“I want your 3am ideas”​- Nurturing and enabling creative thinking is essential to building successful teams

Whenever I hire or find myself newly leading someone I tell them the important things they need to know about my management style and how I see my role as a leader:

  • I see my most important duty as being an advocate for those who work with me to those above me.
  • What we do between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm is what facilitates our real lives at 5:01. For me, that’s my kids and books. A good work-life balance is essential to being effective, sharp, and impactful while on the job.
  • Be empowered to take the actions you deem necessary, be sure to justify your response.
  • During your time with me, I want to help you take the next step in your career and help you develop in the areas you have a passion for. Tell me those things, or develop them with me. Time is valuable, and discontent consumes it faster than progress.
  • Bring me your 3 am ideas. Let’s try them. You’ll get the credit; I’ll take the blame.

Over the course of my career, I’ve been known as an innovator, dealing in creativity as much as process. It’s the former that has best served the latter, and both in concert have delivered results. Creativity and intellectual curiosity are traits that I find are invaluable, and too often it seems people come to me and don’t feel empowered to bring the crazy, the daring, the bold to the table.

“I want your 3 am idea,” I say to them, and I can see in their eyes that they’ve had one. They know exactly what I mean: Woken by an intense dream, still only half lucid, lying there at 3:02 am and suddenly that sales pitch, that marketing idea, that market penetration strategy, that new presentation, pops into their head. An idea so interesting, so kooky, so “outside-the-box,” that while the details of the dream quickly fade, the idea continues to stir like that third packet of stevia in their morning coffee.

I want that idea. More than that – I need that idea.

Modern commerce is enigmatic as we shift from old ideas about marketing and sales and embrace new methodologies and ways to apply business intelligence. Sometimes the old rules still work and should still be followed; but as I’ve said in other writings, the tenacity of an idea doesn’t necessarily instill it with value. It may still have value, but it’s worth evaluating – and sometimes it’s worth taking something new and different for a spin.

“Innovate or die,” as the adage goes.

Innovation, creativity, and the application thereof doesn’t just apply to products, companies, and services. It’s something important on the ground level. It’s important in the sales process. Important in marketing. Important in people and workflow. It’s important in rewards and recognition.

In my industry our biggest competitor isn’t another company doing something similar, it’s status quo. They’ve heard the standard pitch. They’ve seen the social pop-up ads and the LinkedIn post about new features. Those things do still work, but is there something that has even more impact? Can we tell our story in a different way? Can we be fresh and new, while still being deliberate and tactful?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is also yes – and we should be willing to try.

Building a successful team means building a team of innovators, of creative thinkers, and of people willing to voice the bold, the new, and maybe even the little-bit-crazy ideas they’ve been chatting with themselves about on the commute. Enabling and nurturing those traits into your team and management is what can turn a gentle slope into a hockey stick, and turn a team of workers into artisans.

I want my sales team to be a group of people not just thinking about their next call, their next email, their next presentation – but also thinking about what they’re going to say on that call. What they’re going to type in that email. How they’re going to tell the story in that presentation.

Creativity knows no bounds and it is a trait that, for me, is more valuable than legacy experience. More valuable than talking a good game in an interview. Enabling a team and individuals to have the intellectual curiosity to ask the “why” questions about their own process is the greatest thing since the person who thought bread would sell better if it was already sliced.

Like I said – I want my team to bring me those ideas. They get the credit. I’ll take the blame.

Merlin 2018 Voting Guide – California Statewide Races

Here it is – the meat. The most contentious bit of voting – WHO to vote for. Ballot initiatives are important, but not all that engaging. Who needs an initiative about the cost of kidney dialysis when you’ve got a Senate race to attend to? 

US Senate
Dianne Feinstein (D) vs. Kevin de León (D)
Six-year term. This seat will next be contested in 2024. 

Who is Dianne Feinstein?
Senator Feinstein was originally elected to the US Senate in 1992. She’s the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Prior to the Senate she was Mayor of San Francisco from 1978 to 1988. She’s 85 years.

Who is Kevin de León?
Kevin de León, a California State Senator, has been in office since December 6, 2010. Prior to that, he served in the State Assembly since 2006. He’s 51 years old. 

They’re both Democrats…. so…uh… where do they differ?

Healthcare:
Senator de León believes in Medicare for all, a.k.a, single payer. Senator Feinstein does not, choosing instead to support “Medicare for everyone over 55,” and a “Single Payer option.”

Mostly though, they agree. From The Daily Bruin:

  1. The Economy: Feinstein and De León both agree that raising taxes on the highest earners and lowering taxes for the middle class and below will allow the government to expand social programs while decreasing the deficit. De León has supported a $15 minimum wage in California; Feinstein signed on as a co-sponsor of Bernie Sanders’ $15 national minimum wage bill last year.
  2. Education: Feinstein and De León both want to increase access to quality public education by making public universities more affordable. In 2007, Feinstein co-wrote a bill that increased funding to the U.S. Department of Education and expanded Pell Grants for students across the country. De León has backed a bill that makes the first year of community college free for California students.
  3. Immigration: De León championed a 2013 bill to protect undocumented immigrants in California and allow them to access social programs like insurance and driver’s licenses. Feinstein has been a fierce advocate for the undocumented community and voted against the government spending bill earlier this year because it did not include a clean DACA provision.
  4. Reproductive Rights: Both Feinstein and De León have a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood and boast pro-choice and pro-women records. Feinstein has championed bills that require sexual assault education and accountability on college campuses. De León has done the same at the state level.
  5. Health care: The only big issue Feinstein and De León disagree on is health care. While De León is a proponent of Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan, Feinstein argues the plan has no real funding mechanism and insteadwants to improve “Obamacare” by increasing funding and accessibility.

My vote goes to…
Feinstein’s age worries me somewhat, but after watching her at the Kavanaugh hearings, and after watching her during the only debate she had with Senator de Leon, nothing about her cognitive abilities worries me (as it would if I were writing about Senator Grassley). What’s more is that if age is a concern, all polling seems to point at the Governor’s race going to Gavin Newsom. Should something happen to Senator Feinstein, future-Governor Newsome would appoint her successor. 

So, putting age aside, do I think Senator de Leon will make a better Senator than Dianne Feinstein? As a technologist, I worry about the next six-years of cyber policy and internet laws and don’t see Feinstein as a champion for that anymore. With the importance of immigration and his personal connection, and his position to fight for Medicare-for-all, I also see de Leon as a champion that more closely represents me. He’s also endorosed by the California Democratic Party. Pretty compelling stuff.

My hesitation on going all in here is that Dianne Feinstein has been a champion for decades, championing many of the things I agree with, including, but certainly not limited to, women’s rights, and LGBTQ+ equality.

So, they’re very close in policy – but who gets it?

For me – Dianne gets my vote until she decides she’s out. She’s earned it. 

I vote Dianne Feinstein. 


California Governor
Gavin Newsom (D) vs. John H. Cox (R)
Four-year term. California Governor will next be decided in 2022.

Who is Gavin Newsom?
If you’ve been living in California, but under a rock (and still paying $3,200 a month in rent), Gavin Newsom is the current Lt. Governor of California and the former mayor of San Francisco.  He’s 51 years old. 

Who is John H. Cox?
A businessman from Chicago who moved to California in 2007, John H. Cox is best knows for his time as a Conservative Radio host in Chicago. He ran for the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination. This would be his first held office if elected. 

I can get into the issues here but this is pretty plain and simple. Newsom is a progressive in every sense of the word. He’s championed LGBTQ+ issues, women’s rights, immigration reform, and has been a staunch supporter of progressive causes. 

John H. Cox is endorsed by President Trump. 

Not surprisingly (considering I’m a donor), I’m voting for Newsom.

California Lt. Governor
Eleni Kounalakis (D) vs. Ed Hernandez (D)
Four-year term. California Lt. Governor will next be decided in 2022.

These down ballot races are hard, particularly when they’re both from the same party and essentially are championing the same issues. 

CBS Sacramento has a great breakdown of where they stand on the issues, but for me, as I read through her statements, Kounalakis’ is more compelling for me as a father. Her statements are written by her, his are written about him. I’m sure he’d do a fine job, but this is type of stuff I love: 

“As a mom, mentor to other women, and hardworking activist for marriage equality and gender and racial equity, I have dedicated my entire life to public service and fighting for equal rights.

