Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reality Catcher's 10 Best Catches Of 2008

That's how I roll

A year passes like nothing, and not just for the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.

One year ago when I started this blog (galvanized by my anger at, embarrassment for, and mingled amusement and distaste around Alabama Attorney General Troy King), I never imagined that Reality Catcher would get 90,000 hits in its first year on the Web. Neither did I imagine making the front page of Digg four times and narrowly missing (mostly due to Digg's "Bury" button, which in practice serves to dumb down content by suppressing controversial stuff) a dozen other times.

I'm sure there are much better ways to pick the year's highlights than by number of Diggs, but that would involve lots of subjectivity and hard thinking, so I'm going with the Diggs. This also means that almost all the posts featured will come from June onward, because after joining Digg in April, it took me a couple months to learn how to properly promote a story (the lone exception was posted in March, but submitted by another Digg user in August).

During the course of the year, I've taken on the Attorneys General of two states, the privileged rich, the U.S. Drug war, the DEA, Sarah Palin, John McCain, Barack Obama, the Patriot Act, FISA, the police state, the King County Prosecutor's office, the Seattle Police Department, Dino Rossi, and the Washington Department of Corrections.

If that doesn't sound like your idea of fun, well then, you don't know me very well. :-)

So, going by number of votes on Digg, here they are:

Reality Catcher's 10 Best Catches of 2008

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna

10. Attorney General Rob McKenna Is Not Cool Oct. 7 (226 diggs)

After being informed in April by my probation officer that, despite being a legal medical marijuana patient under the laws of Washington, I wasn't permitted by the Department of Corrections to use my legal, physician-recommended medicine, I was mad. I use pot legally to control the nausea, body aches, and headaches associated with my Hepatitis C.

After further learning that said policy came straight down from the office of Attorney General Rob McKenna, I had a focus for my anger. (That's what feeling nausea non-stop will do to you.) I wrote my first McKenna piece, "Washington Atty. Gen. Rob McKenna Likes Playing Doctor," on April 22. Republican apologists (within the medical marijuana movement!) told me McKenna was "just doing his job," which, as I pointed out on April 26, is patently wrong, because McKenna's job is to enforce Washington state law, not the federal dictates of his GOP overseers in the Bush administration.

On Oct. 7, I returned one more time to the McKenna controversy, and the resulting piece was re-published by, where it got 226 diggs to come in at 10th place for the year.

9. The Wide Divide: You Are Being Ripped Off June 16 (299 diggs)

My preeminent class-warfare post of the year, "The Wide Divide," was inspired by seeing a chart (reproduced with the piece) published by the New York Times which showed the difference between average worker pay and CEO compensation.

The diggs for this one are divided between the Reality Catcher post itself (134) and the OpEdNews reprint (165), for a total of 299 and ninth place. Both articles were eventually buried on after garnering lots of interest, presumably because they pissed off our rich overseers.

The reaction to this one was extraordinary. Groups ranging from British libertarians (who told me I'm a socialist) to American liberal Christians (who weren't crazy about my cussing) to American libertarian site Freedom's Phoenix reprinted the piece, and all found a few things to agree with or at least use as jumping off points for discussion.

8. Travel Pro Steves To Challenge Futile U.S. Drug War March 22 (306 diggs)

In late 2007, I attended the Seattle taping of the Rick Steves-hosted, ACLU-sponsored informercial, "Marijuana: It's Time For A Conversation" at the KOMO studios. When the finished product aired on cable TV (ironically, the cowardly douchebags at KOMO itself refused to air it, after having promised they would), I recorded and uploaded it to Google video and, in three parts, to YouTube (no, the ACLU doesn't mind, and in fact, they've thanked me).

The complete 30-minute video on Google has received almost 37,000 views, and the three parts on YouTube combine for another 19,000, totaling 56,000 views and resulting, according to the Washington ACLU, in countless hits for their site.

I never intended for this one to be submitted to Digg, since I accompanied the Google video not with my own writing, but with a Seattle Post-Intelligencer story by reporter Joel Connelly about the show. But on August 12, another Digger submitted my blog post, which managed to get 306 diggs.

7. Sarah Palin: Dick Cheney In A Dress Aug. 29 (591 diggs)

Timing can be everything on the Internet. And as one of the first Sarah Palin hatchet jobs on the Web, this one got lots of attention.

Although it never went front page, it did rack up 591 diggs and was widely linked and reproduced around the Web. The "Cheney in a dress" meme caught on (yes, I was the first to say it) and ended up being repeated on nationwide TV by The View's Joy Behar -- alas, without attribution.

As soon as John McCain announced his choice for a vice-presidential running mate, I knew I was going to write this piece. The only thing that surprised me was how easy it was to show what a ridiculous choice he had made.

6. Privacy's Twilight: The Rise of the Total Surveillance Society July 10 (606 diggs)

"Privacy's Twilight," inspired by the Bush administration and the Patriot Act, along with the failure of Congress to hold the telecoms culpable for illegally spying on their own customers at Bush's request, got 408 diggs on Reality Catcher and another 198 on OpEd News.

The outlook is bleak: "Every day, we are one step closer to the Total Surveillance Society. Every day, we lose a little more of that part of being human that claims the right to be left alone, that knows freedom from the prying eyes of the corporate state, that has the boldness to claim some inner sanctum where the all-seeing eyes of technology cannot penetrate."

But the piece pointed out that privacy does have its champions, including the EFF and the ACLU, and noted: "A surveillance society can work in both directions. The wide proliferation of camcorders, cell phones, and recording devices of various kinds gives we the people a way to at least record, if not prevent, the misdeeds of our corporate and governmental overseers."

Errand boys of the police state prepare to bust heads in Minneapolis

5. Arresting The Messengers: The Bush Administration's Assault On Journalism Sept. 3 (672 diggs)

Written during the brutal police crackdown surrounding the Republican Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul, this piece got more diggs, at 672, than any other non-front page story in this roundup.

The story, however, got "buried" on Digg, which prevented it from going front page and getting exposure to an even larger audience; once a story receives a certain number of "buries" (the exact algorithm is a closely guarded Digg secret), it won't go front page no matter how many diggs it gets.

Here's hoping that the incoming Obama administration will find a more productive way to deal with journalists (and protesters) than with billy clubs and pepper spray.

Mobile Press Register political cartoonist J.D. Crowe's take on Troy King's sex toy phobia

4. Alabama's Nut Job Attorney General Wants To Ban Sex Toys And Sing With Dead People June 27 (856 diggs)

It's true that you never forget your first time. My third hatchet job on Alabama Atty. Gen. Troy King (admittedly an easy target) was the very first time one of my blog posts went all the way to Digg's front page, and what an unforgettable thrill of validation that was!

I knew I was going to write this piece ever since Atty. Gen. King's spokesman Chris Bence mouthed off that "the West Coast is a good fit for Elliott. Outside the state is the best place for him."

If that didn't merit a good proper trip to the woodshed, I don't know what would. So yeah, Troy got a good ol' Alabama ass-whuppin.' Hell, rumor is he may have enjoyed it. (Do your own research.)

Illustration: NORML

3. Prediction: Medical Marijuana Will Be Legal Coast To Coast By 2021 Dec. 22 (1110 diggs)

Ever since Michigan overwhelmingly passed their medical marijuana law on Nov. 4, I knew I was going to write this piece. It just got put off a few weeks, because (against the advice of Atty. Gen. Troy King and his minions), I spent the month of November visiting family in Alabama, with limited Internet access.

Once I did get back to Washington and got around to writing it, the excitement I felt at the possibility of coast-to-coast medical legalization of my favorite weed definitely infused the post.

I came up with the year 2021 (which several activists told me was far too pessimistic, and others told me was impossibly optimistic) by allowing for half-a-dozen more election cycles (12 years), taking into the account that a steadily increasing majority of American voters favor medical pot.

Martin Martinez at Lifevine's office after the Seattle Police Department searched the premises, knocked a wall down, and unlawfully took 12 ounces of legal medical marijuana. Photo by Courtney Blethen of the Seattle Times

2. 'Just Doing Our Job. Sorry About Your Wall And Your Marijuana.' July 20 (1369 diggs)

I wrote this one after the Seattle Police Department raided the offices of my friend Martin Martinez and his patient advocacy group Lifevine in Seattle, seizing 12 ounces of what was supposed to be legal medical marijuana, seizing his patient records, and knocking down his wall. (Are you starting to get the idea that I do my best writing when I'm pissed off? Whatever works.)

