3/30/2009

March for Equality

In between moving to a new apartment this weekend, I took time out to travel up to Casa Grande with my friend Sandy for the "March for Equality."

We had a great, if tiring, time handing out stickers for Marriage Equality and signing up people for the volunteer and newsletter lists.

Here's a video slideshow of the day. Music is by my hubby, a song titled "Lifting of the Veil" from his new album Singular Moment.




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3/27/2009

Why Do Politicians Act Like Assholes?

the 44th President of the United States...Bara...Image by jmtimages via Flickr

Yesterday, before Obama took up the question of marijuana legalization in his online Town Hall, I posted the previous rant about Hillary Clinton's plans to militarize the Mexican police forces at our expense during a time of national economic crisis so they can get a cut of the "Drug War" proceeds.

After I posted that Obama was asked the NUMBER ONE question since he launched his online campaign: Would you legalize marijuana and regulate it like tobacco and alcohol so that the US can benefit from jobs and taxes created by a legal industry?

His response was to smirk and laugh then to brush aside the very serious question with a cursory "no." He didn't bother to explain why, didn't bother to debate the merits of the argument or try to refute the assessments that it could boost the economy. He just said insulted the majority of his audience (the online one) who had voted the question up by implying they're all stoners and stupid and then brushed them aside to the laughter and delight of his homie audience in D.C.

Today at HuffPo there was an article that sums up why Obama must do better. Already, many of us are seeing a repeat of the Clinton years as he slides now to Center and probably will start edging to the right before his re-election campaign kicks off in 3 years. President Obama owes people more than jokes and snide comments when he's asked a serious question that has been simmering in this country for 40 years.



From HuffPo:

When Barack Obama was first elected, he immediately began his straight-to-the-people, end-run-around-the-press style of Q&A by encouraging people to ask questions at Change.gov. One's fellow citizens could then vote throughout Nov. and the first part of Dec. 2008 on their favorite questions, and Obama's people would answer the most popular. When the dust settled and the votes were counted, among the most popular was this question:

"Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?"

The incoming Obama administration offered well-reasoned, thought-out answers to a whole host of questions, including controversial ones such as "Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor (ideally Patrick Fitzgerald) to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?"

But when it came time to tackle the oh-so-controversial topic of marijuana legalization, the response was a mere one sentence: "President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana."

No rationale, no justification. Just a blanket statement redolent of a parent smirking, "Because I said so."

Fast-forward to today's online town hall, and once again, marijuana legalization proved to be one of the most popular questions, with the most-approved-of pro-pot question being: "Should the U.S. legalize pot as a way to grow jobs and stimulate the economy?"

With all of his usual charisma and endearing jocularity, our president laughed off the question, stating "I don't know what this says about the online audience, but, no, I don't think that is a good strategy to grow the economy." The mewling sycophants in the East Room audience laughed and burst into applause.

Once again, the Obama administration has greeted this question with an out-and-out rejection, with no reasoning underlying their position. Let's ignore for a moment that Obama's answer, in and of itself, is deeply wrong and ill-informed; moving from zero taxes on weed to any taxes is obviously an increase in revenue, not to mention the shift of growing and supplying jobs from the black market to legitimacy, which means more revenue in income taxes and more jobs.

Now, couple this with the millions, if not billions, of dollars that would be saved without the government being responsible for the care and feeding of hundreds of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders. From 1965 through the election of Barack Obama, our government arrested 20 million people for possession of marijuana. That, folks, is a lot of stoners.

In 2006 alone -- the last year for which statistics are available -- 829,625 people were arrested on marijuana-related charges, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. Of these, 89 percent were arrested for simple possession.

So, couple the tax revenues, both sales and income, with the savings involved in keeping potheads out on the streets instead of in the pen. Now, put that Everest-sized pile of cash aside for a moment and think about this: Who's losing money in the deal?

According to Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, fully 75 percent of Mexican drug cartels' cash comes from the sale of marijuana. Legalizing marijuana would, of course, take away that massive source of income for the cartels, just as ending prohibition cut bootlegging as a source of revenue for La Cosa Nostra.

Combining all of the above effects, the legalization of marijuana means billions of dollars saved or made, the creation of jobs and the curbing of violence along the Mexican border, which in turn means saving thousands of lives.

Barack Obama can certainly be against legalization, but he owes it to nonviolent drug offenders caught in the horror show that is the U.S. prison system, the families of innocent victims of the Mexican drug wars and economically bloodied U.S. taxpayers to explain why. Ganja may cause the giggles, but legalization shouldn't be a laughing matter. And it certainly shouldn't be treated as cavalierly as it has by the current administration, especially when it has been proven to be a popular issue every time Obama has tried to go straight to the people.



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3/26/2009

Why Do Politicians Act Brain Damaged?

Here's a quote from our new President: "We need to do more to make sure that illegal guns and cash aren't flowing back to the cartels. That's part of what is financing their operations. That's part of what is arming them."

He's talking about the violence in Mexico related to drug cartels that sometimes spills over into our border towns.

Hmmm, how could we make sure that cash and guns aren't flowing across the border? Could we do what Mrs. Clinton has pledged and send multi-million dollar military equipment to militarize the Mexican police as we've done with ours?

A box of CannabisImage via Wikipedia

Should we get the Mexican police hooked on the crack that is "Drug War" money? Will that make things safer?

Not a bit. We've spent trillions over the past 30 years fighting a "drug war" and all we've managed to do is make it worse. We've got our cops hooked on military weapons and tactics. We've got our courts and local governments hooked on the easy drug of "seized assets" to underwrite their budgets and police departments increased love of high tech, high kill rate weaponry.

Have we stemmed the flow of drugs? Not one iota. Mrs. Clinton even calls it an "insatiable need." Well Hillary if it's "insatiable" then you'd better figure out how the hell to deal with it in a manner other than expecting to either legislate it away or jail it away.

Of course, I guess Hillary has as much trouble with the definition of insatiable as her husband has with the definition of sex. Because her next statement talks about increasing penalties and reducing domestic drug consumption.

Police in Armored Vehicle, Oakland RiotsImage by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Here's a novel idea Hillary, Barack, and Janet... don't act like the three stooges on this. For once in the history of the "Drug War" think like you're not stoned yourselves.

Want to know how to cut off the Mexican cartels at their knees? It's damn simple. Most of their volume comes from Marijuana. (Just check our local paper since Nogales is one of the major points of entry for illegal drugs.) Marijuana is an innocuous drug that is actually safer than alcohol and tobacco. So, want to cut off the money? LEGALIZE MARIJUANA in the United States and regulate the industry just like we do alcohol and tobacco. Let folks here grow it and you can then collect taxes on the legal sale just like you do on alcohol and tobacco.