I’m proud to have intersectional support in this race, and there is no doubt that I will fight hard for racial and gender equality in policy, government and every aspect of society. We need more protections and more advocates, and we need to empower people from marginalized communities to have a louder voice in our state government.

I believe California must lead the way into the future – and that means doubling down on our California values. This starts with never tolerating discrimination and ensuring equal rights for all.

Even in 2017, we’re still fighting to protect a woman’s right to choose. We need leaders tough enough to stand up to those who threaten to undermine Roe v. Wade. I will always support our rights as women to have control over our bodies, and to make our own decisions about our health, including having access to safe and legal abortions.”

Eleni Kounalakis has my vote.


California Secretary of State
Alex Padilla (D) vs. Mark P. Meuser (R)
Four-year term. California Secretary of State will next be decided in 2022.

I know – you don’t care, right? You should. This one is less about these two candidates as it is about Alex Padilla’s job performance thus far. 

The LA Times sums this up quite nicely:

No need for a big wind-up here: Democratic incumbent Alex Padilla has by and large done a solid job in his first four-year term as California’s secretary of state and he should be returned to Sacramento for a second term.

Padilla, a former Los Angeles City Council member and state senator, won his first term by promising, among other things, to register more California voters, improve the use of technology in voting, replace the cumbersome Cal-Access database system for tracking campaign contributions and spending, and make it easier for people to vote through early voting and other such programs.

He has managed to deliver on most of those, with 2 million more voters on state rolls now than when he was elected, an increase aided by the rollout of VoteCal online registration and the system created by the 2015 New Motor Voter Act (which Padilla sponsored) that automatically registers eligible voters when they receive or renew a driver’s license. And the new “Voter’s Choice” system that Padilla championed, which allows voters more options for when and how they vote, has been launched in five counties, with more expected to join in 2020 (it’s a voluntary program and not all will adopt it).

Editorial Board, LA Times

Padilla has done a fine job and has earned a second term from me.


California Controller
Betty T. Yee (D) vs. Konstantinos Roditis (R)
Four-year term. California Controller will next be decided in 2022.

The impact to this race in my neck of the woods would be a different signature on paychecks around the region. Betty T. Yee’s name is ubiquitous to those who’ve received either a paycheck or a tax return in California, so Konstantinos has an uphill climb for name recognition. More importantly is that the State Controller acts as the head of accounting for the State and ensures everything runs smoothly. 

We know Betty can do that, so the electoral question is can Konstantinos do that better? Well, reading his Candidate statement doesn’t encourage me. He takes the opportunity to laud his credentials in favor of partisan talking points. I looked into his positions and he says he doesn’t take “lobbyist, PAC, union, big business, corporate, or special interest money.” Those are all good things, until you realize his campaign is basically self-financed and I’m not in favor of someone trying to buy their way into Government. 

The LA Times Editorial Staff again puts this best:

When Democrat Betty Yee ran for state controller four years ago, we weren’t persuaded that she was better prepared for the post than her Republican opponent, Fresno’s then-Mayor Ashley Swearengin, whom we endorsed. Yee won, of course, and we’re pleased to acknowledge that she has performed her official duties well. We enthusiastically endorse her for reelection.

The choice was made even easier by the doldrums in which the California Republican Party has found itself. This is yet another statewide race in which the best the Republicans could come up with is a candidate — Anaheim businessman Konstantinos Roditis — with little public service history, no statewide name recognition, comparatively few donors (his campaign is primarily self-financed) and a limited sense of how the office that he seeks actually works. Roditis also is pushing a hare-brained “trickle up taxation” proposal to have local governments collect all taxes and set policy for many programs, then pass on to the state government only the money it needs to fulfill its statewide responsibilities, which would be a logistical and policy nightmare.

Editorial Staff, LA Times

Betty Yee has my vote. 



California Treasurer
Greg Conlon (R) vs. Fiona Ma (D)
Four-year term. California Treasurer will next be decided in 2022.

This one is pretty easy. Greg Conlon is an 85-year-old, twice-unsuccessful candidate, who lives in Atherton. I can’t see him being a progressive voice in the administration, and he doesn’t seem to have a plan to address housing, student loans, or anything else really other than cutting taxes. Fiona Ma has basically every endorsement in the book.

Even if you’re a party-line Republican, I can’t see how Conlon is your candidate. Not only is Fiona Ma fairly non-partisan (in a non-partisan position for the most part), but she’s been proven to be a staunch crusader against waste and corruption.

Again, the Editorial Staff at the LA Times has done all my hard work here. 

Ma currently sits on the Board of Equalization. She served as member of the state Assembly from 2006-2012, where she was speaker pro tempore under Speaker John Perez, and, before that, was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Her background is in accounting — she’s a CPA who worked for Ernst & Young before starting her own accounting practice in San Francisco. As a member of the Board of Equalization, she (along with Controller Betty Yee) was instrumental in sparking an investigation into a scandal involving nepotism and improper use of civil servants for political purposes by her fellow board members. The scrutiny culminated in a 2017 law that stripped the Board of Equalization of nearly all of its duties and staff, leaving it with only the core duties required under the state Constitution.

Easy choice. Fiona Ma. 


California District Attorney
Steven Bailey (R) vs. Xavier Becerra (D)
Four-year term. California DA will next be decided in 2022.

Sometimes I’m an issues voter. Becerra is not without his controversy, but when Bailey goes on the record to say “I do not support net neutrality,” that tells me all I need to know about who I want to be our top legal official in the State. 

Lest I be accused, here’s the whole quote from an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribute:

Union-Tribune: California lawmakers have set up their own “net neutrality” law because of unhappiness with the FCC’s abandonment of “net neutrality.” Is it time for the attorney general to take up online privacy issues as well in the face of inaction by Congress?

BAILEY: I do not support net neutrality.

The internet has functioned fine without government getting in the middle of it and screwing things up by imposing regulations. Therefore, I am naturally opposed to a state-run net neutrality rule. Having California try to interject itself and impose net neutrality rules that are supposed to govern the internet in our state is mindless, stupid and won’t work. These new rules more than likely also violate the interstate clause of the Constitution.

That’s a particular issue I’m very passionate about and I expect California to defend it. I don’t think Bailey will do that. 

Becerra gets my vote


California Insurance Commissioner
Ricardo Lara (D) vs. Steve Poizner (NP)
Four-year term. California Insurance Commissioner will next be decided in 2022.

In searching for information on this race, the best information I’ve found is from a San Francisco Chronicle article.

It was a mistake, said Poizner, who calls himself a social progressive and a fiscal conservative.

If there is a phrase that irks me more than anything it’s this one. What is a fiscal conservative? Someone who still believes in the fantasy of trickle down economics? Someone who thinks the state with the most billionaires and the largest companies in the country has an over-regulation problem?

My other problem with Poizner is that he ran for Governor as a Republican and became an “Independent” when he got into this race. What’s more is that during his Gubernatorial run he ran on a platform that California has been over-run with illegals and they were causing all out problems. 

He wasn’t right for Governor. He isn’t right for any public office. 

Lara doesn’t necessarily have any substantial qualifications beyond his time in the State Assembly and State Senate, which is at least something. What I do love about Lara is his vision regarding making California “a pioneer in climate insurance.”

Lara has my vote.


For the four State Board of Equalization districts – I’m not going to lie here – I didn’t know what the board did. I’m guessing you might not also. Apparently, they are “a public agency charged with tax administration and fee collection,” and, are “the only publicly elected tax commission in the United States.”

What’s more is that in June 2017, Governor Brown signed a law basically removing most of the board’s powers. Even one of the Candidates in this very race, Tom Hallinan, in his CVG Candidate statement says, “The Board of Equalization is no longer necessary. I will work to close it down. If you agree, I’d appreciate your consideration. Thank you, Tom Hallinan.”

That’s some baller shit right there. 

So what does it do now? According to Wikipedia, “The Board still has its constitutional powers to review property tax assessments, insurer tax assessment, alcohol excise tax, and pipeline taxes.[10] The Board will retain 400 employees, with the rest of its 4,800 workers being shifted to the new departments.”

So, given all that – I’m trying to care. I really am. 

