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It’s not hard to imagine a group of conservatives in the Bay Area sitting around trying to think of some horrible person to invite to speak at Cal in order to make academics and liberals look bad.

Earlier this year the horrible person was Milo Yiannopoulos, who turned bigotry into a career that flamed out when he started championing pedophilia shortly after his abbreviated Berkeley appearance. Though numerous other colleges around the country had politely and quietly turned Milo away,  knowing that his campus appearances were intended largely as provocations, Cal had said OK and even let the junior Republicans on campus book him into the largest lecture space on campus.

To the surprise of no one, a semi-organized group of self-styled anarchists showed up and made a mess of things to the point that the show couldn’t go on. Just as the organizers had hoped, UC Berkeley officials were portrayed as weak-kneed hypocrites. The headlines told us that Berkeley, home of the free speech moment, had put a muzzle on provocative speech. Almost none of the news coverage mentioned the other  campuses that had simply uninvited Milo in the first place. Berkeley tried to stay true to its free speech roots and took it on the chin.

(Critics do make one good point, which is that it might have been smarter for the police officers on hand to have made some arrests rather than simply watch the unfolding shenanigans.)

For the young conservatives, earnest types who perhaps couldn’t get into Stanford and couldn’t afford USC, the Milo thing couldn’t have gone any better if they had planned it. Which they did. So they got back together and came up with another horrible person, Ann Coulter. You know who she is, and if you don’t, I’ll provide a glimpse of her shameless brand of racism in a moment.

The Berkeley brass was presented with the prospect of a Coulter appearance that was publicized before they had been consulted.  Look what happened the last time, they said as they declined to roll out a Coulter carpet. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, so we’ll pass.

And so the conservative crowd is huffing and puffing again. Their argument goes like this: Those liberals are just so close-minded, and they don’t want people to hear “the other side.” Which would seem to suggest that the conservative crowd is big on courting ideas contrary to their own, a notion for which there is slight supporting evidence.

Here, for them, is a sampling of what “the other side” has to say. It’s taken from Coulter’s most recent blog posting. Conveniently, it’s about immigration, which was to be her topic at Berkeley.

She writes:

… Breathing a sigh of relief that, unlike Western Europe, we don’t have Muslim rapists pouring into our country, recall that we have Mexican rapists pouring into our country.

Almost all peasant cultures are brimming with rapists, pederasts and child abusers. Latin America just happens to be the peasant culture closest to the United States, while the Muslims are closest to Europe.

According to North Carolinians for Immigration Reform and Enforcement, immigrants commit hundreds of sex crimes against children in North Carolina every month — 350 in the month of April 2014, 299 in May, and more than 400 in August and September. More than 90 percent of the perpetrators are Hispanic.

They aren’t even counting legal immigrants. Aren’t those worse? Only certain Republicans get excited about the difference between legal and illegal immigrants. The rest of America is trying to understand the point of the last 40 years of legal immigration. Why was this necessary?

Below is a very short excerpt from a few days in November 2013. As Stalin is supposed to have said, sometimes quantity has a quality all its own.

(She lists the names of a half dozen Hispanics arrested in North Carolina in 2013 before continuing)

… The list, for a single month in a single state, goes on in the same vein through 87 separate offenders. When not providing North Carolina meatpackers with cheap labor, immigrant workers seem to spend all their time raping little girls.

To be fair, there are also Asian names, such as Y’Hon Nie (Indecent Liberties With Child, First Degree Sex Offense-Child, Second Degree Sexual Offense); and David Vo Minh (First Degree Sex Offense-Child, Indecent Liberties With Child).

The stuff in italics above, that’s Coulter. There’s more, much more in every possible format. Those who might have been enlightened by her on campus have had plenty of previous opportunities to receive her message.

Sure, I would have preferred it if even someone as vulgar as Coulter had been allowed to speak, and that a reasonable number of police officers would have been on hand to keep the peace, and that people who don’t like Coulter’s hate-mongering could have held their signs while holding their noses.  I’m big on free speech. I think it’s great but I hate the way people of all persuasions play these little free speech games as they attempt to make “the other side” look bad. It’s not about ideas or expression. It’s a game, and it is tiresome.

