was voting for to the other officers working with me, and they didn’t tell me who their candidates were either. To all of the people who came in to vote, none of us told them who our candidates were or whom to vote for. We couldn’t because it is against the law to campaign at a polling place. It looks like I didn’t have much influence anyway. While Clinton won Alameda County, Sanders beat her by over 100 votes in my precinct. Not surprisingly, our heavily Democratic precinct gave Trump only 3 votes.

Trump wants to send observers to polling locations to ensure the vote is fair. That’s fine and legal, just as long as they don’t interfere with the voting process or campaign while they are there. That means no signs, buttons, or shirts with the candidate’s name on them. They can’t interrupt election officials as they assist voters or intrude on voters’ privacy in the voting booths. Otherwise, there would be trouble. Would Trump followers cause trouble at the polls? Trump’s answer will probably be “I don’t know.” That brings me to a second reason why he should not be president. More to come.

September 20, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A New Year’s Resolution, discovering the New Jim Crow

I just followed up on a resolution I made for the New Year 2016, and the timing turned out to be very important. It was a resolution that Mark Zuckerberg made for 2015 that strongly influenced my decision. I have wanted to read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow for a number of years now. The book has been out since 2012. There has been a lot of talk about it in my Quaker community. Then I read about Zuckerberg’s resolution after he visited San Quentin prison last October . His visit was the result of his resolution to read the book earlier in the year. Reading it has led him to the issue of prison reform and the mass incarceration.
Like Zuckerberg, I had a number of books on my “to read” list and wanted to obtain as many as I could from the public library. The other books were easily obtainable, but the waiting list to check out Alexander’s book was months’ long. I could have put a reservation in and waited, but I decided to just keep checking back until a copy was available on the shelf. In June, I was at Pacific Yearly Meeting, a Quaker gathering in Marin County. As at every gathering, my friends Sandy and Tom Farley ran a bookstore they call Earthlight Books. I was actually there to buy another book and decided to include the New Jim Crow in my purchase. I decided I could pass it along to someone else after finishing it.
At the time, I was still recovering from the shock of the horrendous shootings in Orlando that month. I was able to find healing at yearly meeting, as well as at the baseball game I previously blogged about and by attending SF Pride on the last Sunday of the month. On the evening of July 4th, I passed on the opportunity to watch fireworks. Instead, I opened Alexander’s book and started to read. Within a few days, the lives of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castille,would be cut short by their encounters with police. I joined a peaceful protest in downtown Oakland on Thursday, sharing pictures on Twitter. It was on Twitter that I read the news coming out of Dallas. Coming away from the protest, I committed myself to finishing that book as soon as possible. I finished reading on Sunday night.
The purpose of this blog entry is to strongly urge everyone to get a copy of The New Jim Crow and read it right away. Whether you find it on the shelf of your local library or bookstore, find it and read it. You will not regret it. In fact, it is imperative that you read it before the November election.
As a white male, I must admit I was a bit skeptical as I read the beginning chapter. I was looking for holes in Alexander’s theory. “Yes, but what about…?” I would keep thinking to myself. Fortunately, Alexander gave a lot of thought to the same concerns. By the end of the book, all of the pieces of the puzzle came together for me. So, if you experience the same skepticism, just keep an open mind and keep reading.
The main focus of the book is the war on drugs and how that war has been selectively fought in the black ghettos. Racism against African Americans did not end with the outlawing of segregation, anymore than it didn’t end with the outlawing of slavery. Instead, it has evolved so not appear so blatant. It hides behind a mask of deniability and preys on our racial biases. While denying explicit bias, it is our implicit bias that subconsciously influences our behavior. An example is the story the late Robert Maynard told when he was the publisher of the Oakland Tribune. Walking the streets of downtown Oakland at night, he noticed that when he encountered groups of white women walking toward him, they would always cross the street and walk on the opposite side. They were fearful of coming in close contact with a black man, even one dressed in a business suit and tie.
Alexander’s most convincing argument is found in the subtitle, “Mass Incarceration in the Age of colorblindness.” It is this illusion of colorblindness that allows the New Jim Crow to perpetuate while appearing to be non-racist. It is this plausible deniability that manifests in very ugly politics. Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin want to convince us that the Black Lives Matter activists are the racists. Donald Trump calls for “Law and Order” just as Nixon did in 1968.
I hope that you will answer this call to make that resolution to yourself. After reading it, I invite you to comment to this blog. I would be happy to start a respectful conversation.