Here are the benefits:

  1. Not locking up non-violent mellow potheads will save you loads of money in the prison system. Sure the private gulags we run these days love them because they're no trouble. But they're supposed to be paid to keep us safe from, oh - rapists and murderers... not Cheech and Chong or Seth Rogan. K?
  2. Dropping the whole "drug war" uber-macho police shit will save lots of money. We have police departments with tanks... yes, tanks. They are armed better than our troops in Baghdad for the most part and it's all because they're scared of people getting mellow in their living room. The tales of "violence" are greatly exaggerated for media and money purposes.
  3. Taxes mean money... we're saving money and then we're actually making money with new taxes. I know you have trouble with the whole finance thing sometimes, but puzzle it out for a minute. You're saving money on one hand and making it on the other. That means a positive cash flow from the enterprise. That's money you can use to fix the freakin' economy.
  4. Jobs... if we stop importing from illegal cartels and start letting companies and co-ops provide legal marijuana here they will need people to work in the businesses. They'll need people to harvest the crops, package the product and retail the product. Those people will be... guess what, Hillary? Yes, they will be paying income taxes on their wages. They will also be paying social security taxes as well. That means less people on Unemployment and more people contributing to the economy.
  5. Without the stupid DEA ban on Hemp (a relative of Marijuana) we can also have a whole separate industry creating hemp products from clothing to even a new building material that is superior to fiberglass insulation! And they'll have jobs and be paying taxes.
  6. Legal retail outlets for marijuana or the ability for private citizens to grow a small number of personal plants means that our drug gangs will dry up too. No more dealers on the corner. They'll have to get legitimate jobs in the industry or find another line of work. Why would people buy from an illegal dealer and risk arrest when they can buy from a retail store perfectly legally? Do you see street corner illegal alcohol dealers or tobacconists? Nope.
  7. It'll keep us all sane when we have all had enough of Washington craziness. Hell, maybe if we toked up first some of the crap the Republicans say might even not make us throw up.
So there you have it. Stop acting brain damaged and see what's right in front of your faces. Just because Reagan got bent over pot does not mean we need to keep on with his stupidity. We almost legalized it in 1976 and if we'd done it then we might not have the problems we do now. Stop blaming everyone else and look at yourselves first.

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3/25/2009

Arizona Republican Budget Ideas

Photo © by Jeff Dean.Image via Wikipedia

I'm so NOT kidding. These are some of the ideas the Republicans in Arizona are putting forward to close the huge budget gap. As you will see from this list there is no doubt that ANYONE calling themselves Republican whether on the national stage, state stage, or local stage must be a complete and utter moron.

Folks, watch Arizona closely, you are about to see what would have happened if Democrats hadn't taken Congress and the White House. With Brewer as Governor and a legislature controlled by some of the biggest idiots in the nation... this state is going down in flames very quickly.

And now... how Republicans are planning to fix the budget crisis in Arizona (notice that they don't mention fixing property tax loopholes or other revenue generating ideas):

Here is a short sampling on the Republican document (take a deep breath):
  • Cities - take anything we can
  • Shift parks to cities and counties
  • Move prisons to Mexico
  • Scrap All Day K
  • Uncover K-12 teachers temporarily so districts can hire/fire who they want
  • Suspend mandated bus service to transport students
  • Reduce Medicaid: Cap the number of visits for routine care
  • Privatize Mental Hospital
  • Eliminate Homeland Security
  • Count entire household income for benefits>run MVD/tax reporting/voter reg address against welfare roles to determine household income and catch live-in fathers who are not married to mothers

The list was created by Sen. Pamela Gorman - some of which she states were originally jotted down on gum wrappers and sticky notes. [http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/story/137097]

The "working document" doesn't list anywhere how any of these ideas would help our state in the future or how much each item would save the state. (complete list)
If you look closely you'll notice a rather macabre theme. First, they want to do away with public education for young children. Then fire the teachers. Then make sure that students can't get to school by stopping the buses. Then, to make sure none of these poor kids complains they intend to cut off healthcare and social services to them in the hopes they'll die.

Yes, the Republican final solution... hope all those pesky poor people die. If they won't die then lock them up in Mexican prisons.

So, folks, this is what the whole country will look like if someone doesn't sit the new "Moderate Democrat Caucus" (read Republican Lite) down and give them a damn good talking to. Republicans have no clue anymore how to run a government. They have all gone completely and utterly nuts.


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3/24/2009

An Explanation

On the HRC webpage donations and fundraising take precedence over actual direct volunteer actions. Even the volunteer actions are primarily related to fundraising events.

On my post about the HRC Gala in Phoenix I had a comment about my prejudice against HRC. I will admit that I do hold a long standing prejudice against HRC as a national organization and I won't apologize for that because I feel it is a legitimate gripe. I will apologize if my beef with the national organization is inaccurate at the local level and am open to having my mind changed.

So, let me explain why HRC as a national group can get under my skin.

In 20 years I can't recall a single communication I've received from HRC that didn't ask for money. That's not terrible in itself, but in all that time they've never asked for my labor. Other than "click here to send a message to" in an email HRC has never sent forth a call for volunteers to work in my own community (be it back in SC or here in Tucson) for direct change.

Oh, I'm sure they may have at some point and I'm sure someone will find a mention of a volunteer call in all those years to "prove" how wrong I am. That's fine, but if I received one (and I honestly don't think I did) it was certainly not compelling enough to move me to action, or it required me travel to some place on a trip I could not afford.

As any group that I work with can tell you, I will work like a dog for change. Need someone to type members into a database? I'll be there until I develop Carpal Tunnel. Need someone to stand for hours on a street corner getting signatures on a petition... I'll be there until I drop. Need someone to write letters to the editor in support of equality? I will burn up my computer composing them. Need someone to knock on doors in neighborhoods? Just give me a call. Need someone to man a booth handing out literature? I'm there.

What I can't do is spend money attending cocktail parties, dinner parties, theater nights, and the other hundred fundraising events. I just don't have that kind of money and I resent the implication that because I can't afford it that I'm somehow not a "real" member of the LGBT community or doing my part.

Beyond that, I don't care for cocktail parties and dinner parties as political action. If I'm going to spend 4 hours I'd rather spend it doing something directly for the community. To me it's a question of whether whatever I'm doing is engaging the public about our causes and changing the way the world sees us.

I'm sure there are probably things HRC does that are just great. The problem is, I don't see them. Yes, they launched a new website to refute the lies of the right wing. I covered that on RFS and thought it was great. I'm proud of them for doing it.