Coulter’s immediate reaction was to say that the 1st Amendment essentially required Berkeley to host her, presumably along with  anyone else with any kind of message. Which is nonsense. Even Coulter knows the 1st Amendment says you can say most anything you want but it doesn’t require you or me or anyone else to provide you with a platform.

So here’s what I would do if I was in charge. I’d send a letter to Coulter telling her all about Cal’s  Sproul Plaza, made famous by Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s, the movement that made Berkeley synonymous with free speech. I’d probably include some photos of past events at Sproul, and I’d invite Coulter to take advantage of all that space the next time she’s in Berkeley. I’d also remind her that  graduation ‘s coming right up so she shouldn’t dally if she wants to draw a crowd.


Officials at the University of California at Berkeley on Thursday reversed their decision to cancel a speech by conservative firebrand Ann Coulter.

The university had announced Wednesday that it was canceling Coulter’s appearance following several political protests in Berkeley that turned violent.

But on Thursday, the university reversed its position, saying officials had found a venue where they could safely hold the speech on May 2, instead of the original April 27 date. However, a leader of the college Republican group that originally invited Coulter said the university was placing strict conditions on the event, and he said his group intended to reject the new terms.

Before the reversal was announced, Coulter had vowed to go ahead with an appearance anyway. That probably would have put security officials on high alert and might have sparked another showdown in struggles over campus safety, student views and ideological openness.

“What are they going to do? Arrest me?” she said late Wednesday on the Fox News show “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

Coulter said she “called their bluff” by agreeing to rules set by the university seeking to prevent violence.


In the past six months, at least six U.S. universities have canceled scheduled appearances by white supremacist agitator Milo Yiannopoulis. In most cases, the Steve Bannon protégé had been invited by campus Republican groups. The University of Miami was one of the first to cancel, based on security concerns. That speech would have been in June.

NYU canceled a talk set for November. According to the Inside Higher Ed website, Florida Atlantic University canceled a talk that would have occurred in September. At Villanova, a campus group announced Yiannopoulis was coming but the university put out a statement say that wasn’t going to happen.

Yiannopoulis made an appearance at DePaul in May, provoking some fairly strong protest, strong enough that the university nixed a repeat performance planned for the fall.

But UC Berkeley, the campus joined at the hip with free speech, expended considerable time, money and energy to try to accommodate a Yiannopoulis talk on Wednesday and is now being denounced as the campus that killed free speech. (The same thing happened, in less dramatic fashion, at UC Davis earlier, but Davis never had Berkeley’s special reputation.)

Amid a peaceful protest by some 2,000, many of them students, an estimated 150 militants from off campus invaded the campus a couple of hours before the scheduled talk. They broke windows, set fires, set off firecrackers, and hooted and hollered to the point that the university, in consultation with its highly experienced police department, canceled the talk. And across this seemingly intelligent land, conservatives and liberals alike fell for the cheap narrative, taking to social media, letters to the editor and any other forums they could find to denounce UC Berkeley for embracing or even promoting intolerance.

If the university administration had simply wanted to muzzle obnoxious opinion, it could have said no from the start, like so many others had done. There would have been a couple of news stories and our charming new president, the boss of Yiannopoulis’ boss, might have tweeted out something about those hippies out in California. But there would have been no dramatic footage, no fireworks, no visuals to coax poorly informed people to lash out at pointy-headed university types without a moment’s thought to all the places that had simply told Milo to stay away.

This provocation by a man who makes his living by promoting misogyny and racism worked as planned, even prompting Trump to hint at ending federal aid to the UC system.

The propagandists even have some people believing that some rich liberals paid the protesters to disrupt the speech. Try to imagine George Soros handing out cash to the anarchists of the East Bay with instructions to go nuts. People with some semblance of common sense in their day-to-day lives are “liking” Facebook posts with that message and retweeting similar nonsense, without giving any thought at all to NYU or the University of Miami, Florida Atlantic, Villanova or DePaul. Maybe Soros dropped off some cash at those campuses.