July 12, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Some thoughts after Orlando


I didn’t want to let the week go by without reflecting on the tragedy in Orlando. I was able to participate in a couple of events since then and tweeted out some photos. The most recent was a baseball game. I am not a big sports fan and neither was my family. In fact, this is only the third professional baseball game I have attended in my life.

On Tuesday, the Oakland Athletics hosted their second annual LGBT Pride game. I really wanted to go this year, as I had attended last year’s game against the San Diego Padres. That was the second game I have attended. I will get to the first one in a bit.

I was invited to the second game by a friend who was celebrating her birthday. A number of us joined her in celebration. For me, it was another example of how far our community had come, and yet how far we have to go; to be celebrated by a conservative institution that is major league baseball; to see people in the stands celebrating our diversity and finding love and acceptance; to find our place in sports history, remembering that one of the first openly gay athletes was Glenn Burke, who played for the A’s. Still, the game was not without controversy. A number of season ticket holders protested that they would not attend the game that night. In response, relief pitcher Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan bought tickets to donate to LGBT youth. That did not change the fact that there were a lot of empty seats that June 17 night. Still, this was another example of how the sports world was changing when heterosexual players become proud allies.

Oh, and we beat the Padres that night. I told my friends that, as a former San Diegan, I wouldn’t have been bothered by the outcome either way. It was nice that the A’s won. They weren’t so fortunate this year against the Texas Rangers.

With my experience at last year’s game, I really wanted to attend again this year and worked to find others to go with me. After I found out that some other friends was already bought their tickets and offered to allow me to join them, I went ahead a bought one ticket for myself. That was before the Orlando shooting.

The signs of love and support for Orlando, the tributes, and the moment of silence; these were all deeply moving. For me the most memorable was the singing of the national anthem by the Oakland-East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus. We all stood and sung along.

Which brings me to the first baseball game I ever attended. I was living in San Diego and attended a Padres game with my some friends. As young radicals, we took it all quite casually, smoking joints in the upper stands and sitting through the prerecorded national anthem being played by some generic orchestra. We laughed at the crowds below us, standing robotically to honor a country we believed did not deserve such honor. This was the country that gave us Jim Crow laws, Watergate, and the debacle of the Vietnam war. We did not care if we were seen as spoiled, selfist brats who refused to serve in the military. We did not see the United States of America as a country worth standing up for.

Michelle Obama received a fair amount of heat in the 2008 campaign when she said, “For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country…” She was immediately attacked as unpatriotic, for not loving this country enough, for not joining in the chorus of those who robotically stand up for the national anthem, not placing a hand on the heart the right way during the pledge of allegiance, etc.

I understood what Ms. Obama meant. She grew up in a different world than those those who called her unpatriotic. She has seen the America of Jim Crow, first hand. She grew up in that America of Watergate and Vietnam. Now she was seeing a new America and the work that was paying off. This is the America of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This is the America of annual LGBT Pride parades created in response to the Stonewall riots. This is the America that comes together and supports each other after tragedies in places like Orlando, Boston, Tucson, Atlanta, and Sandy Hook. That was what I was feeling when I stood and sang the national anthem at the Oakland Coliseum. I have found that pride in my country.

We are still a country with a history of Jim Crow, Watergate, and Vietnam. We are also a country intent on fulfilling the ideals and goals we set for ourselves with our constitution. Our pride comes through the work we do to make our country one we can be proud of.

Some other thoughts

On Sunday night, I joined those gathered at Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco for a candlelight vigil and march to City Hall. Being at Milk Plaza reminded me that Orlando was not the first time that hatred of gay people ended with a life being taken by a gun. Nor will it be the last. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus was off to the side, rehearsing “We Shall Overcome”. I started to cry. I cried again as the chorus performed at the vigil. Again, we stood and sang along. We sang Holly Near’s “Singing for Our Lives”, reminded that the song comes to us from the first march after the murder of Harvey Milk and George Moscone.

