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