When I have an extra $10 or $20 I will donate to a group. However, I'm very picky about who gets that little bit of money I can afford. I choose those groups who have asked me for my labor first and my cash second (or sometimes last). I choose those groups that I see at EVERY event working the crowds and promoting ways every single person, regardless of economic level, can help out. I donate to those groups who spend that hard earned money directly without using most of it to fund another fundraiser or pay salaries to ad companies and consultants. In short, I choose groups who give me the most bang for my buck as it affects my life in my local community.

On the HRC website for an upcoming Gala ($350 a person) it seems that Prop 8 and Prop 102 are afterthoughts and they feel that we're all better off anyway.

In addition to the money race, HRC's agenda seems to be that of the Democratic Party. I'm by no means a Republican - in fact a lot of Democrats are too conservative for my tastes. But what I mean is that HRC often seems to put stroking Democrats and working for the party ahead of our own issues. On the day after Prop 8 and Prop 102 passed, HRC in California sent out a giddy email over Obama's election. Sure, we were all thrilled, but most of us also had a sinking feeling in our stomach over the anti-gay measures passing around the country. HRC as a supposedly LGBT group seemed to be out of touch with its own community. Their giddy cheerleading for Democrats made them seem almost callous. It seemed they were saying out rights didn't really matter much as long as we elected nice Centrist Democrats to office as a trade-off.

I'm sorry if that upsets people who work with HRC. But, they need to realize that there are very, very large sections of the LGBT community who look at HRC and see nothing but a fundraising machine that values big dollar donors first and foremost.

Maybe that's the wrong perception, but it is my perception and the perception of many in the community who aren't "inside" HRC. I think the onus is on HRC to change that perception rather than continuing on with business as usual and dismissing the rest of the community's concerns or opinions.

I even signed up again on the HRC website as a volunteer to be sure I was getting all the communications from all their alert lists. Here are the highlights of what I got back as thanks for being a volunteer:

In the meantime, there are many ways that you can take action TODAY! Here is a list of just a few things that you can do to get involved:

Join or Renew Your Human Rights Campaign Membership. This important act of supporting HRC as an active member provides the Human Rights Campaign power on Capitol Hill and across the country when we lobby for equality. You can join or renew at the following links: www.hrc.org/join or www.hrc.org/renew

Host an HRC House Party for your friends, family, and neighbors. HRC House Parties are a fun way to educate and introduce people in your life to the Human Rights Campaign and its work. By hosting an HRC House Party as a volunteer, you can help to increase our voice and visibility across the nation, sign up new HRC members, raise needed funds to support HRC’s work, and help identify others in your area who would be interested in getting involved in volunteering for equality. The HRC House Party Kit includes invitations, materials, and HRC membership forms to make your party a success. Order your HRC House Party Kit at www.hrc.org/houseparty

So, there you have it. The "volunteer" opportunities they initially sent were ways for me to give them money and make money for them, the "House Party" in particular struck me as Fundraising as Multi-level Marketing.

Here's an invitation to HRC and specifically HRC in Arizona: Call me up the next time you're doing something that is not a fundraiser in Tucson and you need help. I'll be there with bells on and I will work like a dog for you. And if that call doesn't come, please don't accuse me of being unfair in my perception of the organization.






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Can Someone Clue in HRC

I couldn't help but be struck by the incongruity of these "updates" from friends on Facebook.

Recently, a new report came out showing how LGBT people were more likely to live in poverty because of a lack of social safety net than heterosexual people. The report blew apart the old myth that by virtue of being gay you must be well off if not outright rich.

Many people believe that. I have a very good friend who always thought that lesbian and gay people somehow magically were endowed with wealth and taste. Heck, we even buy into it in our own community.

I can remember as a young gay man living well beyond my means in order to keep up the appearance that I was well to do. I lived on revolving charge accounts to keep myself in the best clothes and the trendiest accessories. That is, until I could no longer juggle those credit cards anymore.

I used to be envious of people in the community who always seemed to have the best and newest stuff. Then I realized how often they pull out a credit card and realized that in most cases they are living on the edge. One bad break at work and their whole world could crumble.

sticker criticizing human rights campaign for ...Image by Shira Golding via Flickr

I'm pleased to say that I try to live more reasonably now. Sometimes that makes me quite the outsider at LGBT events, but I honestly don't care anymore. My plain old cellphone works fine and I don't need an iPhone or Blackberry to impress people. My jeans from Target keep my ass covered just as well as the slacks from Brooks Brothers or Saks others wear. My old jacket is just as warm as others' designer wool.

Anyway, as the report showed, the myth of affluent gays is just that, a myth. Yet, the very next update on the newsfeed was for the local HRC Gala with tuxedo clad and evening gown draped queers swilling champagne and being Faaabulous!

So, can someone call up HRC and let them know that they're perpetuating a detrimental myth? Maybe next year they could try a cookout for the real LGBT people who work the grassroots and don't have thousands to blow on gladhanding each other and politicians.


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What the Hell Is Wrong with Brits?

Three surveillance cameras on the corner of a ...Image via Wikipedia

Our British friends are just having a complete mental meltdown over Google Street View. You know, where they have a street level view of areas so you can see what it looks like as you're driving.

It's an invaluable tool for navigating since you have an idea of what the area you're going to looks like rather than just some dot on a map and no points of reference.

Here in the USA no one seems too bent about it. I guess we figure if we're on a public street then we shouldn't get upset if we show up in someone's photograph.

But in Britain? Oh God, they're completely freaked out. Now they want Google to do away with the service completely.

Privacy International (PI) director Simon Davies said his organisation had filed the complaint given the "clear embarrassment and damage" Street View had caused to many Britons.

He said Street View fell short of the assurances given to the ICO that enabled the system to launch.

"We're asking for the system to be switched off while an investigation is completed," said Mr Davies.

Google Street ViewImage via Wikipedia

I honestly do not get these people. Great Britain has more government surveillance cameras in public places than just about any other place on earth. They routinely monitor phone calls, emails and pretty much anything that can be digitized for "security" purposes.

The people in the photos on Google Street View are living in one of the world's major cities. They should realize they probably appear in dozens of tourist photographs daily. Do they require that tourists come get them to sign a release before they can take a photograph? Do they insist that tourists cannot share photos among friends that might have a local's face because it would "infringe on privacy"?

It seems that this Privacy Group has decided that Google Street View will be their straw man. They can't make headway with their own government's meddling in private lives and watching their citizens 24/7 on camera and by computer so they'll go after a public service that poses absolutely no threat to anyone.

Get a life guys.



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Bachelorette Parties Straining Limits of Compassion

Back when I used to frequent the bars a bachelorette party was a fairly rare event. Most of the straight women who came to the clubs were friends of gay men and were sensitive to the issues in the community and knew how to behave themselves. Rarely there would be a straight woman who was a co-worker who tagged along to a bar who thought the drunker she got the more she would be able to seduce a gay man into bed. Usually, it was her one and only trip and often things ended badly.