My thoughts turned to a word I have been thinking a lot about this year. That word is gratitude. In this tragedy, our community was coming together and sharing its gifts with each other. The Gay Men’s chorus was sharing the best gifts it could offer, their voices and their songs. Sharing these gifts helps our community to get through these tragedies and find strength to continue.

My last thought is about one victim from last weekend in Orlando. As far as I know, she wasn’t gay or Latina. She wasn’t even shot and killed on the morning of June 12. Her death occurred the morning before. Christina Grimmie was a singer, described as a Christian on her Wikipedia page. I did not know her. I was saddened to read the news that this rising, 22 year old singer was brutally killed by someone who drove from St. Petersburg with the intent of ending her life. She had been signing autographs for fans after a concert. We will never know what really motivated her killer. Like the shooter at the Pulse nightclub, the killer is dead, his thoughts and motivations dying with him.

Within 24 hours, her tragic story was replaced by another. That is not new. Each horrendous killing happens, one after another. We quickly forget the previous tragedy as the new one attracts our attention. It should remind us that the thread that connects all of these events is the easy access to guns. It is time to reject the notion that we can’t do anything about it. We can, and we must. People who have a history of violence should not have access guns, especially ones designed for war, not self defense. We need a change of laws and a change of attitudes. If we see something, we need to say something.

How many times have we read that a shooter had shown violent behavior in the past? How many have revealed their rage and hatred on social media? The shooter of Gabby Giffords had frightened his college classmates. None spoke to police about his potential access to guns. The Santa Barbara shooter openly showed his hatred of women who rejected him. His parents even called the police to check up on him. If the responding officers had taken a few more steps into his apartment, they would have found his arsenal. It is time to end the silence. Speaking up will save lives.

June 16, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Bike and Walk to Quaker Meeting 2016

On Sunday, May 22, a group of Quakers of Strawberry Creek Meeting in Berkeley celebrated Bike Month by bicycling to our meeting room. The week of May 22 to 29 was also celebrated as Bike to Worship Week by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

We started at North Berkeley BART Station, pedaling a short distance along the Ohlone Greenway to where it connects to California Street. We then rode California to Channing Way, Channing to Milvia, then Milvia to Derby, where we completed our travel to 2701 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.  California, Channing, and Milvia are three of Berkeley’s bicycle boulevards.

Leaving North Berkeley BART, from left: Henri Ducharme, Laura Magnani, Jay Cash, Marian Yu, Beth Rodman, Paul McCold, and Tom Yamaguchi

Arriving at Strawberry Creek Meeting, we were joined by Josh Gallup and Deborah Marks.

The following Sunday, May 29, we walked to meeting. This time we started at the downtown Berkeley BART station. Again, we walked down Milvia Street and right onto Derby. The last two blocks we walked in silence.


Leaving downtown Berkeley BART station. From left: Phyllis Malandra, Beth Rodman, Jay Cash, Paul McCold, and Charlie Lenk. On route, we were joined by Lisa Hubbell (on scooter) and Barbara Birch, who walked up from Emeryville. I took the picture with my iPhone and walked with my bicycle.

Thanks to Jay Cash for helping to organize, as well as bringing bagels, donuts, bike bags, bike stickers, maps, other printed material, and other biking and walking goodies; all given away after meeting.

June 1, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Leap Day 2016

Leap days have a special meaning for me. It was on Leap Day in 1980 when I moved from San Diego to the San Francisco Bay Area. That was 36 years ago or 9 Leap Years ago. As I enter my 66th year of life, I am amazed that I have spent over half of them here in Berkeley.

I was married then with a four-year-old daughter. Life in the progressive town of Ocean Beach had been exciting,but my wife Melissa and I were beginning to feel claustrophobic.What little culture we had then was mostly within those small town limits. We had the Strand Theater for movies, OB People’s Food for grocery shopping, and house party fundraisers for various political causes. That was a good thing, too, as Proposition 13 had decimated the local bus system. The bus to Ocean Beach stopped running at 8:30 pm, so we could forget going downtown for nighttime events.