District 1
Ted Gaines (R) vs. Tom Hallihan (D)

District 2
Malia Cohen (D) vs. Mark Burns (R)

District 3
Tony Vasquez (D) vs. G. Rick Marshall (R)

District 4
Mike Schaefer (D) vs. Joel Anderson (R)

I think the sane thing to do here is read up on this one yourself. I’m voting for Hallihan, because that guys has nuts. I’m also voting for Tony Vasquez, because he didn’t even bother submitting a statement. I’m voting for Malia Cohen, because she’s been a dedicated advocate for a higher minumum wage. She’s experienced and deserving. Lastly I’m voting for Joel Anderson. 

Superintendent of Public Instruction (Nonpartisan office)
Tony K. Thurmond vs. Marshall Tuck

Both of these men seem genuinely interested in being champions for our schools. If it matters to you, the ACLU awarded Tony Thurmond with a 100% Legislative rating

On the other side, reading through Marshall Tuck’s plan  I see a lot of stuff that isn’t what I’d call “in the know.” It’s a lot of obvious stuff that I don’t find overly compelling. I’m not saying he’s not genuine, or won’t do a good job, but ultimately, what I see on his public facing site isn’t as compelling as what I see on Tony Thurmond’s. 

Thurmond has my vote on this one.


Judges

In California, our State Supreme Court (SCOC?) works a little different thanother places. Our judges are appointed by the Governor, which is standard, butthen, at the next Gubernatorial election (and at the end of a twelve-year termfrom their appointment) that Judge is subject to “Retention” elections wherewe, the electorate, decide if they should continue on in that position. If amajority of the voters say “no,” that seat is declared empty and the Governorwill appoint someone to fill it.

In this election, California has two judges are on the ballot for retention.

Carol A. Corrigon has been on the SCOC since 2006, appointed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. She has reached her 12-year term and as such is up for a retention vote. She is 70 years old.

Her most notable case is in regards to marriage equality, where she dissented. This has caused a movement by some to keep her from being retained as a Judge.

For me, I read through the opinion and dissent, and while she was ultimately on the wrong side of history, her reasoning is what I look for in a judge.

Her dissent begins:

“The majority correctly notes that it is not for this court to set social policy based on our individual views. Rather, this is a question of constitutional law. (Maj. opn., ante, at pp. 4-5, 109.) I also agree with the majority that we must consider both the statutes defining marriage and the domestic partnership statutes.”


She’s not anti-marriage equality. She was giving a legal argument based on her understanding of the Constitution, and it’s not a bad argument. I think holding her to an account as a judge is about her loyalty to the law as it is so much about her loyalty to herself as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Ultimately she ended up on the wrong side of history, and it’s easy to blame her for making a legal argument when a moral one may have been more proper.

She concludes her dissent with the following:

“The processof reform and familiarization should go forward in the legislativesphere and in society at large. We are in the midst of a major social change.Societies seldom make such changes smoothly. For some the process is frustratinglyslow. For others it is jarringly fast. In a democracy, the people shouldbe given a fair chance to set the pace of change without judicial interference.That is the way democracies work. Ideas are proposed, debated, tested.Often new ideas are initially resisted, only to be ultimately embraced. But whenideas are imposed, opposition hardens and progress may be hampered. Weshould allow the significant achievements embodied in the domestic partnershipstatutes to continue to take root. If there is to be a new understanding ofthe meaning of marriage in California, it should develop among the people of ourstate and find its expression at the ballot box.”

So, yes – I personally think she was wrong. And history thinks she was wrong.Does choosing a legal argument over the moral argument of equality make her ajudge we should fire?

I don’t think that’s a precedent I want to set.

I vote to retain her.

Leondra R. Kruger was appointed in 2015 by Governor Jerry Brown. This is the first Gubernatorial election since she was appointed, putting her retention on the ballot. She is 38 years old.

So far I just don’t see any reason to not retain her. I skimmed through her opinion in Barry V. State Bar of California and nothing in it I find controversial in the slightest.

Vote to retain.



That’s it for now. I’ll be working on my local Yolo and West Sacramento guide shortly. 




Merlin 2018 Voting Guide – California Propositions

While I’m working this all of these propositions, I’m starting (presumably like the rest of you) with The California General Election Official Voter Information Guide.

For your information:
Election day is Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Polls are open from 7:00am to 8:00pm on Election Day

On page two of the Voting Guide is the Voter Bill of Rights in California. It’s worth a read to know what you can and cannot do regarding your vote.

Looking for your polling place? Click here.

So we’re all on the same page, let me establish a baseline of knowledge for us all to work off of…

What’s a ballot proposition?
The California State Government functions in much the same way the Federal Government does, passing laws in the State Senate and Assembly before the Governor signs them into law – but in California, we also have Direct Democracy. Either the Legislature or the people themselves via petition, can take a law directly to the voters. What’s particularly unique about California’s system is that once voters pass a proposition or ballot initiative it’s law and can only be altered or overturned by either another ballot initiative or, in rare cases, the State Supreme Court. The Legislature can’t overturn it. The Governor can’t. Only the people can. Good to keep that in mind when reading through these.

Also, while I’m defining things….

What’s a Bond?
Municipal Bonds are essentially proposed spending by the Government beyond what may already be outlined in law to spend on whatever project we’re trying to fund. In short, the state will create Bonds in the amount outlined and sell them in the Bond market to potential investors. General Obligation California Bonds can have “maturity” (when they’re paid back with interest) between one and forty years. The length of time is typically in the bond language.

That all clear? Here’s a guide if not.

Proposition 1 – Authorizes bonds to fund specified housing assistance programs. Put on the ballot by the Legislature.

What the guide says:

“Authorizes $4 billion in general obligation bonds for existing affordable housing programs for low-income residents, veterans, farmworkers, manufactured and mobile homes, infill, and transit-oriented housing. Fiscal Impact: Increased state costs to repay bonds averaging about $170 million annually over the next 35 years.”

There’s a fair bit to unpack there – how is any of this defined? Looking at the text of the law, this is the relevant part for me: “The Affordable Housing Bond Act Trust Fund of 2018 is hereby created within the State Treasury. It is the intent of the Legislature that the proceeds of bonds (exclusive of refunding bonds issued pursuant to Section 54026) be deposited in the fund and used to fund the housing-related programs described in this chapter.”

Often times when I see a Bond on the ballot my first question is who has the authority to spend it and what is their authority to spend it. In this case, the intention is to create a dedicated fund to combat housing issues in vulnerable demographics.

If you read through the text of the prop, the money gets earmarked for a variety of purposes – two examples:

  • One billion five hundred million dollars ($1,500,000,000) to be deposited in the Housing Rehabilitation Loan Fund established pursuant to Section 50661. The amounts of money in the fund shall be used for the Multifamily Housing Program
  • Three hundred million dollars ($300,000,000) to be deposited in the Regional Planning, Housing, and Infill Incentive Account, which is hereby created within the fund.
  • Three hundred million dollars ($300,000,000) to be deposited in the Joe Serna, Jr. Farmworker Housing Grant Fund
  • Three hundred million dollars ($300,000,000) to be deposited in the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund
  • Three hundred million dollars ($300,000,000) to be deposited in the Self Help Housing Fund (Self-Help Housing Fund shall be used to provide grants or forgivable loans to assist in the rehabilitation or replacement, or both, of existing mobile homes located in a mobile home or manufactured home community)

Also from the CVG: “In total, the bond funds would provide annual subsidies for up to 30,000 multifamily and 7,500 farmworker households. The funds also would provide down payment assistance to about 15,000 homebuyers and home loans to about 3,000 veterans. In some cases, such as for the down payment assistance programs, Californians could quickly begin to benefit from the bond funding. In other cases, such as for the construction of new affordable multifamily housing, it could take several years for Californians to benefit from the measure”

Why you should vote for this: California needs affordable housing options in general, but specifically creating a fund to tackle this problem is a targeted approach. The $4B price tag is mitigated over the next 35 years (If I bought one of these bonds I’d be 75 years old when it matured).

Why you shouldn’t vote for this: Though California’s budget is well managed, it’s large, and this is an added expenditure. Over the course of the bond maturation, the actual cost (once factoring in interest) will be much higher than the initial price tag (closer to $8B according to an article I read). Most of the arguments against this are financial in nature and bureaucratic related.

