Gun Control

Taking a cue from SF, California Legislature bans plastic bags and offers paid sick leave


California lawmakers took two big steps forward last week, passing a statewide plastic bag ban and a measure providing workers with three sick days a year, both issues borrowed from San Francisco. California is the second state to pass each bill, with Hawaii banning plastic bags in January of this year and Connecticut enacting a similar sick leave measure in 2012.

Gov. Jerry Brown pushed hard for the paid sick leave measure, which barely made it through both houses after losing steam following an amendment that excluded in-home health care workers. Passing the plastic bag ban was also uncertain near the end, but it passed the Assembly with a 44-29 vote and then made it through the Senate by a 22-15 count.

“It took six years of advocacy and the building of a grassroots movement to make this happen,” California Director of Clean Water Action Miriam Gordon said in a statement about the plastic bag ban. “But with 121 local ordinances already on the books across California, our Legislature finally followed the will of the people.”

Brown was similarly thrilled about the passing of the sick leave bill, calling the legislation a “historic action to help hardworking Californians…This bill guarantees that millions of workers – from Eureka to San Diego – won’t lose their jobs or pay just because they get sick.”

San Francisco voters passed a similar measure in 2006 called the Paid Sick Leave Ordinance. The law, which made it through with 61 percent of the vote in the November election, requires all employers to provide paid sick leave to employees (including part-timers) working in the city.

The state sick leave bill that passed on Saturday was a notable achievement for labor advocates, but some Democrats weren’t thrilled about the amendments that gave in-home health workers the short end of the stick. Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) called it “BS” and told The Sacramento Bee, “I resent the fact that we are picking between two sets of workers.”

Lawmakers passed a few other notable measures last week, including a bill regulating groundwater and a gun-restraining measure that would give judges the power to temporarily remove firearms from those deemed dangerous or mentally unstable. The shooting incident in Isla Vista at UC Santa Barbara in May prompted the bill, while California’s extreme drought pushed the groundwater measure forward. Many believe the state is long overdue in making progress on gun control.

The firearm measure is key in preventing many of the mass shootings that have plagued the country in recent years. Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) noted, via the Los Angeles Times, that “none of those individuals had a criminal record or a criminal background. So we need tools such as this.”

Though it also took an extreme event to stimulate the groundwater regulation bill, the new legislation figures to make serious inroads in the effort to stop a drought that is affecting more than 80 percent of the state. If Brown signs off on the bill, making California the last western state with such regulation, the state would have the ability to enforce restrictions, and local governments would be required to develop groundwater regulations.

“A critical element of addressing the water challenges facing California involves ensuring a sustainable supply of groundwater,” said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) in a statement. “Overdrafting our groundwater leads to subsidence and contamination — consequences we cannot afford.”


Alerts: July 9 – 15, 2014




Talk on gun control

Commonwealth Club SF Club Office, 595 Market, SF. 6pm, $20 non-members, $12 members, $7 students. Michael Waldmanpresident of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and author of The Second Amendment: A Biography will recount the raucous public debate surrounding the Second Amendment and gun control policy in the United States. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the Constitution protects an individual right to gun ownership. Waldman argues that our view of the amendment is set, at each stage, not by a pristine constitutional text, but by the push and pull, the rough and tumble of political advocacy and public agitation. Moderated by Mark Follman, Senior Editor of Mother Jones.



Survival Adaptations

Adobe Books Backroom Gallery, 3031 24th St., SF. 7-10pm, free. This exhibition explores “the creative ways in which artists are responding to the challenge” presented by the changes in the Bay Area’s socio-economic landscape, and what the relocation of cultural administrators and institutions means for San Francisco’s future. The purpose of the project is to “reflect on our changing city” and “celebrate those who have chosen to stay and fight.”


Laborfest: SF waterfront labor history walk

Meet at Hills Brothers Coffee, 75 Folsom, SF. 10am-noon, free. Join this walk and learn the stories of San Francisco’s labor struggles, affecting the maritime industry from 1835 until 1934. Labor historian Larry Shoup will discuss the 1901 transportation workers strike, led by the Teamsters, which the San Francisco police failed to quell.

Sunday 13


Greening the Economy, the Emerging Green Job Sector and Making Your Own Life Eco-Friendly

First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, MLK Room, 1187 Franklin, SF. 9:30am, free (light breakfast offered for a slight fee). Sierra Club managing editor Tom Valtin will give a talk on how our economy is becoming increasingly “green” and how to live a more eco-friendly life. Part of the society’s Sunday FORUM Speaker Series, this event will highlight new opportunities in the ever-growing green job sector.