Today, however, the heterosexual bachelorette party at a gay bar has become a fairly common event. In the article below the question is asked whether these parties are rude and insensitive to gay men who are not allowed to marry. Are these women flaunting their right to marry their husband and rubbing our second class status in our faces?

Part of the problem seems to be that these are rarely women who have connections to the community. They come out for a night to party with "the gays" and check out some non-threatening man flesh but they have no notion of how hurtful their raucus celebration of their right to marry is to the people whose space they have invaded.

Somehow, the whole thing strikes me as a bunch of overpriveleged and politically ignorant women who are out slumming and treating us as curiosities to be forgotten in the morning as they say their government sanctioned and church approved vows.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Dawn Turner Trice

They've become a familiar sight in gay bars: women holding bachelorette parties.

The bride-to-be is often easily identifiable. She's the one wearing either a veil or tiara or feather boa or phallic-shaped blow-up hat, and is surrounded by women who begin the night somewhat reserved but metamorphose into pelvis-thrusting vamps as their blood-alcohol levels rise.

The women come to celebrate without having to worry about straight men pawing them. The gay men are there because, well, they don't want to be around a lot of women.

For years, some bar owners have tried to accommodate both groups, but that's becoming increasingly difficult. With California's vote last November in favor of the gay-marriage ban known as Proposition 8, some gays are saying that bachelorette parties at their bars are becoming more than a minor nuisance. They're a constant reminder that gays don't have equal marriage rights.

"The women are a hoot, and some can be just delightful," said Geno Zaharakis, the owner of Cocktail, a gay bar on North Halsted Street. "But because not everybody can get married, watching them celebrate, it's such a slap in the face. Prop 8 just reopened the wound."

Zaharakis told me that Cocktail stopped hosting bachelorette parties a couple of years ago when he noticed his gay patrons weren't just complaining about the women being minor irritants but about them "flaunting" their right to marry. So Zaharakis hung a sign on the front door of his establishment that says, "Bachelorette Parties Are Not Allowed."

If that message isn't resonant enough, he offers a written statement: "Until same-sex marriage is legal everywhere and same-sex couples are allowed the rights as every heterosexual couple worldwide, we simply do not think it's fair or just for a female bride-to-be to celebrate her upcoming nuptials here at Cocktail. We are entitled to an opinion, this is ours."

Indeed some gay men and straight women have a friendship that's reminiscent of the old television show "Will & Grace." And many men make the distinction between their "girlfriends" who frequent gay bars and are sensitive to the marriage issue and other women who are merely seeking good music and "go-go boys" (translation: nearly naked male dancers) for a bachelorette party.

"We appreciate that these women are not homophobic and … want to party with us," said Jens Hussey, a gay man who's in a four-year relationship and worries about being able to make medical and other decisions regarding his partner. "But with all that's going on [in] the media about us not being able to marry, are [these women] willing to march with us or raise money with us or work to change somebody's attitude to help us get equal rights?"

Hussey recently was on hand at Circuit Night Club, a gay bar about three blocks north of Cocktail that caters to bachelorette parties. But he said he'd rather see women take such parties elsewhere until everybody legally can wed.

Circuit presents a Las Vegas-style male revue called SinZation that includes Honey West, billed as "the only transgender emcee of a male revue show anywhere in the country." Buff dancers don't strip bare-naked but get so close—using creatively draped G-strings—that hardly anything is left to the imagination.

On a recent Saturday night there, the gay marriage issue wasn't remotely on the minds of two groups of women whose inhibitions flew out the door as the dancers left the stage to retrieve dollar bills that the women strategically placed around their bodies.

"Gay men are far more reserved," said Hussey, watching and laughing from the sidelines.

One woman from Kansas City told me that she enjoyed being able to drink as much as she wanted and not having to worry about being propositioned by a straight guy or waking up the next morning in his bed.

I found it ironic that, as the women got liquored up, they were the ones doing the pawing and clawing until soon they resembled the straight guys they were trying to avoid.

And this, more than the equal rights issue, is why Art Johnston, the owner of the popular Halsted Street bar called Sidetrack, prefers not to hold bachelorette parties in his establishment.

"As gay men who understand discrimination, none of us want to look like we don't welcome folks," Johnston said. "But it comes down to ignorant, bad behavior. … That's the issue."

For others, though, the issue is gay marriage, and women who are considering hosting these parties should think about that issue. Such a party may feel less like a celebration in the presence of men who feel they're being discriminated against.

As the show got under way at Circuit with a theatrical mist floating over the audience, I asked reveler Blythe Thomas whether, in general, she believed holding bachelorette parties in gay bars was "heterosexist," or insensitive.

"I never would have thought about it like that," Thomas said, watching a curtainlike screen rise on four soon-to-be-nearly-naked dancers. "I could see how this could be frustrating to gay men. Maybe it's something I'll think about next time."

Maybe. But, for now, it was showtime.


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3/23/2009

Facebook Gets Worse and Worse

Recently, Facebook changed their whole look. The new version has been a resounding failure. As you can see from the photo to the left, the "new" Facebook posts dozens of announcements about "gift" apps that have nothing to do with your profile. If you have a friend to who sends one of these annoying "gifts" to 50 people you don't know, the new Facebook sends you 50 messages in your newsfeed about it.

Each morning I used to look forward to seeing updates from my friends on the east coast as they began their workday. Now, I can't find their updates in the pages and pages of "gift" app notices. I used to love getting updates when friends posted new photos. Now, I often miss them because by the time I get to Facebook it's been filled with 2 to 3 pages of someone sending "drinks" to people I don't know.

Now the stupid "games" that had made MySpace completely useless are beginning to show up on Facebook. In addition to Shamrocks, drinks, gifts, smiles, easter eggs, Cadbury eggs, easter bunnies, safari animals, fish, birds, mardi gras beads, flowers, plants, angels, prayers, hugs, candy, and snowballs - you can "play" games about being a mobster or you can "own your friends" or play "pirates" or other inane things. None of them are really "games" but rather just ways to serve ads where you click to "buy" stuff and then "challenge" someone with whatever you bought. In the meantime, it annoys everyone you know by telling them all about what you clicked on.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...Image via CrunchBase

What's worse is that Facebook allows anyone and everyone to "create" applications. The ubiquitous "gifts" are popular but now creating quizzes is all the rage. Unfortunately, most of the people who create "quizzes" appear to be 14 and incapable of using the English language. You can be annoyed by people you know only vaguely letting you know that their "twin" is Lindsay Lohan or they should be "crushing" on Nick Jonas. You can find out what character in Twilight you're most like and at each point your results will be cheerily broadcast in almost incomprehensible English to everyone you know.