My outrage that Washington's medical marijuana law was ignored -- a full 10 years after it was passed by the voters -- was channeled into creating this piece, which I understand created a few headaches for the King County Prosecutor's Office and the Seattle Police Department.

Martinez's attorney got the SPD to return Martinez's records -- supposedly without having read or copied them -- but the cops deliberately dragged their feet about returning Martin's medicine, until federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents swooped in and confiscated it right out of the evidence locker.

1. An Open Letter To Senator Obama: Please Vote NO On Telecom Immunity - Get FISA Right June 29 (2276 diggs)

My open letter to President-Elect Obama, back when he was just the Democratic nominee, struck a chord with idealistic Diggers and others who were scandalized by retroactive immunity provisions of the FISA act which basically let the telecom companies off the hook for illegally spying on ordinary Americans at Bush's request. This story generated more than 20,000 hits to the site, more than any other post all year.

Of course, Obama's "move toward the middle" meant that he abandoned his earlier position to oppose any bill which included telecom immunity, and presumably to prevent an attack from the Republican Right during the presidential campaign, he voted for the deeply flawed bill, immunity and all.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has given a glimmer of hope by saying that "FISA will be revisited" after Obama takes office. We'll see.


Here's to a progressive 2009... Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Prediction: Medical Marijuana Will Be Legal Coast To Coast By 2021

Photo: chron.ron

Medical marijuana is an idea whose time has come.

The recent overwhelming victory for legalizing medicinal pot in Michigan (63 percent in favor!) is the latest eloquent testimonial to that fact.

What this shows is that the American public is completely ready to accept medical marijuana into the mainstream where it belongs. Most people no longer buy the threadbare, alarmist nonsense being peddled out of D.C. by the Office for National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP); more and more families know at least one patient who has experienced the palliative properties of pot. The hysteria and moral bankruptcy of the Reefer Madness crowd has been exposed for what it is -- superstition and silliness, the irrational fear of a non-toxic herb.

The victory in Michigan was so complete that every single county in the state voted to legalize medical marijuana.

With the victory in Michigan, well more than a quarter of the population of the United States now lives in states (there are now 13 of them) where medical marijuana is legal.

Michigan reinforces the now-obvious fact that a well-written law, backed with a well-crafted and well-financed campaign (thank you, MPP!) can not only get medical marijuana legalized on a state-by-state basis, but can do so with the overwhelming, super-majority support of voters.

Of the 11 states plus the District of Columbia that have put cannabis medicine to a vote since 1996, 10 states plus D.C. passed medical marijuana, with only South Dakota defeating the measure with 48% support. The other measures passed with votes from 54% to 69%. (1996: CA 56%, AZ 65%; 1998 OR 55%, WA 59%, AK 58%, DC 69%; 1999 ME 61%; 2000 CO 54%, NV 65%; 2004 MT 62%; 2006 SD 48%; 2008 MI 63%. Arizona’s and DC’s laws are inoperable, though, since Arizona relies on federal prescriptions and the District of Columbia was blocked from implementing the law by the Barr Amendment, authored and pushed through by conservative Georgia Republican Congressman Bob Barr, who in 2008 tried to reinvent himself as a Libertarian presidential candidate.)

In Rhode Island, medical marijuana was legalized through the legislative process rather than through a voter initiative. In 2006, the Rhode Island House overrode a veto by Gov. Don Carcieri, 59-13, allowing people with illnesses such as cancer and AIDS to grow up to 12 marijuana plants or buy 2.5 ounces of marijuana to relieve their symptoms. Those who do are required to register with the state and get an identification card.

According to Bruce Mirken, director of communications at the Marijuana Policy Project, the medical marijuana laws of Hawaii, Vermont and New Mexico were also passed through their state legislatures. MPP's detailed compendium of state medical marijuana laws is very useful:

Illustration: NORML

According to a 2004 poll conducted by AARP, 72 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, "Adults should be allowed to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if a physician recommends it."

The task now before us in the medical marijuana community is to get well-written initiatives on the ballot in the 37 states that do not currently allow legal pot use by qualifying patients. At this point, it's only a matter of having the will and the financial means to do so.

Reality Catcher predicts this will happen over the next dozen years; the process will pick up even more momentum as it acquires an air of righteous inevitability. By 2021, patients from coast to coast in the United States will at last be able to legally choose and use the medicine that is most effective in providing relief from their pain and nausea.

Yes, even back in my home state of Alabama, a change is gonna come. One of my personal ambitions is to smoke one of the first legal joints in the Heart of Dixie with Loretta Nall and Christie O'Brien and the rest of those wonderful and brave folks at Alabamians for Compassionate Care.

Only after a majority of the states have medical marijuana laws of their own will the federal government finally come around; it seems there's a serious shortage of backbone in D.C. when it comes to progressive drug laws. But sanity and compassion is eventually going to happen on the federal level, too. (One hopes at least that the incoming President holds true to his pledge to end federal raids on patients and providers in states which have legalized medical marijuana.)

Think of it -- the sheer madness of arresting and jailing sick people and those kind and brave enough to provide them with their medicine will end. The long nightmare will finally be over. The sick and the dying won't have to worry about having the doors kicked in and their homes raided by gung-ho law enforcement agents who've watched a few too many episodes of Cops.

Change is coming to America.

Resources For Michigan Medical Marijuana Patients

Michigan Dept. of Health - Medical Marihuana Program

Michigan Medical Marijuana Association

Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care

The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation - Michigan (THCF Medical Clinics)

Marijuana Policy Project: Michigan Medical Marijuana Law Now In Effect

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rossi and Medical Marijuana: Does Dino Dig Dope?

Washington Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi

When reading a press release headlined "Medical Marijuana Leaders Support Rossi" which gives two of those names as Douglas Hiatt and Joanna McKee, one might reasonably assume that they both endorse Dino Rossi.

That impression would be reinforced upon reading the leading paragraph, which comes right out and says "The leadership of the medical marijuana patient community, which has historically supported Democratic candidates in Washington State, has broken with tradition and today are endorsing Dino Rossi for Governor and Marcia McCraw for Lt. Governor."

That doesn't seem ambiguous. Sounds to me like they're all endorsing Rossi, wouldn't you say?

Such is not the case. Doug Hiatt has made it clear to me that he does NOT endorse or in any way support Rossi. McKee has said she isn't endorsing anyone for Governor at this time.

Candidate for Lieutenant Governor, Marcia McCraw: "The people have spoken - with a doctor's recommendation; marijuana use is legal in Washington for medical purposes. We have to stop the politicians and bureaucrats who are trying to make it impossible to legally grow, possess and use medical marijuana. They are forcing chronically and terminally ill patients to purchase their medicine from illegal drug dealers, and this must stop."

Like myself, Hiatt and McKee do support Republican Marcia McCraw for Lt. Governor, on the strength of her stand to protect the rights of medical marijuana patients. (I don't think anybody in the medical marijuana community is a fan of Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who leads a ridiculous "anti-pot" rock band around the state in search of victims, I mean audience members.)

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen (he's the big one): "Marijuana as a medicine is the Trojan horse of the new millennium. The claim that marijuana can be used as medicine is proving to be one of the worst scams drug legalizers have perpetrated on the American people." (Source here: a bulletin of misinformation printed by the Lieutenant Governor's office)

While Marcia McCraw's statement on medical marijuana, included with the release, was impressive, the same can't be said of Dino Rossi's. It was a very bland statement. Rossi's stance on medical marijuana might be described as lukewarm at best, and was actually on the surface hard to distinguish from Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire's, whose Department of Health recently decided to allow Washington medical marijuana patients up to 24 ounces of dried marijuana and 15 plants.

Steve Sarich of Cannacare: "The Democrats have turned a blind eye to our problems and it's time for a change of leadership."

The Oct. 22 press release quotes CannaCare activist Steve Sarich, Olympia Hempfest activist Jeremy Miller, Green Cross founder Joanna McKee and marijuana attorney Hiatt saying good things about how medical marijuana patients must take careful notice of who supports their rights and who doesn't; that's exactly on target.

Joanna McKee of Green Cross: "Spending state tax money to raid the homes of the sick and dying will no longer be tolerated. I hope the politicians in this state, regardless of their party affiliation, get that message."

But to list Douglas Hiatt as "supporting Rossi" when he clearly does no such thing is at best disingenuous and perhaps even dishonest. To have his statement in support of McCraw distorted in this way to support Rossi could of course make Doug and others more reluctant to publicly support any Republican, and it would be hard to blame them for that.

Marijuana attorney Douglas Hiatt of Seattle: "I don't like being called a leader"

"I in no way support Rossi," Hiatt told me Wednesday night. "I dont like the implication that I do." He added, "I don't like being called a 'leader' either, by the way."

"I have been in contact with Douglas [Hiatt] and told him I would make it clear he was not in support of Dino Rossi in future statements," said Jeremy Miller of the Olympia Patient Resource Center. "My support of Dino Rossi is open to change; I hope we can pressure Gregoire into taking a real stand on this MMJ issue. The main goal I hope to achieve with my involvement in this press release is to bring more press attention to the abandonment of 10th Amendment states rights."

That's good, because there's obviously room for honest differences of opinion within the medical marijuana community when it comes to making our decisions at the ballot box. Each of us is entitled to our own opinion, and it's important to respect that.

For us within the community to distort and misrepresent each other's positions to mislead for the sake of the political gain of one party or the other is just not acceptable. That's not the way to reach a consensus. And we owe each other more respect than that.

Here's what Rossi thinks of Seattle...

"The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart." ~ Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Attorney General Rob McKenna Is Not Cool

Senator John McCain and his Washington state campaign chairman, Atty. Gen. Rob McKenna

Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna is an interesting man -- a study in contradictions and opposites. But that can be said of most of us who aren't running for political office.

Rob's been called "the golden child of the state Republican Party," and is skilled at presenting himself as a moderate to a blue-state electorate, while actively pursuing the pro-business, socially conservative agenda of the national GOP.

Democrats grudgingly acknowledge as much: "After four years of using the office for political purposes, he's established an appearance of independence," said State Sen. Adam Kline (D-Seattle), who has worked with McKenna as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

McKenna, 45, a former business attorney and three-term King County councilman, was elected to his first term as AG in 2004, and is running for reelection. Since he's asking for your vote and mine, let's take a look at the man, shall we?

2 Cool Things About Rob McKenna

One of the coolest things about Rob McKenna is he's the first and only female-to-male (FTM) transgendered person in Washington to be elected to a statewide political office. I won't even try to bullshit you -- there's just no getting around the fact that, Republican or not, that is cool as fuck.

Mad props to Rob for blazing new trails, for his bravery in being willing to medically address his gender dysphoria, and for serving as an inspiring example to others who might be facing the situation in which Rob once found himself. It would be way cooler if Rob spoke out to let others, particularly our young people, know that gender dysphoria isn't the end of the world, and that once the problem is corrected, one can go on to a distinguished career. He hasn't done and won't do that, of course, since in doing so he'd inevitably incur the wrath of the national GOP, which doesn't look with particular compassion on transgendered individuals. Heck, they still haven't even gotten over gay people.

McKenna's transgender status has been studiously ignored by both the mainstream press and by McKenna himself. A big Reality Catcher tip of the hat to The Stranger's Dan Savage, who is apparently thus far the only journalist in Washington with the requisite cojones to tell this particular truth. (Many thought the inimitable Dan was joking; he wasn't. It's common knowledge in Seattle's LGBT community.)

McKenna filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court Oct. 3 against the Washington State Republican Party for illegally spending $212,967 to advocate for Dino Rossi, the GOP candidate for governor. Following up on the Public Disclosure Commission's findings, McKenna's lawsuit says his state party used unlimited "soft money" contributions for three mailings that criticized Gov. Christine Gregoire and urged people to "Vote for Dino Rossi." Soft money can only be used for administrative and party-building activities. Only "hard money" contributions, which are limited by state law, can be used to expressly promote candidates.

John Ladenburg, McKenna's opponent in this year's race for attorney general, has argued that McKenna has a conflict of interest and should hand over the case against the state party to an independent counsel. McKenna has rebuffed Ladenburg, saying his office has good lawyers that will prosecute the case objectively. McKenna notes that his Democratic predecessor, Gregoire, won lawsuits and hefty settlements against the Democratic Party ($250,000) and the state teachers' union ($430,000), which had supported her campaign for AG.

McKenna made the decision to file the suit but will not be further involved in the case, according to spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie. Instead, McKenna's chief deputy, Brian Moran, will be responsible for the case. "In an abundance of caution" McKenna has "screened" himself from the case because of his long relationship with Luke Esser, head of the state Republican Party, Guthrie said. Esser has worked for McKenna and the two have known each other since college, she said. Moran will not seek an injunction to stop the GOP from repeating its violations, she added. The party has said in a letter to the attorney general it would refrain from improperly using soft money again. "Absent an imminent threat that the behavior will continue we don't have enough evidence to file for an injunction," Guthrie said. "But should we have evidence we stand ready to file for an injunction."

OK, OK, so McKenna's suit against the Washington GOP is starting to look more and more like window dressing, just to keep Ladenburg and the Democrats off his back. Still, even though it appears he's softballing the investigation and minimizing the consequences, the spectacle of a Republican attorney general filing suit against the state Republican Party falls on the "cool" side of the divide.

McKenna takes a brave stand against cussing! Here he visits anti-swearing group "Dare Not To Swear" at Bremerton High School.

8 Uncool Things About Rob McKenna

The uncoolest thing about Rob is his persecution of medical marijuana patients. While Washington voters decided on compassion for extremely ill people whose suffering is alleviated by medical marijuana in 1998, evidently a decade isn't long enough for McKenna to get the message. The real problem is that while medical use of weed is legal with a doctor's recommendation in Washington, pot is still illegal for any use according to federal law. And Rob is nothing if not a brown-noser of the national Republican Party -- witness his eagerness to serve as McCain's state campaign chairman.

In talking with medical marijuana advocates, patients and providers, I've learned that the difference in the Attorney General's office towards patients since McKenna took over is like night and day. Time after time, I've heard people describe how helpful was the office of then-Atty. Gen. Chris Gregoire, and how an obstinately uncooperative and obstructionist attitude seems to have taken hold among Rob's staff.

Rob has also denied the use of medical marijuana to patients on probation, apparently believing that probationers deserve a less effective level of medical care than others. In a recurring pattern, McKenna chooses, whenever possible, to follow the pot-phobic dictates of the Bush Administration rather than the Washington state law he has sworn to uphold.

McKenna's willingness to put the orthodoxy of his party over the well-being of Washington's medical marijuana patients says deeply unflattering things about him. Things like "callow ambition," "selective compassion" and "pandering to the Far Right."

McKenna is the Washington state chairman of John McCain's Presidential campaign. Washington State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz has called on Atty. Gen. McKenna to resign from his duties for John McCain's campaign. Pelz called the move the right thing to do in light of reports suggesting that McCain and his associates helped bring the Air Force tanker deal to EADS, a move that cost Washington thousands of jobs and billions of dollars.

"Now that John McCain has decided to put his lobbyist friends above the interests of Washington's working families, Republican Rob McKenna should set aside his blind loyalty to the Republican Party and step aside from the campaign," said Pelz. "Washingtonians quite literally can't afford a third Bush term of failed economic policies that ship American jobs overseas, and Republican Rob McKenna should stop leading that charge here in Washington state."

When gas prices spiked over $3 a gallon last spring, Attorney General Rob McKenna released the results of a yearlong investigation that found no indication of price fixing by oil companies. The problem, according to John Ladenburg, who is challenging McKenna for his job, is there was no investigation.

"You don't hold a press conference announcing that you are going to do an investigation. That's like telling the crack house down the street that you are going to investigate. They will be gone before you get there," Ladenburg said.

"He doesn't know what an investigation is. There was no inquiry, no one under oath, no subpoenas. He did a study, that's all. You don't call it an investigation if you aren't doing an investigation." Ladenburg says McKenna cares more for big business than for Washington citizens and is more of a politician than a lawyer.

Tim Hamilton, executive director of the Automotive United Trades Organization, an organization representing independent gas sellers, agrees with Ladenburg that McKenna's investigation was less than thorough in its search for price-fixing, and thus misleadingly exonerated the industry. McKenna "knew this couldn't be an investigation from the get-go," Hamilton said. "He just wanted free political advertising."

"By doing nothing, he has done dozens of things wrong," said Ladenburg, 58, a former Tacoma city councilman, former Pierce County prosecuting attorney and the Pierce County executive since 2001.

McKenna has repeatedly criticized former New York AG Eliot Spitzer's famous lawsuits against the financial industry for using publicity to drive down companies' stock prices and strong-arm them into regulation that bypasses the usual rulemaking procedures. By contrast, Ladenburg embraces Spitzer's broader, more aggressive approach. "I think Spitzer did brilliant work," Ladenburg says. "He saved hundreds of millions of dollars by taking on mutual funds that were basically stealing money from people. Rob doesn't believe in being an activist AG. I do."

Democrats have filed a complaint with state-election watchdogs alleging that TV public-service announcements featuring Attorney General McKenna are improper election advertisements for McKenna's re-election campaign.

McKenna called the complaint "ridiculous." "The bottom line is no law has been violated," he said. (It must be nice to be the top law enforcement officer in the state -- especially when you are "enforcing the law" on yourself.)

At issue are three public-service announcements, or PSAs, that showcase McKenna. One ad was sponsored by BECU, the credit union, and warns about identity theft, while another was paid for by the liquor industry and discourages drunken driving. The third PSA is about Internet safety and was produced by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

The Internet-safety ad, which aired on Comcast cable-TV stations around the state, ended in September, according to Comcast spokesman Steve Kipp.

In its complaint to the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), the state Democratic Party says the ads violate several election rules: They use McKenna's office or title to assist his campaign; they have a value that exceeds the state's $1,600 limit on campaign contributions; and, most important, they aren't public-service announcements as defined by state law.

That law says a candidate must arrange to appear in a PSA at least six months before launching a campaign. If not, the ad likely would be considered an election message and should be reported as a campaign contribution.

The debate falls into a gray area, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an expert on political communication and director of the Annenberg Center for Public Policy of the University of Pennsylvania. Jamieson said such ads help create a good impression of candidates and are essentially contributions to their campaigns.

"The question," she said, "becomes when does the campaign season actually begin?" Washington state law is not completely clear on that, said Lori Anderson, a spokeswoman for the PDC. Anderson said the commission staff will review rules to see how the start of a campaign is defined.

McKenna's Democratic opponent, John Ladenburg, has proposed a ban on all appearances by elected officials in PSAs during an election year. Ladenburg, the Pierce County executive, said he has appeared in Comcast public-service announcements that wish viewers happy holidays.

McKenna says he opposes what he calls "regulation through litigation." His tortured explanation of why he takes that position is pretty much impenetrable. Save yourself some time; just write it up to McKenna once again placing the needs of Big Business above those of Washington citizens.

It's no wonder Rob McKenna is getting huge campaign contributions from payday lenders, car dealerships and insurance companies. Ummm... Isn’t he supposed to be a watchdog -- NOT the guard dog -- of these industries? "As an advocate for consumers, he's done an excellent job of not making enemies [in industry]," said Ladenburg campaign manager David Sawyer.

Ladenburg portrays McKenna as more interested in publicity than in consumer protection. McKenna "issued more press releases than subpoenas," Ladenburg quipped at a Sept. 18 debate at the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

During the 2006 election (before he was up for reelection), McKenna, in an ethically questionable move, used faux "official" Attorney General letterhead to endorse Mike Riley, a Republican candidate for the State Senate, while attempting to trash Riley's Democratic opponent, Christina Kauffman.

During the same election, Rob recorded a robo-call, identifying himself as Washington's Attorney General and advising listeners to vote for Luke Esser for State Representative. Both these cases represent a conflating of public office with partisan activities.

Using the bully pulpit of the AG's office to engage is partisan advocacy isn't what we, tax-paying Washingtonians, hired McKenna to do back in 2004.

McKenna has been called out on a controversial foreclosure bill over which he once declared ownership but now disavows.

Since the Distressed Property Law took effect on June 12, it has facilitated no lawsuits but copious finger-pointing. The law, designed to squelch shady foreclosure-rescue schemes, makes realtors unhappy because, they say, it saddles them with undue liability. Meanwhile, AG McKenna, who once trumpeted his ownership of the bill, now disavows it, instead siding with the realtors.

The law says an investor who approaches a homeowner within 20 days of foreclosure must act in the homeowner's best financial interest. The law also applies to third parties, which in many cases are realtors. In a video appearing on the Washington Realtors website, McKenna claims that "the state Senate added a lot of language that we never intended and that we actively opposed with our friends in the realtor community." The solution, he says, is to roll back the law in favor of the original one drafted by his office. McKenna's spokesperson, Kristin Alexander, claims the troublesome language appeared in the bill only hours before state lawmakers voted on it, so there was little time to review the bill. She also claims that when Assistant Attorney General Jim Sugarman appeared before the Senate Consumer Protection and Housing Committee on Jan. 25, he had less than a minute to testify.

Balderdash, says Sen. Brian Weinstein (D-Mercer Island), one of the bill's sponsors. He claims the attorney general's office was involved in every phase of crafting the final law. Weinstein, the chair of the Consumer Protection and Housing Committee, oversaw Sugarman's testimony. Speaking for about eight minutes, Sugarman compared two versions of the bill: SB 6431, the version the attorney general's office helped draft, and SB 6695, a more complex version that Weinstein co-sponsored. In his testimony, Sugarman noted that 6431 regulates the transaction itself, while 6695 defines the duties of the investor and defines a foreclosure consultant.

McKenna refused to join the attorneys general of other states in a fuel efficiency lawsuit, preferring instead to march in lockstep with the Bush Administration's (lack of an) environmental policy.

"Rob McKenna missed his chance to be part of the solution rather than stick his head in the sand," wrote Steve Zemke on the Majority Rules Blog. "McKenna is running again for Attorney General of Washington. Inaction on critical issues when the opportunity arises like it did for McKenna to join the Federal lawsuit and represent Washington state's interests are legitimate issues that one can use to evaluate and judge whether a public official is representing the voters interests or not.

"Global warming is a significant issue affecting the future of our state. The public has a right to question the inaction of public officials in addressing this problem. On this one McKenna came up missing in action."

McKenna's sole appearance on The Dating Game didn't end well.

Throw The Bum Out

McKenna's negatives, especially his devotion to the far-Right extremist agenda and arch-conservative philosophy of the national Republican Party, far outweigh his positives.

Rob McKenna is not cool. Throw his shapely ass out of office.

Monday, September 22, 2008

McPeaking In Seattle: Pot Activist, Hempfest Director Marks Milestone

In Seattle, all the high roads lead to Vivian McPeak.

It sometimes seems Vivian knows everyone connected to the marijuana movement in the Emerald City, and everyone knows Vivian. The members of this diverse community of medical marijuana activists, pot legalization advocates, and industrial hemp boosters don't always agree on strategy and tactics, but one thing they do almost all agree on is that McPeak is a good guy.

When you meet Vivian in person, it's impossible not to notice his crackling intelligence, his sense of humor, his passion and his commitment. His dynamic energy and chronic charisma have placed him at the center of Seattle's marijuana community, and as director of the annual Seattle Hempfest (the biggest -- and quite likely the best -- marijuana rally in the world), McPeak wears that mantle well.

Now, with characteristic style, verve and joie de vivre, McPeak is celebrating 20 years of activism and 50 years of living. The organizer of the world’s largest “protestival” is inviting friends and admirers to celebrate his 50th birthday with his all time favorite Seattle area music acts.

Vivian in 1982

Vivian was a rock musician in the 1980s. When his Los Angeles-based band disbanded in in 1986, he landed in Seattle, where he performed in the band Stickerbush (music at Soon he began forming the Seattle Peace Heathens Action Group, a community volunteer group.

McPeak at a Seattle demonstration in 1993. Photo by Joe Mabel

In 1991 McPeak, then known as an emcee for local leftwing political rallies, was asked by a friend if he'd be interested in working on something called a Hempfest, and “hempstory” was made. McPeak went on to become the event’s director and guiding light. His influence, leadership and focus on personal responsibility has taken Seattle Hempfest to the distinction of being known as the largest and most successful annual political rally, and the largest pot rally on Earth.

McPeak was High Times Magazine’s 2001 Freedom Fighter of the Year (which brought him celebrity judge status at the annual Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam). McPeak has also been Heads Magazine Activist of the Year, Eat The State Magazine’s Local Hero, and Real Change Magazine’s monthly “Change Agent.” He has worked regionally with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Photo: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

A legal medical marijuana patient after suffering a catastrophic bike accident, McPeak was featured last year on the front cover of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer smoking a joint and promoting reform.

Vivian has appeared on numerous local radio stations and in print magazines, advocating sensible, rational and compassionate alternatives to the misguided and failed drug and cannabis policies of today.

Photo by Grant Haller/Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Celebration Friday, Oct. 3

Where: King Cat Theater, 2130 6th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98121
When: Friday, October 3, 2008 - Doors Open 8 pm
Music by The Café Authors, The Herbivores, The Super Sonic Soul Pimps, Upwell, and special guests

What better way to celebrate and commemorate 50 years of life and 20 years of activism than by throwing a party?

“I have assembled my favorite local bands all in one show, this is the cream of the crop of Seattle as far as I am concerned,” said McPeak, who added he wants to be called “Half-A-Cent” for reaching half a century old. “This proves there is life after sex, drugs and rock and roll,” McPeak grumbled as he sipped his yerba mate. “I’m a premature geezer at 50!”

McPeak plans to commemorate the celebration and kick it into high gear by getting a new tattoo on stage.

“When I was young I’d take two hits of acid and start the party. Now I take two antacids and start the heating pad,” he said as he took a long puff on a finely rolled marijuana cigarette. “When I was a kid it was all snap, crackle, and pop. Now it is just pop, Snapple, and crack. What happened?”

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Arresting The Messengers: The Bush Administration's Assault On Journalism

Police fire rubber bullets at protesters at the Republican National Convention, St. Paul, Minn., September 1, 2008

They're rounding up journalists now.

Covering breaking news has always been a Constitutionally protected activity in the United States. The Bush administration, however, seems intent on changing the rules -- or at least in seeing how far the government can push its police state mentality and get away with it.

You'd think the mainstream media would be all over a story like this. But so far, the biggest media outlets have been eerily silent. Dozens of journalists, photographers, bloggers and videomakers have been arrested in an orchestrated round up of independents covering the Republican National Convention. Journalists covering protests have been pointed out by authorities, blasted with tear gas and pepper spray, and brutalized while in custody.

St. Paul Police use pepper spray on antiwar protesters at the Republican National Convention on Monday. One of those sprayed was AP photographer Matt Rourke, who took this shot. (Photo: AP | Matt Rourke)

Lest the mainstream media think this can't happen to them, and in what may be a tipping point, mainstream journalists such as photographer Matt Rourke of the Associated Press have found out that even they aren't immune to the brutal and indiscriminate tactics of the police in suppressing dissent. Rourke was doused with pepper spray, knocked down and arrested by St. Paul police.

He was shooting photos of the protesters at a parking lot at 7th and Jackson streets, in downtown St. Paul, when police converged from three directions. "We were encircled, and as I moved toward the officers in front of me in a passive manner, my legs were taken out from behind in an aggressive manner," Rourke said Tuesday after 12 hours in jail.

"When you hear about journalists getting arrested, it’s very disturbing," said Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) "I mean, the news gatherers—how can the people know, if they don’t have news gatherers to gather the news and show them? But when those folks are being intimidated and even roughed up, it’s pretty—it actually is a threat to democracy and the First Amendment."

On Monday and Tuesday, officers in riot gear fired rubber bullets, teargas, pepper spray and concussion grenades at protesters and journalists covering the story in St. Paul near the convention.

Fox News host Brian Kilmeade, predictably, expressed the opinion that the protesters should be arrested and left in jail. It's no surprise that Fox failed to distinguish between the great majority of peaceful, non-violent protesters and the actions of a few -- quite possibly government-planted agents provocateurs -- who broke storefront windows and engaged in other acts of vandalism. Kilmeade and his "fair and balanced" Fox colleagues ignored brutal police tactics and indiscriminate arrests directed against peaceful protesters and journalists.

According to journalist Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, police in the Twin Cities arrested nearly 300 protesters, as well as several journalists covering the protest, on Monday. "I was arrested along with two producers from Democracy Now!: Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar," Goodman said. "Also arrested, Associated Press photographer Matt Rourke and two filmmakers from Pepperspray Productions, Lambert Rochfort and Joseph La Sac."

Marcus Washington, a producer from Tennessee who was documenting the antiwar protest, grimaces in pain after he was hit with pepper spray. (Photo: Jim Gehrz / Minneapolis Star Tribune)

On Monday night, three journalists from the Kentucky Kernel were arrested while documenting the protests outside the RNC. Photographers Ed Matthews and Britney McIntosh, along with photo advisor Jim Winn were all arrested and charged with rioting. Matthews and McIntosh were both charged with felonies, while Winn was charged with a misdemeanor.

"Nothing indicates that any of the three were actually participating in the protests, much less violating any laws that would warrant their arrest," wrote Taylor Shelton. "The police officers subdued the Kernel staff members with the use of pepper spray."

Everyday police violence seems to be the norm in Bush's America. On a weekly basis, we see shocking footage of police brutalizing ordinary Americans for no good reason. And when a security-intensive event like the RNC is held, it seems that the last vestiges of restraint are forgotten, as the police have free rein to assault, intimidate and detain peaceful, unarmed people who haven't broken any laws.

The Bush administration's Orwellian assault on the 4th Amendment is changing the political landscape. In one of the latest and most sinister manifestations of contempt for the Constitution, the right against unreasonable search and seizure is under siege by state, local, and federal police in Minnesota, as a Joint “Terrorism” Task Force has intimidated, searched, and arrested journalists for doing their job -- covering the news, along with activists, even before they'd even taken part in any protests, and seized their laptops and video cameras, all on the flimsy pretense of suspicions of “intent to riot” and even of, get this, “fire code violations.”

In the months leading up to the RNC, the FBI-led Minneapolis Joint Terrorist Task Force actively recruited people to infiltrate vegan groups and other leftist organizations and report back about their activities. Federal agents and local law enforcement sought to preempt Constitutionally protected, lawful protest against the policies of the Bush administration during the convention.

"St. Paul was the most militarized I have ever seen an American city be, even more so than Manhattan in the week of 9/11 -- with troops of federal, state and local law enforcement agents marching around with riot gear, machine guns, and tear gas cannisters, shouting military chants and marching in military formations. Humvees and law enforcement officers with rifles were posted on various buildings and balconies," Salon's Glenn Greenwald wrote. "Numerous protesters and observers were tear gassed and injured.

Protesters try to avoid pepper spray during a protest at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., Monday, Sept. 1, 2008. (Photo: AP | Matt Rourke)

"I was personally present and saw officers with riot gear and assault rifles, pump action shotguns," said Bruce Nestor, the president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, who is representing several of the protesters. "The neighbor of one of the houses had a gun pointed in her face when she walked out on her back porch to see what was going on. There were children in all of these houses, and children were held at gunpoint."

Greenwald described the targeting of leftists by "teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with semi-automatic weapons drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets." Journalists were detained at gunpoint and lawyers representing detainees were handcuffed at the scene.

The raids targeted members of "Food Not Bombs," an anti-war, anti-authoritarian protest group that provides free vegan meals every week in hundreds of cities all over the world. Food Not Bombs served meals to rescue workers at the World Trade Center after 9/11 and to nearly 20 communities in the Gulf region following Hurricane Katrina.

FISA and the Fourth Amendment may seem like some lofty abstraction to some people, but what’s happening in St. Paul is very real, and very important. Those are your freedoms they’re trampling on. Those freedoms, by law, apply to every American citizen, by virtue of our Constitution. The "Get FISA Right" ads, such as the one linked below, are one way to insist that’s not OK with us.

"We’ve got at least 9 Get FISA Right ads scheduled to air on the cable news networks during the Republican National Convention," said Jon Pincus of privacy advocacy group Get FISA Right. "With the live documentation of journalists in handcuffs and demonstrators teargassed and pepper-sprayed in St. Paul, a prime time Fox News ad defending the Constitution for only $123 feels like money very well spent. I know it’s been said a lot recently, but’s ability to let individuals air cable ads is really a game-changer."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin: Dick Cheney In A Dress

Sarah Palin, bear slayer. Photo credit:

In his latest move, with his trademark blend of panicked desperation and political calculation, John McCain announced his choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

McCain's anti-choice, anti-science, anti-environment, anti-gay right wing extremist pick for vice president -- particularly important in view of Sen. McCain's advanced years and failing health -- reveals the depth of his cynicism and condescension towards American voters, women in particular.

Palin has signed on to the Bush administration's economic policies, opposes increasing the minimum wage, and opposes equal pay for equal work regardless of gender. And this is McCain's way of reaching out to women and the working class?

Of course, Sarah Palin is just a wonderful choice if you believe we should chuck factual textbooks out the window and start teaching creationism in public schools as if ancient superstition were on an equal footing with the latest scientific findings. Yeah, she's definitely in favor of that.

Oh, and what's wrong with a little friendly censorship here and there? According to the Frontiersman newspaper, Wasilla’s library director, Mary Ellen Emmons, said that Palin asked her outright if she "could live with censorship of library books.” Palin later dismissed the conversation as a “rhetorical” exercise. Um-hm.

"Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency," said Bill Burton of the Obama campaign. "Governor Palin shares John McCain's commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade, the agenda of Big Oil and continuing George Bush's failed economic policies -- that's not the change we need, it's just more of the same.''

Gov. Sarah Palin

Palin, a former small-town mayor with a taste for mooseburgers, has more experience catching fish than dealing with foreign policy or national affairs. I hate to mention the Peter Principle, but this lady is in way over her head. Her level of expertise is more appropriate at a city council meeting than on the Council of Foreign Relations. Even now, the Alaska governor is under an ethical cloud.

Palin says she tried marijuana when she was younger (it was legal at the time in Alaska), but claims that she didn't like it.

McCain passed over many other better qualified prospects in his search for a vice presidential nominee, simply because in his insulting attempt to pander to the female vote, it seems that the most important qualification to be his running mate is possessing a vagina.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)

Even in that regard, the depth of McCain's cynicism is revealed by the fact that he picked the distinctly under-qualified -- but very photogenic -- Palin and passed over Kay Bailey Hutchison, the Texas senator who is very knowledgeable about the military, but is, unlike Palin, not a former beauty queen. (Palin was a runner-up in the 1984 Miss Alaska pageant.)

Palin brings a strong anti-abortion stance to the ticket and opposes gay marriage - constitutionally banned in Alaska before her time. As governor, Palin vetoed a bill that would have granted benefits to gay state employees and their partners.

Palin with her kill. Photo credit: The Weekly Standard

Palin lives in Wasilla, a town of 6,500 about 30 miles north of Anchorage, with her husband, Todd, a blue-collar North Slope oil worker who won the 2007 Iron Dog, a 1,900-mile snowmobile race. He is part Yup'ik Eskimo.

She is often seen walking the Alaska Capitol halls in black or red power suits while reading text messages on Blackberry screens in each hand. She made a recent appearance in a photo layout in fashion magazine Vogue -- I kid you not. (Full disclosure: the following image was Photoshopped, but the Vogue appearance is real.)

Take me seriously. I wear glasses.

Palin's reputation has come into question with an investigation recently launched by a legislative panel into whether she sacked Alaska's public safety commissioner because he would not fire her former brother-in-law as a state trooper. Trooper Mike Wooten went through an ugly divorce from Palin's sister.

Former Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan says that since Gov. Sarah Palin took office, members of her administration and family pressured him to fire a Palmer Alaska State Trooper with whom her sister was involved in a bitter child custody battle.

The governor denied orchestrating the dozens of telephone calls made by her husband and members of her administration to Wooten's bosses.

Palin is an avid proponent of petroleum development, in tune with McCain. In fact, she's even more "drill here, drill now" crazy than McCain, favoring drilling in Alaska's protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. McCain opposes it.

“Senator McCain’s choice for a running mate is beyond belief," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund. "By choosing Sarah Palin, McCain has clearly made a decision to continue the Bush legacy of destructive environmental policies.

“Sarah Palin, whose husband works for BP (formerly British Petroleum), has repeatedly put special interests first when it comes to the environment," Schlickeisen continued. "In her scant two years as governor, she has lobbied aggressively to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, pushed for more drilling off of Alaska’s coasts, and put special interests above science. Ms. Palin has made it clear through her actions that she is unwilling to do even as much as the Bush administration to address the impacts of global warming. Her most recent effort has been to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the polar bear from the endangered species list, putting Big Oil before sound science. As unbelievable as this may sound, this actually puts her to the right of the Bush administration."

Not mainstream, by a fur piece. Photo credit:

As governor, Palin also opposed designating polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, fearing that step would get in the way of a proposed natural gas pipeline tapping the North Slope's vast reserves.

Before becoming governor, her entire political experience consisted of terms as Wasilla's mayor and councilwoman and a stint as head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sen. Ted Kennedy's Speech at the Democratic National Convention

In what may well be his last appearance on the national stage, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) gave an extraordinary speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver tonight.

It was quite a moment. I've been watching these conventions for 40 years, and I've never seen anything like it.

Sen. Kennedy, who is suffering from a malignant brain tumor, literally came from the hospital to address the convention.

Kennedy flew to Denver Sunday night, and his first stop was a hospital, where doctors examined him. His physicians were advising the Senator against the convention appearance. They were especially worried about his exposure to crowds, given the weakness of his immune system after weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Sen. Kennedy's appearance was to have been on tape, after a tribute by his niece, Caroline Kennedy. Instead, the Senator overrode all medical advice to the contrary and came in person.

"There is extraordinary power in a 'last hurrah'," wrote my friend Thomas Bishop on social news sharing site Digg. "Anna Quindlen once wrote 'Think of life as a terminal illness, because, if you do, you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived.'

"I think that as death becomes near, we see old battles from a new perspective and they take on new meaning and richness," Bishop continued. "We see the challenges and struggles of our friends and our adversaries, and realize they are not so different from our own. We see how our experiences, even the difficult ones, served us and others. And like Ted Kennedy tonight, we tend to see and speak with conviction as to what is actually valuable and worth passing forward, and we tend to see all that is precious with an increasing clarity -- because we are about to leave it."

"The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on." ~ Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, August 25, 2008

Friday, August 8, 2008

Gung Ho SWAT Team Kills Mayor's Dogs In Botched Pot Raid

Imagine you just got home from work. You see a package addressed to your wife on the front porch, and bring it inside, putting it on a table.

Suddenly, police with guns drawn kick you door down and storm in, shooting to death your two dogs and seizing the unopened package.

In the package the cops find 32 pounds of marijuana. But you have no idea why the package was delivered to you.

Mayor Cheye Calvo, the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, doesn't have to imagine how that feels. Now he knows.

And after a lot of initial belligerence and bullshit, befuddled cops now say the couple appear to be innocent victims of a scheme by two men to smuggle millions of dollars worth of marijuana by having it delivered to about a half-dozen unsuspecting recipients.

Local police have actually known of the scheme for some time. Just why they went ahead with the ill-advised, militaristic raid anyway is currently under investigation.

The two men under arrest include a FedEx deliveryman; investigators said the deliveryman would drop off a package outside a home, and the other man would come by a short time later and pick it up.

The outrageous conduct and painfully obvious ineptitude of the county police force has now attracted the attention of federal authorities. The FBI is looking into how local law enforcement handled the July 29 raid. Agent Rich Wolf on Thursday said the bureau had opened a civil rights investigation into the case.

A furious Calvo said earlier Thursday that he and his wife, Trinity Tomsic, had asked the government to investigate.

"Trinity was an innocent victim and random victim," Calvo told reporters outside his two-story, red-brick house in this middle-class Washington suburb of about 3,000 people. "We were harmed by the very people who took an oath to protect us."

"It was a horrible, horrible incident," Calvo told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith Friday, "but I think it's also the kind of thing that happens, and I don't think we would have realized that until it happened to us."

"What's really troubling," Calvo continued, "is they didn't have a proper warrant to do what they did. They actually didn't give us a warrant at all until 71 hours after it happened. And that's really what's disturbing -- despite all the mistakes that were made, they're holding to their guns, saying they did nothing wrong.

"This happened to us. We can't get our dogs back, and we know that. But the reason we asked for federal authorities to investigate this is because this is a systemic problem, and we want to make sure that, while it happened to us and that's a tragedy, we don't want it to happen to anyone else."

Calvo insisted the couple's two black Labradors were gentle creatures and said police apparently killed the pets "for sport," actually gunning down one of them as it was running away.

"Our dogs were our children," said the 37-year-old Calvo. "They were the reason we bought this house because it had a big yard for them to run in."

The mayor, who was changing his clothes when police burst in, also complained that he was handcuffed in his boxer shorts for about two hours along with his mother-in-law, and said the officers didn't believe him when he told them he was the mayor. No charges were brought against Calvo or his wife, who came home in the middle of the raid.

Prince George's County Police Chief Melvin High said Wednesday that Calvo and his family were "most likely ... innocent victims," but he's still not ruling out their involvement, and he actually defended the way the raid was conducted. He and other officials did not apologize for killing the dogs, saying the officers felt threatened. We all know how scary dogs can be while they're running away from you.

The FBI will monitor how "effective, fair and professional" the law enforcement agency's conduct was during the incident, Wolf said. A police spokesman declined comment Thursday on the FBI investigation.

Police announced Wednesday they had arrested two men suspected in a plot to smuggle 417 pounds of marijuana, and seized a total of $3.6 million in pot. Investigators said the package that arrived on Calvo's porch had been sent from Los Angeles via FedEx, and they had been tracking it ever since it drew the attention of a drug-sniffing dog in Arizona.

Police intercepted it in Maryland, and an undercover detective posing as a deliveryman took it to the Calvo home.

Calvo's defenders - including the Berwyn Heights police chief, who said his department should have been alerted ahead of time - said police had no right to enter the home without knocking.

But officials insisted they acted within the law, saying the operation was compromised when Calvo's mother-in-law saw officers approaching the house and screamed. That could have given someone time to grab a gun or destroy evidence, authorities said.

Neighbors in Berwyn Heights, which Calvo described as "Mayberry inside the Capital Beltway," have rallied around the couple. On Sunday night, supporters gathered on a ballfield to pay tribute to the family and the dogs. A banner on the wooden fence around Calvo's yard read, "Cheye and Trinity, We support you, Friends and Citizens of Berwyn Heights." Around it were dozens of handwritten messages from supporters.

In addition to being the part-time mayor, Calvo works at a nonprofit foundation that runs boarding schools. His wife is a state finance officer.

"When all of this happened I was flabbergasted," said next-door neighbor Edward Alexander. "I was completely stunned because those dogs didn't hurt anybody. They barely bark."

The case is just the latest in a scandalous series of embarrassments for Prince George's County officials. A former police officer was sentenced in May to 45 years in prison for shooting two furniture deliverymen at his home last year, one of them fatally. He claimed that they attacked him. In June, a suspect jailed in the death of a police officer was found strangled in his cell.

Calvo said he was astonished that police have not only failed to apologize, but declined to clear the couple's names.

His wife spoke through tears as she described an encounter with a girl who used to see the couple walking their dogs.

"She gave me a big hug and she said, `If the police shot your dogs dead and did this to you, how can I trust them?'" Tomsic said. "I don't want people to feel like that. I just want them to be proud of our police and proud to live in Prince George's County."

You'd have to be really, really determined to stay proud of the police if you can still convince yourself to feel proud of these homicidal clowns.

The Original Story

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Seattle's Hempfest 2008: World's Biggest Pot Rally Goes Green

Organizer Vivian McPeak at Seattle Hempfest, 2007. Photo: Joe Mabel

A good marijuana rally is a joyful thing.

And Seattle's Hempfest, going strong since 1991, is one of the best and almost certainly the biggest in the world.

Free admission, good music, friendly people, and a beautiful setting have always been among the reasons to attend.

Now the Hempfest, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 16 and Sunday, Aug. 17 in Myrtle Edwards Park on the lovely Seattle waterfront, is greener than ever -- and I'm not just talking about smokables.

A Brief Hempstory Lesson

The rally had its genesis when the Seattle Peace Heathens Community Action Group, formed by Vivian McPeak in 1987, organized a peace vigil in 1990 protesting the Gulf War. The vigil, including workshops and teach-ins, lasted six months. Along the way it attracted counterculture icons such as psychedelic pioneer Timothy Leary and beat poet Allen Ginsberg. The protesters sang, meditated and one day invited a speaker from a marijuana law reform group.

The speaker never showed, but the seed had been planted, along with a realization of the power of public protest. As McPeak remembers it, co-organizer Gary Cooke turned to him one day and said, "Let's put a pot rally together!"

The very first Hempfest, held in the spring of 1991 at Seattle's Volunteer Park, was called the Washington Hemp Expo. It drew about 500 people. Attendance quadrupled to 2,000 when the event took its current name in 1992, and 5,000 revelers showed up in 1993. By 1994, the event had "maxed out" available space at Gas Works Park, so the event was moved to its current location, Myrtle Edwards Park, in 1995.

By 2003, Hempfest attracted an estimated 200,000 people -- a Woodstock-sized crowd -- to the park, and last year's event drew at least 150,000, with some estimates running considerably more.

Hempfest organizer Vivian McPeak at home. Photo: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Arrests are minimal at Hempfest. The Seattle Police Department traditionally takes a low-key, tolerant attitude towards the extensive pot smoking which goes on at the event, with arrests averaging around 20 for what, starting in 2001, became a two-day event (there was a grand total of one arrest that year).

The city as a whole agrees with this approach. A month after the 2003 Hempfest, Seattle voters overwhelmingly passed an initiative making the investigation, arrest and prosecution of marijuana offenses, when the drug was intended for adult personal use, the lowest law enforcement priority.

Of course, common sense rules still apply, i.e., don't blow smoke in a cop's face or give them a reason to take interest in you by acting crazy or aggressive.

A comely reveler at Seattle Hempfest 2007. Photo: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Greener Than Ever

According to McPeak, this year's event will be the most ecologically friendly in Hempfest's history.

McPeak told Reality Catcher that event programs will be printed on recycled paper, using soy ink. Cooking oil used by vendors will be converted to biodiesel fuel. Biodegradable utensils will be used in staff kitchens and by vendors, and waste will be composted.

Bike racks will be provided for those who choose to ride to Hempfest the eco-friendly way.

The Please Don't Litter Hempfest (PDLH) initiative will remind festival-goers to minimize their impact on the park. "The city gives us two days to clean up after the event," McPeak told us. "We also clean up the park before the event. When the festival is over, we leave Myrtle Edwards Park cleaner than before we got there."

A food drive for "Operation Munchies," the anti-hunger arm of Hempfest, will also be held, with attendees encouraged to bring canned or boxed, non-perishable food items.

Head-Friendly Tunage

This year's Hempfest will continue the tradition of great musical talent at the rally.

Music highlights will include Total Devastation, Bone Thugs N Harmony, Vains Of Jenna, and Los Marijuanos.

For a complete list and schedule of musical performances, click here.

Travel guru Rick Steves addresses the crowd at Hempfest 2007. Photo courtesy of Rick Steves

Pot Superstars To Speak

Some of the biggest names in the marijuana legalization movement will speak at Hempfest this year.

Scheduled speakers include the legendary Jack Herer (who gave a hell of a speech last year), travel show host and marijuana advocate Rick Steves, NORML founder Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre, marijuana attorney Douglas Hiatt, Stranger writer and NORML Board of Directors member Dominic Holden, Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project, patient advocate Martin Martinez of Cannabis MD, patient advocate Dennis Moyers of Seattle Green Cross, federal medical marijuana patient Elvy Musikka, Guru of Ganja Ed Rosenthal, patient advocate Steve Sarich of Cannacare, pot comedian Roland A Duby, and Marijuana Education Project Director Alison Holcomb of ACLU of Washington.

And of course the driving force, Vivian McPeak himself, will be speaking as well.

For a list of confirmed Hempfest speakers for 2008, click here.

Spotlight On Industrial Hemp

The theme of this year's Hempfest will be "Industrial Hemp, And What It Can Do For America."

With our nation's stumbling economy, soaring gas prices, and recent global shortages of food and energy, it's a great time to recognize the fact that industrial hemp can play a useful role. There are many uses for hemp fiber, seed, and biomass. Hempfest 2008 will be putting a special "hemphasis" on the things hemp can deliver, including some special displays and presentations from leading experts. Make sure you check out the Hemposium while you're there.

Industrial hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis sativa that contains minimal (less than 1%) amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), meaning it has virtually no intoxicating properties.

Hemp composite fiber board and other similar products can help save our virgin forests by partially replacing tree lumber. Hemp biomass can help America break its addiction to foreign oil and fossil fuels. Hemp seeds can provide a cheap and healthy protein to aid in feeding the world. Industrial Hemp can be used for paints, oils, varnishes, cosmetics, animal feed, clothing, home insulation, and many, many other uses.

Hemp can help our nation's farmers get back on their feet by giving them an alternative to growing corn and soy, both of which deplete the soil. Hemp requires minimal pesticides and actually replenishes the soil it is grown in, replacing nitrogen and other nutrients. Hemp also has a large root ball allowing it to fight soil erosion naturally.

For more information on industrial hemp and its uses, click here.

Seattle Hempfest Core Group, 2007

Be The Movement: Volunteers Make Hempfest Happen

McPeak and a core group of around 120 volunteers plan Hempfest year-round and pay more than half the estimated $180,000 production bill with vending revenue.

"Hempfest has always been about community," McPeak told Reality Catcher when we visited with him at his University District home in Seattle. "The real story is this amazing group of volunteers."

The core group is augmented by an all-volunteer event staff roughly a thousand strong, all similarly dedicated to the cause and willing to donate their time and effort. More than 40 distinct crews work together to make Hempfast happen.

Those interested in volunteering and registering to help with this year's event should click here. Become The Movement. Don't delay - time is short.

See you at Hempfest!

Seattle Hempfest 2008 Website

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Every Picture Tells A Story...

A sweet, poignant "little" love story in just two photos!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

'Just Doing Our Job. Sorry About Your Wall And Your Marijuana.'

Martin Martinez at Lifevine's office after the Seattle Police Department searched the premises, knocked a wall down, and unlawfully took 12 ounces of legal medical marijuana. Photo by Courtney Blethen of the Seattle Times

Surprisingly, I actually heard back from the King County Prosecutor's Office after I sent an email July 15 protesting their search earlier that day of Martin Martinez's Lifevine/Cascadia NORML offices and the harassment of medical marijuana patients.

While the reply email is inevitably quite political in its use of doublespeak ("We have concluded the Seattle Police Department acted appropriately"), it's encouraging to see that it also acknowledges that Martin and his group were well within Washington's medical marijuana law.

It is, of course, highly questionable for the prosecutor's office to conclude that the SPD "acted appropriately" when they were fully informed -- before conducting the raid, and during the course of the raid -- by both Martinez and his lawyers, that Martin was a legal medical marijuana patient. How does the mere smell of (legal) pot make it "appropriate" to raid a medical marijuana patient's office, knock his wall down in search of nonexistent plants, and steal his medicine? That doesn't sound very "appropriate" to me.

That's the good news, or at least as good as it gets in the email from the prosecutor's office, reproduced below.

The bad news is:

"One part of state law prohibits the possession of marijuana while another part authorizes possession and use for medical purposes. Law enforcement officers and prosecuting attorneys are entrusted to interpret and enforce both laws on a case-by-case basis."

Which is wrong. The police acted unlawfully, not "appropriately." According to the law, Senate Bill ESSB 6032, which passed in April 2007 and went into effect July 22, 2007:

A local or state law enforcement officer stopping a person lawfully possessing medical marijuana:
• Can document the amount
• Can take a sample for testing
Cannot seize the marijuana
• Cannot be held civilly liable for not seizing the marijuana.

"They are supposed to take photos and samples and carry on the investigation without seizing the medicine," Martinez told me today. "But the fact is, the officers on the scene did not make the call. That call actually came from an assistant DA because it was after 5 PM and the boss, Dan Satterberg, was unavailable."

This is completely disingenuous on their part, and of course it leaves the door open to further harassment and intimidation of legal medical marijuana patients whenever they want, as they see fit. To call the actions of the police "appropriate" is especially dishonest, as well as legally incorrect. They had no authority, no legal right, to confiscate Martin's medicine.

It is up to us in the medical marijuana community to call them on this nonsense, each and every time they pull it, exactly as we called them on it when they did it this time, to Martinez and his Lifevine group.

Martinez said one officer for some reason became convinced that he was growing a garden in a secret room, so the cop ripped down part of a wall. No plants were found. Martinez wasn't arrested. No charges have been filed. "I'm just hopping mad," attorney Douglas Hiatt told the Seattle Times. Hiatt arrived at the office during the search and called a deputy prosecutor to try to talk her out of executing the warrant. "It's stupid and was totally preventable," he said.

While the police returned Lifevine's patient records, they still haven't given Martin back his 12 ounces of medicine -- which the law specifically prohibits them from taking in the first place. I'm still wondering exactly what part of this that the Prosecutor's office and the Seattle Police Department don't understand.

The police need to give Martin Martinez his medicine back. This man, David Lucas of Huntington Beach, California, in April got his 31.8 grams medical pot back after the California Supreme Court Court declined to review an appellate court ruling, which ordered Garden Grove police to return seized medical marijuana to another patient. This means that the lower court ruling stands and is valid. Lucas posed for photographer Eugene Garcia of the Orange County Register with his pipe and marijuana.

Anyway, here's the email I received today from the prosecutor's office. Mr. Satterberg evidently delegated the task of dealing with me to Deputy Chief of Staff Ian Goodhew.

------ Forwarded Message
From: "Goodhew, Ian"
Date: Sun, 20 Jul 2008 15:38:01 -0700
Subject: FW: Why Are You Wasting Our Money?

Dear Mr. Elliot [sic],

Thank you for contacting the King County Prosecutor's Office regarding the recent service of a search warrant on a medical marijuana storefront in the University District of Seattle. We appreciate hearing from you on this important matter.

We have reviewed the results of the Seattle Police investigation of the storefront. We have concluded that the Seattle Police Department acted appropriately in response to citizen complaints about the strong odor of marijuana coming from a commercial space next door. They have conducted a thorough investigation for our review.

We have decided that no criminal charges should be brought against the person renting that commercial space. The Seattle Police Department is returning documents and a computer that were taken in the service of the search warrant. Police gathered these items because they reasonably believed that they showed an effort to distribute marijuana in violation of state law.

We are satisfied that the individual in question is authorized to possess marijuana for medical purposes under Washington State law, and that the amount in his possession was arguably within the "60 day supply" permitted by statute.

Although the exact definition of a 60-day personal use amount is not defined by statute, the Washington State Department of Health is currently working on a specific definition. The amount currently being considered is 24 ounces of cultivated marijuana, six mature plants and 18 immature plants.

The individual responsible for the storefront and his supporters assert that this operation was a collection of patients working together to help other patients access marijuana. Legal access to marijuana is one area where the state law fails to provide helpful guidelines. There is no mechanism for authorized patients to get marijuana without some illegal transaction occurring up the chain of delivery beyond the patient and their provider. Selling or otherwise dispensing marijuana is not allowed under the law.

One part of state law prohibits the possession of marijuana while another part authorizes possession and use for medical purposes. Law enforcement officers and prosecuting attorneys are entrusted to interpret and enforce both laws on a case-by-case basis. We will continue to do so, with the hope that some clarity can be brought to the law in the future.

Thank you again for contacting the King County Prosecutor's Office regarding this important issue.


Ian Goodhew
King County Prosecutor's Office

Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske
Telephone: (206) 684-5577
Fax: (206) 684-5525

-----Original Message-----
From: Steve Elliott
Sent: Tuesday, July 15, 2008 9:51 PM
To: Satterberg, Dan
Subject: Why Are You Wasting Our Money?

Mr. Satterberg,

I'm sitting here asking myself why you see fit to waste taxpayers' money on raiding, harassing and intimidating medical marijuana patients and providers.

Exactly how does the public benefit by your going after sick and dying people and those who care for them?

This is a horrible waste of time and resources, and is incredibly barbaric as well.

Please stop.

Steve Elliott



Email and call:
Dan Satterberg (206-296-9067)
Ian Goodhew (206-296-9064)
The following two names are most important to contact!:
Police Attorney Leo Poort (206-233-5141)
Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske (206-684-5577)
(Fax 206-684-5525)

• Call the King County Omsbudsman's office to file a complaint

Let them know that they should return Martin Martinez's medicine NOW, and that the police legally weren't supposed to take it in the first place.


"You are precisely as big as what you love and precisely as small as what you allow to annoy you."

~ Robert Anton Wilson