Complaint against Yee includes firearms trafficking and envelopes full of cash


The federal criminal charges filed today against Sen. Leland Yee (D-SF), local political consultant Keith Jackson, reputed Chinatown organized crime boss Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, and 23 other defendants allege a vast criminal conspiracy that was penetrated by undercover FBI agents, who say they then gave Yee envelopes full of cash in exchange for official favors.

Among the many bizarre aspects of this blockbuster case, Yee stands accused of taking part in a conspiracy to illegally smuggle firearms into the country, and using those deals to help secure campaign contributions for his current campaign for Secretary of State, while he was sponsoring a trio of gun control bills that were signed into law last year.

Yee, who reportedly faces 16 years in prison for two felony counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms, was arrested this morning during a series of early morning police raids, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment this afternoon, and was freed after posting a $500,000 unsecured bond.

Chow had a long criminal history as the admitted head of the Hop Sing gang in SF’s Chinatown, serving prison time. “Chow’s criminal history includes a guilty plea in federal court for racketeering, involving murder for hire, conspiracy to distribute heroin, arson, and conspiracy to collect extensions of credit,” the complaint notes. (You can read the full complaint here.)

Chow publicly claimed to go legit after being released from federal prison in 2006, and he has cultivated many high-profile business and political connections in San Francisco. But the 137-page criminal complaint that was unsealed today alleges that “Chow is currently the Dragonhead, or leader, of the San Francisco-based Chee Kung Tong organization,” which it describerd as a criminal syndicate connected to Hung Mun, a criminal dynasty that began in 17th century China, “also referred to as a Chinese secret society and the Chinese Freemasons.”

It says Chow was sworn in as CKT head in August 2006 after being released from federal prison, soon after the still-unsolved murder of CKT head Allen Ngai Leung. Chow’s swearing-in was reported in local Chinese media sources, so SFPD and FBI conducted surveillance there and launched an investigation.

CKT is allegedly part of Triad, an international Chinese organized crime group with ties to China and Hong Kong, and in San Francisco it is said to be comprised of Chow’s Hop Sing, a street gang with 200-300 members, and the Wah Ching gang headed by George Nieh, who was charged with a variety of crimes today.

“Nieh said he was in charge of the Wah Ching gang and Chow was in charge of the Hop Sing gang. Nieh said they used to be enemies, but banded together instead,” the complaint says, relating what they allegedly told FBI informants who had infiltrated the organization.

The FBI says it began infiltrating CKT five years ago, including an undercover FBI agent dubbed UCE 4599, who in May 2010 was introduced to Chow, who “then introduced UCE 4599 to many of the target subjects.”

Chow allegedly told UCE 4599 that he oversees all of CKT criminal enterprises, but doesn’t actively run them anymore, acting as a arbiter, or as a judge when one CKT member kills another. Nieh allegedly heads the criminal activities division and reports to Chow.

They are accused of laundering money made from “illegal activities, specifically illegal gambling, bookmaking, sports betting, drugs, and outdoor marijuana grows.” They allegedly laundered $2.3 million between March 2011 and December 2013 for UCE 4599, with members collecting a 10 percent fee for doing so.

UCE 4599 told Chow he was a member of La Cosa Nostra, an Italian mob, and in March 2012 he was inducted into CKT as a “Consultant,” the complaint alleges. It says that Jackson — a former San Francisco school board member and political consultant who has worked for Lennar Urban and Singer Associates — had also be inducted into CKT as a “Consultant,” participating in various criminal conspiracies.

The complaint says Jackson “has a long-time relationship with Senator Yee,” and “has been involved in raising funds for” Yee’s run for mayor “and for Senator Yee’s current campaign in the California Secretary of State election.” And much of the complaint details deeds allegedly committed by Jackson and Yee.

In fact, the second person named in the complaint, right after Chow, is Yee, “aka California State Senator Leland Yee, aka Uncle Leland.”

“Senator Yee and Keith Jackson were involved in a scheme to defraud the citizens of California of their rights to honest services, and Senator Yee, [Daly City resident Dr. Wilson] Lim, and Keith Jackson were involved in a conspiracy to traffic firearms,” the complaint alleges.

Yee and Jackson met UCE 4599 through Chow, and then Jackson allegedly solicited him to make donations to Yee’s 2011 San Francisco mayoral campaign “in excess of the $500 individual donation limit. UCE 4599 declined to make any donations to Senator Yee, but introduced Keith Jackson and Senator Yee to a purported business associate, UCE 4773, another undercover FBI agent,” who made a $5,000 donation to Yee’s mayoral campaign.