Why I’m voting FOR this: In short, something needs to be done. The price tag (relative to our $2.7T economy) is small. The effects of these programs is fairly unknowable, but I think dedicating wallet and mindshare to creating housing solutions is a good place to spend our taxpayer money – which, by-the-by, is spent as interest on the Bonds as they accrue value. Addressing our homeless problem is necessary and what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working. This, coupled with Prop 2, I think drives toward a solution that actually has an impact.


Proposition 2 – Authorizes bonds to fund existing housing program for individuals with mental illness. Put on the ballot by the Legislature.

From the CVG:

“Amends Mental Health Services Act to fund No Place Like Home Program, which finances housing for individuals with mental illness. Ratifies existing law establishing the No Place Like Home Program. Fiscal Impact: Allows the state to use up to $140 million per year of county mental health funds to repay up to $2 billion in bonds. These bonds would fund housing for those with mental illness who are homeless.:


What’s the No Place Like Home Program?

“On July 1, 2016, Governor Brown signed landmark legislation enacting the No Place Like Home program to dedicate up to $2 billion in bond proceeds to invest in the development of permanent supportive housing for persons who are in need of mental health services and are experiencing homelessness, chronic homelessness, or who are at risk of chronic homelessness. The bonds are repaid by funding from the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA).”

This is the bond to pay for that program:

Here’s how the financials break down on this according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (who supports it but oddly is the group on the CVG advocating against it):

  • Proposition 2 offers counties $2 billion through state bonds, which are financed by MHSA funding, to build supportive housing units through the No Place Like Home Plan.
  • The California Department of Housing and Community Development will award these funds to counties through non-competitive and competitive grant allocations.
  • No Place Like Home offers counties approximately $190 million in non-competitive grants.
  • No Place Like Home also offers $1.8 billion in competitive grants.
  • All counties are eligible to receive a minimum of $500,000. For any funds above this amount, the funds are allocated to each county based on the county’s proportional share of the state’s homeless population as measured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

 

Why you should vote for this: Endorsed by the State Sheriffs Association, the Firefighters Association, the league of women voters, habitat for humanity, and many others, this law intends to support a pre-existing law to fund supportive housing for the mentally ill, in theory, helping many of them out of homelessness.

Why you shouldn’t vote for this: NAMI Contra Costa branch is against this because they think it seems to cost too much and it’s not necessary to spend more because of previous legislation.

Why I’m voting FOR this: Funding for this program and the support it has from the community and respective associations is very swaying. I read through the law and beyond the argument of “more bureaucracy” and “we can do it without the government help,” I’m not swayed by counter-arguments. Homelessness and mental illness are problems are things that should be in the realm of government obligations to its citizenry. If we can provide better housing options, and we can provide better mental illness services, than the rest of us get to live in a nicer society. This is a big picture vote for sure, and isn’t without some hope that it works, but still worth the try in my opinion.


Proposition 3 – Authorizes bonds to fund projects for water supply and quality, watershed, fish, wildlife, water conveyance, and groundwater sustainability and storage. Put on the ballot by petition signatures.

From the CVG:

“Authorizes $8.877 billion in state general obligation bonds for various infrastructure projects. Fiscal Impact: Increased state costs to repay bonds averaging $430 million per year over 40 years. Local government savings for water-related projects, likely averaging a couple hundred million dollars annually over the next few decades.”

By petition signatures? Who really wanted this on the ballot?

From BallotPedia:

“Gerald Meral, who developed the ballot initiative, was deputy secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA), overseeing the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, from 2011 to 2013. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) appointed Meral to the CNRA. […] Meral described his ballot initiative as a follow-up to Proposition 1. He said, “We pretty much modeled this on Prop. 1. It’s very heavy on groundwater (restoration), wastewater recycling and water for fish and wildlife.”


“Who is contributing to the campaigns surrounding this ballot measure?

The committees in support of Proposition 3 had raised $4.88 million. The largest contributions to the support committees were the California Waterfowl Association ($495,000), Ducks Unlimited ($415,000), and Western Growers ($275,000). There were no committees registered to oppose Proposition 3.

Looking at the text of the initiative, there’s a lot of interesting tidbits. Chapter 4: “Accountability” provides some transparency to the citizens. For example: “The Natural Resources Agency shall provide for an independent audit of expenditures pursuant to this division no less than every three years.”  And this one: “On or before January 10, 2020, and every six months thereafter, the Natural Resources Agency shall publish on its website a report that contains all of the following information relating to this division for the previous six months with the information summarized by section of this division: (A) Funding encumbrances. (B) Summary of new projects funded. (C) Summary of projects completed. (D) Discussion of progress towards meeting the metrics of success”

So where does the money go?

Great question internet reader who’s somehow managed to make it this far… In short, it’s all over the place. $750m to improve water quality with caveats outlined about the types of projects this money can fund. $500M for grants and loans to improve public water infrastructure with more caveats. Etc. etc. To be honest, the project list is pretty exhaustive but always comes with caveats.

Why you should vote for this: If you’re a Californian, you know water is important to this state. It’s infrastructure money.

Why you shouldn’t vote for this: It’s a lot of money frankly. It’s money we’re going to have to spend anyway at some point, but with the scope of this bond there is an argument to be made that with size comes waste, and we could fund these projects on a smaller scale to curb that.

Why I’m voting FOR this: I like clean water. The detail about where the money can be spent is there and no committee is against this. I also am very in favor of the transparency measures they include in the text of the bill. All-in-all, this isn’t about getting more water, it’s about getting cleaner, safer water, and providing an infrastructure that prevents what happened to Flint, MI happening here.


Proposition 4 – Authorizes bonds funding construction at hospitals providing children’s health care. Put on the ballot by petition signatures.

From the CVG:

“Authorizes $1.5 billion in bonds, to be repaid from state’s General Fund, to fund grants for construction, expansion, renovation, and equipping of qualifying children’s hospitals. Fiscal Impact: Increased state costs to repay bonds averaging about $80 million annually over the next 35 years.”

What the text of the initiative says:

  • “The proceeds of bonds issued and sold pursuant to this part shall be deposited in the Children’s Hospital Bond Act Fund, which is hereby created.”
  • “The purpose of the Children’s Hospital Program is to improve the health and welfare of California’s critically ill children by providing a stable and ready source of funds for capital improvement projects for children’s hospitals. The program provided for in this part is in the public interest, serves a public purpose, and will promote the health, welfare, and safety of the citizens of the state.”

Let’s not overcomplicate this one.

Why you should vote for this: Dude. Sick kids.

Why you shouldn’t vote for this: You should vote for it. Literally, no one but a game named Gary Wesley is against it. He wrote: “As to this particular measure (borrowing money to further subsidize children hospitals), I suggest we first look at improving the entire health care system.”

Why I’m voting FOR this: Sick kids need hospitals. It’s really that simple. If we’re going to dare to call ourselves a moral society it starts by coming together to support sick kids.


Proposition 5 – Changes requirements for certain property owners to transfer their property tax base to the replacement property. Amends the State Constitution. Put on the ballot by petition signatures.

Well, we’re out of Bonds and on to laws.

From the CVG:

“Removes the following current requirements for homeowners who are over 55 years old or severely disabled to transfer their property tax base to a replacement residence: that replacement property be of equal or lesser value, replacement residence be in the specific county, and the transfer occurs only once.

Removes similar replacement-value and location requirements on transfers for a contaminated or disaster-destroyed property.

Requires adjustments to the replacement property’s tax base, based on the new property’s value.”

Explain all this please – From the Sacbee:

“Under existing law, a home’s tax value is only changed when it is sold. Property taxes are set at 1 percent of the purchase price, and that tax value can only increase by as much as 2 percent a year. Since Proposition 13 passed in 1978, that has produced huge disparities in property tax bills between identical houses, depending on when they were bought.

Since Proposition 13 became law, voters also added further protections for seniors. Homeowners who are older than 55 – or who are disabled or whose house has been destroyed by a natural disaster – can make a one-time “transfer” of the tax value of their home to a new house, as long as its market value is not higher than the old one.

Proposition 5 would allow all homeowners older than 55 to use this same tax break to buy a more expensive house, as many times as they want. Also starting Jan. 1, it would allow transfers from anywhere in the state. As of November, only 10 counties will allow transfers from outside counties, none in the Sacramento region.”

Why you should vote for this: You’re over 55 and want to upgrade your house, but not pay more property taxes

Why you shouldn’t vote for this: The revenue for property taxes are what fund local schools, police, fire, and general services of municipalities. The long-term budget effects could be devastating. From the Legislative analysis in the CVG: “The revenue losses from people who would have moved anyway would be bigger than the gains from higher home prices and home building. This means the measure would reduce property taxes for local governments. In the first few years, schools and other local governments each probably would lose over $100 million per year. Over time, these losses would grow, resulting in schools and other local governments each losing about $1 billion per year (in today’s dollars).”

Why I’m voting AGAINST this: This is just creating a tax shelter for people who otherwise don’t really need one, and it has detrimental effects on the budgets of small towns – like mine. People are choosing to sell their house and buy a more expensive one – no one is forcing them into that, and providing a tax shelter for that so those people can arbitrarily pay fewer property taxes than their younger neighbor who bought the house the same day is silly.

 


Proposition 6 –  Eliminates certain road repair and transportation funding. Requires certain fuel taxes and vehicle fees be approved by the Electorate. Put on the ballot by petition signatures.

From the CVG:

“Repeals a 2017 transportation law’s tax and fee provisions that pay for repairs and improvements to local roads, state highways, and public transportation.

Requires the Legislature to submit any measure enacting specified taxes or fees on gas or diesel fuel, or on the privilege to operate a vehicle on public highways, to the electorate for approval.”

Explain this to me:

Right now taxes on gas or diesel can be passed by the State Legislature (and have been), and the revenue from those taxes can be designated to be spent on road repair. This proposition would reverse the most recent tax (passed in 2017) and require all tax increases of this type be put on the ballot as a proposition. In short, the State Legislature will lose the power to pass gas tax increases.

Why you should vote for this: Taxes are evil! The Government is too big! Put it in the hands of the people! – I’m kidding, but not by much. The argument against this prop is fundamentally that taxes are bad, and the calculus of putting the power directly to the electorate is that they’ll also think taxes are bad. Voting yes on this will lower the cost of the average tank of gas.

Why you shouldn’t vote for this: Putting aside the idea that “taxes are [good|bad],” the roads belong to the people, and it’s up to the Government to ensure they are drivable. Gas taxes are a good way to fund that cost (as the wear on the roads is related to the gas consumed while driving on them). Repealing the tax at this point won’t lower your costs that much, and furthermore, putting the power of direct taxation with the people may have unintended consequences and lead to infrastructure projects being funded through other, less related means.

Why I’m voting AGAINST this: I like my roads repaired, I like them paid for, and I think a gas tax (I drive an SUV FWIW) is a good way to pay for it. Gas taxes are contentious for sure. Regardless of how much costs go up, people still buy gas. Oil companies know that. The Government knows that. In this case, I’d rather my money go to road repair rather than corporate bonuses.


Proposition 7 –  Conforms California daylight saving time to federal law. Allows legislature to change daylight saving time period.

From the CVG:

“Establishes the time zone designated by federal law as “Pacific standard time” as the standard time within California.

Provides that California daylight saving time begins at 2 a.m. on the second Sunday of March and ends at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday of November, consistent with current federal law.

Permits the Legislature by a two-thirds vote to make future changes to California’s daylight saving”

What’s the deal, yo? Why is this even a thing I’m voting on?
While it seems like this is from the big book of “I don’t care,” there are some people who want California to abandon the whole clock change thing, but, because of a law passed in 1949, California can’t decide to do that without a ballot initiative. Welcome to that initiative. The point here is to essentially nullify that 1949 law, put us in line with the current federal standards, and most importantly, give us the opportunity to change our participation in DST via Legislative action rather than a ballot initiative.

Why you should vote for this: If you want the Legislature to control whether or not we control our participation in DST.

Why you shouldn’t vote for this: You see this as a first step toward eliminating DST and you think that’s a bad idea for a variety of reasons.

Why I’m voting FOR this: I lived in Arizona and liked that the clocks didn’t change. Made it simple. I don’t really care one way or the other. Seriously, I don’t. I’m voting for simply because it creates the opportunity to change, and that, at very least, may compel me to actually care about this issue in the future.


Proposition 8 –  Regulates amounts outpatient kidney dialysis clinics charge for dialysis treatment

From the CVG:

“Limits the charges to 115 percent of the costs for direct patient care and quality improvement costs, including training, patient education, and technology support.

Requires rebates and penalties if charges exceed the limit.

Requires annual reporting to the state regarding clinic costs, patient charges, and revenue.

Prohibits clinics from refusing to treat patients based on the source of payment for care.”

What’s the deal, yo? Why is this also a thing I’m voting on?

The short version is that Dialysis is life-prolonging/saving, essentially, and expensive. The purpose of this is to curb those costs to 15% more than it costs the Chronic Dialysis Clinics (“CDCs”) to provide the service. But how out of control is the profitability on Dialysis? I don’t know, but what I do know is that when presented with regulations regarding profitability chained to costs, costs seem to magically change. This proposition may not change the cost of an individual’s treatment, but because of how things are categorized, could impact the cleanliness of the facility, the “niceness” of centers, and so forth. With every regulation comes a way to skirt the regulation.

Why you should vote for this: This bill *could* lower costs per patients, and could force CDCs to provide better care as they add services and facilities to raise costs to keep pricing the same.

Why you shouldn’t vote for this: You think that this bill is too flawed and could have lasting unintended consequences. You could also be against regulation in general and think that the Government shouldn’t get involved in the profitability of a private company.

Why I’m voting FOR this: I’m voting for this because I don’t see a problem regulating the profitability of life-saving services. There’s still plenty of money to be made, and as long as there is money to be made, clinics will remain open. I’m less worried about unintended consequences than I am bankrupting people who need medical treatment.


Proposition 9 –  Splits the state into “CALIFORNIA,” “NORTHERN CALIFORNIA,” and “SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA”

Removed from the ballot by the State Supreme Court. If you wanted to split us up – sorry. Better luck next time.


Proposition 10 –  Expands local Government’ authority to enact rent control on residential property. 

From the CVG:

“Repeals state law that currently restricts the scope of rent-control policies that cities and other local jurisdictions may impose.

Allows policies that would limit the rental rates that residential-property owners may charge for new tenants, new construction, and single-family homes.

In accordance with California law, provides that rent-control policies may not violate landlords’ right to a fair financial return on their rental property.”

This is one of the most contentious ballot propositions in this election. Prop 10 has the potential to create widespread change in a very tough housing market. We all know rent has reached the ridiculous in many areas. The main focus of this ballot proposal is to repeal a law known as “Costa-Hawkins.”

From the CVG:

“A state law, known as the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act (Costa-Hawkins), limits local rent control laws. Costa-Hawkins creates three main limitations.

  • First, rent control cannot apply to any single-family homes.
  • Second, rent control can never apply to any newly built housing completed on or after February 1, 1995.
  • Third, rent control laws cannot tell landlords what they can charge a new renter when first moving in.”

Repealing that law allows local municipalities to enact their own rent control laws SHOULD THEY CHOOSE TO. Whether or not you think Rent Control is a good idea is what you’re deciding here. What you’re deciding is whether or not you think your local town should decide on whether or not rent control is a good idea. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of this, Vox has a good article. In short, Rent control has good and bad, but if your a homeowner renting your house, it could be bad.

Why you should vote for this: Rent Control in the big city is fine, but I think it’s a good idea for my town too. Moreover, I want the power to decide on rent control to be done by my local government, rather than the state level.

Why you shouldn’t vote for this: Rent control makes sense in the big city, but if I want to rent out my house I shouldn’t have to have that potentially controlled by a small city government appealing to the lowest common denominator. The problem isn’t solved by limiting prices, the problem is solved by increasing demand.

Why I’m voting FOR this: I’m voting for prop 10 because I think we should be deciding this at the local level. I’m not even necessarily in favor of rent control – but I am in favor that a town in Orange County has different issues than West Sacramento, and our locally elected leaders should have the power (like they do in LA or SF) to make those changes. Does Rent Control work? That’s not really relevant to the discussion. For me, let’s have that argument in small-town city halls.


Proposition 11 –  Requires private-sector emergency ambulance employees to remain on-call during work breaks. 

From the CVG:

“Makes labor law entitling hourly employees to take work breaks for meals and rest, without being on-call, inapplicable to private-sector emergency ambulance employees. Regulates timing of meal breaks for these employees.

Eliminates employers’ liability—in actions pending on or after October 25, 2017—for violations of existing law regarding work breaks. Requires employers to provide training regarding certain emergency incidents, violence prevention, and mental health and wellness.”

The short of it:

While Fire and police services are mostly public agencies, EMTs and Ambulances are private sector companies contracted with the Government. Because they are private sector they are required to give breaks throughout the day (as are any private sector employees in California). When a call comes in there then exists a quandary where either the company insists that their EMT end their legally actionable break to “go back to work,” or not do that and potentially cost someone their lives.

In the CVG no one bothered to submit an argument against this.

Why you should vote for this: While not public employees, they’re in the business of saving lives and your In n Out Double Double can wait.

Why you shouldn’t vote for this: You… um… shit. I don’t know.

Why I’m voting FOR this: This one is a no-brainer for me. Err on the side of saving lives.


Proposition 12 –  Establishes new standards for the confinement of specified farm animals; bans sale of noncomplying products

From the CVG:

“Establishes new minimum space requirements for confining veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens.

Requires egg-laying hens be raised in the cage-free environment after December 31, 2021.

Prohibits certain commercial sales of specified meat and egg products derived from animals confined in a noncomplying manner.

Defines sales violations as unfair competition.

Creates good faith defense for sellers relying upon written certification by suppliers that meat and egg products comply with new confinement standards.”

The Veal of it:

Sorry about the veal pun. I love meat, but I don’t eat Veal. Anyhoo, this essentially provides for a better environment for animals to be raised in before they create or become food. Egg-laying hens currently just have to be in a cage that allows them to turn around freely. Starting in 2020 they have to have 1 square foot of cage space each. Starting in 2022 they must all be cage-free. The same phases in approach apply to Breeding pigs (I love pork), and Calf raised for veal. The intent here is to raise these animals in a more humane way (before we double-tap them and turn them into a McRib).

Factory farming is terrible in many ways (besides production and costs), and animal cruelty is awful and this law attempts to address that. The downside is the costs associated with the transition farmers will have to make to accommodate this law.

Why you should vote for this: You believe that the current practices in housing these animals is cruel and want to enact change, while still giving time for the Farmers to implement this over the next four years.

Why you shouldn’t vote for this: This law creates un-needed restrictions on farmers that will drive up food costs and allows cruel animal practices to continue until 2022.

Why I’m voting FOR this: This one is also a no-brainer for me. While I enjoy the eating of the animals, I’d prefer to ultimately remove myself from the factory farming system and hunt my meat. Until someone teaches me how to hunt (or rather, I seek it out), and I buy my meat at the grocer, making changes to the system I think is necessary and wanted, and furthermore, the scaled, measured implementation makes sense to ensure our farmers have time to get this done.


That’s it. Twelve propositions…

Next up… Candidates!

The Merlin 2018 Voting Guide

For a country that celebrates its freedom and democracy by shooting bombs into the sky just because we like the color of the explosions we also make it somewhat difficult to participate in said democracy. Whether it be the confusing fact that we vote on a Tuesday (a relic from our days pre-civil war as an agrarian society), or that in many places the local Governments are actively trying (as an election strategy) to make voting harder, American elections are fraught with obstacles that have been highly effective as stymying the vote. Even those of us who seek out the tortuous ordeal of voting in-person on election day see the glaring holes in the system.

One of those holes is that political marketing and campaigning have taken traditional methods (stumping, speeches, position papers) and modernized them for the mobile consumer. Speeches are on Youtube. Policy quips on Twitter. Speech transcripts on Facebook. And along with that bit of tradition comes the darker side as well. Politics has been as much about mudslinging as it has been about positive messaging, and this too in the age of the social network clogs up our feeds with accusations, inferences, and implications that Candidate X may not be the right candidate for me after all.

How do we sort through all that? Enter the political party – Red versus blue. Us versus them. Liberals versus Conservatives. “I don’t know anything about her, but she’s a Democrat like me – she’s got my vote.”

But in the modern era of ever-shifting party principals, much of which is based on simply being in opposition to those who are trying to agree, how can you guarantee that someone holds your interest enough to earn, truly earn your vote?

This basic question – who should I vote for – isn’t a simple one. It’s not supposed to be. I understand that it’s difficult and, frankly, daunting to do the research required to understand what the candidates stand for and what their intentions are. Misinformation is rampant. Dismissal of real and valid information of “fake news” is now as ubiquitous as actual fake news.

I’ve written this after doing my best to research the ballot choices in California this year, while also adding a few other races from around the country in. I’ve done my best to look at both sides (if there is one), and offer you a choice in how I see it. I’ve also tried my best to explain why I’m voting the way I’m voting. In most cases, I’ve read through the text of the proposed laws and tried to fact check both the positive and negative comments made about it.

Full disclosure: I’m a registered Democrat, and considered “liberal.” To me, that means I’m more likely to see the importance in fairness and the advocating for taking care of our citizens and their money – in that order – rather than simply taking care of our citizen’s money. Keep that in mind and we’ll be fine.

The order I’m addressing these is in line with the California Voter’s Guide (“CVG”), which you can find online here.

After that, I’ll be tackling my local election in West Sacramento / Yolo County, and you can find that document online here.

Above all – vote. Please. It’s the only thing we really need from you. We can argue about taxation, and social democracies, and capitalism – but let’s not argue about the importance of voting.

What happens after you finish the rough draft?

There is this moment,
A moment found in the eastern hemisphere of the period that is preceded by the simple words “the end.”
For that moment, It doesn’t seem to matter the size of the font,
It doesn’t seem to matter what the seventy-thousand words prior to that period are.
What matters is my right ring finger, on instruction from my brain, but more on instruction from my heart, finds itself poised on the key, and with more pomp that that finger normally receives, it is asked to thunderously hammer a small round dot to the end of an adventure.

That moment, that elation, that rounded railroad spike of finality, hammered through the keyboard with purpose and resoluteness, reverberates back through your finger, your hand, your arm, your heart, and your mind – causing a cascading feeling of accomplishment that is as strong as any drug, any kiss, any manufactured moment of joy, to wash over you.

The first step after – the answer to the question – is to climb back onto the ledge from which you leaped seventy-thousand words prior. To find yourself back, looking over the world you built, the lives you created and destroyed, the passion you felt and instilled, and appreciate being able to look across that great plain of experience and seeing off in the distance the curve of that final period as it drops off into the horizon.

Take a minute, take a day, take a week to appreciate yourself… and once you do… get back to work. There’s editing to be done.

Sonoma Fires – Staring off the Edge of the Earth

I ride the train every day. It’s generally a peaceful affair, and after one or two trips the slow methodical rocking back and forth becomes a ubiquitous feeling that the regulars don’t even notice. When you first start riding the train much of the trip is spent staring out the windows, taking in the sites, understanding what it must have been like for people a hundred years ago to move from place to place; but after one or two rides, so too does the passing scenery and the golden hills of our beloved Northern California fade into the periphery of me and my fellow commuters, staring intently at our digital lives or catching a quick nap.

I’ve ridden the train nearly every day for four months and stopped looking out the window a long time ago, but this week has been different. Those golden hills have been replaced with an opaque beige, a choking smoke that has taken the picturesque canvas of the California landscape and wiped it clean. It’s as if the world were flat and we’re looking off the edge of the world into the vast nothingness. The sun, reduced to a burnt umber eye staring at us intently through the smoke, casts the world in a surreal and pale orange, giving everything an odd dreamlike quality that makes me wonder when we all get to wake up to see the sapphire of the sky, the gold of the hills, and the white of friendly smiles.

In a conversation yesterday with an old friend, watching in horror from afar as the anchor point to her life, the place the long rope of time eventually snakes back to, burns – we shared a joke and found ourselves discussing the guilt of stealing levity from the ludicrous. We needed that moment, a flat palm over the lip of the chasm, pressing on the edge to lift us up, even for a moment.

In the face of disaster, you find within yourself things that you might not have known prior – for me it’s an appreciation for community, a marvel at the kindness and goodness in people, but also a rage that has no outlet. I feel and understand the impulse to fight that which cannot be fought. I want to shake my fists, and scream for it all to stop; I want to believe that the flames have a conscious, and can feel remorse for their endless appetite. They don’t though, for as much as the flames eat, and run, and jump, and dance, and scream, they have no soul. They contain no conflict in their action, and their only real byproduct is memories. In their wake, besides ash and soot, are memories of the things we had, the things lost, the moments had, the moments lost. That’s the exchange the flames offer – they feed off the bricks you’ve laid down during your life, and in return, you’re left with only their memories.

I know quite a few people who’ve lost their home in totality to these fires and trying to fathom the feelings that accompany such an ordeal don’t serve to do justice to those I know who are experiencing it. My hometown has been burned, and now many of those places from my youth will exist only in memory. In these times of chapter after chapter of disaster and trauma being placed on the shelf we long to put down that bookend where we can take a collective breath and do our best, as a community, to figure out what needs to change and how we can be better – but maybe we need to stop waiting and recognize our own resilience, generosity, and charity.

The coming days, weeks, months, and years will be trying for many. The physical bricks of people’s lives have been melted away, but the experience of laying them hasn’t. I’m encouraged by how so many people I know have come together, the only tenuous connection the shared proximity of youth, to help start laying new bricks. New houses will be built, new homes made, new businesses, new streets. The charred scars of this disaster will give way to new growth, new trees, and new lives – and soon enough all that will remain of this last week will be memories that the flames left behind, and the community that rose up to shake a fist, a fire hose, and the fortitude of their resilience.

 

 

Special thanks to all the first responders – the police keeping people safe, the EMT’s and paramedics, the doctors, the nurses, the volunteers, the community – and most of all, the fire fighters. Stay safe.

9/11 at Suisun City Train Station

On the train to the city… the same thing I was doing 16 years ago. We just arrived at Suisun Station. This is where I got off and waited for two or so hours while they inspected all the trains to ensure they were safe. I made it home just in time to watch the first tower fall.
 
Until Brian called me to tell me what was going on, I didn’t know. My dad had called and left me a voicemail early in the morning telling me he loved me and hoping I was okay. He never called me that early, and I thought maybe he was sick since it was so out of place. 
 
While driving my kids to school today, we talked about it. We talked about how terrorists seek to incite terror and hurt, maim, and kill people as a means to their end – but that any endeavor that can only be accomplished through acts of, terror, intolerance, or inhumane cruelty cannot be righteous in intent. I told them that those 19 men with box-cutters and a bankrupt ideology were willing to give their lives to hurt us and to instill fear, and in some ways, they accomplished that goal.
 
I think it would be easy to look at politics, the ongoing wars, climate events, and the other noise and wonder if the world is better… but I think we’ve all risen up quite a bit and may not notice how much higher our collective tide is. The fight isn’t over but marriage equality is real. The fight isn’t over but social and racial injustice aren’t things being whispered about at brunches and barber shops. The fight isn’t over but the conversations we’re all having, every day, are about how we all can be better, more united, more fair, more just, more equal, more loved, and continue to move forward and progress as a people.
 
In that context, sixteen years after it rained stone, steel, and blood onto the streets of Manhattan, while division remains, I feel very confident that what they endeavored to ultimately accomplish that day failed. They sought prolonged fear, they achieved prolonged resolve. They sought to maim us, but only left the shadow of a faint scar.
 
It’s sometimes difficult for me to bifurcate patriotic pride from inane tribalism – but just taking a moment to think about that day sixteen years ago – and think about those that ran into the buildings… and those that drove into the storm last week… and those driving into the storm today, all to grab the hand of those that need help because those people are *our* people… those are the days where I’m proudest to be an American.

Pitch Wars, Year 1

This was my first year doing Pitch Wars.

I didn’t get picked.

In fact, I didn’t get a request for pages, an encouraging note, or correspondence of any kind; and while that is disappointing it’s not surprising.

One of the most interesting parts of this experience for me was approaching it with little expectation about my personal success. I only considered entering days before the submission date and cobbled together the required pieces. My manuscript has been finished for a while, having been written, revised, revised, revised, revised again, put away, pulled back out, obsessed over, revised, and put away again. When Pitch Wars presented itself as an opportunity I pulled it out again, put together a revised query, a synopsis, and away we went.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, given the efforts, talents, drive, and hunger from you, the other authors – the reason I didn’t get picked is that I simply didn’t deserve it as much as those that did. I’m not saying my writing wasn’t good, that’s not for me to judge. I’m not saying that my characters weren’t interesting, or that my idea wasn’t unique, or that my work wasn’t worthy – I’m saying that’s not what this contest was necessarily about. It was about those who were ready and had positioned themselves on a great cliff, willing to step off the ledge to see if they had wings made from feathers or stone… and the mentors looking for the right hand to hold as they stepped.

I know that wasn’t me. Not this year.

Being part of this group has let me experience those who also have a passion to fulfill the manifest destiny of the soul. You, we, they, them… have some part, a whisper deep in our chest, that grows to fill out every ounce of our being until it can’t be contained anymore and pours onto the page through our fingertips. I feel it. I do. I know you do too. We stare off into the middle distance, trying our best to parse and compile thoughts into some coherent stream of story – to aspirate life from imagination and exorcise a singular moment of intangible thought out into the physical world.

Pitch Wars is the first “writer’s community” I’ve been a part of. It’s the first time that I’ve been able to experience – not just a conjoined communal passion for writing – but also the passion for being heard. The passion to have a voice. It’s a recent thing in my life to have the moxie to let people read what I write. It’s a recent thing in my life to understand that I’m just as entitled to be heard as anyone. I didn’t get picked because I didn’t understand that the way I do now, and others did. Many, if not most of you did.

If you, like me, didn’t get picked, don’t think for a second it’s because your voice didn’t deserve to be heard. The submissions were a murder of diamonds, with the mentors sorting through them not for their worth, but for their inclusions; and whether or not they liked the particular way you sparkled, doesn’t make you any less precious.

I’m excited for next year. I’m working on something new, and hopefully it will be done in time to spend more mental equity on the other parts – to use the community for help, to refine my voice in trying to describe my story – and with luck, maybe next year I’ll find myself on that cliff ready to jump off. I hope you will be there to jump with me.

 

Wondering what Pitch Wars is? Click here, or follow #Pitchwars on Twitter.

Charlottesville, Pride, and Perseverance

Thinking about this past weekend’s events in Charlottesville, I find myself often lost in thought about the “why” of all this. Why did Heather Heyer lose her life? Why did that man feel enigmatically compelled to commit such a horrible act? Why did a sea of people feel the need to take up torches, a symbol intrinsically tied to a very specific hate group, and march in the street? Why did it take our President two days to condemn those groups? Why do those people feel so proud to be white?

It’s overwhelming and sad, and that last question gnaws at me.

Why do you, I, or anybody take pride in being white, black, brown, gay, trans, or any other race, ethnicity, creed, or identity? What is pride anyway? Is it simply being proud of some characteristic that accidentally was bestowed upon you at birth, or is it more? Is pride ultimately is the emotional connection to perseverance in the face of hate?

I have pride in my Jewish heritage because my people throughout history have been persecuted and murdered, and to take pride in that heritage is to shake a fist at those who failed to extinguish our light while honoring those that fell to the venom of hate. Similarly, black pride, LGBTQ Pride, Latino pride is about squaring your shoulders to the gale of inequality that has tried to push you back. To say you’re proud to be Black, or Proud to be Rainbow, or Proud to be Latino is to acknowledge the perseverance required to be those things and to honor those that fell to the hurricane while still providing shelter to those walking behind them.

White pride is to take pride in power. If you’re proud to be white – yes, you’re proud of the accomplishments of white people – which, sure – white people have contributed many great and wondrous things to the world – but when it comes to power and subjugation, if you proclaim “White Pride,” to those that have been subjugated, oppressed, enslaved, murdered, controlled, demoralized, criminalized, and segregated – you’re taking pride in those accomplishments too.

Bigotry is real. Black people have a long history of oppression in the country. LGBTQ people are still fighting for equal rights in many states. Study after study shows that being white, on the aggregate, means higher wages, more employability, might rights, and more safety. You can pick any individual out on the scatter plot and say, “Not that white person!” or “that Black Lesbian makes more money than me” – but that ignores the cumulative effects of systemic, proven, institutionalized racism and inequality that minority communities still face.

Yes, poverty is the great equalizer, but solving poverty doesn’t end racism, bigotry, or hate.

Black Pride, in part, comes from this: “There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. (Assassinated)

LGBTQ Pride, in part, comes from this: “It takes no compromising to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions.” – Harvey Milk (Assassinated)

Jewish Pride, in part, comes from this: “Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees: Jews were required to wear a yellow star; Jews were required to turn in their bicycles; Jews were forbidden to use streetcars…” – Anne Frank (Killed in the Holocaust)

Latino Pride, in part, comes from this: “It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life. I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice.” – Cesar Chavez, advocate for basic humanity in work

More often than not “pride,” particularly in the context of race, ethnicity, creed, or sexuality, is intrinsically tied to perseverance in the face of oppression, bigotry, and the exertion of power.

“White Pride” lacks that essential perseverance, as in this country, White people have been the ones oppressing, subjugating, and exerting power. A friend and I had an earlier conversation where my friend said that for him, pride in being white came from the story of his family, who a hundred years prior, came here from Eastern Europe and built a life, tasted the American dream, and setup future generations; but  that’s not “white pride,” that’s pride in your family. That’s pride in America. To have “White Pride” for that is take pride that your family most certainly had opportunities that black families that had been freed from slavery a scant 35 years prior still didn’t have. I’m not saying those immigrants didn’t work hard, or struggle, or suffer, or require grit and perseverance themselves to make it – I am saying that taking pride in your race as part of why you got there is to take pride that your family had opportunities, that many descendants of slaves absolutely did not.

In my family, it’s the same reason Benjamin Gendenlaf changed his name to Benjamin Love, as there was an advantage on paper in people thinking he wasn’t Jewish.

Charlottesville shows us all that we have a long way to go. While there is an absence of leadership in the White House, we can look to our community leaders, the voices who still ring out loudly on the topic, and the echoes of the past to light the dark tunnel ahead.

I’m white, until I’m not: Being a Jewish Atheist in the era of Trump

Most of my life I’ve been white… except when I wasn’t. As a young child, maybe six, I came up what I thought was the perfect insult: “Goo Goo on You.” It was marvelous in its simplicity and ease of use. Mom would say, “Eat your vegetables”, and I’d respond “Goo Goo on You!” My mother would laugh, and of course, I’d still have to eat my vegetables — but it was empowering, and silly, and fun, and I used it often… that is until someone else in the family responded with “Goo Goo on Jew.”

According to the generally accepted notion that Judaism is passed from mother to child, I’m not technically Jewish. My mother, a woman of mixed western-European decent, met my father, a Jewish man from Philadelphia, in the mid-1970’s where his afro was at the height of popular hair styles.

I didn’t grow up going to Synagogue or Hebrew school and only had the vaguest notion that I had any kind of otherness. My father through most of his life practiced a new-age spiritualism, meditating and talking the healing power of crystals. My mother has always been Christian, her faith waning and strengthening at various parts of her life. I would describe my childhood religion as moderately theistic, but not in such a way that put religiosity forward as a crucial element to our family. When I was five, my parents divorced, further distancing me from religion or a notion of belief.

When I was twelve I became friends with a guy from school named Josh. He was the son of the local Rabbi, and I was invited to my first Shabbice dinner at their house. Everything was strange and formal. The lighting of the candles, the washing of the hands, the prayers in Hebrew; I marveled at it all, and the Rabbi, Jonathan, presented each part as if it was something that had always been part of me. From the beginning, he treated me as a Jew, ignorant only to the mechanics of belief, but part of the greater tribe. A month later, my father and I were invited to the Passover Seder and I saw for the first time in my life my father don a yarmulke and recite prayers and perform rituals he had left behind two decades before.

Through most of my high-school years, I spent Friday nights at Rabbi Jonathan’s house, always welcome to dinner. I often attended Synagogue on Saturdays and studied and learned as much as I could. When I was sixteen I was invited for the first time to participate in services, acting as one of the people to open the ornate Ark on the Bima. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was in many respects a Bar Mitzvah. What’s more is that in truth it was a gift from Jonathan, letting me really understand my Jewish heritage and my place among those who proudly say, “I’m Jewish.”

My life at home, living with my father, was always overly independent. He was a good man who worked hard to provide, but while I lived with him from seventh grade through the end of high school I was mostly left to my own devices and to fend for myself. I spent most nights alone and learned self-reliance. In some ways, this was great for me, and in most other ways it was quite lonely. My mother’s house was turbulent with the upheaval of her third divorce, so the only real sanctuary I had was Jonathan’s house. His sons, Josh and Derek, remain two of my best friends to this day, and at Derek’s wedding (after five too many bourbons) I pulled Jonathan aside to thank him for making me feel part of the family, feel Jewish, and feel accepted.

As an adult, I’ve become quite atheistic in my beliefs, but still feel culturally Jewish. I feel a connection to the culture and rituals that will be with me my whole life. From the inane and silly love of Matzo Ball Chicken Soup when I’m sick, to the occasional lighting of Shabbice candles, I’m, for all intents and purposes, a Jewish Atheist. To most of the world, when they see me, I’m a white guy. Sure, my features might give me away to someone in the know, but I’ve also been mistaken for Persian, for Italian, for Russian. Most of the time, I am accepted as your run of the mill Caucasian. If you ask me, I’ll tell you I’m Jewish — Ashkenazi Jew specifically, my family hailing mostly from Poland.

Chris Rock, in his hilarious Bigger and Blacker stand-up comedy special, said, “I’ve never been in a barber shop and heard a bunch of brothers talking about Jews. Black people don’t hate Jews, they hate white people. We don’t have time to dice white people up into little groups.” So, I’m white — until I’m not

With the election of Donald Trump and the increased volume of the antisemitic “Alt-Right” movement, I find myself once again as an “other.” Facebook friends scorn the proliferation of freshly painted swastikas, but I don’t know think they understand the fear that puts into me and my fellow Jewish friends.

We like to think that we learn from history, that we as Americans will never let the horror of the holocaust be normalized here, but a decent portion of those same Americans will turn their cheek to call for a Muslim ban… or at very least vote for the person calling for it. Those who say we’ll never put people in camps fail to remember that America did just that to Japanese Americans in the 1940s. An article from the website “The Hill” cited an NBC News / Survey Monkey poll that showed 50% of respondents supported a Muslim ban.

When people ask me what I fear from a Trump Presidency, my answer isn’t President Trump. He seems to be swayed by the loudest voices screaming in his direction and right now the loudest voices are those that drive ideals that, while rooted in American history, don’t feel very American. I fear his supporters, emboldened by what he represents, and what they might do. Whether it be antisemitism, or Islamophobia, or Homophobia, or Anti-Latino, or Anti-Immigration — and the actions that follow those hollow belief systems — that’s the real fear. We, every one of us, regardless of race, sexuality, ethnicity, or immigration status, need sanctuary from this fear. It starts in our homes, with our own compassion. It needs to radiate to our communities, town, cities, and nation. A Sanctuary city is the one of the many concentric circles it takes to defeat evil. Your personal decision to not hate, to have empathy, and to educate yourself to the plight of those with less is the point where those circles begin.

That is the lesson I learned from Rabbi Jonathan; it starts with me. It starts with a call to action to not hate those who are different than me. To not look at someone and instantly judge them. To not fear someone because of what they wear or believe. To not be complacent as others do that to them. To accept I am an American — personally built on a history of different races, religions, and nations, and that as an American, as a member of two minority groups, I have a voice as important as anyone, and a role to play as someone willing to stand up for what is right. To open my checkbook when I can, to offer a couch or a blanket to someone cold, and to wield any amount of privilege I have for those lacking.

What can you do? Recognize that somewhere in your history you too were an other. It’s what America was built on, and you too have a role to play, a voice to be heard, and a vote. Join a protest, join a campaign, join an online community. Be an active participant in providing sanctuary where it’s needed. In our homes, in our communities, in our town, our cities, our places of worship, our schools, and in ourselves.

My community now isn’t just Atheists, or Jewish — I’m in the community of the others. White, brown, black, Asian, Native, Arab, Indian, Gay, Straight, Trans, Deists, Theists, and everyone else deserves sanctuary from the fear that someone is coming for us for something we can’t change. I’m willing to stand with you all and fight for what’s moral and right. I’m a Jew. I’m an Atheist. I’m a Father. I’m the Grandson of an Immigrant. I’m a feminist who believes in equality. I’m a liberal. I’m a voter, and I’m willing to speak up.