Transportation was becoming a major focus of my political activism. The first gas shortage caught me dependent on a car to get to work. I switched to a job that allowed me to commute by bike. It was a long commute, but the ride got me into excellent physical shape. It was that love of cycling that brought me to friendship with Bob Berry, a former a native of OB who had moved to Berkeley to attend UC. Bob was living without a car. When we met, he told me of his commute to work at a freight airline based at SFO. Working graveyard shift, Bob took his bike on BART to Daly City station, which was then at the end of the San Francisco line. He then biked to SFO. The next morning, he loaded his bike on one of the airline’s DC3s, flying from SFO to Oakland airport. Then he would ride to the Coliseum BART station. If he got there early enough, that is before morning commute hours, he would be able to take his bike on BART. If not, he would have to ride back to Berkeley by bike.

After several visits to see Bob in Berkeley, we decided that Berkeley was the place for us. At the end of 1979, I had finished a full time job which was my first as a political organizer. Bill Press had left Governor Jerry Brown’s administration after failing to get the legislature to pass an oil profits tax that would fund public transit and alternative fuel research. When I read that Press was trying to qualify the tax as a ballot initiative, I signed on as a signature gatherer. The Tax Big Oil initiative did get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, though it failed to pass in the following election. The experience did succeed in firing me up to engage in more bike and transit activism. I was ready for Berkeley.

So it was on the early morning of February, 29, 1980, that we loaded up our small pickup truck and drove all day. We arrived in the Bay Area that evening. My daughter Dharma later told me that she did not know we were actually moving to a new home. She thought we were going to her grandparents house and was confused when we passed the exit and kept going.

When we got to Bay Area, Bob took us on a quick cultural tour. First stop was the house where Patty Heart was kidnapped on Benvenue Avenue. We then drove to a house on the north side of the Cal campus, where Bob had heard about a party. When we got there we found that the house was owned by Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. Realizing we had ended up at a Moonie party, we left quickly.

Our first home was an apartment in North Oakland. Bob had a friend who was moving out and still had one last month of paid rent. We used up her last month’s rent, hoping that we would be able to stay. That was not to be. We ended up living with Bob in his basement apartment in a South Berkeley Victorian. Space became available in the flat above Bob, and we were able to move out of the cramped basement.

Our roots in the Bay Area became more secure when I was able to find a job in Point Richmond. I was once again a bike commuter. The following year, we bought the house where I am stilling living today. On Leap Day of 1980, I took a leap of faith and am glad I did.

February 29, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Shoot the Gays?

There has been a lot of commotion about the filing of an initiative in California that calls for killing LGBT people and imprisoning their allies.With $200, Huntington Beach attorney Matt McLaughlin filed the Sodomite Suppression Act, which calls for gays to be shot or killed by some other “convenient method.” Lawyers have pointed out a number of ways the proposed law violates the state and federal constitutions. There have been calls to have Mr. McLaughlin disbarred. Attorney General Kamala Harris has asked the state Supreme Court to relieve her of her duties to prepare a summary and title for the initiative that would have to happen before supporters can print copies of the petition and gather signatures. Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom has blasted out an email expressing his outrage, and by the way, reminds us he is running for governor. While I am happy to have their support, I disagree with Harris’ and Newsom’s efforts. How do I feel about the circulation of the Shoot the Gays petition? I say, “Bring it on!”

I would like to see the folks behind the initiative get their chance to gather the 365,880 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. The first thing I would do is send a request to Mr. McLaughlin to send me 100 copies. If each copy has space for 10 signatures on a page, I am sure he would be eager to get those 1,000 signatures from me. Then, with petitions in hand, I will head straight to 18th and Castro in San Francisco and set up a table. There, I will invite the voters of California to write on the petitions exactly what they think of Mr. McLaughlin and his Sodomite Suppression Act. Being a believer in free speech, I promise not to censor any of the responses. I will send those “completed” petitions back to Mr. McLaughlin and, of course, ask for another 100 copies.

