Presidential Escape Clause: The Electoral College

I signed the petition calling for members of the Electoral College to not elect Donald Trump president. It may seem a folly, as much a folly as the recount called for by Green Party candidate Jill Stein in the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Indeed, voices I respect have argued against an Electoral College upset and the recount.

What would happen if somehow Hillary Clinton ended up getting elected president by the Electoral College? Easy: chaos. Folks will riot. Hoards of Trump supporters will likely up their terror campaigns against Muslims, blacks, Latinos, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, Sikhs, and other populations they target as enemies of their hegemony.

Then there would be political chaos. Trump would lose his shit and file lawsuits left, right, and center. That I could care less about, except that it may gum up the works and prevent Clinton from actually taking the oath of office and assuming the presidency. But assuming that Clinton got into the Oval Office, she would face investigations and obstructionism up the wazoo. The Republican Congress wouldn’t let her do jack shit nothing. Indeed, they would likely begin impeachment hearings on January 21. Yes, I know it’s a Saturday, but that wouldn’t stop them. The Republican Congress has been the laziest in history, but they’ll find plenty of energy to do something they really want to do.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has proven well versed in the art of stopping a president. He (illegally in my mind) prevented President Obama’s final Supreme Court pick to receive a single vote, claiming that President Obama was a lame duck, in February, nearly a year before he actually left office. Bullshit, of course, but it worked. McConnell would have no problem whatsoever just a-sittin’ and a-rockin’ and doing nothing for four years to keep Clinton from governing.

So, alright, chaos. Pure chaos. That’s what would happen if the Electoral College elected Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Trump. For me, then, the question becomes, which chaos is the lesser of two evils: the Electoral College chaos or the Trump presidency chaos. Before answering that, let’s dispel a few myths.

As we know, Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote by over 2.5 million. This margin makes her the presidential candidate with the most number of popular votes to lose in history. The next closest is Al Gore, who lost the election but won the popular vote by 543,816 votes. Trump wants the world to believe that millions of people voted illegally, hence the high vote count for his opponent. Bluster bullshit. Nothing supports this claim. But watch this bluster turn into dangerous policy under the Trump Administration. With the help of Messrs. McConnell and Ryan, President Trump will forge the most restrictive voting rights rules in history. None will prevent non-existent voter fraud; they will instead make it harder for people they don’t like (minorities, liberals/progressives) to vote.

Many have called Trump’s election a referendum for white blue-collar workers. They cite his sweep of so-called Rust Belt states as evidence for this. True, he carried Ohio, Pennsylvania, even Michigan, all states that President Obama carried in 2008 and 2012. But lets look at those popular vote numbers again. (Data compiled from Wikipedia.)



If Trump lured away many who voted Democratic in 2008 or 2012, then his vote total does not show this. He received about 1.8 million more votes than Romney did in 2012 and 2.7 million more votes than McCain did in 2008. But he still lost the popular vote to Clinton. One would have expected his numbers to look more like Obama’s, but they don’t.

Trump won not because folks that voted for Obama voted for him. He won because folks that voted for Obama didn’t vote in 2016. Clinton lost the Electoral College because not enough people voted for her in states that matter, like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Bottom line, Trump does not have a mandate by any stretch of the imagination. He and his Republican lackeys will continue to push that myth, but it remains a myth. The country is not only divided between conservative and liberal ideologies, it’s also divided between the interested and the disinterested, those who bother to vote, and those who do not. We should ask those who did not vote why they chose not to. We should also find out if they tried to vote but could not successfully navigate new voter ID laws in states like Wisconsin.

Back to the main question, then, which evil should we endure. I vote for the Electoral College upset. Trump has already demonstrated how dangerous a leader he will be. He has appointed Steve Bannon, a dangerous, racist demagogue, to his administration. He refuses to divest himself fully from his businesses, setting up the mother of all conflicts of interest. His lack of experience led him to cause a diplomatic kerfuffle with China. All this, and he hasn’t taken the oath yet. And he continues to treat the presidency like a popularity contest and tweets about things that piss him off. Presidents don’t need to do that. He’s not Kanye West. Presidents should not tweet random thoughts that send the world into a tailspin, 140 characters at a time.

No, there is no question in my mind that the chaos of an upset in the Electoral College would be nothing compared the chaos caused by the presidency of someone so emotionally unhinged. That he’s unhinged should come as a surprise to no one. After all, he began his campaign with blatant bigotry (They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.)

The UK has an escape clause as well, though so far they refuse to take it. The Brexit referendum vote was not binding. Parliament can legally override it. They won’t, however, for fear that such a move will outrage the population, despite the buyer’s remorse. We’re both in the same boat.

Having said all this, even if the Electoral College went rogue and elected Clinton, she likely would not accept the appointment, knowing all that she would face. Such an election may well offend her sensibilities, too, even though I’m sure she has concerns about a Trump presidency.

We need to retrain our sensibilities. Trump has unleashed America’s very ugly underbelly and made it mainstream. The KKK and other racists openly celebrate Trump’s victory, and he only tepidly distances himself from them. The media continues to normalize these fringe groups and their hate. And so-called mainstream Republican politicians like Ryan and McConnell, hungry for power, continue to support Trump despite the dangers he poses to our democracy and world affairs. Democrats have no choice but to adopt new strategies to avert the disasters this “new normal” pose to the nation, even if those strategies make them uncomfortable or go against their sensibilities.

Republicans have demonstrated that they have the will to do anything to get their way, including support an unqualified president. Democrats thus need to respond in kind.

Don’t normalize hate

President Obama says that we need to give the new president a chance. We need to wish for his success so that we can ensure the success of the country. Secretary Clinton said similar words along those lines.

I can’t. At least not without a major caveat.

I’m obviously not going to wish the country ill. Hell, I fear that the country will face enormous ill in light of the election of Donald Trump. But I cannot and will not accept him as the new normal. He is not normal.

He still talks about building the wall, only now it’s a fence. And then we have the litany of worries: trashing freedom of expression; silencing dissent; deporting immigrants; registering Muslims; rolling back LGBT rights; ending women’s reproductive rights (among other rights). These and many others lurk over a worrisome horizon.

He taunted and bullied throughout his campaign. And lets not forget these words with which he launched his campaign:

They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.

We expect a certain amount of bluster or bravado or showmanship during a presidential campaign. We similarly expect a lot of stuff said that will likely never happen — politicians rarely keep all of their campaign promises. But that’s not what Trump engaged in during his campaign. He engaged in hate speech, full stop. Further, his speech and subsequent election has emboldened many who take his words literally. Now we have a rash of hate crimes taking place across the country.

If Trump meant the hateful things that he said, then in no way is he qualified to be president. If he did not mean the hateful things that he said, then he’s still not qualified to be president. Because presidents do not incite violence against the citizens they swear to protect and serve.

Under no circumstances should we normalize, sanitize, or accept Donald Trump by ignoring all that he has said and done. Because then we not only give him a pass, but we give a pass to those committing hate crimes in his name.

And by the way, I will tag every post I make about Donald Trump with his quote about Mexicans. As I have said repeatedly, that alone should have disqualified him from serious consideration. Now that we’re stuck with him, I want no one to forget where he came from.

I’m weeping for my country

They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.
-President-elect Donald J. Trump at his campaign launch, June, 2015

I’m weeping for my country. It has stepped decidedly backwards. Change. Hope. Progress. All dirty words. Obstructionism won the day. Now that Republicans are in charge of everything, the White House and both houses of Congress, what will they do? What will they propose? It’s a given that they’ll erase everything they possible can from the Obama years. But what will they replace Obama’s policies with?

Nothing good. Under Governor Sam Brownback, Kansas has adopted an aggressive trickle-down tax structure that has left its public education system in shambles. Indiana, home to Vice-President-Elect Mike Pence, adopted bigoted anti-queer policies, despite the economic backlash it triggered, all in the name of theological purity. Despite the divisions and failures these and other conservative policies have wrought, they’ll be enacted, nationwide. Facts and logic belong to yesterday. Feelings rule, no matter how misguided, no matter how damaging. The environment played a backseat role during the election. Nonetheless, climate change will happen, whether we wish to believe it or not.

I feared living the last decades of my life under shitty Supreme Court rulings. This fear has now come to pass. With Mike Pence’s help, President-elect Donald Trump will appoint some of the most right-leaning justices in a generation. And they’ll all be quite young, so that they’ll serve a long, long time.

All this happened because we could not face electing a woman to the highest office to the land, despite her qualifications. Because we could not accept diversity. Because we want to live in fear. But living in fear is not living. By the time we realize this, much damage will have been done. How very sad.

Yes on Prop. 62 – NO on Prop. 66

Dueling propositions occur frequently on the California ballot. We have a few of them this year.

Propositions 62 and 66 both address the death penalty. Prop. 66 wants to change the appeals process for capital cases. Prop. 62 wants to get rid of the death penalty entirely.

Prop. 66 starts from the premise that the death penalty appeals process is too cumbersome, leading to costly delays. Furthermore, California’s death row has a population in the hundreds. The state has not executed anyone for 10 years. Inmates on death row will likely die of old age rather than execution. Therefore, the proposition seeks to speed up the appeals process so that executions will happen in a more timely fashion.

Ugh. If we have learned anything from the Black Lives Matters movement, it’s that the criminal justice system makes mistakes. More to the point, killing wrongly convicted persons is a travesty. Enough wrongly convicted persons have had their convictions overturned, often with the aid of DNA evidence, that we should take pause in the whole idea of condemning someone to death in the first place. Contrary to what President George W. Bush once said, the death penalty is vengeance, not justice.

I’m bringing back an oldie from the early day of the gar spot. Ptolemaic. It’s a word that describes a needlessly complicated process concocted to avoid a simpler, more obvious (and correct) answer.

Prop. 66 is Ptolemaic in the extreme. It seeks to make the ordeal of putting someone to death more palatable by speeding up the process, thus eliminating one of the concerns about capital punishment: it takes too long and costs too much money. It does take too long and it does cost too much money, but that argument ignores the moral issues of convicting the wrong person for a crime and putting someone to death in the first place.

I’ve hated the death penalty from day one. It’s applied arbitrarily: what makes one killing more heinous than another killing?  It’s racist: death row inmates are largely poor people of color, people who do not have access to “dream team” attorneys. The appeals process can take years. Sometimes the verdict is wrong. And the very process of killing someone “humanely” has become a perverse subject for the courts; there is no such thing as a humane execution. No amount of tweaking will save the death penalty or make it better. The obvious answer is to just get rid of it and institute life without the possibility of parole, which is exactly what Proposition 62 seeks to do.

Yes on 62.

No on 66.

By the way, the folks at Ballotpedia note that if both 62 and 66 pass, the one with the most votes takes effect, since they are mutually incompatible. So again, yes on 62, no on 66.

Oakland’s Measure HH – Vote Yes

In addition to the noisy campaign for president, in California we have propositions. Lots and lots of propositions. I have a love/hate relationship with the proposition process. I suspect most Californians feel the same way. On the one hand, propositions encourage direct democracy. The electorate has a say on issues ranging from taxes to insurance policy to health care to the criminal justice system. On the other hand, many propositions are thick treatises written in arcane language that even an attorney would have a hard time deciphering. People and corporations with lots of money use word salad propositions to push forward laws to enrich themselves at the expense of the public good. Meanwhile, good propositions that pass can be held up for years, because monied interests don’t want them to ever take effect.

Occasionally, Californians have had to wade through oodles of propositions on the ballot. This would be one of those years. We have 17 state propositions on the ballot. Additionally here in Oakland, home of the gar spot, we have 9 local measures to vote on: one from Alameda County, one from the Oakland Unified School District, five from the City of Oakland, and one each from the AC Transit District and BART.

With the election around the corner, as I wade through all of these various measures, I’ll write about some that catch my eye. Let’s start with Oakland’s Measure HH: A Proposed Ordinance Imposing A One Cent Per Ounce Tax on the Distribution of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Products in Oakland.

From the official write up by Barbara J. Parker, Oakland City Attorney:

This measure would impose a tax on the distribution of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Products in Oakland. Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Products are defined as Sugar-Sweetened Beverages or Caloric Sweeteners. The tax would be one cent per fluid ounce.

A new sin-tax, in other words, and frankly one that has been long in coming. Like traditional sin-tax products, tobacco and alcohol, sugary drinks can lead to poor health, in the form of diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, and other ailments. Treatment of these diseases can run into the billions of dollars. Sin-taxes try to discourage consumption of unhealthy products by increasing their costs. At the same time, they typically allocate the money raised to help promote better health. However, unlike traditional sin-taxes, Measure HH, should it pass, would not impact consumers directly. Rather, distributors would take the hit. Though in the end, the cost may get passed on to consumers.

Nonetheless, the American beverage industry — Coke, Pepsi, et al. — have declared an all-out war against taxes on sugary drinks. So far, they successfully have fought off such measures in every city it has been proposed, with one exception: Berkeley passed a soda tax in 2014. Not wanting to let this happen again, they have spent millions against Measure HH and similar measures in nearby San Francisco and Albany.

The beverage industry has labeled Measure HH, and its siblings, as a “grocery tax.” They contend that grocers will raise their prices on lots of items, not just sodas and sugary drinks. It’s a bogus argument that reeks of sensationalism. It does not pass my sniff test. Big Soda also claims that HH will hurt small businesses. Why do big corporations always align themselves with small businesses (that they usually ignore), as if they were all one big, happy business family? Again, this claim doesn’t pass the sniff test.

Big Soda’s claims also did not pass the court’s sniff test.

To date, nothing has shown that businesses in Berkeley have suffered from the soda tax. However, a study conducted by public health researchers at UC Berkeley have shown that the tax has curbed the purchase of sugary drinks in Berkeley by 21%. During the same period, consumption increased in Oakland and San Francisco by 4%. Also, water purchases have increased in Berkeley by 63%. And only 5% of people surveyed said that they get their sugary drinks in Oakland, where no such tax exists.

So from a public health standpoint, the tax works. It does what it sets out to do: curb the consumption of sugary beverages.

Big Soda doesn’t care about that, however. They just want to make money. So they will trump up any statistic, or just make stuff up, in order to defeat future soda taxes, including Oakland’s. They even have on their side Senator Bernie Sanders, who called soda taxes regressive. If they appear on the consumer’s bill, then yes, they could be called regressive. But Big Soda ignores the ill-effects of their products just like Big Tobacco does with their products. Again, they just want to make money.

I love sweets. I have a major sweet tooth. I’ve also had ups and downs with my weight most of my adult life. Sugar addiction is a thing, and it’s slowly killing us. Children should not develop Type 2 diabetes, formerly known as adult onset diabetes, but they do now and at an alarming rate. That was not a thing during my childhood. So clearly, as a society, we need to address this growing health menace.

The soda tax clearly demonstrates that it does. Therefore, Measure HH has my vote.

“Holding the Edge,” A play about AIDS and Life in the 80s (Review)

[Update (3/27/17): This is playing again at SF Marsh through April 8. If you haven’t had a chance to see it, run, don’t walk, to check it out.]

It’s the early morning hours of January 28, 1986. Hospice Nurse Elaine Magree just pulled an all-nighter, answering calls and visiting dying patients. She’s already tended to two deaths, but then her pager goes off again. She pulls up to her favorite phone booth in East Oakland and makes the call. It’s a friend of a friend, and it doesn’t sound like he has long to live. Damn. She takes the case.

Such is the life described and enacted by Ms. Magree in her one-woman show Holding the Edge, playing at The Marsh in Berkeley (Thursdays and Saturdays through Oct. 15). Magree worked as a hospice nurse at that time, during the height of the AIDS crisis. Indeed, when I saw the poster for her show, the first thing to catch my eye was the “SILENCE = DEATH” poster leaning against her favorite phone booth, the receiver at her ear.

In the printed program for the show, Magree explains that she wrote the play as a reaction to Ronald Reagan receiving a posthumous award at a hospice and palliative care workers conference in 2014. “I was so angry at this travesty I wanted to scream at 2,000 people in the plenary session” and “to smash things.” Anyone who lived through the AIDS nightmare would have had a similar reaction.

She chose the date for her day-in-the-life piece very carefully. On January 28, 1986, President Reagan was to give a State of the Union address. Being the first to occur after the death of his friend Rock Hudson from AIDS, which finally brought the disease out of the closet and into mainstream households, many hoped that the president would finally mention the disease. However, the Space Shuttle Challenger also exploded on this date, which had consequences for the SOTU.

Magree takes these mega-events and weaves them into a very personal story about the toll of AIDS on those who had it and their family and friends. She deftly adopts many personae besides her own as the hospice nurse, including the dying friend of a friend, his bitchy-queer-punk caregiver, the mother of the patient, and many others. It’s the little details that make the story effective and poignant. The mother had been estranged from her ill son, but comes back in the end. The bitchy-punk at first acts defensive towards Elaine the Nurse, but calms down when he realizes that she’s family.

These characters are not abstractions. Everyone who lived through the AIDS crisis in 1980s and 90s knew each of these people. We remember how we had to learn how to use needles to administer morphine. We remember cleaning bedpans, massaging feet, and providing any comfort to the sick or dying loved one. Popsicles. I had forgotten about popsicles until one of the characters mentioned giving it to the person with AIDS. Sometimes popsicles were the only thing a really sick person could have. I gasped when it came up. It hit home with me.

One of the most poignant scenes came when Elaine the Nurse answered “the questions.” How does death happen? When will I know? She answered with scientific accuracy yet great humanity, respecting the dignity of the patient. Dignity was in short supply for many PWAs in the 80s and 90s, the reason for the bitchy-punk’s protective defensiveness. This scene, like so many others, felt very real.

Similarly, Magree worked the Space Shuttle disaster into the piece very effectively. It represented a beacon of hope for the dying friend, who wanted to see it launch, only to see it explode 73 seconds after launch.

Though ACT UP was still about a year away, there is a protest scene. Let’s just say that folks felt more than a little peeved at Reagan’s response to the shuttle disaster versus his response to the AIDS crisis.

Elaine Magree tells a very intimate story beautifully and forcefully. She “smashes things” figuratively, if not literally, on stage. She even had us chanting at the end, our fists raised in the air. All that anger from nearly 30 years ago rushed into my raised arm and shouting larynx. Sadly, it’s an anger that can never really die, and is sometimes provoked.

Upon her death earlier this year, Nancy Reagan received bogus praise, including from Hillary Clinton, about the role she played in raising awareness about AIDS. Total and utter bullshit. As many recalled, when Rock Hudson called her to ask for help, she turned him down. After screaming that message over and over, the world press corrected itself and gave the true story, that she hid from the disease just like her husband.

We need more beautifully told stories like Elaine Magree’s to make sure that AIDS history isn’t set a little to straight, that all the crooks and kinks that made life so unbearable for so many people are put on full display, so that we may never forget a time when thousands died and hardly anyone paid attention.

The Candidate and the Buffoon

Before becoming the nation’s 44th president, Barack Obama served in the Illinois State Senate from 1997 to 2004. From 2005 to 2008, he was the Junior Senator from the state of Illinois in the US Senate. These facts are not in dispute. One can easily verify them online or by scouring old newspapers or other paper sources. Yet the narrative that came out of the 2008 presidential campaign by the McCain/Palin camp stated that Mr. Obama was “only a community organizer.” They focussed on this work and ignored his legislative experience. The facts vanished.

Similarly, I remember wondering, in days long before Google and Wikipedia, if Toni Morrison had really won the Nobel Prize for literature. Why? Because news stories that referenced her never cited this award; they often called her a Pulitzer prize winner. She did win a Pulitzer, for Beloved in 1988, however she won the Nobel five years later. Didn’t matter. For years, I saw her name in the papers not as “Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison” but “Pulitzer Prize winner Toni Morrison.” Her most prestigious award vanished.

I cite these two examples as typical of the type of erasure that occurs for African-Americans or anyone who is not straight, white, and male. Society, more often than not, allows “others” a certain level of accomplishment, but no more. For those who pioneer into hitherto forbidden territory — first female African-American Nobel Laureate, first male African-American President — friction occurs. Friction, what am I saying, all hell breaks loose. They get labeled uppity, contentious, troublemakers, know-it-alls, etc. This happens to African-Americans and women in nearly all social strata. Everyone has their place, our society dictates, and you stay in your place until we (society, made up of straight, white male norms and values) deign that you can assume a different place.

For this past eight years, we have seen this philosophy in practice. President Obama has endured some of the most demeaning and humiliating treatment of any person ever to hold the nation’s highest office. Some white folks, particularly white Republicans, have been in a state of apoplexy during his entire tenure in office. I’m not talking about disagreements on policy. That’s cool. I’m talking about the birtherism bullshit and the “You lie (boy)!” moments of which there are too many to recount.

Some folks blame President Obama for the rise of racial tensions in the US. Kathy Miller, former Trump campaign chair in Mahoning County, Ohio, believed that racism did not exist before Mr. Obama became president. She further opined that blacks who can’t succeed have only themselves to blame. I’m sure that’s comforting news to Trayvon Martin. Except, of course, he’s dead.

President Obama’s presidency has only magnified that which has always existed. The racists have basically lost their shit over the past eight years. Hence, for the 2016 presidential race, they have turned towards a candidate whom they believe will reestablish their values. Donald Trump.

Trump has no political or organizing experience at all. Even Ronald Reagan had served as chair of the Screen Actors Guild prior to becoming Governor of California. Trump can’t even claim something like that. What he does claim, repeatedly and loudly, is that he is a successful businessman.

Now we get to experience the erasure in reverse. Rather than erase Trump’s credentials, folks have, dare I say, trumped them up. By any measure, Donald Trump is not a successful businessman. Successful businessmen pay their workers and contractors and don’t file for bankruptcy multiple times. They do not cover their losses by misappropriating charitable contributions. True successful businessmen, in particular Mark Cuban, have made a cottage industry out of calling out Trump for his lack of business acumen.

Robert Reich recently posted on his blog a conversation with a Trump supporter. During the talk, he explained to the supporter that if Trump had better invested the $200 million his father had given him, today he’d be worth around $12 billion, or nearly three times his current, purported worth.

Trump is a master of legerdemain. He knows how to work the system to his advantage in a way that brings him modest profits and mounds of publicity. But that’s all.  This is far too modest a skill set for becoming the 45th president of the United States.

Monday’s debate provided further proof that Trump lacks any of the skills necessary to succeed as US president. He answered questions with babbling word salads, rich in verbiage, low in substance. Sort of like a salad of Ding Dongs, filling, but made up of empty calories. His opponent, on the other hand, demonstrated a depth of knowledge and understanding on a wide range of subjects, and kept her cool while on stage with a word salad spinning knucklehead prone to childish, ad hominem attacks.

The true problem facing his opponent, Hillary Clinton, is her gender. And I mean problem in the same way that President Obama “caused” the race problem. Her candidacy magnifies the country’s problem with women in general and with women in positions of power in particular. Look at the language used to describe her. She emasculates. She frowns. She wears pants suits too much. She speaks with a strident voice. Complaints against her policies, as in the case with President Obama, are fair game. The rest is sexist bullshit. Sadly, I fear that a lot of the Clinton bashing is informed by the latter more than the former.

Should Hillary Clinton become president, she will no doubt face the same type of obstructionism that President Obama has endured during his entire presidency. This close race is just a taste of things to come, because there is no way a qualified candidate like Mrs. Clinton should be in so tight a race with a buffoon like Donald Trump.

A day at the Monterey Jazz Festival

Until this year, I’ve never been to the Monterey Jazz Festival. One of the premiere events on the jazz calendar, one would think I’d have been all up inside it by now. Sadly, such is not the case. This year, opportunity dropped the festival in my lap when a friend passed along comp tickets to the grounds for Saturday. I had two tickets, but no companion to accompany me. So when I entered, I left the other ticket at the front gate and told the ticket taker to please give it to anyone who was trying to get in. I hope someone got a pleasant surprise at the gate.

I got to see both acts that stood out for me on the calendar that day: veteran pianist Larry Vuckovich and his Vince Guaraldi Quintet and young piano maestro Joey Alexander and his trio. An established veteran and a new voice. My day at Monterey consisted of contrasts between young and old.

Arriving about 40 minutes before Mr. Vuckovich’s show, I hurried to take care of bodily needs, restroom and food. While chowing down on a quick lunch, a charming, elderly black couple joined me at my table. Can we sit here? Of course! They wore matching outfits of white and purple. He was 82, she was 80. They lived within half a mile of the festival, they said, but originally hailed from Alabama. Needless to say, this was not their first time to Monterey Jazz, but they bubbled with infectious enthusiasm, their world still full of wonder and fun. They laughed and joked about their slowness, but kept on moving. We have many friends that can’t anymore, they said, so we’re staying active for as long as we can. Their spirit filled my soul. Thinking back on them, I’m reminded of a tune 80-something Alberta Hunter liked to perform:

I’m having a good time
Please don’t blame me
I’m knocking myself out
Don’t try to tame me

Larry Vuckovich

I love hearing legends tell stories from their long careers. Mr. Vuckovich, who will turn 80 this December, talked quite fondly of his teacher and mentor, Bay Area legend Vince Guaraldi. Mr. Vuckovich displayed a great ability for sounding like his mentor while also showing how he grew from what he learned, informing his playing with his own life’s journey.

In his group were Josh Workman, guitar, Jeff Chambers, bass, Leon Joyce, drums, and John Santos, percussion. Messrs. Workman and Vuckovich traded melodies seamlessly, finishing each other’s thoughts, conducting a conversation in music. Jeff Chambers played a mean bass — with a bow during the seminal “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” — and I loved Leon Joyce’s range, from the gentlest brush strokes to the most rapid fire rolls. John Santos showed off his chops most prominently on a tune towards the end of the set, an unreleased Guaraldi composition that Mr. Vuckovich has in his own personal library.

Larry Vuckovich started the set by announcing that there is more to Vince Guaraldi than Peanuts music, though he did play one of the Peanuts classics, “Christmas Time is Here.” But it was wonderful to hear such a full range of Guaraldi music, from Peanuts to bossa nova, to avant-garde. And most of all, it was a joy to finally see Mr. Vuckovich in person, after enjoying him on the radio for so long. He smiled throughout the performance as he blithely went from his grand piano to an electric keyboard set to sound like a vibraphone. His set was a total joy.

*    *    *

Between my main sets, I perused the grounds. I ran into and had a nice chat with Greg Bridges of KCSM, Jazz 91. Ironically, he was to introduce Joey Alexander, my next stop. I listened a bit to Cory Henry & the Funk Apostles. Their music had me wiggling a bit and kept the packed house at the Garden Stage popping. Then I ran into a well dressed brother named Albert Neal selling his first novel, Ill at Ease, which he self-published. I enjoyed our chance encounter and he gave me ideas on how to move forward with my own work.

After a quick dinner — some delicious vegan Cajun food — I scurried back to the Garden Stage to find that basically no one left after the Funk Apostles set. Not a seat to be found anywhere. Oh well. My back probably needed the relief brought from standing. I had a good view of the stage, minus the usual crowds passing by. I waited for the arrival of the young master pianist from Indonesia.

Joey Alexander

Comparisons to Mozart seem obvious, but I can’t push them out of my mind. At age 8, Mr. Alexander played for Herbie Hancock while the jazz legend visited Jakarta as a UNESCO goodwill ambassador. His words of praise inspired Mr. Alexander to continue his jazz studies. At age 9, he won the Grand Prix at the 2013 Master-Jam Fest in Ukraine. Wynton Marsalis saw Mr. Alexander on YouTube after a friend recommended he check him out. He subsequently helped to arrange the young master’s debut in the US. Mr. Alexander and his family have since moved to New York City.

He learned to play Thelonious Monk by ear when he was 6. Let that settle in for a minute.

So this young titan, now 13, walked on stage with his trio, bassist Dan Chmielinski and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. They started to play. We sat rapt. The melodic harmonies he explored would honor a veteran with years under the belt. And his rhythmic prowess was scary. Left and right hands showed complete independence. Technically brilliant, but also very emotional. He sometimes stood as he played. I thought of Brad Mehldau a bit, another intense performer with a highly intellectual bent, only to discover that Mehldau is one of Mr. Alexander’s influences.

Chemistry existed between all the musicians, as if they had been playing together for decades. I look forward to studying the CD, which I purchased, to get more into their sound.

In another example of the day’s theme, the young and the old, I saw another set of ears and eyes getting into Mr. Alexander, nodding approvingly with what he heard. Quincy Jones sat visibly in the wings, stage right. This year’s Monterey Jazz Festival honored the master musician for his jazz work on A & M Records. Mr. Jones has a long history of seeking out, discovering, and inspiring new talent, so it was not surprising to find him checking out Mr. Alexander. I found watching him reacting to the young maestro nearly as entertaining as the show itself.

I can’t wait to see what Mr. Alexander will do in the future. Nor can I wait to go to Monterey again. I expect if Joey Alexander performs at MJF again, it will be on the main stage. Better start saving up for it.


I bought Mr. Alexander’s album Countdown and listened to his take on Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge.” In a word, stunning. I don’t recall how old Strayhorn was when he wrote this world-weary tune — he was a teen when he wrote the similarly world-weary “Lush Life” — but just as Strayhorn wrote tunes years beyond his age, so, too, has Mr. Alexander delicately interpreted this jazz standard with the soul of an old master. Buy his album, if you can’t see him live any time soon. And keep your eyes and ears open. I have no doubt that the best is yet to come.

Star Trek Memories

By early 2006, I flew to LA on a fairly regular basis to see about Dad, take him to appointments. He had spent the previous Thanksgiving in hospital. Now he was frail. Appointments. Follow ups. Medications. Monitoring. Watching. Waiting. He slowed down as the rest of us seemed to speed up. For me, that meant arranging flights, renting cars, making Dad’s appointments, all from Oakland.

Travel makes one harried. I was in a harried state, most likely, when I sat on my dad’s bed next to him, having just arrived at the house, the old house, the one I grew up in. He had the TV going. Don’t remember what was on. Dad moved a lot slower, his sharp mind veiled under the sheets of his ailments. But it was still there. He referenced his vast Star Trek DVD collection, on a shelf to the right of the TV in his bedroom. Let’s watch one, he said. I slowed down, chose “Devil in the Dark.”

Mom and Dad watched Star Trek from the beginning, on September 8, 1966. They loved thinking about the future in their youth. They grew up with Dick Tracy’s watch phones and tales of spaceships going to the Moon or Mars or farther. Asimov and Bradbury lived on their bookshelves. During their courting days, they used to lie on their backs in some grassy field somewhere and look at the stars and daydream. By 1966, they had four kids. The space race launched all around them.

They liked Lost in Space, but found Star Trek more of a thinking person’s show, less bang and boom, more thoughtful analysis of the world around them. Gene Roddenberry had pulled a fast one on the TV executives. He had promised a sort of “Wagon Train to the Stars.” But the master storyteller had other plans. Show a utopian future where the peoples of Earth worked together in harmony, living on a fantastic vessel, searching for new life, new realities. His future included Asians, Africans, Europeans, even aliens, working as one. I’m sure my parents agreed with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that Nichelle Nichols presence on the bridge, playing Lt. Uhura, was affirming and essential. She wasn’t the maid or hired help. She kept it real. They loved that a Russian, Walter Koenig’s Chekov, became a regular in the crew, a vision foretelling a life beyond the Cold War. And of course they loved Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock.

“Devil in the Dark” found the Enterprise visiting a mining planet beset by an unknown terror, wrecking the equipment and killing the miners. Kirk and company beam down to inspect. The miners want the thing found and killed. While Kirk initially agrees to hunt down the creature, Spock is more introspective. Must we kill so callously? In the end, Spock won the day. He used his Vulcan mind meld to communicate with the creature, a Horta, and learned that it was, in fact, the mother of its race, trying to protect its eggs from being destroyed by the miners. The miners didn’t know any better. They thought the eggs were just funny geological formations. Dr. McCoy also rose to the occasion. Having first complained about treating a creature “made of stone,”  (“I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!”) he figured out a way to bandage the wound on the silicon-based Horta with a silicon solution normally used to make emergency shelters. “By God, Jim,” he said, after helping the Horta, “I’m beginning to think I can cure a rainy day!”

I was too young, not quite 18 months, when Star Trek premiered to remember it. I would have been in my crib while my parents watched it on the other side of their bedroom. My older brothers, though, were near-teens. They preferred Lost in Space and mocked my parents for their sudden change of allegiance. One by one, though, my brothers peeled away from Dr. Smith and fell into Camp Spock. In my time, I would follow the same pattern, obsessively watching the original series in the 70s, memorizing every story, every line. My sister, born the year Star Trek went off the air, also got into the show, when she came of age.

When Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out, it became a family outing. We went to some theater in Downey or somewhere like that, far from Hollywood. Dad hated Hollywood traffic and parking. We didn’t care. Star Trek was the point of the trip, not the glitz. We watched anxiously and excitedly. We told ourselves home much we liked it. And I think we did like it, but realized that it wasn’t quite all it could have been. Roddenberry stayed true to his vision of the show, cerebral, thought-provoking. The characters did not, however, get to shine quite as brightly as we had hoped. Still, it was great to have it back. The next film, The Wrath of Khan, would hit all the right buttons.

I had a huge crush on Merritt Butrick, the actor who played Kirk’s son, Dr. David Marcus, in the second and third Trek movies. In 1982, I was still in the closet, so I told no one. Merritt’s character got killed off in the next film, The Search for Spock. I felt sad. Five years later, in 1989, Merritt Butrick himself would die of something far more insidious than a Klingon’s blade. He didn’t even make 30. This devil in the dark ravaged gay men in the early 80s through the mid 90s, while an uncaring world pretended not to notice. By 1989, I was out, loud, and proud, marching in the streets against this disease and the world’s indifference to it. Fight Back. Fight AIDS. ACT UP. Interestingly, I would eventually partner with a man born in the same year as Merritt. I’ve always like older men.