Am I saying those other schools should have provided a forum for such a creepy character? In truth, that’s a tough question but here’s the way I lean. When it becomes obvious that the intent of the speaker is to irritate rather than inform, to provoke rather than prod, and it is obvious that someone is going to get hurt, I might unhappily fall into the camp that says that while the First Amendment protects your right to say whatever it is you want to say, it doesn’t require me to give you a forum.

I’m glad the Berkeley brass tried to accommodate the fellow but it should be recognized that keeping him away would not have prevented anyone from receiving his hateful message. Any young person receptive to his world view has received it or could fill the void by clicking on You Tube. The earnest young Republicans at Berkeley and NYU and DePaul who invited Milo, I’m guessing they had more on their minds than enriching the academic experience by bringing in a thought-provoking speaker. Call me cynical, but I’m guessing that some of them were happy when the events were canceled. Point made. Those liberals are just soooo intolerant.

A final point. While I’m disappointed by those who have attacked the university without thinking it through, I’ve also been disappointed by the news coverage. KSBW’s 11 o’clock newscast last night was a fine example. The story line went like this. Controversial speaker was going to talk at Berkeley but the students rioted so it didn’t happen and the president might cut off federal funding and here’s some film. But mind you, this was the newcast Thursday night, not Wednesday night. There was time to gather an interview or two, some information about the identities of the violent protesters and maybe some context about what had happened elsewhere, but, hey, that might have interfered with our wakeup forecast.


farmer spraying pesticide in the rice fieldDrift happens.  Highly hazardous agricultural pesticides–linked to cancer, birth defects and nervous system damage–drift in harmful concentrations far from their intended targets, even onto school grounds where vulnerable children breathe and ingest them.

How do we know?  While there’s an enormous amount of evidence all over the globe, we don’t need to look much further than the state air-monitoring reports of pesticides in Salinas and Watsonville and ongoing studies of Salinas Valley mothers and children.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation reports that the toxic air contaminant and carcinogen 1,3-dichloropropene exceeded state cancer risk regulatory levels in the Salinas air in 2011 and in Watsonville in 2012.  The Watsonville air monitor is on the grounds of Ohlone Elementary School.

Another toxic fumigant and lung damaging agent, chloropicrin, has been measured above or near regulatory levels of concern at the Salinas airport in the past two years.  The CHAMACOS study by UC Berkeley scientists found brain-harming chlorpyrifos dust in large proportions of Salinas Valley homes near fields applied with the pesticide.

This is no surprise to our state and county regulatory bodies.  It is illegal to expose people to drifting pesticides, yet our government agencies admit that drift is inevitable. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) says: “[D]rift into surrounding air is expected with all pesticide applications.”[1] But rather than prevent the crime of exposing us to toxic pesticides, the DPR and our county agricultural commissioners have chosen to “manage” the damage.

Sometimes the damage is in the form of dangerous, immediate, acute poisonings that make the news, like the 2009 drift incident at a local elementary school, described by the DPR:

In Monterey County, 940 feet north of an elementary school, a helicopter was spraying a spinach field with two fungicides, fenamidone and fosetyl-aluminum, when a physical education class came out into the school yard. When they saw the helicopter, the teacher brought the students back into the building and had them wash. Eleven of the thirty-two students and the teacher developed symptoms, which included eye irritation, nausea, headache, vomiting, and skin irritation. [2]

But the pesticide drift damage that is not so much in the headlines, the long-term illnesses that develop and manifest over time, may be an even greater pesticide danger. Damage to the brain, reproductive and respiratory systems, and cancer, among other documented pesticide-linked health threats, can take years or decades to be observable in individuals. At a Salinas news conference last year, teenage Alisal High student, Miguel Valdivia, expressed this concern when he observed, “If pesticides do have an effect on people, we’ll get to know.  But sadly, we’ll know once it’s too late; once people are already affected by them.”

It is also no surprise to our state and county regulatory bodies that pesticide damage is focused in Latino populations.  The state published data showing Latino children in Monterey County were 3.2 times more likely than white children to attend schools within a quarter mile of the heaviest use of the most highly hazardous pesticides.  The University of California’s CHAMACOS studies have found significantly higher amounts of harmful organophosphate pesticides in urine samples of Salinas Valley Latinas than in the general U.S. population.  As the executive director of the Center for Farmworker Families, Dr. Anne Lopez, has pointed out, the lack of protection from hazardous pesticide exposure for largely Latino populations is a form of environmental racism.

While a good deal of the rest of the world is moving away from—even banning—drift-prone fumigants, we have been much slower to take that responsibility in the United States and California.  One step in the right direction, however, is the DPR’s current exploration of a statewide policy toward regulating the use of agricultural pesticides near schools.  The state has not agreed to prevent drift from happening, but appears willing to address significant ways to reduce the likelihood children will be exposed to pesticides at school.

Among the most promising possibilities is the implementation of a significant protective zone where pesticides are not sprayed—a larger “buffer zone”—around all schools.  Because many pesticides, especially fumigants, blow in the wind and volatize and drift long after applications, the buffer zones need to be large to be protective.

Scientific research going back at least 20 years has found that the closer homes are to pesticide treated fields, the increasing likelihood of exposure to pesticides, as measured by house dust and levels of metabolites in children’s urine.[3]  Greater distances from these fields, like buffer zones, reduces the risk of threats from drift and pesticide exposure.

Current buffer zones around schools don’t work.  When cancer-risk levels of pesticides are measured in school grounds’ air, as the state found in 2012 at Ohlone Elementary, obviously the current buffer zones don’t work.  The biggest reason is they are way too small.  While Monterey County claims a “practice” of a 500-foot buffer around schools during schools hours, and Santa Cruz County has a 200-foot protective zone, a number of other counties have implemented buffer zones of a quarter mile for applications of restricted pesticides.  Imperial County permit conditions go further and specify buffer zones of one mile for aerial applications and soil injection applications, and a half mile for ground applications of restricted pesticides.

San Luis Obispo County requires half-mile protection zones for aerial applications of restricted pesticides. The San Bernardino County ordinance requires up to a quarter-mile[4] protection zone around schools for most applications of pesticide products labeled “Danger-Poison.”

While far larger than the buffer zones in the Monterey Bay area, these more expansive protective areas are still too short. The UC Davis MIND Institute study[5], the UC Berkeley CHAMACOS study[6], and the California Childhood Leukemia Study[7], all conducted in California, have shown that even quarter-mile buffer zones are insufficient to protect California’s children from unsafe pesticide exposures. The UC Davis MIND Institute study documented significantly increased rates of autism in children of mothers who lived up to one mile from fields. The CHAMACOS study has documented chlorpyrifos contamination in homes up to 1.8 miles from treated fields and the California Childhood Leukemia study found elevated concentrations of several pesticides in dust of homes up to three quarters of a mile from treated fields.

Given these experiences and scientific studies of the dangers of pesticide drift exposure within one mile of applications, we are calling for our pesticide regulators to push the use of drift-prone pesticides to at least one mile away from school grounds.

The Department of Pesticide Regulation visited Salinas last June for a workshop to hear from the public about what we want in terms of pesticide use policy near schools.  The Cesar Chavez Library was packed, and the people were loud and clear: “One Mile Buffer! Our Children Shouldn’t Suffer!”  Some of the speakers envisioned pesticide-free farming “innovation zones” around schools.

If the state DPR won’t act—and they’ve thus far scheduled a justice-delayed timeline of spring 2017 for implementation of a new pesticides and schools policy—then our county ag commissioners can.  They have the authority to institute significant protective buffer zones any time they want. Let’s make sure they do.

Drift happens.  Drift is a crime.  Drift must end, and until then, schoolchildren at the very least should be protected from its dangers.

Want to join the fight against drift-prone pesticides and for sustainable farming? Safe Strawberry Monterey Bay Working Group meets every second Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council in Salinas, 931 E. Market St., and every fourth Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers in Watsonville. 734 E. Lake Ave.

Weller is organizer of Californians for Pesticide Reform for the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council. He can be reached at (831) 325-1681 or mark@pesticidereform.org


[1] http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/dept/comguide/drift_excerpt.pdf

[2] http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/whs/pdf/hs1886.pdf

[3] Fenske RA, Lu C, Barr D, Needham L. Children’s exposure to chlorpyrifos and parathion in an agricultural community in central Washington state. Environ Health Perspect. 2002;110:549–553.

Simcox NJ, Fenske RA, Wolz SA, Lee IC, Kalman DA. Pesticides in household dust and soil: exposure pathways for children of agricultural families. Environ Health Perspect. 1995;103:1126–1134.

[4] The buffer zones in the San Bernardino ordinance apply only to properties adjacent to schools.

[5] Shelton, Janie F., et al. “Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Prenatal Residential Proximity to Agricultural Pesticides: The CHARGE Study.” Environmental Health Perspectives, June 23, 2014. doi:10.1289/ehp.1307044.

[6] Harnly, ME, et. al. “Pesticides in dust from homes in an agricultural area” Environmental Science and Technology, 43:8767-8774. 2009.

[7] Gunier, RB, et. al. “Determinants of agricultural pesticide concentrations in carpet dust.” Environmental Health Perspectives, 119:970-976, 2011.


keeleytestifyingAre you ready for some good news on the political front? Well, you’ve come to the right place.

Leading candidates for the open seat on the California Public Utilities Commission include East Bay Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner and former Central Coast legislator Fred Keeley, and that, as they say, is a win-win for those who would like to see the PUC return to its core mission of protecting the public interest.

Keeley’s name was forwarded to the governor by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and he is high on the short list. He would be an exceptionally good choice for the Central Coast because he knows all about the water shortages on the Peninsula and in coastal Santa Cruz County and would be in the perfect spot to shape the solution.

While Keeley was in the Assembly, he authored what came to be known as Plan B, a state policy statement favoring desalination instead of a new Carmel River dam as solution to the Peninsula’s water shortage. Though the Peninsula has struggled with that and other methods of addressing its severe water shortage, Keeley demonstrated considerable knowledge on both the political and technical fronts as he helped steer the process.

It’s an odd situation, but the PUC is in charge of the current effort to build a desalination plant to serve the Peninsula. As it stands, it has been content to let the Peninsula’s water purveyor, California American Water, mostly dictate the terms but someone with Keeley’s abilities on the commission could put the customers back into the equation.

During the state’s electricity crisis at the start of the century, Keeley was the Assembly’s point person on the exceedingly complex issue, advising both the Legislature and the governor’s office and negotiating with power producers and brokers.

Keeley, 64, a liberal Democrat, began his political career as an aide to Santa Cruz County supervisor Joe Cucchaira. He then became chief of staff to then-Assemblyman Sam Farr. He later served two terms on the Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors before campaigning for an Assembly seat in 1996. He served two terms and quickly gained the reputation as a leader in budgeting and the environment.

He left the Assembly in 2002 because of term limits and became executive director of the Planning and Conservation League, turning down an appointment to head the state Department of Finance under Gov. Gray Davis. In 2005 he was appointed Santa Cruz County treasurer and he was elected to the position the next year.

A spot is open on the commission because its battered president, Michael Peevey, opted to leave at the end of his term this month rather than seek reappointment. It was essentially a compromise intended to spare him the embarrassment of removal over revelations of the commission’s remarkably friendly relationship with PG&E, which it purportedly regulates.

Peevey is a former chief executive of PG&E’s southern counterpart, Southern California Edison.


Nancy Skinner

Skinner, also a Democrat, doesn’t have the Central Coast connections that Keeley does but she has strong progressive credentials that suggest she would stand up rather than cozy up to the utilities.

She is leaving the Assembly this month because of term limits. She began her political career while she was a student at UC Berkeley, starting in student government and then becoming the first student elected to the Berkeley City Council. She earned degrees in natural resources and education.

While in the Assembly, Skinner distinguished herself in the areas of climate change and taxation.