Even if the Sodomite Suppression Act sees the light of day on the streets of California, I doubt seriously it would becoming to a street corner near me. It takes a lot of money to circulate a petition and usually depends on paid signature gatherers. Initiative backers focus their efforts in places where those efforts will pay off with the most signatures. The plastics industry recently qualified a referendum to overturn the state’s plastic bag ban. I don’t know how many signatures they gathered in the Bay Area, but I did not see any signature gatherers here. I am sure a vast majority of those signatures were obtained from central California and other conservative parts of the state.

When Proposition 8 took away marriage rights from same sex couples, people began to question whether the initiative should be abolished. That was not the first time the California ballot has been used to take away rights. In the November 1964 election, a majority of voters overturned the Rumford Fair Housing Act that had been approved by the legislature and approved a proposition financed by theater owners to ban pay television. As with Prop 8, those propositions were invalidated by the courts.

We learned in history class that the ballot reforms of initiative, referendum, and recall are gifts of the Progressive movement. Progressives were alarmed about the power of the railroads and other big business interests to control the state government and act against the best interests of the people. Through initiatives, people can act when the legislature is inactive. Referendums can repeal unpopular laws enacted by the legislature. Recalls can remove elected officials when the people realize they made a mistake electing them in the first place.

Of the three, the recall has been used the least. The 2003 Gray Davis recall gave the state a ballot with 135 candidates for governor that included a former child actor and a porn actress. As with Prop 8, critics have cited that recall as an example of a dysfunctional process. However, the recall still has a reason to exist. It was an active recall campaign that convinced Bob Filner to resign as mayor of San Diego after being charged with sexual misconduct. While he could have been removed by impeachment, a lengthy trial process would have deprived San Diego of an effective, full time mayor. It should not be easy to recall a public official, but it a tool that should be available when needed.

The initiative process can and should be reformed. One method suggested by a friend is to require that a certain percentage of signatures come from every California county.  That means the Shoot the Gays supporters would have to collect signatures from San Francisco and Los Angeles. If most of their signatures came from Kern County and very few from San Francisco, they will fail to make the ballot.

There is one easy way to keep bad propositions off the ballot. When someone approaches you to sign a petition, don’t sign it unless you really understand what the initiative would do and you really want to see it on your ballot. Many initiatives are deceptive and signature gatherers will not tell you what you are really signing, many times because they don’t know themselves. Besides, the time they spend explaining it is less time they have to gather more signatures. To make you feel better, they’ll say, “Just sign it and get it on the ballot. You can still vote against in the election” They assure you that your signature will not count as an endorsement. Of course, when the backers file their petitions with the state, they will boast that all of those signatures show how much support they have.

Many times we sign because we know the gatherer is being paid for each signature. Petitioning has become a creative spare change scheme, a way of giving to a poor person without that change coming from your own pocket. Unfortunately, the money financing the initiative campaign is coming from special interests that are probably working against your interests and the interests of the person asking for your signature. It may be difficult to say no, but there are better ways to give people employment.

Finally, you can keep a lot of petitions off the ballot by doing one simple thing—vote. The number of signatures required to qualify an initiative is based on a percentage of the people who voted in the last general election The more people who vote in a general election, the more signatures the campaigns have to get, and they have go get them within a 3-month time period.

Some of the most satisfying political work I have done involved collecting signatures to get propositions on ballots, both state and local.Sometimes I was paid, and sometimes it was strictly volunteer. When I was paid, it wasn’t much. Sometimes, the campaign was successful, and other times, we fell short. In every case, it was an issue that was really important to me. Even in those losing campaigns, it was an opportunity to meet voters directly and discuss issues they probably would not have considered. I don’t want to abolish the ballot initiative. I want to return it to be what the Progressives intended it to be; a tool to make democracies even more democratic. The judicial branch would continue to protect minorities from being denied their rights, such as Prop 8 or repeal of the Rumford Act. California will certainly survive such silliness as “Shoot the Gays.”

March 28, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Heads Up-why I support a helmet law for bicyclists

I haven’t blogged in a number of months. I will try to correct that for 2016. I want to share the email I sent earlier to California State Senator Carol Liu, who has introduced a bill to require all adult bicyclists in the state to wear a helmet. Current law requires helmets on children riding bicycles. The bicycling community is divided on the issue.