Once upon a time (two weeks ago) Facebook was fun and a great way to reconnect. I found my childhood friends and their mother on Facebook and after 30 years we've caught up and are staying in touch. I was able to keep up with my high school history teacher and old friend and even discuss her stopping by on her Summer trip for a visit.

Now, however, it's one annoyance after another. Your communications are broadcast to all even if they don't know the person to whom you're writing. Instead of saying "Buck wrote on Sandy's Wall!" It now lists what I wrote for everyone I know to see in their newsfeed - even if they have no clue who Sandy might be or care.

I'd really hope that Facebook would consider switching back, but I doubt it. They'll continue to go down the MySpace trail (the glittery "profiles" are now appearing) until they become passe and are replaced by a service that remembers we're there to reconnect and catch up with our friends and anything that gets in the way of that needs to stop.
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3/21/2009

Living and Dying History

I have always had an unfettered love of history and in particular social history. For many years my main pursuit was what is called "Living History" whereby people try to recreate the social history of the past in order to educate modern people and help them place historical events in a context.

Part of that pursuit is keeping alive traditions and crafts that may have little place in today's society but that were vital to our ancestors.

One of the fondest wishes for those of us in that hobby would be the chance to meet someone who actually practiced those trades and crafts rather than learning them from books or trying to re-create them from period documents and analyzing artifacts.

In the mountains of North Carolina near Knoxville, TN one of those rare people still inhabited the woods. Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton might have been the last of the old time 'shiners. He produced Sour Mash whiskey as it had been made in the hills by the descendants of Scots-Irish settlers for two hundred or more years.

Unfortunately, the federal government has always looked unkindly on producing this traditional drink without being a big company. They arrested "Popcorn" and were going to send him to prison in the swamps of South Georgia, far from his beloved mountains. Despite pleas by Sutton and his family among those who knew him through academic study of mountain traditions, the compassionate folks in the Federal Courts decided that house arrest wasn't good enough for the elderly man. They prepared to pack him off to prison for 18 months. "Popcorn" Sutton in a desperate act to remain in his beloved mountains killed himself an was buried in the hills of North Carolina in a simple pine coffin.

Good work, guys. While many of us try to keep history living, you managed to kill it with your desire to make an example of an old man who was perhaps the last true "hillbilly."

Story from AP:

“He couldn’t go to prison. His mind would just not accept it. … So, credit the federal government for my husband being dead, I really do,” Pam Sutton said in an interview Wednesday from the couple’s home in the Parrottsville community, about 50 miles east of Knoxville.

A few hours earlier, she had buried Sutton, 62, in a private ceremony in the mountains around Haywood County, N.C., where he grew up. He went to his grave in a pine casket he bought years ago and kept in a bedroom.

Sutton — nicknamed “Popcorn” for smashing up a popcorn machine in a bar with a pool cue in his 20s — looked like a living caricature of a mountain moonshiner. He wore a long gray beard, faded overalls, checkered shirt and feathered fedora.

He wrote a paperback called Me and My Likker and recorded videos on how to make moonshine. The History Channel featured him in a 2007 documentary called Hillbilly: The Real Story.

“You might say he embodied a kind of Appalachian archetype, a character trait of fearlessness and fierce loyalty to regional identity even in the face of personal persecution and stereotyping,” said Ted Olson, a regional writer and faculty member in East Tennessee State University’s Department of Appalachian Studies.

Sutton conceded he was part of a dying breed in an interview last year with actor Johnny Knoxville for a video posted on Knoxville’s Jackass Web site.

“All the rest of them that I know are dead,” Sutton said in the profane, not-for-primetime clip. “I just hope and pray they don’t send me off (to prison).”

Sutton’s widow said he’d just gotten a letter to report Friday to a medium-security federal prison in south Georgia to begin an 18-month sentence for illegally producing distilled spirits and being a felon in possession of a gun. He had pleaded guilty in April.

On Monday, she came home from running errands and found him dead in his old Ford. Authorities suspect carbon monoxide poisoning. Autopsy results may be weeks away.

Pam Sutton, who became Sutton’s fourth wife in 2007, said carbon monoxide may be the method but that’s not what killed him.

“He tried every way in the world to get them (federal authorities) to leave him on house arrest,” she said.

John Rice Irwin, founder of the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tenn., recalled that Sutton made a still for the museum in the 1990s.

Irwin told Sutton to run nothing but water through it. But with thousands of people visiting for an annual homecoming event, Sutton decided to cook up some real sour mash.

“Popcorn is getting everybody drunk,” the governor’s Highway Patrol escorts complained, and when Irwin told him to stop, Sutton packed up and left, Irwin recalled.

Sutton’s last arrest followed a raid in which authorities found nearly 1,700 gallons of moonshine in Parrottsville and a storage unit in North Carolina, three stills, firearms and ammunition.

When he pleaded guilty, it was his fifth conviction. He’d gotten probation before, but U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer said he couldn’t do that again, despite Sutton’s age and physical infirmities.

His estranged daughter, Sky Sutton, 35, of Northampton, Mass., had just completed a book about him, titled Daddy Moonshine, the day he died. She hadn’t seen him since she was 2, though they had talked on the phone.

“That man went out in a blaze of glory, and flipping his finger as he went,” she said.


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Michael Steele and Talk Radio Moron - NOT Constitutional Scholars

MMichael Steel Inaugural Children's Celebration...Image via Wikipedia

This morning, RNC Chairman Michael Steele came out of isolation and guest-hosted Bill Bennett’s Morning in America. During the program, a caller asked Steele about the constitutionality of the 90 percent bonus tax passed by the House yesterday. The caller said that he believed that the tax was unconstitutional because “the first amendment…specifically states that a law cannot be passed to specifically target a person or a group of people.”

The caller was apparently trying to reference the ban on bills of attainder in Article I of the U.S. Constitution, not the first amendment. Apparently unfamiliar with the purpose of the first amendment, Steele responded, “That’s right!”:

CALLER: I noticed a couple people now talking about the Constitution and I’m told on the law they are currently trying to pass in order to tax all of the bonus pay. Well I believe, well, actually I know it is against the constitution. I believe it is the first amendment that specifically states that a law cannot be passed to specifically target a person or a group of people.

STEELE: That’s right!

CALLER: And we’ve got a president who is supposedly a constitutional scholar.

STEELE: Right. Right.

Listen here:

Here’s what the first amendment actually addresses:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Earlier this month, Ken Blackwell, a former candidate for the RNC chairmanship responded to Steele’s recent flip-flopping on abortion by suggesting that Steele “re-read the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, and the 2008 GOP Platform.” Given Steele’s apparent lack of familiarity with the first amendment, it seems he may still be making his way through Blackwell’s reading list.

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Lady Bette of the Baths...

Bette MidlerBette Midler (via last.fm)

A few years ago, Bette Midler gave an interview in which she said she didn't understand why Gay men would want to get married. She went on to explain that she thought the great thing about being gay was that you could just go from partner to partner with no strings attached.

At the time, I was shocked that such an icon of the community would say something so cutting and devoid of understanding. But then I thought back to her roots with the community and sort of understood. At the time I wrote a blog post about the incident where I said: "Bette, you left the baths and became a 'legit' star. Too bad you didn't realize that your fans have also left the baths behind too."

That went over the heads of some of my readers who didn't know Bette's roots. See, Bette's first gigs were at the Continental Baths in NYC. The baths of course were the scene of the decade long sex party in the 1970's. It was also the breeding ground of AIDS when it hit in the late 70's. By the time people of my age came along the baths were long gone. Unless you knew older gays you probably weren't too aware of them.

The Baths were more than just places to hang out in a towel and turn tricks. They offered entertainment too and Bette was the star of them all. It launched her career and made her an icon in the community. Bette's millions are built on her start singing to gay men in towels.

So, in honor of that start, I have found a clip of her singing one of my favorite songs she does back in the days of the Continental Baths.

Here's Bette in 1971 at the Continental Baths in NYC singing "I Shall Be Released" and giving it her all just as she would do throughout her career.

Bette, I didn't see you live when I had a chance 4 weeks after your remarks about marriage. I swore to my brother that if I ever got a chance to see you live, I would move Heaven and Earth to do it, but I refused because you didn't know that we had grown up too. So here's a reminder of where you started. Are you the same person today that you were then, sweating through a set in a bath house? No and neither are we.





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3/20/2009

Sick, Sick, Sick, People

Excuse my language but this country has some sick motherfuckers in it. Check out a story about "Hog-Dog Fighting" that appeared in the Tucson Citizen in relation to a new bill to ban animal fighting in Arizona.

Published: 03.20.2009

PHOENIX - Trained to attack, the dog corners a wild hog, then lunges and sinks its teeth into the hog's ear. The hog squeals wildly, drowning out the cheers of people who paid to see this.

After the dog holds on for the required three seconds, the owner pries it off and this round of hog-dog fighting is over. For the hog, the fight won't end until too much of its flesh has been torn off for it to play bait.

Hog-dog fighting, as shown in this video posted by The Humane Society of the United States, has mainly been a problem in the South. But law enforcement officials and animal-rights groups say it's a problem in Arizona as well.

State lawmakers have introduced a pair of bills designed to make it easier to prosecute those who engage in this blood sport by expanding the definition of animal fighting beyond cock fighting and dog fighting to include all forms of animal fighting.

"It's a brutal activity," said Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, author of one of the bills. "We hear about it, but we just can't do anything about it."

Sinema's bill, HB 2150, won committee approval after being amended to exclude instances in which animals are protecting livestock. Sen. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, introduced a similar version, SB 1115, but the Senate has yet to take up bills while it deals with the budget.

State legislators have introduced bills to ban animal fighting almost every year since 2004, when law enforcement broke up a hog-dog fighting operation in Yavapai County.

Hog-dog fighting currently falls under the less severe penalties of animal-cruelty laws, which require prosecutors prove that the wild hogs are property, said Kathleen Mayer, the legislative liaison for the Pima County Attorney's Office.

"No one really claims ownership for the victims, the pigs, so we don't know who to charge," she said.

Under the bills, hog-dog fighting and similar blood sports would carry the same penalties as cock fighting and dog fighting. Organizers and those who permit the fights would face a Class 5 felony carrying up to two years behind bars, and those attending fights would face a Class 6 felony carrying up to 18 months.

Most common in rural areas, hog-dog fighting appeared in Southern states in the last 15 years or so, evolving from the use of dogs to hunt wild hogs, which is legal, said John Goodwin, manager of animal-fighting issues with The Humane Society of the United States.

Hog-dog fighting, which puts the animals in an enclosure, is much crueler than a hunt, Goodwin said.

"There's no chance of escape," he said. "And they're just going to be used over and over again."

The dogs, usually pit bulls, are trained to chase the hogs and bite down anywhere above their shoulders, while owners and spectators place bets on which dog can do it the fastest.

Because the hogs face one dog after another, they often end up having their ears, snouts and parts of their faces ripped off, Goodwin said.

A hog's tusks, its main defense, are usually removed to protect the prize-fighting dogs, which often wear Kevlar vests or collars.

Law enforcement officials and animal-rights activists interviewed could cite only the Yavapai County case of hog-dog fighting, in which Goodwin's group teamed with sheriff's officials to break up a ring staging fights in Mayer. It was part of a crackdown spanning several states.

But that doesn't mean hog-dog fighting isn't happening now in Arizona, said Mike Duffey, an animal cruelty investigator with the Humane Society of Southern Arizona.
"It's a very sequestered sort of event," he said. "In some places it's remote, and somebody's watching the road that comes in. It's under the radar."

Kari Nienstedt, the Arizona state director for The Humane Society of the United States, said that while it can be hard track down animal fighting, the bills would still be a big help when authorities do catch someone.

"There's very little limits to their cruelty," Nienstedt said of those who stage animal fights. "But rather than chase them down one species at a time, the animal fighting bills will take care of it.
I'd like to thank Krysten Simena for sponsoring this bill (she's one of my Facebook friends). I simply cannot imagine people who get their jollies like this. I think anyone involved in this type of "sport" should be made to sign up for a registry just like sex offenders. Then they should have to inform people in their neighborhoods about their past so they can keep their pets safe from these perverted and sick sociopaths.

Better yet, keep them in cages after they're caught and just bump up that Ultimate Fighters Challenge to include fights to the death with these guys in the ring until only one is left breathing.

Sorry, but this type of thing makes my blood boil!
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3/16/2009

Police Execute Elderly Cancer Survivor

Another police execution has come to light, this time in Louisiana. Not only did they shoot an elderly gentleman who was mute after suffering from throat cancer, they appear to have tampered with the scene to make it appear the man was brandishing a gun.

Bernard Monroe was gunned down as he approached his front door to ascertain the cause of the commotion at his family barbecue.

On the last afternoon of his life, Bernard Monroe was hosting a cookout for family and friends in front of his dilapidated home on Adams Street in this small northern Louisiana town.

Throat cancer had robbed the 73-year-old retired electric utility worker of his voice years ago, but family members said Monroe was clearly enjoying the commotion of a dozen of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren cavorting around him in the dusty, grassless yard.

Then the Homer police showed up, two white officers whose arrival caused the participants at the black family gathering to quickly fall silent. Within moments, Monroe lay dead, shot by one of the officers as his family looked on.