My parents faithfully watched Star Trek: The Next Generation when it premiered in 1987. It took a minute to warm up to it, but they did, as did we all. Who couldn’t warm up to Patrick Stewart? My parents also liked Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and Star Trek: Voyager. I liked the former, but fell off the latter after the second season. And I never got into Star Trek: Enterprise. But Dad did. He watched it faithfully, alone, my mom having passed away in 1996.

For comfort food, though, we always went back to the basics. Watching “Devil in the Dark” with my Dad, a couple of months before his passing, was like eating biscuits and (vegan) gravy. We watched in silence, in his darkened room, totally absorbed by the action, even on this umpteenth viewing. It was just good to be near him, to see the sparkle in his eye one more time, as the Enterprise sailed off into the stars, another problem solved.

I can still hear him say “Yep” after it ended, satisfied at yet another viewing of the old classic. I felt it, too, Dad. I still feel it. And like Spock told Dr. McCoy in Wrath of Khan, I remember.

Everybody’s Supernova

“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Everyone gasped when Donald Trump uttered those words at his presidential campaign launch event in June, 2015. Out the gate, he hit the racism button, shamelessly scapegoating Mexicans and Mexican Americans for the country’s ills. Complaining that political correctness has kept America from having the “frank” discussions it needed to have about such issues as immigration and terrorism, his language, statements, and proposals have only gotten worse.

During his wild and crazy drive to become the Republican presidential nominee, up to and including his anointment at the Republican Convention in late July, many in the media class have wondered often and loudly, will Trump pivot? Will he mellow and begin to behave more presidential? No, he won’t. Will he start making planned speeches rather than speak off the cuff? Yes, but it doesn’t help. Though occasionally he has condescended to using a teleprompter for his “serious” speeches, he nonetheless continues to hit the racism button with unabashed élan, like a rabid gameshow contestant going for the big money.

In my piece “Republican Supernova,” I called Trump the natural result of a political party in collapse. The collapse has gone beyond the Republican party, however. Now, Trump has become everybody’s supernova. His ascendancy is the latest, and grossest, manifestation of America’s fractured, incomplete, and incompetent discussion on race and class.

His message to blacks: what have you got to lose? Trump states that we live in crime-ridden neighborhoods with lousy schools and have no employment opportunities. He then touts himself as the solution. Stereotyping aside, that Trump himself disdains African Americans is beside the point.

Despite this racist broadside against African Americans, a black minister, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson of the Great Faith Ministries International in Detroit, felt the need to invite the Republican presidential nominee to his church, first for a scripted interview, then to participate in a service. Video now exists of Trump in a largely black church, swaying along with the music. Ugh. Rather than challenge Trump on his racism, Jackson became a willing pawn in his campaign’s efforts to sanitize his standing in the African American community. Bishop Jackson seems well aware of his precarious position. He protested in an interview that “I am not a Uncle Tom. I am not an Uncle Ruckus.”

It’s never a good thing when you have to distance yourself from Uncle Ruckus.

We don’t know Bishop Jackson’s motives for making nice to Trump, though I suspect it’s likely the Bishop’s bling addiction.

The supernova has extended even to Mexico, the original muse of Trump’s racist tirades. For reasons no one can quite fathom, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto invited Trump to his country for, what? A meet and greet? To discuss their policy differences? Who knows. In any case, they spoke for a short time, then held a joint press conference, where Trump stated that they discussed his infamous wall, but did not discuss its financing, i.e., whether Mexico will pay for it or not. Throughout the affair, President Peña Nieto remained subdued, or submissive as some critics have charged. In light of his poor standing after the fiasco, President Peña Nieto tweeted out that Mexico would never pay for the wall, blah, blah, blah. Too late, dude. You had your chance to confront El Diablo when you stood next to him. You failed. Thus, rather than vanquish, or at least wound, a racist demagogue, you enabled him. Hours later, Trump gave a policy speech on immigration that was every racists’ wet dream.

Enablers abound. Dr. Ben Carson continues to stand by Trump. Marco Gutierrez of Latinos for Trump, aka, Mr. #TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner, continues to stand by Trump. Racism that would have banished any other candidate to well-deserved obscurity has only emboldened Trump and his scarier supporters. The more people try to take him seriously or excuse as rants as slips of the tongue or just “Trump being Trump,” the more people stare pensively at their watches, wondering when Trump will start acting presidential, the more society collectively takes ownership of the Republican’s supernova, and claim it as our own.

We have allowed the collapse of the Republican Party to take down the entire country. It’s too late to ignore Trump. That should have happened day one, when he launched his campaign by attacking Mexico. The only proper response to Trump’s campaign is a complete and sustained denunciation of it. Stop waiting for him to become legitimate. Stop excusing his racism as colorful language. Stop enabling him to improve his image by inviting him to your house, knowing he’s going to shit on the carpet then blame you for the mess. Just stop it.

Trump deserves one response: You’re a racist. Go away. We need to say it loudly and repeatedly. Otherwise, the supernova is on us.