This is my message to Senator Liu.

Dear Senator Carol Liu:

As a bicyclist, I support your bill, SB 192, to require the wearing of helmets. This is a safety issue that is as important as laws requiring car occupants to wear seat belts. I am disappointed that bicycle advocacy groups that I support would oppose a helmet law. I understand the fear that such a law would send the wrong message on the safety of bike riding. I know because people always express concern for my safety when I tell I am a cyclist. They regard bicycling as too dangerous to do themselves. They scoff when I tell them I have had only a few minor accidents and know more people seriously injured in cars than on bikes. A few of those injured in car accidents had previously expressed concern for my safety on a bike.

There are better ways to convince people that bike riding is safe and to encourage more people to ride. While most accidents between cars and bikes are the fault of the driver, too many accidents occur because of reckless bike riding and many can be prevented if riders adopt defensive driving techniques. Better road design and separated bike lanes can make conditions safer for riders, encouraging more people to take to two wheels on our state’s streets.

A half a century ago, car manufacturers were fighting seat belt laws. They did not want to advertise car safety for fear consumers would steer away from their products. They cited the experience of Ford a decade before, which tried to market its cars as being safer and then suffered by low car sales. Ford gave up on that marketing and went back to selling their models as sex and status symbols. Yet, my parents got the message when they had seat-belts installed in their car years before seat belt laws. They valued the importance of keeping their children safe. I adopted those values as I grew into adulthood. One time, I got into a coworker’s car and immediately buckled my seat belt. She expressed how odd it was to drive in a state where you can get a ticket for not wearing your seat belt. She thought my behavior was being guided only by the fear of a ticket.

When I rediscovered bike riding during the first gas shortage in 1973, I learned the importance of wearing a helmet. It has become natural for me to strap on my helmet before starting my ride. Now that I have learned about climate change, I am even more motivated to ride and encourage more people to ride, as well. I want people to ride and feel safe as they ride. I want them to get on bikes to improve their health with regular physical activity. I want them to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. There are laws requiring bicycles to have adequate reflectors and lights at night. We can do more to improve the safety of riding with improvements to bike infrastructure. We can provide better training for riders. I am sure you support those efforts, as well. California bicyclists should support your efforts to improve safety by requiring riders to wear helmets.

Selfie, wearing my Brain Bucket in Berkeley, CA

Selfie, wearing my Brain Bucket in Berkeley, CA

February 26, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Happy to See You

Confession time. I am an unrepentant people watcher. I love watching people: all sizes, all shapes, all sexes, all ages, all colors. I love watching all people, even the proverbial green and blue people. I haven’t seen any blue or green people yet, but if I see any I’ll let you know.
It doesn’t matter if I find the person sexually attractive. In a way, I find all people in a crowd attractive. If they are dancing or walking or running or rolling in wheelchairs or just standing, I like to watch. There is only one thing they have to have in common; they have to be having fun. A smile makes anyone beautiful. People experiencing joy is a beautiful sight to see.
A street fair with food, drink, and live music; a concert or picnic in the park; these are great places to engage in people watching. I know people who say they hate crowds. For me, the more people to watch the better. If I ever go blind, I know that I will find a way to continue to watch people. My only condition for survival in a crowd is access to adequate restrooms. Long lines for the porta-potty is not good when you really have to go. With a clean place to pee when I need it, I am fine. I sit back and watch the passing parade. Or maybe I get up and join the parade.
Of course, I enjoy natural environments, as well, taking the opportunity to escape city life and be in nature, far removed from the civilized environment. I can worship in the cathedral of redwoods, as John Muir once did, or walk along a path far away from roads and parking lots. I found that it doesn’t take far to get to the place where you see no people at all. You just have go go far enough from the nearest parking lot.
For me, the country is a place to escape, to find rest and solitude. The city is a place to live. I negotiate my space with others on a daily basis. I try to mind my manners and share space in the urban environment. I work at acting civilized. I may not always succeed, but I continually try.
Yes, I am a people watcher, and I expect to be one for the rest of my life. If we meet on the street and our eyes connect, my eyes will be saying to yours, “Happy to see you, friend.”

October 13, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment