Sunday, June 29, 2008

An Open Letter To Senator Obama: Please Vote NO On Telecom Immunity - Get FISA Right

Senator Obama, you've asked of your supporters to believe not just in your ability to bring about change in Washington, but to believe in our ability to do the same, as concerned and caring American citizens who love our country.

I hear your clarion call. And I believe that the American people, in this crucial time for the future of our country, are coming together to change its direction and to stand up for our freedoms.

The people who support you and who believe in you are speaking loudly and clearly. I believe you will hear them and will uphold your promise to oppose any FISA bill which includes immunity for the telecommunications companies which unlawfully went along with President George W. Bush's program of warrantless wiretapping of ordinary American citizens.

It is at times like these, with our country on the brink of losing some of the greatest attributes that define us as a nation, that we must step up to the crucial role that destiny has handed us.

This is a defining moment in the history of our country. Do we let ourselves be taken into an age of fear, mistrust, and paranoia, forever feeling that we are being watched and that everyone is a spy?

Or do we hold our heads up, unafraid, and as Americans declare that enough is enough?

We don't want any more of the paranoid culture of fear that is seemingly the Bush administration's meager vision of our future. We are tired of being told that as Americans we must mistrust and be afraid.

We must stand, tall and united, against those who seek to turn the United States into a surveillance society. We must stand up and say "NO!" to those who would turn us into a nation of fearful, isolated citizens, fearing each other, fearing the government, fearing the massive technological complex which has been turned to the ignoble end of monitoring our every word in some misguided attempt to provide an illusory security at the very real cost of our highest ideals.

A government which operates on the basic belief that it must keep its citizens silent and fearful through some sort of all-seeing, all-hearing intelligence apparatus is a government which has already destroyed that which it seeks to defend.

If we forsake our highest ideals of liberty in the name of defending ourselves from a foreign enemy which seeks to take our freedom, then we have already handed them the victory which they seek. For in so doing we have indeed allowed them to destroy our greatness and our freedom by intimidating us into doing their work for them.

A proud group of your supporters who believe in your call for hope and a new kind of politics, and who also realize the importance of the FISA telecom immunity issue, has come together and organized themselves on your website. We are among your most loyal and enthusiastic supporters. Our group has already grown to more than 5,000 members in just a few days, and it continues to grow as I write this. Right now, it is ranked as the fifth largest group on

Please, Senator Obama, reject the politics of fear on national security, vote against this bill and lead other Democrats to do the same!

A proud supporter,
Steve Elliott
Kingston, WA

To Those Who Want To Join The Group 'Senator Obama - Please Vote NO on Telecom Immunity - Get FISA Right'

In just three days, this has become the biggest Obama group centered around a specific issue, and the only group challenging one of Obama's positions.

If you already have an account at, just click on "Join Group" on the upper left portion of the page.

If you don't have an account, it's quick and easy to get one! Just click on "New Account" on the lower left portion of the page.

"That means no more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens... That is not who we are. And it is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists. The FISA court works. The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary. This Administration acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance our security. It is not. There are no short-cuts to protecting America..."

~ Senator Barack Obama, August 1, 2007

What Else Can You Do?

Click Here to learn what else you can do in the fight against telecom immunity provisions in FISA.

EFF Supports Senator Bingaman's Immunity Amendment: Congress Should Know What It is Immunizing

The Nation: Obama Network Organizes and Revolts Over Spying

Friday, June 27, 2008

Alabama's Nut Job Attorney General Wants To Ban Sex Toys And Sing With Dead People

Have you heard the one about the Southern politician who wants to arrest women for dildo possession?

Unfortunately, it's not a joke, so there's no punchline. There's a real live attorney general in Alabama who actually wants to enforce the sex toy ban enacted by the fundamentalist-dominated state legislature a few years ago. Troy King is serious about this -- he will bust your ass for a vibrator.

Sure, there are other states, especially in the South, that have some pretty ridiculous laws on the books. In Mississippi, for instance, it's illegal -- even for married couples! -- to have oral sex. The law's still on the books, presumably because none of the good-old-boy legislators there wants to become known as the guy who legalized blow jobs.

But Troy King is cut from a different cloth. AG King, widely known as a thin skinned, vindictive (that from the Alabama District Attorneys Association!) and spiteful little man and a "hateful punk," believes that sex toys are immoral and that he should be concerned with arresting those who use them.

With all the real crime that takes place in Alabama -- including a whole passel of shady dealings in politics, corruption, and graft, much of it involving King himself -- Troy's more concerned that the wimmen folk might let their lustful urges get out of control once they learn that "men" and "orgasms" don't always have to be in the same room.

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

My friend, fellow blogger and former Alabama gubernatorial candidate Loretta Nall gets the credit for originally alerting me to the outrageous sex-phobic shenanigans of Troy King last year. Loretta got some coverage from Dame Magazine on her "Sex Toys For Troy King" campaign, in which Loretta encouraged everyone to send the Attorney General a sex toy of their choice -- a brilliant bit of political theater.

I want to join Loretta in encouraging everyone to send sex toys to Troy King. Here's his address:

Office of the Attorney General
Alabama State House
11 South Union Street, Third Floor
Montgomery, AL 36130

Loretta also blogged about Troy's laughable, pathetically bad posthumous duet with a non-consenting Johnny Cash, and I was galvanized into action. When some idiot who never even met Johnny Cash starts screwing with the memory of The Man In Black, it is ON, homie.

In January of this year, I obtained online a 30-second sample of the King/Cash duet, which Troy had distributed to about 25 friends and supporters as Christmas "gifts," and I slapped together a little slide show video to go with it, which I then put on YouTube.

Next thing I know, I'm being interviewed by leading Alabama newspaper The Tuscaloosa News, and as I told them, as a native Alabamian myself, I really hate when some ignorant, pea-brained yokel like King makes the state a laughingstock.

Almost immediately, the video gets 1,500 views online. And Troy made a rookie mistake: His press officer ran his mouth to the press (Rule #1: If you're a public official, you never respond to a crank). To quote the Tuscaloosa News story, "King spokesman Chris Bence said the West Coast is a good fit for Elliott. 'Outside the state is the best place for him,' Bence said."

Within a few weeks, King pulled some strings and had the video pulled from YouTube; to do so he went through his friends at the John R. Cash Trust, who spooked YouTube into pulling the video with a spurious "copyright infringement" claim. (The claim is patently ridiculous, because a 30-second clip falls well within "Fair Use" doctrine, and in any event, the Cash version of the song on which King overdubbed his god-awful vocals has never been officially released.)

So I started wondering. What's up with a guy so vindictive, so petty, so insecure that he has to have his press agent answer some crackpot 2,500 miles away when I put up a 30-second video showing him in a less than flattering light? And when he feels the need to discredit me, he thinks that he can do it based on where I choose to live?

Now, here's where the shit gets deep.

If having dildo-phobia, a thinly-disguised fear of feminine sexuality and delusions of country stardom (even to the extent of desecrating the dead) aren't enough to convince you that Troy King is a nut job and a dirt bag, there's plenty more, folks.

Cartoon by JD Crowe

Among Troy's, other, um, "accomplishments":

The selective prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman -- mostly for being the most popular and successful Democrat in the state -- was aided by King's office, and Troy's fingerprints, along with those of Bush operative Karl Rove, are all over the case. "Mr. King is an ambitious man who appears ruthless and vindictive," wrote the Decatur Daily. "That makes Mr. King a dangerous man who unfortunately wields extraordinary power over people’s lives."

King blew up when, as state chairman of John McCain's presidential campaign, he was passed over to give McCain's introduction. Rumor initially had it that Alabama Gov. Bob Riley would attend the event. King didn't want Riley stealing "his" spotlight, and undoubtedly making it sting even more for the man who would be King, a film crew was on hand -- our insecure but vain hero wanted to be filmed speaking to a large and adoring crowd (for future campaign ads?) U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus ended up giving the introduction, while a furious King's tantrums had worn out those around him. "Would all this be a factor in King’s unusual demeanor on stage behind McCain?" asked Alabama blog Doc's Political Parlor, which added, "People on both sides of the aisle noted how King rarely smiled... while he continually scanned the crowd like he was looking for someone or something. I would not have mentioned it here except that others also particularly noticed it and said how odd it was."

• Perhaps the paranoid King was scanning the crowd for an assassin. His megalomania and paranoia are becoming legendary; King wears a flak jacket everywhere, according to widely published accounts. King's sense of self-importance is gargantuan. Said a witness to one public appearance: "First, he comes right in and parks right up front in the spot marked off for the Governor. The man always wants front row parking. He won’t walk anywhere. It’s like he’s the president. And he’s wearing his flak jacket. He acted like there was a sniper on every roof." And this was in Elba, his hometown, where he is supposed to be widely popular.

• King is known for his adversarial relationship with local district attorneys in Alabama. He goaded district attorneys around the state by sending out critical press releases naming individual DAs who took a public stance opposing him on a widely publicized death penalty murder case. According to the Mobile Press Register, 15 district attorneys around the state were targeted with customized press releases. Newspapers throughout Alabama strongly criticized King for his ham-handed hot-dogging. "When it comes to political grandstanding, Alabama Attorney General Troy King is usually right up there with the best - or worst - of them, depending on your point of view," said the Florence Times-Daily. "Even King may have outdone himself with his latest effort, an attack on the Shelby County district attorney [Robby Owens] for his handling of a death penalty case." The Alabama District Attorneys Association questioned King's fitness for his job, noting that he has no real experience in trial law. "We think the association is right on point," the Times Daily editorialized. "His time in office has been marked by ethical and judgment lapses as well as a continual disinterest in taking the high road." It has been suggested that King’s takeover of the Gamble murder case was at least partially due to DA Owens, a fellow Republican, supporting and endorsing King’s 2006 opponent for Attorney General, Democrat John Tyson.

• King holds a grudge in the most unprofessional way. Troy was still so mad at Shelby County DA Robby Owens that, incredibly, he tried to get a judge to bar Owens' testimony in another, unrelated court hearing -- despite the fact that this time, Owens supported King's position!

Harper's Magazine has anointed Troy "The King of Political Prosecutions." "Alabamians are waking up to the realization that their Attorney General has been playing political games with prosecution for some time," political writer Scott Horton wrote in the magazine last year. According to the article, King "played a very curious role in installing his former client, Congressman Bob Riley, as Governor in the face of mounting evidence of election fraud in Baldwin County."

According to Mobile's Lagniappe magazine, an investigator working for King described how King pushed him for dirt on a former district attorney who was prepared to challenge King for the position of Attorney General: Asked to divulge details of those investigations, Anthony "Tony" Castaldo declined elaboration, saying that an investigator does not talk about the specifics of cases. But in October 2005, Castaldo was in Birmingham in a vehicle with King and one other staff member. Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson, Castaldo’s former boss, had recently announced his intention to challenge King for the state’s top prosecutor slot, and King was reading a newspaper story about it in the vehicle. “I can still see it,” Castaldo described, “King said, ‘Looks like Tyson’s throwing his hat in the ring now.’ Then he turned to me and said, ‘You used to work for him. You got anything we can use on him?’ I just looked at him and said, ‘I’ve worked for politicians and never spoke out of school about any of them and would afford you the same respect should the opportunity present itself.’” That wasn't the answer Troy King wanted. In the next months, Castaldo found his office lock was forced, his papers rifled and his timesheets examined. He has become a target of a Troy King vendetta, according to Harper's.

King then initiated the perjury trial of the afore-mentioned Anthony Castaldo by forwarding "evidence" to the Jefferson County district attorney. Castaldo claims that the trial was pushed by King as political payback for refusing “to do political things” for the Attorney General, including helping attack John Tyson, King’s Democratic opponent in the 2006 general election. Castaldo was acquitted after only 45 minutes of jury deliberation. "It seems just a little odd that King would pro-actively foward a case to a district attorney so that he can charge one of his special prosecutors," noted Daily Dixie. "It’s also pretty telling that King gave the case to David Barber, who is one of only a handful of Republican district attorneys in Alabama, when the alleged perjury occurred in Bessemer which has its own DA who happens to be Democrat."

King conducted a “year long vindictive witch hunt” in an effort to find "anything - old campaign records, finance records" to get Circuit Judge Dan King (no relation) “off the bench,” according to a sworn statement by the above mentioned Castaldo. The affidavit alleges that the prosecution of the judge was selectively based on Troy King’s disapproval of Judge King’s ruling on certain gambling machines in 2004.

• King admitted to the Birmingham News that he had asked Roy Johnson, former chancellor of the state’s two-year college system, to find a job for the mother of a friend — while King’s office was carrying out an investigation of the system and of Johnson. "It was a huge error in ethical judgment for the attorney general to seek a favor from the subject of a criminal probe," wrote "But King’s ethical lapse goes even deeper than that," wrote the Montgomery Advertiser. "He didn’t ask for just any favor; he asked Johnson to hire someone when such widespread hiring of friends and relatives by officials in the two-year college system could turn out to be a part of the investigation." King announced that he was removing himself from the investigation -- but only after only after severe public reaction and criticism from around the state -- and proceeded to ignore subsequent calls for his resignation.

King accepted luxury box seats at Atlanta Braves games from Alabama Power, the utility which has a monopoly on most electrical power in the state. The "gift" was not reported to the Alabama Ethics Commission. Bear in mind that King is supposed to be representing the customers of Alabama Power at the Public Service Commission. King claimed it wasn't a conflict of interest, and was "no different than a campaign contribution, which politicians get all the time." Except a campaign contribution would have to have been reported. The value of the gift was in the thousands of dollars. The boxes rent for more than $2,000 a day, and the food bill for King's party came to more than $1,262, according to the Tuscaloosa News. "Someone needs to have a long, heart-to-heart talk about high ethics with Attorney General Troy King," the News wrote. "He either fails to grasp the concept or scoffs at it. Either failing is especially critical for a man in his position." According to Daily Dixie, King reimbursed Alabama Power $436 for the food consumed by himself and his family only after the utility company "educated" the attorney general about ethics law. Power company officials explained to him that they could not pay for it since they were not physically present at the meals (isn't it nice to know that the Attorney General of Alabama is getting ethics advice from a lobbyist?). Notorious cheapskate King wouldn't spring for the other $826 in edibles consumed by the rest of his party.

• King's particular zeal for killing people has given pause to more than a few. "Attorney General Troy King can be criticized for many things. But nobody's ever called him a death penalty sissy," wrote the Birmingham News. "Indeed, King is so gung-ho about putting people to death that it's more than a little scary. His viewpoint on executions seems to be the more, the merrier." "To people like Troy King, courts are nothing but an annoyance," noted Alablawg. "All they do is protect 'the rights of criminals.' Troy King despises the Bill of Rights, because, in his mind, there are only two kinds of people: Good People and criminals... Like it or not, people lie, make mistakes and do stupid things. That includes cops, prosecutors, eyewitnesses, experts, and attorneys general. People are people even when they are state officials or crime victims. Because people are people, we limit their power to take away another person’s freedom," Alablawg continues. "Crime is serious, but so is executing someone. The balance struck between penalizing crime and protecting freedom is what Troy King derisively calls 'the rights of criminals.' No, they are not. They are your rights, and my rights." Beautifully put.

King had his opinion on payments to indigent defense lawyers unanimously overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court. Under King's, er, "leadership," indigent public defenders were being paid an average of $4.98 an hour to defend capital murder cases, when possibly innocent people's lives were in the balance. "Attorney General Troy King maintains Alabama's capital punishment system is as good as any in the world," noted the Birmingham News. "Yet, considering its built-in flaws, King's assurances cannot be sustained with even a modest degree of confidence. Clearly, the best hope for somebody charged with a death penalty offense is a vigorous, thorough defense at the initial trial in circuit court. But the system in Alabama works hard against that obvious and basic premise."

• King forced the State of Alabama into a frivolous lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior after the Department ruled in favor of a Native American tribe in an electronic bingo games case. The Department of the Interior saw through King's attempt to choose the interests of wealthy racetrack owners, who also operate the electronic bingo games, over an Indian Tribe. As with seemingly everything King does, this became personal and in a last ditch, doomed attempt to save face in a losing argument, he sued the federal government, using the tax dollars of the citizens of Alabama.

King gets his ankle bracelet removed -- photo opportunity!

King dramatically wore an GPS tracking ankle bracelet for several days to "push" the Alabama Legislature to pass a law requiring some repeat sex offenders to wear the devices after release from prison. The law passed both houses unanimously, as expected, confirming that King's “push” was unnecessary and was actually yet another case of his callow ambition and political grandstanding.

• As a law student at the University of Alabama, King wrote nastily homophobic letters to the Crimson White, the student newspaper. King decried the tolerance exhibited towards gay students on campus: "The existence of the Gay/Lesbian alliance on this campus is an affront to the state of Alabama, its citizenry, this diversity and its students... One has but to look at the forces which the controversy has united--from the American Civil Liberties Union to the National Organization of Women to the Queer Nation just to name a few--to clearly see how corrupt a cause this truly is." When asked by current Crimson White staffers if his opinion had changed, King granted only that now he'd use "more judicioius language."

The people of Alabama deserve a better Attorney General than Troy King. Unfortunately, the next election for AG isn't until 2010.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Wide Divide: You Are Being Ripped Off

Average worker pay compared to CEO pay. Click on the chart to enlarge. Credit: The New York Times

Here's what's wrong with corporate America, folks. You are being badly ripped off.

This "wide divide," this economic disparity, is what happens when you rely on unbridled capitalism and "market forces" to set wages, and count on the fairness and generosity of our corporate masters.

By 2004, the top 10 percent of executives earned at least 350 times the average worker's pay, up from 122 times in 1990 and 74 times in 1950. Talk about trickle-down economics!

Next time someone tells you, "If the government would just leave business alone to do business, things would take care of themselves," you can remember this chart and its message: The private sector has BEEN left alone by government, when it comes to "letting wages find their natural level." That area is completely unregulated on the top end, with minimum wage laws being the only restraints on the bottom end.

Here's the real-world result of those "market forces" of which conservatives (yes, even -- hell, especially -- the libertarian kind represented by Ron Paul) are so fond.

Reality check: The laissez faire approach to the economy has already been tried, people. See the history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America: Robber barons, greedy monopolists, exploitation of workers, child labor, sweat shops, environmental despoilation in the name of profits, economic suppression of the working class, all for the miserly profits of a few big tycoons.

Base an entire society and economic system on human greed and the acquisition of wealth and material goods, and this is what happens. The powerful exploit the weak. The rich buy political influence, and the working class gets an insulting pittance with a super-sized helping of condescension. Should anyone be surprised?

Here's what you have in America today, as a result of trusting corporations to do the right thing: Working men and women are out of luck. If working class families have anything besides crushing debt, for the most part, it’s their houses, for the lucky ones. And holy hell, look what's happening to the housing market. For the first time in two decades, real estate values are dropping like a stone, and the bottom's not in sight yet.

Debt's piling up. Under the Bush administration, credit card companies have been deregulated and unleashed to practice their particularly nasty brand of predatory lending and interest rate hiking, and it's tougher than ever to declare bankruptcy.

There's nothing in the bank for a rainy day, for a medical emergency, or worse, for retirement. And due to the Wal-Martization of jobs in corporate America, every year, more and more people don't even have health insurance or a retirement plan.

What do I mean by Wal-Martization? Well, when a company increases its profits by underpaying its workers and by keeping most or all of them "part-time," thus dodging requirements to provide bedrock benefits like insurance and retirement -- and gets away with it! -- you can damn well believe that other corporations are watching and learning. Welcome to the new America.

"A persistent slide in work-based health insurance is largely to blame for a 2.2 million rise in the number of uninsured in America," according to policy experts.

United States Census Bureau figures released last year show that the number of people without coverage increased to 47 million from 2005 to 2006. "The jump is appalling," said American Medical Association President-elect Nancy H. Nielsen, MD, PhD. "I was so disappointed, because we have had years of people talking about this problem."

The corporate fat cats make billions of dollars cutting the international deals whose end result is making workers unemployed or underemployed. Cowed-down workers end up thanking their lucky fucking stars for a lousy job wearing an apron at Wal-Mart or flipping burgers at McDonalds, while the CEO and his upper management lackeys play golf, cultivate decadent habits and mistreat the illegal immigrant yard help at their palatial estates.

Meanwhile, the corporate bigwigs want you to continue to vote against your own economic interests by supporting the party that issues huge tax cuts for the rich while trickling pennies on the working class. "But who'd be stupid enough to vote that way?" you might ask.

People who are scared can be convinced to do stupid things. If you can rig the system so that people are scared of each other, scared of terrorists, scared on the issues of race and gender and sexual orientation and ethnicity, it's easy to control them. It's the age-old tactic of divide and conquer. Teach people to fear and hate diversity rather than celebrating it, and you can get them to march lockstep right into their own economic doom.

Teach them that speaking out leads to consequences. Teach them that they should unquestioningly accept a government which spies on their phone conversations, email, and text messages, and you'll have a populace too intimidated to stand up for themselves. Teach them that under the Patriot Act, any deviation from the plans your corporate masters have for you can be arbitrarily defined as "terrorism," and that you can be locked up indefinitely without knowing if or when you'll be charged or tried.

Pass laws that make it easy to outsource their jobs to other countries should they demand decent benefits and living wages and safe work environments. Keep that threat hanging over their heads and they'll remain compliant.

Teach the workforce that they should accept a corporate culture that is not only concerned with your productivity in the workplace, but which also makes it the business of the company what you choose to do in your off time. Teach them that they should accept the invasion of their privacy and the confiscation of the very fluids of their bodies as some kind of chemical loyalty oath, and that if they choose to indulge in substances that don't bear the seal of corporate approval and corporate profits, they can lose not only their livelihood, but their very freedom.

This is what happens when the market drives the economy. Things will be different come the Revolution.

"A revolution is coming--a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough. But a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability." ~ Robert F. Kennedy

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bush The Elder And Anna Kournikova - Clearly This Is A Terrorist Fist Jab!

Conclusive proof: Bush and Kournikova - TERRORISTS!

When Barack and Michelle Obama exchanged a congratulatory fist bump after he secured the Democratic nomination, a Fox News anchor enlightened us by describing the move as "possibly a terrorist fist jab."

Using Fox's unassailable logic, it has now been conclusively determined that former President George H.W. Bush and tennis star Anna Kournikova are ALSO dreaded terrorists... Guards! Seize them!

How helpful of Fox to aid us in recognizing tell-tale signs of being a terrorist! Now we can all lend a hand to our patriotic fiends, er, friends at Homeland Security. Thank you, Fox News, for being so educational and for elevating political discourse in this country to a new level.

What would we do without you, Fox? Why, only yesterday, we learned on Fox News that Michelle doesn't rate being called his "wife." Noooo... you must remember, these are black people we're talking about. She's his baby mama.

Gee whiz, I can hardly wait to get to the ghetto and show off my new Fox-imbued hipness to all my homies! This is gonna be swell... Er, I mean, tight!

Props to my homies at More Muslim Than Obama, to whom credit goes for finding the above Bush/Kournikova picture. Check 'em out if you enjoy political grins.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Elitist Menace Among Us!

Have you heard about what an elitist Barack Obama is? If he's allowed to inject his elitist agenda into our nation's veins, before you know it, millionaires will be running the country. Can you imagine?

Stephen Colbert knows all about it, and last night he presented an informative educational film about the Elitist Menace. Duck and cover!

Voting Republican?

John Cusack Presents The Bush/McCain Challenge

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Cannabis Crusaders: NORML's Still Smokin' After All These Years

Keith Stroup, who founded the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in 1970, takes a smoke break at the NORML convention in Aspen. Photo credit: Aspen Daily News

Meeting Keith Stroup was, for me, one of those great moments when you go face to face with someone who's been a hero to you for years -- and then they don't disappoint you.

I met Keith back in 2003 at the Great American Bowl benefit concert at the Hollywood Palace right at the corner of Hollywood and Vine. The show was hosted by Bill Maher, and included Tenacious D, Fieldy's Dreams and Particle. But that's not even the coolest part.

The coolest part was meeting Stroup. It started while I was on the sidewalk in front of the Palace in the queue to get in. A limo pulled up and Keith got out of the back. I recognized him from pictures I'd seen, so I said, "Hey, Keith! Keep up the good work!" He smiled and and gave me a "thumbs up," and I thought that was that.

But a few minutes later, in the lobby, Stroup saw me and walked up and started a conversation. I told him how getting busted for pot at age 17 had a radicalizing effect on me, and how as a result, I'd joined NORML in 1977.

Keith asked me if I'd like to smoke a joint before the show, and of course there's only one correct response to that question. ;-)

Four years later, Stroup's essential coolness was reinforced in my mind when, after reading a post I made to a Washington state medical marijuana discussion email list, he emailed me to offer suggestions on how legal medical marijuana patients can hook up with buyers' cooperatives in the Seattle area.

I "high"ly recommend Patrick Anderson's book High In America: The True Story Behind NORML and the Politics of Marijuana [1981] for a look at the early years of NORML and Keith's important and tireless work therein.

This past weekend, 38 years old and going strong, NORML held its annual conference in Aspen, Colorado. Below is the Aspen Daily News' coverage of the event.

~ Steve

Cannabis Crusaders

by Andrew Travers, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
Sunday, June 8, 2008

There are some things higher than the laws
— Clarence Darrow, 1920

The number of Americans arrested for marijuana-related offenses is inching toward 20 million. The first such arrestee, it turns out, was an unemployed overall-clad Colorado farmhand who sold two marijuana cigarettes to an undercover federal agent in a Denver hotel in October 1937. Sentenced to four years in prison, Samuel Caldwell died of stomach cancer in Leavenworth prison before he could complete the term — also making him, some believe, the first unofficial medical marijuana patient.

But if the attorneys for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have their way, smokers and dealers will no longer fill the nation’s prison beds. The dope lawyers descended on Aspen this weekend for a legal seminar covering everything from the intricacies of medical marijuana laws to search-and-seizure statutes to high-driving standards.

Despite the skunky scent in the air this weekend at The Gant, where the conference was held, this is not a circle of zooded Funyun-munching stoners. It is an assembly of committed reformers fighting against what they believe are unjust drug prohibition laws.

Since its founding in 1970, the organization has lobbied legislators and bent local laws with vigilant persistence. And after almost four decades, they believe the green tide of justice is slowly turning in their favor.

“The federal government remains recalcitrant on every level,” said Allen St. Pierre, NORML’s head lawyer and self-proclaimed Head Head. “But on the city and state level we’re making progress on medical and decrim. And look at the culture. Look at the popularity of the show ‘Weeds.’ Look at this whole 4/20 phenomenon that popped up organically while the feds were spending millions on anti-drug ad campaigns. How many states will it take before the federal government takes action? 25? 26? The national culture and the states are going to push Congress into action."

NORML was founded by attorney Keith Stroup, who remains active in the organization. He attended the weekend conference, and is currently appealing a Massachusetts conviction entered against him for smoking pot at a rally with High Times publisher Rick Cusick last year. Two years after Stroup started NORML, a federal commission convened by President Richard Nixon concluded that marijuana use did not pose a threat to society and they recommended eliminating criminal penalties for adult users.

Nixon rejected the commission’s recommendations. But NORML was emboldened. And Stroup’s bifer army has since made inroads to legalization, getting medical marijuana provisions passed in 14 states — including Colorado — and decriminalizing it from New York to California.

Their efforts have rendered the drug quasi-legal in much of the country, and they believe outright legalization is no longer a pipe dream, but an inevitability.

However, the progress has also brought some unintended and undesirable results. The least of which is the quality and availability of the drug (“When we get legalization we’re going to have a lot of demands for the government on growing and taxation,” Stroup said).

Overlapping and contradictory local and federal drug laws have ensnared hundreds of drug users in recent years. Marijuana may be legal to smoke when prescribed by a doctor in places such as California and Colorado, but transporting it is still illegal. Thus, as attorney William Panzer pointed out, a nurse carrying medical cannabis down a hospital hallway is technically a felon.

Panzer co-authored California’s Proposition 215, the nation’s first successful medical marijuana ballot initiative, and said most of the new laws are intrinsically flawed. In Colorado, for instance, it is legal for people with debilitating medical conditions to grow up to six marijuana plants or to possess two ounces of dried buds. But the number of plants is essentially meaningless, Panzer said, because of their varying size and harvest potential. If they yield more than two ounces of marijuana, for instance, the legal plants yield an illegal crop.

“Plant numbers don’t make any sense,” Panzer said. “That’s like trying to guess how much 10 dogs weigh.” More than 100 medical marijuana-prescribed patients are currently facing criminal charges in California, Panzer claimed.

The transforming legal landscape is also killing people, said Seattle-based lawyer Doug Hiatt. Hiatt gave an impassioned presentation at the conference Friday about ill clients of his who have been knocked off of organ donation lists because they tested positive for marijuana that had been prescribed and administered by their doctors.

“I don’t think anybody who voted for a medical marijuana law in the state of Washington saw this bullshit as a result of it,” Hiatt said. He told the story of a hepatitis patient who medically qualified as a top donor recipient for the liver transplant he needed. But the state donation board denied him the organ because he was a medical marijuana patient, and he died while Hiatt appealed the decision.

In addition to the legal seminars, the NORML conference provided a social gathering for the like-minded legalization advocates. Evening smokeouts were held at the Aspen home of former National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers President Gerald Goldstein and at the Woody Creek ranch of the late writer Hunter S. Thompson.

“These conferences are the most intellectually stimulating thing I get to do every year,” former Washington state Senator George Rohrbacher said over a poolside joint at The Gant. “We’re not making any money off of this work. We just believe in an America that doesn’t lock people up for getting high."

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

R.I.P., R.F.K: Bobby Kennedy Died 40 Years Ago Today

Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 5, 1968.

"As long as men are not free--in their lives and their opinions, their speech and knowledge-- that long will the American Revolution not be finished." ~ RFK

"Our gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans. " ~ RFK

"On this generation of Americans falls the burden of proving to the world that we really mean it when we say all men are created free and are equal before the law. All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity." ~ RFK

"What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black." ~ RFK

"Democracy is no easy form of government. Few nations have been able to sustain it. For it requires that we take the chances of freedom; that the liberating play of reason be brought to bear on events filled with passion; that dissent be allowed to make its appeal for acceptance; that men chance error in their search for the truth." ~ RFK

"The sharpest criticism often goes hand in hand with the deepest idealism and love of country." ~ RFK

"A revolution is coming--a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough. But a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability." ~ RFK

This speech by Robert F. Kennedy was given on April 5, 1968 at the City Club of Cleveland, Cleveland, Ohio:

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Medical Marijuana Activist Darren McCrea Arrested In Spokane

In happier days: The Spocannabis float wowed the crowd at Spokane's St. Patricks' Day Parade in 2007. Photo by Grinch

The unconscionable and unlawful program of harassment and intimidation of legal marijuana patients and providers by weed-phobic police, under the direction of Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, continues.

Last night, Darren McCrea, a well known medical marijuana activist, patient and provider who has helped many sick and dying people in the Spokane area find their medicine, was arrested and charged with "selling marijuana."

When will those entrusted with enforcing the law respect it and uphold it, rather than pursuing an irrational, counterproductive and cruel vendetta against the sick and dying patients who qualify for legal medical marijuana? When will the will of the people, as expressed in a free and open election a DECADE ago and reaffirmed by the state legislature, be acknowledged and recognized by law enforcement?

When will Governor Christine Gregoire put a check on her out-of-control, mad-dog Atty. Gen. Rob McKenna, with his superstitious fear of a weed and his "drug enforcement" thugs who are a disgrace to their uniforms? When will this abuse of the public's trust and the laws of our great state end?

Make no mistake about it -- Atty. Gen. McKenna is showboating. He is keenly aware that he's up for re-election in November, and he is pandering to his far-right political base by attacking the sick, the weak and the powerless.

Wake up, Washington! This nonsense has gone on long enough.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Happy Trips To Legendary Psychedelic Poster Artist Alton Kelley

Alton Kelley, psychedelic poster creator, dies

By Joel Selvin
San Francisco Chronicle Senior Pop Music Critic

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Alton Kelley, one of the founding members of the '60s San Francisco rock scene, died Sunday at his home in Petaluma after a long illness. He was 68.

Kelley will be remembered as the creator (with his artistic partner, Stanley Mouse) of hundreds of classic psychedelic rock posters, such as the famed "Skull and Roses" poster for a Grateful Dead show at the Avalon Ballroom. Kelley and Mouse created 26 posters for just the first year of the Avalon's operation.

But Kelley was also one of four people who called themselves the Family Dog and decided to throw the world's first psychedelic dance-concerts at Longshoreman's Hall in September 1965, essentially starting the San Francisco scene. The quartet had just returned to the Bay Area after spending an LSD-drenched summer restoring a silver rush dancehall in Virginia City, Nev., called the Red Dog Saloon.

Kelley, a motorcycle enthusiast since his New England youth who painted pinstripes on bike gas tanks, designed the flyers advertising the original Family Dog shows, but lacked drafting ability. When he met Stanley Mouse, who had recently relocated from Detroit where he made a name for himself doing hot rod art, Kelley found the draftsman he needed. The two formed Mouse Studios and cranked out art together, Kelley's drawing skills eventually improving to the point where left-handed Kelley would be working on one side of the easel, right-handed Mouse on the other.

"He had the most impeccable taste of anybody I knew," said Mouse. "He would do the layouts, and I would do the drawing." They worked together steadily for 15 years and on and off thereafter. Their Mouse Studios was located in a converted Lower Haight firehouse where Janis Joplin first rehearsed with Big Brother and the Holding Company. They also opened a store called Pacific Ocean Trading Company (POT Co.), one of the first head shops in Haight-Ashbury. Recently, the two collaborated on the cover to the program for this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction dinner.

Mouse said they could work for hours in silence. "We knew what to do," he said. "We didn't have to talk."

During the heyday of the Avalon Ballroom, the pair would frequent the public library looking for images they could employ in their poster-making; Edward Curtis photographs of American Indians, illustrations from 19th century novels (the skull and roses was adapted from "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam"), often laughing so loud at what they found the librarians would ask them to leave.

"They thought it was the funniest stuff in town," said Paul Grushkin, author of The Art Of Rock. "The twinkle in Kelley's eye - he knew it was all a giggle."

"Stanley and I had no idea what we were doing," Kelley told The San Francisco Chronicle last year. "But we went ahead and looked at American Indian stuff, Chinese stuff, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Modern, Bauhaus, whatever. We were stunned by what we found and what we were able to do. We had free rein to just go graphically crazy. Where before that, all advertising was pretty much just typeset with a photograph of something."

The work of Kelley and Mouse has come to be recognized as a 20th century American counterpart to the French poster art of Henri de Toulouse Lautrec during the Belle Epoque, although the two psychedelic artists never imagined at the time they were creating anything of enduring value, anything more than another crazy poster for this week's Avalon show.

"We were just having fun making posters," said Mouse. "There was no time to think about what we were doing. It was a furious time, but I think most great art is created in a furious moment."

Alton Kelley, 68; Graphic Artist With a Flair for the Psychedelic

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Alton Kelley, 68, a graphic artist whose mind-blowing posters and album covers for the Grateful Dead, Big Brother & the Holding Company and legendary San Francisco concert halls ushered in the psychedelic rock-and-roll era, died June 1 of complications of osteoporosis at his home in Petaluma, Calif.

Kelley, with his life-long collaborator, Stanley "Mouse" Miller, created some of the most distinctive and memorable images in rock music, including the famous "Skull and Roses" emblem for the Grateful Dead and the "Girl With Green Hair" poster that advertised a concert at the Avalon Ballroom.

His work, with its colorful swirls, spiral designs and exaggerated hand-drawn lettering, plastered telephone poles, head-shop windows and vacant buildings in San Francisco in the 1960s. The handbills cost about $5 to print and were given away at the end of concerts. They now sell for tens of thousands of dollars to art collectors who compare them to the belle epoque art of such masters as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha. Kelley and Mousescored their first big hit with a 1966 poster advertising a concert of Big Brother & the Holding Company and the Quicksilver Messenger Service. The art was based on the logo of the Zig-Zag cigarette rolling-paper company.

"When Stanley and I did that poster, we got really paranoid," Kelley said. "We figured, 'Oh no. Now they know we smoke dope!' And we took what little pot we had and flushed it down the toilet. But we wanted to create something that was visual and would make people stop in the streets and read and figure it out. It worked like a charm."

The word on the streets of San Francisco at the time was that if you could not read the poster, you should not go to the concert, said rock historian Paul Grushkin, who wrote The Art Of Rock: Posters From Presley To Punk [1987].

Monday, June 2, 2008

Why Net Neutrality Matters: Protect Internet Freedom - Or Lose It

Imagine an Internet where the big corporations and big media have finally taken control and throttled the explosion of free, uncensored content.

Imagine an Internet where radical voices and nonconformists have at last been muzzled and shut down.

Imagine an Internet where the big corporations that want to reach inside your pocket and your cranium have achieved their dream of making it impossible for individual Net users to share free, unfettered content, information and files.

Imagine a world where everything that once made the Internet special and valuable and relevant and wild and exciting has been snuffed out, leaving only a poignant memory of unshackled freedom and the regret of lost potential.

You may not have to imagine much longer, because if the big corporations have their way, they could, by 2012, have the same chokehold on Internet information flow as they already exercise on television, radio, and newspapers.

Many people don't yet know how badly the powerful cable and phone companies want to censor the information we can get over the Net...and insidiously slow down or block web content that they don't agree with.

Many people don't know that Big Media has a plan in the works to make the Internet, which until now has enjoyed the freedom of having its users determine which content is popular, less interactive and more like corporate-controlled television?

What happens to free speech if rich and powerful corporations have the ability to shut off or slow down viewpoints they find objectionable?

(Above) Take a look at your future -- or do something to change it

According to Belgium-based Internet activists iPower, Internet providers around the globe are currently in talks with access and content providers to transform the Internet into a television-like medium: no more freedom, you pay for a small commercial package of sites you can visit and you'll have to pay for separate subscriptions for every site that's not in the package.

If this plan is implemented, almost all smaller websites and alternative information sources will disappear over time -- because most people will never find out about them! -- and multinational corporations who are used to using big budgets to brute force their content into every media outlet will finally realize their dream of being able to approach the World Wide Web in the same way.

We need to all do our part in ensuring the Internet remains a level playing field for consumers and innovators.

Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online. Network Neutrality is the principle that Internet users, not service providers, should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet.

Big phone and cable companies like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner have worked very hard to oppose Net Neutrality and pave the way for "network management" practices that allow blocking of certain content in favor of Web sites and services the companies prefer.

Do you want to pick for yourself the Internet content and information that most interests you and that is most useful to you? Or do you want the same corporate gatekeepers who control all the OTHER sources of information to spoon-feed you only the information they want you to have? The choice is yours, people.

The Markey-Pickering bill currently before Congress requires the FCC to actively protect the free-flowing Internet from gatekeepers, enforcing protections that "guard against unreasonable discriminatory favoritism for, or degradation of, content by network operators based upon its source, ownership, or destination on the Internet."

Barack Obama on Net Neutrality "The Internet is perhaps the most open network in history -- and we have to keep it that way."

Sen. Ted Kennedy on Net Neutrality "It's an issue that's not just about the Internet, but about free and open communication. Net Neutrality protects your freedom of speech. Net Neutrality is about protecting the innovative, democratic spirit that has always characterized the Internet. It is our duty to protect it."

iPower on Net Neutrality

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