Pam's House Blend has more details about the incident. After shooting the elderly grandfather the police refused to call for medical help until they had placed a gun near the dying man and called for more police officers to arrive.

Guns Drawn in Culver CityImage by seanbonner via Flickr

Recently, psychologists have been taking a hard look at racial prejudices that exist in police departments that are possibly leading to excessive force and lethal force when it is not needed.

Psychologists are stepping up research into the implicit, unconscious racial biases that may be driving such statistics and affecting police behavior.

"If in fact police have implicit biases-if they automatically associate blacks with crime-then that would be relevant to an officer in a split-second, shoot-or-don't-shoot situation," said Lorie Fridell, a criminology professor at the University of South Florida who is creating a new anti-bias police training program with funding from the Justice Department. "Is the officer more inclined to believe he sees a gun in the hand of a black person, rather than a cell phone? I think that is possible."

Lot's more information on this incident at Pam's House Blend.

Of course, the question lingers will these officers be charged with murder or will they, as is usually the case, be placed on "administrative leave" while the incident is "investigated" and then quietly returned to duty when those in charge think the storm has passed?



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3/15/2009

AIG Liddy Should Be Sent to GITMO

American International Group, Inc.Image via Wikipedia

You know, terrorists would never be able to cause the collapse of our country. Oh sure, they can kill people and cause all sorts of mayhem, but we get through it.

Meanwhile, our Wall Street Wizards have brought our country to the brink of financial disaster... OK, they've pretty much pushed us over that brink. Still, no only are they walking around free as a bird, they're patting themselves on the back for a job well done and paying themselves millions in bonuses with our money that they were supposed to use to start issuing credit - to us!

Millions in bonuses are going to 400 employees of the same division that wrecked the company and helped wreck the US economy. Yup, 400 employees. We can assume none of them are a secretary who is struggling to make ends meet or the janitor or the mail room guy, who could probably use some extra cash thanks to the screw ups who are their bosses.

Here's the latest from AIG, ring leader of the sack America campaign:

WASHINGTON — The American International Group, which has received more than $170 billion in taxpayer bailout money from the Treasury and Federal Reserve, plans to pay about $165 million in bonuses by Sunday to executives in the same business unit that brought the company to the brink of collapse last year.

Word of the bonuses last week stirred such deep consternation inside the Obama administration that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told the firm they were unacceptable and demanded they be renegotiated, a senior administration official said. But the bonuses will go forward because lawyers said the firm was contractually obligated to pay them.

The payments to A.I.G.’s financial products unit are in addition to $121 million in previously scheduled bonuses for the company’s senior executives and 6,400 employees across the sprawling corporation. Mr. Geithner last week pressured A.I.G. to cut the $9.6 million going to the top 50 executives in half and tie the rest to performance.

A.I.G., nearly 80 percent of which is now owned by the government, defended its bonuses, arguing that they were promised last year before the crisis and cannot be legally canceled. In a letter to Mr. Geithner, Edward M. Liddy, the government-appointed chairman of A.I.G., said at least some bonuses were needed to keep the most skilled executives.

“We cannot attract and retain the best and the brightest talent to lead and staff the A.I.G. businesses — which are now being operated principally on behalf of American taxpayers — if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury,” he wrote Mr. Geithner on Saturday.

Still, Mr. Liddy seemed stung by his talk with Mr. Geithner, calling their conversation last Wednesday “a difficult one for me” and noting that he receives no bonus himself. “Needless to say, in the current circumstances,” Mr. Liddy wrote, “I do not like these arrangements and find it distasteful and difficult to recommend to you that we must proceed with them.”

An A.I.G. spokeswoman said Saturday that the company had no comment beyond the letter. The bonuses were first reported by The Washington Post.

Of all the financial institutions that have been propped up by taxpayer dollars, none has received more money than A.I.G. and none has infuriated lawmakers more with practices that policy makers have called reckless.

The bonuses will be paid to executives at A.I.G.’s financial products division, the unit that wrote trillions of dollars’ worth of credit-default swaps that protected investors from defaults on bonds backed in many cases by subprime mortgages.

The bonus plan covers 400 employees, and the bonuses range from as little as $1,000 to as much as $6.5 million. Seven executives at the financial products unit were entitled to receive more than $3 million in bonuses.

So, they need to pay all this money to keep the "best and brightest" - the same "best and brightest" who screwed up so royally that we had to bail them out of their quagmire? Would those morons be the "best and brightest" that Mr. Liddy thinks of so fondly?

Here's a novel idea - if you run a company into the ground and wreck a national economy you are not entitled to the title "best and brightest" you are entitled to the title "major moron and screw up" and should find yourself at the back of the unemployment line behind the decent folks who are suffering because of you.

Good Lord, what is wrong with these people?

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3/13/2009

Pima County - When We Get Behind Closed Doors

by Jim March
A member of the Black Box Voting board of directors


Below you will see an unedited picture taken, per my camera's timestamp, at 7:04 p.m. tonight (3/10/09). It shows the shuttered, closed doors to the sole polling location for the city of South Tucson Arizona, moments after I asked to observe the closing of the polls.

The blinds were rolled closed in response to my request.

After all the headache trying to open this county election process to proper, lawful oversight, this is the result: Counting in complete secrecy.

A review of one of the core principles that founded this nation: Citizens have the inalienable RIGHT to self-government. No one has yet made a convincing argument that counting votes in secret can co-exist with self-government.

Now it should be noted that the state of Arizona allows only political parties (and NOT the public) to observe elections, which violates our right to self government (you can't control what you are not allowed to see). Worse, until recently this meant that "non-partisan" elections at the local government level received no scrutiny at all since parties were "not involved."

Senator Chuck Gray attempted to reform that latter issue to allow observation in nonpartisan elections and his 2008 bill SB1053 should have taken care of it but local government officials are taking the questionable view that while central tabulator operations are now observable in non-partisan elections, poll closing activities are not

But even Arizona's limited observation was blocked in South Tucson on March 10. I hold credentials as a "party observer" and I am a member of the Pima County Election Integrity Commission, created by the Pima County Board of Supervisors. (more: http://www.bbvforums.org/forums/messages/1954/79477.html )

BACKGROUND: On Mar. 10, 2009, Pima County conducted elections in three small towns: Marana, South Tucson and Sahuarita. Elections were conducted by the Pima County elections office, under the direction of each of the town clerks.

HOW PIMA COUNTY DODGES ARIZONA ELECTION OBSERVATION LAW

Brad Nelson, Pima County elections director, holds the democracy-blocking opinion that non-partisan elections are subject to no outside oversight at all because independent election observation in Arizona is deemed the function of political parties.