Yee had $70,000 in debt after that mayor’s race and worked with Jackson on ways to pay off that debt. “This included soliciting UCE 4773 for additional donations and in the course of doing so, Senator Yee and Keith Jackson agreed that Senator Yee would perform certain official acts in exchange for donations from UCE 4773.”

Yee allegedly agreed to “make a telephone call to a manager with the California Department of Public Health in support of a contract under consideration with UCE 4773’s purported client, and would provide an official letter of support for the client, in exchange for a $10,000 donation. Senator Yee made the call on October 18, 2012 and provided the letter on or about January 13, 2013,” and Jackson allegedly took the cash donation from the agent.

Meanwhile, it says Jackson and Yee continued raising money for his Secretary of State race by soliciting donations from UCE 4599 and UCE 4180, another undercover agent. “They agreed that in exchange for donations from UCE 4599 and UCE 4180, Senator Yee would perform certain officials acts requested by UCE 4599 and UCE 4180.”

That included Yee issuing an “official state Senate proclamation honoring the CKT in exchange for a $6,800 campaign donation, the maximum individual donation allowed by law.” Yee allegedly did so, and it was presented by one of his staff members at the CKT anniversary celebration on March 29, 2013.

Yee and Jackson are also accused of introducing a donor to state legislators working on pending medical marijuana legislation, the donor being another undercover agent who claimed to be a medical marijuana businessman from Arizona looking to expand into California, “and in payment for that introduction, UCE 4180 delivered $11,000 cash to Senator Yee and Keith Jackson on June 22, 2013.”

In September, after making another introduction, Yee and Jackson allegedly received another $10,000 cash donation for their services.

In August of last year, in an effort to raise more money, “Jackson told UCE 4599 that Senator Yee, had a contact who deals in arms trafficking.” Jackson then allegedly requested UCE 4599 make another donation “to facilitate a meeting with the arms dealer with the intent of UCE 4599 to purportedly purchase a large number of weapons to be imported through the Port of Newark, New Jersey…Senator Yee discussed certain details of the specific types of weapons UCE 4599 was interested in buying and importing.”

The complaint, a declaration by FBI Agent Emmanuel Pascua, does indicate that both Chow and Yee sometimes tried to declare their legitimacy to the FBI agents.

“It should be noted that throughout this investigation, Chow has made several exculpatory statements about how he strives to become legitimate and no longer participates in criminal activity,” it says.

For example, Chow has been working on book and movie deals about his life, and he would regularly make statements attempting to distance himself from CKT’s alleged criminal activities, as well as building connections in the political world. Chow posed for photos with then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and other local political figures.  

“Chow has also been portrayed in many Chinese newspapers as being involved in community affairs and has been photographed posing with local politicians and other community leaders. For example, in August of 2006, Chow was photographed hold a Certificate of Honor from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for community service of the CKT,” it reads.

But the complaint also said that Chow continued to make incriminating statements to the undercover agents “confirming his knowledge of and involvement in criminal activity.”

The complaint says that Yee also made many exculpatory statements and expressed discomfort with how openly UCE 4180 discussed overt “pay to play” links between cash donations and official actions.

“Despite complaining about UCE 4180’s tendency to speak frankly and tie payment to performance, and threatening to cut off contact with UCE 4180, Senator Yee and Keith Jackson continued to deal with UCE 4180 and never walked away from quid pro quo requests make by UCE 4180. In fact, Senator Yee provided the introductions sought by UCE 4180 and accepted cash payments which UCE 4180 expressly tied to the making of the introductions.”

Yee’s attorney, Paul DeMeester, told reporters they will contest the charges: “We will always in every case enter not guilty pleas, then the case takes on a life of its own.”

Officials in San Francisco and Sacramento are still reeling from the allegations. “I think the whole city is in shock at the moment,” Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who represents Chinatown and ran against Yee in the 2011 mayor’s race, told us. “Today’s widespread law enforcement actions are incredibly disturbing. The detail and scale of the criminal activities are shocking.”

California Senate President Darrell Steinberg told reporters today that he has asked for Yee’s resignation and that he plans to introduce a resolution Friday to suspend Yee and two other Democrats chargeed with political corruption, Rod Wright and Ron Calderon.

Sen. Mark Leno (D-SF), who took part in that briefing, told the Guardian, “I’m frustrated and angered on behalf of my constituents that my Senate colleagues and I are there each day to create positive changes and all of these situations are distracting…It reflects badly on a great institution.”

Guardian reporter Joe Rodriguez Fitzgerald, who contributed to this report, has been covering this case from the federal courthouse today, and we’ll have more on this unfolding story in the coming days and the next issue of the Guardian. 

Yee had a reputation for political corruption even before the federal indictment


Long before Sen. Leland Yee’s surprise arrest and arraignment on federal corruption charges today, Yee already had a reputation for, at best, political pandering and influence peddling; or at worst, corruption, a label for Yee long used in private conversations among figures in the local political establishment.

It was usually assumed to be the kind of low-level, quasi-legal corruption that is endemic to the political system: voting against one’s values and constituent interests in order to curry favor and financial contributions from wealthy special interests. In Yee’s case, his recent voting record seems to indicate that he was cultivating support from landlords and the pharmaceutical, banking, oil, and chemical industries for his current campaign for the Secretary of State’s Office.

But today’s indictment — which is expected to be released at any minute, and which we’ll detail in a separate post — seems to go much further, the culmination of a four-year FBI investigation tying Yee to notorious Chinatown gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, who was also arrested today. They and 24 others arrested in the case today are now being arraigned in federal court.  

The Bay Guardian has covered Yee throughout his 26-year political career, and we wrote a comprehensive profile of this controversial figure when he ran for mayor in 2011. More recently, in September, we wrote about some of his suspicious votes and refusal to offer credible explanations for them to activists he’s worked with before.

After that article, confidential sources contacted us urging us to investigate a series of strange votes Yee had cast in the last year, and we’ve been holding off on publishing that until Yee would sit down to talk to us about them. But each time we scheduled an interview with him, starting in November, he would cancel them at the last minute.

Maybe he was aware of the federal criminal investigation, or perhaps he had just decided that he not longer needed to cooperate with the Guardian as he sought statewide office, but he became increasingly hostile to our inquiries. Last month, when Yee saw San Francisco Media Co. (which owns the Guardian) CEO Todd Vogt having dinner with Board of Supervisors President David Chiu in a local restaurant, Vogt said Yee angrily accused the Guardian of being motivated by an anti-Asian bias in our inquiries and criticism, an incident that Vogt described to us as bizarre.

Guardian calls to staffers in Yee’s office, today and in recent weeks, haven’t been returned.

Yee has been a champion of sunshine (last week, the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal gave him a James Madison Freedom of Information Award for defending the California Public Records Act) and gun control, last year getting three such bills signed into law. SB 755 expands the list of crimes that would disqualify and individual from owning a gun, SB 374 prohibited semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines, and SB 53 made background checks a requisite step in purchasing ammunition.

But he’s disappointed liberal and progressive constituencies — renters, environmentalists, seniors, students, the LGBT community — in San Francisco and beyond with most of his other votes, some of which ended up killing important legislation.

Yee voted against SB 405, which would have extended San Francisco’s plastic bag ban statewide. He also said no to regulating gasoline price manipulation by voting against SB 441, siding with the Big Oil over his constituents. And then he sided with Big Pharma in voting against SB 809, which would have taxed prescription drugs to help fund a state program designed to reduce their abuse, partially by creating a database to track prescriptions.

In addition to the Pharma-loving, ocean-shunning, oil-chugging votes Yee has cast, he has also turned a cold shoulder towards the elderly (by voting against SB 205, a bill that would make prescription font larger or, as the elderly would like to say, “readable”), the LGBTQ community (by voting against SB 761, which protects employees that use Paid Family Leave), students (by abstaining from a vote on AB 233, which would allow debt collectors to garnish the wages of college students with outstanding student loans), and tenants (by voting against the SB 510, the Mobile Home Park Conversion bill, and SB 603, which protects tenants from greedy landlords).

This year, as San Francisco’s other legislative representatives — Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblymembers Tom Ammiano and Phil Ting — announced efforts to reform the Ellis Act to address the escalating eviction epidemic in San Francisco, Yee has pointedly refused to support or even take a position on the effort.

In 2013, Yee sided with the Republican Party nine times on key votes, earning the scorn of many of his Democratic Party colleagues. Yee even voted for SCR 59, which would have created highway signs honored former Sen. Pete Knight, the late conservative Republican who authored Prop. 22 in 2000, strengthening California’s stand against same-sex marriage at the time.

Since we ran our “The real Leland Yee” article on Aug. 30, 2011, Yee has voted on 88 “key” pieces of legislation, according to the non-partisan, non-profit educational organization Project Vote Smart, and his final recorded vote has been “Yea” 80 times. He has abstained from voting six times, and has voted “Nay” just twice.

One of those votes came in response to a bill that was deemed “unnecessary” by Gov. Jerry Brown, but the other bill, SB 376, would have prohibited the harvesting and sale of shark fins in California.

In 2013, his voting record more closely aligns with Sen. Mark Wyland, a Republican from Carlsbad, than it does with any other Democrat on the Senate, finishing just ahead of Sen. Ron Calderon, the Southern California Democrat who was also indicted by the federal government on corruption charges last month after allegedly accepting bribes from an undercover FBI agent.

Throughout his legislative career, Yee has regularly supported Pacific Gas & Electric’s stranglehold on San Francisco’s energy market and benefitted from the company’s corrupting largesse. None of this may have crossed the line into actual criminal conduct — but for those familiar with Yee and his transactional approach to politics and governance, today’s indictment isn’t a huge surprise. 

Sen. Leland Yee arrested on corruption charges UPDATED


 California Sen. Leland Yee (D-SF) has reportedly been arrested on corruption charges following an FBI sting and raid on his office. In addition to our 2011 profile of Yee’s checkered voting history, over the last six months we at the Guardian have also been investigating Yee’s unseemly votes and actions on behalf of monied interests, so check back later to read our findings and more on today’s unfolding actions against Yee.

UPDATE: We posted a story on Yee’s unseemly reputation and voting history here, and we’ll soon be posting details of his indictment, which is just now being unsealed.  

UPDATE: We and other journalists are still pouring through the 137-page criminal complaint against Yee and 25 other defendants, but in short it charges that Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow “is currently the Dragonhead, or leader, of the San Francisco-based Chee Kung Tong organization,” an organized crime syndicate involved in widespread criminal activities and money laundering. And it charges that Yee, “aka California State Senator Leland Yee, aka Uncle Leland,” helped run an illegal firearms trafficking operation along with political consultant Keith Jackson, a member of the CKT syndicate. Yee is charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms, which is ironic given that his legislative bright spot last year was the passage of three tough gun control bills, as we discuss in our related story on his political history. 

Guns, gods, and government


EDITORIAL Humans tend to believe that we’re smarter than we really are. It’s a problem that can be exacerbated by concentrations of wealth and technological expertise, which can cause some people to believe they have an almost God-like power to manifest solutions to any challenge they confront, particularly when they have lots of money to throw at the problem.

But that’s really just hubris. It’s the story of Icarus striving for the sun and falling back to Earth when his technology failed him. Knowing our limits and feeling a sense of humility and social responsibility are the first steps toward dealing honestly with problems we face. And last week, we were reminded again of this reality by venture capitalist Ron Conway, the libertarian-leaning power broker who has taken a paternalistic hold on the city (see “The Plutocrat,” 11/27/12).

Being a newspaper that has always believed in gun control, we share Conway’s newfound desire to reduce gun violence, a cause he suddenly adopted after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December 2012. Conway and his Smart Tech Foundation last week unveiled some early designs for high-tech guns that only work in the hands of their owners, and which will notify those owners when someone has moved them.

“Let’s use innovation to bring about gun safety. Let’s not rely on Washington,” Conway told the San Francisco Examiner, which put the story on its Jan. 29 cover.

There are many levels of ridiculousness to Conway’s belief that his gizmos can do more to reduce gun violence than even modest federal regulation of the more than 300 million guns in this country. After all, guns are designed to inflict violence, and just 3 percent of gun deaths are accidental shootings (62 percent are suicides and 35 percent are homicides). Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza used guns from his home that he’d been taught to use by his mother, who ended up being his first victim, so it seems unlikely Conway’s guns would have changed that outcome.

When reporter Jonah Owen Lamb asked Conway how his technology differed from widely available trigger locks, he compared them to the iPhone, which invented a new market for its product. So the answer to gun violence is creating a new market for a new generation of guns that only their wealthy owners can fire?

While we’re not huge fans of the Second Amendment — the one that conservatives like Conway consider sacrosanct — we do understand that it was written to give the masses tools to resist wealthy and powerful oppressors. That includes people like Conway, fellow venture capitalist Thomas Perkins (whose comparison of progressive activists to Nazis has been lighting the Internet), and the Establishment politicians whom they sponsor.

Guys, society doesn’t need your gizmos, libertarian ideals, or hubris to address the most vexing challenges we face, from gun violence to global warming to creating a modern transportation infrastructure. We just need some of the obscene wealth you’ve been hoarding.


Blow your mind


SEX Examples of Americans’ obsession with sex abound. It seemed the mainstream media would never get over Miley Cyrus’ ostentatious twerking at the Video Music Awards. Politician Anthony Weiner managed to live down his sexting scandal, only to mar his comeback with still more sexting. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” broke records for its searing popularity, but its rape-y message inspired a feminist parody, substituting the lyrics “you’re a good girl” with “you’re a douchebag.”

One researcher in the field of human sexuality estimates that 95 percent of all the sexual activity humans have — in every society — is for pleasure, not for reproduction. Despite the fact that almost everyone is apparently having sex for the sake of sex, we still live in a country where certain public schools stick to abstinence-only sex education with zero information about birth control. Meanwhile, right-wing opposition to women’s reproductive rights threatens to send laws governing access to abortion and contraceptives hurtling back to the Dark Ages.

Given the ongoing cultural clash, it’s fitting that San Francisco — famous for its sexual institutions like the Folsom Street Fair,, Good Vibrations, and the Lusty Lady (may she rest in peace) — is poised to lead the way in offering one of the only Ph.D. programs in human sexuality nationwide.

San Francisco already boasts numerous pioneers in sexual education and related studies. City College of San Francisco, for example, began offering one of the first gay literature courses in the country in 1972, leading to the 1989 establishment of the first Gay and Lesbian Studies Department nationwide. And the National Sexuality Resource Center at San Francisco State University was created to promote sexual literacy, with the goal of replacing misinformation about sexuality and dispelling negative attitudes with evidence-based research on sexual health, education and rights.

The newest Ph.D. program will be housed at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS,, and is scheduled to get under way in 2014. Gilbert Herdt, an anthropologist who founded SF State’s National Sexuality Resource Center and has been working in the field of human sexuality for some 35 years, is the program director.

Formerly a professor at Stanford and the University of Chicago, Herdt had long dreamed of creating a Ph.D. program with a multidisciplinary approach to human sexuality, an effort he believes would have been stymied a decade ago by political resistance.

“A lot of people are shocked when they realize there is only one Ph.D. program in the United States on human sexuality,” Herdt notes, referencing a program offered at Philadelphia’s Widener University focused on sex education. The CIIS program will be the first accredited doctoral program in human sexuality in the western United States.

It took decades for women’s studies and gender studies to be considered Ph.D.-worthy academic disciplines, Herdt points out. But when it comes to this endeavor, “there’s one big difference: Human sexuality remains a taboo in the United States.”

Consider this. In the Netherlands, Germany and France, sex education in schools can begin as early as kindergarten. Here in the US, states such as Florida still lack comprehensive programs offering in-depth information on sexually transmitted disease or contraception. It might not come as much of a surprise that Western Europe has lower rates of unwanted teen pregnancy, HIV and STDs.

Sex ed was eroded as part of a political backlash. “In the ’70s, there began to be a series of moral campaigns — some were directed against abortion … some were directed against homosexuality,” Herdt notes. “When Reagan was elected, it ushered in a whole new social campaign — and for the first time, opposition to sex education and opposition to abortion was joined, and served as a bridge to connect different groups who had previously never been working together: groups that were against gun control, groups that were against abortion rights, and groups that were against homosexuality.”

All of which has led to the current state of affairs, and as things stand, “I consider the United States one of the most backward countries when it comes to comprehensive sexual education and positive values regarding sexual behavior,” Herdt says. But he’s hoping to play a role in changing that.

The Ph.D. program at CIIS seeks to train a new generation of experts in human sexuality with a pair of concentrations. The first centers on clinical practice for contemporary practitioners, marriage and family therapists or psychiatrists. The current training requirement for clinicians on human sexuality is a measly eight hours, which “just shows the disregard that society has for sexual pleasure, and sexual wellbeing and relationship formation, and so on,” in Herdt’s view.

The second concentration centers on sexual policy leadership. Asked to identify some of the most pressing policy issues of concern to sexologists, the program director said existing gaps in comprehensive sex education is a top priority, and predicted transgender rights would intensify as a major issue. “I also feel that the Republican assault on women’s bodies, women’s contraceptive and reproductive rights — this is a huge and very dangerous area.”

Herdt became involved with CIIS through a conference called Expanding the Circle, which merges the LGBT community with individuals working in higher education from throughout the country. Prior to that, he ran the National Sexuality Resource Center at SF State. Asked why he’d looked to CIIS rather than a major university to house the program, Herdt responded, “these large premier institutions, such as Stanford and Berkeley — you know, they have many, many extremely important programs … But they do have a more traditional emphasis when it comes to disciplines.”

At CIIS, on the other hand, he found openness to the kind of academic program he envisioned. Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington, columnist and author of numerous books on sex, will be a professor there along with Sean Cahill, director of Health Policy Research at The Fenway Institute and co-author of LGBT Youth in America’s Schools.

Promoting sexual literacy is just as important of a program goal as influencing policy, Herdt said. “Americans really continue to have very sex-negative attitudes when it comes to the body, the integration of sexuality with all the elements of their lives. So many people feel that sex is fragmented in their lives, and they don’t have a holistic sense of wellbeing.”

While advancements in neuroscience, psychology and other forms of research have all served to further our understanding of sexuality, Herdt bristles at the idea that it is all hard-wired.

“I’m very much aware that Americans continue to have a view that when it comes to the important things in sexuality, they’re all hard-wired in the brain,” he says. “I do not agree with that view. I believe that the most important things in human sexuality are the things we learn in society. The values we learn, the ethics, the way we can form relationships. The way we learn to love. Or not to love, to hate. These are such tremendously important issues in human sexuality and human development.” He added, “Let’s put it in its proper way: It’s interactive.”

Trayvon Martin: Can it happen here?


OPINION Like many others I have been captivated by the proceedings in the Trayvon Martin case. Personally, and as a member of the Board of Supervisors, it has inspired disappointment, outrage, frustration, and more questions about our criminal justice system than I have answers. But more than anything else this case prompts me to ask: Can this happen here?

However you feel about this particular case, we all like to think that in San Francisco we are more advanced than the rest of the country, and in most ways we are. From our Sanctuary City to our community policing strategies, we have always been conscious about race in our criminal justice system and City policies.

The neighborhoods I represent have 33 percent of the City’s African American population, more than any other area of our City, and we also have the highest concentration of young people, nearly 23 percent. More than half of the individuals who are incarcerated in San Francisco are African American and last year District 10 had the City’s highest number of youth on probation.

Regardless of their ethnicity, residents of areas that experience public safety challenges have a heightened sense of awareness or tension about what goes on in their neighborhoods. Unfortunately, sometimes seeing a young African American man is a trigger. It is a trigger to walk faster, be more alert, notify neighbors, or even call the police to report suspicious behavior.

This is the exact tension that a year ago led Mayor Lee to discuss implementing a version of New York City’s controversial Stop and Frisk Policy. Under this policy, each year police officers stop hundreds of law abiding citizens, the vast majority of which are African American, Latino, and young men on the suspicion that they may be engaging in illegal behavior. I was proud to join with many residents, faith leaders, and even our Police Chief in outlining more productive ways that we can interrupt violent behavior without instituting a policy based on racial profiling.

Thankfully, Stop and Frisk was never implemented in San Francisco, but the debate we had about it demonstrated that we still struggle with the role race plays in our criminal justice system and crime in our neighborhoods.

This verdict serves as a call to action for all of us that if we don’t want a similar tragedy to occur here, we must continue to do what San Francisco has always done best — lead the way. I will continue to push our City to have open dialogues about race in all of our public safety policies. I have spent the last year and will continue to do everything possible to strengthen our City’s regulations on gun control and work collaboratively with all of our communities to develop real solutions to violence that are rooted in protecting and supporting our neighborhoods instead of racial profiling.

Malia Cohen represents southeast San Francisco on the Board of Supervisors.

Emulating Switzerland


Today’s “human nature is revolting” story comes from the state of Utah. Apparently, one the state’s leading gun-rights activists was busted for threatening his ex-wife’s family with a 2.5 tom Army surplus vehicle, as he intended to run over all of their cars with his. His lawyer says it’s no big deal and he was just “having fun in his big boy toy.”. 

I guess that crushing other people’s property could be construed as boys will be boys, assuming the boy in question is another porcine asshole with privilege issues, but it got to thinking about the mess that is the gun debate in America. Around and around it goes and as it accelerates, it gets crazier and meaner. Gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, is getting ricin laced hate mail from people that are apparently terrified that he’s gonna do to the Bushmaster as he did to the Big Gulp. Bloomberg’s PAC is sinking a ton of cash into gun control friendly candidates, making him the embodiment of the anti-NRA. The latter group has kept their lawmakers in check for years by threatening to run well funded opponents against anyone not toeing their line–if Bloomberg can match them dollar for dollar, this is a new ball-game.

And a new one would be coming anyway, Bloomberg or not. While sales of firearms are up, gun ownership is down. The same people are simply buying more weapons, wound up to the gills with the irrational fear that “Obama’s gonna take your guns”. The market is getting smaller, though and the NRA–no longer a gun safety or hunter’s rights group but really a trade association dedicated to expanding gun makers revenues–is getting cranky.

The center can’t hold. It is inconceivable that the US government would ever seize the millions of weapons in private hands, even if there was overwhelming public demand for same, it’s physically impossible. It’s also inconceivable that the public’s patience for inaction will remain much longer. A simple vote on innocuous background checks–which are supported by about 90% of the country--was unable to pass cloture in the Senate. The senators that voted against it watched their approval ratings plummet. So what now?

How about a new idea that works wonders elsewhere. In Switzerland, where there is no standing military, able bodied males over 18 are issued a rifle and bullets and fulfill the role of militia. As the Second Amendment attaches the right to bear arms to a “well regulated militia”, why not implement the same idea of a sort in the US? Every home in the US becomes required by law to have one firearm per adult, registered to same and with a reasonable amount of ammunition for same. Training and safety courses must be passed every few years like a trip to the DMV is. 

Surplus weapons can be sold back to the government. And locked up in armories.

I can see where both sides would hate this idea. Gun control advocates would be furious at the idea that the hated and lethal firearm would be mandatory–but who says they have to be loaded? The firearm fetishist upon whom the gun industry depends would be furious as well as their collections would be depleted–but once again, an idea–“remove and prove”. You collect weapons, remove firing mechanism and prove same.

Yes, it’s a pain in the ass in a lot of ways, but America can’t continue down this path. If every home has a couple of guns in it, according to the logic of the pro-gun cadre, no one will rob it (I know this isn’t true, but bear with me). Everyone will be presumably safer (that is to say, less scared)–isn’t that what they want?

Most people, yes. The NRA, of course not. As an adjunct to business, they have to show higher revenues each quarter and this idea more or less ends them. But that’s coming anyway–fairly soon, the gunmaker could be anyone with a 3-D printer. Sorry, Mr. LaPierre.

It is but a simple suggestion, but I think it’s a workable compromise. Because the all or nothing gambit is getting us nowhere. 

Boston, a day later


It’s hard to know what to say about the Boston Marathon bombings. Except that I don’t believe the guy on the roof did it, and I don’t believe the government did it to get its hand down our pants, and nobody has any idea if some organized domestic or foreign terrorist group was responsible or if it was a lone nut. Whoever it was, the person doesn’t seem to have been overly sophisticated in the making of explosive devices; this one was pretty crude. Or maybe the bombmaker knew exactly what he (could be she, but there aren’t many female mad bombers) was doing, and wanted to look like an amateur.

We do know this wasn’t a suicide bomber. The perp wanted to get away.

I suspect we will find him soon enough. There are so many agencies and people looking for the bomber; unless this was the work of someone who remotely triggered the bombs by cell phone from somewhere far, far away, there’s not going to be anywhere to hide. Also: So many cameras everywhere these days. The bomber — or the person who placed the bombs — is on film in downtown Boston. Almost certainly.

As we did after 9/11, we will probably over-react. New invasive rules on transport systems, more spying, more surveillance …. all things that wouldn’t have prevented a single angry bomber from carrying out the attacks. People who are opposed to gun control will say: See! Gun-control laws won’t stop pressure-cooker bombs!

There will be increased security at public sports events. I don’t know how they’re going to deal with Bay to Breakers, which not only winds through the city, past lots of places where bombs could be hidden, but also involves thousands of trash cans and porta-potties. You can’t get rid of those; the people who live along the course would be livid when their front yards and driveways became trash heaps and pissoirs. Searches will be more serious at AT&T park, which means lines will be longer. We can live with that. 

If you want some perspective on what it feels like to be terrorized, check out my old friend Don Ray’s blog on “the sitting duck syndrome.” He notes:

The bombs that exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon have created the same response in people across the United States. The repeated blasts (repeated and repeated and repeated on television) have communicated with the primitive, “I have to survive” reptilian brains of millions of people. It has put them on notice that, “It could happen here. Today. Tomorrow. Even right now.” Welcome to the world of terrorism. It’s very effective. People in other parts of the world already know about this. So in the coming weeks and months, some of us will feel the need to carry weapons or to avoid crowds completely. Others of us will look at the violence that’s happening in distant parts of the world and maybe begin to become a little bit empathic. Maybe — just maybe — some of us will equate U.S. drones and missiles and bombs with the sitting duck, unexpected violence that is the intended byproduct of terrorists.

Not to get all foreign-policy preachy here, but that’s something to think about.