In all states, according to our founding documents, conducting ALL aspects of elections in public that is, allowing any member of the public to watch is an inalienable right, because the public cannot self-govern if government insiders conduct our elections in secret. Arizona prohibits public observation, violating this right.* Substituting observation by political parties does not honor our rights. But in Pima County, even Arizona's undemocratic and limited observations by political parties were not permitted on March 10.

* We still HAVE the right to public observations in Arizona, but the legislature refuses to honor this right. You cannot remove an inalienable right by legislating against it; fundamental rights, like freedom and self-government, can be obstructed with laws but laws cannot take away these right.

PIMA COUNTY ANTI-OBSERVATION PRACTICE VIOLATES STATE LAW

To clarify the issue of observation in non-partisan elections, last year this state passed SB1053, opening observation beyond parties in non-partisan elections. The bill changed Arizona Revised Statute 16-621, "Proceedings At The Counting Center." Pima County's Brad Nelson then applied his own restrictive interpretation on the state's clarification. He now claims that "counting center" does not include what goes on in polling places after the polls close. Basically, he claims that the only portion of the observation process is the central tabulator the system that adds up all the polling place results.

This flies in the face of any number of statutes; for the record, ARS 16-601 is an old bit of code laying down a general public transparency principle. For the rest, I'm including for your reference at the end of this item a letter by former Arizona state representative Ted Downing.

But really, the details don't matter. The principle that BALLOTS MUST NOT BE HANDLED IN SECRET OR BEHIND CLOSED BLINDS is universally understood.

In a final twist, Nelson attempted to buck-pass the issue to the town clerks involved. He coached them on their positions, convinced them to take his position, phrased their language for them.

I can also say with certainty that the legislators who supported the prior reform effort will be outraged at Nelson's nit-pick dismantling of their intent, and with any luck the Pima Board of Supervisors who employ Nelson may finally figure out from this latest abuse that he simply cannot be trusted with the engine of democracy.

As it stands now, Pima County elections violate the rights of the public. If there are no consequences, Pima County will have undemocratic elections. Please help us call these violations to the attention of the media and the authorities.

LET THERE BE CONSEQUENCES

To help you do this, I have provided a list of contacts for you. Because we are fighting for our inalienable rights, which are under attack from certain politicians, we recommend sending your letter to multiple layers of authority. To help you write your e-mails or letters, I have provided Ted Downing's letter on this issue.

Black Box Voting asks that each of you and especially those who live in South Tucson and Marana, to let the South Tucson and Marana city councils involved in this abuse know that you are outraged. Key points for short letters and e-mails:

- There is no place for secrecy in elections. It is an offense and and outrage against democratic principles.
- Pima County Elections Director Brad Nelson's office has counseled and persuaded poll workers and town clerks to act in violation of the most basic principles of democracy, hiding poll-closing activities behind closed doors with shuttered windows.
- We seek remedy. We seek consequences. Such actions violate our rights, such actions violate basic principles of democracy, and these actions violate Arizona law.
- Without consequences, laws become meaningless.
- We ask for your help to invoke consequences on public officials who violate our rights.

CONTACTS:

Chuck Gray, Majority Leader in the Arizona Senate cgray@azleg.gov
Senator Jorge Garcia jgarcia@azleg.gov
(Please note that it's their law opening non-partisan elections to observation that is being twisted beyond recognition by local officials - they need to be made aware of this fact.)

Pima County Board of Supervisors:
Ann Day - Ann.Day@pima.gov
Ramon O. Valadez dist2@pima.gov
Sharon Bronson district3@pima.gov
Ray Carroll district4@pima.gov
Richard Elias district5@pima.gov

These are the people who employ Brad Nelson, who was ultimately behind this secretive process.

Mr. Downing's letter:

March 9th 2009
Mr. Brad Nelson
Pima County Elections Director

RE: Lockout of Democratic and other Party observers from polling places during forthcoming non-partisan municipal elections.

Dear Mr. Brad Nelson,

Mr. Jim March reports that at the poll worker's training session on 4 March, you stated that poll observers are not permitted at the forthcoming Marana/Sahaurita town council elections because the election is a non-partisan race.

In your 5 March 09 email to the Pima County Democratic Party Chair, Jeff Rogers, you state:

" In the mean time I would suggest that a review of ARS 16-586 {corrected in a later email to 16-590) may be appropriate. This statute refers to the process of the political parties assigning party reps to the polls only when a political party is represented on the ballot.

Members of the public may be in the polling place exclusively for the purpose of voting. Once they have cast their ballot they are to retire outside of the 75 foot limit. ARS 16-515."

Your decision misinterprets ARS 16-515 and 16-590 with respect to the Party's statutory rights as overseers of the election process. It discourages transparency and openness in election procedures to assure election integrity. It contradicts the spirit of Title 16 and recent law (see below). It find it disappointing that, after the substantial costs to the Pima County taxpayers, that you would not wish to reasonably accommodate efforts toward transparency and accountability.

You have no basis for claiming party agents or representatives must stay beyond the 75' limit line from the entrance to the polls during non-partisan. ARS 16-515 and 16-562, 16-590 draw no distinction between partisan and non-partisan elections. In partisan elections, party observers routinely watch, unless they threaten keeping order and the enforcement of law. And you have not identified, through any correspondence to the Parties that I know of, a specific threat to order appears in non-partisan races that has lead you to change your procedures distinct from that used for partisan.

Furthermore, ARS 16-570B states that the voting machine shall be placed and protected that it is accessible to only one voter at a time and is in full view of all election officers and watchers at the polling place." Similarly, 16-572 B requires the ballots must be kept within plain public view to watchers until the polls close. Your ad hoc advice and/or decision to require non-election officials, including watchers to stay outside the 75' line nullifies the public view provisions of these statutes.

Furthermore, on 5 March, in response to further questions on these issues from Chairman Rogers, you state that :

" I am not the chief election official for the upcoming municipal elections. The respective Municipal Clerk is. If a Clerk gives you permission to have observers in the polls; that's their call, it's their election."

I understand that you personally trained the workers for this election and have play an active role in interpreting state law, in your capacity as Pima County Election Director in the non-partisan elections taking place Tuesday. If, as you state, you do not have any jurisdictional authority on non-partisan, non-county elections, at the very least, the elected officials in non-county jurisdictions and the public merit being informed that you improperly trained and advised their poll workers on the above issues.

And I am hoping your training referenced recent changes in Arizona law (ARS 16-621) that clearly shows the Legislature desires a clear role for observers in non-partisan elections, a law that I brought to sponsor's, Senator Chuck Gray's (R-Mesa), attention and get passed.

Please take prompt, appropriate corrective action to cease the lock or advise to another jurisdiction to conduct a lock out in the polling places out of observers in this and future races.

I remain,

Dr. Ted Downing, Chair, Arizona Democratic Party's Election Integrity Committee
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